Thursday, January 22, 2009


Leanne Lieberman, October 2008. This is not the average teen novel in which the author strives to make the characters as accessible as possible; nor does Lieberman create a fantasy-novel sense of otherworldly place. The author's debut novel is heavy with the language and rites of Orthodox Judaism, even including a five-page glossary of Yiddish terms in the back of the book. Narrator Ellie Gold, a devoutly religious high school sophomore, keeps kosher, blesses every meal, and won't turn on a light switch on the Sabbath. She wears skirts below the knee and beige full-coverage bras because she wants to, as opposed to her sister Neshama, who resents that their father requires this type of clothing.

The book begins with the family splitting up for the summer. While Ellie's parents go to Israel and Neshama is off to summer camp, Ellie spends the summer with her ex-Jewish grandmother Bubbie, still keeping kosher but getting more comfortable in a two-piece bathing suit. It's at Bubbie's cabin that Ellie meets Lindsay, the kind of girl she has never gotten to know at her religious school: flirty, saucy, wearing a string bikini and willing to whip it off for skinny-dipping in the lake. The two girls start flirting, and this is where we see the complexity of Ellie's character: she's sweetly dorky when she gets nervous and ends up babbling about biology. Lindsay is less complicated, bragging about the boys she's kissed. The girls rekindle their friendship back in the city, and begin a sexual relationship that feels wrong to Ellie for more reasons than her Judaism; she suspects that Lindsay is just using her, whereas for Ellie, this is everything. The sex scenes are short but hot; the subplot about Mrs. Gold's breakdown is curiously feminist without being obvious; and the contrast between the sisters is appealing. Recommended.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Nothing Pink

Mark Hardy, November 2008. In 1970s rural Virginia, Vincent knows he's gay but can't tell anyone, let alone his preacher father and even holier mother. He resorts to stealing gay porn, dreaming about Barry Manilow, and crushing out on his new friend Robert. Eventually, Robert and Vincent hook up, bonding over horses and nature walks until their sweet first kiss: "He must have brushed his teeth right before bed because he tastes like candy canes. When he breathes out it smells like Christmas." Vincent's shame weighs down the story until, in the final chapter, he's sitting at a campfire with a church group and suddenly realizes that God couldn't possibly think being gay is a sin.

It's hard to imagine today's teens relating to this story; modern queer kids are likely to have someone to confide in, even if they can't be out and proud to everyone they know. The 1970s setting gets in the way of the plot, and the Jesus talk is pretty heavy-handed. Still, the careful writing, simple plot, and low page count (109 in hardcover) might appeal to those still willing to read historical problem novels.