Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Freaks and Revelations by Davida Willis Hurwin

Freaks and Revelations – What a book. Seriously. This sat on my shelf for a really long time, I’m not sure why. Maybe I wasn’t ready to read it, maybe I was a little scared, the subject matter is super intense, and even more than that, it’s based on a true story. Hurwin tells the story of two boys, Jason who is 13 and Doug who is 17, whose very different lives are on a collision course towards each other, tragedy and inevitably growth. Jason is a gay hustler in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He didn’t choose this life, it was thrust upon him after his mother kicked him out for being gay. Doug is unhappy with his life and his family, and is slowly sinking into the depths of drugs, punk music and white supremacy. (the ultimate trio!) The majority of the book chronicles the two years of their lives before they meet. And that meeting is what changes their lives forever.
I don't want to give away to much, but the book flap, as well as the amazon.com review, both describe the event as a hate crime or a gay bashing. So basically Doug gay bashes Jason to within an inch of his life, and both are traumatized. The amazing part is what happens when they meet up again, twenty years later. And the amazing thing about it is that it's true! It really happened! Hurwin takes some liberties with the storytelling aspect, and the narrative portions of the two years leading up to the event are all fiction, but the events are true and here are some links describing the history.


I think it is pretty amazing that two such differing people are able to learn from their history and in Doug's case, mistakes, and come together to teach others about hate and intolerance, as well as love and acceptance. I also think it is amazing that Hurwin turned this into a ya novel, it is such an important aspect of LGBT history, and a wonderful story to tell, and Hurwin tells it extremely well. Her dialogue, is sharp, witty and heartbreaking, especially Jason's, who is forced to claim a persona of a someone much older and street-wise. And she manages to imbue in Doug enough sadness and tragedy so that the reader feels connected to him, and although his actions were awful and hateful, is able to feel happiness at his ultimate redemption. This is a wonderful book and I recommend it to anyone who likes stories about love, friendship, hate, betrayal, redemption, as well is readers interested in the history of punk and the LGBT struggle.

Friday, August 20, 2010

This sucks

So Ellen Hopkins has been banned again. This time from a Teen book festival in Texas. Here is a link to her discussion on livejournal: http://ellenhopkins.livejournal.com/11666.html. In response to this, Pete Hautman and number of YA authors have dropped out of the festival in protest. http://petehautman.blogspot.com/2010/08/nasty-thing-in-corner.html Hopkin's novels, written in verse, deal with very serious topics including drug addiction, teenage prostitution, suicide and sexual abuse. She doesn't beat around the bush and her novels are raw and intense. It is understandable that some people might be offended by these topics, which is fine, they don't have to read them. But when the put their personal views upon the general population, specifically the teenage audience, they are doing an extreme disservice to readers everywhere. Two things really upset me about this.
1) The initial complainer was a librarian. Librarians are supposed to support free speech, intellectual freedom, and are under no circumstances supposed to encourage banning books. WTF? It is one of the specific statements, in the American Library Association code of ethics, that "We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources." Additionally, "We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources." What this librarian did was wrong and in direct violation of her post. And I can't believe that the superintendent didn't take into consideration ANY of the other opinions, except hers and a few parents. OI.
2) Kids really like Hopkins books. While censorship is always wrong and should be frowned upon intently, sometimes the books that are opposed to aren't in wide circulation. But Hopkin's novels have a large audience, and I have met literally hundreds of kids who eagerly await her newest books. To deny them what could be a life changing moment, where they get to meet this esteemed author, is wrong. I remember when I was growing up I met two of my favorite authors, Lois Lowry and Yoko Kawashima Watkins, and what a profound affect this had on me as a child. These poor kids will never experience that.

Also, while I totally support the other authors who dropped out in protest, and I think they are doing the right thing, I can't help but feel so bad for the children and teens who are now missing out here. What message are we sending to these readers? Who is really being hurt here? Certainly Ms. Hopkins is saddened by these events, but the young adults who her visit would affect are the real losers in this situation. WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Pink by Lili Wilkinson

Alright, first of all, how awesome is this cover! I love the contrast between the pink and the black. But aside from the cover, this is probably the best book I read all summer, and I work at a bookstore and am in library school, so I read a lot of books this summer. (We will exclude Mockingjay for the moment, as it is not yet August 24th...) Pink tells the story of Ava, who transdfers schools and joins the school musical in an attempt to fit in with the "normal" crowd. She quickly learns that no one is normal, and that might not be a bad thing. So, the back of this book does not make any mention of the fact that Ava is a lesbian and is in a long term relationship with a girl named Chloe. I both like and dislike this editorial/marketing choice. This is not a coming out story, but it also kind of is. Ava struggles with her sexuality at various points in the novel, but for the most part, she is very happy in her relationship and her family is very supportive. I like the fact that Ava's sexuality, while certainly an important aspect of the novel, is not the MAIN point. It is nice to see LGBT characters that fit into the story fluidly and whose sexuality is just another awesome aspect of their character.
And the characters in this story are awesome. Wilkinson is a great writer and all of her characters are fully developed. Ava makes friends with the popular kids and with the stage crew kids (called screws) and Wilkinson manages to make the reader fell like he/she really knows these kids, without providing extensive backstory. My favorite was Alexis, who starts out as a vapid (albeit incredibly smart and talented) popular girl, but who ultimately becomes incredibly endearing and hilarious. That's another thing I loved about this book. Althought it deals with serious issues, identity, belonging, sexuality, death, it isn't super serious, and it is HILARIOUS. Good job Ms. Wilkinson. It is not preachy in the slightest! The only issue that arises, is the fact that there is no mention of Ava's sexuality at all. I can understand why they didn't include it in the blurb, as it is not THE ISSUE in the novel, but it is central to her character, and readers who pick up the book expecting the traditional coming of age story might be in for a little shock. But that isn't really a big deal and it could change before the book actually gets released. So read it!

This book will be released Feb 8th, 2011, from Harper Collins. but I loved it so much I had to review it right away! Thanks for the review copy Anne!