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2teenagersin20

Coming out and living as a gay or lesbian teenager can be hard. Or it can be liberating. Everyone’s stories are all different, and Two Teenagers in Twenty, a compilation of true coming-out stories by homosexual teenagers, touches on all the emotions. From acceptance and understanding to fear and disgust, this book is a must-read for any gay, bisexual, or lesbian teen.

Published in 1994 as a sequel to One Teenager in Ten, both edited by Ann Heron, Two Teenagers in Twenty was made to show the lives of coming-out teens and the reactions of their families and friends. Though outdated (the stories in the book range from the 1980s-1990s), the hardships and fears young gays and lesbians face still resonates deeply today. The youth in these stories are between twelve and twenty-four years old, but each of them had to deal with realizing their sexuality, coming to terms with it despite society’s negative portrayal, and telling their loved ones.

This book accurately showed how different each individual’s story was. You get to know the plight of Joanne, a young woman raised by her parents and her school to believe homosexuality is wrong; Jim, whose mother and father react badly to his being gay; Robin, a girl exposed to only negativity about gays and must come to terms with herself; and Jennifer, a bisexual woman into gay rights activism. Though some stories are short, the authors clearly describe their troubles and their triumphs. You get to know each person, and you cheer them on or grieve for their problems and sadness.

The stories these brave teens tell can be shocking and, at times, appalling, making you disgusted with homophobes and bigots. Some kids here have dealt with being picked on at school, beaten up, rejected by their parents, isolation, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Tragically, one young lesbian girl who shared her story in this book succeeded in ending her life. Suicide was and still is a huge problem for gay teens because of the lack of understanding and the hatred directed at them.

A lot of the stories do offer hope. Some parents featured in Two Teenagers in Twenty were accepting of their children, and even marched with them in Gay Pride parades. Some teens were able to find resources and books that showed homosexuality in a positive light, and some were able to meet other teenagers like them. And many of the teens were combating homophobia and trying to raise awareness for gay rights. Some good things have happened for gay rights since this book came out, but there is still a lot to do.

Two Teenagers in Twenty provided homosexual teenagers with people their age to relate to, hope for their futures, and also provided some good resources. At the back of the book are lists of fiction and non-fiction books for gays and lesbians. Granted, some are very old now, but that doesn’t take away the enjoyment of them. As for Two Teenagers in Twenty itself, it’s a wonderful book that still has potential to help gay and lesbian teens and young adults who are coming out to themselves or their loved ones. It’s touching, thought-provoking, and ultimately, hopeful.

teachingthecat

Great title, right? It’s also literal. Poor Mittens. Michelle Theall’s memoir isn’t organized linearly, but intersperses chapters from childhood with chapters from adulthood. And as a child, she really did teach the family cat to sit. She writes poignantly of the deep loneliness that caused her to try to make the cat into something it was not, and manages somehow not to beat you over the head with maternal parallels.

Her establishing shot gives you this: a partner and a son, and iPhone contact with grandparents. Good! Also, the grandparents are due to arrive soon for the son’s baptism, which has been cancelled. Due to the priest’s sudden reconsideration of baptizing the child of gay parents. Also, the grandparents don’t know this. (Note: I use the word “gay” instead of “lesbian” because that’s what Theall uses, and she expresses dislike of the label “lesbian.”)

And then you get a snapshot of the beginning. Michelle was supposed to be Matthew; she notes that this was only the beginning of disappointing her parents. You see her as a young child in the Texas Bible Belt, learning that things she liked were inappropriate, and she herself, always, was inappropriate. Not concerned enough with femininity. Not modest. Always unacceptable and wrong. And then she was scarred by an experience that reinforced this self-perception. When she did finally begin to find herself, it was through sports, and her mother explained that not only do sports have no real value for girls in the real world, but that Theall’s ovaries would likely fall out (spoiler: they didn’t). And the rampant homophobia was so ingrained that homophobia wasn’t even a concept or a word. It was just life. Homosexuality was not a thing; it was wrong, it didn’t exist, it went against the natural order, it was against God.

Although I didn’t read this as a Christian memoir–but you could–Theall’s Catholicism, and her relationship with God, is one of the most important strands woven throughout the book. As she is fighting to have her son’s baptism rescheduled, Theall considers one of the focal points of the priest’s concern: “How do you reconcile your homosexual lifestyle with your Christian beliefs?” At that point, she thinks, she’s spent 42 years resolving that question. By then, her faith is a source of strength, not angst. (Faith. Not clergy. Faith.) Her tale of getting to that place of acceptance is powerful and filled with pain, uncertainty, lots of guilt, and some big epiphanic moments.

