QUILTBAG Content: Well, Love Spell offers us (first and foremost) a gender-fluid young gay man who thinks "Gender Labels Suck Donkey Balls." He’s outQUILTBAG Content: Well, Love Spell offers us (first and foremost) a gender-fluid young gay man who thinks "Gender Labels Suck Donkey Balls." He’s out (other kids call him girly-boy), he’s proud (a self-professed queen), and he’s infatuated with a boy named Jazz. As for Jazz, he’s friendly and kind of shy, but Chance can’t figure out whether he’ll “desire a sexily feminine Chance, a boyishly charming Chance, or no Chance at all, because he isn't gay.”
Fetish Content: Actually, despite this being YA fiction, there is a bit of a cross-dressing fetish here. It’s not sexual or kinky, but I know some readers will enjoy Chance’s fashion sense, his love of lip gloss, and his experiments with eyeliner.
Literary Quality: This is a hard story to judge. Personally, I didn’t care for the narrative structure. To me, it was often a jumbled mix of styles, with a very teenaged narrator often talking directly to the reader, but it will probably work very well for its intended audience. The dialogue sounded realistic, if a bit exaggerated sometimes, but I’m really the wrong age to say whether the slang rings true (fortunately, there is a glossary at the back). There were some nice descriptive passages, however, and they do well to set the scene.
Overall: Love Spell was a story that has a lot of fun with the material, but which also has a strong heart and a wonderful message. Even if I got lost in some of the slang, the characters were well-developed and the mystery of the core romance was interesting enough to keep me reading right through to the end. He was exasperating at times, but I really did like Chance, and I sympathised with him as often as I emphasized. I hope it finds an audience because it’s a fun, uplifting, gender-affirming story that doesn’t come across as preachy or condescending, and that’s not easy.
QUILTBAG Content: Well, for starters, we have a pair of attractive young schoolgirls making out under a tree. The first surprise is that they’re elvesQUILTBAG Content: Well, for starters, we have a pair of attractive young schoolgirls making out under a tree. The first surprise is that they’re elves, and the second is that even though Gretchen is bisexual, Heather is entirely straight. Yeah, that’s right, it’s complicated. As for Steve (it takes about 30 pages before either of the girls think to ask his name), he’s an asexual teenager who may be legitimately transgender, or who may just be a socially convenient cross-dresser. Yeah, I told you it was complicated.
Fetish Content: Technically, I guess you could say this has some fetish appeal – especially regarding cute little bisexual elven Princesses - but certainly no fetish content. It really doesn’t go any further than the suggestion of kissing or fondling.
Literary Quality: Surprisingly, this was a very well-written story that kept me intrigued right through to the end. It’s a touch surreal in its overlap of fantasy and reality, blurring the borders between humans and elves, but it actually comes across as rather normal and natural. The characters are a bit odd, but deliberately so, and their relationships are nicely developed. The language and dialogue seemed a bit mature for high school students, but that also means it’s refreshingly free of mind-numbing slang.
Overall: The story borders on the preposterous in a few areas, particularly in the portrayal of Steve’s absent father and the role of the Deputy Pam, but that’s really a minor quibble. It’s really a magical sort of story that manages to do a lot with the material. There’s almost a Harry Potter sort of feel to it, but for an older (and queer) audience. There’s some real darkness to it, and an air of sorrow throughout, but I have to give George Berger credit for seeing it through to its logical conclusion. This genuinely surprised me, and I’d love to see if find a wider audience.
