Danielle Ferriola reviews Kicked Out edited by Sassafras Lowrey


“When I was kicked out for the final time at seventeen, the first thing I did –after finding somewhere to sleep for a few days –was to go to the library. I scanned each spine and in desperation began pulling books off the shelves, running fingers over tables of contents and skimming introductions. This was the first time a library had failed me. I needed a book about how to live through this more than I needed to know I had somewhere to stay, to know I had a way to get to school or to know what I would have for dinner. I needed a book to prove to me that survival was possible” (pp. 13-14).

Sassafras Lowrey begins Kicked Out by emphasizing how necessary it is to have stories of survival and hope for LGBTQ homeless youth. Kicked Out does just that. Intertwined with deeply emotional stories and notes from US organizations that dedicate themselves to assisting queer and transgender youth, this anthology delivers a sincere message of hope. What I really appreciate about Lowrey’s selection of stories is the realness of every individual; each story is heartbreakingly honest and unique. There are a variety of voices represented in Kicked Out from a multitude of racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds that provides a wide array of experiences for readers. Another driving theme in the youths’ stories was the formation of a new family, an extended family that really understood what the youth were dealing with. These families were formed by fellow LGBTQ youth on the street, mentors in their lives, and people outside of their given family who caringly opened up their home.

It took me a long time to read Kicked Out. I wanted the stories to sink themselves into my skin and not be dismissing thoughts. This anthology deserves to be read in time and celebrated for the strengths of the individuals to make it through. Not everyone is lucky –friends have been lost along the way and some families have never accepted their children. As I finished Kicked Out, I carry with me the urgency for families to lovingly accept their children regardless of their sexual or gender identity, the need for more funding and training for all homeless shelters to adequately care for LGBTQ youth, and for communities and systems of power to take action in ending homelessness.

Danielle Ferriola reviews The Breaking Point by Catrina Wolfe


Unable to escape the incessant bullying Jodi faces at school and online, she feels taking her life is the only way out. Jodi’s mother finds her in the nick of time but the damage is already done. The color that once illuminated Jodi is now a seemingly permanent gray. Jodi’s parents decide moving to a new town would be best for Jodi. Their real estate agent, Amy, takes a particular interest in Jodi’s condition and is determined to help her find happiness again. Amy convinces her wife Carsen to spend time with Jodi once a week and share her experiences growing up as she was too a target of bullying at school.

There are a number of themes and unfortunate realities throughout Catrina Wolfe’s The Breaking Point that many children and teenagers who identify as non-heterosexual encounter in their daily lives. Carsen was a foster child and often feared that her foster parents would kick her out if they discovered she is a lesbian. For many foster children who have lived in numerous homes and struggled with feeling loved, being LGBTQ on top of the constant instability of the home environment can be difficult to manage. Carsen was lucky to have supportive teachers, coaches, and a principal at her high school so the bullies were appropriately reprimanded. Unfortunately, not all schools have staff that intervenes in bullying situations. In Jodi’s case, she did not feel comfortable approaching the principal as he did nothing in the past to protect her against the abusive behavior of her peers. Schools are supposed to be safe environments for children to learn and thrive. Since the rise of social media, people are now taking their insulting words and actions to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There is no place to flee from harassment. Reading The Breaking Point is an important reminder to academic institutions to include discussions about diverse sexual orientation in their lessons to children. By ignoring LGBT lifestyles, teachers (whether intentional or not) reinforce the notion that anyone other than straight is not normal. A lot of bullying could be prevented if schools took a proactive stance in educating students that there is more than one way to love.

I love that Wolfe alternated narratives between Jodi, Carsen, and Amy.  I appreciate seeing how each character perceives a situation to be and how they are affected by one another’s stories. There is a bond that developed between Carsen and Jodi that proved to be a strong factor in Jodi’s recovery. I found myself in tears at the end of book, as Jodi ultimately carried through with her plans. The Breaking Point is an emotional read that is relevant to anyone who is having or had a difficult time growing up. No one should ever be subjected to such awful bullying and feel like there is no one that cares about them. I encourage anyone who reads this and is having suicidal thoughts or knows someone who might be struggling to reach out to friends, family, teachers, or suicide prevention hotlines (List of hotlines around the world: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html).  Everyone’s life is worth it.

Danielle Ferriola reviews Emlyn and the Gremlin by Steff F. Kneff and illustrated by Luke Spooner


Upon discovering rummaged jewelry boxes and messes young Emlyn knows she did not create, Emlyn confronts her two mothers about the probability of a mysterious gremlin sneaking into her bedroom at night. Determined to find out which creature was indeed responsible for displacing shiny items in her room, Emlyn disregards her mothers’ claims that no such gremlin exists and plans a trap to catch the little gremlin. A wonderfully colorful and fun read for children and parents alike, Emlyn and the Gremlin, written by Steff F. Kneff and illustrated by Luke Spooner, is a bed side must have for your children’s sleepless nights.

Emlyn and the Gremlin encourages children to not judge a book by its cover. Prior to meeting the gremlin, Emlyn assumes this creature is a troublemaker. After exchanging a few words with the gremlin, Emlyn realizes that the gremlin does not mean any harm and is enamored by glittering jewels as she does not see such gems where she lives underground.

