book review, young adult

Review: If I Was Your Girl

You can have anything once you admit you deserve it.

If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo

I am still venturing into the genre that is LGBTQ YA fiction, and it’s because of books like these that I want to keep reading this genre.

AUTHOR: Meredith Russo

GENRE: Young Adult

BOOK FORMAT: audiobook

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school and has one goal: survive high school as a transgender teen and graduate, then move to the Northern states for college where she might have a better chance at living her truth. However, her plan becomes skewed when she meets a kind, nice boy named Grant and she can’t help but let herself become closer to him. However, she struggles with how close she wants to be to her new boyfriend and her new group of friends…and how much she wants to let them know about her. Trigger warning: outing scene of multiple lgbt characters, sexual assault, bullying, suicide

THOUGHTS: Okay so first of all, I want to say that I am a cisgender individual so if you’d like to know how a transgender person felt about the representation in this book, I would point to On Wednesday’s We Wear Capes for a co-authored review in which one of the reviewers is a transgender individual and can speak to the representation accurately.

I loved this book, and not because it was perfect. It was far from perfect- it fell into some of the many cliched traps that YA books often fall into. The whole plot line in which the new, quiet, kind, Southern, and charming girl moves into town and instantly gets the boyfriend on the football team and the gaggle of popular girl friends felt a little unrealistic to me. It’s the kind of thing that you’d expect from any other YA book. BUT this might have been intentional on Meredith Russo’s part, because that whole traditional storyline is subverted by the very fact that Amanda is transgender. So the normal events in the book, such as going to church with her Southern Baptist friend and dating an athlete in high school, suddenly became events ringed in tension and potential danger.

One thing that I really valued about this book is that it is an own-voices novel, as Meredith Russo is also a transgender woman, and this meant that she could speak to all of the small things about the process of getting surgery, taking hormones, and learning to inhabit the gender that people truly are but were not born into. This story could have easily and rightfully been a narrative full of drama, since the life of a transgender individual is inherently more dangerous than the life of a cisgender individual, especially in an environment such as the American South. However, Russo based most of the novel in ordinary teenage girl experiences, which I really admired. It speaks to the potential for the future of transgender teens in a more accepting society.

One thing that I absolutely adored in this novel, even though it played a minuscule role, is the treatment of religion. Church was a place of danger for Amanda- she was in the presence of many Christian fundamentalists, after all. However, Amanda learns to come to terms with religion with her own faith in a small way; she chose to believe that God still loved her no matter what society told her. I loved this because I feel like the subject of religious LGBTQ individuals is not represented enough- in literature as well as in media in general. LGBTQ religious individuals’ stories are important too.

I had to give this book such a high rating because of how emotional and touching it was. It made me laugh multiple times, it made me freeze with fright and it made me cry. It was so realistic that it made the story so touching. It was also of some personal value to me because I have been at a loss several times in conversation with a transgender friend because of my misunderstandings of their experiences, and this novel allowed me to better educate myself so that I can be a little more prepared in the future. I am grateful for that and for being able to hear a perspective that is so different than my own.

I’d recommend this to everyone.

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book review, reading recommendations, young adult

Review: Two Boys Kissing

Ignorance is not bliss. Bliss is knowing the full meaning of what you have been given.

Two Boys Kissing; David Levithan

I ticked another book off my extremely long TBR list…and managed to pick this delight of a book. I am making an effort to read more LGBTQA books or books about the LGBTQA experience.

AUTHOR: David Levithan

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / audiobook

RATING: 5/5 stars

SUMMARY: The novel is narrated by the general gay man that died during the height of the AIDS crisis, and in this novel, the gay men of the past narrating observe the gay boys of today. The novel follows seven different gay boys: one (Cooper) that is dealing with the depths of despair and feels unaccepted by the community around him, two  (Avery and Ryan) that are trying to navigate a new relationship, two (Peter and Neil) that are trying to navigate an older relationship, and two (Craig and Henry) that are trying to break the world record for the world’s longest kiss. In doing so, Craig and Henry are trying to make a statement to the world: that two boys kissing is not scary, that two boys kissing is normal and acceptable. Their feat touches on the lives of the rest of the boys in the novel in some way, whether in a minuscule way or in a way that is meaningful and lasting. Ultimately, this novel maps out the past, the present, and speculates on the future of the American gay experience.

Trigger warnings: There is an outing scene, and talk of suicide.

