Happy (?) Pride Month!
This past year has been a challenge for all of us, with the interminable pandemic, threats to reproductive freedom, climate emergency, and more mass shootings than days in the year. It has been particularly hard on the LGBTQ+ community, with several states passing anti-gay and anti-trans legislation. Add to that the attempts at banning books with LGBTQ+ themes. Librarians across the country have shown impressive courage in their fight to keep these books on the shelves, often putting their jobs at peril. It hurts my my heart that I have to say this in 2022 - you cannot make LGBTQ+ people go away by banning books about them. It does not “protect” children to keep these books out of their reach. Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ kids are less likely to harm themselves if they see queer representation in literature and on the media and if they feel supported in their schools. And cishet children reading about queer people develop a greater sense of empathy toward their peers. The kids can handle it. Let them read.
The titles below are some of the most commonly banned and challenged books of the past year. Pick them up and see what all the fuss is about -
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Bechdel’s graphic novel about growing up in a dysfunctional family and growing into her true self has become a modern classic in the genre.
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
Using clear, breezy language, Juno Dawson gives us a nuts-and-bolts primer on all things LGBTQ+. Informative and entertaining, It’s the perfect read for people of all ages coming to terms with their identity.
Melissa by Alex Gino (originally published as George)
Gino’s middle grade novel about a trans kid discovering her identity with the help of her friends is a warm, funny read.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
In the spirit of Julian is a Mermaid, this sweet, light picture book tells the story of a transgender kid learning about who she is with the help of the supportive adults in her life. McNicholas’ cute, pastel-tinged illustrations are the perfect enhancement for this story.
The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson
A lively graphic novel about friendship, peer pressure, and adolescent angst among a diverse group of kids on a middle-school soccer team. The action careens like the ball on the field, bouncing between multiple characters’ story lines. A fun read.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Johnson’s YA “memoir-manifesto” about growing up queer and black in America is heartbreaking and inspirational. Don’t skip the author’s note at the beginning. It puts into much more eloquent language the point I was going for in my introduction above.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Kobabe’s graphic memoir is a brave account of the struggle to become the person ey were born to be. It’s an eye-opener about the complexities of being nonbinary.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
This rollicking graphic novel about middle-school drama club kids is packed with relatable characters and situations. Spoiler alert, not all the drama is on the stage.
Review - The Colony by Audrey Magee
Set in an isolated community on a tiny unnamed island off the coast of Ireland, this compelling novel stitches together issues of art, language, colonization, love, and betrayal.
Lloyd is an English painter who has come to the island to paint the cliffs and the sea. He teeters seasick off of the boat that brings him from England, seeking solitude and inspiration. Masson is a French linguist who visits the island every summer to study the Irish language. His desire to save the dying tongue is not matched by the inhabitants of the island, some of whom welcome modernity, seeking to break free of the restraints of the old ways. The two men cross verbal swords throughout the narrative, spurred by their shared attraction to Mairead, a widow with a teen-aged son, James.
Lloyd quickly develops a master/apprentice relationship with James, a restless boy who wants nothing to do with the fishing trade that killed his father. James is a quick study, the artistic impact of his paintings rooted in the rocky soil that spawned him. With Lloyd’s encouragement, James sees art as a way to escape the island. Lloyd promises to get his work into a London art show, but soon comes to realize that his own schooled art is no match for James’ natural talent.
The year is 1979, and the Troubles are in full swing on the Irish mainland, a narrative told in bullet-like bursts between chapters. These shards of verbal shrapnel serve as a startling reminder that life and death and politics and violence march on, mere miles away from the splendid isolation of the island.
Magee manages, with terse dialogue and spare prose, to draw fully-fleshed characters with complex motivations. By turns elegiac and heart-clenching, it is a sly commentary on colonization and appropriation. The landscapes, both that of the island and those of the characters’ hearts, are raw and tender. The Colony is an absorbing, memorable read.
There are a lot of great books coming out in July! Here are a few to put on your radar -
Human Blues by Elisa Albert
Aviva wants a baby. Really badly. But the moderately famous punk-folk troubadour is unable to conceive and is is rabidly opposed to invasive medical intervention. When she is not obsessively scrolling though the social media of acquaintances with children, she is compulsively researching “natural” aids to conception. Between all of this, she is writing music, touring, and contemplating cheating on her sweet, long-suffering spouse Sam, a mild-mannered high school teacher. Her story is told with the snarly, snarky voice of a punk priestess who knows way more than you do and will let you know it without filter. She carries a fangirl torch for Amy Winehouse, viewing her sad, short life as a metaphor for what she is going through. While Aviva’s story, clocking in at over 400 pages, could have been tightened up a bit, it is a page-turning read that will have you pumping your fist in righteous anger against the patriarchy and the corporate medical establishment.
Joan by Katherine J. Chen
Joan is a startlingly fresh take on the life of Joan of Arc. Chen’s Joan is not an ethereal figure communing with saintly visions. Rather, she is a brawny badass who not only is not visited by apparitions, but goes so far as to question the efficacy of prayer. More Brienne of Tarth than Eowyn of Rohan, she plunges into battle with a ruthlessness and strength that has powerful men cowering before her. Her fight is not a holy war, but an act of revenge for the loss of her sister to English attackers. Chen has created a complex hero, power-hungry yet self-doubting, deeply moral yet willing to do anything to wreak vengeance. The book is action-packed but does not skimp on rich character development. Fans of Matrix and Hamnet will enjoy this remaking of a feminist icon.
Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah
When you think of multi-generational family sagas, you usually expect book roughly the size of cinder block. Oscar Hokeah does it in under 300 pages, telling the Geimausaddle family’s story from 1976-2013 with not one wasted word. With economical prose and multiple perspectives, he paints a family portrait that doesn’t spare the warts. Addiction and redemption, betrayal and loyalty, love and loss all weave together like the threads of a blanket, with varied voices providing subtle colors. The strongest, brightest thread is the fierce Kiowa pride that holds the family together through hardships.
Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty
Raw and stark, but teeming with a desperate compassion, Morgan Talty’s collection of linked short stories is a promising debut. Situated on a Penobscot reservation, the stories center around David, a teenager struggling to hold his family together through poverty, addiction, and violence. The language is blunt, with a dark, resigned sense of humor. The narrative is packed with detail, dissecting the minutiae of reservation life - the everyday boredom and struggle occasionally shot through with horror and grief. A brutally beautiful collection.
If You Come Softly
If you come softly
As wind within the trees
You may hear what I hear
See what sorrow sees.
If you come lightly
As a threading dew
I will take you gladly
Nor ask more of you.
You my sit beside me
Silent as breath
Only those who stay dead
Shall remember death.
And if you come I will be silent
Nor speak harsh words to you.
I will not ask you why, now.
Or how, or what you do.
We shall sit here, softly
Beneath two different years
And the rich earth between us
Shall drink our tears.
~ Audre Lorde
For further reading -
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