Even with the wide variety of children’s books available on the market, it is rare to find stories featuring two mothers. It is refreshing that while the sexuality of the mothers remains in the background, readers are sweetly reminded that lesbian parents are just as normal and wholesome as traditional families with a mother and a father. Every opportunity to further educate and illustrate the notion that all families are special (and quite similar in parenting approaches) is guaranteed to inspire more individuals to accept one another. Emlyn and the Gremlin should be available in both school and community library settings as well. Children learn a lot about themselves and each other in school. Unfortunately, this is also a breeding ground for teasing and bullying those who are looked at as different. While we all come from diverse backgrounds and are taught different values at home, school is an opportunity for children to develop their own thoughts and to enlighten their parents on issues that they might have been taught wrongfully. One of the main reasons why people are hateful towards others is the lack of understanding of a particular characteristic or behavior another person possesses. By providing material that acknowledges nontraditional families, the door is open for positive communication.

With delightful rhymes and brilliant pictures, Emlyn and the Gremlin is absolutely enjoyable. Looking forward to what Kneff and Spooner will come up with in the next installment of Emlyn and the Gremlin and the Mean Old Cat, available for purchase December 2014!

Danielle Ferriola reviews Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh


Goosebumps formed on my skin the moment I began reading Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh. Aesthetically pleasing and beautifully written, Maroh immediately captured my attention and my heart. The story begins with Emma reading diary entries written by her love, Clementine. Although Clementine has passed, her memories are very much alive. Clementine was 16 years old when her life had changed. On one particular day, headed to a date with a boy from school, she caught sight of a young woman with blue hair. This image remained vivid in her mind for many days to come.

Clementine’s heart raced every time she saw something blue, with anxious hope she might see this woman again. Never having experienced such strong feelings for women, Clementine did not know what was happening to her. As a result, she struggled with accepting herself for a considerable time. Her parents referred to homosexuality as wrong which likely contributed to Clementine’s conflicted view of herself. Suppressing one’s true nature does not make the situation go away; quite often denial leads to negative feelings and further upset. This story is relatable to anyone who has had a difficult time coming to terms with who they are –unfortunately, we live in a society that is very heteronormative and many parents are not appreciative of their children expressing non-heterosexual tendencies. Even more so, fellow students are not always open to diverse sexual identities, especially in middle and high school settings. Friends Clementine thought she could count on did not want to associate with her anymore once they had suspicion she was a lesbian.

As Clementine felt more comfortable with her newfound self, her life became full of color. Her path crossed with the mysterious woman with blue hair and she became excited about the world again. As it turns out, Emma would play a very significant role in Clementine’s life. As the title so mentions, blue really does become the warmest color for Clementine. It is amazing how we as readers can feel such empathy in response to Clementine’s feelings –almost as if we were a part of the story, experiencing love for the first time with her. Blue is the Warmest Color is a must-have for any personal library as the graphic novel can easily be appreciated in one sitting and feel just as moving each time it is read.

I watched Blue is the Warmest Color a few months ago, very excited that a foreign lesbian-protagonist centered film hit mainstream media. After finishing the movie, I discovered that the story was inspired by the graphic novel, which was originally printed in 2010 in French. Thrilled that Maroh has since published an English version of Blue is the Warmest Color; I had made it my mission to find the book. Kept by my bedside for convenient reading, Blue is the Warmest Color has become my favorite graphic novel.

Danielle Ferriola reviews Hood by Emma Donoghue


Hood is not your light reading on the beach, rather a long sitting in bed with a box of tissues and a warm blanket. Emma Donoghue writes a tragically beautiful story about two women who shared a special kind of love –a love that many might not agree with. Pen O’Grady and Cara Wall have spent well over a decade together in conservative Dublin, Ireland, their love expressed only behind closed doors. Cara enjoyed pursuing men and women outside of her relationship with Pen; on one particular trip, she never made it back home due to a fatal car accident. Pen got the painful news on a Sunday evening while at home with Cara’s father in 1992. Pen is left numb as she cannot express her true reactions in the public or to family members due to their secret relationship and society’s disapproval of homosexuality.

Throughout the span of one week, we follow Pen as she tries to cope with the passing of her long-time lover. Donoghue paints an in depth picture of deep loss and profound realizations intertwined with moments of simple comedic relief. Flashbacks of their times together, both the wonderful memories and numerous breakups, help us understand the complexities of Pen and Cara’s romance. Although Pen and Cara had an agreement that they were not monogamous, Pen was always faithful to Cara, at least in the physical sense. I think Pen would have preferred their relationship to be more contained; however, her unyielding love for Cara made their arrangement more bearable.

I am glad that I embraced Hood with an open mind and undivided attention. The story is quite relatable, not only in the aspect of losing a loved one whether it’d be due to a relationship coming to an end or in unforeseeable circumstances, but also dealing with the fear of people not accepting your sexuality. Quite often that fear that keeps us in the closet to shelter us from negative reactions does just the opposite. We become lonelier and find it hard to develop close relationships if we are not fully honest with who we are. Pen is a prime example of this phenomenon as she could not call her mother on the phone following Cara’s passing and share her heartbreak with her.

One particular thought by Pen struck me as unfair in that if Cara was her husband, she would have been given two weeks off of work to grieve the loss of her partner. Regrettably, we live in a heteronormative world; it is heartbreakingly unjust that the love of two women is not appreciated in the same light by many individuals. Pen’s place of work, an Irish convent school for teenagers, upholds traditional views of the Catholic religion and perhaps she would have lost her teaching position if she had revealed her true identity. It is sad that she could not have more time to deal with her loss.

Stories revolving around the death of a loved one gone before their time remind us to treasure our lives and appreciate the moments we share with others. I wonder if Cara and Pen knew their time would be limited with one another, if they would have been open with their family about their partnership. Towards the end of Pen’s difficult week, we left on a hopeful note that things might be okay.

Hood is my second read by Emma Donoghue. I read Room a couple years ago and it remains one of my favorite books to this day. Donoghue has this incredible gift of holding the readers’ heart hostage as we immerse ourselves inside the intricate minds of her characters.