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Book Review: Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of School Library Journal. I am SO EXCITED to now be able to rave to everyone about this book. 

 

tash heartsTash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

ISBN-13: 9781481489331 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date:06/06/2017

★ Gr 9 Up—Seventeen-year-old Kentucky filmmaker and Tolstoy superfan Tash Zelenka’s summer takes an unexpected turn when her web series, Unhappy Families (a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina) goes viral. The newfound fame causes tension between Tash and her best friend Jack, who also works on the series. Tash is easily caught up in the increased social media attention, her fans’ expectations, and the criticisms. She is also grappling with her complicated relationship with her sister, Klaudie, who drops out of acting in the series to more fully enjoy her last summer before college. Plus, Tash must deal with her flirtation with vlogger Thom, her confusing feelings for Paul (Jack’s brother and Tash’s other best friend), and her worries about the end of the series and her impending college applications. Tash is also beginning to come out to people as romantic asexual and needs to figure out how to share her identity with Thom, whom she will be meeting soon at the Golden Tuba independent web awards. Tash and her group of artsy theater friends are vibrant, creative, and thoughtful. They may not always totally understand one another, but their admirable and complicated friendships have so much heart. The much-needed asexual representation plays a significant role in the story, with readers privy to Tash’s thoughts on identity and conversations with friends about what the term means. VERDICT Funny, well written, and compulsively readable, this will especially appeal to readers with an interest in web series. A strong choice for YA shelves.

Take 5: YA Lit on Asexuality Resources

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Earlier today guest poster Laura Perenic shared with us an introduction to asexuality (Introducing Asexuality, a guest post by Laura Perenic). This really resonated with me because of a recent interaction I had with one of my regular teen patrons. I was sitting in the Teen MakerSpace working on some collection development. Specifically, I had a list of Asexual (or Ace) YA Lit titles that I was checking the catalog to see if we owned a decent number of titles on the topic for our teens. As I sat there, this teen came up to me and saw the word asexuality on my computer screen. “What are you doing?,” she asked. So I told her I was checking to make sure we had some YA fiction titles on asexuality in our teen fiction collection. She then pointed to the word asexual on my computer screen, “That’s me,” she said. She then went on to tell me that she had no idea that there were teen fiction books that featured asexual characters, she said it in a way that clearly communicated that this moment was important to her. For the first time, she knew that there were teens like her in our teen fiction collection. Thankfully, I was able to get a couple of titles in her hand in that moment, which is why it is important that we do our due diligence in collection development and can meet the needs of any teen we encounter in our libraries. Here are a few resources for you to check your collections to make sure you have some asexual representation in your YA collection. I particularly recommend the Gay YA as it is curated by members of the GLBTQIA+ community and they really discuss representation and quality. When evaluating the quality of books featuring asexual teens it’s important to listen to members of the asexual community to make sure that the representation is not harmful and does not perpetuate stereotypes.

Masterlist: Asexual – Gay YA

Booklist: Asexuality in Young Adult Fiction – The Hub

Books with Asexual Main Characters – Quiet YA Reads

Not Broken: Julie Daly talks asexual representation in YA

Also, check out this multi-part discussion:

Reading While Asexual: Representation in Ace YA – Gay YA

Introducing Asexuality, a guest post by Laura Perenic

sjyalitSometimes being Asexual feels like something I’m not instead something I am.  I am not heterosexual.  I am not homosexual.  I am not gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual.  I am the A at the end of LGBTQIA that many interpret to mean ally; the A for Asexual that sometimes gets left off. It is confusing and frustrating to be just 1% of the population.  I don’t know anyone beyond the internet who is Asexual. I’ve joined online groups and  read anything I can find.  Pages like AVEN – The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network gave me a lot of great information. But I still don’t feel connected to the community.  I do not speak for fellow Aces, our identifier of choice. Being Ace feels a bit anticlimactic.  I’ve never seen an Ace pride parade.  I didn’t have a big coming out.  When I reveal my status to people they tell me on some level they always knew.  If I was being so obvious it’s interesting that it took me so long to realize it for myself.

A great resource is The Asexuality Archive. They establish a definition of Asexual as “Asexuality is a sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or homosexuality, etc., but instead of being sexually attracted to men or women, asexual people are sexually attracted to no one.  This doesn’t mean we all hate sex or avoid it, it just means we don’t find people sexually attractive.”  The challenge of this definition is while encompassing the basics it still doesn’t include all the facets of being Ace.  Sexuality has a spectrum often represented with the terms in LGBTA.  Ace has its own spectrum and includes Grey-sexual and Demi-sexual.

