Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020Benjamin Alire Saenz has a way with words. He writes lines that describe feelings that are rarely reflected on so well in teen literature or maybe any literature.

This is a novel that explores the subtleties of being a teen. The ambivalence towards parents is handled beautifully. There’s the perfect mix of resentment, affection, criticism and respect in Ari’s feelings for his parents. The mix of anger and adoration fit with his situation.

The characters are deep and interesting. Ari and Dante are both philosophical and have a sarcastic sense of humour. Their coming of age tale is about more than their relationship because both characters are complex and have other conflicts going on in their lives.

With Mexican-American homosexual characters this book will add diversity to a library collection.

There were times when I felt the characters seemed younger than the age stated in the book. Their curiosity and embarrassment about their bodies was coming a couple of years late in my opinion but maybe I’m just more familiar with girls and boys do mature slower.

*spoiler alert*

There was a chemistry between the boys that made it more compelling to me then other LGBQT titles I’ve read such as Moon At Nine. Even when they were just talking Ari and Dante had a spark. They felt like a couple even before Ari let himself realize what he was feeling.

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Life Cycle of a Lie

Life Cycle of a Lie is a novel that manages to be both entertaining and thought provoking. It deals with racism, prejudice about sexual orientation, domestic violence and environmentalism. It tackles all of these subjects in a thoughtful manner that isn’tcover art overly preachy but shows that the author has wrapped her head around the issues.

This novel does what When Everything Feels Like the Movies failed to do in my opinion. This book is more likely to be relate-able to gay teens and to inspire empathy in straight teens. It has the sexual awakening of a young man, who develops feelings for a male friend. It has mature content, describing the physical effect of the feelings- but this is done in a tasteful manner. Jona is a well rounded character who isn’t defined by his homosexuality. He’s also intelligent, well read, kind, and talented. He is faced with prejudice, and has a bit of an identity crisis.

Linc is a First Nations character who faces prejudice because of his race. He is not defined by this struggle any more than Jona is by his homosexuality. Linc is open minded, athletic, compassionate, protective, and a bit naive. He is a lovable character who’s major flaw is he has trouble reading body language, or understanding what his girlfriend is upset about.

Victoria is a character worried about being defined by her dysfunctional family but there’s more to her than her abusive father. She is an environmental activist and more. She makes big mistakes because of her insecurities, but I think readers will forgive her.

Romance, suspense, and character based drama make up this wonderful book.

When Everything Feels Like The Movies

When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid is shockingly crude. I am by no means against sexuality being explored in literature for teens, and I especially think this can be important for gay teens who may not see their personal preferences reflected in their community. However, there is a difference between nice romantic coming of age stories, descriptions of attraction, awkward, disappointing or wonderful first experiences being described, and the trashy, disturbing writing found here. Characters who are only in middle school are carelessly having unprotected sex with many partners in this book and the author seems to (through the attitudes of all the characters and lack of consequences to them) brush off having multiple abortions and catching STDs as no big deal at all. The characters joke about all the dead fetuses in a way that made me feel sick reading it.

The protagonist is insufferable. It’s one thing to be flamboyant- but there’s a difference between being outgoing and comfortable being different, and being an obnoxious disruptive student. He tries to pick fights, which makes it hard to sympathize as much about the bullying that I would otherwise really feel sorry for him about. His obsession with makeup and shoes is painfully shallow- and I’d feel this way if he was a girl, I don’t have an issue with men choosing to wear what is traditionally worn by females.

What really bothers me about him though is his masochistic sexual pleasure he feels when insulted, harassed or threatened. It deeply disturbs me that his reckless behavior and crass speech is seen in flashbacks when he is inappropriately young. That he is said to talk about things like Lindsay Lohan doing lines of cocaine when he’s in Gr. 2, and performing sexual acts with a friend long before puberty is upsetting. I found myself extremely uncomfortable with a lot of the situations in the book, and I think a lot of parents will have issues with their teens reading this. Normalizing extreme promiscuity before high school is not something I like to see in youth literature. I can’t stand the way he is attracted to literally every guy and constantly flirts with or hits on everyone. Just to clarify this is not because he is gay that I feel this way. If he had a crush on one guy that would be entirely different. That he is so all over the place and pushy with guys who discourage him makes me dislike him in the same way I would dislike a character who was a player hitting on all the girls and not taking no for an answer. His combination of pushiness and low standards is extremely off-putting.

He goes out of his way to make people feel uncomfortable and even puts the guy he likes the most in embarrassing situations. His best friend is equally disturbing. She is bereft of morals, having sex at a very young age with older men who are in relationships and doesn’t mind at all that she’s breaking people up. She doesn’t show an ounce of self-respect and jokes about her drug use and bulimia. What bothers me even more is that her friends don’t show any concern for her unhealthy behaviour and I’m not even sure the author views it as unhealthy. If he does, this is not reflected in a way teens will pick up on.

I am always looking for good books with gay characters that I can recommend but this is definitely not one of them. Instead of positive role models who show that sexual preference is not such a big deal this book provides a sideshow freak of a character who I think will alienate readers.  A caricature of a stereotype like this one is probably offensive to homosexual readers and will not instill empathy in straight ones.

The ending is shocking, as intended. It makes me sad that these things happen but I don’t think the big feelings at the end of the novel make up for the rest of it. In fact even the ending is handled with such odd melodrama that it’s difficult to connect with.

I did not think the writing quality was worthy of awards, and wonder if the hype about it is because it stirs up controversy. I think it’s a shame because books like this make it harder to defend the controversial ones that actually have more substance, style, or positive gay role-models. I’m baffled by so much high praise for this novel, I feel like straight people are afraid that saying anything bad about it wouldn’t be politically correct. I can’t bring myself to promote such sensationalism.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

I borrowed Will Grayson, Will Grayson  by John Green and David Levithan from Okanagan Regional Library.

Basically, I loooooooooved this book!!!!

I heard great things about this book when it first came out (no pun intended) but I thought the story of two guys with the same name meeting might be kinda lame. I decided to give it a shot because I haven’t read much with LGBQT characters (basically just the Lord John series by Gabaldon)  and while there are some sources for gay reader’s advisory I like to diversify my reading.

The characters are unbelievably real. There’s something in the story about how we can be taken in by a fictional person, fall for someone who isn’t actually there, and I feel like I have with all of these characters. Not in a romantic way, just in a I would be their best friend kind of way. Each of the characters ooze with genuine personality. I adore flawed heroes and underestimated rejects and I got my fill of both.

The sarcasm, bluntness, confusion, and raw emotion that the authors throw at us is exquisite. I rarely feel this emotionally invested in a book, I laughed, I cried…it’s a good thing I decided to read at home instead of at the park because I probably would have looked mentally disturbed.

The language is fresh and young, completely realistic dialogue for online chat, texting and awkward conversations.

This was an amazing collaboration between authors. Alternating chapters is an interesting and effective way to get two writers involved in the same story and the distinct narrators of the same name make this possible.

This story deals with so many great things that it has something for everyone. A book club could discuss

  • Friendship
  • Clinical Depression
  • Love
  • Online Dating
  • Homosexuality
  • High school drama (as in plays not angst, although that too)

There’s swearing, talk about sexuality and talk about suicide so if you are sensitive about these things be forewarned, but I think that they add to the authentic feel and are important to getting the message across.