The religious aspect is tied in to a larger question of general identity. And this is all woven in with a third piece: Theall’s relationship with her (birth) family–particularly her mother. (In fact, separating these out makes for artificial distinctions, but is done for the sake of clarifying what you might want to keep an eye out for.) The reading group guide (included in the new paperback edition) says, “In order to be a good mother, Michelle begins to realize that she may have to be a bad daughter.” While reading this book, you will probably never be convinced that Theall feels she has any chance of being regarded as a good daughter. You will probably wonder if, now that this book has been published, Theall’s mother is still talking to her. You may cheer inwardly at the choice to publish, knowing full well what the consequences might be.

Trigger warning for sexual assault.

dontbangthebarista

If truth be told, my initial interest in Don’t Bang the Barista probably had something to do with my long-held crush on the red-headed, fresh-faced beauty who works the morning shift at the coffee shop a couple of blocks from my office. However, with the turn of the first few pages, it became clear that I had stumbled upon something special. Touted as “a fresh take on the classic genre of lesbian pulp fiction,” Don’t Bang the Barista proves intriguing, endearing and utterly captivating throughout.

Lest anyone be put off, the title is simply an allusion to the advice that Cass offers her friend Kate while discussing the politics of pursuing a barista crush. After all, imagine how awkward it could be if, after a few dates, it all went wrong. Who wouldn’t tread lightly? Yet, could it be that Cass’s concern has more to do with her feelings for Kate than a desire to protect the sanctity of their social space? Cultivating a burgeoning friendship via early morning conversations at the dog park, Cass and Kate enjoy an effortless rapport… until Cass begins to act a bit out of character.

Unable to figure out what lies beneath Cass’s tough-girl exterior, Kate assumes that Cass wants Hannah, the barista, for herself; yet, Kate is too preoccupied with her ex’s return to town to truly reach out and discover what it is that’s bothering her friend. All the while, Cass grows increasingly moody as well as distant. Though others find Cass’s feelings for Kate to be rather obvious, it is only upon determining with whom her own heart lies that Kate discovers it just may be too late.

For all of its light-hearted quirkiness, Don’t Bang the Barista does not shy away from an exploration of the challenges often encountered amid non-traditional relationship dynamics — without any disruption in the tone or flow of the narrative. The way in which Kate supports her bisexual friend, Em, in navigating her desire for a female lover while protecting her primary hetero relationship illuminates just as much about Kate and Em’s friendship as it does the validation of polyamory and conscious/consensual decision-making. The emotional impacts of in vitro fertilization, social alienation and heartbreak are investigated without for a moment compromising the novel’s hip and sexy vibe.

I was struck by the way in which the LGBT-friendly locale of East Vancouver allowed for a more nuanced presentation of the issues mentioned above and a more complex understanding of the characters who encounter them; whereas, in less accepting communities, identity issues — let alone physical and emotional survival — supercede more subtle human needs out of necessity alone. It’s basically a manifestation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once we feel safe within our environment, we are better able to enjoy the journey toward self-actualization, creating a meaningful and satisfying existence, which at the end of the day is precisely what the women of Don’t Bang the Barista are seeking.

[Editor’s note: also check out Danika’s review!]

lockandkey

“Air Planes” is a work of short fiction, the first in a series by Anna Macdougal called The Lock and The Key: Butch/Femme Erotic Romance. It’s the story of marketing consultant Stephanie, fresh from the triumph of closing a deal, and her erotic encounter with the chivalrous butch woman she meets at the airport. Their chance meeting leads to high-flying intimacy, and–perhaps–love.

As you might expect from the collection’s title, this story relies heavily on the mystique and appeal of the butch/femme dynamic:

A butch lesbian stood near the exit, browsing the New Titles display. Something happens to me every time there’s a butch woman in my vicinity. Each cell in my body instantaneously comes alive and urgent messages from my femme brain race through my entire nervous system.

If butch/femme dynamics are your cup of tea, you will be quite happy with this promising debut. I found that mentions of “the butch” and “the femme” as objects–stepping back from the interplay between interesting, relatable characters to delve more deeply into that archetypal aspect of lesbian desire–distracted me from the otherwise excellent writing. However, I enjoyed the story immensely and will definitely read anything else that Macdougal produces.

