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How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  1,261 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
A girl thought to be a boy steals her sister's skirt, while a boy thought to be a girl refuses to wear a cornflower blue dress. One boy's love of a soldier leads to the death of a stranger. The present takes a bittersweet journey into the past when a man revisits the summer school where he had "an accidental romance." And a forgotten mother writes a poignant letter to the ...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published October 6th 2009 by HarperTeen (first published December 29th 2008)
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Cross-posted at Outlaw Reviews and at Shelf Inflicted

I couldn’t pass up this anthology, especially after learning that Margo Lanagan is one of the contributors. I was also thrilled to see other well-known writers I haven’t discovered yet, like Francesca Lia Block, Emma Donoghue, and Julie Anne Peters.

This collection of stories focuses on teen GLT experiences from a variety of perspectives. These are well-crafted stories, filled with conflict, growth and change. Because I enjoyed the majority of
Anthologies are almost always a mixed bag. Especially anthologies by multiple writers. There's always at least a few stories that I just don't like, for whatever reason. How Beautiful the Ordinary is doing good to have only two stories that didn't resonate with me.

The subtitle (Twelve Stories of Identity) is a little cagey. What does that mean, exactly? Especially in a YA, where half the genre is about discovering who you really are. Here, though, it means sexual and gender identity. Yes, this i
Jun 21, 2010 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story from which the title of this collection comes is by David Levithan. It took me apart. Entirely. I think Levithan writes from the same place L'Engle wrote from- that calm and sure center where love lives, that place of hope untainted by delusion. He's rapidly becoming one of my favorites. I suspect this particular piece resonated so strongly with me because I can remember so clearly the time when all the beautiful boys were dying and we were powerless and afraid and fairly certain we ...more
Dec 26, 2013 Sam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtq
Well, other than the fact that the introduction kept saying lesbian, gay, and trangender, thus excluding bi, pan, and otherwise queer identified people, and the borderline transphobia and cissexism in two of the stories, this anthology was okay. It felt very GL(t) to me, with 6 books about gay males, 3 about lesbians, 2 about trans* guys and 1 about a trans* girl. David Levithan's story was fairly good, and a good reminder to younger queer people about older members of the community did before t ...more
Anna  (Bananas!)
The first story, "A Word from the Nearly Distant Past" by David Levithan, was so touching and beautiful and poignant. I teared up far too many times to be sensible in a 7-page span. Even if the rest of the books sucks a big one, it was worth it for that story. it.

More thorough review to follow.
Dec 06, 2013 Henry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Teens
Recommended to Henry by: My English teacher
When I read How Beautiful The Ordinary: Twelve Stories Of Identity I thought it was great. I thought some of these stories were more for adult than teens like the story by David Levithan’s “A Word from the Nearly Distant Past,” in which Levithan recounts the experiences of generations past as they dealt with being in the closet, dealing with the AIDS crisis, and exhorts the younger generation to make sure that they live for future generations, as much as for themselves. This one was one of my ...more
I had no idea this was an LGBT book when I picked it up - I was looking for a book of short stories to read for book club and the title and subtitle (twelve stories of identity) drew me in. I think the ambiguous cover and title might make it more appealing to teens who might not want it immediately visible what they are reading.

The stories represented a wide variety of experiences, emotions, and styles. There were one or two that just didn't click with me, but in an anthology that's not bad. And
Jun 28, 2016 Cait rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wobble2016
The very first story here is a punch in the gut for anyone of the LGBTQ community and it had me head over heels for this book from the start. I could take or leave some of the stories but overall, this was incredible. And the forward is right. For a long time, teens couldn't find books about people like them. I know I couldn't find YA books about bi girls while I was struggling through high school as a bi girl. It's so commonplace now that I think we forget how special it is. This collection is ...more
Editor Michael Cart has collected twelve stories about LGBT youth identity in the form of short stories, graphic fiction, and verse, by well-known young-adult, and adult authors including Francesca Lia Block, Gregory Maguire, Jacqueline Woodson, Ariel Schrag, Emma Donoghue, and others.

There is something for everyone in this collection: stories of ghosts and girls trapped in walls serving as metaphors for transgendered teens trapped in the wrong body; handsome highway men and soldiers for a stab
May 01, 2011 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those with an open mind
Michael Cart has pulled together an interesting and fairly well-rounded sampling of lgbtq writings. The first 11 stories are fairly predictable and thoroughly enjoyable (or at least, if not whole-heartedly enjoyable to me, I can easily imagine that they would be enjoyable to others) but Gregory Maguire’s final story is a bit of a sore thumb.

