Elinor reviews The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

theargonauts

The Argonauts is an amazing book. It is a memoir but not a neatly narrative one. It’s been called “genre-bending,” which it certainly is. I’d describe it as a meditation of family, queerness, gender, love, bodies, connection, and a whole lot more. Nelson quotes academic theorists as readily as she shares visceral, personal details from her life. The book primarily focuses on Nelson’s relationship with and marriage to genderfluid artist Harry Dodge, being a stepmother to Dodge’s son from a previous relationship, and being pregnant with, giving birth to and parenting the couple’s younger son. Each of these topics is examined thoughtfully through multiple lenses, giving the reader plenty of food for thought.

This book offers up many intriguing questions without giving easy answers. Everything from assumptions about pregnant women, reified identity, personal expression, death, and the act of giving birth get a turn. I find it hard to summarize such an eclectic and fascinating book while truly doing it justice. It’s creative nonfiction at its best.

I’m also grateful that I read it exactly when I did, just after I finished graduate school and nearly at the middle of my pregnancy. It was the only book I’ve found that spoke about the personal experience of pregnancy, let alone queer pregnancy, in a way that rang true for me. The questions about parenthood and marriage that it raises were extremely relevant to me and I found myself jotting down references for further reading.

It can be fairly academic in places. I appreciated this, but others might not. It’s short but dense with ideas, and I’m glad I took my time reading it. Going slowly with it allowed me to absorb the subject matter and I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much if I’d read it in a rush.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in queer family and partnership, or just a truly unique memoir.

Danika reviews Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire by Lisa M. Diamond

sexual fluidity lisa m diamond

This was a life-changing book for me. The only thing I can compare it to in terms of reading experience is Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature by Emma Donoghue, which opened up a whole world of queer women lit throughout time to me that I had never heard of before. Instead of changing my view of lesbian and bi books, though, Sexual Fluidity revolutionized my entire outlook on sexual identity and orientation.

I wish that was an exaggeration. This was an incredibly affirming book, but it also frustrated me that it took this long for me to discover a different framework from which to view sexuality–one that viewed my experiences not as an aberration, but as a normal, valid example of how sexuality might flow over time.

Lisa M. Diamond follows a group of almost 100 women over the course of ten years, most of them lesbians or bisexual women, checking in several times throughout to see how their sexual identity and behaviour had changed. Although the standard understanding of sexual orientation would assume that these women would stay in the same categories after they came out, this wasn’t the reality. 2/3 of the women changed identities (lesbian/bisexual/heterosexual/unlabeled) at some point during the ten years. Most of that change was because of sexual relationships women had since the last interview. Diamond argues that typically it isn’t actually that these women’s orientation is changing–the interviewees generally reported staying in a fairly narrow range of attraction to their preferred gender(s)–but that instead these experiences were due to examples of sexual fluidity.

This is a fairly academic text, but it’s packed full of fascinating information. It covers the biological aspects and psychological aspect of this concept, drawing from a huge amount of studies. I apologize for this long-winded review, because this book was so central in changing how I think about sexuality that I’m determined to note it all down so that I can’t forget.

Diamond argues sexual orientation indicates not a rigid  prediction of the gender(s)/sex(es) you are and will always be attracted to, but instead indicated a range from which you can fluctuate–meaning that being attracted nonexclusively to a certain gender is not necessarily a bisexual orientation, but may be brought on by sexual fluidity. Basically, sexuality is not just a range from 0% same-sex attraction = heterosexual, 1%-99% same-sex attraction = bisexual, and 100% same-sex attraction = homosexual. Instead, orientation is only one aspect of sexuality. Here are some of the things she argues make up sexuality:

  1. Sexual orientation, which indicates a tendency to seek out sexual experience with a certain sex/sexes
  2. Degree of fluidity: the capacity a person has to react to triggers for fluidity. Where orientation determines someone’s already-existing attraction to certain sexes, same-sex arousability determines someone’s receptivity to environments that might trigger fluidity–like becoming emotionally intimate with a same-sex friend
  3. Exposure to environments that might trigger fluidity (usually exposure to certain genders/sexes in everyday life–an all-women college won’t offer a lot of opportunity for sexual fluidity towards men)
  4.  Capacity for “person-based” attraction: for some people, emotional intimacy with someone may lead to romantic feelings, which may then lead to sexual attraction, just as sexual attraction to someone may then lead to romantic feelings for them

