Book Review, Coming-of-Age, David Levithan, Depression, Family, Favorites, Fiction, Gay Lit, Gender Identity, GLBT, Homophobia, Homosexuality, LGBT, Relationships, Transgender, Young Adult

Thoughts: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

17237214Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD:  51

When you look at the cover for Two Boys Kissing, you get a pretty good idea of what this book will be about.  Then you read the synopsis on the inside cover and your idea becomes a bit more defined, a bit clearer.  Finally, you sit down to read the book, only to discover that your first impressions were of the vaguest kind.  In Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan brings back the literary chorus of old.  The narrative guides of Shakespeare and Ovid at long last reappear, this time through the collective voice of our “ancient” gay predecessors.  These are the men and women who bravely pioneered the social frontier, the rainbow-clad Lewis & Clark who pressed love onward – quietly or with booming voice- and who were lost to one of the greatest tragedies of our day, the AIDS epidemic.

As our guide, this chorus reveals to us a day in the life of multiple contemporary gay youths, in many iterations of the “type.”  The main couple, Craig and Harry, are the two boys kissing, but they are not a couple at all (although they used to be).  Their goal is to stand up for equality by breaking the world’s record for longest kiss – hoping that the process and the end result of two boys’ names together in a permanent book of world record will get people thinking, if not change the world entirely. They are also standing up for their friend, who was violently and viciously beaten for being gay.

In addition to their primary story, the chorus also gives us a peek into the worlds of Peter and Neil, a young couple who are learning what that word, “couple,” means; learning how to navigate life for themselves and for each other, including, most importantly, how to understand and respond to one another, sometimes without words.   We also meet Avery and Ryan, both of whom have their demons, past and present, and who must confront the idea of what it means to be different, even within the same “gay world.”

Finally, we see Cooper, the boy who no one sees and who refuses to be seen.  Cooper’s story is where the chorus truly rallies – where these spirit guides are needed most, lest we forget that where we came from and where we are going are inextricably linked.  Technology advances, and these advancements change our perspectives and our possibilities, but for boys like Cooper, the loneliness and isolation only grow deeper, more vacuous.

Two Boys Kissing is the gay anthem for our day.  It is the very book created from the very inspirations that many of us have been waiting to read for a long, long time.  Levithan pulls stories from the real world and links them to our present and our past.  He does this through the eyes of a compassionate yet devastatingly helpless and sometimes forgotten chorus of our forbearers. Levithan, since the publication of his wonderful short novel Boy Meets Boy ten years ago, has veered from the idyllic and romantic, to the daring and experimental (Every You, Every Me), and the exploratory (Every Day), right into the real, the raw, and the historical.  He keeps getting better, and Two Boys Kissing is a triumph indeed.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: YA+
Interest: LGBT, Transgender, Relationships, First Loves, Coming-of-Age, Interconnected Plots, Family, Depression, Hate Crimes.

Notable Quotes:

“We thought of magic as something that existed with or without us. But that’s not true. Things are not magical because they’ve been conjured for us by some outside force. They are magical because we create them.”

“You spend so much time, so much effort, trying to hold yourself together. And then everything falls apart anyway.”

“It is hard to stop seeing your son as a son and to start seeing him as a human being. It is hard to stop seeing your parents as parents and to start seeing them as human beings. It’s a two-sided transition, and very few people manage it gracefully.”

“What strange creatures we are, to find silence peaceful, when permanent silence is the thing we most dread. Nighttime is not that. Nighttime still rustles, still creaks and whispers and trembles in its throat.  It is not darkness we fear, but our own helplessness within it.”

“Our bodies don’t have to be touching to be connected to one another. Our heart races without contact. Our breath holds until the threat is gone.”

“You grow. Your life widens. And you can’t expect your partner’s love alone to fill you. There will always be space for other things.”

“Here we are, thousands of us, shouting no, shouting at him to stop, crying out and making a net of our bodies, trying to come between him and the water.”

“There is the sudden. There is the eventual. And in between, there is the living.”