Grey-sexual: An umbrella term for a person who falls between sexual and asexual on the spectrum. A demisexual person only rarely experiences sexual attraction or only under specific circumstances.

Demisexual: A person who only experiences sexual attraction to someone once they have formed a strong emotional bond to that person.

In school to say that I had no interest in dating would be an understatement.  Not only did I not want to date but I couldn’t understand people who did. The entire process seemed confusing and also something I wanted no part of.  Sure I dabbled, went to prom and played spin the bottle but the results were the same.  Or the lack of results. It can be difficult to click with people without sexual chemistry. Even if you don’t desire someone, you have a connection with people who date or marry because its something you yourself have done.  Unless you haven’t and things start to feel like a game where everyone else knows the rules.  Many years into being an adult I still had a lot of questions about why my interaction with people were so different.   I don’t know where I first learned the term Asexual. It felt more correct than anything I used to label myself.  When I began to reveal to people that I was Ace I was mostly happy with the response.  Many people told me that could tell that I was different but never really could explain it; choosing Ace seemed accurate to them as well.  Interestingly a lot of people still don’t know I am Ace.  This article will be a bit of an unmasking of for me. While I haven’t experienced a lot of overtly negative responses to being Ace the hardest part as with many things is just the lack of understanding.  I find that talking about it with people seems to make them profoundly uncomfortable.  They will change the conversation to nearly anything else rather than hear about my orientation.

I remember being at a Teen Think Tank training.  It’s a twice yearly conference in Ohio with lots of libraries who serve teens.  A speaker was reviewing new books to appeal to LGBTQIA teens.  When she got to A, when she actually shared books about being asexual I never felt so simultaneously visible and hidden.  I was thrilled that she found books with characters like myself. But I was still uncomfortable sharing that I was Ace.  I couldn’t bring myself to state my identity because then and now I still have this fear.  I still think of myself as what I am not.  How in this sex saturated society do I explain that I don’t want to have sex?  That I don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone regardless of gender? That I see beauty in a great variety of people.  That I don’t have a type.  I fear being called prude or frigid. I fear people trying to convert me.  I don’t always understand me but not being understood by others feels achingly daunting.

I admit when I read teen fiction I struggle to understand the motivations of the hormonally driven characters.  While teens at work are a constant source of puzzlement, the teens in books I read are even more of a conundrum.  For me books with Ace characters make such a strong impression. I recently read Haters by Jesse Andrews.  As Ash recounts that she neither likes boys or girls I really focused in on her character.  I thought to myself “yes, she is ace,” and I instantly understood her so much more.  With so few Aces to connect with in real life I am always alert for Asexual characters in Teen Fiction.  There are more options in Adult Fiction and even in film or on tv.  I was delighted to learn, as a lover of anime and manga, that many characters from Hayao Miyazaki’s films are thought to be Asexual. Most notably Nausicaä, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s lead, Nausicaä. (Asexuality in Fiction). Check out the YALSA book list on Asexuality in Young Adult Fiction for more titles to explore. Another good source for general information is the Asexual Awareness Week site. 

ace flagAces identify each other with the black, white and purple Ace flag or similarly striped triangle.  The color scheme is common for clothing as well as our websites. Since asexual people prefer the term Ace you will see the use of the Ace symbol found on playing cards.  Within the Ace community we have some jewelry aspects we considering telling and some common references that help identity us within the group.  (I’m conflicted about saying more because I don’t want to out others as Ace. I think signs are for other Asexuals to find each other).

In media, social media and in my own life I would love to see more representations of the Asexual orientation.  It is far too easy to find references, comics and other content that treat my sexuality as of more a biological conundrum than a facet of humanity.  Being Asexual doesn’t make us all virgins, single or religiously pious.  I don’t want to speak for the whole Ace community.  There is a lot of variety in our 1% that includes Asexuals who do have sex, marry and have children.  I want Asexuality to be a legitimate part of the spectrum.

lauraMeet Laura Perenic

Laura Perenic lives in Ohio where she works as a youth services librarian. She enjoys spoiling her dog and getting up very early in the morning to run.

 

Book Review: This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin

Publisher’s description

this songRamona fell for Sam the moment she met him. It was like she had known him forever. He’s one of the few constants in her life, and their friendship is just too important to risk for a kiss. Though she really wants to kiss him…

Sam loves Ramona, but he would never expect her to feel the same way-she’s too quirky and cool for someone like him. Still, they complement each other perfectly, both as best friends and as a band.