I know that I am over simplifying and likely mangling that explanation, but that is my understanding. Diamond also explores the roles of “proceptivity” (sexual drive) vs “arousability” (receptivity to sexual cues) in certain people’s lives. For people who menstruate, the hormonal fluctuations mean that arousability plays a bigger part in day-to-day attractions than proceptivity (unlike cis men).

She also explains that the biological foundation for romantic love evolved independently from sexuality. So while sexual orientation evolved to encourage mating, romantic love evolved from infant-caregiver bonding, which means that the biological underpinnings are not gender- or sex-specific, which explains why people might more easily fall in love with someone who does not match the sex they are usually attracted to. (These are systems that evolved separately, but they are connected, which is how romantic love might develop into sexual attraction and vice versa.)

Sexual Fluidity contains some pretty controversial statistics. For example, 60% of the women who identified as lesbians in the initial interviews went on to have sexual contact with men in subsequent years. More than 50% of the women who continued to identify as lesbians had sexual contact with men over the course of those ten years, and 30% of the women who identified as lesbians in the first interview would go on to have romantic relationships with men (though the vast majority of these women then stopped labeling themselves as lesbians). There seemed to be an unstated agreement that over 75% attraction to women meant you were a lesbian–people who crossed that line tended to change how they identified.

As someone who identified as a lesbian since high school, who felt at home in that label for ten years, and then found myself in a romantic relationship with a man, this was revelatory. Where I had always viewed my history of attraction as somewhat embarrassing and out of the ordinary, this recast it as perfectly valid and not even uncommon. According to this framework, it still made perfect sense that I would have a lesbian orientation but be in a relationship with a man (though I won’t call myself a lesbian anymore–I know that wouldn’t go over well). It just meant that I have capacity for fluidity, even though I have a pattern of being attracted to women. I can’t explain what a relief it was to read about my experiences as…. well, normal.

The conclusion of this book proposes that we change the way we look as sexuality, especially women’s sexuality. One promising avenue is dynamical systems, which in a psychology context means that it views a subject by acknowledging that biology and environment are constantly influencing and changing each other: it is a system that is based in change and assumes that change will happen, rather than seeing sexuality as a fixed point.

It’s important that we teach about sexual fluidity, because despite the fact that the majority of the women interviewed were affected in some way by fluidity, they usually explained these examples with some embarrassment, feeling as though they were the exception to the rule. Diamond shares that when she speaks at queer events about this research, she always has women come up to her afterwards and “confess” their experiences with fluidity, and how they had felt alone in this. We should not be teaching that perfectly normal shifts in sexuality or “exception to the rule” person-based attractions are abnormal.

This isn’t a perfect book. Diamond acknowledges that more research is needed, especially in the biological aspects that she mentions, which are often based on animal experiments. My primary criticism is the cissexism: gender and sex are conflated, which explains my muddled use of both in this review. Intersex people and nonbinary people are erased–despite the fact that two of the participants went on to identify as nonbinary in some way. And, of course, this is all based on interviews of people during a specific time period, and from a fairly narrow sample. It isn’t perfect, but it did blow my mind and make me consider my worldview, so I can’t help but give it 5 stars. If you have ever felt like your experiences don’t fit into the standard explanation of sexual orientation, I highly, highly recommend reading this one.

Danika reviews Queer By Choice: Lesbians, Gay Men, and The Politics of Identity by Vera Whisman

queer by choice

One of my favourite books is Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women edited by Candace Walsh and Laura André. There are some beautifully-written essays in the collection, but what really grabbed me were all the narratives that didn’t match the classic queer storyline: I knew since I was a kid, and it’s always been the same (though I might not have always known it and accepted it). My desire has been a constant in my life. I took that narrative for granted, even though it didn’t match my experiences, and it was only when reading Dear John, I Love Jane that I realized that there are many people who didn’t experience attraction or romantic love in that same way. Sexual fluidity exists! So when I saw the title of Queer by Choice, I was excited to revisit that. I wanted to read about people whose queer identities didn’t match the mainstream story, including those who did feel like they had a choice in being queer.

