Archives for posts with tag: lbgt books


I’ve been alternating between reading upcoming books and catching up with books already out that I’ve missed and recently read ALA William C. Morris Debut Award finalist, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth (Balzer + Bray, $17.99, paperback coming in May). A customer ordered it, and I decided it was definitely a novel I needed to read. After all, it’s set in the early 90s, which is precisely when I was a teenager. I’ll say up front that it took me a while to get into this book. At close to 500 pages, it is rather hefty and I do think that perhaps the first 100 pages or so could have been edited. But it was worth continuing and the second half of the book was incredibly engaging.

On the day that Cameron kisses her best friend, Irene, her parents die in a car crash. Although cosmically unrelated, Cameron can’t quite separate the two events in her mind. The arbitrary connection doesn’t stop her from wanting to kiss Irene again, kissing Lindsay a few years later, or falling for Coley  in high school and kissing her. But this is the early 90s, and in the spirit of LBGT lit, someone is bound to find out about Cameron eventually. And the are not going to like it. Cue born-again Christian aunt, who eventually sends Cameron to a religious conversion school for troubled youth (oh god, youths!), much like But I’m a Cheerleader. It’s at this moment, when you’re so angry at the complete ignorance of all the adults in Cameron’s life, that the book actually starts getting interesting. Mostly because Cameron is smart. Despite the loss of her parents, despite her complete lack of role models, and despite the fact that the two friends she cared about the most have both abandoned her, she knows who she is and that this conversion school is crap. Cameron makes an interesting comment about the conflation between the homophobia and psychology that pervades her treatment. She knows that conversion isn’t meant to help her or her peers, it’s meant to make them hate themselves. She pegs it as emotional abuse. The desire to save her soul is intrinsically intertwined with the desire to extinguish her. Reading a book like this makes me grateful for the things that have changed and horrified by what hasn’t. After a tragedy strikes the school, Cameron calls out the minister, “You guys don’t even know what you’re doing here, do you? You’re just like making it up as you go along and then something like this happens and you’re gonna pretend like you have answers that you don’t even have and it’s completely fucking fake. You don’t know how to fix this. You should just say that: We fucked it up.” Wish I could have been that articulate when I was in high school.

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9781442408920I’m slowly working my way through the recent ALA Youth Media Award winners. I’m moderately embarrassed at how many winners had completely escaped my notice. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster, $17.99) received both a Prinz honor and the Stonewall prize so it immediately went to the top of my list of must reads. Of course, as any bookseller knows, it becomes difficult to get your hands on winning books (unless you already have them in stock) after the award show since all the *other* booksellers are all scrambling to get the books in their store. Insider info: booksellers totally watch the awards with the order window open so that they can put in requests as the winners are announced. Seriously. One minute late and you don’t get any of the books : ) Anyway, I put in a request for Aristotle and Dante with our store owner and waited for the book to arrive. This past weekend I was pulling books for our annual sale, and the book was on our sale list! What!?!?! Not only had the book arrived and I hadn’t noticed, but it accidentally made it on the sale list! My special order! I was shocked. SHOCKED. And thrilled because now I could finally read the book. All’s well, so they say.

As for the book. YES! yes, yes, yes. So good. Narrated by Aristotle, the story chronicles the friendship of two boys who meet at the pool in El Paso during the summer of 1987. Aristotle, who can’t swim, is floating around thinking about how most high-school guys are tools. My word, not his; it is 1987. Dante offers to teach him how to swim. Naturally, if your name is Aristotle and you meet a kid whose name is Dante, you are going to have to be friends with him. Fortunately, Dante isn’t a tool. He’s smart, well-read, funny, thoughtful, artistic. I want to be friends with him myself. Aristotle and Dante debate what it means to be a real Mexican. Dante teaches Aristotle about literature. Aristotle saves Dante’s life. Dante’s family moves away for a year.

Aristotle struggles with the silence surrounding his brother’s absence, that his parents refuse to discuss. He struggles with understanding his father, back from Vietnam, who can’t seem to talk about anything. He struggles with his own nightmares. He has a great relationship with his mother, which is one of the things I really loved about this book. Parents in YA novels are often absent or horrible, and that sort of makes sense from a teen’s perspective. But in this book, both Dante’s and Aristotle’s parents are lovely. Not perfect. Not idealized. But lovely, supportive, and smart. Smart enough to know their sons even better than their sons do. I respected both sets of parents in this story and appreciated that Sáenz gave all four of their characters so much depth without distracting from the two boys.

Although Dante is more confident and outgoing than Aristotle, he has his own struggles, namely his feelings for Aristotle. I’m a fan of narratives that rotate between different characters and in some ways I would have loved this story to move between Dante and Aristotle so I could have heard more of Dante’s thoughts. But of the two, it’s Aristotle who struggles with expressing himself. We need him to narrate because otherwise he’d be as much of a mystery to us as he is to Dante. Besides, he has a biting outlook on life that I really liked: “Reading my own words embarrassed the hell out of me. I mean, what a pendejo. I had to be the world’s biggest loser, writing about hair, and stuff about my body. No wonder I stopped keeping a journal. It was like keeping a record of my own stupidity. Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to remind myself what an asshole I was?” He has a soft side though: “My mother and father held hands. I wondered what that was like, to hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand”. I bet you could, too, especially when your best friend is Dante.

Minus the teenager part, that’s me. home sick today. ugh. What’s even worse is that I wasn’t scheduled to work anyway. So I spent my day off, which is currently experiencing lovely weather, alternating between chills and a fever. I’m better now and hoping it was a 12-hour bug and not the nasty 48-hour thing that everyone else seems to have. So what to read when you don’t have the energy to do anything else? Well I just finished My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger (Speak, $8.99) and I really enjoyed it. Chapters alternate between three main narrators: T. C. Keller, Augie Hwong, and Alejandra Perez. Each section includes a variety of communication forms, email, text, IM, office memos, about some of which the narrators aren’t always aware. This range of communication offers a more comprehensive picture of these three freshmen’s ‘most excellent year’.

Set in Boston, T. C. and Augie have been brothers since T. C.’s mom died and the two families melded to the point where Mom, Dad, Pop, as well as extended relatives don’t bother to differentiate biological relations. During their ‘most excellent year’ T. C. and Augie maintain their close bond, but they both begin to develop new relationships. T. C. meets Alejandra, who has just moved to town, and Hucky, a six-year old, who alternates between foster care and a home for children with hearing impairments. Augie, more to his surprise than anyone else’s, meets Andy Wexler, who is just as surprised to be falling for Augie. Alejandra, who has spent her life as a diplomat’s daughter somewhat cut off from her peers, starts to make real friends and discover her own talents in theatre. Along the way, each of them fully begins to appreciate that families are made by surrounding yourself with the people who love and support you and that there’s always room for one more.

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