An interesting concept - a little too heavy-handed, perhaps, but otherwise well-executed. Could have benefited from a little more depth of story, andAn interesting concept - a little too heavy-handed, perhaps, but otherwise well-executed. Could have benefited from a little more depth of story, and either more focus or more detail in setting....more
Jordan is a transgendered young man who, with the support of his family, is determined to live his final year of high school as a boy. He doesn’t wantJordan is a transgendered young man who, with the support of his family, is determined to live his final year of high school as a boy. He doesn’t want to be recognized or applauded for who he is, and would rather that gender not be an issue. Instead, he wants to be recognized for what he is - an actor and a musician. An actor, it must be said, who will be playing the gender-bending lead in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
As if taking on a controversial role in the musical production weren’t enough, Puck himself appears to Jordan, bestowing upon him three magical potions that bring the magic, the humour, the confusion, and the misunderstandings of the play to life. Fortunately, Atwood doesn’t make any of Jordan’s gender issues dependent on the magic, which would have been a huge cheat and a way of avoiding the real issue.
The characters here are all well-developed, which is what makes the magical aspect work. They are individuals who all but leap off the page, allowing the reader to get to know them enough to really sympathize with all the craziness that creeps into their lives. The one character about whom I’m still not sure how I feel is Maria. While she’s a lovely character, her presence, for me, was just a little too much.
Maria does help to ground the story, contrasting the magical fantasy with harsh reality, but the whole point of Jordan’s story is to get past his gender and focus on his emergence as an actor and an artist. Maria’s presence only serves to bring the question of gender back to the forefront and remind the reader that not all families are so accepting of a life in transition.
That said, Atwood does a very good job of exploring the thoughts and emotions of transgender teens, taking the reader inside their heads and their hearts. The climax is a bit rushed, but overall it’s an enjoyable read with a lot of depth.
“He looks at me and sees a hot chick—a smooth Clinique girl. I look at him and see a chimpanzee tugging on his little noodle.”
And so ends the first re“He looks at me and sees a hot chick—a smooth Clinique girl. I look at him and see a chimpanzee tugging on his little noodle.”
And so ends the first revealing chapter of Alex As Well, a powerful coming of age tale that isn’t afraid to put both tears and smiles on the page, and which doesn’t pretend there’s one perfect answer to the question of gender. Alex was born intersex, but while her mother decided to raise her as a boy, complete with a lifetime of hormone treatment, she doesn’t agree, and just wants to be a girl.
What immediately distinguishes Brugman’s tale is the way in which she tells it. Alex acts as our primary narrator, relating to us not just the events of her life, but also what she’s thinking and feeling behind the scenes. At the same time, she relates to us her struggle with the other Alex, the boy who used to live on the outside. It’s a conflict that’s painful, and which has the potential to be melodramatic, but it’s handled with just the right about of humour.
Alex’s transition is not an easy one. Her classmates don’t handle it well, prompting the change in schools; her father doesn’t handle it well, prompting him to walk out of her life; and her mother doesn’t handle it well, prompting her to take out her anger and her fear on Alex. Even though it’s her father who walks out, it’s really Alex’s mother who serves as the sort-of ‘villain’ of the piece. She takes everything personally, accuses Alex of screwing up her life, and even gets physically abusive in a few instances.
Her mother does introduce an interesting angle to the story, however, with her narrative pieces involving an online forum. Here we see how Heather presents her story to the world, and what kind of comments others have for her. It really opens your eyes to the different perspectives out there, and puts the biological question of Alex into context.
“I want to have a family who can love me as a girl, and just be normal. They say I am a weirdo and a pervert. If I was normal, they would not be like this with me.”
Alex is a typical teenager, self-centred and full of drama, but there’s a genuine pain beneath all her angry bravado. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, but who does at that age? Ultimately, she just wants to be loved and accepted for who she is, rather than questioned and criticised for not being something else. The conclusion of her tale may come across as a bit harsh to some readers, but I found it a realistic approach to providing closure, leaving the door open for a more hopeful future.
This was such a wonderful story - my only complaint is that it took so long for somebody to write it. Seriously, I really wish there had been a storyThis was such a wonderful story - my only complaint is that it took so long for somebody to write it. Seriously, I really wish there had been a story like Cevin's Deadly Sin available back in my high school days. It may not have changed anybody else's opinions, but to have found somebody I could so closely identify, even if it's in fiction, would have made such an incredible difference in my life, I can hardly imagine it.