Queer By Choice was written as a doctoral dissertation, and it reads like one. The book is based around a series of interviews of gay and lesbian people centered around the role of choice in their sexual identities. The main conclusion Whisman draws is that despite the “born this way” party line, most people identify their sexuality as not entirely chosen or determined, but as a mix. Primarily, most people she interviewed saw their orientation as determined and out of their control, but that they demonstrated choice in how they dealt with this orientation, how and when they came out, and how they acted on their desire.

This was published in 1996, and the interviews were done in the late ’80s, which both makes this outdated and an interesting look at a particular time in queer community and politics. The interviews took place during the AIDS epidemic, and also during a time where many lesbian interviewees came out during the height of lesbian feminism. Most of the interviewees who identified their sexuality as chosen were part of the lesbian feminist movement.

For being written 20 years ago, Queer By Choice was more inclusive than I was expecting. It recognizes the role of race in identity narratives, and acknowledges the lack of bisexual participants. It also critiques the “gay ethnicity” model as racist. Unfortunately, its discussion of trans people is awkward, expressing surprise that a lesbian would still consider herself a lesbian while in a relationship with a “pre-op” trans woman.

My main complaint with this book is that I was most interested in hearing from people who do see their sexuality as a choice, because that is not something that gets a lot of attention in the queer community. Despite the title, the vast majority of this book discusses people who do not see their sexuality as a choice. The bits that do are interesting, including a section that explains that earlier in the queer rights movement, there had been a push to “free the homosexual in everyone”, and that the biological minority model “fails to interrogate the inevitability of heterosexuality”: it posits the hetero/homo (or generously, hetero/bi/homo) as natural instead of seeing queer rights as freeing all people to explore the possibility of their sexuality. Another point that I found interesting was when Whisman argued that because women are taught to contain their sexuality, the “choice” narrative is more appealing to them, while men are taught that their sexuality is an uncontrollable force, making the “determined” narrative more intuitive.

While there were some interesting points contained in Queer By Choice, the bulk of the book discusses some variation of the “born this way” narrative, which I didn’t find interesting. It also got repetitive, both in the sense of reiterating thesis points over and over, and in the repetition of quotes in different chapters. Although this is a short book, it felt padded. This is definitely a topic I’d like to read more about, but I wouldn’t highly recommend this particular title.

Kalyanii reviews Cooking as Fast as I Can: A Chef’s Story of Family, Food, and Forgiveness by Cat Cora

 

cooking as fast as i can cat cora

For years, I’ve admired Cat Cora for her ability to take on the most notable male chefs of the day, all the while prepared with a quip in her Southern twang and sporting a smile that invariably brings me to my knees. Self-assured and deservedly so, Ms. Cora’s star had risen in the midst of Food Network’s extended heyday. Her commanding presence and newfound celebrity status offered an image of infallibility as well as culinary brilliance. Watching her throw down in Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium, there appeared not a chink in her armor.

When I opened to the first page of Cooking as Fast as I Can: A Chef’s Story of Family, Food, and Forgiveness, I expected a tidy yet endearing memoir, one that might recount a few challenges along the journey toward hard-earned culinary stardom. A work that would enhance her accessibility while painting a portrait of a woman who has let nothing get in her way. Yet, I was unprepared for the uncompromising honesty and no-holds-barred self-reflection that I encountered within its pages.

Born to an unwed teenage mother on April 3rd of 1967, Cat, initially named Melanie, landed in the Mississippi Children’s Home, where she was adopted by a loving couple one week later. Virginia Lee and Spiro Cora of Jackson, Mississippi provided her with a rather idyllic childhood, complete with strong familial bonds, Greek and Southern culinary histories and frequent family outings.

