The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper

 

Harper Perennial calls The Marbled Swarm, Dennis Cooper’s “most haunting work to date,” and it is impossible to disagree. Although this latest from Cooper is more psychological and subtle, in many aspects, than most of his other works, it is perhaps because of those reasons that it is even more effective. The book is disturbing, as is typical from Cooper. The narrator, a deeply troubled young man with fantasies of incest on the brain, is consumed by homicidal and cannibalistic tendencies. The layers of his mind are just as twisted, concealed, and misleading as the secret passageways and hidden rooms that encompass his father’s voyeuristic mansion. The book, at its core, is a mystery story, which parallels the physical reality with the narrator’s subconscious, and what the reader finds in both places is darkly troubling.   

A narrator who refuses to identify as gay, but whose sexual perversions include raping and killing boys (particularly of the “Emo” type), then eating them; a father who spies on his sons, and who slowly and subtly persuades them to become sexually infatuated with each other; a boy who lies about being raped by his father to his brother, and by his brother to his father, with the hope that one of them will rape him; men who kidnap boys, alter them through plastic and bone surgery so they will look like their fantasy type, then sell them for sexual favors to men with twisted desires. These are just some of the characters in The Marbled Swarm. Individually, each is sick, twisted, and alarming in his own right; together, they create a world of psychological distrubia. The narrator and main character is the most interesting of the bunch, perhaps because the reader witnesses some of his secrets unfold chapter-by-chapter. His younger brother and father are also fascinating, in a “this car crash makes me want to vomit but I can’t turn my head” kind of way. Ultimately, the group serves to progress the story’s purpose, which is a commentary on language and communication, as well as Cooper’s modus operandi – exposing the terrible side of humanity and the evil side of desire. 

Cooper’s writing style is nearly unmatched; he is a type of writer that has been unknown in American Literature since William Burroughs. Although his themes are twisted and hard to stomach for most, his ability as a writer are laudable to say the least. His mastery of language, his ability to advance a plot seamlessly, and the sickeningly playful way he messes with his readers minds are impossible to overlook, despite how unsavory the subject matter. In The Marbled Swarm, Cooper has accomplished all that his previous works attempted, which is saying much, because his previous works were groundbreaking in their own right. In retrospect, though, it is clear to see that Cooper has been developing over time, getting better and better; and this latest, his masterpiece, is proof of how hard he has been working to perfect his craft. 

After admiring Cooper’s work for nearly a decade, I can say that, though I have loved and been fascinated by almost every book, poem, and essay the man has ever written, this is the book all previous works were helping to develop. It is, by far, Cooper’s most complex piece to date, and also his finest in craft, in theory, and in delivery. The fluid prose, disturbing subject matter, and psychological warfare (within the story and between narrator and reader) make this book a demonstrable work of genius. Had this been just a story about a disturbed young man who had sexual attractions for his brother and father, and who liked to eat human flesh, the book would have been sick, sad, and confusing; however, though that is technically what happens in the book, it is not what the book is about. This is a story about desire and depression; it is a story about cravings and theatrics;  it is a story about the pleasure of playing “the witness” in horrifying situations and, most importantly, it is a story about story-telling. 

Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0

 

 

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5 Mini-Reviews: From Willa Cather to Hillary Clinton

I’ll never catch-up on all the reviews I need to write for books I’ve read in the last 5 or 6 months. That’s that. But, I am going to make an effort to catch-up on the recent and then stay current moving forward. I do not intend to write a full review for every book that I read (I just simply do not have the time for that, and sometimes I don’t think the book needs it). Instead, I might write mini-reviews, like the ones below, so that I’ve at least shared some thoughts about my recent reading with you all and so that I have some record for myself, which was the whole point of beginning this book blog almost a decade ago! So, that being said, onto my thoughts for these three most recent reads:

Origin by Dan Brown: 3.0 out of 4.0

Origin is the latest in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series, following Angeles & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, and Inferno. I really enjoy this series. The premises are usually clever and interesting, and of course I love the way the stories are steeped in history (apocryphal or not) and often pit science versus religion. There’s just something fascinating about that seemingly eternal struggle and the lengths to which some people will go to protect their particular worldview (or, in the case of this series, eliminate the “competition” altogether).

That being said, I think Origin is my least favorite of the series. It seemed to me to be trying too hard, and the plot spent a long time stagnating (the “big mystery” is built up for something like 200 pages before going anywhere). This is also the rare instance where I knew from the first few chapters both what the secret was and who the villain was, which made the unfolding of it all rather anti-climactic. I did want to love this book because the topic itself is certainly timely and relevant, but I think that was also part of the problem. It was, for me, too current. It seemed like the imaginative leaps Brown had to take in previous books were unnecessary, here, so the thrill was gone. 