Sally Bosco is to be commended for sharing such an open, honest, powerful tale, and for doing so with such understanding and tact. This is the story of an adolescent cross-dresser. Cevin is a typical high school student, a young man who just happens to find comfort and happiness in wearing women's clothing. A pair of red panties neutralize any bad energy at school, making his life bearable, and slipping into a blouse, skirt, and heels after school allows him to relax and cast off the stresses of the day. There's no confusion regarding gender identity, no lingering doubts about sexuality, no angst over how nature made him, and no questions about fetishism.
This is also a story of being an outsider, something we can all relate to, no matter how we dress, who we love, or whether we're new to town. Sally does a wonderful job of relating the fears and frustrations of Cevin, Amy, and Tessa, making us care deeply for them, without coming across as preachy or overbearing. The struggle to fit in is handled very well, and even if the bullying element comes on a bit too strong, with a final twist I anticipated all along, it does a wonderful job of laying bare just how dangerous being different can be. I honestly feared for Cevin, cried along with him at the biggest set-backs, and wondered whether he would make it through the story whole, healthy, and intact.
There's also a nice little fantasy element to the story that tickled me to no end. In his dreams, Cevin is a Cross-Dressing Superhero in thigh-high boots, fishnets, and a black leather skirt, with a big CD splashed across his camisole. He stalks the night, watching out for those who are different, and delivering justice to their bullies. It's a nice addition to the story, fun and fanciful, but something that also helps illustrate how hopeless he sometimes feels. Given the bullies at school, his mother's ultra-religious attempts to cure him, and the struggles of fitting in, these dreams also provide an important balance to the tale.
I won't spoil the ending, other than to say it's a happy one that reveals a new meaning behind Cevin's Deadly Sin.
Although a bit simplistic, too desperate, and marred by grammatical errors, An Incredible Girl is still a lovely story at heart. Robyn Fletcher tellsAlthough a bit simplistic, too desperate, and marred by grammatical errors, An Incredible Girl is still a lovely story at heart. Robyn Fletcher tells us the tale of a teenage transsexual, trying to fit in at yet another high school, with a history of bigotry and harassment behind her. She's been under a doctor's care and on hormones for several years now, but her parents have decided to save surgery until she's 18 and can decide for herself. In the meantime she must navigate the ignorance of students and teachers, supported by the young man who loves her.
The simplistic nature of the tale I can forgive as being suitable to the age group, and the grammatical errors I can overlook, but the desperation . . . the sense of trying too hard to establish heroes and villains . . . that bothered me. For instance, when a teacher is introduced with the name Mr. Perverse (real name, not a nickname), then you know he's going to be bad news. Making him a pedophile is one thing, but a pedophile with a fetish for young transsexuals, that just seems to be pushing it too far.
Having said that, there's so much about this story that I loved - Cricket is such a sweet girl, her boyfriend is a jock football player, her mother has a lesbian partner, and the school principle is very understanding and sympathetic. The teenage romance is portrayed very well, and even if the ending is a little too happy and too convenient, I will never complain about a book that leaves me with a smile upon turning the last page. An Incredible Girl isn't perfect, but if it makes one teenage transsexual feel better about themselves, or just one of their peers feel a little more sympathetic, then my concerns don't matter one bit.
Somehow, in my switch between e-readers and email accounts, its seems a handful of titles got lost, so I'm happy to have found both the books themselvSomehow, in my switch between e-readers and email accounts, its seems a handful of titles got lost, so I'm happy to have found both the books themselves and an opportunity to share them with you!
Rainbow Briefs is a lovely YA LGBT anthology edited by Sara Winters. These are stories taken from the Goodreads Young Adult LGBT Books Group, with each based on a picture prompt shared with the group. Although comprised of about 15 stories, there are 2 in particular of interest to readers such as myself.
The first, Designing Sam, is based on the following prompt:
A slim girl with dark hair stands in front of her full-length mirror, looking into it. From the mirror, a muscular young man with the same hair and eyes stares back.
