Kate's Reviews > Far from Xanadu

Far from Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters
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May 26, 2007

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bookshelves: coming-of-age, gltbtq, grief, outsiders, rural-reads, ya-fic
Read in May, 2007

After reading a fascinating study of library services to GLBTQ teens for one of my classes ([http://www.slais.ubc.ca/RESEARCH/curr...]), I started reading more of the literature being written for this young adult population. Far from Xanadu is one of the most recent and possibly my favorite so far, largely owing to the unique voice of its narrator, Mike Szabo - a 16-year-old girl.

Nee Mary Elizabeth - but don't call her that unless you want a knuckle sandwich - Mike and her best friend, Jamie, have always been different from other kids in Coalton, Kansas. But unlike many small-town populations in GLBTQ teen fic, Coalton's residents don't take much notice of Mike and Jamie's gender-bending ways (Mike works out to look more like a guy; Jamie is a cross-dressing male cheerleader), nor the implications for their sexuality. Mike makes it clear that she's accepted, if not completely understood, and that she's never felt like an outcast - one of only a few details that ring true about rural Midwestern life as seen through the eyes of a hometown girl.

But Coalton isn't utopia, and Mike isn't completely comfortable in her own skin. She struggles to make sense of her beloved father's suicide, make decisions about the failing family business and her future as a softball star, and deal with falling in love with someone who couldn't be worse for her - a new girl in town, Xanadu, beautiful and worldly but impossibly straight.

Mike's matter-of-fact attitude about her sexuality is refreshing, as is the portrayal of small-town middle America, for once cast as close-knit (if insular) rather than simply closed-minded. Mike's coming of age crisis of identity and unrequited love story is relatable for gay young adults, but will also be appealing to any teen looking for a straight-shooting heroine and a down-home yarn.
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