There were some things I did enjoy, though. Brown rather sensitively treats a non-traditional romance, for one, and he also incorporates some interesting thoughts from people like Sam Harris. On page 290, for example, he writes: “The term ‘atheist’ should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘nonastrologer’ or a ‘nonalchemist.’ We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive, or for people who doubt that aliens traverse the galaxy only to molest cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” This particular passage triggered a thought experiment that I haven’t had nearly enough time to ponder; it made me wonder about the natural state of human existence and whether, if left to our own devices, separate from a social environment, would individuals default to religious belief to explain things like thunder, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc? Historically, we know that many cultures have created gods to do just that, but is that a social construct or an innately human one? Dan Brown’s Origins, in this way, did leave me with plenty to think about.

Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd: 3.5 out of 4.0

I received this little gem from Melissa, who knows I’m a fan of Poe. To be honest, I didn’t even know this book existed! Peter Ackroyd is a world-class biographer who has won awards for his work on figures such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and William Blake. I was curious to see what he would do with a figure like Poe, whose life and times are much more a thing of legend than fact. There are so few extant (that we know of) factual records about Poe’s life, and much of what we do know has been exaggerated over the years, in keeping with the gloomy and mysterious aura surrounding the man. The first major post-Mortem written about Poe, for example, was a scathing, hyperbolic account of his personality, addiction, and talents, written by a man whom Poe had eviscerated in the press (as he did so often, to so many). The majority of that “biography” was wildly inaccurate and totally vindictive, and yet it is on this account that many have continued to base their opinions of Poe.

Ultimately, Ackroyd relies heavily on Poe’s works and letters to attempt to uncover the “real” man, beneath the facade. He also uncovers other written accounts of Poe, testimony from people who knew the author at various stages of life, such as former teachers, lovers, school “friends” (that term used loosely because Poe really did not get very close to many people, as he so often reminded everyone), and colleagues. The problem with these records is two-fold: first, that there are so few of them; second, that they are often contradictory. Some were even written or recorded well after Poe’s death, at which point time, distance, and the fact of Poe’s celebrity would all have influenced people’s perceptions. Was the myth making the man, or the man making the myth?

This little book of less than 200-pages is divided into 11 chapters, each focusing on a particular time period in Poe’s life. With titles like “The Victim,” “The Bird,” and “The Women,” it is clear to see that Ackroyd did uncover certain themes and momentous occasions which help to explain who Poe was, what was important to him, and how he became the legend that he is today. By all accounts, Poe was very well-regarded by the literati and critics alike. He was considered, even in his time, as the father of American literature, the first true “American” voice of the new continent, wholly distinct from our British forebears. So, where does the idea come from, that Poe died forgotten, under-appreciated? Well, as Ackroyd explains, Poe himself had a whole lot to do with that final assessment. Ackroyd’s biography is, I think, a must-read for any true Poe fan. Still, someday, I dream of discovering a cache of Poe history that will help illuminate so many of the unexplained questions about Poe, his life, and especially his final days.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton: 4.0 out of 4.0

Is my affinity for Hillary Clinton coloring my review? Probably, in part. I admire this woman, I always have, and I found much to connect with and appreciate in her latest memoir about the 2016 election. But, there is so much more to it than the title suggests, and much more than the “liberal media” (ha!) suggested in their never-ending attempts to stir the pot and grab the ratings. It’s pretty disgraceful, really, to think about the way they treated the release of this book, but it’s also completely unsurprising considering the way they have treated Hillary Rodham Clinton for the last 30 years, since she first entered the spotlight as First Lady of Arkansas.

Clinton covers a number of topics in this book, things that are important to her and which should also be important to us. She has a chapter on “Perseverance,” for example, which outlines the long and arduous process of deciding to run, and run again, when she may have much preferred to stay at home with her grandchild and garden. There’s a section on women, including historical influences and current issues for women in politics. There are thoughtful, painful, crucial explanations about how our election process has been compromised by domestic and foreign influences, and warnings about the continuing danger of big money influence in our politics. She talks about the very real divisions in our country and shares some of her thoughts as to why and how these things have come to be, and how we need to self-assess before it is too late.

