Carmella reviews Love Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Love Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors growing up. Something about her battalions of weird, bookish, tomboy protagonists and their intense friendships with other girls really appealed to me.

Looking back on her extensive oeuvre as a fully-realised lesbian adult, I began to see what that connection may have been, and I always wished that Wilson had written an explicitly sapphic character somewhere in her over-100-book career. Then came the news, earlier this year, that not only was Wilson finally going to write a book about two girls falling in love… but that she herself was in a long-term relationship with another woman! I was delighted (to say the least), and couldn’t wait to get my hands on Love Frankie.

When explaining why she hasn’t written a gay protagonist before, Jacqueline Wilson said that she writes about children with problems, and she doesn’t see “any problem whatsoever with being gay”. This is true for Love Frankie, where the protagonist’s sexuality isn’t nearly as big a deal as everything else going on in her life.

Frankie is nearly fourteen, and having a rough time of it. Her mum is chronically ill with MS, finances are tight, she’s worried about her two sisters, and their dad’s no help: he’s left them to live with his new girlfriend. Even her best friend Sammy is a source of stress now he’s decided he wants to be her boyfriend.

Wilson is always strong at writing touching, troubled families. Frankie’s dynamic with her mum and sisters is so warm and true to life. I particularly liked the youngest sister, Rowena, with her obsession for collecting Sylvanian Families – I remember a lot of children like that from my own school years! The issues of illness and divorce are treated sensitively and carefully pitched towards younger readers.

Outside of her fraught home life, Frankie’s being picked on by a group of girls at school. But then their ringleader – the pretty, cool, wealthy Sally – turns out to be not-that-bad-actually and goes from sworn enemy to close friend.

As Jacqueline Wilson novels go, so far, so typical. Then Frankie starts to like Sally as more than a friend.

This central relationship rings true as an account of first love – exciting, intense, giddy, and confusing. However, Sally isn’t particularly likeable as a love interest. She’s hot-and-cold, teasing, and sometimes cruel. I would ask what Frankie sees in her, but who hasn’t had a crush on a popular ‘mean girl’ before?

Although I enjoyed reading this novel as an adult, I know that I would have loved it as a younger teen. I’m so pleased for all the girls who will get to read this at the same age as Frankie and see themselves reflected in the pages.

Sheila Laroque reviews The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

I couldn’t believe that this novel, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, was a debut work! It was so poetic and lyrically written, and Petrus painted such a vibrant picture into the lives of Audre and Mabel. This story has two primary voices: Audre, a teen from Trinidad who is now living in Minneapolis, and Mabel, who quickly takes to showing Audre what being in an American high school is like.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons, but particularly by learning more about Trinidad through the eyes of Audre, as well as what she misses about home. I’m not very familiar with Trinidadian culture in my personal life; and I always appreciate it when books are written in a way that allows me to learn without feeling condescending or just out of place with the rest of the work.

This is a young adult romance that is written in a way that acknowledges the complexity and emotional depth that people in their teens have. It can be seen as a beautiful time to be experiencing all of the intricacies of love and dating, and this book is a beautiful experience to read. There are other elements of racial justice that fit in very well to the current political climate. I will definitely look for upcoming releases from Juanada Petrus.

Rachel reviews Country Girl, City Girl by Lisa Jahn-Clough

country girl city girl lisa haun clough

Over the years, lesbian novels have become readily available for people of all ages, including teenagers and young adults. Because each age group varies, the subject of homosexuality is handled in different ways for the targeted audience. One book I’d suggest to girls in their teens just realizing their sexuality would be Country Girl, City Girl by Lisa Jahn-Clough.

Thirteen-year-old Phoebe Sharp lives with her father and brother on their farm in Maine. It is the beginning of summer, and Phoebe’s vision of a quiet break from school is ruined when her father announces that Melita Forester, the daughter of a family friend, is coming to stay with them while her mother receives treatment at a clinic. Melita arrives from New York City with a hard attitude, instantly irritating Phoebe. After an initial period of distrust the girls find themselves confiding in each other, and despite their personality clashes they become friends just like their mothers had. Phoebe grows deeply fond of Melita, and feels the first stirrings of attraction. She begins to realize that she may be in love with her best friend, but it’s not clear to her if Melita feels the same way.