 

TheWilloftheEmpress

A little bit of background on my experience of this book, first. I have always heard positive things about Tamora Pierce’s writing, but I hadn’t picked up any of her books before this year. I did, however, have a copy of Will of the Empress, because I heard this was a lesbian young adult book, which is probably my favourite genre. I was also going to see Mark of Mark Reads at Leakycon in 2014, so I decided that I would try to catch up one of the series he was reading. He was reading Tamora Pierce, so I binge-read her books to catch up, in the order that Mark was reading them, which was mostly publication order. But because I was reading them in the order Mark is, it meant that Will of the Empress was the twenty-sixth Tamora Pierce book I read this year. And the entire time, though I loved the other books, I was also eager to get to The Lesbian Book, so I had some expectations.

Will of the Empress is listed as the first book in a series (The Circle Reforged), but the main characters are written about in The Circle of Magic quartet and The Circle Opens quartet first. I’m sure you could technically read this as a standalone, but it’s a lot more effective knowing the main characters’ backstory.

I was already in love with the main characters before going into Will of the Empress. The funny thing is, I knew that in this book, one of the characters was going to be a lesbian, but I wasn’t sure which of the three girls it was. Which meant that in the previous eight books, I was guessing. It was fun, actually, even though I picked the wrong horse. My favourite thing about Tamora Pierce’s books (aside from the feminism) is that the main characters in all of her novels are totally realistic, well-rounded, and completely distinct from each other. I loved that in the Tortall books, and it carries into the Circle universe as well. I also really appreciated that the Circle universe is a lot more diverse. While most of the Tortall protagonists are young, female, white, straight, and noble, the four Circle main characters include two people of colour, a lesbian, and a range of financial statuses/ranks. This book also reveals that their teachers (also about half people of colour) included two women in a relationship, something which was only hinted in the previous books.

This book focuses on how the four have drifted apart from each other, and their attempts to return to their former closeness. It’s uncomfortable, after the celebration of friendship that was the original Circle quartet, but it’s realistic and necessary. They all have grown, and their relationships all shift and evolve throughout the story to reflect that. The plot itself is pretty minimal, because it’s really about this emotional growth, and also about their beginning of their individual recoveries from the trauma each has gone through in the last few years. Between them, they’ve experienced arson, mass murder, war, and been dragged into these situations in ways they never intended.

So there is this aspect to the subdued plot next to the other books–that the characters have suffered enough at this point–but I think there’s also the element that they are just too powerful by this time, especially together, for there to be any real threat to them. Each not only has an incredible amount of personal power, but also has threads of each other’s magic, and now has mastered this magic. When the central conflict of the book does happen, it’s over with pretty quickly. They’ve become pretty much invincible as a unit, which I think sort of writes Tamora Pierce into a corner. Anything that could actually pose as a threat to them would be comically over the top. And though I do primarily enjoy her books for the characters and their interaction, it did make this one seem a little slower, because there was no dramatic conflict in the last quarter of the book, at least not one comparable to most of hers.

As for the lesbian content of the book, it is a pretty minor subplot, but I loved it. I won’t tell you who it was, in case you also want to guess, but it felt perfectly organic both for that character to be a lesbian and for it not to have come up until now. After all, the other books take place when they are children, often in life-threatening danger, so it makes sense that she didn’t really start thinking about romance until she was an older teenager. The little romance in this book was adorable. [mild spoilers, highlight to read] I was worried that her partner was going to be a spy, or somehow involved in the plot against them, but luckily I was wrong. [end spoilers] It’s also significant that this romance is probably the most serious one in the series for any of the characters. The descriptions of her realizing that she’s falling in love and what that means as well her friends’ reactions are all fantastic to read and exactly what I would expect from Tamora Pierce. I really hope that she continues to write more queer main characters.

This isn’t my favourite of her books, though I honestly expected it to be, but it’s still solid, and one that I would recommend. Read all of her books and know that you can look forward to a lesbian main character. I can’t believe that I’ve read almost all of Tamora Pierce’s books (thirty years of work read in one year! oops!), but I’ve enjoyed myself so much. I can’t wait to read the last collections of short stories and audio books that are left, and I look forward to her next ones!

tippingthevelvet   sistahoodonthemic   Ash

Afterwritten posted Keep It Queer: How My Love Affair with LGBTQ YA Started.

Autostraddle posted Liberty Lit #62: Snowing Pages.

Sarah Waters was interviewed at the hairpin.

The Sista Hood on the Mic by E-Fierce Twinja Book Reviews.

junemageernfestivenurse   underafallingstar   lieswetellourselves

Under a Falling Star by Jae was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

June Magee, R.N. Festival Nurse by Anne McMan, with Salem West and Barrett was reviewed at Lesbian Reading Room.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley was reviewed at Afterwritten.

