Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Published by Algonquin Young Readers 10/7/2014
Leila is an Iranian-American teen who’s into Zombie Killers movies and perfect hiding places (in order to avoid running during soccer). Not really in any clique, she’s surviving high school alongside her friends Tess and Greg. Even though she’s dated and kissed boys over the years (including Greg), Leila never crushed on anyone. That is until this summer when she was kissed by a girl – whoa! Now its fall and Leila’s back in school. Worried that her classmates will discover her secret, she works tirelessly to hide it from her friends, from the other students and from her Iranian-American family. However, once she starts crushing on the new girl Saskia all the lies and half-truths come crashing down.
Sara Farizan writes a powerful coming-of-age story where Leila doesn’t struggle with her own feelings towards girls so much as how her family, friends and fellow students will feel about her. The evocative prose pulls us into the high school milieu where the vagaries of students push and pull Leila in one direction or another, where mean girls exist regardless of whether they kiss boys, girls or both, and where one finds true friends by being true to themselves. Ms Farizan – a lesbian of Iranian ancestry herself – will have readers laughing as ethnic and sexual stereotypes are upended and worrying about Leila as Saskia’s behavior gets out-of-control. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is an excellent read that teens, both gay and straight, will find engaging and thought-provoking.
Side Note: For further reading on Iran and homosexuality, Deborah Ellis’ Moon at Nine is a fascinating historical fiction about lesbian teens and their life and death struggles in 1988 Iran.
Playing by the Book by S. Chris Shirley
Published by Riverdale Avenue Books 6/11/2014
Jake, a naïve sheltered teen from Alabama, lives by the Book – the Bible. His father, The Preacher, wants Jake to follow in his footsteps. Fortunately, Jake’s love of journalism has him headed in another direction, headed to New York City and Columbia University’s prestigious summer journalism program. Needless to say, Jake’s entry into New York is eye-opening. From homeless people on the streets to his hot neighbor Sam and gay marriage, his world view gets turned upside down. Most importantly though, how can he follow the Book when he can’t stop himself from fantasizing about Sam? This summer, Jake is about to find out if he can be true to himself and still play by the Book or least part of it.
S. Chris Shirley’s first novel details Jake’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality and his Christianity. A beautiful and profound story that asks readers to question their own beliefs and their ability to look at people beyond the labels, beyond what we “see.” Mr. Shirley’s powerful prose draws us into Jake’s world – a world of fundamentalist Christians, a world where people must follow the book, a world that makes me cringe. In this world, Jake tries so hard not to be gay that even his part is straight. Jake’s authentic voice underscores the reality that many GLBT teens live with and struggle against every day. Though Sam, the wise, hot, Jewish, gay friend, puts it best, “How can it be a mistake, brah? It’s who you are.” Mr. Shirley, drawing from his own experience, resolves the gay/Christian dilemma superbly and leaves Jake and readers with the knowledge that interpreting the bible, like the constitution, evolves over time. An excellent story with an insightful message – perfect for all teens, especially Christian teens.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi
Published by Sourcebooks Fire 4/2014
Six months ago Lexi’s father died. Her mother, unable to deal with his death, gets pushed farther off the deep end when she discovers Lexi is a lesbian. Her mom’s response – God must be punishing her. Lexi will do anything to help her which includes spending the summer at an ex-gay camp. With a motto “say goodbye to homosexuality”, Lexi knows it will be bad. The good news… Lexi realizes that all the girls there are lesbians as well (yippee!) and the one that just walked in the room is really beautiful! Clearly she’ll have some trouble saying “goodbye to homosexuality.”
Jessica Verdi takes a well-meaning Lexi and drops her into a cringe worthy environment. An environment where nature is manicured to perfection (ha!), where girls must wear pink clothes and boys must wear blue clothes (ugh!), and where everything about New Horizons including the director makes readers queasy. However, in the midst of this horrific setting, Ms Verdi organically allows friendships to grow, realizations to develop and truths to be told. In addition, she brilliantly succeeds in making The Great Gatsby a character as Lexi & Carolyn interpret passages and covertly exchange notes in the margins in the book.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me is not for the faint of heart for some of the stories shared as well as some of the events in the book are awful. While it’s a hard to read, it’s a powerful story that will have teens talking. Pair this with copies of The Great Gatsby as readers will want to determine if Nick is really in love with Gatsby…
One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR 5/27/2014
One Man Guy tells the story of Alek, the second son of an Armenian family living in New Jersey, as he attends summer school in order to stay on the Honor Track (his parent’s desire not his!). Summer sucks until Alek’s world is turned upside down and then upside right when Ethan, a resident skateboarder and instigator of the “infamous food fight”, saves Alek from a bully and then shows up in his Algebra class. As Ethan broadens Alek’s horizons with NYC and Rufus Wainwright, Alek must decide if he wants more from Ethan than friendship.