2013 TBR Pile Challenge, Book Review, Drugs, Gay Lit, GLBT, Homophobia, Homosexuality, Lauren Myracle, LGBT, Mystery, Young Adult

Thoughts: Shine by Lauren Myracle

8928054Shine by Lauren Myracle
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
YTD: 31

4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Cat and Patrick are best of friends.  Cat is a tomboy who doesn’t mind getting a bit dirty and who doesn’t realize just how pretty she is.  Patrick is a bit of a nerd and an introvert, though he does have friends.  He’s also openly gay, which is brave considering he and Cat live in very rural North Carolina.  As Cat becomes a teenager, she learns, in a terrible way, just how much her body has changed and how she has begun to catch the eye of boys her age (and older).  Although the disturbing thing that happens to her is only alluded to during the first part of the story, it clearly affects her relationship with her family and with her friends – she, too, becomes introverted and, because of this, is not with her best friend Patrick when the book’s major tragedy strikes.  She blames herself for not being there to help and, on her quest to find out what happened and to bring the criminal to justice, she also begins to repair herself and her old friendships, and even to seek out new ones. 

3 – Characters well-developed.

Although some of the characters, such as Jason, a friend of Patrick’s who, like Cat, is determined to find out what happened to him, seem a bit too conveniently placed to be believable, most of them are integral to the plot, work well with the story, and fit in with the particular group of people in this particular place that Myracle has created.  Mama Sweetie, Patrick’s grandmother, leaves a legacy for Patrick and Cat even after she is gone; Cat’s father, brother, and aunt, all play pivotal roles in developing her character and her response to Patrick’s tragedy; her friends (The Redneck Posse) are realistic in their actions, good and bad, and in the ways they treat one another, as well as any outsiders.  They are complex enough, too, to add further mystery to the plot and to complicate Cat’s investigation, not to mention her own attempt at reintegrating herself with the group.  The minor characters, such as the church ladies, the meth cooker, and the bar tender, are static (some might say cliché), but they do round-out the community environment and serve their purposes.

3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

For the most part, I found Myracle’s prose to be perfectly suited to the reading level and the tone of the novel.  She clearly knows a great deal about this particular region (or areas like it) or has researched it enough to portray it in a realistic way.  That being said, the dialogue (and internal monologues) sometimes came across as less than natural.  Still, it was well-written and well-executed.  Allowing Cat to be the narrator post-incident, and to reflect on those incidents (her major pain as well as Patrick’s) while she was investigating what happened, was a great approach, as it allowed the protagonist to grow and mature in a recognizable way.  Seeing Cat as a child, through her own memory, and watching her come to terms with difficult things in her life, particularly when she begins to understand the reasons why some of the people in her life may have let her down, provides much of the power and depth of the story, so crafting the plot this way and then delivering it so that it unfolds naturally and slowly was a smart, creative choice.   

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

Cat, though the hero and protagonist of this book, also has her own demons to deal with and personality flaws to overcome.  Part of what makes this story such a good one is that it is not just about one mysterious hate crime or one person’s attempt to solve it.  Cat learns a lot about herself along the way – she is forced to admit to herself that even she was sometimes guilty of silent acquiescence, allowing others to bully her friend Patrick because she was afraid that, if she stood up for him, she might become the target.  Similarly, Beef’s story is also moving and doubly complex because of the two major secrets he carries.  This story isn’t just about friendship or a rural town’s bigotry; it’s not just about the rich versus the poor; it’s not about underground drug cartels or incompetent police forces.  It’s about a community steeped in tragedy, a community that is all of those things and more, all at the same time, and about a group of people who are trying to live as best they can when faced with obstacles great and small.   

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  Young Adult (13+, with some mature elements)
Interest:  Coming-of-Age; Friendship; Homophobia; Rural South; Identity Issues; Family; Poverty; LGBT; Mystery; Drugs; YA.

Notable Quotes:

“I loved everyone who said yes to the world and tried to make it better instead of worse, because so much in the world was ugly.”

“Knowledge was more powerful than fear. Love was stronger than hate.”

“Girls kept their bodies tucked in tight, while boys took up every inch of room they could.”

“We all mess up.  It’s what we learn from our mistakes that matters.”

“You know it’s them books what make you talk funny.”

Shine is Book #8 completed for my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge

Catherine Ryan Hyde, Coming-of-Age, Family, Friendship, Gay Lit, Gender Identity, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, GLBT, Homophobia, Monthly Review, Transgender, Young Adult

Review: Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

In honor of the paperback release of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s fabulous novel, Jumpstart the World, I wanted to re-post my review of the book.  Let me know what you think, and head over HERE to learn more about the author and the book. If you follow Catherine on Twitter (@cryanhyde) you will also find links to recent guest posts about the book and some awesome giveaways happening! 

Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 11

4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s touching and daring Jumpstart the World is all about life and its many complications and confusions. Fifteen-year-old Elle is dumped off in her own apartment, by a mother with seriously troubling narcissistic/co-dependency issues. She chooses her new love interest over her own daughter, and while mom and her man are off on a cruise together (during Elle’s sweet sixteen birthday, no less), Elle is left to learn to live on her own – she gets a cat (Toto, a cat with a face only an adopted mother can love); she meets a few people at school and slowly starts to form friendships, sort of; and she introduces herself to the young couple living next door, Frank and Molly. There, the real trouble begins. Frank is not exactly who he appears to be – he is a sweet, kind, intelligent man, except that he was not always a man. Elle’s new friendships are tested when this information comes to light, and she must learn to accept others and deal with her own confusing romantic feelings, or return to that lonely, isolated world she had just begun to break free from.

3 – Characters well developed.

There are so many interesting characters, from Elle and her mother, to Frank and Molly, right down to that strange, sad little cat and Elle’s surprisingly new-found best friend, Wilbur. What is great about each of the characters is that they truly are identifiable and independent from one another – they each have their own quirks, personalities, and annoyances. There is definitely some room for growth, though. With so many interesting people interacting with one another, I definitely found myself wishing that the book was 50 or 100 pages longer, so there would be more time to learn about all these wonderful and interesting people. Wilbur, for instance, and Frank – there seemed so much to know about each of them – so much history behind each of their present personalities, but that history was reduced to one or two descriptive lines. Powerful descriptive lines, no doubt, but unbearably short. Elle’s relationship with her mother, too, was dynamic and intriguing – one of the most realistic and authentic relationships in the book, but it was kept somewhat on the periphery. Overall, I loved the characters in general, except, if I am being honest, for the main character. Elle was the one that bothered me most – she seemed so incredibly self-centered and juvenile. Of course, she was only sixteen and she clearly had a lot of growing up to do, but this did not prevent me from wanting to shake my fist at her on more than a few occasions. Still, when a writer can make you that irritated by or exasperated with one of her characters, that is typically the sign of a job well-done.

4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

Hyde’s prose moves along wonderfully well. It is evenly paced and fluid. The narration seems genuine and believable. Probably the greatest achievement is the narrative voice, which resonates strongly as that of a teenage girl, muddle-minded and working things out on her own for the first time. I do not typically relate to female narrators or main characters, so I rarely find myself reading books with these components; however, it was very easy to relate to Elle and the single-best reason for this was the narration – it draws you in and it appeals to or calls to mind that little outsider within every one of us, asking us to remember that we are all the same, really – people just looking for a place, similar in most ways, including in the way we all often self-consciously feel different from the rest.

Additional Elements:
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

This is the second book I have read that dealt with the issue of gender identity and/or gender reassignment, the first being Eugenides’s Middlesex . Unlike that book, though, which deals with a hermaphroditic main character coming to realize who he is and how he was born “different,” this book is the first I have read which deals with Female-to-Male transgender reassignment or identification. The only minor complaint I have is the idea that “transphobia” does not exist in the GLBT community. When Frank is hospitalized, Elle stays with him because of his fear of being abused or mistreated there (due to the possibility of nurses/doctors not reacting well to his gender identity versus biology). When a male nurse comes to check on Frank, he identifies himself to Elle as a gay man and thus, one of the “community” – so therefore will have Frank’s back. Unfortunately, the issue is not so cut-and-dry and transphobia does exist, even within the GLBT community. Again, it is a minor complaint, as there are genuinely decent gay/straight people out there who would come to the aid of someone in trouble, as that nurse did, and I definitely do not think the author would actually argue that this issue exists in such a binary; but, I do wish the issue had not been championed on one side in the manner that it was. One of the greatest achievements of the book is its inclusion of diverse characters, from straight women and men, to gay women and men, to questioning youth and transgender adults. There are also the separations within the subcategories – the ultra-feminine gay teen male who still identifies as male in juxtaposition to the masculine female who reassigns as male. There are also the two Bobs (or Bobby’s) – the somewhat under-explained but distinguishable masculine/feminine roles in a male-male relationship. All of these different people exist in life together – never in harmony, because life is too chaotic for that, but in reality. We are what we are and we are who we are, seems to be the message. The issue of transgender-phobia and homophobia, too, is examined, but so are the ideas of coming-of-age and discovering one’s self and one’s passions – things like art, photography, mental illness, and independence.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Teenage YA, Adult

Interest: Gender Identity, GLBT, Homophobia, Family, Friendship, Coming-of-Age

Notable Quotes:

“Love always looks nice.  I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t enjoy it when they see it.  Anyone who doesn’t, I don’t really want to know them.”

Originally posted on 2/26/11 at 10:48pm