Subscribe to SLJ
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

#FSYALit: From Rejection to Reconciliation: Changing Notions of Faith and Spirituality in LGBTQ YA, a guest post by Rob Bittner

faith and Spirituality“What I would love to see more of in Queer YA with Christian sub-plots is the ability of characters to reimagine their spirituality—their faith—in ways which incorporate gender and sexual identities, instead of feeling the need to abandon all religious and spiritual components of their identities.” –Rob Bittner

 

Back in 2015 (was that really two years ago already?) I wrote a piece for TLT exploring the role of religion and religious communities on the lives of queer teens in YA literature. In these last two years (though more like the last two months) I’ve been coming across a significant number of the texts that I had been hoping for in my last post. I wanted nuance, and I’m starting to see it. I wanted complexity, and it’s happening. I can’t tell you how excited that makes me! But first, let me go back and bit and plot how I got here and why I think this progress is so important.

 

I have been keeping an eye on books featuring queer characters in religious contexts for the last decade. When I was in my undergrad, I started on a directed study on books with LGBTQ content. My supervisor asked me about the direction in which I was hoping to go, and at the time I wasn’t entirely sure. Looking back at my own past and my history as a gay man within the Christian church, I wondered how, if at all, such experiences were being discussed in books for young readers. Keep in mind that only ten years ago, it was still difficult to find much in the way of LGBTQ literature for YA audiences, so trying to find religious representation within that limited subgenre felt at first like an impossible task. It certainly took a lot of effort to find materials, but I came across a few examples, and some from larger publishers, too. I discussed a number of these in more detail in my previous post. Here are some main points to refresh your memory:

 

  • Early LGBTQ YA tends to frame Christianity (or any major religion really) as the enemy, often in the form of a religious leader preaching fire and brimstone for any and all non-normative genders and sexualities (Nothing Pink, Desire Lines);
  • Queer teens often sent away to camps for degayification (Caught in the Crossfire, Thinking Straight, The Miseducation of Cameron Post);
  • Earlier narratives often include long and didactic passages with characters debating scripture in an effort to show which side is right (Nothing Pink, The God Box, Gravity);
  • The novels were basically able to be split into two categories: novels of reconciliation (characters are able to reconcile queerness and spirituality, though not very often), and novels of abandonment (characters have to abandon either their faith or their sexuality in order to survive, and this is the more common trope.)

 

After reading so many of these books, I started to feel as though I was just reading the same narrative multiple times with different characters at the center. It became quite frustrating. In a way, I started to avoid books with religious content if I knew about it beforehand. Recently, however, I started reviewing for a mainstream review journal, and they started to send me books with LGBTQ characters in religious contexts. I almost rolled my eyes, but I’m glad I didn’t. After reading the first book, Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens, I realized that the narrative wasn’t following my assumptions; the story was actively working against the tropes I noted above! In the last two years I’ve read a number of novels that I’d like to briefly talk about in terms of the ways that they reject stereotypes and normative tropes for the complexity and nuance I have been advocating for.

 

autoAutoboyography by Christina Lauren (due out in September 2017)—the combined pen name of authors Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings—follows once-openly bisexual Tanner Scott as he moves with his family from California to Utah, where he is asked by his parents to go back into the closet for a bit to avoid causing trouble. Tanner’s mother is an ex-Mormon and she is concerned about how Tanner being bisexual will affect his standing within the conservative community. Tanner himself is ready to coast through his senior year so he can leave for college and be himself once again. His plans, though, get interrupted when, in a writing seminar, he finds himself distracted by the seriously hot Sebastian. In the wake of this sudden infatuation, Tanner and Sebastian develop a relationship and are both placed in a precarious situation because Sebastian’s family is very much Mormon and very much opposed to non-normative sexuality. Though some of the descriptions of Sebastian’s family could be considered overly biased, I feel that the conversations around religion and sexuality between the main characters is ultimately hopeful. And the narrative also avoids use of scriptural debates, anti-gay preaching from the pulpit, and the use of a gay conversion camp within the overarching plot. I think it’s ultimately a novel that will provide food for thought for those who want something along the lines of Latter Days but without the stilted characters and the choppy plot.

