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Beggars and Choosers (Beggars and Choosers, #1)
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Book of the Month > January BotM - Beggars and Choosers *Spoilers - edgy content - violence & assault*

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Kaje Harper | 16659 comments This thread is for discussion of one of our two January 2013 Books of the Month - Beggars and Choosers Beggars and Choosers by Mia Kerick by Mia Kerick. Feel free to discuss the book or related topics and post reviews. This thread may contain spoilers, so if you haven't read the book yet, proceed at your own risk. I look forward to discussing this with the group.

message 2: by Mia (new)

Mia Kerick | 76 comments Hi. I'm Mia Kerick, the author of Beggars and Choosers. I'd love to talk to you about a topic which confused me when I was trying to decide how to categorize my novel.

I realized when I wrote it that younger readers would be interested in B&C, but I wasn't sure that it was appropriate for YA because of the violence and the sexual content. Granted, the sexual content is limited, but I wasn't certain where to draw the line. I'd appreciate your opinions on this. Was B&C too violent for YA? I tried to make sure that the sexual content was not graphic, was that the way it seemed to you?

message 3: by Kaje (last edited Jan 02, 2013 09:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kaje Harper | 16659 comments Those are things we've definitely debated on this group - I'm looking forward to reading your book and discussing it specifically. I hope you didn't mind the warning on the thread - from reviews it looked as though the content might be edgy for some YA readers.

I think YA should have books that tackle difficult or edgy themes, so it's all a matter of execution and tone. I'm looking forward to reading this.

message 4: by Mia (last edited Jan 02, 2013 11:11AM) (new)

Mia Kerick | 76 comments I'm really interested in the opinion of those in this group, because originally I intended B&C as young adult novel, but I thought it might be too mature or graphic in terms of violence. It almost seems as if YA could be divided into two categories- middle school/early high school and mid-to-late high school through college-aged, which is what I consider to be an appropriate YA audience for my book.

And no, I didn't mind the warning at all. I appreciated it. I'll put it this way: I have 4 teenagers. The older teens expressed interest and have read Beggars and Choosers, and the younger teens have not asked me if they could read it and so they have not read it (although they do know about the topic), which I am very comfortable with. My younger kids are not overly mature in the ways of the world, and I'm not sure that they are ready to deal with sexual violence and strong sexual feelings transcending into actions in the very personal context of a novel. I do, however, want them to be fully aware that people of the same sex have romantic/sexual feelings for one another and that it is okay.

message 5: by K (new) - rated it 4 stars

K (k-polipetl) | 4090 comments Okay, so I finished this book this morning and so I will throw out some comments in my usual "not-a-review" style.

Overall I liked the way the story was told with key moments over a four year friendship/moving into a relationship between the two MCs, who start the book at ages 15 and 18. The story unfolds quite slowly, with around 60% of the book covering the first 3 years and 9 months, there is then quite a dramatic change of pace for the remainder of the book which covers the remaining 3 months.

I got that Cory was happy to let Brett look after him, particularly given his relationship with his father, but given he'd basically been surviving on his own for six years before Brett came along I would have preferred if he was a little less dependant.

The story is told in differing points of view with each change being clearly noted. I was a bit thrown by the two brief "chapters" which were in Maura and then Steve's POV rather than the main characters.

Whilst I didn't mind Brett's accent I did find it was a bit uneven, being more pronouced in some of his dialogue than others which occasionally made me have to check who was speaking. I don't have an issue with an accent as such, but the portrayl of him not being particularly bright didn't really work for me given that he had left school at 17 having reached the end of his Junior year - would he really have got that far academically if he was as unintelligent as suggested?

Was it suitable for a YA audience? I am a bit divided on this one as it depends on what age range you take as YA. The sexual assault and rather more severe physical assault on Cory is a major point in the plot line so can't really be skipped over, I am not sure I'd want a young YA reader (say 14 - 16 years old) reading without being able to discuss it with someone afterwards, I wouldn't have a problem with it being read by older YA readers (16/17+).

