Last month I read The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004 (Scarecrow Studies in Young Adult Literature) by Michael Cart and Christine Jenkins, a book that, as you may have guessed from its subtitle, examines young adult books with LGBTQ content published between 1969 and 2004. The authors list EVERY YA book published between the years 1969 and 2004, and I decided that I would take it upon myself to read as many books as possible that are listed in its pages.
Although I am not generally an avid reader of young adult books, I’m continuously fascinated by and interested in the portrayal of LGBTQ youth (and adults) within young adult books. And, as a reader who is predisposed to reading entire series of books, the fact that, due to the unfortunately low number of books published, reading every young adult book with LGBTQ content (at least until the 2000s) is actually a goal within my grasp, I am excited by the challenge.
I am using the terms gay and lesbian (as opposed to the more inclusive LGBTQ) for this challenge because these books are very binary and only feature gay or lesbian characters. (Per book. Seriously, the first YA book to feature both gay and lesbian characters was My Life As a Body by Norma Klein in 1987. The first to mention bisexuality was “Hello,” I Lied. by M.E. Kerr in 1998, and the first major transgender character wasn’t featured until 2004 in Julie Ann Peters’ Luna.)
I asked around on Twitter last week if anyone was interested in joining me for this read-a-long, and so far Amy, Jodie, and Carina have signed on to read at least a few with me. I plan on posting about the books sometime during the last week of each month. Some of these books are harder to find than others (especially David Rees’ In the Tent), but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to find them all.
2013 Schedule (all links lead to the book’s Goodreads page)
ETA: This is a complete list of all the YA books with LGBT characters published between 1969-1979. Ten books in eleven years.
January: I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan (1969)
February: The Man Without a Face by Isabelle Holland (1972)
March: Trying Hard to Hear You by Sandra Scoppettone (1974)
April: Ruby by Rosa Guy (1976)
May: What’s This About Pete? by Mary Sullivan (1976)
June: Sticks and Stones by Lynn Hall (1977)
July: I’ll Love You When You’re More Like Me by ME Kerr (1977)
August: Hey, Dollface by Deborah Hautzig (1978)
September: Happy Endings Are All Alike by Sandra Scoppettone (1978)
October: In the Tent by David Rees (1979)
Carry the One
by Carry Anshaw
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster
Read December 2012
When Jodie contacted me about her idea to have a group of bloggers read the Green Carnation Prize* short-list, I didn’t hesitate before choosing Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One. Mostly because I had attempted to read the novel before, but I ended up setting it aside when I realized it just wasn’t the right time to read the book. The Green Carnation Prize project was a good excuse to give it another chance.
Warning: This post contains discussion of actual events in the novel. Some might call them spoilers.
The Plot: After Carmen and Matt’s wedding, Olivia, Nick, Maude, Alice, and Jim drive off a little drunk and a little stoned. The car hits and kills a child, and Olivia, who was driving, is sent to jail. The book follows the characters’ lives over the next few decades of their lives.
- Carry the One starts off with an epigram, a quote from a Gillian Welch song, as if to say, “Hello, this book is going to be very gay.”
- I was struck by how the violence that occurs in the novel was connected to conservative arguments. The little girl is killed because Olivia is high on drugs. Message: drugs are bad. Nick’s nose is broken because “Everyone was tacitly deferring to some universal law that, while his daughter lay in the hospital morgue, a father was allowed to punch out the guy lounging around in the wedding dress” (p 18). Message: variant gender expression is bad. Carmen’s ear is destroyed while volunteering to help women safely access a clinic that performs abortions. Message: abortion is bad. Maybe this wasn’t the author’s intent, but it happened enough that I started to pay attention.
- Also, by including the tragic car accident right after Alice and Maude have sex, Anshaw continues an unfortunate tradition of tragic car accidents “coincidentally” occurring after same-sex partners have sex. (Including the first YA book with LGBT content, I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan, wherein the main character’s dog is hit by a car after the MC has sex with his male friend.)
- I’m interested in how Alice is the only character whose intimate moments are detailed for the reader. She is presented as a sexual object in a way that none of the other characters are.
- I loved the relationship Carmen had with her sister Alice. This quote is probably my favorite in the entire book and definitely makes a top ten list somewhere: Carmen was always a little startled (and titillated) when Alice said things like this. She wasn’t sure if this was her sister’s way of being shocking, or if lesbians all talked this way among themselves. It always tripped her up. She used to imagine love between women as a languid extension of friendship. Something Virginia Woolf-ish involving tea and conversation and sofas and afternoon eliding into evening, a small lamp needing to be turned on, but left unlit. And so she was brought up short by Alice’s exhausting–even just to witness–passion for Maude, her desolation since Maude walked out of her life. (p. 63)
- Carmen works in a women’s shelter and I was pleasantly surprised that one of the women had been abused by her female partner. Representations of survivors of same-sex violence are so rare, and the inclusion here didn’t seem forced, as if included just to make a point.
- This is the second novel, after John Green’s fantastic The Fault in Our Stars, I’ve read this year where a character visits the Anne Frank House.
- Time goes by quickly, with each chapter beginning without a note as to just how much time has passed. Usually this bothers me in books, but I found it easy enough to keep track based on the pop culture references and, more directly, characters’ mentions of time.
- Alice gets mono–which the text frequently refers to as the KISSING DISEASE. Cause y’all know who she’d be kissing, amiright? It’s telling that in the same chapter, Alice tells Carmen she’s “reading all these cheesy dyke novels from the forties and fifties,” which she loves because “[t]hey’re like Greek tragedies. Everyone gets horribly punished in the end. Or they hang themselves with a belt over the steam pipe” (p. 152). Since Alice, Carmen, and Nick are named after tragic Opera characters…I got kind of nervous about where this was going.