For the young Cat, however, some of the family’s travels were tainted by the sexual abuse perpetuated by AH, the son of a family friend, nine years older than herself, who had made a habit of molesting her from the time she was six years old, warning her not to tell her parents or they would hate her, stop loving her and think she’s “cheap trash.” Fortunately, or not so much, when Cat was ten or perhaps eleven years old, her father walked into the bathroom where AH had cornered and proceeded to have his way with her. Initially relieved that the secret was out, Cat grew heartbroken upon witnessing the disgust on her father’s face. Rather than having AH’s hide, Spiro Cora turned and walked out, leaving her alone with her perpetrator.

There is very little of the polite or demure within Ms. Cora’s narrative. She tells things as they were (and currently are) without sugar-coating or diminishing the gravity of any given situation. Her tone is intensely conversational throughout the book, bare-bones honest without a hint of the melodramatic. She even throws in an f-bomb or two, which I appreciated to no end. Within her memoir, there is no denying it, Cat Cora gets real.

Not once does Ms. Cora shy away from her appreciation for the ladies, the strength and vitality of her apparently impressive libido or an admission of the trysts enjoyed while in a steady relationship. Seemingly unconcerned with the potential of judgements passed, Ms. Cora tells it as she sees and, yes, lived it.

When it comes to present-day dynamics, Ms. Cora remains forthcoming in her remembrances regarding events that pertain to her life with her wife, Jennifer, and their four young boys. She tackles head-on the challenges of motherhood, the residue created by several jet-set years as a celebrity chef as well as the fallout from her excessive alcohol consumption, which is truly where the rubber meets the road and I found myself most astounded by her willingness to self-disclose.

Even in conclusion, Ms. Cora chooses not to flaunt her involvement in twelve-step meetings as resolution in her relationship with alcohol nor as a happy ending to her marriage nor, for that matter, any other aspect of her life. She simply invites us to meet her where she stands, preparing dinner for friends while her wife is away, practicing yoga, and the boys play underfoot.

Elinor reviews Lesbian Conception 101 by Kathy Borkoski

lesbian conception 101

My wife and I decided a few months back to try to have a baby. Naturally, I’ve been reading everything that exists on the subject. There aren’t a ton of books out there for queer women trying to get pregnant. One of the most accessible is Lesbian Conception 101: An easy-to-follow, how-to get started guide for lesbians thinking about getting pregnant tomorrow or in a couple of years by Kathy Borkoski. Borkoski doesn’t preach about the way you ought to things. She lays out your getting-pregnant options, and offers some cost-saving tips and exercises for figuring out what you want. The book focuses exclusively on conception, which can keep things from being overwhelming when you’re starting the process.

Lesbian Conception 101 isn’t the most comprehensive book about getting pregnant that exists. It’s very short–less than 100 pages–and some of that is devoted to the voices of women who’d gone through the process. While these personal stories are interesting and at times reassuring, they typically don’t delve into a lot of details that you can apply to your own life. It’s decidedly written for cisgender lesbian couples and if this isn’t you, your mileage may vary. Sections include deciding who will carry, ways to get sperm, and options for insemination. Borkoski includes options for using known and unknown donors, and insemination choices from low-tech at home up to IVF.

I wish Borkoski had included more suggestions for further reading. If you want more information about tracking your fertility, for example, a few more resources would have been nice. Also, some of your experiences might be different from the book. Borkoski’s description of intrauterine insemination involved much more medical monitoring than I experienced. Likewise, the section on questions you’ll be asked, while a good way to prepare yourself, might not be anything like the questions you’ll actually be asked. (The weirdest question my wife and I got was, “Are you two adopting or using a surrogate?” To which I got to reply, “We’re going to try to use one of the two uteruses we have between us.” Also, multiple people asked if we could chose the sex of our baby). Still, it’s a good starting off point. If you aren’t interested in ever getting pregnant or having a pregnant partner, you don’t need this book. But if you are, this is one of the easiest books out there about lesbian baby making.

Danika reviews Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

dirty-river

I feel completely unqualified to talk about this book. After reading (and falling in love with) Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book of poetry Bodymap, I knew I had to read her memoir. The things I loved about Bodymap are present in Dirty River as well: Piepzna-Samarasinha’s strong voice, her sharp and precise words, and the deep dive into disability, queerness, poverty, abuse, and survival. Although this is prose, it’s clearly written by a poet: the imagery and language are evocative and precise.

