Tag Archives: LGBT character

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Standard

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.

Save

Save

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Standard

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.

Save

Save

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Standard

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?)

Save

Save

Save

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

Standard

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.

It Looks LIke This by Raffi Mittlefehldt

Standard

it-looks-like-thisIt Looks LIke This by Raffi Mittlefehldt
Candlewick, 2016.

This is a moving, if somewhat melodramatic, coming out story that has power in its quiet understatement. 14-year old Mike’s family moves to a small town in Virginia and Mike settles in at school: he makes a few friends but also attracts the attention of bully Vincent. Then, thrillingly, he meets Sean and as they work on a French project together, their friendship moves into something else.

Both Mike and Sean come from socially conservative and deeply religious families, and neither Mike nor Sean know what to do with their attraction except keep it secret. Mike’s Dad is always on at him about playing sports (a bit of a cliche), whereas Mike is interested in art, and uses his acute observational skills to write some lovely descriptions (ok, time to confess – this is where I should put in a quote, but I had to give the book back and didn’t take any notes, so this is all done on memory. I also forgot to note down if there were any descriptions that would indicate racial diversity. Sorry).

Mike appears to brush off the abuse from his father, Victor, and even his teachers, but it gradually emerges that he has absorbed it. Though the word “gay” is never used, it is clear that his parents, church, and much of the school is homophobic, and take offence at Mike’s demeanor. But his two friends, and his younger sister, Toby (sigh – why do strong girls always have to have boys’ names?) are supportive and protective, vehemently so in Toby’s case.

The book has a melancholy, foreboding air, right from the start and, inevitably, tragedy ensues, though here the novel crosses the line into melodrama, But on the horizon, there is hope, more tolerance, and, at least, an effort to be more accepting.

I found this book most absorbing, and I think it will appeal to teens who enjoy well-written, character-driven realistic novels.

Save

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Standard

pearl-thiefThe Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion, May 2017

At the start of this mystery novel, set in pre-World War II Scotland, 15 year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart arrives back from finishing school in Switzerland. Sitting down by the river on her grandfather’s estate, she is knocked unconscious, and her gradual recollection of what led up to this attack is the key to the whereabouts of some missing river pearls and the identity of the thief.

The mystery itself is not particularly gripping or original, but it is a hook to hang the development of Julie, later to become Verity of Code Name Verity (2012), on. She loves putting the pieces of a puzzle together, she enjoys fooling people, and she relishes leading a conspiracy. She is empathetic, adventurous, impulsive, brave if somewhat foolhardy, willing to give anything a shot, and discontented with the lot of women in this era. As you can see, these are threads that will lead her to her role in that outstanding novel.

The Pearl Thief is also interested in social justice, through its portrayal of the McEwen family who are Travellers, often disparagingly referred to as “tinkers.” Many of the establishment figures, from the police to the librarian, are quick to jump to conclusions about their morals and behavior, instantly blaming them for everything from theft to murder. Julie, however, is less bound to this and takes their side (I can’t say I’m wild about this trope of the tolerant toffs and the bigoted working class). Ms Wein’s note on Travellers is a model of explanation and caveat.

Julie is yearning for romance, and her description of her relationship with Ellen McEwen suggests that her feelings are more than just that of a friend. The two girls along with their brothers, make an appealing quartet as they investigate the mystery.

As with her other novels, but particularly for me, Black Dove, White Raven (2015) Ms Wein evocatively and exquisitely describes the period and the setting. The death of Julie’s grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn, means the family must sell off his estate to pay off his debts, and that melancholy task gives added resonance to Julie’s description of the countryside (though they do have a castle to go to, so let’s not shed too many tears).

This is an early ARC, and it has some issues that I’m sure will be sorted out. I found some of Julie’s narration and breaking of the fourth wall to be a bit too jolly hockey sticks (defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “used to describe a woman or girl of a high social class who is enthusiastic in a way that annoys most people.”) The tone shifts around a bit as well, but I suspect both these quibbles will be fixed before publication.

CNV was such a great novel, and though Ms Wein’s subsequent novels have been very good, they have not achieved that same level. Nor, currently, does The Pearl Thief, but it is still a fine historical mystery novel with an engaging and complex narrator and some thoughtful ideas about society in 1938.

Thanks to Disney-Hyperion and Edelweiss for the digital ARC.

Save

Save

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki

Standard

saving-montgomery-soleSaving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki

I really enjoyed Ms Tamaki’s This One Summer, and Saving Montgomery Sole has something of the spiky observation of that graphic novel, but doesn’t quite reach its heights.

Montgomery Sole is an odd duck in an decidedly homogenous Southern California town. She believes in mystical powers and, along with gay best friend Thomas and hippy Naoki, she has formed her school’s Mystery Club. Monty spends a lot of time on the Internet delving into such mysteries as spontaneous combustion and remote viewing, and that’s how she comes to acquire the Eye of Know for only $5.99. She comes to believe that the Eye gives her the power to hurt people who are threatening her, and she’s not sure how she feels about that.

Into this mix comes the Reverend White, a hardline Christian who believes in the sanctity of marriage. This is a threat to Monty as she has two Moms. When the Rev White’s son Kenneth turns up at school, Monty believes she has to act.

I didn’t find the whole business with the Eye to be particularly credible, whether it has powers or not, and while it does point to a teen’s urge to find something outside themselves to believe in, it just seemed a bit silly.

More satisfying is the White plotline, in which Monty feels she has to singlehandedly take on the reactionary newcomer after a crucifix appears on her, and others’, lockers. Her perception of her town’s conformity to socially conservative values is an assumption that she never considers will be challenged, and by tarring the son with the same brush as his father, she shows herself to be as blinkered as some of her classmates.

I liked the other two members of the Mystery Club: Thomas’s stoic attitude to the endless knee jerk homophobia of his classmates provides a sharp contrast to Monty’s bull in a china shop approach, and Naoki’s gentle quirkiness provides yet another contrast. Monty’s family feels robustly real as well – her two Moms and her sister, Tesla, form a tight loving around Monty as she thrashes around, and the Moms’ backstory gives authenticity to Monty’s panic.

This has had some pretty good reviews, but I didn’t find it a particularly satisfying read. Though pitched as a YA novel, it reads much more like a middle grade one; and while Monty is 16, she feels much more like a girl on the brink of adolescence than one heading into adulthood. I bought it for my high school library, but I suspect it will work much better for sophisticated middle graders.