Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Alyson Noël, February 2009. When sixteen-year-old Ever lost her parents, sister, and dog in a car accident, she survived, but since then she's had the ability to read people's minds just by being near them. She tries to cloud this power by wearing hoodies, listening to her iPod constantly, and avoiding touching anyone, but all of this makes her a social outcast. Her only two friends are Haven, an attention-seeking scene jumper, and Miles, constantly looking for love anywhere he can.

The rest of Ever's story, in a nutshell: she meets and falls in love with new student Damen, who is gorgeous and mysterious (he disappears a lot) and super-smart and super-strong and hardly ever eats, though he does drink an odd red liquid from vials....but he's not a vampire! NOT.A.VAMPIRE, NO SIR! No, he's...an immortal! Yes, and that is how this book distinguishes itself from the Twilight series. That, and the second book is called Blue Moon, not New Moon.

But Miles is the reason you're here, because he is the Gay Sidekick. He's not an especially complex character - he's the nice guy, in search of love or at least a date. He gets the lead in Hairspray, which is unexpected and funny. He's always texting his newest potential boyfriend. He tries to resolve the issues that arise between Ever and Haven.

I mock, but I did really enjoy the book. Recommended for all your vampire immortal-loving teens, especially the gay ones.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Icarus in Flight

Hayden Thorne, 2007. Upper-class Victorian England is the perfect setting for a gay romance; opportunities abound for secret assignations, literary allusions, and parlor bitchery. Hayden Thorne takes advantage of this quite well, and often with tongue in cheek, as she explores the romantic friendship between two schoolboys.

James is from a wealthy family and is used to getting his own way in school, both socially and with the teachers. Daniel is a new boy and more middle-class; also more fearful, he seeks James's protection from bullies. Their families intertwine when Daniel's brother George becomes James's private tutor. James's sister falls in love with George, and then George dies in an accident. These events only drive James and Daniel closer together, and James dreams of a future where they can live together shamelessly. "'I'm either foolish or proud or both for choosing to disappoint everyone around me,'" he says, "'but I'd sooner lower myself in their opinion now for the sake of what's real than subject them to a lie for the rest of their lives....Can you imagine how it is when my [future] children....find out, either by accident or malice or whatnot, that their honored father was really a sodomite?'"

After a sweet romance during the boys' school days, they live together briefly in London under the fiction that Daniel is merely a houseguest. Soon, James's sister Kitty learns what is actually transpiring and asks Daniel to leave for the sake of James and the family. He does, and the two rely on the writing of elaborately constructed letters (another conceit of Victorian-era literature) until a quarrel ends their communication.

The plot deteriorates somewhat as James flees to the Continent, ostensibly to buy property but really to party in Italy, and Daniel becomes a research assistant for a series of elderly gentlemen. Both resist societal urges to marry women, and both, of course, pine after one another. Too many new characters are introduced in the second half of the book, and it's difficult for the reader to keep track of them. Suffice it to say that by the end, the two are holding hands while walking along a "muddy, desolate trail" that "was comforting and companionable in spite of their vulnerability against Nature."

Kudos to Hayden Thorne for her wickedly subtle parody of a Victorian romance; if only she'd fleshed out the endless parade of characters in the second half, the book would be more readable. As it stands, I can't recommend it for reluctant readers, but your historical romance lovers will eat it up. Sex scenes are as coy as the setting dictates, so this is a good purchase for school libraries as well as public.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

David Inside Out

Lee Bantle, May 2009. Protagonist David is mostly in the closet, but sometimes he peeks out a bit. He experiments sexually with hot jock Sean, wishing he were his boyfriend, but Sean can't come out to the rest of the track team and in fact insists he's not gay -- boysex is just more convenient. David tries hard to be straight, hooking up with his female friend Kick and masturbating to the image of Mandy Moore, and in fact he may well be bi; he touches Kick's hair and thinks, "I felt a wonderful, hopeful tingling down there where it counts, where you can't fake it, even if you really, really want to." He tries buying Playboy and is interested in breasts, but he soon puts the magazine aside in favor of Iron Man and Car and Driver.

David Inside Out follows a predictable problem-novel format, with David facing bullies' accusations that he's gay, then eventually coming to terms with his sexuality. Still, formulas work if done with flair, and this one is. It has some hilarious moments, as when David attends church with his mother and finds himself "right under a nearly naked plaster statue of Jesus on the cross....I looked up, inspecting the folds of the loin cloth, trying to imagine what was underneath. This is what I had sunk to. Checking out Jesus." Sean is a stereotypical jock in denial, but Kick and Eddie are more complicated characters and round out the book nicely. Recommended for all public libraries; school librarians should note the frequent sex scenes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Map of Home

Randa Jarrar, September 2008. Feisty, smart-aleck Nidali is thirteen the year her hometown of Kuwait is invaded by Saddam Hussein. Her family -- including an abusive father, a confused but loving mother, and a little brother she mainly ignores -- moves first to Egypt and then to Texas. The war and politics are relegated to the background in this coming-of-age story in which Nidali never actually quite comes of age. When Nidali describes her home life and her frequent fights with her parents for independence, she could be any girl in an American suburb, except that Dad's rants are often anti-U.S.

It's Nidali's attitude toward her sex life that really makes her character shine. When she describes masturbation via the bathroom bidet, there is no confession in her tone (and her dismay upon moving to Texas and finding that American bathrooms lack this fixture is hilarious); when she manipulates boys into making out with her, there is no sense of shame. However, experimenting with a female friend makes her nervous. "I'll go to hell, I thought. I liked boys, I assured myself, because I did. I wanted to kiss them. But I wanted to be the first one Jiji kissed instead of some slimy toad of a guy."

Parts of A Map of Home are gross; parts are hot; parts are violent in the way you'd expect when the story takes place in wartime and features an angry, vicious father. The result is a passionate narrative by an intense and lovable character. Highly recommended for public and high school libraries.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Man Without a Face

Introducing a new feature today: Blast from the Past, in which I'll review some of the classics of gay YA literature.
Isabelle Holland, 1972. Fourteen-year-old Charles is desperate to get into boarding school to escape from his dysfunctional family. He's already failed the admissions exam once, but has been given another shot. Time is short, and his only hope is to work with Mr. McLeod, a former teacher and the village recluse. McLeod lost most of his facial features in an accident, about which no one has the details.

McLeod reluctantly agrees to take on Charles as a student, and they grow quite close, with McLeod taking on more and more of a parental role throughout the summer. Sometimes the two hold hands, but when Charles wants more, McLeod quickly backs away. Something Big happens, but it's hard to tell what; the author describes it vaguely as "It was like everything -- the water, the sun, the hours, the play, the work, the whole summer -- came together. The golden cocoon had broken open and was spilling in a shower of gold. Even so, I didn't know what was happening to me until it had happened." It's unclear whether the two had sex, or maybe Charles had a dream...but in the aftermath, McLeod confesses he is gay. In the next few pages, before the book ends, McLeod leaves town, has a heart attack, and leaves all of his possessions to Charles.

The book is a weird mix of honest emotion and hazy sex. It feels quite dated, as you'd expect from a book published four years before I was born. The sexual relationship is also problematic, of course, and it's hard to imagine marketing a book to teens today that features a fourteen-year-old and an adult in a happy consensual relationship. Recommended for those interested in the history of gay YA literature, but I wouldn't suggest it to most of today's teens.