 

georgiaAnother novel that uses the back-in-the-closet story, is Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown. In this novel, Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, until her father, a radio televangelist, moves her family from Atlanta to Rome, Georgia. Similar to Autoboyography, the new, more conservative setting leads Joanna’s father to ask her if she might be willing to go back in the closet, at least until his ministry has had a chance to grow and find a following; he doesn’t want her to rock the boat. As always happens, Jo meets a new girl at school and falls for her. She begins to wonder if she will be able to keep her promise to her father, or if the request itself was just plain wrong in the first place. The role of the televangelist father could have led to fire and brimstone preaching, but the narrative is refreshingly devoid of such a problematic trope. The novel is actually a lot more nuanced than the plot might initially suggest, and religion and sexuality are allowed to coexist without either being demonized or made out to be wrong. Along with this, Brown puts queer sex on the page, and she isn’t afraid to discuss sex and religion within a larger spiritual context, something which is entirely missing from so many books that contain both non-normative sexualities and faith and spirituality. Quite a refreshing read!

 

dress-codesPerhaps my favorite, though, is the aforementioned Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens. Stevens herself was previously a pastor, and therefore has an insider knowledge that I think really helps to elevate her narrative. When reviewing the novel for Booklist back in July, I gave it a starred review because I felt that it was an exemplary text in what was previously a very small and problematic body of work on gender/sexual difference in YA with components of faith and spirituality. In Dress Codes, Billie McCaffrey—an artist, troublemaker, and the daughter of a preacher—finds herself at the center of a rather difficult situation after she and her friends accidentally burn down a section of their church. To make things worse, the Harvest Festival is coming up and one of the main supporters has just passed away, leaving the Festival in jeopardy. Billie has to find a way to keep her friends out of trouble while also performing community service, trying to save the Harvest Festival, and trying to explore her own gender and sexuality. Stevens builds characters with incredible depth and confronts expectations and assumptions of gender and sexuality head-on, but with delicacy and nuance. The representation of religion is one of compassion and a desire to build bridges rather than walls, giving teen readers the impression that reconciliation between religion and gender/sexual difference is indeed possible.

 

This brief glimpse at changes since my first post on the subject is not meant to be a comprehensive examination of all of the books released since 2015 that match the criteria, but rather to give a sample of the literature available and to show how representations have changed to be more inclusive, less didactic, more compassionate, and less polarizing. Other books such as Jeffrey Self’s A Very, Very Bad Thing (out in October) is a really interesting novel, but the obvious bias against evangelical Christianity is evident in the depiction of a number of characters and makes it easier for readers to demonize Christianity within the context of the novel. There is always room to grow and improve, but the last two years have shown me that sometimes change can happen more quickly than we sometimes think in children’s and YA publishing. I would love to hear of other examples that people have come across and recommendations from those who are also interested in this topic.

 

Meet Rob Bittner

Photo credit: Sonya Sones

Photo credit: Sonya Sones

 

Rob Bittner is an instructor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC. He studies long-term trends in representation in YA fiction with LGBTQ content. You can find him on Twitter (@r_bittner) or his review blog, Sense and Sensibility and Stories (unquestionably-palatable.blogspot.com).

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA August 2017

tltbutton7It’s time for another roundup for new and forthcoming YA (and sometimes not YA) books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters.  The titles I’m including here have LGBTQIA+ main characters as well as secondary characters (in some cases parents), as well as anthologies that include LGBTQIA+ stories. 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 August 2017 titles. Head over to this link for the previous post (July 2017 titles) in this series. All annotations here are via the publishers/Goodreads. I also have a 2017 master list that I’m always working on. I’m happy to send you the list if you’re interested. Tweet at me or email me to request the list. I’m amanda DOT macgregor AT gmail DOT com.

Looking for more information on LGBTQIA+ books or resources? Check out the hashtag here on TLT and go visit Gay YA and LGBTQ Reads, two phenomenal resources. 