The ending sees the MCs get what I would class as a happy for now ending and I wonder if the author has plans to see how they get on in their new lives.

Overall I did enjoy the book and will look out for other books by the author.

Kaje Harper | 16659 comments Thanks for that review - this is still on my TBR list, so I'm pleased that you feel it still fits into the "Edgy YA" range of books for us.

Octobercountry | 11 comments The author is correct, that YA is really too broad a term. Because what is appropriate for an 18-year-old may be much too mature for a 13-year-old, and yet the term "YA" encompasses this age range.

That said.... I read this book last month and enjoyed it very much. (I wrote a short review for the AfterElton site, but haven't posted it on Good Reads yet---I'll do so just as soon as I post this message.)

As I was reading, I wasn't even thinking about whether it would be appropriate for the teen audience, and of course now that it's not fresh in my mind I can't remember precisely all the "mature" content it may have had! (I have an absolutely terrible memory.) But from what I recall, I think this is fine for the upper age range of YA readers.

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Mia Kerick | 76 comments Thank you for your comments, Octobercountry.

It really helps me as the author to hear what other people find appropriate as YA. It is also interesting to hear that you share my opinion that YA covers people in (possibly) an overly wide age bracket. A lot of changes occur in people during these years of their lives and in my opinion, literature for a thirteen-year-old may and should introduce sensitive subjects, while literature for an eighteen-year-old may go into more detail, and be somewhat more graphic. Beggars and Choosers does have a sequel, Unfinished Business, which I consider to be for the older range of YA, but definitely not for the 13-15 year olds.

But another concern I have is that while some 15-year-olds may be ready to read Beggars and Choosers, others aren't. I guess it should be up to the parents' discretion as to what their children read, but I know that kids at this age value their emerging independence and don't always check with Mom and Dad about their reading choices. For younger readers in this age group, seeing a book in the YA section automatically means it is a safe, appropriate book for them, which may not be true. Maybe putting "Edgy" or some term like that next to YA as a choice of genre would be appropriate.

At what age is descriptive (not too detailed, but descriptive) sex OK for a person to read? What about violence? How much is too much for YA?

message 9: by Kaje (last edited Jan 10, 2013 02:44PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kaje Harper | 16659 comments We've had a bunch of discussions on the sex-content aspect - here: Explicit content in books - how much is TMI? and here Writing Sex in YA for instance. Edgy content that is not about sex is even harder to get a consensus on. Violence and various other trigger topics like emotional abuse, cutting, suicide, death of main characters, etc, vary a whole lot in how much they affect people. I think an "edgy" label might be good. We have that as a shelf for labeling group books, and do use it to tag some of the more difficult books so people can check reviews first.

Octobercountry | 11 comments At what age is descriptive (not too detailed, but descriptive) sex OK for a person to read? What about violence? How much is too much for YA?

Those are some tough questions, Mia!

Perhaps the issue really isn't even about at what age certain subjects are appropriate for YA readers, due to the fact that maturity levels of individual teen readers varies considerably. Of course, that makes it even more difficult to draw up a pat set of rules as to what sort of content is acceptable in YA lit.

In theory, parents could monitor their children's reading, to make sure that the books they choose are age-appropriate. But in the real world, I think that is seldom the case---I doubt many parents know what their kids are reading, and I'm sure a lot of them don't care. Plus, I'm sure a lot of gay teens who are just figuring things out may be reading gay-themed books, but not letting anyone else know about it.

I suppose the only hope that I have, is that the authors who write YA gay lit make sure that the content is uplifting and inspiring, no matter for what age level the books are intended. It's pretty amazing to me, that there are so many great books with gay characters for young adults now, because that certainly wasn't the case when I was in high school.

