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Sunday Reflections: How Do I Talk to The Teen About Orlando?

sundayreflections1On May 19th of this year I got to interview John Corey Whaley, so I took The Teen with me. I remarked to him then that I was pretty sure this was the first time that my teenage daughter had gotten to talk to an openly out adult and that I thought this was a pretty significant event for her, for us both.

johncoreywhaley

I was born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s. Around 1990 I became a born again Christian. Everything about my life involved the stigmatization and rejection of the GLBTQ population. And to be honest, that has been a hard mindset to shed to become the imperfect ally that I am.

So as we were driving home for that interview The Teen asked me about a story that Whaley had shared about coming out to his parents at the age of 26. I shared with her then that coming out as GLBTQ was one of the leading causes of teenage homelessness as many families kick their children out and shun them. I mentioned to her that it was all also a leading cause of suicide. And then she looked at me and asked, “what would you do if I told you I was gay?”

I always try and take the road of honesty with my children so I told her, “I am a 43 year old woman who has a youth ministry degree from a conservative Christian college. I would struggle with this in a lot of ways, but no matter what happens in this life, I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU AND YOUR HOME WILL ALWAYS BE WITH ME AND YOUR DAD. I want you to be happy and healthy and comfortable in your own skin and to know that you are safe with us, always. We are your home, your family.”

But what I did not tell her was that this revelation would terrify me. Not because of my faith or my personal beliefs, but because I understand that we still live in a world where many people are angry and hostile and actively wish members of the GLBTQ community harm.

And then Orlando happened.

I did sit down and talk with my daughter about Orlando. I cried as I told her that a man had gone into a nightclub and fired his gun, killing 50 people and harming many more. She is a teenager, she has a variety of devices that give her access to the Internet, and I wanted to make sure she processed this information in a way that was accurate – it was a hate crime against the GLBTQ community – and in the context of our faith. I can’t speak for God and I stopped trying a long time ago, but our God, the God of my faith, commands us to love above all else. I want her to know that love is the way we should always approach each other.

The reality is, some of the people I love most in this world identify as GLBTQ. I adore them and slowly, sometimes painfully, I have been able to shed the hatred that I was taught in the past. Some of my loved ones try to reconcile their faith with who they are, others have left their faith all together. But I was awakened to the fact that they all live in constant fear. Fear of losing loved ones who don’t approve of their lifestyle, fear of being fired or discriminated against, and a very real fear of being physically harmed or killed by those who label them sinners and pariahs and more. It’s 2016, and many Americans still live in fear from their fellow citizens.

So what do I tell my daughter about Orlando? And when will we live in a world where I no longer have to sit my daughter down and help her process these type of horrific events?

My heart weeps for Orlando.

What’s new in LGBTQIA+ this winter

Every other month I’ll be doing a roundup of new and forthcoming LGBTQIA+ YA books (and sometimes some non-YA books). I’ll try to include as many titles as possible. Know of a title I missed in this list? Or know of a forthcoming title that should be on my radar for an upcoming list? Leave a comment or tweet me @CiteSomething. This list covers a couple November titles I missed, December 2014, and January 2015 titles. All annotations here are via WorldCat or the publishers. My previous post, from October, can be found here. Lots of great titles.

 

November 2014

Unicorns and Rainbow Poopby Sam Kadence (Harmony Ink Press/Dreamspinner, November 6, ISBN 9781632164179): Vocal Growth series book 2. Ex-boyband member Dane Karlson is struggling to overcome an eating disorder and a body dismorphic disorder. His fall through a glass table puts him in rehab and on the road to recovery. Then a friend dies. Bas, an openly gay high school student who’s recently lost his grandmother, is trying to survive his last few months of school before escaping to Stanford. Having just lost the only person in his family to care for him, he is victim to the cruelty of the others. His younger brother bullies him, and his parents are suing him for his gran’s inheritance. Together Dane and Bas find a middle ground, supporting each other through the lows, dancing together during the highs.