Finally, though, she ends with a section titled, “Resilience.” She writes about Love and Kindness. She writes about her faith and her continuing attempts to grow and evolve and do better. And she ends with a chapter titled, “Onward Together,” wherein she asks all of us to keep going and keep trying, even when all seems lost, even when we are at our lowest, because that’s when the world needs it most. She closes by quoting Max Ehrmann, who said, “Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul” (468). I think Clinton is trying to do just that in writing this book and inviting us into what must have been a terribly difficult time and process.

People who already like Hillary Clinton are bound to like this book, and to experience the deep pain of her loss all over again. But they will also be reassured that their vote was the right one, and in more ways than most of us could have realized in the first place. People who don’t like Hillary Clinton probably won’t give this book a chance; but if they did approach it with a truly open mind and sense of fairness, I think even they would come to see that what she writes about is true and honest, that she admits to many of her failings while raising the alarm about many of our failings, and that it is indeed possible to do both of these things at the same time.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson: 3.0 out of 4.0

I’m so thrilled to be seeing more and more diversity in YA literature, and especially titles with main characters who are transgender, bisexual, and persons of color. Philip Pullman called this one, “a life-changing and life-saving book,” and I can see what he means. For a lot of people, especially young transgender teens who are beginning to understand what their feelings mean and to articulate to themselves just how they are different, books like this are incredibly important. Representation, feeling like you are a valid and “normal” person, rather than some bizarre aberration, can certainly be more than affirming, it can be everything.

Everyone thinks David Piper is gay. He is effeminate, he likes to wear girls’ clothes, he enjoys doing stereotypical girl things. Only his two best friends realize, though, that while David does like boys, he is not gay: he is transgender. When a new kid named Leo shows up to their private school, David feels an immediate affinity for him but can’t explain why. He’s not really attracted to him, and yet he can’t seem to shake the feeling that they share something, that they should be friends. Soon enough, David (and the readers) learn that Leo is different in his own way, too.

The novel is narrated from the perspective of both David and Leo, some chapters being told from one point of view, and some from the other (conveniently labeled “David” or “Leo” to let us know). While I appreciate the subject matter and Williamson’s smooth narrative style, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing, here. I think the goal was to suggest some of the very real struggles that transgender people face in their daily lives and in the transition process, while maintaining an uplifting tone and commitment to a positive and affirming message. This makes complete sense to me, but it seemed to get in the way of the story-telling, somewhat. David and Leo have their struggles, there are definitely some dark elements and disappointments, but for the most part, the characters seem constructed to fit a role rather than to develop a story. I just couldn’t connect with David or Leo, and most of the secondary characters (parents, friends, siblings) seemed there only because they needed to be there (because people have friends and families, so it’d be odd not to write them in?).

The Art of Being Normal is a quick and easy read, oftentimes sweet and sometimes maddening, and it is an important addition to the YA LGBTQ+ library as well as the YA offerings more generally. But it’s not something I would read again.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather 3.5 out of .0

Oh, my dear, sweet Willa Cather. How do I love thee? Okay, pardon the sap. I do enjoy Willa Cather so much, though. This novel was the September selection for the Classic Book-a-Month Club. I have to say, I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. I always enjoy Cather’s writing style, and this time was no different. She somehow combines naturalism with a rare, auditory elegance. Her descriptions of the land are beyond compare, so much so that her characters almost always come second to the landscape. I enjoyed this one in particular because it is set in the American southwest, a region that I love and that I just recently moved to myself; there was much to relate to. 

On the other hand, the story itself felt extremely distant this time. I just couldn’t connect with it, though I recognize it was beautiful and recounts an important history. At the center is the story of two Catholic priests who come to minister to the native people of the greater-New Mexico area. They must learn how to communicate with Native Americans and Mexicans, to tame the land, and to respect local customs while fulfilling their roles as missionaries. The book is split into nine separate sections, each with a particular focus, so that the novel reads more like an extended play with nine acts. To some extent, I appreciated this because it allowed me to focus on each individual scene, beautifully crafted, and to try to appreciate the purpose of that scene as I was experiencing it; on the other hand, unlike the dichotomy set-up by the structure of Cather’s A Lost Lady, for example, I did not find these segments particularly helpful in telling the priest’s story. And maybe that’s my issue. If I were to go back and read this again, I think I would approach it as a story about the land, and not a story about the Archbishop.

The narrative digressions, flashback recollections, and fictional accounts of actual historical figures and events added interesting context and complexity to an otherwise leisurely Cather work. I find in Cather’s works that she wants, more than anything, to tell the tale of a land, a time, and a people, and that is certainly the case here. The Hopi and Navajo people are treated sympathetically, and the recounting of the “Long Walk of the Navajo,” is both important and brave. Cather does not dull her criticism of the American government and rightly calls them to account for the way they treated our native populations, shuffling them around from one increasingly barren and uninhabitable region to the next. She also makes suggestions about the intimate and powerful relationship between religion and politics. Ultimately, I think I’m going to have to read this one again to fully appreciate it, preferably during a break when I can really sink into it.