This was a powerful, emotional story of a young man coming out to a world that doesn't understand his gender, much less his sexuality. It's a sad tale a times, full of sorrow and pain, but one with an understanding (and uplifting) ending.
The second, In Unexpected Places, is one of the few that doesn't share it's prompt. Instead, it gets right to the story, which is a far less serious, almost madcap adventure about a young gay man and the young transgender woman he befriends. You can almost picture this as a 90s movie comedy, with the two outcasts trying to survive one of those too-crazy-to-be-true days.
"It started with the genchangers, human-made genetic viruses designed to meld animal features into humans for fun, fashion, or fetish."
That, right the"It started with the genchangers, human-made genetic viruses designed to meld animal features into humans for fun, fashion, or fetish."
That, right there, is what initially drew me to Sinews of the Heart, even more so than the transgender romance element. I loved the idea of exploring what might become of a world where technology outstrips judgement, and fetish becomes integrated with everyday life. You can argue that we're already well on the way, and I'm not necessarily saying that's a bad thing, but there's always a point where too much of a good thing is just that - too much.
Anyway, Cody L. Stanford introduces us to a world where that fetish technology has run amok, resulting in a war between 'pure' humans and furry 'mutants' that has decimated the planet and forever altered the balance of power between the two. Stanford does a wonderful job of portraying the new races, making us believe in the anthrotigers, the anthrowolves, and more, but still maintaining a core of humanity beneath all that fur. Even as we see them swarming across the landscape in packs, exerting their dominance, we also see the bonds of family and friendship that survive the end of everything else.
Our window into this world is Nikki, an anthrotiger who also happens to be transgender. Humans look at her, and all they see is tiger, while her father looks at her, and all he sees is boy. While her anthro nature is, of course, a metaphor for her gender and her sexuality, it's more than that. It's an important part of the story, a physical reminder of just how easy it is to see our differences, rather than what connects us together. As her family journeys across the wastelands of America, she encounters an angry young human named Kane, who condemns her as much for her gender as her fur. Theirs is a tense, awkward sort of relationship, and one that only becomes more interesting as his homosexuality is revealed through the love for a fellow human boy.
There, really, is where my only complaint about the novel lies. Maybe I'm just too old to appreciate it, but why does it seem as if all YA fiction has to involve at least one love triangle? To me, it just seems like an arbitrary way to add a little tension to the story, to ruffle some feathers (or, in this case, fur), and force the reader to choose sides. That said, Stanford handles it well, I just think the Nikki/Kane relationship was interesting enough on its own.
Without giving too much away, this is a story that's ultimately about acceptance. It's about coming out, connecting, and being loved. Sinews of the Heart is also a very violent story at times, with some confrontations and fatalities that genuinely surprised me, but it's all within the context of the post-apocalyptic world. Well-written and imaginative, it's also as entertaining as it is thoughtful and sensitive. Kudos to Cody L. Stanford for doing something profound within the genre, for making Nikki such a genuinely positive heroine, and to Storm Moon Press for taking a chance with such a different sort of tale.
While I don't read a lot of children's books, and my son isn't quite old enough to yet read them with me, I am always on the lookout for stories we caWhile I don't read a lot of children's books, and my son isn't quite old enough to yet read them with me, I am always on the lookout for stories we can enjoy together when he is old enough to sit still (without eating the pages).
As certain as giraffes are tall, there are some who fear anyone that is different.
Gordon The Giraffe is the story of the hidden kingdom of Ugladunga, where children pair up (always one boy, one girl) to play the game of Mulunga Doo. When Gary ask him to play, Gordon is at first excited (nobody has ever before asked him), but ends up fleeing the taunts of the other children . . . straight to his mother, who tells him he must follow his heart. When Gordon goes looking for Gary, the other giraffes plan to teach him a lesson . . . but he ends up coming to their rescue instead.