(PS---when does the sequel come out?)

message 11: by Mia (new)

Mia Kerick | 76 comments The sequel comes out in March, I think. It is called Unfinished Business and will also be published by Dreamspinner Press. I think it resolves a lot of the remaining questions in B&C that led to some criticisms by readers. For example, some readers on Goodreads were frustrated by Cory's helplessness as well as by the fact that Brett didn't encourage him to become stronger and more independent. I actually was very affected by the comments I read here. I felt that Cory did need to learn to stand on his own two feet. So in the sequel, I made sure that Cory grew in a way that I think is very positive. Other readers suggested that Brett should go back to school or get his GED, and I considered that, but Brett has everything he wants in life and is truly content with his career and his partner. Not everyone sees education as the only path to fulfillment.

I guess I have a question. I'm trying not to get too hung up on how many stars each reader gives B&C, but I often wonder, what makes a gay romance novel a five star read to you? I truly love Brett and Cory- I feel like I really know them and I want my readers to love them and feel the magic of their relationship like I do. So, are there specific things that take a book from a four star to a five, or is it just a feeling that you get about a book?

Octobercountry | 11 comments Ah, I'm afraid my star ratings are a bit idiosyncratic! In fact, I almost NEVER give a book a five-star review, because in my mind that means it's nearly perfect. So, my four-star rating may in fact be the equivalent of someone else's five-star; most of the books I love get four stars.

Hmmmm, now that I think about it, perhaps that isn't quite fair to the authors, is it... But really, the only books I can think of recently that I've rated five stars are Tales from Foster High and the follow-up, End of the Innocence, by John Goode. What pushed those over the top, for me? Well, not only did I like the characters and get emotionally involved in the plots, but I thought those books could actually save some kids' lives, who may be having troubles similar to those that the characters are going through.

(I haven't actually posted those reviews yet. I write my---admittedly short---reviews for the gay book thread over on AfterElton, and then re-post them here on GoodReads and Amazon. But I'm running a bit behind at present.)

I was curious---did you have any input at all into the cover design for Beggars and Choosers? Is this how you imagine the characters? I do like it! But then, I kind of always did have a penchant for the long-haired-bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold. Heh, heh, heh... Heck, I used to be one of those long-haired boys myself, with blond hair falling half-way down my back. Of course, that was back when dinosaurs roamed the earth...

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Sadonna (sxswann) This is such an interesting discussion. I was thinking about this whole topic of appropriate content when my nephew was still in High School and I can't remember what book he was reading, but it seemed maybe a little bit too much for teenagers. When I was a freshman in HS (back in the dark ages of the mid-1970s), we read Brave New World. I never did forgive one of my friends for telling me the ending before I had finished it ;) But I remember thinking at the time that the story was a bit much - I found it pretty upsetting on several levels for my 14 year old self. I live in a small very conservative (especially at that time) town and the world was much different place then. I know that I was pretty sheltered from the bad things that go on in this life. I asked my mom if any of the parents voiced any concerns about that book being given to 14-year-olds. She remembered that a couple of folks apparently questioned the content, but that must not have gone anywhere because we read it. I do think that the key is the maturity level of the reader. Sorry to say that kids are exposed to so much more than we were - and that's not always a good thing when it is before they are ready to handle it.

message 14: by Mia (last edited Jan 11, 2013 01:34PM) (new)

Mia Kerick | 76 comments First of all, I was given a lot of decision-making power in the cover and I got pretty much exactly what I asked for. Brett is to a T exactly how I pictured him. Cory is very close. (Octobercountry- I, too, was there among the dinosaurs, and also had a bit of a penchant for those long-haired rock'n'roll singing badboys, myself.) I think the color scheme on the cover is truly beautiful, which is fully to Dreamspinner's credit. I'm dying to see the cover for my upcoming sequel!