Every Day by David Levithan

13262783Can you imagine yourself not as a physical being, but as an ethereal entity – a formless consciousness that floats through life from day-to-day, always looking like someone different but always knowing yourself to be the same?

Every day since birth, A wakes up in a different body. Sometimes he wakes up as a boy, sometimes she wakes up as a girl. A has no physical or biological sex, instead needing to adapt to the sex of the host body where s/he resides any particular day. S/he is capable of accessing the memories of the host bodies and can also allow (or not) that host to remember what A experiences on the day of his visit, though s/he usually chooses to block these memories so that the host will not feel as if they have been possessed or invaded. Each night, when A falls asleep in one body, s/he knows that s/he will wake up in the morning as someone entirely different.

A does have a personality, consciousness, and sense of self that is entirely individual, though s/he has no physical form, and A carries this individuality into each new day and every new body. This is the story of 40 days in the life of A – perhaps the most important 40 days that s/he will ever experience. S/he learns that s/he is perhaps not alone in this very unique experience – there may be others out there who are doomed (or blessed?) to exist only in others’ bodies. A also falls in love, for the second time, and must learn how to make a relationship work under such extraordinary circumstances or s/he must choose to make the ultimate sacrifice, for someone else’s happiness.

The two main characters are A and Rhiannon, 16 year olds who are on their own paths to self-discovery and whose encounter with each other will set the trajectories of their lives in new directions. Through A, we also witness, on the surface, the lives of dozens of other teenagers: boys and girls; popular kids and nerds; athletic kids and beautiful ones; kids who are blind, fat, depressed, alcoholic, addicts, or suffering from ADHD. We also get glimpses of their families and friends, though their stories are always in the background as A navigates their lives for one day, in pursuit of his own. The only other recurring characters include two of A’s former hosts, Justin (Rhiannon’s boyfriend and the way A comes to meet her – awkward!) and Nathan, whom A has left, perhaps purposely, with lingering feelings of his “possession” and who ultimately introduces him to Reverend Poole, the man who will change A’s perspective forever. Levithan’s primary characters are interesting individuals, as are the host bodies, all of whom are believable teenagers with varied personalities and circumstances. Viewing the characters through A, who essentially is each of them (including Rhiannon) at one point or another, creates a unique experience for the reader.

journal-011-300x200The structure of the book, too, is interesting, though not entirely unique. It is, in a way, a journal-format. Each small chapter is one day in the life of A and, indeed, the chapter titles correspond to the chronological day (such as Day 6014) in A’s life. This structure, while not entirely original, is absolutely appropriate for the type of story being told and is suitable to A’s narrative style. Levithan’s writing style, too, his prose and language, are appropriate to the age and maturity level of the narrator and also match the oftentimes didactic nature of the story. It is lofty but grounded, well-paced but reflective.

One criticism of the book is that it is at times preachy. This point is well-taken and I do agree with those who find certain elements, such as the narrative arguments for social and sexual equality, not just pointed, but sometimes heavy-handed. Levithan is an issue writer, though, and as another reviewer has aptly mentioned, issue writers are interested in making their point and, in fact, making points is necessary to their purpose. The fact that I agreed with most of the points Levithan was making (gender equality, love of the person not of the sex, etc.), made the story more interesting for me, but I can certainly see how readers who struggle or disagree with such sentiments might find the “lecture” portions of the narrative a bit jarring.

My primary point of contention comes from a particularly disturbing element of the story, which is, I believe, both indicative of the narrator’s personality but also, though I am usually reluctant to make these arguments, of the writer’s bias. Throughout the book, the narrator makes a point of being highly understanding and empathetic. Since s/he has spent his (I will stick with gendered-male pronoun from here on out, as that is ultimately how I perceived the narrator) life living inside of different bodies, it is understandable that he would be a more enlightened individual. He has been male and female, blind, deformed, ugly, and everything in-between. In each case, he makes the argument for empathy and compassion – that we should love ourselves and each other as we are and that each of us suffers from our own demons which might affect the way we treat ourselves and the way we interact with the world. A is able to build his relationship with Rhiannon, another equally enlightened young woman, whether he be in the body of a beautiful black girl, a beefy metal head, or a stringy track jock. The point is well-taken: be yourself, try to show others what is on the inside, and learn to accept others for who they truly are, not just for what they look like.

