Tag Archives: LGBT character

Release by Patrick Ness

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Release by Patrick Ness
HarperTeen, 2017

Over the course of one “eternal pivotal day” Ness’s masterful YA speculative novel tracks both gay white rising senior Adam Thorn and the destiny of the world. As in The Rest of Us Just Live Here (2015), the author intersperses a wrenching realistic novel with snippets of an apparently unrelated fantasy story, and their coming together at the end, a mere brief kiss of two worlds, completes both stories.

Adam is having the worst day of his life: His former lover Enzo, who he is still not over, is leaving town, his boss fires him after Adam turns down his advances, and there is tension with his repressive evangelical family.  Adam reels through all of this wanting only a release to let him live his life as he wants.

Meanwhile the spirit of a girl who was murdered has bound itself to a Queen, and seeking her own release walks the town. And if the Queen doesn’t get back to the lake before the sun sets, then the world will end.

Adam is a vibrantly alive teen who has felt unloved by his blood family so has created his own family. Angela, who is Korean, is everything a person might want in a best friend – supportive, funny, wise and always on his side. Her liberal and loving adoptive family provide a stark contrast to Adam’s. And he has a new boyfriend, Linus, who Adam knows intellectually is so much better for him than Enzo but his heart has yet to accept it. (Note: there is some fairly explicit but sensually written sex).

As I found with The Rest of Us, I chafed at the fantasy element initially but loved the realistic sections. Towards the middle I was appreciating the way they echoed and resonated with each other, and by the end, the closure made sense, though the two stories are nowhere near as integrated as in the previous novel. Could it work without? Yes, probably, but it would be a lesser novel.

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That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston

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That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston
Dutton, 2017

This quirkily appealing alternate history imagines that the sun never set on the British Empire because Queen Victoria’s descendants married into the colonies, ensuring a “cosmopolitan, multiracial mosaic.” Now, two centuries on, a debut ball in Toronto brings together quiet and pragmatic white Helena, her Irish-Hong Kong Chinese unspoken intended August, and Margaret, with “brown skin, epicanthal folds” and a “curly dark mass” of hair.

Each of the three has a secret that will shape their futures: Margaret is actually the heir to the throne; August has got himself into legal and financial trouble; Helena learns that she has an XY chromosome and is intersex. How these three learn each other’s secrets and what they do with them makes for an entertaining and charming novel. However, I thought that Helena’s Big Reveal was somewhat muffled and its significance isn’t explained till much later.

The world the author has created is an intriguingly odd mash up of Victorian era dress and manners, present day technology, and scifi genetic matching and it is explicated through snippets of history at the start of chapters. I found the role of genetics, which is somehow under the purview of the Church, to be a little confusing and it was never entirely clear to me what connection Helena’s mother had with all of this.

Nonetheless, the author’s three lead characters are very well-crafted and it is their story and the unexpected ways in which their relationships develop that form the beating heart of the novel and while the setting is smart it takes a backseat to that. While I spent most of the novel assuming it was going to be a series because of the leisurely pace, a surprisingly quick and complete wrap-up suggests otherwise though I actually wouldn’t mind a sequel.

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
HarperTeen, 2017.

This magnificent and haunting YA novel is set in an alternate present day New York in which Death-Cast alerts you on the day you are to die.

Two teen Latinx boys who have received this call spend their last day together ensuring that they live before they die. Puerto Rican Mateo has been living his life vicariously through video games and online updates of other Deckers, as those who are on their End Day are called, and Cuban American Rufus has felt lost and out of control since he saw the rest of his family die.

They meet through the Last Friend app and movingly support each other as they tie up ends and make peace with themselves. Silvera (More Happy than Not, 2015) has created two wonderful and wonderfully distinct characters and their dual narration is punctuated with short accounts of other people whose lives are, however briefly, touched by these young men.

As the plot drives towards the inevitable end, signaled by the book’s title, this reader for one was hoping for a miracle, and  the potent theme of living without fear and regrets shines through. Tears were shed.

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Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

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Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
Balzer + Bray, 2017.

Eulogy Beach, MS still shows signs of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.White high school senior Ramona “Blue” Leroux, her older sister, Hattie, and father are still living in the FEMA issued trailer. Ms Murphy’s novel sympathetically portrays life on the margins: Ramona works two jobs to help her family scrape by and save a little for herself, but now Hattie is pregnant and her feckless boyfriend is moving in, making Ramona feel more trapped than ever.

Ramona Blue, nicknamed for her love of the ocean, is a wonderful character and Ms Murphy makes her thoughtful and credible. Self-described as “the white trash lesbian from the trailer park,” she stands out in all respects – over 6’ tall with blue hair and one of the few out people in town. Her allegiance to her family gives her a sense of responsibility which she shoulders lightly and with goodwill.

At the start of senior year, she’s still entwined in a romance with closeted holiday visitor Grace who now seems to be distancing herself. And then Freddie, a “light-skinned black boy” who used to be a regular summer visitor and close friend returns. Freddie is a lot of things that Ramona isn’t – well-off, secure, and with a sense of his future. When Ramona starts swimming at the Y with him she finds it fills a need she didn’t know she had and her friendship with Freddie starts to develop into something more.