*enter diatribe*

Maguire’s story is good, really good…it just doesn’t meld with the other selections. Told from the POV of a 40 year old father, flashing back
Feb 23, 2014 Skyler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity is a delightful anthology collection comprised of nontraditional short stories, comics, and prose that aims to portray 21st century LGBT culture from the perspective of today's youth. With submissions by contemporary authors such as David Levithan, Ariel Schrag, and Francesca Lia Block, this book offers a little bit of something for everyone. Though some stories included in this varied grab bag may not resonate with you, I encourage you to d ...more
Nov 22, 2010 Hallie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
As many have noted, this would be a solid three stars without a couple of standout pieces. David Levithan's is probably my favorite. He writes with the absolute conviction that it gets better, to steal the recent catchphrase. He has the power to make you see the world as a better place without leaving you feeling disappointed when you finish reading. I have to say, I didn't like Margo Lanagan's story as much as I wanted to -- she's an amazing author and I love her books, but her story didn't ...more
Nov 19, 2009 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i chose to read 3 stories from this collection. the book features stories (fiction) from twelve popular authors on being glbtq. i read stories by: david levithan, francesca lia block, and julie anne peters. i've read more than one book by each before. although i love david's writing normally, i just couldn't get into his story. i'm still confused as to what it's about. block's story is told through blog entries and emails, and tells the story of a girl who has always identified as straight ...more
Jul 31, 2009 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, short-stories
Ages 14+ (sex, sex, and sex)

I adore, I adore, I adore. Of course, that may just be the afterglow of Gregory Maguire's modern homage to Brokeback Mountain. But even without that, this is a well rounded collection of what it means to be gay, lesbian, or transgender from a series of great authors. (Julie Ann Peters, your offering was almost PWP, I never expected!) As of this note, Margo Lanagan's is the only story I haven't read, but her style has never suited me. For gay folks, straight folks, and
i was considering giving it 4/5 for a bit because some stories just didnt do it for me but the ones that i liked were REALLY GOOD and deserve this 5 stars. I am way too lazy to do a review of each story so i'll just name some i really liked. A Word from the Nearly Distant Past, My Virtual World, Fingernail, The Missing Person, First Time, and Dear Lang. Ok I named like half the stories it was just such a great collection. The stories sucked me in every time.
Cameron Pults
I thought this was going to be personal stories from queer adults. It wasn't. It was a ragtag collection of unusual stories, some of which barely had anything to do with being queer. I found it hard to get through and very few of the stories held any appeal for me. Possibly I would have enjoyed it more if I had known what to expect, but I doubt it.
A Word From The Nearly Distant Past by David Levithan
The whole reason this book caught my eye is because I saw Levithan's name on it. After reading Will Grayson Will Grayson, which was co-written by Levithan, he has become one of my favourite authors. He has a unique style of writing that I loved - and still love! His story of identity was confusing at first, but as I read more of it, I understod it. The narrator is basically a group of deceased homosexuals who are looking down on what life is l
I had varying feelings about each of the stories.

A world from the nearly distant past: David Levithan - 5 Stars
I cried. Just read it; it's good.

Happily Ever After: Eric Shanower - 2.5 Stars
My life as a dog: Ron Koertge - 3.5 Stars
Trev: Jacqueline Woodson - 3 Stars
My Virtual World: Francesca Lia Block - 3 Stars

A Dark Red Love-Knot: Margo Lanagan - 0 Stars
Ohhh, this one made me angry. I don't know whether it's because I love The Highwayman (original Noyes poem on which this story is based- for a
Oct 26, 2014 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is made up of short stories, making it a real challenge to assign a rating for. There were really a few stories that deserved 5 stars, a few that I would have given 3 or 4 stars, and a few 1 stars. I decided because I liked a good part of it, and because its not possible to love every part of a compilation, the whole thing deserved 4.

A Word From the Nearly Distant Past by David Levithan was pleasing, and it offered good insights into gay kids of today as well as the struggles of gay ki
Beth Kemp
Mar 04, 2012 Beth Kemp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya-contemp
I enjoyed the variety within this collection, unified nonetheless by the theme of gendered and sexual identity. The anthology includes stories of love, loss and betrayal, as well as specifically LGBT experience. Few are traditional short stories; there are two comic book stories, one novella and several use unusual voice or experiment with narration in some way. The stories are a mixture of realism and fantasy, and cover different time periods as well as a wide range of LGBT experience: ...more
Nicole Field
I picked this up as it came up in a library search for Francesca Lia Block. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I realised it also had stories by David Levithan and Emma Donoghue.