This is a story that lays it all out on the table. It’s vulnerable and resilient. She explores what it means to survive. What constitutes healing or “getting out”. Dirty River tackles a lot, but it’s accessible and engrossing. I don’t have the words to contain Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s writing. Pick it up. These are the stories that nourish.

Audrey reviews Ask a Queer Chick by Lindsay King-Miller

ask a queer chick

Obviously, it’s an advice book. Yes! It’s based on an advice column from the website the Hairpin. Ask a Queer Chick is in chapter format, not Q-and-A, so it’s nicely conversational, but it’s derived from a whole mess of questions from a whole phalanx of queer chicks (and not queer chicks) of varying degrees of queerness. One of the book’s challenges is finding its audience, as it’s not easily targeting the asker of one question, but a sea of readers, whose makeup, never mind experience, is unknown.

King-Miller confronts this challenge by making this more of an “I think I might be…so what do I do now?” type of book, and she includes lots of food for thought. It’s tough. She’s not selling this as the newbie manual that I should have gotten when my girl got yet another toaster, which is at the level of ally-moving-into-needing-to-know-practicalities, and she’s also not marketing this as relationship advice from a guru among the flock. This title will probably best fit those exploring a newly discovered or claimed identity. There’s a lot of self-empowerment, a lot of self-protection, and a lot of context.

There are some big strengths here. I love reading advice books, especially when the advice is heartfelt and real, and when the advice giver clearly cares for the welfare of her readers. That’s the case here. There are sections on coming out, queer subculture, queer sex, breaking up, discrimination, marriage, and looking at your life with an eye to making it amazing. One of the biggest strengths of the book is in chapter 6, “Bi Any Means Necessary: Notes on Non-Monosexuality.” Please, someone, correct me loudly on this if I’m wrong, but I found the book in general to be nonbinary-positive and affirming.
Ask a Queer Chick should be a good resource for a few different groups of readers. Those who are questioning, those who are allies, and those who simply want some support can all draw excellent stuff from this volume. Additionally, King-Miller notes right off that she’s a cisgender queer chick, so she’s not claiming to be an authority on trans issues; however, she still thinks for trans chicks whose “sexual and romantic compass (doesn’t point) dudeward,” there’s plenty of useful material herein.

Elinor reviews Gay and Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities by Jerome Pohlen

gayandlesbianhistoryforkids

There isn’t a lot of nonfiction for young readers out there about LGBTQ people or issues. For this reason alone, Gay and Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities stands out. With just over 150 pages, tons of beautiful photographs, and a century of gay history, there’s nothing else like it on the market for children. Public and school libraries should stock it and let interested readers learn about the context and story of gay activism in the United States. There is nothing overtly sexually in this book and nearly all the language is totally school-appropriate, so there is little for adults to object over, except for the folks who are upset about the spotlight on gay history itself. The book also lists resources so interested readers can find out more.

Is it something you should buy for the kids in your own life, though? That depends. I’m a middle school teacher and a former elementary teacher, and I received a copy of this book for my class library in exchange for an honest review. I currently work at a school in the Bay Area with an active gay-straight alliance and a handful of out teachers, including me. While I was very excited for this book and think it would be great for some kids, it has limitations.

The biggest of these is that the intended audience is more unclear than it seems on the surface. The reading level is advanced, at least upper elementary if not middle school, but the tone is clearly for children, not young teens. Teens and tweens who see themselves as mature or who already have some awareness of LGBTQ history and politics may find it patronizing. Many sections struck me (and some of my volunteer eighth grade readers) as talking down to the reader. This wouldn’t be as noticeable to, say, a third grader but the vocabulary and writing style is beyond that of most third graders. A child would likely find it frustrating to read unless they are a very fluent reader with a great vocabulary or they are reading it with an adult. The activities are all for students in elementary school, some of them best for students in early elementary grades. These activities don’t add much to the book either. Gay and Lesbian History for Kids would have had a wider audience with an easier reading level, without activities, with “young people” instead of “kids” in the title, and/or with a little more faith in its readers.