Michael Barakiva places Alek in a wonderful and crazy Armenian family where going to a restaurant wreaks havoc on their waitress, where eating cereal for breakfast is a crime, and where commuting 3 hours to and from an Armenian church is a given. Alek’s character reeks of innocence and goodness with a splash of defiance. Mr. Barakiva expertly draws readers into Alek’s life and subsequently we feel his desire to do what’s right, his attraction to Ethan, and his breathlessness for their first kiss. Readers will find themselves cheering for Alek as he discovers who he truly is and applauding Ethan’s ability to move beyond the pain in his past. Needless to say, I could not put the book down and am anxiously awaiting to opportunity to put it in the hands of students both gay and straight. Thank you Mr. Barakiva for this beautiful and inspiring book!
Undone by Cat Clarke
Published by Sourcebooks Fire 5/6/2014
Undone opens with Jem struggling to survive after her gay best friend Kai commits suicide. A video outing him has gone viral. Jem’s heartbreak has her contemplating her own suicide until Kai’s sister shows up at her door with a package of letters he wrote the night before he died. Cat Clarke creates a powerful story that puts readers through the wringer as we follow Jem and the letters for a year. While Jem gets caught up in her plan for revenge, we are stunned that she is blinded to the truth – she is starting to live again. Ms Clarke has us anxiously awaiting the train wreck that Jem seems incapable of stopping. While the reader keeps hoping that Jem will open her eyes, Ms Clarke has other plans. Her audience will be reading into the night to see how the story ends.
Hopefully beyond the enduring power of the story, Undone will get readers talking about the pointlessness of revenge and the damage it causes as well as inherent value of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker
Published by Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
Jamie, a junior in high school, is regularly bullied and sometimes beaten because he’s gay. If only he can survive high school and get out of town, he knows life will get better. Luckily, his best friend Sarah – she always has his back – and his dad help him survive. One afternoon Jamie returns home from school (beaten and bloodied thanks to Billy Stratton – “his high school nemesis”) to find a Pegasus in the backyard and a stranger in the house. His response? Scream like a girl (don’t judge!). Xena (aka Maia) upends Jamie’s world view with the announcement that she’s his (supposedly dead) mom and with his father’s announcement that she’s also an Amazon. Maia has shown up now because someone is out to destroy the Amazons and Jamie is the key to their survival.
Jeffrey Ricker writes a fast paced fantasy novel based in Athens, a St. Louis suburb, and the world of ancient Greek gods & goddesses. Initially, readers might be reminded of Percy Jackson, but they will be thrilled when they encounter a story where the characters have more depth, more emotion, and are more real. We feel Jamie’s first flickers of desire and the power of a first kiss to the final tears of loss. Mr. Ricker’s prose transports readers into the world of bullies and redemption, love and loss, and prophecies and the chosen one. Alongside the blood of both worlds, readers are also treated to Jamie’s snarky comments which left me laughing out loud.
Teens will love the action and adventure as well as the fact that this isn’t simply another coming out story, but rather an excellent fantasy story with a gay protagonist. Thank you Mr. Ricker!
Far From You by Tess Sharpe
Published by Disney-Hyperion 4/8/2014
Far From You is a moving, yet horrific story all rolled into one wonderful book. It is a story of unrequited love, addiction, and murder. Sophie and Mina have been best friends since they were seven years old, but now Mina is dead and Sophie wants, no needs, to solve her murder. Tess Sharpe expertly transports the reader into Sophie’s world where she teeters between sorrow and terror. Where she wars between her thoughts and actions – “I don’t want to go there, I have to go there.” Where her parents won’t listen to her truth. Alternating between heart-wrenching and terrifying, Ms Sharpe leaves the reader with hope. And maybe, just maybe Sophie’s story will encourage others who have locked away their love to be true to themselves.