Friday, June 26, 2009

Josef Jaeger

Jere' M. Fishback, April 2009. Protagonist Josef is 13 in 1933 when his mother dies and he's sent to live with his uncle Ernst. Ernst is a semi-openly gay man, living with 20-year-old boy toy Rudy. Josef and Rudy become close friends, and they travel to Berlin together when Josef is offered a role in a Nazi propaganda film. Josef has known for quite a while that he's interested in boys rather than girls, and he confirms this during sexual explorations with Rudy.

Uncle Ernst is a Nazi leader, and he encourages Josef to join the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). Josef agrees because he likes the uniform and the camping trips. He knows that Nazis are said to hate Jews, but his own observations don't match this rumor. Still, when Josef falls in love with his Jewish friend David, he keeps his Hitlerjugend membership to himself for as long as he can...

Historical gay novels are necessarily problem novels, but this one avoids the clichés of the genre. Josef is about as comfortable as he can be with his sexuality and finds several willing partners. The love story is sweet, and the plot is action-packed. Recommended.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Magic and Misery

Peter Marino, March 2009. Pan (short for "pansy") and TJ are best friends, and she's not really in love with him - very much, anyway. Any more, anyway, now that she knows he's gay. Still, TJ relies on Pan even more than best friends normally do; she needs his help dealing with her disturbed toddler brother as well as making her feel pretty. When she starts dating Caspar, things begin to go wrong; the two boys don't get along, and she feels that Pan's abandoned her just when her life has started to improve.

The plot is a standard one, although it's executed well. The characters, however, are outstanding - nothing formula here. Caspar in particular is far more than just a typical love interest. He's a jock with depth, but it goes further than that; he's incredibly thoughtful, smart, awkward, and above all, consistent and real. Parents are often cookie-cutter figures in teen books, but in this case, both sets - Pan's and TJ's - are natural and appealing. They're in the book as characters, not as Stock Parents. Even more intriguing is Paolo, TJ's younger brother, who seems to have an emotional or behavioral disorder. This isn't diagnosed in the book, so what the reader sees is the effect such a child has on the family. The one peripheral character who does fall flat is Tammie, TJ's bitchy boss, who appears only as a foil for TJ and Pan. Still, the author has worked hard to create these characters, and his work pays off.

Highly recommended, then - if you can get the right reader to pick it up. The cover art is sadly 1990s, and the title is worse. Magic and Misery? There is no magic in the book, nor any fantastical element. I'm worried this won't get into the hands of realistic-novel readers, and the SF/F crowd that will pick it up based on the title will end up disappointed.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

After the Moment

Garret Freymann-Weyr, May 2009.
"'Just leave the kid alone,' Leigh said. 'And then we have no problem.' ...
"'Fine,' Oliver said. 'You can have your little faggot.'
"And Leigh laughed, all of his thoughts and fears sliding away.
"'That's the best you got?' he asked. 'You can't do any better than calling him a faggot?'
"'Oh, I'm sorry, did I insult you?' Oliver asked. 'I didn't know you were one. No offense.'
"'No one cares,' Leigh said. 'That's like the lamest insult.'
"This was not actually true, as Leigh knew. Yes, at his old school, everyone was very careful to use it as a joke and never at a kid who was suspected of being gay, but that was precisely because the word carried a power far beyond its meaning.
"But knowing that he liked girls and being big enough to knock someone out gave Leigh the rare privilege of being able to laugh when the word was turned in his direction.
"The bell rang.
"'Nice meeting you,' Leigh said, letting Millie pull him toward the building. He called over his shoulder, 'Next time I'll try not to be such a fag.' ...
"It became clear that in facting down Oliver Lexham and his gang, Leigh had become a hero of sorts. Franklin had to tell the story countless times, and in the hallways, as well as on different sports teams, people could be heard telling each other, by way of apology or excuse, Next time, I'll try not to be such a fag."
That's the only gay content in After the Moment, but it's pretty great, isn't it?

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Invented Life

Lauren Bjorkman, October 2009. "I wish my coming out had been real so I could write about it online!" exclaims high school junior Roz after reading some stories about the newly uncloseted. Roz has a lot going on: her sister Eva, who used to be her best friend, is ignoring her....and she thinks Eva might be gay. Eva does have a boyfriend, Bryan, but he keeps flirting with Roz. Roz, in turn, flirts with Jonathan, who turns out to be actually gay. Then there's Carmen, bitchy genius and surprisingly good theatrical director, and Nico, whom no one can quite figure out. Eyeliner Andie, who describes herself as "no-sexual," rounds out the ensemble of teens putting on a production of As You Like It. The book tells the story of their complicated-to-the-point-of-farcical love lives as Roz pretends to be gay in order to find out if Eva is, and then has to figure out how to get a boyfriend despite pretending to like girls, and then has to deal with the possibility that she does indeed like girls. This is complicated by her role as Rosalind in the school play, for which she has to dress as a woman dressing like a man. Roz is not only the narrator, but the stereotypical fool who is the last one to figure out what's going on. She's always wailing, "But I don't understand!" as the other characters roll their eyes knowingly. This use of the protagonist serves both as an effective plot device and a smart parody of same.

Imagine if Paula Danziger had written a Basic Eight/Twelfth Night fanfic with help from the writers of Three's Company; that will give you an idea of the red herrings, misunderstandings, gender-bending, secret-keeping, and unreliable narration that make this book the intriguing chaos that it is. My favorite gay YA read of the year. Highly recommended.