 

Always Leaving by Gene Gant (Harmony Ink Press/Dreamspinner, November 13, ISBN 9781632165879): When Jason Barrett wakes up, he remembers only one thing: his name. Frightened and driven by paranoia, Jason keeps moving, going from town to town working odd jobs and making no friends. When he stumbles onto an emergency in New Hanover and saves a fellow teenage boy, it offers him the first connection he’s felt in a while. To return Jason’s kindness, Ravi wants to help solve the riddle of Jason’s missing past. As they work through clues, Jason begins to feel settled. He finds a place he belongs with Ravi—maybe something more.

 

Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus by Rachelle Lee Smith, forward by Candace Gingrich (PM Press, November 15, ISBN 9781629630410): A photographic essay that explores a wide spectrum of experiences told from the perspective of a diverse group of young people, ages 14–24, identifying as queer (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning), Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus presents portraits without judgment or stereotype by eliminating environmental influence with a stark white backdrop. This backdrop acts as a blank canvas, where each subject’s personal thoughts are handwritten onto the final photographic print. With more than 65 portraits photographed over a period of 10 years, the book provides rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth and gives a voice to an underserved group of people that are seldom heard and often silenced. The collaboration of image and first-person narrative serves to provide an outlet, show support, create dialogue, and help those who struggle.

 

If You Knew Jack by MC Lee (Harmony Ink Press/Dreamspinner, November 20, ISBN 9781632166883): Sequel to You Don’t Know Jack. Jack Carlisle has returned to the Center after an assignment designed to push him to the edge of his limits—and beyond. He is given just a few short days to get used to a new identity and a new team. He’s been trained to assume a new identity, but working with a new team is more difficult, especially since it throws him back in the path of Leo McCormack, the boy who stole Jack’s heart and handed it back broken into tiny pieces.

 

December 2014

Driving Lessons by Annameekee Hesik (Bold Strokes Books, December 16, ISBN 9781626392281): Abbey Brooks has recovered from her end-of-freshman-year heartbreak and has vowed that this year, her sophomore year at Gila High, will be different in every way. Her to-do list: get her driver’s license, come out to her mom, get (and keep) a girlfriend, and survive another year of basketball. As always, though, nothing goes according to plan. Who will be there for her as her plans start to unravel? Who will bring her back to life after another round of heartache and betrayal? These remain a mystery—even to Abbey. But one thing is for sure, she’s not confused about who she is. And that is going to make all the difference.

 

Asher’s Shot by Elizabeth Wheeler (Bold Strokes Books, December 16, ISBN 9781626392298): After uncovering the truth about his parents’ divorce and his brother’s death, fifteen-year-old Asher Price is ready for a shot at happiness. Armed with a Canon camera borrowed from his nutty neighbor, a date to homecoming, and revitalized relationships with family and friends, Asher’s on the right track. Even though Asher’s black-and-white view of the world has shifted to color, he still believes the only way to protect the people he loves is by keeping their secrets. His candid pictures capture the truth, but what if his success as a photographer requires exposing an enemy? In the end, Asher discovers protecting the people he loves can have devastating consequences, and his only shot at happiness involves revealing secrets of his own.

 

 

January 2015

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson (David Fickling Books, January 1, 2015, ISBN 978-1910200322): UK BOOK: Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long ….

 

Sienna by Helen Eve (Macmillan Children’s Books, January 1st 2015, ISBN 9781250054593): UK BOOK: Prequel to Stella.

Worshipped, envied, desired, and feared by all, Siena Hamilton reigns over Temperley High. Nothing can shake her place as the head of Temperley’s elite – not even that unfortunate incident at the end of last term . . . Siena is her mother’s daughter: she knows how to be perfect, and she will not disappoint. There is only one person who could possibly get in her way…. Romy, former Starlet, and Siena’s ex-best friend is back. And no one is happy about it, least of all her. Romy has changed after her term away in France, and is trying hard to be normal, to blend in and to keep the secret of what really happened that night safe and hidden. But when you’ve betrayed your former best friend, you don’t get to come back without a fight.

 

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 13, 2015, ISBN 9780316261043): In the town of Fairfold, where humans and fae exist side by side, a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives awakes after generations of sleep in a glass coffin in the woods, causing Hazel to be swept up in new love, shift her loyalties, feel the fresh sting of betrayal, and to make a secret sacrifice to the faerie king.