THOUGHTS: Okay so I absolutely adored this take on the contemporary gay generation. I am familiar with the AIDS crisis and its victims through fiction and theatre only – the men that were wracked with disease are only those that I have seen on stage, on screen, and in cherished books. This approach to the perspective of those men was unique and gave their story more hope than others would have by allowing those men to see how radically the gay experience has changed in America from the realities that they had known. At first I was a little hesitant about how this approach would work out but it played itself out beautifully.

This was my first novel by David Levithan, and I will definitely be reading more of his work because his writing was sublime. This novel had a tone of breathy wonder, of saddened acknowledgement, of weary resignation, and of renewed hope. I honestly just want to brew tea with Levithan’s prose and drink it all day long, it is that good. This book is so well written that even if I had not liked the storyline or the characters (and to be clear, I LOVED both), I still would have enjoyed the experience of reading it. The prose is heart and tear jerking, full of universal truths and general musings on life and existence itself, and the narration was so wonderfully done that even though this book is Young Adult, it lacks the immaturity that other Young Adult books are subject to because they are narrated by teenagers.

I also think Levithan did a good job of captivating the general contemporary gay experience- some of the minor prejudices approached in everyday life, what it means to be a person of color as well as a gay boy, what it means to have a supportive or unsupportive family, what it means to hate your sexuality or love it, etc. All of these gay characters are approaching their sexuality from a completely different background and mindset, which makes the novel that much more honest. Of course, I can only talk about this with the authority that a straight, not-gay-boy, person can have so please keep that in mind.

I adore how this is an own-voices novel, as Levithan himself is a gay man that was born in between the generations that he writes about, so he is in the perfect place to discuss each different and separate experience while still having a degree of separation from each generation as well. It is a lot more powerful to know that an author is drawing from his own experiences and his own interactions to draw inspiration for a book, especially for a book as relevant and significant as this one is.

I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone and everyone, no matter your reading preferences. It is a short read, and I’d be surprised if you managed to make your whole way through without feeling the prick of tears at least once.

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book review, young adult

Review: Fangirl

To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

fangirl_coverdec2012

I have checked off one book from my insanely long TBR list! 126 more to go…

AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / ebook

RATING: 3.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Cath is one of the biggest Simon Snow fans in the world, and a popular fanfiction writer in that fandom. She is about to start her freshman year of college with her twin sister and best friend Wren, but things go amiss when Wren declares she’d rather not room with Cath. Cath, who deals with crippling social anxiety, struggles to thrive in the social atmosphere of college without her socialite sister to guide her, and also struggles to reconcile the real world that she lives in and the fictional world that she would rather inhabit.

THOUGHTS: Okay so the worst thing about being a book blogger/reviewer is that as you read a book, you start to determine what its rating will be from the very outset. I began hating this book and evolved to like it. I enjoyed Fangirl, although I probably liked it a lot less than those who read Young Adult exclusively. A lot of YA reviewers gave it a 5/5 but honestly I didn’t love the book like that, nor did I not like it.

I found Cath to be kind of immature, even though I know this is an aspect of Young Adult fiction, it sometimes got on my nerves. Cath isn’t that young- she is a freshman in university. I am going into my second year of university, so Cath isn’t that much younger than me, and there are a lot of aspects about Cath that I could appreciate and relate to: her preference for books over parties, her reluctance to partake in overwhelming social activities, and her love for fictional worlds and characters. However, the way that Cath just shrugged off some of her school work or even her important relationships in order to tend to her literary commitments seemed ridiculous and acts that belonged to an angsty sixteen-year-old rather than an eighteen-year-old. Other characters comment on Cath’s pettiness and immaturity throughout the book, so Rainbow Rowell had made a deliberate choice there, but honestly? I wasn’t the girl’s biggest fan (see what I did there?)

Other than that, the rest of the book was enjoyable for me. I liked the family drama it encompassed, Cath’s journey to breaking a little more out of her shell, and her experiences with the harsh realties of real life breaking her out of her fantasy-induced stupor. All in all, the characterization was done quite well- none of the characters were too tropey, not even the introverted, fangirling nerd that was Cath. The relationships between characters, and how they broke, mended, and strengthened is what really gave this novel its life.

Also, I was LIVING for the frank portrayal of mental illnesses, self-medication, and family drama. This could have easily been a super fluffy, cute book, but instead, it also incorporates some serious subjects that fiction exists to take us away from sometimes. If anything, this book speaks to the self-medicating powers that fiction writing and fiction reading can have- for a few short moments, it can give us a place to hide from ourselves and our own issues.

If you like YA in general, I’d recommend this to you.

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