fat-thinBut then we get near the end of the book and A wakes up in the body of an obese boy. The body weighs 300 pounds and suddenly the tone changes dramatically, for the worse. This chapter, and the next one, is devoted largely not to acceptance or understanding, but to feelings of disgust and anger. It is this body, and only this one, that A is ashamed to show Rhiannon. It is this body that A blames for what it is. Unlike the addicts or depressed teenagers, whom A tries to empathize with and thereby get the reader to think more deeply about, this fat kid gets nothing but criticism – A even tries to “access” the reasons why he might be so fat, but finds only laziness as the cause. Then, after deciding to meet with Rhiannon anyway, it is after this particular meeting that Rhiannon concludes she can no longer engage in this kind of relationship, because she cannot build a relationship with someone who never looks the same. Rhiannon struggles with this all along, but with all of the other bodies, male and female, tall and short, pimpled, hairy, or beautiful, Rhiannon accepts the body. Until the fat, sweaty boy shows up and everything changes. It would be easy to say that this is just a teenage insecurity – that the author is trying to make a statement about the judgmental nature of people and youths; however, throughout the book, both A and Rhiannon, as I have already mentioned, are incredibly enlightened and accepting of all people and situations. Why, then, is this one person so different – so disgusting? Unfortunately, I feel it is a deeper bias coming from the author. He makes a point of making points in this book, as in all of his books. It would be naïve and unfair to think, then, that this, too, is anything other than his making a point: do not be fat. Fat comes from being lazy. There are no psychological or emotional reasons for obesity, it just means you eat too much and do too little. It is outrageous. Not since reading Atlas Shrugged have I been so angered by a particular element of a particular book and it saddens me that this perspective comes from Levithan who is, otherwise, a very positive, compassionate writer.

Ultimately, though, I did love this book. I found the premise incredibly interesting and thought the social/gender politics were expressed in a unique way. The story moves at a great pace, the characters and their stories are fascinating and believable. There is a fantasy element to the story which comes into play late in the book, when Reverend Poole and A finally meet, but the narrative is still grounded firmly in reality. Had it not been for the one bizarrely glaring prejudice mentioned in the paragraph above, I could have easily found this to be a perfect read. As it is, I found it, still, to be a wonderful one. Highly recommended.

Notable Quotes:

“Kindness connects to who you are, while niceness connects to how you want to be seen” (56).

“You shouldn’t have to venture deep down in order to get to love” (72).

“Tomorrow . . . a little less than a promise, and a little more than a chance” (97).

“I see no sin in a kiss. I only see sin in the condemnation” (223).

“Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other” (320).

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Plot/Story:

Dade Hamilton is an eighteen-year-old high school graduate. He is spending his summer working at Food World, avoiding his parents, making new friends, and keeping a secret he plans to take with him to college: he is gay. Dade becomes estranged from his “boyfriend,” Pablo, who is anything but a boyfriend, at least to Dade. Pablo is in the closet, too; but he also has a girlfriend, and he spends his time playing between the girl and Dade, never giving all of himself to either one, and never really knowing just what he wants. The confusion of which leads to terrible consequences. Although Dade’s last summer at home was supposed to be fun, it turns out to be a time of turmoil: his parents become estranged, his friends turn on him, and his job sucks. Until Alex Kincaid, the boy who dreams are made of, enters the picture. Suddenly, Dade’s summer turns around. He finds the courage to be who he is and, with the help of a friend, visiting from California, Dade heads to college a new man: positive, strong, and ready for life’s challenges.

Characterization:

Characterization and character development are strong points in Burd’s writing, at least in this particular story. His characters do not always do what I would hope or expect of them, but their unpredictability is believable and adds to their unique individualities. The Pablo character is particularly believable; his inner-conflict is painful, as is the outcome of his struggle.  Dade’s parents are bizarre, but in the “we all know a family like that” kind of way. Their desire to come to terms with Dade’s sexuality is also realistic, in that it does not go perfectly well, but it is also not an “end of the world” scenario for their family, as is often the case in YA books that explore this theme. Perhaps the three most interesting characters, though, are the main trio: Dade, Alex, and Dade’s friend Lucy. While I was disappointed with Dade’s final decision (probably because I liked Alex’s character so much and could not see myself coming to the conclusion Dade does), I can still understand why Dade felt the need to make the decision he made and, in a way, it is laudable. 