This novel by Lisa Jahn-Clough accurately depicts the budding sexuality of a young girl. All through the book Phoebe’s feelings for Melita become more and more apparent until she finally must acknowledge it to herself. One of the most interesting aspects of the book was that although Phoebe knew she loved Melita, she never once had a coming out moment to herself. She was in love and that was all that mattered. The only negative feelings she had toward her lesbianism was her fear of ruining her friendship with Melita. In fact throughout the entire novel the words “homosexual”, “lesbian”, and “gay” are never used once. I found that brilliant on the author’s part. She was able to convey Phoebe’s growing love for another female without putting a label on it.

Jahn-Clough also gives insight into both Melita and Phoebe’s lives. The novel begins at the Sharp’s farm, and later on in New York City. Both girls struggle to fit in at each other’s respective homes, and each have the feeling of being the “outsider” at some point. In time, Melita learns that Phoebe has no memory of her late mother, while Phoebe hears Melita’s stories of moving place to place, never being able to settle down and make friends. They are willing to help each other through tough times, their bond becoming stronger and stronger as they do.

The supporting characters in the story like the two leads have their own distinct personalities and struggles. One of these is Mr. Sharp, Phoebe’s gentle but strict father who is grieving over his wife’s death, and despite the years that have passed the pain is so deep that he can’t talk about her. This is frustrating for Phoebe, as she wants to learn more about her mother. One of the best characters is Gerelyn, Melita’s mother. A celebrated actress, Gerelyn juggles the responsibilities of working and raising her daughter alone. Though her intentions are good she has too often thrown herself into her acting and not spent enough time with Melita. Her hectic lifestyle and emotional exhaustion causes her to make some poor decisions. When Gerelyn is released from the clinic, she has to accept that her daughter is still hurt and resentful of her. But she is willing to acknowledge her own shortcomings in order to be a better mother.

Country Girl, City Girl handles lesbian love and friendship with great sensitivity as well as other important subject matters, making this one of the more touching books in LGBT fiction.

Megan Casey reviews Death Wore a Diadem by Iona McGregor

 

deathworeadiadem

Christabel MacKenzie is a 17-year-old student attending the Scottish Institute for the Education of the Daughters of Gentlefolk in Edinburgh. Like most of the students there, Christabel’s  family is well to do. In fact, her aunt is a friend of the Empress Eugenie of France. It is when the Empress decides to visit Edinburgh—and the Institute—that bad things start to happen. First, a replica of the Empress’ jeweled diadem goes missing, then a servant girl is pushed down a flight of stairs after a tryst with her paramour.

Christabel, concerned about both the theft and the murder, begins to ask questions. She is helped by Eleanor Stewart, her botany tutor at the Institute. But they are more than just student and tutor. Christabel has a terrific crush on Eleanor—only a year her senior—that is fully reciprocated. So when Christabel deliberately makes bad scores on her science tests, Eleanor is given permission to give her private lessons at Christabel’s home.  This comes in handy because it gives the two young women not only time alone together, but the freedom to investigate both inside and outside the school.

This is a rather delicious book that deserves way more attention and more reviews than it has garnered thus far. Its publication date—1989—shows it to be far ahead of its tune. The relationship between Christabel and Eleanor is very believable and touching. Although their intimacies are limited to quick kisses and phrases like “They put their arms around each other and one thing led to another,” we do believe in their love for each other and are rooting for them all the way.

In the process of the novel, the author goes into some detail about the Institute, which was one of the first to provide more than a cursory, parlor education for girls. We learn that not only was this unusual, but it was mostly frowned upon. Senior instructors had to have college degrees, which most women didn’t have at the time so that only men taught the higher levers of study. And Eleanor’s passion to become a full-fledged doctor is treated with derision by the male doctors she comes in contact with. The intricacies of the Institute are well set up, as are the plot and the resolution of the mystery. I especially liked the author’s rendering of Scottish dialect.

This is the first Young Adult lesbian mystery I have come across. In fact, it may be the only YA lesbian mystery, although I would very much like to read others.

Give it a thumb’s up with every hand you have. In an interview, the author states that she began a sequel, but never finished it. Pity.

For other reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Amanda Clay reviews About a Girl by Sarah McCarry

aboutagirl

There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.

Tally is a girl who knows a lot about heaven. She knows a lot about a lot of things and she doesn’t care who knows it. She has her future mapped out: a degree in physics, then a career in astronomy, observing the heavens through a telescope’s lens.  Her adoptive family and her best friend Shane are behind her all the way, but the summer after graduation her life takes on a life of its own.  A night of unexpected passion with Shane is followed by excruciating silence. Disappointed and embarrassed, Tally seizes on the sudden opportunity to leave New York for Washington state in pursuit of a reclusive singer who may or may not be her father. She meets the man, but he offers no answers. Nor can anyone explain the peculiarities of the island: the crows that follow Tally around, the mysteriously hypnotic singers in the local bar, the way that Tally can’t keep ahold of her memories, why she’s even thenre. More importantly, she meets beautiful, mysterious Maddy, and before too long the two of them are wrapped up in each other as time slips away. But Maddy, like everyone on the island, like the island itself, isn’t what she seems. Learning the truth about her sets off a chain of revelations about who Tally is and where she comes from.

This book was an interesting experience, though I feel the need to preface this paragraph with a major spoilers alert. Consider yourself warned!  When I learned about this book I was eager to read it and dove into my copy, gobbling it up in just a few days.  What I did NOT know is that it was the third book in a trilogy, a trilogy called the Metamorphosis Trilogy, which when I learned that, cleared up a lot of my questions.  The story is very good—gorgeously written and full of rich, round characters. Tally is smart and funny and flawed, very relatable and easy to root for. Maddie is brooding and sexy and their whirlwind romance is both sweet and hot.  HOWEVER, I was entirely unprepared for the sudden, radical, incredibly supernatural turn the story took after Tally arrived in Washington.  As they mystery built, the little magical things didn’t seem out of place. Her forgetfulness and the chummy crow just seemed like texture for Tally’s journey. When we progressed to the hypnotic song of the bar-band sirens I frowned a bit at the overkill, so by the time Tally walks across the moon-path to visit her mom in Hades I was full on ‘What the hell is going on in this book?!” This is my fault for not doing my research on the author, but I also think that picking up an interesting title without knowing of another context is not that unusual (my copy had nothing on the cover to inform me otherwise). While I still recommend the book wholeheartedly, my opinion improved only after learning of the rest of the trilogy.

Amanda Clay reviews Femme by Mette Bach

 

femme

Knowledge is power. Sofie, however, has always felt pretty powerless, at least when it comes to academics. She enjoys school—playing soccer and hanging out with her cute, popular boyfriend Paul. And even though she and her single mom don’t have a lot of extra money, their home is loving and stable. But now, close to graduation, she realizes that her world is changing. The time she spends with Paul isn’t what it used to be, and her mother is beginning to pressure her about the future. When Sofie gets paired with her high school’s star student Clea, she is sure this is the final straw. Until she realizes something else. Clea’s the only out lesbian at school, and once she and Sofie start working together, Sofie begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself, what she’s capable of, and what she might become. A road trip with Clea to scout potential universities kicks off an avalanche of self-discovery, one which sweeps away her old life and just about everyone in it.

I wanted to like Femme, and while I didn’t actually hate it, I was unable to muster much feeling one way or the other.  It’s a hi/lo title (high interest, low reading level) but that classification doesn’t mean that the book must be shallow and simplistic. Unfortunately, Femme is just that. Everything happens too quickly, too easily. Time zooms along. On one page it’s Christmas, on the next page it’s months later with no inkling of anything that might have occurred in the interim. Character development seems limited to a few signifiers: Clea is a good student!  Sofie is a foodie (who never really talks about food or cooks anything after declaring herself a foodie)!  Paul is handsome and popular! Along we cruise towards the predictable end of the story. Coming out stories still have their place in LGBT lit, but it is not unfair to expect more from them these days than mere self-discovery. Sofie’s story offers nothing more than that, and even the self-discovery is as insubstantial as every other aspect of the book. It seems like Sofie comes out because the author decided to write a story about a girl coming out. No stress, no struggle, just another plot point and on we go.

The world needs stories. We especially need lesbian stories, lesbian stories of butch women, women of color and size and age, stories of self-discovery and first love. We need all of this, and while Femme tries hard to deliver, ultimately I believe we can do better.

Rachel reviews Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash

Anyone into lesbians living in a fantasy/medieval world should pick up this Cinderella retelling, Ash by Malinda Lo. Having read it twice, I’m very impressed with the details and the culture of this beautiful novel.

In a fantasy world, young Aisling “Ash” has lost her mother. Before she can properly grieve, her father leaves on a business trip…and returns with Ash’s new stepmother and two stepsisters. Her father takes ill soon after and dies, leaving Ash’s stepmother, Lady Isobel, in charge. Ash is uprooted from her childhood house and forced to be her stepmother’s servant. Treated badly by Isobel, Ash turns to her book of fairy tales, and soon meets a real fairy: Sidhean. As Ash grows up, she and Sidhean share an understanding, though Ash is not allowed to question him about where he lives. By the time she is eighteen, Sidhean reveals that he wants Ash to be his. Tired of being Isobel’s slave, Ash is ready to agree. But then she runs into Kaisa, the king’s new huntress, and the two become fast friends. Slowly, Ash’s feelings for Kaisa turn into a deep love. Torn between her potentially dangerous promises to Sidhean, and her love for Kaisa, Ash must make her choice about who she wants to be with.

Ash takes a whole new twist to the classic fairytale in an interesting way. There are elements of the old tale, such as the prince looking for a bride, and the evil-stepmother scenario. But it’s refreshing that Ash has no romantic interests in the prince, and instead loves the huntress.

Fairies are a very important part of the novel. Sidhean is the one we see the most, but the book provides glimpses of more. But unlike the real Cinderella story, the fairies in Ash are much darker in personality. They are known to lure humans into their circles, and to be deadly about keeping their secrets. Sidhean is one of the more lenient fairies, but even he seemed temperamental and rude at times.

The story itself is descriptive of Ash’s culture and the world she lives in. Lo clearly paints the settings around Ash: from the Wood where the fairies live, to the palace’s lavish parties. I really got to know Ash, the beliefs she grew up with, and her plight. The author even showed some examples of the fairy tales Ash grew up with, providing an even clearer idea of how important magic was to her culture. This added to the story, in my opinion.

Homosexuality in Ash is portrayed in a good light. Most people in the story expected Ash to fall in love with a man, but the ones who knew about her loving Kaisa didn’t seem unsettled or disturbed by the idea of her loving another woman at all. And one fairy tale in Ash’s book was about female/female love, so I got the impression that homosexuality was generally accepted, even if people didn’t think about it much. Ash feels no shame with Kaisa because of their gender, and vice versa. The typical agonizing questions “Why am I gay?” and “Can I change?” are not an issue in this book because the culture is so accepting. To people like Ash, there was no problem with their sexuality at all. This was quite refreshing, to get a glimpse of a more understanding world.

All in all, Ash is an enjoyable read. It’s easy to get lost in the story as you root for Ash and the choices she must make to secure her own future. A wonderfully descriptive novel, this book should be a classic; not because of its ties to Cinderella, but because of its own merits.

Audrey reviews Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash

Oh, wow! I’ve finally gotten to my first Malinda Lo book. It will not be the last. Ash is a retelling of Cinderella. It’s twisty, it has a fair amount of the fair folk, and it has some great love interests. It’s also one of those books I knew would already have been reviewed a couple times here. I looked at Katie Raynes’ review and appreciated her take on the story’s roots in the wild hunt, and in Lo’s vivid evocation of landscape. Laura Mandanas’ review focuses more on relationships and a little gender theory. What can I add or emphasize? I was surprised that this was a retelling of Cinderella where the prince isn’t even really a thing. He’s barely a plot device (and a sulky, sullen one at that).

One of the lovely things about this book is that it fully realizes the progression of Ash’s journey from beloved daughter to maligned stepchild. Too often, this feels rushed or glossed over, and hence unbelievable, but I could buy this. Another lovely thing is that we as readers actually get a sense of Ash’s mother as a character, and the mother is an integral character even after her death. Her influence is woven into the plot. There: The prince doesn’t matter, the dead mother does.

In this homophobia-free world, homosexuality is like being left-handed. Perfectly natural, but generally, people aren’t. Ash’s slow realization of her attraction to Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, is all the more lovely for being tinged with nothing but wonder and curiosity. Meanwhile, although the sulky human prince isn’t a contender, Ash is indeed attached to a prince. He’s a brittle, glittery Jareth who takes the word “glamorous” back to its original meaning. Old, old magic against real, young love: so there’s the excellent internal conflict against a backdrop of a fabulous world, and in living conditions that are fairly awful (though not all of the stepfamily is painted with the same broad strokes).

On a final note, the fun factor of this book was through the roof. It was tremendously enjoyable. If it’s been on your long list, maybe bump it up?

Literary LesBian Starter Kit: LesBian Teen Edition

Not this field guide.

This guide is not enough.

I’ve always thought that coming out should be received with, at the least, a gift basket. We’re inundated with straight cis norms, culture, history, and media from birth, but finding the queer equivalents takes some searching, and it can be daunting without a field guide. As anyone who has gone searching for lesbian movies  So this gift basket would provide the basics: a couple choice movies (I vote DEBS, I Can’t Think Straight, and Saving Face, personally), a few key books, some business cards to point you to the right websites, brochures for local queer resources, and a handful of fun paraphernalia. Maybe a t-shirt. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there would need to be different variations depending on the person coming out, even just where the books were concerned. Is this a teenage bibliophile who’s newly out, or one that’s not much of a reader? Or are they in their twenties? Forties or up? Each would require a different set of information. But all the books would have to drive home two crucial points:

  1. Being queer isn’t a sentence to misery. No unhappy endings, at least not at the stage of the game. (The Well of Loneliness is off the table.)
  2. LesBian* books can be just as good as straight ones. Just as literary, just as funny, just as romantic, just as enjoyable.

So here’s my vote for the top five books I would give a newly out teenage lesBian. the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final

1) The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth. This is my favourite lesBian teen book, and though arguably it may be darker than point #1 would advise (it begins with Cam’s parents’ deaths, and part of the book is set in a “conversion therapy” aka “pray away the gay” camp), it is also complex, beautiful, and honest. It’s one of my favourite books I’ve ever read, so I had to give it a place here.

Rubyfruit2) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. This was the book that sent me on my own lesBian literary journey. It was written in the 70s and follows Molly through her adolescence. What I loved about this book was Molly’s strength as a character, her complete unapologetic truth. This is often considered part of the lesBian book “canon,” and it’s nice to have a taste of lesBian literary history.

It has less scandalous covers, too.

3) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. Sarah Waters is my favourite author, and this is her first work. It’s a “lesbo-Victorian romp” which follows the main character, Nan, on a queer and twisting journey. It reveals all sorts of lesBian lives in the Victorian era, and it’s just so much fun to read. Despite Nan going through a lot of difficult things, Tipping the Velvet has such joy in it (which is why I’m recommending it over Fingersmith, which is also excellent). Lo_Adaptation_HC_600x900

4) Adaptation by Malinda Lo. I’ve raved about how much I love this duology plenty of times on the Lesbrary, but I think this is a great addition because it shows that not only can lesBian books be literary and moving, they can also be exciting! Adaptation is a great pick for dystopian fans, and it has a lot of action, but it also has some great progressive ideas that would have been game-changing for me as a teen.

Kissing the Witch   Ash   StartingFromHere   justgirls

5) And to be honest, the fifth book would depend on the person. Really, I’m desperately looking for the lesBian equivalent of Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, because that book is the kind of cotton candy, rosy vision of queer adolescence that can be so comforting when you first come out. But failing that, I would tailor this last one to their interests. Fairy tale fan? Ash by Malinda Lo or Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue. Vampire lover? The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez. Video game fan? Just Girls by Rachel Gold. Zombie enthusiast? Eat Your Heart Out by Dayna Ingram. Like a tearjerker? Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow. There are too many options.

What would your top five books be to give to a newly out teen lesBian? I still haven’t found the perfect fifth book to complement the others. I also see that this list is more white than I would like, so I’d especially like suggestions for PoC lesBian books.

*I’m using lesBian to signify lesbian and bi women.

Audrey reviews Desire Lines by Jack Gantos

desirelines

Desire Lines is a slim little outlier volume from Jack Gantos. He’s known for his Joey Pigza middle-grade novels and his quasi-autobiographical middle-to-teen novels, and even for his early readers starring Rotten Ralph. Desire Lines falls into the Lesser-Known Gantos bucket, which also includes Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, which is to Jack Gantos as Tideland is to Terry Gilliam. Having been unsettled by the Rumbaughs, I was apprehensive about Desire Lines, but it’s a straightforward endeavor. Powerful, but straightforward.

Walker is a high school student in Florida, kind of a loner. His personal sanctuary is a local golf course, and it has been invaded by two of his classmates, who are using the place to carry on an affair. And…they’re two female classmates. So he keeps their secret. And he shows up to watch on a regular basis, convincing himself that doing so is justifiable. He’s being respectful, and all.

Enter the preacher’s kid from the new church in town. Okay: If you have not grown up in Florida, you may not be familiar with the Bible Belt mindset that permeates much of its culture. Florida itself has a sizeable streak of weird that Gantos picks up on, but the worst parts of Florida are concentrated in this character, whose sole purpose is to conduct a witch hunt, and then move on to the next town. And Walker, who is generally a live-and-let-live (especially-if-I-can-watch) kind of guy, is somehow targeted. Do we see where this is going? There are no happy endings, there are no easy outs.

Walker falls in with a group of boys who are just awful humans, and they’re not painted as anything out of the ordinary. The classmates having the affair, Karen and Jennifer, aren’t particularly saintly or kind. They’re just high school kids. They behave thoughtlessly and speak cruelly and act selfishly. And when Walker has to make difficult decisions, under significant peer pressure, he uses the girls’ absolutely normal high school behavior to justify his ultimate choice.

The paperback I have was published in 2006, but this book’s original copyright was 1997. I would not be excited about being an out lesbian in Florida in 2015, never mind 2006, never mind 1997. As a Gantos fan, I was interested to read this book because I had no idea he’d written anything with any gay content. Walker’s clear self-analysis was not a surprise, and neither was the ugly, real and human behavior of the other boys. There really aren’t any female characters other than Karen and Jennifer. They aren’t even particularly well-developed characters. That’s not the point. It’s not about them. The book is a streamlined morality tale, a painful study of human behavior as it cuts across the ages, and it’s well done. Homosexuality is used here as a plot device only to denote Otherness and to set up a moral dilemma which can’t end without tragedy. Recommended for Gantos fans, those teaching middle-grade novels, and anyone interested in reading about how slightly introspective teenage boys navigate the development of morality. So—limited audience. But those who try it will find it a quick read that won’t be quickly forgotten.