LGBT Pride has been celebrated in June since the 1980's, but for the past four years President Obama has acknowledged it at the national level. In honor of this month, and to show our support for equal rights for every person, we thought we'd bring our three heads together today for a round-up of some of our favorite books that contain gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered characters and/or feature LGBT themes.
Putting this list together made us all realize that there are a ton of these books that we'd like to read but haven't, so we've listed a few of those too!
I will start my part by saying that as far as mainstream YA and adult fiction go, I feel that there is a shortage of LGBT fiction, especially lesbian fiction.
And if we talk strictly YA, there is a shortage of LGBT fiction that isn't didactic and message-driven and framed as a lesson in tolerance. I would rather read YA lit that treats all variations of human sexuality as a norm, than teaches acceptance which is often tinged with feelings of separation between the "normal" majority and the pity- and tolerance-worthy minorities.
respect, YA books written (and co-written) by David Levithan are standouts. His Will Grayson, Will Grayson
and Boy Meets Boy
are remarkable in a way they embrace teen homosexuality, with a gay abandon, if you will. I love that his gay characters are so sure of themselves and their identity and so well adjusted, I love that these characters are real people who just happen to be gay, and their sexuality doesn't exclusively drive the plots of these books.
It doesn't mean that Levithan doesn't write about the difficulties that many gay teens might face in their lives, but he writes his characters as teens with regular teen problems - dating, conflicts with parents, school troubles - first. In Levithan's fictional worlds homosexuality is a normal, matter-of-fact thing, as it should be in real life too.
When I approach adult fiction, I also prefer to read novels not gay-issue driven, but rather about gay characters.
Sarah Waters is probably the only author I know who writes vastly entertaining fiction which consistently features lesbian heroines. Her novels range from historical romps (Tipping the Velvet
) to gothic mysteries with ghosts in prisons (Affinity
) to twisty romance/adventures with asylums for lunatics (Fingersmith
Diana Gabaldon has a lesser known series of historical novels dedicated to Lord John Grey, a (gay) officer who spends his time serving in military and investigating crimes. While my love for Gabaldon's work is fading, the earlier stories in this series are quite captivating, especially if you are interested in knowing peculiarities of living gay in 18th century England.
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The last couple of books I want to talk about I am not even sure can be characterized as LGBT. But they are written about sexual minorities (sort of), so I think it's ok to mention them within this post.
Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex
is a story of a hermaphrodite and her/his family path that led to her/his birth. I would call it a multi-generational, multicultural family saga.
Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness
is even further away from LGBT, because, well, it's a science fiction about the type of sexuality that can't even be found in real life - ambisexuality. The inhabitants of Le Guin's alien world can be both male or female, depending on circumstances. Most of the time they stay asexual and only take on male or female sex for a few days a month during a period of sexual activity - kemmer. Even though this novel is not particularly grounded in reality, it is a fascinating study of gender and "other" sexuality.
Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff: [Goodreads|Amazon]
I adored this story about a young person of unidentified gender and his/her struggle to deal with homelessness and the loss of his/her first love. The romance here is one of the rare ones that subverted all of my “Catie ending” predilections and made me root for the happy ending. “Your song crept over me as I drifted, the room spinning ever so slightly, and I rolled onto my side and pulled up my knees, facing the back of the couch, and put my hands up together by my chin, like your music was a blanket I could gather around me.” I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip by John Donovan: [Goodreads|Amazon]
A classic novel – possibly the first young adult novel to feature a homosexual relationship. Also one of the best young adult novels I’ve ever read, period. This one deals with grief and new beginnings and shame, and there are no neat endings here. “Go ahead and feel guilty if you want to. I don’t.”
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron:
If I had been a wealthy gay teen growing up in New York City, this book could be about me. I related so much to this character’s voice, even though we have almost nothing in common. A quiet, contemplative read that’s not plot-heavy but is still compelling. “I felt this awful obligation to be charming or at least have something to say, and the pressure of having to be charming (or merely verbal) incapacitates me.” Hero by Perry Moore: [Goodreads|Amazon]
This book is fluffy fluff, but I could not put it down.
I even took it to a family event and read it covertly in little snatches under the table. Somewhat pathetic rag-tag bands of unlikely heroes are definitely
a golden topic for me, and throw in a very cute romance with dark hero? I was completely absorbed.“Now I was the only one left. I thought about what I was going to say: Oh, hi there, I'm Thom. I just want to say what an honor it is to be a part of this prestigious team. A leader that wants to kick my ass, some bitchy girl with a major attitude problem, a geriatric precog, a guy who should probably be quarantined at the Center for Disease Control, and me, just your average, ordinary, gay teen superhero. Surely we're what the founding members had in mind when they banded together to form the world's premier superhero group. What's not to be excited about?”
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters: [Goodreads|Amazon]
Another romance that somehow managed to make me long for a happily-ever-after! These girls went through so much in the span of 500 pages; they deserved a happy ending. “I felt that thread that had come between us, tugging, tugging at my heart - so hard, it hurt me. A hundred times I almost rose, almost went in to her; a hundred times I thought, Go to her! Why are you waiting? Go back to her side! But every time, I thought of what would happen if I did. I knew that I couldn't lie beside her, without wanting to touch her. I couldn't have felt her breath upon my mouth, without wanting to kiss her. And I couldn't have kissed her, without wanting to save her.” Iron Council by China Miéville: [Goodreads|Amazon]
I read this recently and it’s a great example of a book that contains interesting, multi-faceted gay characters but isn’t really an “issue” book. Or rather, it’s completely
an issue book, but it doesn’t focus on LGBT issues. This is a very powerful story about revolution.
“Howl Barrow was easy. ‘We can flatten a bunch of inverts, perverts and painters quicker than scratching our arses,’ one captured militia commander had said, and his disdainful claim had become notorious. The Howl Barrow chapter would not last long, with its Nuevist squads, its battalions of militant ballet dancers, its infamous Pretty Brigade, a group of Collectivist grenadiers and musketeers all of them dollyboy man-whores in dresses and exaggerated make-up, shouting orders to each other in invert slang. At first they had been greeted with disgust; then with forbearance, as they fought without restraint; then with exasperated affection. No one wanted them to be overrun, but it was inevitable.”