Prose/Style:

Aside from the proofreading errors (missing words, misspelled words, minor grammar oversights, etc) which are not necessarily the fault of the author, the overall prose and style of the story is right on par with the age and maturity level of the story, and with the intended audience. The language is smooth and engaging, supplementing the emotions of the story well and progressing the scenes without conflicting with or overpowering the story itself.  The narrative voice is sound and appealing; it is easy to sink into the story and find yourself looking up only after pages and pages have passed by, without your knowing it. 

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

This is a book quite simply about life and all its twists and turns. The story tackles family dynamics, infidelity, divorce, friendship (strains and strengths), coming-out and coming-of-age, first loves, sex, drugs, exploration, and substance abuse. The most important overarching theme, though, is finding one’s way, as a youth, through the mess and into one’s own. Dade is a relatively weak young man at the start of the story, a push-over. He submits to Pablo’s whims because the brief moments with Pablo make Dade feel wanted. He never questions his parents’ antics, though they are obviously unhappy and unhealthy.  He lets his “friends” abuse him, making fun of him on a regular basis and exploding rumors about him, without confutation. Through meeting Lucy, a strong, self-aware lesbian girl, and Alex, Dade’s new love interest (one who allows Dade to explore real emotions, whereas Pablo only permitted the physical, when he felt like it), Dade comes into his own. He tells his parents the truth about himself and he stands up to them and to his friends.  Dade leaves for college a changed person, confident and self-assured. He even makes the difficult choice of leaving behind what is most important to him, in order to put himself first, to take care of himself for the very first time. The Vast Fields of Ordinary is an endearing, realistic, and reassuring story about growing up without giving up; it is a story about learning how to respect others, without sacrificing one’s self. 


 

Notable Quotes:

“It’s hard to show people everything, you know?  You never know what they’ll do with it once they have it.”

Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

Giveaway from JMill Wanders! #TheLiteraryOthers

Hi all! Jenna here. I blog over at JMill Wanders. I hope everyone has been enjoying The Literary Others Reading Event. I’m excited to be hosting the final giveaway for what I consider to be an essential event.

 The Prize
I am giving away one Literary Others book of choice to a randomly selected winner. The book can cost up to $20, and the giveaway is international. The book will be ordered from either Amazon or The Book Depository, so please verify prices on one/both of those sites.

How to Sign Up

It’s simple! Just leave a comment on this post. Please include your favorite Literary Others read, the book you’d like to win, and your email address so I can contact you if you win. You can earn up to two (options) bonus entries for following me on Twitter and Instagram. Let me know in the comment if you’ve done this.

The giveaway will end on Monday, October 31st at 11:59 PM Central Time.

 Best of luck to everyone! Enjoy the rest of the reading event.

A Librarian Recommends #TheLiteraryOthers

Please welcome Laura Ashlee Graves from That Librarian Lady, who has provided a wonderful list of LGBT YA books that she recommends, as well as a giveaway following the post! Thank you, Ashlee! (I just added a bunch of books to my TBR Pile!)

When I began my first year at my school library, I immediately noticed that there was a huge lack of GLBT representation. I think the previous librarian was hesitant to purchase books with queer characters because my school is in a pretty conservative community. That may seem funny since I live in Alabama, but I grew up pretty progressive in the South and I’ve been lucky enough to live in areas of the state that are more inclusive and culturally diverse. I also noticed quickly that I had quite a few queer students growing up in this conservative community. Now, I would have made it a point to purchase more books with queer characters anyway because I truly believe that diverse collections can help students develop empathy.

Still, knowing I had students who needed these books in their lives made it a really important task. I haven’t read every book in my library (because I’m not a superhero). I also haven’t read every book with queer characters that I’ve bought. Like most librarians, I rely on reviews and recommendations for the bulk of my book buying. I do have several books in my library that I constantly recommend, though. I thought I would share them.

When I originally made my list, there were twenty-six books on it. I’ve managed to choose my favorite twelve from that list. These are books I’ve read and recommend and they’re all pretty recent releases. These are also young adult books, since I purchase A LOT of young adult for my library. I love it when I see students get excited over these books. I buy them because I know my kids need them in their lives and I want them to have easy access to them.

12000020-1-copyAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle, or Ari, is angsty and confused. He’s angry that his parents won’t talk to him about his brother, who’s in prison. He’s also a loner, never feeling like he quite fits in with other boys. Dante is a brilliant boy who tries to look on the brighter side of life. The two seem to have nothing in common, but learn a lot about themselves through their friendship. Ari struggles a lot with what it is that makes him feel different and being friends with Dante helps him with that. Dante is also figuring it out but he is unapologetic about who he is. They’re also figuring out where they fit in as Mexican Americans and that added another layer to the story that I really appreciated. I loved their friendship. It’s not a perfect book, in my opinion, but I think it’s worthy of the praise it’s gotten.