It’s noteworthy to me that the title and subtitle don’t really line up in this book, which is reflected in the book itself. Bisexuals don’t get mentioned very much. Trans people and trans rights get more attention, but huge chunks of trans history in the 20th century are absent. Even the lesbian history sections are condensed to the point that I felt important parts of the story were missing. Part of this is just that summing up a century in the space allotted means things will be left out. Yet as a history buff, and history teacher, I know that what we cut for space is often as telling as the history itself.

Similarly, the book briefly explores homosexuality and gender variance in ancient history in ways that didn’t read as balanced to me. Africa’s left out of the early history section entirely and Asia’s section mentions only a gay emperor in China and a gender flexible Hindu god/dess. In reality, pre-colonial queer and trans history around the globe is really interesting! Many homophobic laws and cultural influences in Asia, Africa and the Americas are leftovers from European imperialism and colonialism. It’s fascinating to look at how that lingers. In some places globally there’s never been a large scale gay rights movement because queerness is more culturally normalized, even if that normalization occurs in flawed ways. I wish, if pre-modern LGBTQ history were going to be mentioned in a global context, it had been explored more deeply. The rest of the book is about LGBT history mainly in North America and somewhat in Western Europe. The bits about Two-Spirit Native peoples are all in the past but not the present, and queer and trans people are discussed in ancient cultures when the modern descendants of those places are never mentioned in modern history sections of the book. The attempt a global multiculturalism feels more like spice than substance.

Along those same lines I wish this book took a more intersectional approach. A featured picture in the book shows the first Annual Reminder in 1965, with Frank Kameny holding a sign reading “Homosexual American Citizens–Our Last Oppressed National Minority.” A similar idea later popped up unchallenged in a Larry Kramer quote from the 1980s. But obviously when we look back at the 60’s or the 80’s or even when we look at the U.S. today, we can see racism, sexism, ableism and other forms of oppression had and have devastating effects on people, that homophobia isn’t necessarily “the worst,” and that trying to pick a “worst” oppression isn’t really the point. The fact that gay white men thought that gay people were the last or most oppressed minority strikes me as pretty clueless. The idea that it’s possible to experience oppression and privilege in a variety of intersecting ways isn’t presented at all. It is a complex idea, but a valuable framework for people who may be reading about activist history for the first time.

Despite all the criticism, I am really glad to have this for my classroom. I absolutely think it should be in libraries for young people. I don’t think it should be the only book on LGBTQ history available, and I hope future authors fill the gaps. If you’re thinking of buying this book for an individual child or teen you know, consider their reading level, age, and how much support they’ll get reading it. If you’re there to bridge the gap between the tone and the reading demands, and ready to provide information about what’s left out, go for it. If not, you might want to read it yourself before you decide if it’s really right for the young person you have in mind.

Danika reviews 100 Crushes by Elisha Lim

100crushes

100 Crushes is a collection of excerpts from different pieces that Elisha Lim has done over the years, including Sissy, The Illustrated Gentleman, Queer Child in the Eighties, and 100 Butches. Most of these works focus on queer people of colour, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was such a celebration of qpoc lives. There are interviews and short bios of “butches”, “sissies” and “sissy inspirations”, all with evocative illustrations.

Because these are just excerpts, it did feel disjointed at times, but that is the only complaint that I have. Having just a taste of these makes me want to dive into Elisha Lim’s back list in full. I love the range of queer experiences given voice in this collection, and it made me think about all the ways that we interpret our own gender and sexuality. I wish I had prints of some of these pages to hang on my walls. For anyone looking for more diverse representations in comics/graphic novels & memoirs, I definitely recommend giving 100 Crushes a try.

Audrey reviews Gay & Lesbian History for Kids by Jerome Pohlen

gayandlesbianhistoryforkids
The full title is, Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, With 21 Activities. We’ll get to the activities part. First, as this is a history and reference book for children, I want to break down my impressions.

