George by Alex Gino

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George and her class have been reading Charlotte’s Web and when the teachers decide they should perform it as a play, George knows that she wants to play the part of Charlotte. The story follows George’s attempts to convince her teacher that she should be allowed to play Charlotte, even though everyone thinks she’s a boy. We also go on the journey George takes in telling her best friend, mom and brother the thing that seems obvious to her, but not to them. That she’s not a boy.

There is a line that made me stop, take a moment to breath, and realise why this is a perfect book for adults as well as children to read. When George says that trying to be a boy is really hard. The representation of what it is like to be trans is the best I have ever read and I think it was conveyed in a way that will make sense to younger readers.

I’ve read some interesting reviews of George online, and once you get past the blatant transphobic ones, there seems to be a lot of criticism that I think needs addressing. One strand of complaint is that the constant gendered language used towards George is excessive. That people don’t use phrases or words all the time that mention to children what gender they are. This is, of course, blatantly untrue and what Alex Gino is doing in this story is pointing out how often this does happen, and how this makes someone like George feel when she is constantly reminded how other people see her.

Another criticism I read frequently is how the story is too simplistic. Yes, the plot is quite simple but the subtle nuance that Alex Gino draws through it, and the way in which they demonstrate the realities of life for a transgender child, adds a depth that is subtle but profound.

The most depressing criticism I have read, other than the obvious ones that are just fuelled by hate, are those expressing that children shouldn’t read this book, that they wouldn’t understand it, and that they would be confused by the content. It depresses me that adults don’t give children more credit. I think you’d be surprised by what they do understand and by the depths of their empathy for each other. This is absolutely a book children should read and every school library should have a copy or two.

Whilst George’s experience of talking to people about being a girl is one of optimism and happiness in the end, this is not the typical situation for many trans children and adults. That is why this book is so important. It is vital to present the idea that yes, many trans children do have happy outcomes when they speak about their identity, and many adults deal well and are understanding. There can be a happy ending, and I’m so glad this book exists to prove that.

 

Superior by Jessica Lack

My book of the week has to be Superior by Jessica Lack. Based on the blurb alone I wanted to devour it immediately: A superhero’s intern falls in love with a supervillain’s apprentice in this star-crossed LGBT YA story. I mean, how can you not want to read that?

Superior is a novella with heart and humour. It’s goofy and gay and brilliantly conveys a detailed world where superheroes run hotlines and people call them to help rescue their cats.

I’m recommending this because Jessica Lack is superb, not only at realistic world building, but at developing characters with life and depth in only a few pages.

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Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

On the one hand this book is easy to explain, it’s about two boys, kissing. But then again, it is so much more than you would imagine and hope for.  Craig and Harry are trying to set a new world record the longest ever kiss and the story tells us of their attempt. But we don’t just hear from Craig and Harry, there are four stories interwoven into the novel, all related to boys coming to terms with coming out and the reactions of the people around them. The overall narrator is the voice of an older generation of gay men who have lost their lives to AIDS. It is these narrators that really start to pull the emotional punches as they lament the glorious possibilities the lives of young men have now, possibilities that were so cruelly denied to them.

Two Boys Kissing is a deeply moving and passionate novel that is absolutely beautiful.

You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina LaCour

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other — and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Told in alternating view points, You Know Me Well, follows the story of Kate and Mark who become best friends after one moment of bonding in a gay bar. I was skeptical at first that they could become such good friends so quickly, but I remembered the intensity of feeling when I was the same age as the characters, and it made more sense. Here are two people desperately searching for an identity and trying to find their place in the world, which is why they get so quickly attached to someone else who sees able to help them on this journey.

While the characters attempt to navigate the tricky world of relationships, it is their friendships that sit centre stage. This novel explores a number of themes that are rarely touched upon in YA fiction. As well as exploring friendship it, more importantly, shows LGBTQ+ young people comfortable with their sexuality and receiving support from the people around them. We need more novels that explore LGBTQ+ friendships and that explore the importance of having friends (more important than relationships)

This book left me with such a good feeling almost entirely because of the background setting of Pride. I felt so uplifted by the portrayal of celebratory times and optimism. While I preferred Mark’s story, and found it difficult at times to connect with Kate, both parts of the book are written wonderfully and are so engaging I read this in one sitting.

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

It’s very rare, unheard of in fact, for me to read a book in one sitting but (and I’m aware it’s cliched, sorry) I actually didn’t want to put this book down. Simon is such an interesting and engaging person, I loved being inside his head and feeling everything he did.

The story starts with the first anguish that someone has discovered his secret about his sexuality and the emails he sends to an anonymous student at their school, and takes us on a quick journey through his developing feelings for ‘Blue’ and his relationships with his friends.

I’d been told that this was ‘just a coming out story’ and the person who told me that sold it short by a long shot. This story is so much more, and Simon’s almost forced coming out is a sideline to the deeper look into friendships, how we know ourselves (can we ever), how well we know the people around us, the surprises and secrets that everyone hides.

I loved how deeply we got into Simon’s head, into his private life, and how he displayed his mortification when he realises the assumptions and prejudices he’s been exhibiting.

This is such a brilliantly written and emotional story. I smiled so much, I laughed, I almost cried, and now I’m done I want to read it all over again.

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What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera

Nayomi Munaweera has the ability to keep drawing you in, lulling you into a false sense of security where you think everything is going to be okay, and then it isn’t. The beautiful description of the seemingly idyllic childhood in Sri Lanka quickly gives way to one of those passages that I can only describe by how it happened in my head as I read it: ‘Hang on, did I just read that right…let me go back and…oh god…oh god no.” This happened several times as I worked my way through time, through her childhood and into adulthood, repeatedly thinking things might work out only to be shocked into reality.