Back to the appropriateness topic, here is a thought that has long bothered me: I believe that to some people, no matter how innocent the book is in terms of sex or violence, the simple fact that it deals with a same-sex love relationship makes the book (to them) deserving of an R, or to some people, an X rating. I, of course, do not share this view and I believe that young adults, and teens of all ages, need to be able to read about all types of relationships and people. If a teen is questioning his/her sexual identity, reading about someone who he/she can relate to is vital. And for heterosexual teens, reading about the experiences of a gay person can only open his/her mind to the acceptance of different types of people. So, I do not want the content I include in a YA book to go over the line in any way, but the subject of LGBT love relationships needs to be addressed.

Sadonna- kids are definitely exposed to much more than we were when we were young, but in terms of sex and violence, I have to ask myself: do I want to be the one to expose kids to these things in my book?

message 15: by Kaje (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kaje Harper | 16659 comments I did enjoy this, and upped the rating a bit because it held my attention when I should have been doing something else.

This book reminds me very much of a Young Adult Zero at the Bone, not in plot, but in both the dialect and thought processes of one of the MCs and in the development of the relationship. That dialect was a little bit of a stumbling block at getting into the first chapter, and reminding myself how much I came to love D in Zero helped. Brett's voice is not as consistent and believable as D's, but it's well done.

I was pulling for these boys and their relationship. There is a moment of violence, and I thought the level of description was just about right for older YA, not too euphemistic nor too explicit. I would not recommend the book for under 16's unless they are comfortable with darker subject matter. I was okay with the way the consequences of that moment were handled... well, I didn't like them, because I think the adults involved all completely missed the boat, but I though given everything that was going on it was realistic enough. (view spoiler) There was a level of idealism and a lack of shades of grey in both the positive and negative components of the story that kept it from really connecting with me on a deep emotional level, because I found myself withholding belief now and then. (view spoiler) But it was gripping enough to keep me reading steadily and I did like the characters a lot and would even read a sequel if there were one. I'd like to see Cory stand on his own feet more, and Brett begin to see them as more fallible humans with their own strengths and flaws, and less as icons. The process could be interesting...

message 16: by Mia (new)

Mia Kerick | 76 comments Kaje-
I love to have access to my readers' impressions of Beggars and Choosers. But of course it brings up questions in my mind. I hope you don't mind if I ask!

I am interested in what you considered to be inconsistent in Brett's voice. I have to say, I actually found myself thinking about things in my everyday life in his mindset. I literally thought his thoughts for a couple of years while I was writing this book, so I'm interested in the inconsistencies in his voice.

Another comment you made, which you placed in the view spoiler bracket, was that you experienced disbelief in terms of how much Brett would sacrifice for Cory without complaint. Maybe it is unbelievable, but my intention was to show that Brett would honestly do anything for Cory- to improve his life, or even just to make him smile. Brett never considered taking care of Cory's needs or desires as a burden. Rather, he viewed them as a privilege. Doing things to help Cory gave Brett a purpose.

I agree that in terms of the story sending a positive message, Cory ought to have learned to stand on his own two feet. But if you really think about it, in reality many people suffer long and hard before they decide that they need to act on their own behalf. Many people hide to feel safe, until hiding is no longer a viable option. However, some reviewers on Goodreads pointed out that they would have liked to have seen Cory behave more proactively, as well, so after thinking about the reality of the situation in which Cory finds himself in the sequel, Unfinished Business, I decided to empower Cory. No, Cory will never be bossy or dominant or aggressive, but he will be able to experience a small measure of his own power.

Finally, in Unfinished Business, Brett will be confronted with the fact that Cory isn't a perfect person. This happens eventually in every relationship, the moment when you truly have to take your partner off of the pedestal, and only some relationships can withstand this heavy dose of reality.