Fighting Kudzu by Mystic Thompson was reviewed at Gay YA.

Silhouette of a Sparrow

Growing up, I could not get enough of historical fiction and books set in a time past. Any book that featured two girls falling in love was also irresistible to me. So when I heard about Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin, a young adult lesbian coming-of-age story set in the 1920s, the eager, history-loving 15-year-old in me just had to read it.

Silhouette of a Sparrow is Griffin’s first young adult novel, which might be why the narration has a more mature tone unlike many books for young adults in which authors tend to talk down to their audience or follow a more predictable pattern in fear of readers losing interest. Set in Excelsior, Minnesota, a real lakeside resort town, the novel follows 16-year-old Garnet Richardson who is feeling trapped by her life back home when she is sent off to Excelsior to stay with her father’s cousin, the uptight, snooty Mrs. Harrington and her rude, disinterested daughter, Hannah. While there, Garnet pushes the limitations set by her strict aunt, getting a job in a hat shop and befriending a free-spirited flapper named Isabella.

Although the relationship between Garnet and Isabella is at the heart of the novel, there is so much more going on; it isn’t just a love story. From the beginning, it is clear that the main character’s life is full of forced deception when her mother claims that she is sending her away so she won’t catch polio. There is a telling bit of narration at that point in the first chapter where Garnet tells the readers,

“At sixteen, I was hardly at risk for polio, but the real reasons for my going were among the many things unsaid between us…”

Between her father’s strange behavior and aloofness to her mother’s insistence on pushing lady-like behavior onto Garnet and planning her future wedding to a boy from school, it is clear that everyone in the Richardson is living by a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

One of the most intriguing elements that comes from this life draped in secrecy and unspoken rules is Garnet’s obsession with birds. They represent the freedom she longs for, and she is completely obsessed with them, constantly researching and observing them. Each chapter of the book is named after a different bird, and each bird represents a new stage of Garnet’s journey to find herself behind the wall of deception built by her family, her society, and even herself.

My favorite thing about this book is that Griffin manages to convey the stress so many teenagers feel when they realize that the lives they want for themselves do not match up with the lives their parents want for them and that they will have to find their own way. This experience is especially familiar to teenagers who experience same sex attraction. It is stressful and feels like the hardest thing in the world, and when you have gotten over that hump, things aren’t the same, and sometimes they’re a little bit broken, but there is a feeling of freedom and hope and the idea that in time, what is broken can be rebuilt into something better. And of course, nothing is certain, which makes it seem like anything is possible.

With all of the complicated conventions and messes of real life, Griffin manages to make the world seem a bit more poetic and beautifully synchronized for her main character. Her style has a sense of ease that makes the novel easy to get lost in without falling into the formulaic predictability of so many young adult novels. I finished the book in a two hour sitting and felt a sense of closure and satisfaction that comes with the delightful combination of an intriguing plot and solid writing.

 

originalsin

Readers who like an entertaining and witty read about female pirates and swashbuckling adventures will find The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin by Colette Moody as a good starting point. With two lesbian leads, this book will appeal to some who, like me, can’t get enough of lesbian/pirate fiction.

In 1702, Gayle Malvern, a pirate captain’s daughter, must take command of the ship, Original Sin, when her father is wounded in a battle. She orders her men to go into town and kidnap a doctor to help heal the injured. The doctor’s fiancée, Celia Pierce, is kidnapped instead for her skills as a seamstress while her spineless betrothed cowers in the next room. After Celia tends to the wounded, she and Gayle become better acquainted. Both are drawn to the other, though they playfully banter and play hard to get. When Gayle is asked to rescue a woman kidnapped by slave traders, Celia decides to come along for the adventure. Both women, besides meeting colorful people, experience a storm at sea, sword fights and ship battles. All the while, their love for each other becomes more evident.

Original Sin is purely a fun adventure novel. Some things are a bit unrealistic, like most characters being accepting of homosexuals when at that period, their attitudes would have been harsher. And the language in the book sounds more like 21st century talk than the early 1700s. But those things aside, Gayle and Celia’s story keeps the pages turning.

Colette Moody does an excellent job describing the females who broke society’s rules for women, and how they, whether they were gay, bisexual, or straight, moved on to captain their own ships or disguise as male sailors. Each woman is fleshed out as human and they have their own stories to tell. One of my favorite characters was Molly McCarthy, a young woman who had disguised as a man on two different ships, and then served on Gayle’s ship openly as a female. She was not only tough and strong-willed; she was handy with a sword and managed to get herself out of messes without assistance. She was no damsel in distress, which was refreshing.