 

August 2017

 

we nowWe Now Return to Regular Life by Martin Wilson (ISBN-13: 9780735227828 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/01/2017)

The Face on the Milk Carton meets The Impossible Knife of Memory in this ripped-from-the-headlines novel that explores the power of being an ally—and a friend—when a kidnapped boy returns to his hometown. 

Sam Walsh had been missing for three years. His older sister, Beth, thought he was dead. His childhood friend Josh thought it was all his fault. They were the last two people to see him alive.

Until now. Because Sam has been found, and he’s coming home. Beth desperately wants to understand what happened to her brother, but her family refuses to talk about it—even though Sam is clearly still affected by the abuse he faced at the hands of his captor.

And as Sam starts to confide in Josh about his past, Josh can’t admit the truths he’s hidden deep within himself: that he’s gay, and developing feelings for Sam. And, even bigger: that he never told the police everything he saw the day Sam disappeared.

As Beth and Josh struggle with their own issues, their friends and neighbors slowly turn on Sam, until one night when everything explodes. Beth can’t live in silence. Josh can’t live with his secrets. And Sam can’t continue on until the whole truth of what happened to him is out in the open.

For fans of thought-provoking stories like The Face on the Milk Carton, this is a book about learning to be an ally—even when the community around you doesn’t want you to be.

 

 

little-and-lionLittle & Lion by Brandy Colbert (ISBN-13: 9780316349000 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 08/08/2017)

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

 

 

spellbookSpellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (ISBN-13: 9780525429494 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/08/2017)

The highly anticipated new book from the acclaimed author of The Accident Season is a gorgeous, twisty story about things gone missing, things returned from the past, and a group of teenagers, connected in ways they could never have imagined.

One stormy Irish summer night, Olive and her best friend, Rose, begin to lose things. It starts with simple items like hairclips and jewelry, but soon it’s clear that Rose has lost something much bigger, something she won’t talk about, and Olive thinks her best friend is slipping away.

Then seductive diary pages written by a girl named Laurel begin to appear all over town. And Olive meets three mysterious strangers: Ivy, Hazel, and her twin brother, Rowan, secretly squatting in an abandoned housing estate. The trio are wild and alluring, but they seem lost too—and like Rose, they’re holding tight to painful secrets.

When they discover the spellbook, it changes everything. Damp, tattered and ancient, it’s full of hand-inked charms to conjure back things that have been lost. And it just might be their chance to find what they each need to set everything back to rights.

Unless it’s leading them toward things that were never meant to be found…

 

 

dophinsDolphins in the Mud by Jo Ramsey (ISBN-13: 9781635337754 Publisher: Harmony Ink Publication date: 08/08/2017)

How can a young man rescue everyone when he’s entangled in his own net?

Chris Talberman is tired. Tired of taking responsibility for his autistic nine-year-old sister, Cece. Tired of his mother disappearing for hours at a time. Tired of having no friends and an oblivious father.

When a pod of dolphins is stranded in the cove by Chris’s home, his life changes. It starts when Cece runs toward the water’s edge and Chris must pursue her. That’s where Chris meets Noah Silver. Noah’s life of travel and homeschooling intrigues Chris, and the two begin a friendship they both hope will lead to more.

But when Chris’s mother abandons the family, Chris’s responsibilities increase exponentially. He’s only sixteen, but he knows how to take care of Cece better than their father. Chris wants to lean on Noah for support, but Noah is hiding an untreated mental illness—which could lead to tragedy.

 

dress-codesDress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (ISBN-13: 9780062398512 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 08/22/2017)

As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.

Readers will be drawn to Billie as she comes to terms with the gray areas of love, gender, and friendship, in this John Hughes-esque exploration of sexual fluidity.