The main character remains unnamed until the end of the novel and in a way I felt like I never got to know her, whilst at the same time experiencing all the emotions and confusion she does at the circumstances of her life. I felt as lost and floundering as the main character often felt, unsure if I could trust her memories or the people around her.

What Lies Between Us explores the way in which memory effects our life and interacts with our present. It draws out how the past, even if long distant and buried deep, can still shake the foundations of our happier times and destroy the things which should be able to offer us some relief. At times brutal but always delicately written this novel is outstanding and definitely worth exploring.

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What I do and Why I love it: The Life of a Librarian

There are some important things you should read about why libraries are important and what exactly it is a librarian does. It’s hard to write an article that encapsulates everything a librarian does, not just because we do A LOT but also because it varies from library to library.

There are librarians that don’t work in libraries, there are people who work in libraries who don’t have ‘librarian’ as their job title, but we’re all bound together by a common purpose to provide a library service, and everything that entails.

When I tell people I’m a librarian they say, “of course, that makes sense, you love books”. This is true, I love books, I love reading books, I love writing words, I love talking about books, and talking about people who write books.

But books are not why I became a librarian.

I am surrounded by books everyday, students rush up to me and say ‘help, I need to find this book’, I handle books, I repair books, I open boxes that contain books, and put books on shelves.

But books are not why I became a librarian.

I became a librarian because of the people.

Everything I do, every day, in every way, is to help the students in our library to get their degrees. My whole reason for going into work everyday is the students who need books, information, help, and advice.

From issuing books, to teaching them how to find online resources; from teaching how to tell the difference between a dodgy website and a legitimate academic one, to repairing the books so they can read them and complete their assignments on time; from helping disabled get access to the library with the least faff possible, to helping distressed students realise we’re there to help them get the information they need in any way we can.

Everything I do at work, everyday, is to help these students get through their degrees with the least stress possible. But also with the maximum amount of skills to continue in their future careers, skills in how to not drown under the glut of information out there, and how to find, assess, and use information.

I became a librarian for these people, for our students. They may have no idea how much we care about them getting that essay printed on time, or finding that rare Old Norse saga, or getting hold of that article that 200 other students also need right now this second. They may have no idea, but it doesn’t matter, because this is why we do our job, this is why I’m a librarian.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

Guapa by Saleem HaddadReading Guapa means spending 24 hours in the life of Resa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he reflects on the immediate trauma and past events of his life.  The stories of his father’s death, his mother’s departure, and his difficult relationships with friends and lovers, are interwoven through a tale of his struggle to discover his place in the world.  This novel delivers so much more than it promises, delving deep into Resa’s mind to explore issues of marginalisation within every community Resa tries to discover an identity for himself.  Resa struggles to find somewhere that he belongs and is on a constant search to find meaning in the definitions that other people put onto him, based on his nationality, sexuality, religion (or lack of).

This is an amazing novel that explores complex issues in a delicate and sensitive way, bringing them to life through vivid characters and an evocative landscape.  I found myself nervous before the ending, worrying what Resa was going to do and what would happen to him.  I wondered how he would react at the wedding and if it would destroy him.  Being able to see through a small window in to a world that I’m not a part of was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures, as I found myself wanting to argue with almost everyone Resa came into contact with.

Publisher: Other Press
Genres: Adult Fiction, LGBTQ+, Contemporary
Published: March 8th 2016
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I received a free copy of this book from Other Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Gracekeepers Hardback ImageThe Gracekeepers is set in a very different world from our own, one where the earth has been swallowed up by the water and the divisions between those who live on land (the landlockers) and those who live on the sea (damplings) run deep. Callanish is a Gracekeeper, charged with overseeing the restings – when the deceased are sent to a watery grave. North is a performer on the circus boat the Excalibur, along with her bear. The meeting between these two complex characters sparks a change in both of them that has far reaching consequences.

This exquisitely written novel by Kirsty Logan made me curious about the divisions between cultures and the suspicion we have of people different from ourselves – how we mythologise things we don’t know or understand in order to try and make sense of it. By the end of the book I wanted to read more about North and Callanish and felt like I was leaving behind potential friends I’d only just got to know. I think this is a testament to how good Kirsty Logan is at writing characters who are essentially very private and afraid, hiding secrets that could have a serious impact on their lives if found out.

Would I recommended you read this book? Yes, slowly, to savour the beautiful writing. Buy the Book

Review: Borrowed Time by Paul Monette

Borrowed Time by Paul MonetteI can find no words within me to describe how achingly beautiful and heartbreaking this book is. At times an uplifting tribute filled with love, it also abounds with despair at the pointlessness of the ravages of AIDS, at a time when people little understood the illness, nor did they want to unless directly affected by it. I don’t believe I have ever read a more beautiful love story. While ultimately describing the end of a love as one partner dies, leaving the other faced with a future not only alone but also filled with the possibility of dying in a similar fashion; this exquisitely written book also manages to fill you with a feeling that, yes, there is such a thing as an ultimate love that exists in purity and simplicity, for no other reason than the joy of enjoying that love with another who loves you. This belief ultimately makes it heartbreaking when the inevitable death of Paul’s lover, who he refers to as his best friend, Roger, happens in the last chapter.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to you as a good read that you should experience just for being well written. I would implore everyone to read this for the vital lessons it will impart on you, about passionate love, decline and death. An amazing work!

Genres: LGBTQ+, Non-Fiction, Memoir
Published:  June 1st 1998
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