13069935-copyAsk the Passengers by A.S. King

Astrid feels like she has no one to she can talk to. Her mother is overbearing, her father is disinterested, and her little town is too conservative to understand her. She’s been having a secret relationship with her female coworker and the only people she’s telling are the people in the planes that fly over her back yard. This novel is about self-discovery and challenging the boxes society puts us in. This book affected me on a very deep level when I first read it and it remains one of my favorites. It’s the book that turned A.S. King into one of my favorite authors.

13414183-copyBetter Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Nate Foster wants nothing more than to star in a Broadway show, but he feels held back by his small New Jersey town and his disapproving parents. When a casting call goes out for a musical version of E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Nate knows he has to get to New York and audition for the part of Elliot. This book is a little more fun than the previous two. It’s laugh-out-loud funny but still has its serious moments. While Nate’s runaway trip to New York is fun and hilarious, he’s also dealing with his own self-discovery. It’s meant for younger reads (around middle school age), but it’s still a fun read for older readers. To get the full story, you’ll also have to pick up it’s sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate.

17237214Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
This novel centers on two teenage boys who attempt to kiss for 32 hours to set a new Guinness World Record. Their kiss is partly a political statement they’re inspired to perform after their friend, Tariq, is jumped one night. It’s not only about Harry and Craig’s kiss, though. The story also follows several other boys. Peter and Neil have been together for a year, even though Neil’s family never talks about it. Avery and Ryan only met the night before at a gay prom, but immediately hit it off. Cooper feels completely and utterly alone. No one knows that he’s gay until his father reads a chat session with another guy on his laptop. All these stories and perspectives are narrated by a generation of gay men who lived in a different time, when AIDS was a terror that seemed to pick them off one by one. This is one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful YA novels I’ve ever read. It was a favorite before I even finished. There’s a nice balance of the historical view of gay men and boys and the contemporary lives of these particular gay boys. This is a very emotional book and it will make you cry, but it’s worth it.

17261129Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Brendan has a great life. He’s popular and has a girlfriend he really loves. So, why does he feel wrong in his own body? Why does he dream of looking like a girl? When the feelings become too much, Brendan puts on some of the clothes he wishes he could wear to feel closer to being the person he wishes he were. When he’s caught by one of his best friends, his life begins to fray. Maybe the girl at the LGBT Youth Center can help him find some answers. This book takes a look at the struggle that come with being on the transgender spectrum with raw truth. Brendan’s friends can’t understand what he’s going through and offer him very little empathy. Angel is almost like a representation of what Brendan’s life could be in the future. She’s in a different place in her own life as a transgender girl and possibly on a different place in the spectrum. The novel is written in beautiful verse and it’s a pretty quick read.

18166920Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out edited by Susan Kuklin

Susan Kuklin compiles the stories of six transgender teens. Most of the book is their own words from interviews and she includes a lot of pictures of the teens throughout. I loved this book because it offers so many perspectives and experiences from real trans teens. Some of the stories these teens share are hard to read, but Kuklin puts them on the page with a “take it or leave it” attitude. I think it’s an important book for every library to own and it also may be great for anyone interested in understanding different gender identities and the experiences of trans teens.

20312458Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Leila feels different enough due to her Persian descent. She doesn’t want people to find out she also likes girls. When Saskia moves to her school, things get complicated. Leila starts developing a crush and it seems like Saskia might return those feelings. I love this book for its simplicity. It’s a sweet book about crushes, bad relationships, and overlooking the person who’s right in front of you. I remember reading it in one sitting and closing it with a good feeling and smile on my face.

 

19547856Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

When a classmate finds Simon’s emails with a boy names Blue on the school computers, he decides to blackmail him for some help asking out one of Simon’s friends. Suddenly the budding romance between Simon and Blue is affecting every part of his life, including his friendships. This is another pretty simple YA book that I adore with all my heart. It’s about high school bullshit, friendship drama, and embarrassing families. I’ve read it four times and loved it every time. It’s charming, funny, and so sweet. I just want to melt into my couch from happiness every time I read it.

19542841More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Aaron has been struggling to stay happy since his father committed suicide. His mother and his girlfriend help, but it still feels like something’s missing. When a new boy names Thomas shows up in his life, he can’t help but notice the feelings he’s developing for Thomas. Adam Silvera adds a nice speculative twist to this book that can really throw the reader for a loop. It’s one of those books you can only read for the first time once. Also, if you don’t know who Adam Silvera is, what are you doing with your life? Go follow him on all your social media. Despite his sad books, he’s a hilarious human being.