David's story was the one that opened, immediately after the introduction written by Michael Cart. It was a sweet, short story written from the viewpoint of the generations that have come before, acknowledging the differences in the prejudices shown to gay people then and now and seeing that while the struggles are differen
Jul 14, 2012 Pghbekka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought my impression was: a somewhat uneven collection. But I'm pretty sure the problem is not with the book, but with me being a long way from 17. Not all stories resonate across ages.

As a 37 year old then: David Levithan's story was brilliant: heartrending and joyous; classic and iconic and new and different and everyone should read it. Eric Shanower's comic was very well done, but...I think you have to love the storytelling tropes of comic books to appreciate it, and I don't. I love Ron Ko
Tara Spears
This is about a 2.5 star read for me, unfortunately I rounded down because of the content of this book. This book was supposedly written for teens, is actually labeled YA, but three of the stories are NOT geared towards YA in any way, shape, or form. This dissapointed me.

Now I had to note the publication date on this and three other works by authors in this book, because the shorts contained in HBTO were novel excerpts from published works. However, due to this being published prior to the novel
A collection of short stories from well-known young adult authors about young people searching to discover and accept who they are. Notable transgender stories:

Trev, Jacqueline Woodson (f2m)
Told in lyrical prose, Trev (short for Trevana, a combination of her parents' names) revisits the time between starting kindergarten and first grade, when he realized as a six year old that he wasn't the girl his family and fellow kindergartners expected him to be.
My Virtual World, Francesca Lia Block (f2m)
Erin Ashley
There isn't much to say about this book or a lot I really want to say to be honest, so this will be shorter than my other reviews.

I liked what this book was all about, I really did. The title jumped out at me and so did the subject matter. What didn't really capture me was a lot of the stories. I had my 2 favourites and then I skimmed over the other stories because their beginnings just did grab me like the couple I liked.

It seems that nowadays the subject of being an outcast, whether gay, strai
Oct 04, 2014 Zreina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How Beautiful The Ordinary isn't your typical story about people with troubled lives. As the description says, twelve stories of identity, it means these are twelve very different lives but with intertwining similarities. As I have read the book, I knew that not every story is for the teens (as I found this in our HS library). I know that this is for the next generation, for the understanding of what situation they're in, but not everyone will find this amusing or touching, but be rather ...more
I picked this up after reading Margo Lanagan's post about her story (, because I've loved "The Highwayman" ever since reading it in a grade-school literature book. And I did think "A Dark Red Love Knot" quite wonderful. I'm a little put off by the collection as a whole, though. The cover promises "stories of identity" and the flap details "distinctively modern views of love, sexuality, and gender identification." Keep going and in the introduction you lea ...more
Mar 12, 2011 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gender-sexuality
Truly enjoyable collection. I'd read works by David Levithan, Jacqueline Woodson, Ariel Schrag, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and Gregory Maquire in the past, so had fairly high expectations. I wasn't disappointed. What was most impressive and enjoyable was the variety of stories present - graphic story, poetry, prose, short form and long, comedy and tragedy, realistic fiction, fantasy, biography, and complex main characters who, amidst their other identity markers, identify as gay, lesbian, or ...more
Jan 02, 2016 SophieBooks rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So I've discovered that I do not like short stories. There is not enough content there for me to fully understand what is going on. They're rushed and the characters can't develop and I had no enjoyment in reading these whatsoever.

The only stories I didn't have so much of a problem with was David Levithan and Emma Donoghue's. The rest were either so tedious I had to just skip them or so sexual just for the sake of being sexual. I thought they were going to be these profound stories about discov
Jennifer Lavoie
Twelve stories, all exploring different aspects of LGBT life and identity. I definitely enjoyed some stories more than others, but each was enjoyable it its own way. "A World from the Nearly Distant Past" nearly made me cry. I loved how the ghosts of the past watched the present and future and cheered them on from the side. "Happily Ever After" was a nicely drawn comic that had a great resolution that is left open for many different avenues. "A Dark Red Love Knot," while excellent writing and ...more
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Former Director of the Beverly Hills (CA) Public Library and a Past President of the Young Adult Library Services Association, Michael Cart is a nationally recognized expert in children's and young adult literature. Now a columnist and reviewer for ALA's Booklist magazine, he is the author or editor of eight books, including From Romance to Realism, a critical history of YA literature; MY FATHER'S ...more
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