Gayle and Celia held their own, too. The action sequences in Original Sin were different each time. One would be a daring rescue in a tavern, and another would be a skirmish on an abandoned island. Each one was engaging, and though gory in detail, the storyline had just the right amount of suspense.

There were sweet moments too, when Gayle and Celia’s love and faith in each other helped them keep going. Each woman did noble deeds and helped others in some way. Though they were technically pirates, they didn’t fit the stereotype, as they were saving lives and defending those who needed it. That made the story even more entertaining.

The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin is definitely a good book to read on a pleasant afternoon if there is time to spare. But be prepared to be unable to put it down! With the well-fleshed out characters and intriguing story, Colette Moody adds another novel to lesbian and pirate literature.

stirfry“In what day in what month of this queue of years would she find that she had become a rootless stranger, a speck in the urban sprawl?”

– Stir-fry page 13

If there was one book that I read and I thought ‘this book is me’, this book is it. It is a book that stayed with me and even if I someday forget what the story was about, I will never forget how much I enjoyed reading it and relating to the story.

Stir-fry was Donoghue’s debut novel and is set in Dublin, Ireland. It is about Maria, a university student, who goes to live with Ruth and Jael who at first she does not realize they are a couple. Maria is very innocent and always  tries to help but you see her develop and mature, in a way, this novel is also a coming-of-age novel.

It is interesting to see how Maria interacts differently with Ruth who is really sweet  and just needs someone to talk to and Jael who has a more rebellious streak and usually tries to rope Maria into fun activities and how she interacts with them as a couple. To an extent, they become so familiar with one another that they become a trio.

Maria stays with the couple and she grows up in a short period of time. We see her force herself to have relationships with people but in the end, in a plot twist that you realize made sense at the end, she ends up with someone really lightly and in a relationship I imagine full of respect.

I like how the book is divided. Ruth likes cooking and cooking brings all three together so the chapters are divided in the steps required to make a stir-fry and it makes sense! Especially because a stir-fry is the first meal that Ruth cooks for them when Maria goes to see the flat.  The story is set in the past so not contemporary and the physical space is both cozy in the flat but also big in the city and you see her attitude change more even how she feels about returning to her small home, so in a way there is psychological distance to who she used to be.

I definitely would have liked a sentence or two about what happened to characters after Maria stopped interacting with them. The book also has a bit of an open ending, but I definitely recommend this book to people that like psychological elements in books, to people that love Ireland and coming of age stories. Emma Donoghue is probably one of my favourite authors for the reason that she writes so brilliantly but also relatable.

intothedarknessfinal

Ridge Falls is an unusual town. A mining community created in the late 1800’s, after the construction of a hydroelectric dam, the town was moved. Old timers said the dam was a bad idea. Bad things would happen.

They were right. Now, evil seems to haunt the reservoir. It manifests itself to different people in different ways. Come with us. Sit down. Visit. Have a glass of sweet tea at the local diner. We have some stories to tell you.

So, this book. First, I have to be honest. This book doesn’t have any lesbian (or any other permutation of ladies-into-ladies) content. There’s about a paragraph of a monster in a woman’s body killing another woman and I really don’t think that counts.

Warning: the book opens– on the first page – with the sexual abuse of a child, and sexual and physical abuse occur in quite a few of the stories.

Into the Dark is otherwise a series of very short stories, theoretically connected by the setting, about terrible things happening to people. Most of the people are terrible, too. There’s no framing device inside the book itself – the stories don’t occur at the same time or feature the same people (with one reoccurring character).

I like horror, particularly the psychological terror-in-the-dark flavor. But the over-the-top grotesquerie in this book pulled me out of the story every time. There were no characters to connect to, so the violence and gore didn’t have any emotional impact. The biggest problem was that I kept finding myself asking “What was the point of that?” There are so many disparate elements within the stories that I just wound up bored and vaguely lost.

There is one story in this that I enjoyed – “The Wilsons” – about a woman dealing with germaphobia and the loss of her husband. That story had atmosphere and a character I liked. It also doesn’t fit in at all with the rest of the book, so take that as you will.

The author is apparently writing a novel set in this universe, and perhaps that will work better. This book felt like an experiment, the sort of thing that winds up in your notes for a story but never published. And again, I’m disappointed that the author submitted it to the Lesbrary, because it really doesn’t count.

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