Because giraffes have the biggest hearts of all the creatures. They can't help but love . . . even those that are a bit different.
This is a cute story, beautifully illustrated, with a subtle but heart-warming theme of acceptance at its core. Even thought Gordon is never branded as gay, the suggestion is there, backed up by his mother's understanding - and, more importantly, acceptance. While most children may not pick up on it, those who feel a bit different themselves - about anything - or those who may have parents that are a bit different will certainly appreciate the message.
She didn't know what to say at first, but when she looked into her son's saddned eyes she knew.
Well worth picking up for anybody who reads (or plans to read) to a child.
While I suspect some of the humour either went over or under my head (it’s been a while since my high school days), and I have a few issues with the bWhile I suspect some of the humour either went over or under my head (it’s been a while since my high school days), and I have a few issues with the basic premise, My Invented Life was still a fun, crazy read.
While there’s a bit more to their relationship that drives the story, things really begin when Roz becomes convinced her sister is really a closet lesbian, after finding a suspicious book in Eva’s room. When Eva denies being a lesbian, Roz pretends to come out of the closet herself, all in an effort to convince her sister that it’s okay to be a lesbian . . . so she’ll dump her boyfriend, and leave Roz to swoop in to catch him on the rebound.
While it’s handled respectfully, and is ultimately supportive, the very idea of the fake-lesbian storyline bothered me. It just doesn’t seem like something I could imagine a teenager really doing, no matter how much more accepting her peers might be than when I was in school. Of course, humour is most often borne out of absurdity, so I forced myself to just go with the flow . . . and enjoyed it.
Besides, there are more than enough LGBT supporting characters in the book to provide a welcome balance. After all, this is a story built around a drama club . . . not that I’m trying to stereotype anyone. (grin) Roz is such a drama queen, with her Shakespearean insults and odd habit of rehearsing conversations (a quirk I share), it was hard not to like her. She’s ridiculously boy-crazy, going to extreme lengths to get her man, and crazily competitive as a sister, but she’s also a good person at heart. In the end, once the challenge has gone too far, all she wants is to have her best-friend back in Eva.
Eva I found much harder to like, especially since she seemed to spend much of the novel sulking. It would have been a very different novel had she been allowed to take the lead, but as curious as I am how things would have looked through her eyes, it would have robbed us much of the fun.
Overall, a good book (even if it’s not one I would normally read), and one that kept me smiling, even as I shook my head in wonder! ...more
There’s a lot going on here – a fantasy adventure, set in alternate-reality dystopia, with a lesbian romance – but it works remarkably well. Kara captThere’s a lot going on here – a fantasy adventure, set in alternate-reality dystopia, with a lesbian romance – but it works remarkably well. Kara captured my imagination right from the start. I loved her single-minded drive, her bold heroism, and her sweetly romantic nature. She not only stands out from her surroundings, she seems to brighten the world around her. Dylan was harder to warm up to as a character, but her relationship with Kara brought her to life, and set her up for a much stronger role in the final arc of the story.
With only a matter of days for Kara to complete her quest, the story is (by necessity) fast-paced. The world-building suffers a bit, since there’s only so much you can see and do in a few days, but Inbetween still comes across as a fully realised world. Even though we don’t get to experience it all, characters like Glint the goblin gave the confidence that it all existed, and was just waiting to be revealed in future stories. Here’s hoping!...more
I jumped at the chance to review Pulse of Heroes as soon as I read the bit in A. Jacob Sweeny's bio about "immersion in world myths and her archaeologI jumped at the chance to review Pulse of Heroes as soon as I read the bit in A. Jacob Sweeny's bio about "immersion in world myths and her archaeological fieldwork." That experience defintely shows. For me, the novel was definitely strongest when exploring the history of her immortals, transporting the reader backwards through time and across the world.
The sheer detail sometimes bordered on overwhelming, but I loved being immersed in the history of places like Russia, Egypt, and even Transylvania. The descriptions were extraordinary vivid, and as clear to the mind's eye as Sweeny's love for the material. What's more, the sense of danger was palatable, as was the extremity of pain that seemed to haunt her characters - both in living and reliving the past.
Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the plotting and loved the history, I had a problem connecting with any of the characters. Michelle came across as desperate and immature, almost as if she were attempting to live the cliche of a paranormal romance heroine. I wanted to like her, but as much as I kept reminding myself that she was a teenage girl, the way she seemed to throw herself at the men in her life, and the way she overlooked cruelties that bordered on abuse, made it hard.
As for the men, I liked them as historical characters, as warriors who had lived through history and had a hand in shaping the parts of the world they touched, but as romantic partners . . . I'd have kicked half of them to the curb, and put a restraining order against the others. Michelle does redeem herself somewhat in the latter half of the book but, by that point, she simply had left me with too much baggage to overcome.
The language of the book is beautiful, and the descriptions of sceney and action were fantastic. Sweeny paints a vivid picture, and really excels at talking you through it. The frequent (and abrupt) changes in POV were an issue for me, and were enough of a distraction to make me take a pause to collect my thoughts.
Overall, probably not a series I'd be interested in pursuing, but one that I suspect has strong appeal for a younger audience....more
On the surface, The Adventures of Benjamin Skyhammer is another simple YA fantasy about an outcast boy (one of two humans born without magic), with aOn the surface, The Adventures of Benjamin Skyhammer is another simple YA fantasy about an outcast boy (one of two humans born without magic), with a special ability (only he can read the retrograph snapshots of other lives), who lives for adventure (he excavate relics to sell to collectors), who is destined to save the word (from an evil sorcerer). He’s a little Harry Potter, a little Young Indiana Jones, and even a little Frodo Baggins.
I say ‘on the surface’ because the story never quite goes where you expect, especially as it careens towards a frantic surprise ending (that I’m not sure I entirely liked, but I understood). Definitely suitable for younger readers, it’s just as much fun for us not-so-younger readers as well.
This is a busy book, with a lot of different characters, races, and magical elements, but that’s precisely what I look for in a fantasy novel. I love to get lost in a world that’s familiar, yet completely different, and to surround myself with fantastic creatures. We’re sort of dropped into the story, without a lot of preamble or asides to explain things, which means you have to pay attention and accept that it may take a few pages before you understand the significance of something. As a reader who gets easily frustrated with the spoon-fed approach, I loved that.
On a closing note, I will say I enjoyed Higgins more than I did Skyhammer, but that may have less to do with any flaws in his character, and more to do with my tendency to latch onto the sidekick.
All in all, a fun read, with definite cross-generational appeal....more
Twice Bitten was a very curious read for me. On the one hand, I enjoyed what was there but, on the other hand, I was disappointed by what wasn’t thereTwice Bitten was a very curious read for me. On the one hand, I enjoyed what was there but, on the other hand, I was disappointed by what wasn’t there – which is entirely unfair to the author.
As a paranormal gay romance for young adults, the book works very well. It captures that sense of adolescent emotional turmoil very well, exploring not just the troubles of being a teenaged celebrity, but of being a gay teenaged celebrity . . . who not only becomes undead, but who becomes a wholly new form of undead that`s part werewolf and part vampire. Talk about pressure! The dialogue (from what I`ve observed at the mall), seems very authentic, and the characters come across as genuine. Granted, I might have liked to see a bit more depth and development, but that`s a minor quibble in a book of this length.
Where I found myself disappointed is with the potential that could have been exploited, had this been written for a different audience. As a complaint, that`s unfair to the author, but it does speaks highly of the story itself. I was sufficiently intrigued by (and attracted to) these young men that I wanted to explore the more adult scenarios we`re used to in the realms of paranormal romance. It`s a shame we couldn’t go there, but also entirely understood.
Definitely an fun concept, with an interesting twist on the vampire werewolf theme, this is a welcome addition to the young adult shelves – I`ll be curious to see what Dave does next....more