Then they meet Tom. Tom makes music too, and he’s the band’s missing piece. The three quickly become inseparable. Except Ramona’s falling in love with Tom. But she hasn’t fallen out of love with Sam either. How can she be true to her feelings without breaking up the band?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

 

Let’s put this right here in the front, just in case you plan to skim this review: THIS BOOK FEATURES AN ASEXUAL MAIN CHARACTER WHO TALKS A LOT ABOUT BEING ASEXUAL.

 

We’ll get back to that later.

 

I burned through this book in about 90 minutes. It’s on the short side and a quick read. The three main characters, Sam, Tom, and Ramona, take turns narrating. Unlike MANY books with alternate narration, their voices are distinctive and it eventually becomes VERY important to be able to see the story from each of their points of view. Sam and Ramona go to a prep school where they don’t really fit in (nor would they want to). They stick together and spend a lot of time practicing with their band (which is just the two of them), April and the Rain. They intend to go to Artibus College of Music and Arts together after graduation. At their audition, they meet Tom, a senior from another area school. Ramona instantly decides that he should be in their band. Tom’s a little overwhelmed by Ramona’s nonstop enthusiasm, but he feels drawn to Ramona and Sam, so joins their band. They changed their name to Vandalized by Glitter and make lovely, weird music together.

 

SKIP RIGHT OVER THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS, OKAY? 

 

Ramona has been in love with Sam basically since the second they met. She doesn’t see any signs that he could maybe feel the same way, and she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship, so she keeps this fact to herself. The thing is, Sam is desperately in love with Ramona, too, and figures the same thing—he’d know by now if she reciprocated those feelings. As an adult, I read this and think, ack! Just tell each other how you feel. But the teenage part of me that lives just under the surface still remembers EXACTLY how they feel and what they’re going through. Enter Tom. Ramona gets a big ol’ crush on him right away. They start to date (seriously, more on this below). She realizes she truly loves both and wants to be with both. Sam and Tom both come to these kinds of revelations too—why can’t they all be together? It’s far more complicated than those two quick sentences, of course, but you can go read all about it yourself. My point is, yes, this is a story with a love triangle, but it’s about a triangle that chooses to stay a triangle.

 

YOU CAN COME BACK NOW—NO MORE SPOILERS.

 

Ramona’s crush on Tom is instant, and he eventually realizes he’s into her as well. Tom recounts (to the reader) what went on in his last relationship with a girl named Sara. Sara talked to him about how he doesn’t want to have sex with her, how he seems bored kissing her and never tries anything else. She wonders if he’s gay. “I’m not gay,” Tom tells her. “I just don’t feel that way about anybody.” He tells her he doesn’t care about sex. Sara doesn’t believe him. She doesn’t think this is possible. So he’s a little hesitant to get involved with Ramona, given what happened before. They get together, and Tom is really into Ramona romantically but not sexually. They kiss and it’s just meh to Tom. YOU GUYS, there is so much about being asexual in this book. Tom really lets us into his brain. He tells the reader all of the things and people he loves and that he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on anything by not having sexual desires. He knows nothing is WRONG with him, but he still grapples with this a little, thinking maybe he should try harder to be into making out etc with Ramona. Eventually, he tells Ramona he’s asexual. And lots of stuff ensues after this (I’m really trying hard to not tell you the whole plot here. I’m not doing a great job of that, am I?), all of it good and positive and loving and accepting.

 

Other things about this book: Sam lives in the rich area of St. Louis. Tom lives in Ferguson. Their families are all different—Ramona’s mom is dead, Sam’s dad took off, and Tom’s parents are older. All three main characters are super duper giant music nerds. Tom is into cool public art projects, like Glitter in Odd Places. They all have secrets. We get to see tiny bits of their home lives and their school lives in relation to other students. The book is funny, too. Sam tells us about Ramona sleeping in the car: “Her mouth was hanging open, and she was frowning like she was dreaming of something that pisses her off, like dubstep.” 

 

This book was a total joy to read. Initially I found Ramona kind of insufferable, but her constant enthusiasm grew on me. I loved how into music they were, I loved their relationships with one another, and I loved getting to see the story through all of their eyes. Nowlin really captured what to me is a distinctly teenage feeling of being instantly completely obsessed with someone, finding everything they do fascinating, and then being confused on what to do next. This book should be in all collections. It’s not often we see an asexual character in YA or see romantic relationships handled the way they are here. A wonderful, quick, unique read. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492602903

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 01/05/2016