Monday, December 29, 2008

Fat Hoochie Prom Queen

Nico Medina, May 2008. Madge Diaz is a fat and fabulous high school senior with a mission: to make sure her skinny, popular rival, Bridget Benson, isn’t prom queen – no matter what. Madge and Bridget have been enemies since Bridget beat out Madge for a children’s TV role, and growing up hasn’t stopped them from sniping at one another whenever they get the chance. Madge teams up with her best friend Lucas to bring Bridget down, first by running against her for prom queen, and then by organizing a huge and lavish anti-prom party. The Bridget battle is set against a backdrop of Lucas’s boy problems, Madge’s mom problems (she’ll only prepare diet meals), and the discovery that perfect Bridget has some serious problems of her own. And hallelujah! the book doesn’t end with Madge losing weight; she succeeds without ever apologizing for her plus-size pants.

The characters use alcohol, drugs, and the F-word with a frequency not unrealistic among high school students, but which might give some pause to more conservative parents. Gay culture is celebrated throughout the book, but sex scenes are not graphic, happening mainly offscreen. Although the book’s chaos is part of its charm, there are a few too many plot threads to keep track of: for example, a story involving Madge’s fashion-designer sister is dropped abruptly. However, Fat Hoochie Prom Queen is a worthwhile purchase; it’s a romp of a read that will fly off YA shelves.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Last Exit to Normal

Michael Harmon, March 2008. Ben is fourteen when his mom walks out after his father announces that he's gay. Ben goes downhill from there: "I took my first hit from a bong two weeks after my mom left. I got plastered at a kegger a week later, dropped a tab of acid the next month, and got busted for defacing public property three days after that. I was on a roll, and I was just getting going." After a couple of years of this behavior, including Ben's arrest for driving the escape car after his friends steal beer from a store, Ben and his dads move to eastern Montana. The idea is that country life will save Ben from the "negative influence" he's getting in the city.

Rough Butte, Montana, is quite different from what Ben is used to...not least because of his uber-strict step-grandmother, who hits him with a wooden spoon whenever he swears - including words like "crap" that he's used to thinking of as pretty innocuous. But the real problem is their next-door neighbor, Mr. Hinks, who makes no secret of his homophobia, but does a better job of hiding his abuse of his eleven-year-old son. Ben takes on these problems and a full-time schedule of farmwork while also pursuing The Girl. These events, and the humor and warmth with which they're told, make for a compelling, fast-paced novel that doesn't skimp on character development and has less gay content than it appears at first. Recommended as a fish-out-of-water story, a coming-of-age tale, and of course, a book about how to deal (and how not to deal) with a gay parent.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Down to the Bone

Mayra Lazara Dole, February 2008. Protagonist Laura doesn't identify as lesbian (or tortillera, the taunt preferred by homophobes in her Miami neighborhood), but she is in love with Marlena - she knows that for sure. When she's kicked out of her Catholic high school after a teacher discovers their love notes, and then kicked out of her home when her mom can't deal, Laura moves in with her friend Soli and her open-minded mami. Marlena quickly abandons Laura for Jesus and a Cubano husband, and Laura won't come out even to other dykes, so she's lonely for a while. In quick succession, she befriends a boi, dates a boy, gets roofied at a gay club, is held up at knifepoint by a homophobe, comes clean to her friends, and begins dating a beautiful waitress. Is this too much plot for one YA novel? Yes, but it's a big messy commotion of a book in the first place, so the drama works. Recommend to readers who liked Sofi Mendoza's Guide to Getting Lost in Mexico and The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez as well as your gay teens.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Tonya Cherie Hegamin, April 2008. This first novel, poetic and daunting, tells the story of O(pal) and M(arianne), best friends in a small Pennsylvania town. They're inseparable as children, but part ways when they go off to high school, where M becomes a dissembler and O a dissenter. M forgets the kisses the girls shared under a blackberry bush in order to try out for cheerleading and become the county's first black homecoming queen, while O is a scholar who throws up emotional walls that block any other friendships from forming. Near the beginning of the book, M's body is found in a ravine, leaving O friendless and unsure of her future. Intertwined with the girls' story is the tale of Hannah, a runaway slave whose ghost appears as a warning to M. The veil Hegamin drapes between the reader and the narrator leaves this one too complex for younger and reluctant readers, but excellent for older teens and college students.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Love and Lies: Marisol's Story

Ellen Wittlinger, July 2008. Readers of Wittlinger's acclaimed Hard Love (1999) will rejoice in this new novel about Marisol, the touchy punk-rock lesbian with whom protagonist Gio fell in unrequited love. Love and Lies features a cast of gay characters including Birdie, Marisol's flamboyant roommate; Lee, small-town baby dyke with a crush on Marisol; and Olivia, Marisol's beautiful and talented writing teacher. As is typical of gaytopia novels, the action revolves around a romance rather than the coming-out process. In this case, our heroine falls for Olivia, who seems too good to be true; she showers Marisol with gifts and praises her writing, calling her "the star of my class." It turns out, of course, that Olivia is not all that she seems. The main story is set against subplots involving Birdie's neurotic boyfriend and a road trip to Provincetown. Great romance with depth and personalty.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Say the Word

Jeanine Garsee, March 2009. In this family problem novel, Shawna's mom just passed away, but Shawna didn't really know her very well. Mom left the family years ago to move in with her female lover, and Shawna has resented her ever since. The funeral is a train wreck - Shawna's controlling father and conninving aunt are rude to the lesbian-mom half of the family, while Shawn's stepbrother's eulogy outs the lesbians to those few who don't already know - and the weeks afterward don't get any better for Shawna as she struggles with her feelings toward each of her parents. The book traces Shawna's path toward acceptance of her mom's half of the family and uncovers some secrets which the reader will have probably figured out before Shawna -- that her best friend is also interested in girls, for example. Recommended for teens struggling with parental issues, whether they're related to sexuality or not.

After Tupac & D. Foster

Jacqueline Woodson, January 2008. This excellent middle-grade novel follows the lives of the unnamed narrator and her two best friends, Neeka and D. The narrator lives across the street from Neeka and has known her since they were toddlers, but D is new in their lives. She has a mysterious past and a totally unknown present; Neeka and the narrator don't even know where she lives. She shows up on the bus at random hours, whereas N & N aren't even allowed off their block. The three girls listen to Tupac Shakur's music, relating it to their own lives as much as they can, and follow his history of assaults and hospital stays until the day of his death.

A subplot follows Neeka's brother Tash, in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Tash is introduced to the reader as "a queen" and "a sissy from day one and most people just accepted it." Despite these derogatory terms, Tash is presented as a strong and sympathetic character, on the girls' side when the world is against them. His mother only reluctantly accepts his sexual preference, disliking it when he calls himself "a sister" or acts "sissyish" around his little brothers, but ultimately she admits, when Tash asks whether he's good enough for her, "You know you are, baby. You know you are."