Murphy does a great job of peopling Ramona’s world with believable, appealing characters. Her family, though down on its luck, is tight-knit and supportive, and her friend group, though small, has the sort of charm and wit that is common in YA novels but is not usually portrayed so believably. Her relationship with Freddie also allows Ramona to consider “what being black in the South might mean.”

Over the year, Ramona learns that just because something is not bad, that doesn’t make it good and she finds a direction and purpose in her life that is about just her and her choice.

Ms Murphy has a knack of creating quirky offbeat characters that engage and charm and can expand the reader’s view of ‘normal’. Though I didn’t love this quite as much as Dumplin’ (2015), it was still a very pleasurable read.

Thanks to Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for the digital review copy.

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Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

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Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Knopf, June, 2017.

My stars! It’s another white heterosexual teen two-hander and yet, even as I roll my eyes at the format, I really enjoyed this Australian romance with a little edge.

Our narrators are Henry, who thinks he’s in love with the self-centered Amy but we know that he isn’t really, and Rachel, who left town three years ago thinking that Henry was in love with Amy and had rejected her declaration of love. A year ago, Rachel’s beloved younger brother, Cal, drowned and she is still getting over it when her Aunt suggests she comes back to Melbourne. And guess where her aunt has got her a job – at Henry’s family’s bookstore. The romance is utterly predictable though charming and funny.

There are some elements, however, that lift this novel above run of the mill romances. Rachel’s grieving over her brother doesn’t just go away and I felt the weight of his death on her. And then there is the Letter Library in the bookstore, where people are encouraged to leave each other notes in books that are not for sale or for borrowing. It’s a lovely idea and fits with one of the themes of missed connections. And it allows the author to show off a bit of erudition and introduce us to some books that we might not have come across otherwise – both modern and classic.

I warmed to the characters starting with the star-crossed narrators themselves, Henry and Rachel, who are endearing, smart, and (mostly) credible and the requisite quirky friends and siblings are all likable, if of a type.

It’s a book about letting go and moving on, and all the main characters do that in some shape or form, and it is a bit of a weepy. However, not everything turns out entirely perfectly, so the author can’t be accused of glossing over everything.

I do have a couple of quibbles. Henry and Rachel are meant to be recently graduated high schoolers but they felt older to me – as though the author had written this about an early to mid-20’s couple but then realized she’d do better with a YA audience so just changed their ages. Also, I assume the Internet works the same in Australia as it does here, so I found Rachel’s ability to keep her brother’s death a secret a bit hard to believe.

Nonetheless, a reader looking out for an easy reading romance that isn’t too syrupy could happily end up with Words in Deep Blue.

Thanks to Knopf for the review copy.

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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Dutton, 2017.

This quiet and delicate realistic YA novel about grief and family, is something of a change in direction for Ms LaCour, more character-driven with little in the way of plot, and with an exquisitely textured setting.

A freshman in college in New York state, narrator Marin is staying by herself in the snow-bound dorms over the long Christmas break. Her best friend from San Francisco, Mexican-American Mabel, is visiting her for a few days, but she has little else planned. Over the course of Mabel’s visit, the events of the previous summer are gently unfolded, and the reasons for Marin’s isolation and despair are poignantly revealed.

Slight but powerful, the novel centers on the subtly drawn Marin and Mabel. The young women were once lovers but now are struggling even to communicate. Initially their conversations are strained, staccato, and awkward but gradually start to flow as they relax back into their friendship. Interspersed are flashbacks to vignettes of Marin’s homelife with her grandfather and memories of her dead mother.

While keeping the reader drawn in, the author is in no rush for Marin to tell her story, and allows her to move slowly and organically out of the dark towards the light.

(Slightly grumbling note. The high school that Marin and Mabel go to is the one my daughter actually goes to – Convent in San Francisco. However, all their teachers are nuns, which is not the case at all. Why use the real name of a school if you’re going to make stuff up, why not just make up a name too?)

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Prom: The Big Night Out by Jill S. Zimmerman Rutledge

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promProm: The Big Night Out by Jill S. Zimmerman Rutledge
Twenty-First Century, 2017.

Psychotherapist Zimmerman Rutledge looks at one of the American teen’s rites of passage: the prom. Starting with traditional proms from their beginning as middle-class versions of the debutante ball, the book then briefly examines changing cultural attitudes since then, and how this has affected prom.

However, the author’s intent is also to show that prom is not stuck in the unenlightened 1950’s, and there are chapters about how proms are now integrated and (mostly) welcoming to LGBTQ couples, and photographs to reflect this.

Prom fashion is a central theme, though there is a scarcity of photographs of many of the dresses described, including in a section on how fabulous dresses need not cost a fortune.

The author tries hard to moderate the perception of prom’s weighty significance with a rather-longwinded chapter of tips and not always rosy reflections from twenty-somethings; and there is advice on dealing with the pressures that can lead to a challenging experience, along with helpful resources.

Though there are few nonfiction books on this topic, a mismatch between the style of the book (chatty tone, large font) and the age of the intended audience make this a discretionary purchase for libraries but it may be of interest to some teens.