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood: [Goodreads|Amazon]
A very funny, heartbreaking read about one middle-aged professor and his grief after his long-term partner’s death.“George smiles to himself, with entire self-satisfaction. Yes, I am crazy, he thinks. That is my secret; my strength.” Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell:[Goodreads|Amazon]
I loved this book for so many reasons: for its stark portrayal of the rural Ozarks, for the enduring strength of the young heroine, and for the very honest, sweet feelings that she has for her married best friend Gail."In Ree's heart there was room for more. Any evening spent with Gail was like one of the yearning stories from her sleep was happening awake. Sharing the small simple parts of life with someone who stood tall in her feelings."Books I want to read:
listing these ones out has made me realize that the letters “L” and “B” are feeling a bit neglected in my YA books. Two that I plan to read very soon are Annie On My Mind
by Nancy Garden and Pink
by Lili Wilkinson. Also on my to-read list: The Vast Fields of Ordinary
by Nick Burd, Gone, Gone, Gone
by Hannah Moskowitz, Sister Mischief
by Laura Goode, and Beautiful Music For Ugly Children
by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. What else would you guys recommend?
After looking through my shelves to see what books I could offer to this post, I came away a bit embarrassed, to be honest. I don't think there are enough books adding to the discussion (can there ever be enough?), but I am certainly not doing my part to read through even a small portion of the ones that are already published. That said, here are a few of my favorite young adult books featuring LGBTQ characters or issues.
| |My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger [Goodreads | Amazon]
This is one of the most heartwarming books I've ever read. Two boy grow up together in Brookline (part of Boston), one with a single dad who is obsessed with the Red Sox and the other, who is Asian and gay. To round out the most PC cast of characters ever, the new girl is Hispanic and there is a young character in the foster system who is differently abled. All of the characters are sharp, funny, and their interactions through the epistolary format are extremely happy-making. This is a book that celebrates being yourself. (even if it does gloss over some of the harsher realities)
| || |Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford [Goodreads | Amazon] Suicide Notes
is a book you can't read around other people. For one, they look at you like you're crazy--my sister actually asked me, "Is everything okay?" with a dead serious look on her face when she saw I was reading this. It isn't about suicide notes! Well, not in a technical sense. It is
about a teenage boy analyzing his life and portions of it, which unsurprisingly, if you've been reading the rest of this blog post, includes his sexuality. Jeff is smart and funny, and the book can be read in one sitting.
| |Pink by Lili Wilkinson [Goodreads | Amazon]
Aussie YA author Lili Wilkinson evaluates the issue of identity in her 2009 book, Pink
. The plot revolves around Ava, daughter of two extremely liberal parents, moving to a new school and reinventing herself. I think this book can be beneficial to read in the sense that sometimes
people are confused about their sexual preference, and that's totally natural. If something has been stifled or encouraged through childhood, it doesn't usually just explode outward at a certain age with no reflection.
| || |The Hex Hall series by Rachel Hawkins [Goodreads | Amazon]
Though I have enjoyed the first two books in this series (I've yet to read the third), the relationship I am most interested in is the lesbian relationship of the protagonist's best friend. Whereas the primary romance storyline involves a love triangle, Jenna's relationship is touching and honest and at times, I wish a secondary series was written that focused on her. Maybe in the future?
| |As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann [Goodreads | Amazon]
I really cannot wait to sink my reader teeth into this one. It is a favorite of several of my reader friends and it is supposed to be brutal in multiple ways but according to one person whose taste I absolutely trust (spoiler alert: It's Catie), readers will feel all the deep emotions, good and bad, along with the main character and that is something I cherish in a book. Unfortunately, the man's name is Jacob Cullen, which makes me wonder whether I will be thinking about those books
while I read it. This is a tale of a former servant now soldier who abhors many aspects of war. Catie mentioned the first line as one of the most compelling she's read and I agree:”On the morning we dragged the pond for Patience White, I bent so far down trying to see beneath the surface that my own face peered up at me, twisted and frowning.”
| |Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris [Goodreads | Amazon]
David Sedaris is almost dangerously funny to me. I once saw him at an event in Rhode Island--my two best friends and I saved up our beer money to go see him--and I almost pissed myself. I love all of his books for their humor, but also because he is so amazing at translating awkward moments and realities into humorous stories. His work seems like the most obvious and arguably unnecessary mention in a roundup of LGBT books, but any list would be incomplete without his work on it.
| || |The Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre [Goodreads | Amazon]
I feel like I recommend this series an obscene amount, especially considering I've only read the first one thus far. It really has something for everyone--action, adventure, romance, space, villains, world-building, technology, a smart heroine, and relevant to this particular blog post, a lesbian mechanic crew member who is pretty kickass. The rest of the series is on my 110+ books list and I could plow through them very quickly so I predict I'll finish them in the next two months. Quote me on that. Also, if anyone wants to read them with me, let me know. I can start over.
What recommendations do you have for us this month? Which ones did we miss? Make sure to check out Malina Lo's blog for this month
, where she has a very interesting series of articles about YA literature and Pride month. Happy Friday everyone!
Solace of the RoadAuthor: Siobhan DowdPublication Date: 10/13/09Publisher: David Fickling Books[Goodreads|Amazon]
Blurb(GR): Holly’s story will leave a lasting impression on all who travel with her.
Memories of mum are the only thing that make Holly Hogan happy. She hates her foster family with their too-nice ways and their false sympathy. And she hates her life, her stupid school, and the way everyone is always on at her. Then she finds the wig, and everything changes. Wearing the long, flowing blond locks she feels transformed. She’s not Holly anymore, she’s Solace: the girl with the slinkster walk and the supersharp talk. She’s older, more confident—the kind of girl who can walk right out of her humdrum life, hitch to Ireland, and find her mum. The kind of girl who can face the world head-on.
So begins a bittersweet and sometimes hilarious journey as Solace swaggers and Holly tiptoes across England and through memory, discovering her true self and unlocking the secrets of her past.
This book is beautifully written, emotionally honest, and kept me riveted through many hot, humid, should-have-been-unbearable walks. I loved so many things about it and I would recommend it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately I think this is just one of those cases of “it’s not you, it’s me.”
This is a very quiet, understated story that is nonetheless powerful. Holly is a “care-babe” – raised in the foster care system in England ever since she and her mam got separated when she was very young and her mam headed back to Ireland, where she was born. Holly eventually finds herself in a group home, where she spends several years gaining a small measure of stability with a couple of older, troublemaking pals and her social worker. Everything starts changing when her social worker announces that he’s leaving for another job and Holly is offered a foster placement with a well-off do-gooders Ray and Fiona. Stifled by her new environment and betrayed by every adult she’s ever counted on, Holly longs to run away to Ireland and find her mam again. When she discovers an ash blond wig in her foster mother’s things, she puts it on and suddenly becomes someone else – Solace. Solace is older, confident, and brave. Solace is a survivor, and she’s ready to head out into the world on her own. So she does. “I was Solace the Unstoppable, the smooth-walking, sharp-talking glamour girl, and I was walking into a red sky, ready to hitch a ride. I was crossing the sea and landing in Ireland. I was walking up a hill to meet my mam, breathing in the morning air by the pint.”
This book travels the roads of parental abandonment with unflinching honesty. I felt so much for Holly, who reveals just as much when she’s lying to everyone she meets as she does when she’s finally admitting the painful truths to herself. I felt such a mixture of heartbreak and pride for this fourteen year old girl, who has the strength to conjure up an unstoppable slim-slam glamour girl to get herself through, but who understandably has a hard time setting Solace aside and letting her own hurts come to the surface. I think that Siobhan Dowd did such an amazing job of showing how these coping mechanisms, which are so necessary sometimes, can also become our worst enemies.
However, this book did feel a bit too young and rosy-hued for me. While the inner-mom in me was so thankful and relieved when Holly found the help that she needed and avoided getting seriously hurt on the road, the inner realist in me was nay-saying for the entire journey. While I wish that every teenage girl runaway out there would happen upon kind night-nurses, vegan truckers, and sweet LOTR-obsessed biker boys, I think the truth is often far worse.
But, I think that this book was written with a younger audience in mind and I did appreciate its very hopeful message. I think I only have one real
criticism: I wish this book had ended about twenty pages sooner. The decision that Holly makes on the boat is momentous enough on its own; ending the story right there would have given this story so much more of a punch. I know that some readers love epilogues (and epilogue-style endings) – they love to see things get wrapped up and find out what happened to this character and that character and so forth. But for me, in general, epilogues seem to only diminish the power of the story itself. I’d much prefer to be left wondering about and imagining my own follow-ups, especially when the ones given are so neat and pretty and unrealistic. Holly’s journey and eventual realizations were more powerful for me on their own. Perfect Musical Pairing
The Head And The Heart – Rivers and Roads
I love this song for Holly. It’s about missing and remembering everyone who’s gone out of your life and longing to find your way back – across rivers and roads. I don’t think of this song as necessarily being about her mother either, but about Grace, Trim, Miko, Fiona, Ray, and young Holly – all the people she’s lost along the way.
Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Author: Steve Martin, narrated by the author
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio[Goodreads | Amazon | Audible]Blurb (GR): At age 10, Steve Martin got a job selling guidebooks at the newly-opened Disneyland. In the decade that followed, he worked in Disney's magic shop, print shop, and theater, and developed his own magic/comedy act. By age 20, studying poetry and philosophy on the side, he was performing a dozen times a week, most often at the Disney rival, Knott's Berry Farm.
Obsession is a substitute for talent, he has said, and Steve Martin's focus and daring--his sheer tenacity--are truly stunning. He writes about making the very tough decision to sacrifice everything not original in his act, and about lucking into a job writing for The Smothers Brothers Show. He writes about mentors, girlfriends, his complex relationship with his parents and sister, and about some of his great peers in comedy--Dan Ackroyd, Lorne Michaels, Carl Riener, Johnny Carson. He writes about fear, anxiety and loneliness. And he writes about how he figured out what worked on stage.
This book is a memoir, but it is also an illuminating guidebook to stand-up from one of our two or three greatest comedians. Though Martin is reticent about his personal life, he is also stunningly deft, and manages to give readers a feeling of intimacy and candor. Illustrated throughout with black and white photographs collected by Martin, this book is instantly compelling visually and a spectacularly good read.
I loved this book so much because it was everything I subconsciously wanted it to be and nothing that I expected it to be. I thought it would be mostly about Martin's career as a primarily comedic actor and it basically ends at the onset of his film career. I thought it would be hilarious and filled with jokes and I think I actually laughed out loud about five times. And a part of me harbored some sort of belief that every person who saw Steve Martin do stand up comedy must have known they were seeing something amazing. Surely someone so hilarious never experienced the silence of an unappreciative audience, and he could not possibly have crashed and burned with some of his bits. Of course, I know that is never the case but it will never cease to amaze me how some people worked so hard for their success when their talent is worthy of an unimpeded rise to the top. I've seen some fabulous stand up comedy and some absolute abysmal stand up. This is the first book I've read about what life as a stand up comic is like but it certainly won't be the last and it definitely has me wondering about Martin's fiction works.
Steve Martin knew he wanted to be a performer from a very young age. Martin narrators the audiobook of Standing Up
himself in his contemplative, matter-of-fact voice. He talks about working at Disneyland, learning magic and rope tricks, selling park maps, and every minuscule step that brought him closer to his ultimate goal. Woven through the entire book are Martin's ruminations on the strained relationship he had with his father and they provided a sturdy backbone upon which the rest of his story could rest. I want to say that that aspect of the book ended satisfactorily for me but this is someone's life
and these are real people
. I suppose I can say that I was very disappointed about several choices Steve Martin's father made but I'm glad Martin is a strong enough person to achieve everything he has despite a lack of paternal support when it might (nay, probably would) have provided validation.
I was extremely surprised and entertained by the number of celebrities who peppered Martin's path to success. He was/is friends with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and The Allman Brothers, played at the same clubs at the same time as people like Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell, and even played a small gig where the other act that night was a pair of unknowns, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. He knew Dalton Trumbo, author of Johnny Got His Gun
, and actually had a conversation with Elvis Presley in which Elvis commented on the fact that he and Martin shared an oblique sense of humor. I knew how talented Martin is at playing banjo, but just in case you are in the dark on that one, check this out:
I was aware of several of Martin's famous bits before listening to his memoir, including "Wild and Crazy Guys", "Well, ex-cuuuuse me," "King Tut," the arrow through the head bit. It was immensely entertaining to hear how these bits came about and about other lesser-known (to me, of course) jokes he used to use. He is an admittedly private person and I can't remember ever learning too much about his personal life from the surprising amount of (arguably useless) information I've garnered from entertainment websites over the years, so I was very interested to learn about Martin's philosophical studies, how he acquired the skills he has, and about the private life I'm glad the media mostly seems to allow him to keep to himself. Though there were many memorable moments for me in this memoir, my favorite quote of his was this one: “Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.”
I am such a believer in the idea that every random skill, story, or piece of information you gain in your life will come to some use later in life. For that reason, I was so excited to hear Johnny Carson tell basically that exact thing to Martin, who used random rope tricks on The Tonight Show that he'd learned from a childhood coworker of his. One of the highlights of listening to the audio production of Born Standing Up is how apparent Steve Martin's appreciation is for all the people who were a part of his comedic journey. His voice is flat in a realistic way--there's no pretension or fakeness to his storytelling. This is four hours (yes, it is only four hours long) well spent if you enjoy Steve Martin's comedy or are curious about a life doing stand up.
Five Flavors of DumbAuthor: Antony JohnPublication Date: 11/11/10Publisher: Dial[Amazon|Goodreads]
Blurb(GR): The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.
The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.
The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?
Piper can't hear Dumb's music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.Review:
I don’t often read or enjoy “feel-good” books and that’s most certainly what this is, although; I will grant that it does take a while to find its way into corn-country. However, sometimes I do get bogged down by all the darkness and depression. Sometimes I just need a little refresher. Luckily for me, there are a few things that can help circumvent my “corn-free” policy. A few of these things are:
Nerdery/Geekery in all its forms
A unique voice
Soft rock anthems
Awkwardly hot Asian love interests
And guess what? This book has all of those things. This book was exactly what I needed, and I'm really glad that Flannery challenged me to read it
. I think I inhaled it in less than a day, and in my world of chauffeuring, cooking, cleaning, and crisis-mediation that’s quite extraordinary! I really couldn’t put this book down.
This is a very sweet story with more depth than your average sweet story. Piper feels completely alone in her school, ever since the only other deaf person (and her best friend) moved to a new state. At home, things aren’t much better. Her baby sister, who was born severely deaf, has recently been fitted with a cochlear implant and is starting to hear – meaning that Piper is now the only person in her family who can’t. To make matters worse, Piper realizes that her parents have raided her college fund – the one she was going to use to pay for tuition at a prestigious university for the deaf – to pay for the implant.
Desperate for money, Piper sees opportunity in the somewhat lame but nonetheless enthusiastic high school band quite appropriately named “Dumb.” After witnessing a performance in front of the school, Piper ends up giving the band a not so small piece of her mind and their arrogant (but hot, natch) leader challenges her to become their manager. If she can get them a paying gig in one month, she will not only get a share of the money; she will get to keep the job. So Piper accepts. Even though she has little to no interest in music.
The first three quarters of this book had me grinning and laughing and swooning. I loved almost every minute – from Piper’s realization that her dorky Chess club partner is secretly a master percussionist with the soul of a rock star, to the band’s various (and mostly failing) attempts to succeed and get paid, to the very sweet dynamic between Piper and her younger brother Finn. I loved that Piper is a no-nonsense shark of a manager, perfectly willing to lie to get her foot in the door. And I really loved that each and every member of Piper’s family is both present and
feels like a real, three-dimensional character. No absentee parents here!
Where this story lost me was, of course, in the ending. Oh, how I wish that I could just beam myself in to these quirky, fun reads and tell everyone to step away from the corn-ledge! Just don’t do it, fictional people! Don’t reach for the corn!!
Alas, I have no such powers. Because I have to admit that I really
loved that Dumb was such a big hot mess of a band. And this story, for me, was about Piper reconnecting with the world – both at home and with her peers – and finding her own identity. I just don’t think it was necessary or realistic for the band to fall into such perfect alignment and become a success. Also, the way that they eventually came together was very predictable, in my opinion. Her family’s progress also verged into unrealistic territory. Some of her parent’s decisions and actions later in the book felt out of character and yes, corny.
However, I did have a lot of fun reading this. Will I remember this book in a year or two? I’m not sure. I am writing this review only a week after reading it and already had to look up the main character’s name.Perfect Musical Pairing
Evelyn Glennie – How To Listen To Music With Your Whole Body
Okay, so this is actually mostly a lecture, but I wanted to include it here because I was kind of bummed that this book never addressed the myth that deaf people do not enjoy music. Even though I thought it was hilarious that Piper was very much not a music lover, I think it would have been awesome if the author had found a way to dispel this myth. However, I completely respect his decision and I would much rather it not be present than for him to have artificially shoe-horned it in. That doesn’t stop me from including it in my review though! This video is really amazing – a fascinating demonstration from deaf percussionist (she probably plays the marimba!) Evelynn Glennie.
First, I just have to ask: who’s going to see Brave this weekend? If you’ve already seen it, was it amazing? Feel free to gush in the comments.
And now onto the book-relevant news: The winners of the Locus Awards were announced this week
. The awards for best science fiction and fantasy novels went to China Miéville (Embassytown)
and George R. R. Martin (A Dance With Dragons)
respectively. Catherynne M. Valente took home THREE awards – for best young adult novel (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making)
, best novella (Silently and Very Fast)
, and best novelette (White Lines on a Green Field)
! Huge congratulations to all the winners!
As some of you may have heard, A Monster Calls won both the Carnegie Medal (for children’s literature) and the Greenaway medal (for illustration) last week.
This week author Patrick Ness spoke out in defense of this generation’s teenagers in a really moving article for The Guardian.
(Seriously, just read it.)
And our very own blogging friend Sarah from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves also pulled out her opinion hat and wrote very passionately in defense of young adult literature.
NPR is putting together a list of the best young adult books, and they are asking for help
which is really very smart of them, in our opinion. Make sure to stop by and comment with your top five picks. Let’s tell them about all the ones they missed!
It seems like the other news was all of the less-progressive-more-crotchety quality. Perhaps the curmudgeonly world is feeling threatened after statistics released this week from the Association of American Publishers
indicated that ebook sales topped hardcover sales in the first quarter of 2012 (including a 28% increase in ebook sales from 2011)? Perhaps we are just due for this generation’s “real
literature is dead” outcry? Either way, a group of authors chimed in this week for the New York Times, in response to this Room for Debate
topic: “Is "summer reading" now just "reading"? Have novels become more entertaining, and less of a cultural touchstone or a political voice?”
Any reader can tell you that this is a ridiculous question. William Deresiewicz
writes a very rational response
, saying in part: “The novel is a sturdy old contraption that continues to outlive its mourners.” Matt de la Pena takes up the role of chief mourner
, saying in part: “We don’t want our ideologies to be challenged. That’s too much work. We want escape.”
Really? I (Catie) think a lot of readers would disagree. There were four other responses which all fell somewhere in between these two.
Shannon Hale also caused a bit of an outcry this week when she published a, if not malicious, then rather uninformed post on her blog speaking against self-publishing
. However, she was very gracious and open to comments and has since published an updated post in which she attempts to back track quite a bit.
I particularly enjoyed Rick Walton’s comment on the later post
, in which he compares the whole self-publishing system to the “Got Talent and Idol shows.” Now where are Simon, Paula, and Randy to tell us which ones are good?
Oh right, that’s supposed to be us.
And just to wrap things up on a lighter note, here are two book trailers that were released this week – one for Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina
, which we will be reviewing soon and one for Zoe Marriott’s upcoming book Frostfire.
Of course, now I'm feeling depressed again because it appears that, if the above trailer for Frostfire
is accurate, the cover for the upcoming book has been blue-washed. Apparently Tatiana was right about that!
Maybe we should chat about Brave again?
See you next week for more news!
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publication Date: 6/5/12
[Goodreads | Amazon]Blurb: What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren't his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what really did happen to Nick's beautiful wife? And what was in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war...Review:
I am giving Gone Girl
3 stars, but only begrudgingly. In my mind, any book that takes me 3 months and 20 different tries to read is not worth 3 (i-liked-it on Goodreads) stars, especially a book written by an author I already respect. And I am not kidding, for me the first half of Gone Girl
was a PURE TORTURE to read.Amy Dunn disappears on the day of her 5th wedding anniversary. All gradually uncovered evidence suggests that her husband, Nick, is somehow involved. Did he kill her? Was she kidnapped? What happened to
Amy? One thing is clear, Nick and Amy's marriage wasn't as perfect as everybody thought.The first
part of the novel is all about the investigation into Amy's disappearance, slow unraveling of Nick's dirty secrets, reminiscing about the troubled history of Nick and Amy's marriage as told in Amy's hidden diary. I strained and strained my brain trying to understand why this chunk of Gone Girl
had no appeal to me whatsoever. The only answer I have is this: I am really not into reading about rich white people's problems. You want to whine to me about your dwindling trust fund? Losing your cushy New York job? Moving south and "only" renting a mansion there? Being unhappy because you have too much free time on your hands and you are used to only work as a hobby? You want to make fun of your lowly, un-posh neighbors and their casseroles? Well, I am not interested. I'd rather read about someone not necessarily likable, but at least worthy of my empathy, not waste my time on self-centered, spoiled, pathetic people who don't know what real problems are. Granted, characters in Flynn's previous novels (Sharp Objects
and Dark Places
) are pretty pathetic and and at times revolting too, but I always felt some strange empathy towards them, not annoyance and boredom, like I felt reading about Amy and Nick's marriage woes. But then the second part, with its wicked twist, changed everything. The
story became much more exciting, dangerous and deranged. The main characters revealed sides to them that were quite shocking and VERY entertaining. I thought the Gillian Flynn I knew before finally unleashed her talent for writing utterly unlikable and crafty women. THEN I got invested in the story, THEN I cared.Was it too little too late though? I think it was. Something needed to be done to make Gone Girl a better read. Make it shorter? Cut out first part completely? I don't know. But because of my uneven experience with this novel I won't be able to recommend Gone Girl as readily as I did Flynn's earlier novels, even though I think this horror marriage story (it's not a true mystery, IMO) has some brilliantly written psycho goodness in it and an absolutely messed up ending that many loathed but I LOVED. I wish it didn't take so much time and patience to get to all of that... 3/5 stars
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The Woman in Black
Written by Susan Hill and published in 1983
Directed by James Watkins and released in 2012
Written by special guest author Courtney Summers
It's been a while since I read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, but when I read it, I really liked it. Set in the early 1900s, the novel is narrated by Arthur Kipps as he reflects on the time he was an engaged, up-and-coming solicitor who got more than he bargained for when he was sent to sort out the estate of a dead widow, Alice Drablow. Young Arthur has a pretty good head on his shoulders until he gets to Crythin Gifford, where the book follows his complete and utter psychological breakdown as he discovers Alice Drablow's place, Eel Marsh House, is haunted. You will never guess by whom!
What you should know: The Woman in Black is Alice Drablow's sister, Jennet. When Jennet has a child, Nathaniel, out of wedlock--a bad thing back then--Alice adopts him. In exchange for living with the Drablows to be close to her son, Jennet agrees never to reveal to Nathaniel she's his mother. Sadly, Nathaniel drowns in the marsh surrounding the causeway to the house and his body is never recovered. Jennet later dies and becomes The Woman in Black, a nasty ghoul, to say the least. Whenever someone sees her, a child dies shortly after. Once he learns all this the hard way, Arthur leaves Crythin Gifford, traumatized by his numerous experiences with the woman but assured no children have (yet) died because of them. There's a false sense of security for us, the reader, in this. We believe that because The Woman in Black's story has been told, she can finally rest. But a few years later, when Arthur is settled into his first marriage and has a child of his own, he sees The Woman in Black and moments later, his family is in a tragic accident. Both his son and wife die. The end!
END OF SPOILER.
The Woman in Black is a cozy and atmospheric novel. Its charm lies in Hill's writing style, which is both familiar and suspenseful. It carries a wonderful sense of foreboding that makes me feel THIS is what people want when they're looking for a classic ghost story, yet the ending is so startling--in a fantastic and devastating way--that it delivers more than you might be expecting by the time you reach it. I give it all of my thumbs up! You need to read this book, even if I just ruined it for you.
Now let's talk about the 2012 movie.
The film adaptation deviates from the source material right away and never really stops. After a genre-requisite shocker of an opening, if you're easily shocked, we're introduced to Arthur Kipps, a widowed single father (!), so devastated by his wife's death from child birth he's mentally and emotionally checked out. Arthur isn't interested in working his way up in the firm, he's going to Crythin Gifford in a last ditch attempt to save his job so he can continue to support his son. This is what keeps him there, even as the locals urge him to leave and children start to die. Right off the bat, I wasn't sure what to make of Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps. It's hard to say what he does or doesn't bring to his portrayal when he's not really portraying Kipps as readers know him. I will say Radcliffe's performance is understated but not entirely convincing. I believe he's a young man with some heavy burdens but I had a much, much harder time buying him as a husband and father. He also looks freakishly like a young Richard Armitage throughout, which was distracting. Please tell me I'm not the only one who sees this!
Unfortunately, Arthur comes across as more duty-bound to his son than emotionally driven by his love for him so that even as the personal stakes are raised, his character growth is ultimately weak. I wish that, if they insisted on keeping Kipps a widower, they made him a widower who appeared more together than he was, clinging onto and fiercely protective of the only good things left after his wife's death.
Most of the other characters are stock but I was okay with that. In movies like this, you sometimes expect a character to be defined by their function rather than their depth, like the suspicious, terrified locals who urge Arthur to go away before their children start dying and the local children who look like creepy little dolls before they become creepy little ghosts. The strongest character besides Arthur and the woman herself, is Sam Daily (played by Ciarán Hinds), the wealthiest man in town. As in the book, Sam is hospitable and welcoming of Arthur but unlike the book, Sam's underlying motivations for reaching out and supporting him are slightly shadier, though not ill-intended. The character of Sam Daily's wife was also expanded and paranormalized (this is now a word!) for the purposes of the film and I found I liked what that brought to it, overall.
The Woman in Black is nicely realized visually. I think it captured the dense, eerie atmosphere of the book and that's what I was looking for, mainly, when I watched it. Crythin Gifford is presented as both a grieving and cursed place and Eel Marsh House was spooky inside and out. It was hard not to dread every time Arthur returned to it, knowing each time he did his encounters with the woman would escalate.
The personal history of The Woman in Black doesn't deviate from the novel so much as extends it and makes it more active. In the book, Arthur's sightings of the woman leave us holding our breath and awaiting the consequences. In the movie, Arthur can scarcely look at her without a child dropping dead in a horrific manner a few seconds later--like, they commit suicide (one even sets herself on fire). This brings an urgency to the story that I think would've been necessary no matter what direction the adaptation took and I appreciated that. I also appreciated the various ways The Woman in Black asserted her presence in the background, unbeknownst to Arthur. Those moments are the other reason I watched the movie and I found a lot of them scarier than they weren't. Sometimes it felt like Where's Waldo? Except you don't actually want to find Waldo!
So that was pretty great.
But now, let us examine the movie's next major deviation from the book--its ending--which brings us to my second...
In the book, The Woman in Black is evil. That's it. Even after her truth is uncovered and shared by Arthur, she repays him by killing his entire family. She's totally the UK equivalent of Kayako from Ju-On: The Grudge. It doesn't matter if you sympathize with her enough to want to help her--SHE HATES YOU. That is all you need to know.
The Woman in Black's angry unrest carries the movie up until the point Arthur reunites her with her dead son. Then, it seems to get a tad confused. Afterward, Arthur, who is a lot perkier than I would be if I went through what he went through, goes to the train station to meet his child and his child's nanny so they can go back to London as a happy family. But Arthur's little boy sees The Woman in Black and decides to walk in front of an oncoming train instead. Arthur tries to save him and they're both killed as a result. In the seconds that follow, Sam Daily sees the angry apparition of the woman and all the children she's taken on the other side of the platform. It's actually pretty chilling and it would've been nice to know that while Arthur's arc differed from that of the book, it still came to the same kind of horrible end...
If not for the closing scene of Arthur in the afterlife, with his child, being reunited with his dead wife. Who is dressed all in white. Yeah.
What the heck is that! Was it Arthur's love of his wife that kept him and his son out of a grim afterlife with The Woman in Black? Or was it The Woman in White's love for Arthur? Or was The Woman in Black's final act of malevolence actually a final act of mercy? Did she know Arthur and his son would be reunited with his wife and decide, since Arthur reunited her with her
son, she'd return the favor? I have no idea, honestly, but I do know that all of these possibilities effectively take the edge off the best part of this story. It's so much scarier and more effective to think of The Woman in Black as never satisfied and always angry, to think of ourselves as doomed from the moment we cross her path, simply because
we crossed her path. Love won't save you! If it could, you'd think all those children would have lived! But they didn't.END OF SPOILER.
So that was a questionable and, in my opinion, unfortunate choice that undermined the story's foundation. The book wasn't afraid to go there, so why was the movie?
Sometimes--not always, but sometimes--there's something extremely satisfying about a horror movie that plays to the tropes or even the cliches of the genre because despite the predictability of those kinds of scares, there's a timelessness about them that can make them quite unnerving. Like the ghost or serial killer POV--that moment we watch the unsuspecting hero or heroine through the very eyes of the thing that's haunting or stalking them--and let's not forget The Classic Mirror Scare
, among others. I encounter this stuff a lot as an avid horror movie watcher, but more often than not, I still let it make me jump because of the idea
behind it. You are not as alone as you think you are. Something sinister is happening around you that you can't see.
Rotten Tomatoes describes The Woman in Black
movie as "Traditional to a fault" and I half-agree with that. It's very traditional. But I don't fault it for that because it was exactly what I wanted and when I thought about it at little more, that was exactly why I liked the book; it plays to those ghost story traditions too.
I think screenwriter Jane Goldman understood and respected this about the source material and that's why I can't call The Woman in Black
an entirely unsuccessful adaptation. I think it played out exactly the way a ghost story with those established parameters would. But it's not a faithful adaptation and when you take out all those unsettlingly familiar scares that made me genuinely like the film, only the story is left and overall?
I have to say I prefer the book's more.
I give The Woman in Black
three stars. It's a serviceable horror film and because of this, I can see myself watching it a lot. But if you're a huge fan of the book, you might find yourself (more than a little) disappointed.
Thank you so much to the brilliant Courtney Summers for scaring the bejeezus out of us with this post. Was that picture from The Grudge
really necessary? WAS IT? No seriously, thank you - this was amazing!
Courtney's new book, the very chilling This is Not a Test,
was released this week and is available on Amazon
and at other booksellers. Courtney can be found at goodreads
, and her blog
She has also very graciously offered to give away one copy of This is Not a Test
and one copy of The Woman in Black
by Susan Hill. The giveaway is open until next week and ends Thursday, June 28th. U.S. and Canada only. Two winners will be randomly selected.
Did you know today is International Short Story Day
? It is the shortest day/night of the year (depending on which hemisphere you live in) so it is the perfect day to celebrate one of the quickest, most powerful ways to tell a story or capture an emotion. Short stories are often exactly what I'm looking for--if I am having a hard time getting into a book, if I am burned out from reading too many long ones, if I want to up my Goodreads challenge
count, or if I just want to feel a specific emotion and need a quick delivery method. (usually around 5-20 pages) There are so many short stories out there that it can be totally overwhelming. I know I have gone to websites like Classic Shorts
and Classic Reader
and just stared at the lengthy lists of authors and titles without a clue as to where to being. Sometimes I get lucky and a short story review will come through my Goodreads feed. I've also been given some wonderful recommendations from friends. Today, I just want to share some of the short stories I've loved, some I plan to read soon, and some that readers have recommended. Where possible, I've linked the title of the story to somewhere it is available to read online. I've only included stories which can be read legally for free at the time of this blog post. (6/12)
READ THESE NOW:All Summer in a Day
by Ray Bradbury | Kids living on a planet where the sun comes out very rarelyThe Paper Menagerie
by Ken Liu | A boy/man's relationship with his Chinese motherPonies
by Kij Johnson | Captures the ridiculousness of trying to fit inThe Lottery
by Shirley Jackson | Everybody gets a number, but for what?Harrison Bergeron
by Kurt Vonnegut | The government hinders abilities so everyone is "equal"2 B R O 2 B
by Kurt Vonnegut | A world where the government restricts population growthThe End of the Party
by Graham Greene | A creepy game of hide and seekThe Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | A glimpse into one woman's mental stateThe People of Sand and Slag
by Paolo Bacigalupi | A very disturbing glimpse of a futuristic world
Occasionally on Three Heads Are Better Than One (or Two)
we will highlight the work of an author we all love. Today, we would like to help celebrate the release of This is Not a Test
by one of our favorite authors, Courtney Summers
. This is Not a Test
is a slight departure from her usual dark, gritty contemporary novels featuring damaged girl characters. Instead, she has written a dark, gritty contemporary novel featuring a damaged girl character… with a side order of zombies! Contrary to what those last two sentences would suggest, her novels are far from repetitive. But they do all contain certain elements that we have loved. Today we chat about all the reasons we love the writing of Courtney Summers and highlight our favorite novels of hers.
When I first joined Goodreads
, I floundered around for awhile. Years, actually. Somehow, and I really don't remember how it happened, I made friends with a few people on the site who invited me to join them in a private group of awesome. I was as nervous to post there as I always was on the first day of school. They read a book a month together so it was with great excitement that I purchased their next pick, Fall for Anything
by Courtney Summers. It's funny to think back on that time, which was really only about a year and a half ago. I've become an absolutely more confident reader since that time. Until we talked about doing this post, I don't think I realized how important reading that book was for me as a reader. If I hadn't joined that group and read FfA, I might not have discovered my love of Summers' books until much later.
I went back and reread my review of the book and I was not surprised to see that some of the insights I had about the book are the reasons I've also enjoyed her two earlier books, Some Girls Are
and Cracked Up To Be
. Something that I enjoy in every one of her books is how she actually understands what being in high school is like and doesn't sugar coat even one iota of it. I've never really been bullied but my blood pressure soared as I read about how Regina and her friends treated other people in Some Girls Are
(and how they later treated her). Likewise, I've never had to deal with harboring a secret like Regina and Summers made me feel more worry for her, specifically in one scene, than most any author I can think of made me feel for a character. I always try to block that one scene out of my mind but I just reread my review and it came back to me--I think it put me on edge as much as a horror novel. This makes me certain that This Is Not A Test
will be chalked up as a total success, since I know Courtney Summers can write high tension scenes. I'm saving that book as a rescue from a future reading slump.
I don't know if I could put my feelings about her writing into better words than I did when I wrote my original reviews of her books, so I'll just select a few of the things I've said about her writing:
"Her characters are realistically flawed and you can almost smell the desperation that drips off of nearly every one of them, whether they are desperate for friendship, love, or forgiveness for missteps. " (Cracked Up To Be)
"Courtney Summers lovers will find the same old awesome in this one: gritty topic, beautiful writing, a bitchity main girl, and a lightning fast read." (Cracked Up To Be)
"At times, her books feel almost painfully realistic. This one definitely gives you the feeling of what bullying actually feels like--about the hopelessness and loneliness of it all. And about how either willfully or negligently unaware parents and teachers can be. " (Some Girls Are)
I really have to give Summers props for coming up with what I feel like is one of the harshest things you could ever say to another human being: "You make me feel alone." (FfA) If someone said that to me, I think I'd probably cry for hours. But having read two more of her books after that initial one, it doesn't surprise me that one of her characters would say that to another. She really is the queen of writing manipulative characters. I truly don't know of any YA authors who do it better. If you enjoy honest and realistic YA and you haven't read her books, you are an idiot. (sorry, I was just trying on my Courtney Summers mean girl character hat for a minute.) What I meant to say is, read them! You'll love them!
If you write reviews long enough you’ll start to hear your own critical broken record. You’ll start to notice the gripes that you tend to voice over and over again. A book can be hitting every one of your good spots, but the appearance of one or two of those things can automatically disconnect you from whatever love you were feeling. In fact, we wrote a post about some of those things last week
. My inner broken record of gripes probably sounds something like this: …unrealistic…
…too much resolution…
…too damn HAPPY…
And I haven’t failed to notice that most of the time, I am alone out here on my grumpy little island. (Tatiana visits quite often, however. We make bitter, bitter mojitos.) It’s not really a mystery why so many people love to read happy stories about people learning from their mistakes and then riding off into the sunset. Those stories can make you feel hopeful and optimistic about the world. They can make your heart swell and your face ache from grinning.
Unless you’re me. None of that happens for me, ever. At least, not when it’s “supposed to” happen. Not with the stories specifically written to elicit those emotions. And I admit that sometimes I feel like there’s this big, cheerful, exciting club that I’ll never belong to. Sometimes I pick up a “heartwarming” story for review with this complete sense of dread because I know that I’ll probably be the one person to dump all over it while you all are hanging out and celebrating.
This rambling opening is all just a semi-relevant precursor to the reasons that I adore the writing of Courtney Summers so much. Reading her books is like having an author specifically address each of my gripes one by one. Her characters never make unrealistic progress, her stories are never resolved into neat little packages, and the word “happy” doesn’t belong anywhere near her books. Her stories make me feel uncomfortable and bruised; they force me to sit with my darkest places and they linger in my mind long after I’ve finished them. Her writing is pared down and striking in its honest simplicity.
I also love that her main characters always have a romantic interest, but never a true loooove. I love the occasional dark humor that shows up to make me chuckle evilly in scenes where I probably shouldn’t be laughing. And I love her crazy taste in character names: Parker Fadley? Regina Afton? Culler Evans? Sloane Price? Is this a modern day high school or a fancy ski lodge in 1984? I don’t know. And more importantly, I don’t want to know.
But perhaps the thing I love most of all is that Courtney Summers’ books make me get in touch with my inner smug bitch. You see, I kind of love reading negative reviews for her books – reviews that say things like, “the main character is just so…awful” or (in outrage) “There was no resolution in the end!!!” or “I just wish that it wasn’t so dark.” (Note: I made up all of these quotes. They do not come from actual reviews.) I love reading those reviews because they make me feel like I’m finally the one on the inside. I’m finally a member of the club that gets something, and not on the outside shaking my head. Unhappiness never felt so good!
What is ironic is that my favorite Courtney Summers' novel is the one I was reluctant to read the most. I resisted and resisted and resisted this book recommendation.
I am talking about Some Girls Are - a novel about a mean girl.
The reason why I stay away from mean girl books is because most of the time they are too... humanizing and forgiving. You normally have a bully girl who is a nasty person but who learns during the course of a novel the wrongness of her behavior. We also find out why she is the way she is. Then she changes for better, possibly says sorry to her victim(s), and everything bad is forgiven and forgotten. And I am often left feeling like these characters are cut too much slack.
I never felt that way reading Some Girls Are. Regina is as mean of a girl as they come. When she crosses another mean girl, she finally gets a taste of hard-core bullying that she's been on a giving side of for years. Does she learn her lesson, become better and drive into sunset with a hot boyfriend at her side? Not really.
I liked that Courtney Summers never made Some Girls Are into a "lesson" story. I liked being in a mean girl's head and seeing how horrifying and damaging it is to live always hating and being hated. I enjoyed reading about predatory social dynamics in a mean girls' group. And I LOVED that there was no easy forgiveness for Regina. Whatever she did in her young life, she would have to carry with and within herself forever, but there is still a tiny possibility of Regina being able to make a positive change. There is more truth in such ending than in any HEA.
Having read all Summers' novel, I know for sure Regina is my favorite character. She is hateful, but she is proactive and vocal, and that separates her from the author's other more subdued and less "mean" heroines. Who knew I would ever end up falling for a mean girl?
This is Not a Test
releases today and can be found over at Amazon
, along with Courtney Summers' other books. We reviewed it here
. Make sure to stop by this Thursday, when Courtney Summers will join us for a Book vs. Movie post and a giveaway of her new book!