Layout: Are kids going to want to read this? Is it attractive? It’s a manageably sized paperback in landscape format with a 4-color cover; good start. The interior isn’t 4-color, but it’s 2-color (magenta and black). There’s plenty of visual interest, and the text is broken up appropriately and attractively. Useful and relevant sidebars also add appeal.

Organization: Chronological. The first three chapters cover up until 1960 (chapter one is “a brief history to 1900”), and each decade thereafter gets its own chapter. The content is paced well. There are other important features to consider in children’s nonfiction, though. The table of contents is easy to read, and a two-page timeline follows, summarizing much of the content covered in the book. There’s a short, but well-chosen, resources section, and lots of notes, and wonder of wonders, a useful index, which I used at least twice. There’s also a short introduction featuring a scenario that’s wrapped up in the afterword. It pulls kids in, and later gives them a happy ending.

Content: The table of contents doesn’t give chapter subheadings to clue readers in to what’s going on within chapters; it lists only one title and what decades are covered and then gives page numbers for corresponding activities. So the timeline on the next page is very useful in getting an idea of what the book covers. The first event marked is the death of Sappho, and only a few dates later, we’re solidly in the 1900, ending a page and a half later in 2015 with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Pohlen explains that of necessity, well-documented LGBT history coverage started only within the 1900s, and although there’s much historical speculation, that’s all it is–speculation. The book is useful in providing some avenues and figures that may pique interest (Emily Dickinson, Katharine Lee Bates, Leonardo da Vinci), but doesn’t go into much detail. A small section about two-spirit people in the first chapter is particularly interesting.

The first chapter contains more of a world perspective, but once Pohlen gets down to it, it’s clear this is really the story of a century-long battle on the American front. And the story covers all the major bases one would expect and hope to find, and in clear and engaging prose. The content and writing are supposedly appropriate for ages 9 up, but I’m not sure many 9-year-olds would stick with it. Middle graders seem like a better audience, even given Pohlen’s penchant for inserting an exclamation point every now and then. Middle graders would also appreciate the non-busy layout for research purposes. If it’s weapons or flags or Legos, the busier the better (Dorling Kindersley!), but for research, straightforward and easy-to-follow books are greeted with relief. The activities are the only point of contention. More later. The book does contain content on Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts, but doesn’t go beyond four consonants, and most of the book is Gs and Ls.

Authoritativeness: Pohlen has already had a title on the VOYA Nonfiction Honor List, and the afterword makes clear this one is close to his heart. He’s the right guy to have written a book that’s factually correct and primarily neutral in tone–it’s curriculum-adoptable in terms of the basic text.

Entertainment factor: I struggle with this one. Kids don’t generally sit down with nonfiction for the fun of it. (I don’t, either, with some exceptions.) But this was really engaging material, and the age group that would probably be using this book tends to get fired up about injustice–they might take to it more strongly than predicted.

Activities: This is where the book did not work for me. I understand the concept of making history participatory, and “enlivening” it. But the material is already in capable hands. The tie-ins for some of the activities make sense (“Remember a loved one with a quilt panel”). Some are kind of cool (“The high five”). Kids can learn about designing a flag, or boycotting something, or reading banned books. But conducting an inkblot test or finding a constellation seem like they may be reaching. Many of the activities didn’t seem integrated. However, many were designed to help kids learn about methods of protest or of effecting positive social change, which seems to fit. Some are better than others. The boycott activity was phrased particularly effectively and seemed like it would go a long way toward starting excellent conversations.

Quibbles:
Photos on title page, table of contents pages, and timeline lack captions and credits./Photos all appear later in the book with captions and credits.
“Other rallies were held in cities like Cincinnati, Ohio, and Dallas.” Only two of these things jumped out at me in the whole book (the other was an affect/effect thing), but that’s still two too many for something I would use in a classroom.

Final thoughts: Well, isn’t this something! Great timing for a book of this nature, and something my library certainly has…none of. What about yours? I like this book and wish something like it had been around while I was growing up. This version, though it notes next steps that need to be taken and more progress to be made, ends on such a high note. Get it for the kids in your family and recommend it to your local library, as there is a paucity of books on this subject for this audience, and this is actually a very nice title.