 

 

tigerTiger’s Watch (Ashes of Gold #1) by Julia Ember (ISBN-13: 9781635334852 Publisher: Dreamspinner Press Publication date: 08/22/2017)

Tashi is a spy and killer—an elite warrior known as an inhabitor—taught from a young age to use their bond with the tiger Katala. When an enemy force captures the city, Tashi has no option but to escape. Their safety doesn’t last long, however. Soon the conquering army arrives at the secluded monastery where Tashi is hiding, needing a place to treat their wounded. It’s not long before their leader, Xian, takes an interest in Tashi.

Xian is cold, ambitious, and even cruel—at least at first glance. But Tashi is skilled at watching and reading people, and they find a softer side to the young commander—one that intrigues them.

Tashi’s loyalties are strained when they learn they have been deceived by the people who trained them, and they must choose between their countrymen and a budding romance with Xian. But fierce Katala faces no such conflict, and she massacres the soldiers she sees as invaders. Xian’s men are determined to take revenge against the tiger, but an inhabitor’s bond with their animal cannot be severed—neither can survive if the other is killed.

Book Review: Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Publisher’s description

ra6As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.

Readers will be drawn to Billie as she comes to terms with the gray areas of love, gender, and friendship, in this John Hughes-esque exploration of sexual fluidity.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

dress-codesI am not one for posting GIFs in reviews—that’s just not me—but for once I wish that just a GIF would be sufficient—one that captured the feeling of elation and love that reading this book inspired. Looking for some picture that captures those feelings seems way easier than trying to find actual coherent words to say about this fantastic book.

Like the summary up there says, this is a story about the gray areas in life—you know, where everything real and complex and interesting resides. Give me gray areas, and uncertainty, and questioning things any day over black and white supposed truths. Billie and her friends call themselves the Hexagon. Billie, Janie Lee, Woods, Fifty, Davey, and Mash are inseparable. They love schemes and they love each other. In their small town of Otters Holt, Kentucky, Billie, the minister’s kid, stands out. She dresses “like a boy,” is at times mistaken for a boy (or just seen as one of the guys), isn’t sure who she’s more interested in kissing, Woods or Janie Lee, and is willing to be herself and grapple with whatever that means all under the watchful and judging eyes of everyone in town.

There is SO MUCH to love about this novel. It’s a profoundly loving look at friendship, the kind of friendship where friends truly support each other and give each other room to grow, change, and figure life out. It’s also a really complex look at expectations, perceptions, identity, and fluidity. It’s also an incredibly necessary and supportive look at teenagers experimenting with who they are and finding so much love and support in even the most unlikely of places. Like Billie says at one point, “Feeling don’t sort like laundry.” Nor should we want them to. So much of the joy comes from sifting through everything, discovering who you are, in the process of finding yourself. Billie and her friends are unfinished and imperfect, but they’re grateful for what they have and willing to do the hard work of figuring out who they are. This thoughtful look at love, friendship, identity, sexuality, and fluidity is not to be missed. Brilliant. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9780062398512

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/22/2017

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA July 2017

tltbutton7It’s time for another roundup for new and forthcoming YA (and sometimes not YA) books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters.  The titles I’m including here have LGBTQIA+ main characters as well as secondary characters (in some cases parents), as well as anthologies that include LGBTQIA+ stories. 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 July 2017 titles. Head over to this link for the previous post (June 2017 titles) in this series. All annotations here are via the publishers/Goodreads. I also have a 2017 master list that I’m always working on. I’m happy to send you the list if you’re interested. Tweet at me or email me to request the list. I’m amanda DOT macgregor AT gmail DOT com.

 

July 2017

art of starvingThe Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller (ISBN-13: 9780062456717 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 07/11/2017)

Matt hasn’t eaten in days. His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal, but Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger…and he isn’t in control of all of them.

A darkly funny, moving story of body image, addiction, friendship, and love, Sam J. Miller’s debut novel will resonate with any reader who’s ever craved the power that comes with self-acceptance.

 

 

whos that girlWho’s That Girl by Blair Thornburgh (ISBN-13: 9780062447777 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 07/11/2017)

This laugh-out-loud debut is filled with hilarious awkward encounters, a supportive LGBTQ organization, and too many cheesy lyrics to count—all with the compulsive readability of Audrey, Wait! and Boy Meets Boy.

Junior Nattie McCullough has always been that under-the-radar straight girl who hangs out in the cafeteria with her gay-straight alliance friends. She’s never been the girl that gets the guy, let alone the girl that gets a hit song named after her. But when last summer’s crush, smoking-hot musician Sebastian Delacroix—who has recently hit the mainstream big-time—returns home to play a local show, that’s just what she gets. He and his band, the Young Lungs, have written a chart-topping single—“Natalie”—which instantly makes Nattie second guess everything she thought about their awkward non-kiss at that June pool party. That it was horrific. That it meant nothing. That Sebastian never gave her another thought.

To help keep her mind off of Sebastian and his maybe-about-her, maybe-not-about-her song, Nattie throws herself into planning the school’s LGBTQIA dance. That proves problematic, too, when Nattie begins to develop feelings for her good friend Zach. With the song getting major airplay and her once-normal life starting to resemble the cover of a gossip magazine, Nattie is determined to figure out once and for all if her brief moment with Sebastian was the stuff love songs are made of—or just a one-hit wonder.

 

 

savageThe Savage Dawn by Melissa Grey (ISBN-13: 9780385744690 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 07/11/2017 Series: Girl at Midnight Series, #3)

The sides have been chosen and the battle lines drawn.

Echo awakened the Firebird. Now she is the only one with the power to face the darkness she unwittingly unleashed . . . right into the waiting hands of Tanith, the new Dragon Prince. Tanith has one goal in mind: destroy her enemies, raze their lands, and reign supreme in a new era where the Drakharin are almighty and the Avicen are nothing but a memory.

The war that has been brewing for centuries is finally imminent. But the scales are tipped. Echo might hold the power to face the darkness within the Dragon Prince, but she has far to go to master its overwhelming force. And now she’s plagued by uncertainty. With Caius no longer by her side, she doesn’t know if she can do it alone. Is she strong enough to save her home and the people she loves?

Whether Echo is ready to face this evil is not the question. The war has begun, and there is no looking back. There are only two outcomes possible: triumph or death.

 

 

Year of Yes by Annameekee Hesik (ISBN-13: 9781626399525 Publisher: Bold Strokes Books Publication date: 07/18/2017 Series: You Know Who Girls Series)

The pressure is on, and if Abbey Brooks hears one more time how important her junior year of high school is, she just might lose her mind. So, when Mia dares her to stop saying no to fun and yes to at least ten new adventures she would have never before considered, Abbey boldly accepts. What Abbey quickly learns is that “yes” can open doors to places and people that she never could have imagined knowing, and saying yes will also lead to some of the best and worst days she’s ever had at Gila High.

 

 

SOVSovereign by April Daniels (ISBN-13: 9781682308240 Publisher: Diversion Publishing Publication date: 07/25/2017 Series: April Daniels’ Nemesis Series, #2)

The highly anticipated sequel to Dreadnought , featuring “the most exciting new superheroes in decades.” ( Kirkus , starred review)

Only nine months after her debut as the superhero Dreadnought, Danny Tozer is already a scarred veteran. Protecting a city the size of New Port is a team-sized job and she’s doing it alone. Between her newfound celebrity and her demanding cape duties, Dreadnought is stretched thin, and it’s only going to get worse.

When she crosses a newly discovered billionaire supervillain, Dreadnought comes under attack from all quarters. From her troubled family life to her disintegrating friendship with Calamity, there’s no lever too cruel for this villain to use against her.

She might be hard to kill, but there’s more than one way to destroy a hero. Before the war is over, Dreadnought will be forced to confront parts of herself she never wanted to acknowledge.

And behind it all, an old enemy waits in the wings, ready to unleash a plot that will scar the world forever.

 

 

daughterDaughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody (ISBN-13: 9780373212439 Publisher: Harlequin Publication date: 07/25/2017)

A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca. Their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all her loved ones disappear.

 

cadenCaden’s Comet by Annabelle Jay (ISBN-13: 978-1-63533-453-1 Publisher: Harmony Ink Press Publication date: 07/25/2017 Series: The Sun Dragon Series, #4)

Long ago, in the days before King Roland, the four dragon kingdoms—Ice, Sun, Earth, and Bone—battled for dominion over the bountiful planet Earth. Prince Grian, a young dragon, hid aboard a Sun Dragon ship, traveled to Earth, and met Caden, an Earth Dragon who’d run away from his village. Despite falling in love, destiny’s plans for them turned cruel, and both perished in the war.

The Artists who created the universe could not let this tragic loss of true love go unpunished. They wiped out the race of Sun Dragons, exiled the Bone Dragons to Draman, and banished the Ice Dragons to the North Pole, safely away from the Earth Dragons. Only the rebirth of Grian and Caden could break the curse. One day, the return of their love would usher in an age of peace and prosperity for all dragons.

But when Prince Grian is reborn, he finds reuniting with his soulmate on Earth will be no easy feat. As he searches for his lost love, the Earth Dragon Protection Society, or EDPS, searches for him, ready to kill him when they find him. If Grian can elude the EDPS, he might find that the true love he once had isn’t guaranteed to bloom a second time.

 

galleryThe Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz (ISBN-13: 9780062467775 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 07/25/2017)

A beautiful and evocative look at identity and creativity, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a stunning debut in magical realism. Perfect for fans of The Walls Around Us and Bone Gap.

Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile in the past year.

Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is in a coma. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.

Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.

At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she hasn’t ever before. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.

Book Review: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

Publisher’s description

ra6Matt hasn’t eaten in days. His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal, but Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger…and he isn’t in control of all of them.

A darkly funny, moving story of body image, addiction, friendship, and love, Sam J. Miller’s debut novel will resonate with any reader who’s ever craved the power that comes with self-acceptance.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

art of starvingFirst of all, I feel like it’s important to know that Sam J. Miller had an eating disorder as a teenager. Had Miller not had a personal experience with an ED, I probably wouldn’t be reviewing this book. I feel like books that deal with eating disorders are so fraught with the potential to be triggering/upsetting/completely done “wrong.” I have no experience with an eating disorder, so I still hesitate to review this just because the subject matter has the potential to be so triggering for readers. All of that said, I also think this book is important because it shows us someone we don’t see much of in YA: a boy with an eating disorder. And, while Matt, our main character, believes that power (and superpowers) can come from pain and starvation, his eating disorder is not romanticized. It’s awful to read about and awful to witness and just plain awful in general.

 

Matt, who is gay, is in dire need of medical and therapeutic intervention for his eating disorder. A school psychiatrist recommends urgent action after a visit with Matt proves he feels both suicidal and homicidal. But Matt swipes the letter from school, hiding it from his mother, just like he hides everything else from her. He’d like to run away, just like his older sister Maya has recently done. He suspects that soccer star Tariq and his bully buddies may have something to do with Maya’s disappearance, so he works to get closer to them to learn more. Matt is in complete denial about his eating disorder. He views his body as the enemy, keeps track of calories, and hates how he (thinks he) looks, but he doesn’t allow himself to ever throw up after eating, because that is what would indicate he has a problem. And, according to Matt, he does not have a problem. Also according to Matt, his hunger gives him clarity, insight, and superpowers that allow himself to get closer to truths, maybe read people’s minds, and allow him to control the uncontrollable. He is starving himself, still in denial, intent on further awakening his mind. He researches online for eating disorder tips and tricks, sharing some of them in his narrative. When he ends up in the emergency room, malnourished, he knows what he needs to do and say to convince people he’s okay. When an unexpected relationship grows, Matt worries that happiness is blunting his powers. He eventually admits to an eating disorder and ends up in treatment, where several months are summarized in broad strokes.

 

Matt is an unreliable narrator. Are his powers real, somehow, or is this all in his head? I found myself repeatedly doubting if he actually did or said something, or if it was just how things played out in his mind. At certain points, I doubted that any of the events were actually happening at all, wondering if maybe Matt was imagining everything (his relationship with the other boy etc). Matt makes some compelling observations about masculinity and social constructions of gender as he thinks about his body and how he tries to control and shape it. He even, at one point, notes that his story is not so much an actual guidebook for the art of starving as it is a desperate cry for help. This unique and well-written book is a dark, upsetting, and moving look at one boy’s experience with an eating disorder that will leave readers hopeful that he’s on the path to recovery, but maybe still doubting what has happened to Matt and what his future will hold.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062456717

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 07/11/2017

Book Review: Who’s That Girl by Blair Thornburgh

 Publisher’s description

tltbutton6This laugh-out-loud debut is filled with hilarious awkward encounters, a supportive LGBTQ organization, and too many cheesy lyrics to count—all with the compulsive readability of Audrey, Wait! and Boy Meets Boy.

Junior Nattie McCullough has always been that under-the-radar straight girl who hangs out in the cafeteria with her gay-straight alliance friends. She’s never been the girl that gets the guy, let alone the girl that gets a hit song named after her.

But when last summer’s crush, smoking-hot musician Sebastian Delacroix—who has recently hit the mainstream big-time—returns home to play a local show, that’s just what she gets. He and his band, the Young Lungs, have written a chart-topping single—“Natalie”—which instantly makes Nattie second guess everything she thought about their awkward non-kiss at that June pool party. That it was horrific. That it meant nothing. That Sebastian never gave her another thought.

To help keep her mind off of Sebastian and his maybe-about-her, maybe-not-about-her song, Nattie throws herself into planning the school’s LGBTQIA dance. That proves problematic, too, when Nattie begins to develop feelings for her good friend Zach. With the song getting major airplay and her once-normal life starting to resemble the cover of a gossip magazine, Nattie is determined to figure out once and for all if her brief moment with Sebastian was the stuff love songs are made of—or just a one-hit wonder.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

whos that girl

The publisher’s description up there gives a pretty thorough summary of the plot, but doesn’t really at all capture how utterly charming and compulsively readable this story is. Nattie and her friends are awesome. Her parents are great. The romantic tension (and denial/ignorance of romantic feelings) is pitch perfect. Nattie makes mistakes and bad choices and is unable to see things that appear totally obvious to the reader, but I mean those things in all the best ways; I say those things to mean that she is such a real character, flawed in realistic ways, learning and making realizations just like we all do. Adult me reads about Sebastian and rolls her eyes and thinks, girl, don’t waste time having a crush on him. But teen me is always around, and she’s like, but he wrote a song about her! Eek!

 

Thornburgh writes great dialogue and memorable characters. There’s great humor, banter, and clever little quips. And while this story is about romance, or the potential for romance, sure, it’s really about friendship. This review is short not because I didn’t like the book–I loved it–but because you just need to go read it and discover the excellence for yourself. Pretty much a perfect read, super satisfying and completely absorbing. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062447777

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 07/11/2017

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.

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: Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager and Zoe More O’Ferrall

tltbutton6Publisher’s description

This first-ever LGBTQ history book of its kind for young adults will appeal to fans of fun, empowering pop-culture books like Rad American Women A-Z and Notorious RBG.

World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

By turns hilarious and inspiring, the beautifully illustrated Queer, There, and Everywhere is for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

queer thereThere is a LOT of information packed into this book! The introduction explains how often assumptions are made about historical figures’ sexuality and gender identities, erasing their real identities and erasing the important contributions made by LGBTQIA+ people. The introduction also discusses the choice to use the word “queer” to encompass all of these people and provides a quick overview of the language related to queerness and terms/labels used.

 

We get a quick tour through worldwide queerness throughout history (Europe, Africa, Asia, Latina America, Oceania, North America) and the effects of colonization and religion as well as looking at how LGBTQIA+ people were accepted, persecuted, and criminalized throughout history. There is also plenty of emphasis on the activism and achievements of queer folks throughout history.

 

Each chapter focuses on one individual from history and begins with a short tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) summary to grab your interest. The chapters give in-depth information about the subjects’ lives. Readers will learn about people they may already be familiar with, such as Joan of Arc, Ma Rainey, Frida Kahlo, Alan Turing, Harvey Milk, and George Takei. Other historical figures include Roman Emperor Elagabalus (born a boy, lived as a woman, married 5 women and 2 men while a teenage emperor); Kristina of Sweden (a “gender-bending” queen who romanced men and women); Juana Ines De La Cruz (a Mexican nun who fell for her benefactor’s wife); Abraham Lincoln (and his “intimate friend” Joshua); Lili Elbe (one of the first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery); Josef Kohout (a gay Holocaust survivor); and Glenn Burke (a gay baseball player). A glossary is appended as is an extensive bibliography and notes. Written in a very conversational tone, this book is an important addition to library collections. Get this one up on your displays—there are plenty of teens who will be so glad to see a spotlight being shone on the important contributions of LGBTQIA+ people throughout history. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062474315

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/23/2017

Book Review: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

tltbutton6Publisher’s description

This charming and bittersweet coming-of-age story featuring two girls of color falling in love is part To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and part Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like the fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California, she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy…what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

it's not like16-year-old Sana Kiyohara has recently moved from Wisconsin to California. Her parents sort of dropped the bomb that the family was moving and expected her to be fine with it. Her mother’s motto is to endure things and bear them without complaining. Sana isn’t sure that’s exactly the best or healthiest way to go about life, but it’s not like she has a lot of other options. Life in Wisconsin wasn’t great, but it was all Sana knew. She had a crush on her former best friend (who’s now too popular to really be her friend) and always stuck out as one of just a few Asian kids in her otherwise very white school. Her peers say crappy things to her like that it’s cute that she went “woohoo” to the “Midwest farmer’s daughters” part of “California Girls” because it’s not like she looks like one (says her “friend”). Her former bestie says it’s like Sana forgot she’s Asian, but that’s okay, because they forgot she is, too.

 

Now, in California, Japanese-American Sana is surprised to find that her new school is super diverse. This different student body brings different problems. There is a lot of racism and embracing/believing stereotypes going on, from a lot of people. Sana’s mom makes a TON of racist comments about the Mexican kids in Sana’s school (and, eventually, Sana is forced to confront the fact that she believes some of these same racist ideas). Teachers make assumptions about kids because of their race. Sana is instantly befriended by a group of Asian girls (Vietnamese American and Chinese American), just as her new friend Caleb (a white goth guy) predicts (a prediction Sana finds silly). She likes feeling like her new friends understand her in ways her white friends didn’t, but negotiating the new groups and attitudes takes a lot of adjustment.

 

Sana’s biggest adjustment to everything comes from her relationship with Jamie Ramirez. She goes from telling herself it’s just a “girl-crush” to admitting (to herself) that she likes her but doesn’t “need this” right now to dating her. Jamie is out to her friends and Sana tells her small group of friends they’re together, but she’s not out to her parents or the school population in general. The girls are really into each other and have a sweet relationship, but issues of race and identity keep coming up and making them have to recalibrate things. But when Jamie hangs out with her ex-girlfriend, Sana gets some mixed messages about what may be going on and makes some questionable choices (at the urging of her friends who pull the whole “yeah, but how do you really KNOW you only like girls?” thing). Everything seems like it’s falling apart and Sana no longer feels certain about anything–not her new friendships, not things with Jamie, and not her life at home. As mistakes and secrets and lies pile up, Sana has to have many big conversations to help set things right, going against her upbringing of enduring things in silence.

 

There is SO MUCH packed into this book about race, culture, family, identity, silence, and truth. I do wish some of the secondary characters had been allowed to develop more fully and to feel less like they were jut there to teach Sana about racism and race beyond her own. Though the second half of the book felt less tightly plotted, overall this is a book worth adding to all collections for its look at intersecting identities, grappling with racism, and finding your way to your truth.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
ISBN-13: 9780062473417

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/09/2017