 

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), January 20, 2015, ISBN 9781627790147): Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong.

 

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, January 20, 2015, ISBN 9781481403108): Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night, just like the rest of his family. Now he lives in the hospital, serving food in the cafeteria, hanging out with the nurses, sleeping in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him. His only solace is in the world of the superhero he’s created—Patient F. Then, one night, Rusty is wheeled into the ER, half his body burned by hateful classmates. Rusty’s agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together though all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside of the hospital, and away from their pasts. But to save Rusty, Drew will have to confront Death, and life will have to get worse before it gets better. And by telling the truth about who he really is, Drew risks destroying any chance of a future.

 

Love Hurts compiled by Malorie Blackman (Corgi Children’s, January 29, 2015, ISBN 978-0552573979):  UK BOOK: Malorie Blackman brings together the best teen writers of today in a stunningly romantic collection about love against the odds. Featuring short stories and extracts about modern star-crossed lovers from stars such as Gayle Forman, Markus Zusak and Patrick Ness, and with a brand-new story from Malorie Blackman herself, Love Hurts looks at every kind of relationship, from first kiss to final heartbreak.

 

 

YA A to Z: David Levithan

 Why I chose David Levithan:

In fall  of 2003, I had just finished graduate school and was working at The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Massachusetts (far and away my favorite job ever). I was a big fan of LGBTQ YA books, just as I am now, so whenever a new title would come in, I’d snap it up. I read Boy Meets Boy, then (probably) proceeded to make my coworkers crazy as I read passages out loud to them. I adored this book that was set in an extremely gay-friendly town. The protagonist, Paul, doesnʼt have to come to terms with being gay; he just is. He says, “Iʼve always known I was gay, but it wasnʼt confirmed until I was in kindergarten. It was my teacher who said so. It was right there on my kindergarten report card: PAUL IS DEFINITELY GAY AND HAS A VERY GOOD SENSE OF SELF.” Paul is neither lonely nor alone. Multiple love interests make Paulʼs life more complex, not to mention the colorful friends in his life (like Infinite Darlene—once Daryl—the star quarterback and schoolʼs most popular drag queen). I’ve read everything Levithan has written, but Boy Meets Boy remains my absolute favorite of his books.

 

Brief biography (from Levithan’s website):

I find it downright baffling to write about myself, which is why I’m considering it somewhat cruel and usual to have to write this brief bio and to update it now and then. The factual approach (born ’72, Brown ’94, first book ’03) seems a bit dry, while the emotional landscape (happy childhood, happy adolescence – give or take a few poems – and happy adulthood so far) sounds horribly well-adjusted. The only addiction I’ve ever had was a brief spiral into the arms of diet Dr Pepper, unless you count My So-Called Life episodes as a drug. I am evangelical in my musical beliefs.

When not writing during spare hours on weekends, I am a publisher and editorial director at Scholastic, and the founding editor of the PUSH imprint, which is devoted to finding new voices and new authors in teen literature

 

Works (from Wikipedia):

Boy Meets Boy (2003)

The Realm of Possibility (2004)

Are We There Yet? (2005)

Marly’s Ghost: A Remix of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, illustrated by Brian Selznick (2005)

Wide Awake (2006)

How They Met (2008)

Love Is the Higher Law (2009)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-written with John Green (2010)

The Lover’s Dictionary (2011)

Every You, Every Me (2011)

Every Day (2012)

Invisibility, co-written with Andrea Cremer (2013)

Two Boys Kissing (2013)

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story (scheduled for release in March 2015)

With Rachel Cohn

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2006)

Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List (2007)

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares (2010)

With David Ozanich and Chris Van Etten

Likely Story (2008)

All That Glitters (2008)

Red Carpet Riot (2009)

Plus various anthologies edited and short pieces (see Wikipedia page)

 

Find David Levithan online:

Facebook

Twitter

Website

 

If you like David Levithan, check out these authors:

Nina LaCour, Rachel Cohn, Alex Sanchez, Brent Hartinger, Ellen Wittlinger

 

Join the conversation!  Share a post about your favorite author OR tweet us your favorite author with the tag #YAAtoZ. While we’re sharing our favorite authors, we would love to hear about yours. We all might find some new authors we haven’t heard of before. And the more authors we share, the more comprehensive and diverse the list becomes. On Twitter, we’re @TLT16 and I’m@CiteSomething

#YAAtoZ Schedule: Week 1 4: A ; 5: B ; 6: C ; 7: D  Week 2 10: E ; 11: F ; 12: G, H, I ; 13: J, K ; 14: L  Week 3 17: M ; 18: N, O ; 19: P, Q ; 20: R, S ; 21: T  Week 4 24: U ; 25: V, W ; 26: X ; 27: Y ; 28: Z

 

Book review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polonsky, tells the story of 6th grade Grayson, a transgender girl. Raised as a boy, Grayson has never felt entirely comfortable in her own skin. She spends her class time doodling abstract princesses in the margins of her notebook, trying to keep them unrecognizable because she knows boys shouldn’t do that—and everyone perceives her as a boy. When she looks in the mirror, she can envision herself in dresses. She longs to be able to express her true gender identity. Grayson is a loner, eating her lunch in the library and just trying to avoid the attention of the class bullies. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was young, and though she’s lived with her aunt, uncle, and two cousins for many years now, she isn’t close to them. They don’t know the real Grayson. No one does.

 

It’s only when Grayson impulsively signs up for play tryouts that things start to change. The play is The Myth of Persephone and Grayson auditions for the role of Persephone. The teacher in charge of the play casts Grayson in this role, unleashing a background storm of controversy (which is revealed bit by bit throughout the story). Grayson loves playing Persephone. At play practice, she finds new friends, including Paige, an older girl who sort of takes Grayson under her wing. While it’s nice to have friends at play practice, and feel part of the group, it further reinforces to her the many other ways she’d like to fit it. She’d like to be able to use the girls’ restroom with her friends, to have them braid her hair not just because they’re being silly but because she’s a girl and it’s what the girls are doing. The decision to play Persephone has many negative ramifications, but Grayson repeatedly thinks that playing this role is right, that choosing to make this bold move is the right choice.

 

Grayson is bullied from the kids at school who take to calling her “Gracie.” She does her best to just keep her head down and stay out of their way. At home, it’s not a whole lot better. Her older cousin Jack is horrible to her. Once they find out she will be playing Persephone, her aunt and uncle begin to address not only this situation, but what might be going on with Grayson in the larger scheme of things. Her uncle Evan is much more supportive than her aunt Sally, who makes it clear that Grayson being anything other than the boy they have raised is not okay (couching her disapproval in the “I’m just trying to protect you from what others will think” mask). After Grayson’s grandmother dies, she is given some old letters from her mother that help put everything into perspective. While her aunt is hateful and not understanding, there are many other lovely displays of support and encouragement. And while I found her aunt odious, I don’t think her reactions are out of the ordinary for many people. It made the story feel more honest and I was grateful for all of the times we see her uncle being quietly supportive, counteracting his wife’s reactions.

 

Reading this book wasn’t easy. Grayson is very alone for much of the time. The people who are horrible to her are awful. We spend a lot of time getting to see Grayson’s thoughts and dreams, which are so far from the reality she currently is in. But by the end, after the weeks spent with new friends in the play, the story begins to feel more hopeful. It’s clear that Grayson’s path won’t be an easy one. Nothing magically becomes great for her before the story wraps up. There is still a lot of uncertainty and sadness in her life. Though the ending is a bit abrupt, it looks like Grayson will be taking further steps to begin to show her true self to the world.

 

This groundbreaking middle grade book presents a look at the life of one transgender girl in a way that feels completely realistic and age-appropriate. Polonsky’s writing is beautiful, always keeping us right there with Grayson and understanding how she is feeling. The true moment of beauty in this book, for me, was how she presented the performance of the play. I teared up (and would have cried a fair bit, I’m sure, were I not in the waiting room of the auto mechanic!). Many times throughout this book I wanted to be able to leap into the story and hug Grayson. I hope this book is purchased widely for collections and gets in the hands of the people who need it the most.

 

For other thoughts see:

Sense and Sensibility and Stories

A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Bookish Ardour

A Chair, a Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy

 Gay YA
ISBN-13: 9781423185277
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: 11/4/2014

Book review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Let’s get some things out of the way first.

1. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero is absolutely fantastic. You need to order it for your library/bookstore/kid/friend/self.

2. The novel is a year in the life of Gabi, a Mexican American girl who lives in Southern California. It’s funny, sad, honest, raw, bold, and hopeful. It’s about the many things that can go on in one’s life, great and small. Did I mention it’s fantastic?

3. What I’m going to write now is going to have spoilers. It just is. I want to talk about some of the very big and important things this book addresses and what this book does. I can’t do that by dancing around plot point. I don’t like to write reviews that reveal everything, because, for me, most of the joy in reading a book is discovering the story. But today, there are spoilers. So if you want to take my word that the book is amazing, and read it without knowing many of the details, just get it on your TBR list and come back to read this later.

You’re still here? You’re aware I’m going to reveal a lot of the plot? You’re sure? Okay, let’s go.

Gabi is about to start her senior year of high school. She uses her diary to talk about everything that is going on in her life, whether that means things with her friends and family, or whether that means working out the many big subjects she’s thinking about. Gabi’s mother got pregnant with her at 25, but because she was unwed, her grandmother reacted badly and beat her mother. As a result of her experience, her mother constantly tells Gabi, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas,” meaning “eyes open, legs closed.” Despite the steady diet of this message, Gabi doesn’t feel like sex is anything to be ashamed of thinking about or wanting. It certainly doesn’t make her some kind of bad girl, as her mother is always implying. While her mother might make her crazy, at least she has her best friends Cindy and Sebastian to turn to. It’s a good thing those three have each other for support, because some pretty major things are happening in their lives this year.

Cindy’s thing (remember, spoilers coming):
Cindy tells Gabi she thinks she is pregnant. Gabi is pissed at her—not that she had sex, but that she wasn’t safe, that she’s become yet another Hispanic teen mom statistic. She’s also not thrilled that Cindy slept with German, whom she considers a smarmy, entitled idiot. They pick up a pregnancy test after taking the SATs, and when it shows positive, they collapse onto Gabi’s Hello Kitty bedding and cry. I love everything about this scene. It feels so genuine and shows the many parts of being a teenager—preparing for college, dealing with unexpected and devastating news, and still being so young (the Hello Kitty bedding).

(Here comes a super-spoiler.)

Nearly three quarters of the way through the story, Cindy confesses to Gabi that German raped her. Gabi writes in her diary that she naively assumed that rape didn’t happen in her city. Sure, she’d heard about high profile rape cases on the news, but that kind of thing happened elsewhere. Cindy tells Gabi and Sebastian that she’d been a little drunk and making out with German in his car, but then changed her mind about where things were going and said to stop. “He said that she had already said yes, and she couldn’t say no, and that was that.” Cindy points out that he didn’t hit her or treat her badly (a sentence that broke my heart, because you don’t need to hit someone for it be rape, and he OF COURSE is treating her badly—he’s raping her), but that she cried the whole time and he pinned her down. Gabi and Sebastian react in very believable ways—stammering out their apologies and hugging her, encouraging her to call the police. Cindy declines this advice, again repeating that it’s not like he beat her, and, adding to the heartbreak of this scene, that no one would believe her (despite having just told two people who absolutely show that they believe her). This, of course, is the part of the story that dovetails with the SVYALit project. Anyone teaching this book would do well to supplement this discussion with various posts from the SVYALit project, especially those about being a first responder. (See below for links.)

Gabi can’t stop thinking about how much she detests German. She watches him being charming with some other girl and thinks, “For a second, I was almost like, ‘Could he really ever rape someone? I mean, look at those big eyes! He’s too hot to force someone to sleep with him’ Then I almost slapped myself across the face for being such an idiot.” She instigations a confrontation with German, calling him out for raping Cindy and physically attacking him. She ends up suspended from school and unable to walk at graduation because of this. Cindy is furious with Gabi for getting in the middle of it. Gabi is just doing what she thinks is the right thing. No one has prepared her for how to deal with this. Gabi researches some hotlines that Cindy could call for help. Cindy is reluctant to do that, but Gabi presses on, telling her some of them were anonymous and could offer useful help. What I really like is Quintero showing us over and over that Gabi is thinking about what happened, trying to help, wanting to support Cindy, but not entirely sure how to do that.

There is so much going on with this story line. Cindy’s complicated feelings about what happened, Gabi’s desire to help or seek out vengeance, but her uncertainty for what is best. The ways this part of the plot ties in with Gabi’s thoughts on gender roles, expectations, sex, and being a “good girl” or a “bad girl.” A secondary character also learns she’s pregnant, and Gabi unexpectedly winds up being her confident and support as she decides what to do with the baby. This is another very powerful story line, as well as one we don’t often see in YA.

Sebastian’s thing:
Sebastian came out to Gabi a while ago. Gabi recalls how he couldn’t even say the words to her, choosing instead to write “I’m gay” on a napkin and showing her that. “I looked at it and couldn’t help whispering, ‘I know.’” Sebastian now wants to come out to his family, but when he does, they kick him out. Sebastian stays at Gabi’s house until eventually moving in with his aunt. Sebastian’s father tells him he never wants to see him again, that he’s no son of his. His mother says she would rather be dead than have a gay son. While staying with her, Sebastian tells Gabi more about realizing he was gay. He says he tried to be straight, he tried to feel an attraction to girls, he even prayed to be able to like girls. Sebastian dates Pedro, a new boy from Bolivia. Staying at his aunt’s houses is okay. Gabi observes, “[S]he seems to be loving and accepting.” But she doesn’t want Sebastian hooking up with any boys at her house. “Why is every mom’s concern about sex?” Gabi wonders. When his aunt busts him pantsless with Pedro, she sends him to a psychologist to try to talk him out of being gay, and to a priest, who wants to pray the gay away. Eventually, Sebastian goes on to join the GSA at school, hopefully starting to find more of a community and more support during a time when he desperately needs it.

There is also a noteworthy scene where a classmate says a really stupid and hateful homophobic thing, and a teacher calls out his ignorance. It’s a great moment of someone in a position of authority not overlooking a disgusting comment and completely schooling a kid on his hate. “At that moment, Ms. Abernard became my new hero,” Gabi writes. Mine too.

Gabi’s THINGS:
Gabi starts to think more about consent after Cindy tells her about being raped, looking around her and wondering if everyone is having consensual sex. Gabi has A LOT of thoughts about sex, rape, consent, and boys’ attitudes toward girls’ bodies. She has so many thoughts about these topics that trying to cover all of them here, or even quote bits and pieces of many of them, would mean you’d be reading this paragraph for the next 30 minutes. In particular, Gabi writes some amazingly profound poetry about sex and women’s bodies. She is furious over the line “boys will be boys,” and the message this sends to both boys and girls. She ends her piece about rape with: “You should know better/It’s all your fault/Always/Boys will be boys.”

Throughout the course of the year chronicled here, Gabi dates a few boys. She has crushes, is awkward (at one point answering a question in a fake robot voice for no good reason except the moment feels uncomfortable), worries about kissing and sex, makes the first move, and wonders about dating other boys. The boy Gabi goes on to date for the longest part of the story is wonderfully thoughtful and their sexual relationship is a great example of enthusiastic consent. When making out, Gabi notes that it got a little awkward because he asked if it was okay if he touched her boob. She thinks about it and decides she’s glad he asked rather than assumed. Later, when they are about to have sex for the first time, Gabi writes, “He asked if I was sure it was okay, and I said yes and we went from there.” Her boyfriend’s dad tells him to be sure to respect Gabi, and he outright tells his son, “if [a girl] says no, it’s no.” We’re all clapping now, right? Because YESSSSS.

The other major issues Gabi deals with include her father’s addiction to meth and its effects on their family. She writes frankly about his addiction, including writing letters to her father that she never gives to him. She writes about what he looks like, how long he will disappear for, the times he has tried to quit, the ways his addiction hurts his family. The way this piece of the story plays out is not surprising; but guessing what might be coming doesn’t take away from the powerful way the story unfolds.

Gabi also writes a fair bit about body image and weight. She repeatedly calls herself fat, mostly in a factual way. She sometimes feels bad about herself, but other times feels great. Her mother calls attention to her weight or her eating habits a lot, but Gabi turns to her diary to talk about how that makes her feel. Her attitude toward her weight feels very realistic without feeling judgmental 100% of the time or feeling like she’s defined by her weight or made to be “bad” because she’s fat. She hides food in her room, so she can eat her favorite treats away from the judging eyes of her mother. She talks about food a lot, even telling the boy she likes that he can come over and try some great beef jerky she has. She doesn’t love trying on clothes, or wearing a swimsuit in front of others, but generally gets over her hesitations or negativity each time and feels okay with herself. She doesn’t obsess over losing weight, or lose weight and somehow become “better” or something. She’s mostly okay with how she is.

In addition to her mother having a lot to say about sex, bodies, and body issues, nearly everything she talks to Gabi about revolves around her expectations for Gabi as a girl. She constantly warns Gabi away from being a “bad” girl. Partially because of her mother’s attitude, and partially just from all of the daily messages society sends girls about their bodies and their sex lives, Gabi’s journal and her poetry are filled with ruminations on these topics. Gabi interrogates what it means to be a “good” girl. She realizes women’s bodies are public—that people will talk about them, objectify them, and do things to them. Gabi’s unwillingness to swallow messages and her refusal to be defined by the label “good/bad” is inspiring. The poetry that she produces as she works through her thoughts on these issues is nothing short of amazing.

The good girl/bad girl theme extends to Gabi’s college decisions, and the pressure her mother puts upon her to stay home. Her mother thinks going away to college is just an excuse to have sex and go wild—like American kids. Good Mexican girls stay home. Gabi desperately wants to leave her town, to attend her dream school, to experience new things. She knows that doesn’t make her bad, but her mother doesn’t let it drop.

In Gabi, we have a protagonist who challenges expectations, thinks for herself, and isn’t afraid of putting herself out there or making mistakes. I can’t rave enough about how wonderful this book is. Not only does Quintero unflinchingly address important issues, she’s created multifaceted characters who leap off the page. Gabi and her friends became so real to me that I often forgot this was fiction—it truly felt like reading a real teenager’s diary. I finished the book feeling honored to have watched Gabi grow as a poet and a young woman. I set the book down when I was done wishing I could read books of Gabi’s diaries from the high school years prior to this one, or to see a diary of what her life will hold now that she’s heading off to college. An all-around brilliant and outstanding look at one ordinary year in the life of an extraordinary teenage girl.

For more information on rape, consent, and supporting LGBTQ teens, check out:

Sexual Violence in Young Adult Lit (and Life) project site

The #SVYALit Project: First Responders, part 1 (by author Christa Desir)

The #SVYALit Project: First Responders, part 2

UC Irvine’s Sexual Assault: How to Support a Friend

Healthy Place’s Supporting Someone Who Has Been Raped or Sexually Assaulted

RAINN’s Help a Loved One

RAINN’s Self Care for Friends and Family Members

Huffington Post, “Stop Saying ‘Boys Will be Boys'” by Jennifer Hicks

The Good Men Project’s The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1 to 21

VITAMNW “What Consent Looks Like” with infographic

Slate, “How to Have the Consent Talk With Your Kids” by Amanda Hess

The Band Back Together, “Sexual Coercion Resources.”

Teen Librarian Toolbox, “GLBTQ YA Resources for Building a Collection and Supporting Teens.”

For further thoughts on Gabi check out:

Review by Kelly Jensen at Stacked

Review by E. Kristin Anderson

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWIESS
ISBN-13: 9781935955948
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Publication date: 10/14/2014