Almost a year ago, I was sitting in a ballroom in Chicago, watching Benjamin Alire SÃ¡enz deliver a moving, and deeply personal speech during the Printz Award reception. Like most of the people there, I was listening intently and reaching up, at times, to brush away tears. Though his fellow awardees also presented beautifully eloquent remarks, it was SÃ¡enz’s words that left a lasting impression on me. He referred to himself as a “cartographer” who, in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2013 Stonewall Book Award, 2013 Printz Honor, 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten, and Pura Belpre Author Award), created a “roadmap…for boys who were born to play by different rules.”
During SÃ¡enz’s speech, I thought about my friend, Julian, and his struggles during our teens. Jules was just starting to come to terms with his sexuality – the summer before our senior year, he told me that he was pretty certain that he was gay. Growing up during the 1980s-90s in a middle class suburb of Los Angeles, with a predominantly Latino population, we didn’t really have access to the wealth of queer resources that are freely available today. Also, people simply didn’t talk about those things (unless it was to make some tasteless, hurtful joke). So it was hardly a surprise that he bided his time, waiting until college to come out and be himself completely. After reading Aristotle and Dante, I sent Julian a text, begging him to pick it up. I said, “This is the book you needed to read at 16.” It took him a while, but he finally read it and wrote me this message: “Thank you for recommending this book so many months ago. It made me laugh from the first few pages. I’ve been savoring every page as it pulls me in and reminds me of the awkwardness and possibilities of adolescence.”
June is Pride Month, which celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and affirms their right to live visibly in dignity and equality. In honor of Pride, I want to share some amazing LGBTQ novels (some of which aren’t out yet, but you’ll want to add them to your to-read pile) that had me laughing and crying all over the place.
Taking its title from a gorgeous Rufus Wainwright song, Michael Barakiva’s One Man Guy is about a boy who experiences first love and the importance of living one’s life with integrity. After earning less than stellar grades during his freshman year, 14-year old Alek Khederian is forced to attend summer school to improve his academic performance. There, he meets free-spirited skater boy, Ethan and the two share a sweet and funny romance. Alek learns a lot from his boyfriend, but he also imparts some pretty valuable lessons to Ethan, as well. Alek’s pride in his Armenian cultural heritage, as well as his tender relationship with his parents (which is, at times, fraught with tension – he is a teen, after all!) add much depth to this story.
Sara Farizan’s debut novel, If You Could Be Mine (2014 Best Fiction For Young Adults), was a heartbreaking examination of lesbian romance in Iran, where homosexuality is criminalized. Dealing with a situation beyond her control, Sahar makes a desperate decision in order to be with the girl she loves. This thought-provoking book presents a unique and vital glimpse into queer lives in Iran – I could not put it down. In her fabulous sophomore novel, Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel (Algonquin Books, October 2014), Farizan revisits Iranian culture (well, actually this time it’s Iranian-American), and lesbian identity and relationships, but also adds some levity to the story. 16-year old Leila knows she likes girls but hasn’t gotten around to telling anyone yet. When gorgeous new girl, Saskia, arrives in town, the teen is smitten. Farizan deftly balances humor (Leila’s interactions with her friends, as well as her relationship with Saskia) with serious drama (Leila’s fear of coming out to her family).
Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews (September 2014, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). In this uplifting memoir, 17-year old Arin Andrews shares intimate details of his life, including his profound discomfort and confusion at having been born in the body of a girl, as well as his journey towards gender reassignment. Andrews also details his relationship with ex-girlfriend, Katie Hill (who is also transgender), which made national headlines last year and was profiled on 20/20. Hill will be releasing her memoir this fall, Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition (September 2014, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers).
Far from You by Tess Sharpe. Notable for its bisexual main character and frank portrayal of disability. “Nine months. Two weeks. Six days.That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.” (Description from Goodreads.com)
-Lalitha Nataraj, currently reading Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen