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Book Review: As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Publisher’s description

The author of The Gravity of Us crafts another heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding the people who become your home—perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli.

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life—where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval. 

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, Marty. This kid is a mess. Right now I’m imagining the book that would come after this one, where Marty is getting the help he needs and starting to figure out how real friendships work etc. That’s not to say I didn’t like this book—I did. But Marty is having a ROUGH time and as a reader (particularly as an adult reader and as a mother) I just wanted to help him realize faster that he needs help and to really find better people to surround himself with. He’s doing that, in this story, but it’s a mess. So if you love mess, this book is for you.

Marty has lots of issues with anxiety, including panic attacks, but appears to be undiagnosed and untreated. I hope he can fix that. His relationship with his parents is mostly based on lies at this point. Guess what? I hope they can fix that (“they” being his parents, because I think it’s on them to repair that relationship and learn to love the son they have, not the one they may want). His best friend at home in Kentucky is one of the meanest and least supportive “friends” I’ve encountered in YA in a long time. She repeatedly outs him and just really sucks as a person. She’s awful, which Marty is finally beginning to see, and he IS fixing the friendship situations in his life. And when he starts dating Pierce, Marty also develops issues with food and weight (reader, beware, if that’s triggering for you), eventually going so long without food that he faints. He’s super self-conscious of his body, how Pierce views his body, and talks a lot about BMI and weight loss and food restriction (and thankfully there are characters who try to help him, point out the flaws in his thinking, and even Marty himself acknowledges BMI is garbage—but that doesn’t stop him from fixating on it or from talking about “normal” weight and using a slur for fatness).

Instead of focusing on developing some music contacts and his career while in England, he focuses on relationships with all these new people. He is SO painfully 17, floundering, and trying SO hard. He says that his new life, new friends, and potential new boyfriend make it all feel like he’s finally home and fits in, but it’s pretty clear that that’s not really true yet. He’s always felt out of place, but this new place is still new and can’t really be a home to him while he’s still dealing with so much STUFF. He’s so grateful to finally feel like he fits in that he’s overlooking a LOT of things right now, including one very huge thing with someone he’s newly close to.

Character-driven readers will enjoy this book about one teen’s journey toward self and independence. And while Marty certainly feels like he’s on the way to all kinds of healing and hope by the end of the book, getting to that point involves a lot of drama and pain. There is nothing better than finding your people and being yourself. Marty shows how hard both of those things can be but offers hope that, even with a bunch of disappointments, it’s possible. Realistically messy and heavier than I anticipated.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600175
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Publisher’s description

Acclaimed author of Ash Malinda Lo returns with her most personal and ambitious novel yet, a gripping story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the 1950s.

“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. 

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

Amanda’s thoughts

This will be an illuminating read for modern teens who may not know much about what it was really like to be a queer teen in the 1950s.

It’s 1954 and Lily Hu lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She’s heading into her senior year alongside her lifelong best friend, Shirley, who is also Chinese American. One day in a class, Lily is put in a group with Kathleen Miller, a white girl she’s known for years but never really been friends with. Something sparks between them—maybe just a new friendship, maybe a bond over being the only two girls left in their upper-level math class, maybe something more, something Lily doesn’t really understand or have the words for. It takes reading a surreptitiously reading a lesbian pulp novel in the back corner of a store for it all to finally click into place for Lily. But now what?

For Lily, there is so much more going on in her life than just beginning to understand what she may feel for Kath. The FBI takes her father’s citizenship papers when he refuses to give information on one of his patients who’s being investigated for Communist ties. Lily’s friendship with Shirley is under pressure, too. Shirley doesn’t like Lily being friends with Kath (and “warns” her about Kath) and freezes her out until she needs her help for the Miss Chinatown pageant. Lily feels the push and pull between her various identities, always feeling singled out for all the ways she is “other.”

Through repeated clandestine trips to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar, to see a “male impersonator,” Lily and Kath come to understand more about their identity and the nearby lesbian community, especially when they are befriended by some of the older lesbians who frequent the club. But that hardly makes anything simpler—in fact, it just complicates things. How can Lily possibly live her truth in this era? And even if she and Kath feel the same way about each other, now what? More sneaking, hiding, being afraid of being seen?

This layered story also offers brief chapters about Lily’s mom, dad, and aunt from various points in time, helping flesh out more of what was going on, historically, at this time in the United States and specifically in Chinese American relations. Extensive back matter on the era and culture at the time provide additional insight. As can be expected of a historical fiction story set in the 1950s, there are plenty of racist and outdated terms used and the story is built on a foundation of the homophobia of the time (this is also discussed in the back matter.)

The way the story ultimately unfolds may be kind of predictable in the sense that it’s probably easy to guess how things may go for Kath and Lily—it’s hardly going to be an easy road for them. Though I would have liked to see some scenes or threads of the story fleshed out more and followed through with better, this was ultimately an enjoyable and thoughtful, personal look at one girl’s journey to self and identity. Pair with Robin Talley’s Pulp (set in 1955 Washington D.C.) for an even more comprehensive look at what it meant to be a queer teen in the 50s.

Review copy (digital ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525555254
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala

Publisher’s description

Project Runway goes to Comic Con in an epic queer love story about creativity, passion, and finding the courage to be your most authentic self.

Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making—for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything—and everyone—else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.

Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store—or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.

But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was a lot of fun. Yes, there was depth and drama and romance, but ultimately, it was the good fun that won me over. I was able to totally get wrapped up in Raffy’s world of crafting and cosplay and feel like I was right there at the con, witnessing everything unfold. What more can you ask for than for a book to take you away from reality and show you a different time and place?

There’s a lot going on in this story. Raffy’s super snobby artist/gallery director mom is horrible for most of the story. Never mind that he seems to mostly be raising and caring for himself while she disappears repeatedly to go do Important Things; she’s really awful because she actively does not support his interests and belittles his talent and ambitions. But Raffy doesn’t let her awfulness deter him—he continues to work in secret on all his builds and his social media. He’s hoping to get a sponsorship deal at some point to help pay for art school. His mother, of course, doesn’t think people should go to school at all, much less ART school—her being a snob extends to her looking down on formal arts education. Sure.

The now/then format of the story shows us how he got together with Luca, a bisexual soccer bro who’s a secret nerd, and how it all dramatically fell apart. In the “now” time, we’re at the con with them, watching them compete against each other until—TWIST!—they team up to work together.

They’re an easy couple to root for. Raffy’s total Type A personality and obsession with working on his crafting gets in the way of having a really good relationship. Luca has to keep lots of things about his time with Raffy secret, mainly from his family. But they really are into each other and are so cute together. And once they end up working together at the con, it’s easy to see how they will be able to overcome their past problems.

Full of messages about hiding yourself, authenticity, identity, being in costume to really be seen, trust, creation, and accomplishment, this fun read has wide appeal. Make sure the cosplay fans in your life get their hands on this!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492682691
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: This Is How We Fly by Anna Meriano

This Is How We Fly

Publisher’s description

A loose retelling of Cinderella, about a high-school graduate who—after getting grounded for the whole summer—joins a local Quidditch league and finds her footing, perfect for fans of Dumplin’Fangirl, and everyone who’s read and adored Harry Potter. 

17-year-old vegan feminist Ellen Lopez-Rourke has one muggy Houston summer left before college. She plans to spend every last moment with her two best friends before they go off to the opposite ends of Texas for school. But when Ellen is grounded for the entire summer by her (sometimes) evil stepmother, all her plans are thrown out the window. 

Determined to do something with her time, Ellen (with the help of BFF Melissa) convinces her parents to let her join the local muggle Quidditch team. An all-gender, full-contact game, Quidditch isn’t quite what Ellen expects. There’s no flying, no magic, just a bunch of scrappy players holding PVC pipe between their legs and throwing dodgeballs. Suddenly Ellen is thrown into the very different world of sports: her life is all practices, training, and running with a group of Harry Potter fans. 

Even as Melissa pulls away to pursue new relationships and their other BFF Xiumiao seems more interested in moving on from high school (and from Ellen), Ellen is steadily finding a place among her teammates. Maybe Quidditch is where she belongs. 

But with her home life and friend troubles quickly spinning out of control—Ellen must fight for the future that she wants, now she’s playing for keeps. 

Amanda’s thoughts

First of all, OF COURSE J.K. Rowling is a disgusting human and her horrible TERF-y takes have made me divest myself of all my HP paraphernalia. I now have a visceral reaction of UGH whenever I see a HP reference (and somedays it feels impossible to get through a book without some kind of HP reference cropping up). So if you feel like me, here’s what I hope you will do: Understand that this book here is about playing quidditch, which, yes, is from the world of HP, but that’s it—it’s not some kind of love letter to a now VERY problematic franchise. I will totally admit to letting this book sit on my shelf for a bit because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it because of the simple fact that it’s something to do with HP. Please be better than me and just immediately get this book and start reading. This book is wonderful.

If you’re looking for a book that’s brimming with feminism and politics and messy friendships, this book is for you. Summer after senior year is supposed to be Ellen’s last chance to super bond with her friends before they all split up for college. Instead, her best friend Xiumaio basically cuts her loose on graduation day, claiming a need for more space. Combined with the fact that life at home is challenging—Ellen has a contentious relationship with her stepmother and totally feels like her family just wants her gone already—Ellen feels totally alone, like everyone thinks they’d just be better off without her.

Probably because she’s feeling so lost, she agrees to give playing quidditch a chance. Ellen has never been into sports of any kind and doesn’t exactly seem psyched, but Melissa, her other BFF, is into it, so at least they can spend a little time together. Once Ellen basically gets grounded for life (stepmom issues), quidditch practice and games become her only source of human interaction. Before long, she’s making new friends, trying new things, and finally maybe finding her people and her place. But it’s not all sunshine. Melissa seems to be pulling away now, too, ditching Ellen for a new quidditch friend. Ellen doesn’t know who to turn to as she experiences new things and has lots of feelings about what’s going on during this surprisingly eventful summer.

I adored the fiercely feminist conversations in this book, the great representation (Ellen is Mexican American and not entirely sure how she feels about gender things, identity-wise), the engaging look into the world of quidditch teams, and the super messy friendships, relationships, and family issues. I finished the book wishing I could hang out with Ellen and her friends. A super real look at the weird liminal space between high school and college. Don’t miss this one!

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593116876
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 12/15/2020
Age Range: 12 Years

Book Review: The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre

Publisher’s description

Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour, this #ownvoices romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley has something for everyone: backstage rendezvous, deadly props, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to True Love.

Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.

What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.

Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.

Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: there’s a lot going on in this great book, but ultimately, my review comes down to just simply saying THIS WAS ADORABLE. And while that statement may not have much depth, the book sure does. And I’ll talk about all that good stuff in a second, but for now, if this is all the further you read, know that the excellent romance as well as just the whole vibe of this book is ADORABLE. Goodness knows we could all use something this cute, sweet, real, and satisfying these days.

Mel, who is bi, LOVES theater. She takes her role as stage manager VERY seriously and hopes to go to college for stage management. I was never a theater person, but one of my high school BFFs was a stage manager and went to college for technical theater, and as a result so much of Melody’s taskmaster no-nonsense approach felt very real to me. Anyway. After Mel’s girlfriend, Rachel, breaks up with her at the worst possible moment, Mel’s crew team convinces her to maybe swear off relationships for the next play. They’re a very superstitious bunch and are worried that maybe Mel in a relationship is a curse (they are very big on curses and countercurses). Mel, who has dated a fair amount of people, agrees to this, figuring it can’t be that hard.

Obviously, enter someone she can’t help but fall for, right?

Suddenly, Mel is keeping secrets from her crew, hiding her relationship, not being totally honest with her new girlfriend, and wondering if the onslaught of accidents and mishaps are all because she’s in love.

Now, if you’re an adult reader, here’s what you need to do: remember being a teenager? Everything was always so intense, so significant, so meaningful. So you might read this and be like, wait, they’re really all taking this idea of a curse so seriously? Yes, they are. They’re teenagers. It makes sense. Everyone in this story really does get bent out of shape because of curses and their chaotic effects. Teen readers may just roll with this, but adults, we need to get past whatever issues we may have with that and remember wishing at 11:11, or pinning all your hopes on things like “if the next car that goes by is red, he totally likes me,” or feeling jinxed, etc.

I loved Melody’s dads and their support of her theater passion. I loved the relationship between Mel and Odile, her new girlfriend who is so much more than she seems (and is questioning what exactly her identity is–she knows she’s queer, but she’s figuring a lot out). And I loved the huge cast of diverse, interesting characters.

I read this book pretty quickly, as the countdown to the play format really keeps things moving. It was fun, cute, and completely satisfying. An excellent recommendation for all fans of contemporary fiction.

PS—Be ready to go down a Les Mis rabbit hole on YouTube once you finish the book. My poor family.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062409263
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

2019 GLSEN National School Climate Survey results about LGBTQ students’ experiences in school

Cover of The 2019 National School Climate Survey research report. The cover photo features three students marching in the 2019 World Pride parade, with their fists in the air. The student on the right is wearing a transgender pride flag, and the center student is wearing a jacket with a rainbow on the back and a Keith Haring illustration of a brown fist in a broken handcuff below the word Resist! in rainbow letters.

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released its biennial National School Climate Survey, which documents the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in schools from across the country, in October. 20 years of research shows that dedicated school support and resources for LGBTQ+ students works, leading to less verbal and physical harassment over that time period. Also, “LGBTQ+ students feel safer and more supported with: anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies, teachers and school staff who are supportive of LGBTQ students, gender and sexuality alliances, and an LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum.”

Against a black background, yellow and white text reads: 20 years of research shows that dedicated support for LGBTQ+ students works.  A chart labeled “Victimization based on sexual orientation has decreased over time” and shows indicators for verbal harassment, physical harassment, and physical assault varying from 1999-2007 and decreasing from 2007-2019. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

The 220 page report (which is available as a PDF) looks at discrimination, harassment, assault, biased language, school resources and support, and more, and examines how these factors affect educational performance, safety, and mental health of LGBTQ teens. The report is filled with statistics, charts, and graphs that drive home the point that LGBTQ students face a lot of opposition at school and frequently don’t feel safe or supported.  Being knowledgeable of the potential struggles and understanding where they (and you!) can go to find useful resources (books, websites, helplines, etc) is a major step in the right direction.

As GLSEN reports, “ The survey has consistently indicated that specific school-based supports are related to a safer and more inclusive school climate, including: supportive educators, LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, inclusive and supportive policies, and supportive student clubs, such as Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs).” Also, “In addition, this installment of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey also includes an extensive exploration of how school climate has changed since we began conducting this survey, including insights into how racist remarks and harassment, feelings of safety regarding citizenship, gender-based discrimination, and LGBTQ student identities have all changed over time.”

Thumbnail of a poster highlighting the experiences of LGBTQ student of color, immigrant LGBTQ students, and transgender students, over time.

This report should be required reading for anyone who works with students of all ages. 

The following data is taken from the survey results. Though the report in quite long, it’s important reading. The report does offer summaries of survey points. All infographics are from GLSEN and available to download and share.  The summary points from this report includes offensive slurs. 

Findings of the 2019 National School Climate Survey include: 

Illustration of a pensive femme person of color who has purple hair and wears a black turtle neck and blue earrings. Against a lime background, pink and white text reads: 86% of LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

Anti-LGBTQ Remarks at School

• Almost all  LGBTQ students (98.8%) heard the word “gay” used in a negative way often or frequently at school.

•96.9% of LGBTQ students heard the phrase “no homo” at school

• 91.8% of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks about gender expression

• 87.4% of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks specifically about transgender people (e.g., “tranny” or “he/she”)

• 52.4% of students reported hearing homophobic remarks from their teachers or other school staff, and 66.7% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff.

Illustration of two people a femme Black person with locks who wears gold earrings and a gold eyebrow ring to the left of a light skinned person with shaggy brown hair wearing eyeliner. Against a blue background, green and white text reads: 2 in 5 LGBTQ students of color were bullied or harassed based on race or ethnicity. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

School Safety, Harassment, and Assault at School

• The vast majority of LGBTQ students (86.3%) experienced harassment or assault based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender expression, gender, actual or perceived religion, actual or perceived race and ethnicity, and actual or perceived disability.

• 32.7% of LGBTQ students missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, 8.6% missed four or more days in the past month.

• Nearly a fifth of LGBTQ students (17.1%) reported having ever changed schools due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school.

• 25.7% of LGBTQ students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year based on sexual orientation, 21.8% based on gender expression, and 22.2% based on gender.

• 68.7% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment (e.g., called names or threatened) at school based on sexual orientation, 56.9% based on gender expression, and 53.7% based on gender.

• 44.9% of students reported experiencing some form of electronic harassment (“cyberbullying”) in the past year.

• Over half of students (58.3%) were sexually harassed at school in past year.

The high incidence of harassment and assault is exacerbated by school staff who rarely intervene on behalf of LGBT students.

• 56.6% of students who were harassed or assaulted at school did not report these incidents to school staff.

• The most common reasons that LGBTQ students did not report incidents was because they doubted that effective intervention would occur or the
situation could become worse if reported.

• 60.5% of students who had reported incidents of victimization to school staff said that staff did nothing or told them to ignore it. 

Illustration of a white person wearing a black sleeveless shirt and yellow bandana in their light brown hair. Against a blue background, yellow and white text reads: Anti-LGBTQ discrimination means more missed school, lower GPAs, and lower self-esteem. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

Discriminatory Policies and Practices

Most LGBTQ students (59.1%) reported personally experiencing any LGBTQ-related discriminatory policies or practices at school. Specifically, LGBTQ students reported being:

• Prevented from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity: 28.4%.

• Disciplined for public displays of affection that were not similarly disciplined among non-LGBTQ students: 28.0%.

• Prevented from using chosen names/pronouns: 22.8%.

• Prevented or discouraged from participating in school sports because they were LGBTQ: 10.2%.

• Prohibited from discussing or writing about LGBTQ topics in school assignments: 16.6%.

Illustration of a Black person with short curly blonde hair wearing white glasses, red lipstick, pink earrings, and a black turtleneck. Against a magenta background, blue and white text reads: 84% of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

The report goes on to discuss: 

*absenteeism (“LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization based on their sexual orientation were nearly three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (57.2% vs. 21.7%))

*academic achievement (“Were nearly twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any post-secondary education (e.g., college or trade school) than those who experienced lower levels (9.9% vs. 5.8%);” and “Had lower grade point averages (GPAs) than students who were less often harassed (3.03 vs. 3.34).”)

*psychological well-being (“Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.”)

Additionally, it breaks the data down by gender, orientation, race, ethnicity, school type, location, region, and more.

GLSEN offers many recommendations for turning these statistics around, such as giving students more access to LGBTQ-related information (literature, history, etc), forming GSA groups, providing professional development to increase the number of supportive teachers and staff, ensuring school policies are not discriminatory, having anti-bullying and harassment policies that make it clear that they provide safety for LGBTQ students, and teaching an inclusive curriculum.

Against a yellow background, black and white text reads: LGBTQ+ students feel safer and more supported with Anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies, Teachers and school staff who are supportive of LGBTQ students, Gender and Sexuality Alliances, An LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum. Illustrated icons of books, people, an instructor at a chalkboard, and a court gavel are next to text. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

LGBTQ students experienced a safer, more positive school environment when:

– Their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) or similar student club.

– They were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history, and events through their school curriculum.

– They had supportive school staff who frequently intervened in biased remarks and effectively responded to reports of harassment and assault

– Their school had an anti-bullying/harassment policy that specifically included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

– Transgender/gender nonconforming students in schools with official policies or guidelines to support trans/GNC students had more positive school experience, including less discrimination and more positive school belonging.

Thumbnail of a poster highlighting the benefits of GSAs for LGBTQ students.

“Instituting these measures can move us toward a future in which all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed in school, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

Previously at TLT:

Many posts for collection development and ways to support and affirm LGBTQIA+ students can be found by searching the tag LGBTQIA+ on the blog.

Also check out:

The Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools Project, which “is one of the few LGBT and gender-inclusive programs in the country that has a K-5 focus with resources to help elementary schools and educators address bias-based bullying—including anti-LGBT slurs and gender put-downs.”

Unfamiliar with GLSEN?

From their site: GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN’s research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.

@GLSEN on Twitter

I am thankful for the hard work GLSEN does to support and affirm LGBTQIA+ students to make sure they receive safe, supportive, and inclusive educations. I’m donating to them today to help fund their  programs, advocacy, research, and policy work and hope you will too.

Book Review: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish

Publisher’s description

Tiến loves his family and his friends…but Tiến has a secret he’s been keeping from them, and it might change everything. An amazing YA graphic novel that deals with the complexity of family and how stories can bring us together.

Real life isn’t a fairytale. 

But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn’t even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he’s going through? 

Is there a way to tell them he’s gay? 

A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected. The Magic Fish tackles tough subjects in a way that accessible with readers of all ages, and teaches us that no matter what—we can all have our own happy endings.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m writing this on November 6th, in the morning, before we know the election results. Here’s why this is significant: concentrating this week has been HARD. I have accomplished a great many tasks like washing my windows, doing yard work, and whatever else keeps me in perpetual motion and makes my anxiety motor rev a little slower. But I haven’t been able to read much. And I certainly didn’t intend to try to write anything for TLT this week. And yet, here I am. Why? Because this book is lovely and wonderful and special and, apparently, magic. It held my attention (I read it in one sitting), it made me cry, and it’s just SO good that I had to share it here.

This book is beautiful in every sense of the word and in every aspect of its presentation. The art is dynamic and full of detail, the shifting color palette works so well, the writing is spectacular, and the emotional heart of the story is stunning. Is this just a list of gushing love and appreciation instead of an actual professional-sounding book review? YES.

Tiến’s story is also beautiful. He and his family (especially his mother, who gets her own emotional and powerful story) spend their time together reading fairytales as a way to connect, share, and, for his parents, to work on their English. He has two best friends, one of whom he has a crush on, and they are so supportive and loving and kind. While Tiến is worried about coming out to his parents, readers don’t have to share that worry: we see the love and the support.

This is a story about immigrants, about shared language and connection, about a life left behind, about fitting in, about family, about being yourself, and about love. Tiến learns about the power of stories, about happy endings, about stories changing when they need to. The book ended abruptly but perfectly, leaving me crying and wishing everyone had the love and support Tiến has.

Also? This book has THE BEST dance scene. My heart. You’ll see when you read it. WHEN you read it.

Beautiful and moving, this book will stick with me. I hope it gets the attention it deserves. Go add it to your library queue or order it from your local indie now.

ISBN-13: 9781984851598
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/13/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

A gorgeous and magical collaboration between two critically acclaimed, powerhouse YA authors offers a richly imagined underdog story perfect for fans of Dumplin’ and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history.

But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands.

So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

Amanda’s thoughts

Individually, I love these authors. And together? Perfect. So glad they teamed up to write this magical, lovely, moving story of former best friends who team up to try to end 50 years of blond, white beauty queens.

In Meteor (or is it Meteorite?) New Mexico, the biggest thing in town is the Miss Meteor Pageant. Chicky, a “tomboy” (her term) who lives in flannel shirts and has a short “boy’s haircut” (again, her words) feels friendless. She’s sick of the bullying from the popular kids (mainly Kendra and Royce) and wonders if she could possibly stop queen bee Kendra from winning the pageant. She’d like to see Kendra lose and suffer. Around the same time Lita, Chicky’s former best friend, gets the idea to participate in the pageant. Could a brown girl made of stardust who’s being raised by the local bruja/curandera (who also came to earth with the meteor) possibly stand a chance?

The two old-but-new friends team up with Junior, a talented artist and also secretly talented cornhole player (cornhole being the most popular game in Meteor) who has long had a crush on Chicky (who, we learn, is pansexual but not out for much of the story–until she joyfully and beautifully IS out), and Cole, a kind, outspoken, trans boy, and one of the popular kids (and, it’s worth noting, brother to queen bee Kendra). Chicky’s three sisters get involved too, helping prepare Lita for the pageant and helping look out for her as others try to sabotage and stop her run for the crown.

A lot happens along the way. The characters call out racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. They fight stereotypes, they elevate each other, they find unexpected friendship, and they persist in the face of so many small-minded townspeople. The story is about the Miss Meteor Pageant, yes, but it’s really about relationships and finding your place. It’s about bringing light to the town, it’s about finding space for yourself, and it’s about belonging. Together, the four main characters find and offer strength to one another in powerful and meaningful ways. A feel-good story about being proud of your identity and opening yourself to sharing your self and your truth with others. This layered story with fantastic characters shows that trying to blend in sometimes just hides the many wonderful ways you were made to stand out. Like Chicky and Lita find out, there is space for you. You belong, just as you are.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062869913
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Publisher’s Book Description:

Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was an intense read. From the moment we meet Caroline we are drawn into her quest not just for her missing friend Madison, but for herself after her girlfriend Willa has left her. Caroline was already broken and barely hanging on, and then her world truly comes unraveling. I actually really hated Caroline, she’s jaded and angry and lost, but it’s all deserved and understandable and I felt compassion for her. I was invested in her story; she is truly a deeply moving and complicated main character.

Throwaway Girls uses some really great storytelling devices to keep you invested. There are chapters told by an unknown narrator that keep you wondering. There are twists and turns. And there is the truth about missing girls and powerful men and how our society treats both of them. This is the type of novel that entertains and enlightens, pulling back the curtain on serious issues and asking us as readers to think deeply about them. And think about them you will, for a very long time.

Although the title of this novel is Throwaway Girls and it is definitely about that, the thing that I am still left thinking about days later is what this book tells us about powerful men. This is a story full of powerful men who keep secrets, abuse their power, and feel like they are entitled to the world. And at the end of the day, when all the truths are finally revealed, the people in their lives are still more worried about protecting the image of these monsters disguised as men then they are protecting the “throwaway girls” who will now have to navigate life broken and struggling with lifelong trauma. I walked away from the pages of this powerful and moving novel shaking with rage at the truths revealed. You can jump on to Google right now and find thousands of real life stories that validate the underlying premise of Throwaway Girls, and that will never not make me angry.

The topic of Throwaway Girls is not new to YA, but it’s definitely dealt with in powerful and meaningful ways here. I would recommend adding Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson to a reading of this book. While Throwaway Girls talks very much about socio-economic disadvantage and how some girls have more worth then others when they go missing, and Monday’s Not Coming adds the reality of race and racism into this discussion. Both points of view are powerful.

In addition to the discussion of missing girls, Throwaway Girls deals a lot with Caroline and her sexual identity. Caroline is a lesbian growing up in a conservative family who has sent her to conversion therapy. She struggles with mental health issues – she takes medication for anxiety – and she has attempted suicide in the pass. She’s just hanging on until the age of 18 so that she can leave and start her real life where she can be her authentic self. My heart broke for her and this book really highlights how lack of support and acceptance can seriously harm our youth.

This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.

This book will be released September 1st by Kids Can Press

Book Review: Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens edited by Leigh Finke

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, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens

Beaming Bks. Aug. 2020. 260p. ed. by Finke, Leigh, ed. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781506465241.

 Gr 7 Up–This indispensable and compassionate guide for queer Christians challenges heteronormativity and cisgender as the default. The text pushes back against a culture of silence, invisibility, alienating theology, and close-minded attitudes. Teens are encouraged to express and explore their authentic selves. Chapters cover topics such as definitions of labels, how teens can deal with and protect themselves from unsupportive adults, self-care, getting accurate information, possible reactions and questions, discrimination, coming out, parental rejection, conversion therapy, and consent. There is some discussion of biblical evidence supporting or refuting various ideas, but the emphasis is on making sure readers know that being queer is completely okay and not incompatible with faith. Additionally, the text stresses that if teens feel fear or shame, their church and community have let them down. Graphs, statistics, text boxes, illustrations, and short personal narratives break up the main text. Back matter includes a glossary as well as a comprehensive resource list. Written by a team of contributors with backgrounds in mental health, ministry, art, education, and LGBTQ+ advocacy, this fantastic resource never stops reminding readers that they have value and deserve to live a full, beautiful life.

VERDICT An affirming, thorough, and supportive guide for understanding one’s identity as well as a pertinent resource for LGBTQ+ allies.