24612624George by Alex Gino

George may have been born a boy, but she knows she’s really a girl. When she’s told by her teacher that she can’t play Charlotte in their classes play of Charlotte’s Web, George and her friend Kelly devise a plan to get her on stage. This book is written for an elementary audience, but you’re never too old for a fantastic children’s book. Gino did such a good job with George’s voice. I felt all of her disappointments and triumphs. It’s a beautiful, quick read. I recommend to everyone, period.

 

22692740Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Riley knows people don’t know what to think about them. For the most part, Riley manages to fly under the radar and let people wonder. That is, until Riley starts a Tumblr blog about their life as a gender fluid teen. The blog starts to go viral and someone at school knows it’s Riley. With Riley’s father going through a congress reelection, things are getting a little out of hand. This is a bit of a coming out novel, but it’s the first one I know of that’s about a gender fluid teen. I think Garvin did a really great job with it. He also included some awesome music. Riley’s a pretty bad ass, punk rock kid.

26156987If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

After an awful incident, Amanda moves to live with her dad in a small town in Tennessee. She makes friends and starts to find her place in her little town. When she starts falling for sweet, honest Grant, she begins to doubt herself. She wants to tell him everything about herself, but she’s afraid he won’t accept her past. Russo hits on so many issues in this book: secrets, ignorance, friendship, first love, family dynamics. She writes about all this beautifully and sometimes with heartbreaking honesty. Though Russo has spoken about how this isn’t quite the trans book she wants to write, it’s still an important book. It’s a book about a trans girl written by a trans woman with a trans model on the cover. That’s huge and it could pave the way for even more honest trans books with more intersectionality. Also, it’s a really great book.

Note: You might notice there are no books about bisexual characters in my list. The truth is that I have yet to read one I felt was good. I have certainly not read everything, so I know I’ve missed a few and I hope to get to those books soon. However, I do think there’s a big need for YA books about bisexuality.

Thanks again, Laura! These are such wonderful suggestions. I think you’re right that bisexual characters are much less common in literature, YA or otherwise! Two books that come to mind off the top of my head, for those who are interested, include Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block and Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.

GIVEAWAY

Laura is generously giving away TWO ARCS to one lucky winner! The books are The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson and Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard. To enter, please leave a comment on this post saying you’d love to win. Giveaway will end October 20th at 11:59PM CT.

Master Post: #TheLiteraryOthers LGBT Reading Event!

4a81c8a7-05ac-47b4-964b-5869f5a8e838_zpsirguiazbWelcome to the Master Post for The Literary Others Reading Event!

This is a one-month event focused on all things LGBT, in honor of LGBT History Month (USA). Reading that will count for this event include any novels, short stories, essays, memoirs, biographies, poetry, plays, audiobooks, graphic novels, etc. written by an author who identifies as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender. Also, any works written by heterosexual authors, but whose primary plot/characters revolve around LGBT issues will count as well. See this post for more information and some suggestions. 

In early August, I announced sign-ups for the event, and was very happy to see that so many folks were interested and eager to get involved!  Thank you all for your positivity and encouragement, and for spreading the word about this event (please continue to do so! Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, etc: #TheLiteraryOthers)

I have a lot of things planned for this month, including giveaways, guest posts from authors and allies, and of course, my own reading and reviewing of LGBT works. First, let’s talk logistics.

2016hmholderWhenever you review a book or write a post related to the event, please link to it in the comments of this very master post. Please include the title or subject of whatever your post is about so that other participants can scan through to see what looks interesting! I will make sure that the button on my blog will take you to this post. Please make sure to only link-up your posts on this main Master Post so that we can keep everything organized. 

When you leave a qualifying link to one of your posts for this event, you will become eligible to win the giveaways that I will be hosting here throughout the month. The only way to be entered for these prizes is to make sure your posts are linked in the comments on this post (this includes reviews of the books you’ve read, commentary on LGBT topics, or any other posts directly related to this event).

There are also going to be quite a few giveaways hosted by participants of the event (thank you for your generosity!).  Specific details for each of these giveaways may be different, so be sure to read the rules on those giveaway posts carefully and enter if you are interested!  For any of the giveaways, here or at other participants’ blogs, you will need to be pre-registered (by October 5th) for this event in order to win.  

My first read is: Strange Brother (1931) by Blair Niles. What’s yours?!