I'd love to hear your response, Kaje, as well as responses from anyone else!

message 17: by Kaje (last edited Jan 24, 2013 10:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kaje Harper | 16659 comments Sent you a PM - I gave the book 4 stars, meaning that most of my issues with it were small, and overall I enjoyed it and would recommend it to older teens.

message 18: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. Kennedy | 184 comments I agree with your comments Kaje, but would add that teens from "lesser" socio-economic/educational environs tend to idolize and over-invest themselves in their first loves as Brett does with Cory. Brett's background made his unmitigated devotion to Cory acceptable in my mind. Of course, I am biased. I loved this story.

Lissa (parisbvamp) | 64 comments I really liked the story, though I have to admit it was hard to get into at first because Brett's speech pattern was offsetting. I know it fit the character, but it took a while to warm up too. I think that Brett was growing emotionally a little slower than Cory, so their relationship did work well. Though I was surprised when he wasn't there to save Cory. I think he'd just become a sort of hero at that point and we all know they have to stumble sometime.

message 20: by Kaje (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kaje Harper | 16659 comments I really liked that he didn't. it was more real and less predictable.

message 21: by Ulysses (last edited Apr 24, 2013 04:42AM) (new)

Ulysses Dietz | 35 comments For what it's worth - here's my Amazon review for Beggars and Choosers...I liked it a great deal and definitely saw it as YA at the older end. But kids in school are assigned what I see as bleak violent books all the time...but never with positive gay characters.

Mia Kerick's "Beggars and Choosers" is in many ways a powerful love story - seemingly aimed at a young adult audience. Its strong themes of selflessness and self-doubt ripple through a moving narrative that revolves around two special, and damaged, teenage boys as they become friends.

I guess I can understand the author's choosing to give Brett Taylor's voice a country-hick dialect - he is indeed white trash, which exists in the rural north as much as in the stereotyped south - but it does take time to get used to this odd Jethro Bodine speech pattern. Once it becomes a part of who Brett is in the reader's mind, however, it ceases to be such a hurdle. This is emblematic of what separates Brett from Cory Butana, neglected son of an alcoholic bartender. Brett's complete lack of any sense of self-worth, which has not only caused him to drop out of high school, but also has prevented him from imagining himself worthy of any sort of emotional relationship, is vividly delineated as a counterpoint to Cory's much stronger sense of self in spite of parental neglect that stops short of abuse. Cory is from a low-class family, for sure; but Kerick clearly needed to make him very different from Brett in his approach to life.

An interesting point in this book is the fact that being gay is never the central issue; being worthy of love is. Brett never worries about the fact that he's attracted to Cory - but struggles against his own deeply-held belief that he will never be loved by anyone because of his own failings as a human. The difference between sexual attraction and emotional love is another strong undercurrent. Self-control becomes an attribute of Brett's that is both frustrating and moving.

There were plenty of writing-related issues in Kerick's book that I found irritating; but in the end the powerful truth of her character's lives won me over. It is a flawed book, but one that touched me deeply in the reading.

message 22: by Kaje (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kaje Harper | 16659 comments Ulysses wrote: "An interesting point in this book is the fact that being gay is never the central issue; being worthy of love is. Brett never worries about the fact that he's attracted to Cory - but struggles against his own deeply-held belief that he will never be loved by anyone because of his own failings as a human..."

I did like this about the book - it was about gay kids, but that wasn't the biggest issue they faced.

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Ulysses Dietz | 35 comments Kaje - I am right now reading "Home Work." The absolute dead-on way you depict a two-dad family, especially a complicated one, is breathtaking. I don't know how to message you privately, so thought I'd pop this in here. I'm a big fan.

message 24: by Kaje (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kaje Harper | 16659 comments Ulysses wrote: "Kaje - I am right now reading "Home Work." The absolute dead-on way you depict a two-dad family, especially a complicated one, is breathtaking. I don't know how to message you privately, so thought..."

Thank-you! (and for messaging you can just click on any member's name or avatar in one of their comments. That will take you to their profile page. Then under their avatar picture there are links including "send message". Click on that, and you get a Private Message box.) I'm glad you're enjoying the family part of my book.

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