- And then, oh God, their mother dies right after Alice has sex. Alice, you should never have sex apparently because you KILL PEOPLE WITH YOUR LADY LOVE.
Recommended: Despite some of the things I’ve said above, Carry the One is an engaging, well-written story that just so happens to use several tropes of LGBT fiction.
Green Carnation Prize Project participants:
*The Green Carnation Prize recognizes the best book of the year by a LGBT-identified author.
Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week we’re sharing ten books we “wouldn’t mind” getting for Christmas.
You might notice that this list is, um, all non-fiction. I am weird with the books I keep on my bookshelves: favorite novels, non-fiction about politics or biographies, and LGBT/queer books of any kind. When it comes to gifts, though, I’m open to most things, particularly books other people enjoyed that I might not have picked up on my own.
While writing this post, I purchased The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy by David Nasaw, a book that was originally included in this list, from Audible. I couldn’t resist.
Total Books Read: 7
# of pages read: 463
# of hours listened: 174 hours 30 minutes
- These Things Happen by Richard Kramer: November was a tough month for me and I missed my review deadline for this, but I’m working on it now and hope it publish it this week.
- The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson #4) by Robert A. Caro (audio): So after getting completely sucked in by Caro’s amazing writing style and portrayal of LBJ as Vice President and then eventually president, I found out that if Caro, who is 77, dies before he finishes the last book in this series, IT’S TO REMAIN UNFINISHED AS WRITTEN IN HIS WILL. I can’t even deal.
- The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004 by Michael Cart and Christine Jenkins: You know what I like more than LGBT young adult books? Analysis of LGBT young adult books. I have a post about The Heart Has Its Reasons in the works and it’s a doozy.
- Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon Johnson #3) by Robert A. Caro (audio): Reading the books out of order doesn’t matter and ohhh how fantastic they are.
- Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court by Jeff Sheshol (audio): A look at FDR’s court-packing plan. Not nearly as action filled as MASTER OF THE SENATE or THE PASSAGE OF POWER.
- Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie (audio): So I realized that the only way British folks know how to do an American accent is to speak kind of like George W. Bush if he had gotten dental work a few hours before hand. It’s really disconcerting to hear them read a JFK quote in a GWB accent. (Side note: All presidents should have catchy initials. I’m looking at you, BHO.)
- Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein (audio): A re-read because after reading about how much of a jerk LBJ was I lost my amused enjoyment of the crazy paranoia that defined Nixon. Re-reading the fantastic Nixonland didn’t help, but it did make everything written in it a lot more depressing.
I have currently lost my ability to read print, ie I’ve read maybe two pages of three different books in the past two weeks or so and I don’t remember any of it. Sad times.
I really love December and I really, really love Christmas themed things and I don’t mind admitting that.
Side note: This post, slim as it may be, is dedicated to Clare because she gives the best pep talks.
Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Today’s topic was a freebie and I chose books about presidents since it is election day and, you know, I love presidential history.
- Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard: A brilliant, engaging history of President James Garfield, a man whose political potential was cut short by assassination, as well as the medical situation and labor issues of his time.
- The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy: This book never feels gossipy, which is impressive when you consider that the entire book is about the relationships between presidents and their predecessors. There’s a lot of fascinating information here about the often complicated relationships among the few men who have held the role of leader of the United States and the respect all of them have, despite party identification, for the office of the presidency.
- The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century by Scott Miller: I can almost guarantee that this is the most interesting book you will find about President McKinley.
- All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward: A recount of the dramatic way the two young reporters were able to uncover the Watergate scandal. I read the entire book on a bus ride to New Hampshire.
- Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein: This book isn’t just about Nixon; it’s about the politics and political landscape of his time and how it has influenced the political situation we find ourselves in today. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Perlstein, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, also has a book about Barry Goldwater that I really need to get my hands on.
- The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro: I cheated a bit with this one–I’m still reading it. Lyndon Johnson was a fascinating man. This is the fourth book in Caro’s series on LBJ, and it covers LBJ’s time as Vice President and the beginning of his presidency after the traumatic murder of President Kennedy.
- Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks: I don’t really like Teddy Roosevelt, but this book is an interesting look at his time as police commissioner of New York.
- Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman: I can’t put it better than the blurb, so: “SCORPIONS tells the story of these four great justices: their relationship with Roosevelt, with each other, and with the turbulent world of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. It also serves as a history of the modern Constitution itself.”
- The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 by Evan Thomas: It’s funny how I don’t really like Teddy Roosevelt but I have two books about him on this list. I love the tie-in with Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt’s best friend, and William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper giant, and how they pretty much made the Spanish-American War happen.
- Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell: My favorite Vowell book. She visits the sites of presidential assassinations and is funny and factual and pretty much should be my best friend.
The Freedom Maze
by Delia Sherman
Published 2011 by Small Beer Press
Ebook borrowed from the library
Read August 2012
My favorite book in fifth grade
was Jane Yolen’s The Devil Arithmetic
, the story of a young Jewish girl who is transported back in time to a concentration camp. I read The Devil’s Arithmetic
the way some people read Pride and Prejudice
or Jane Eyre
: over and over and over, often sneaking pages under my desk during science lessons, basically eating the book until it was falling apart and the pages no long stayed attached to the binding. So when I heard about The Freedom Maze
, a book about a young, Southern white girl in 1960 who goes back in time to live as a slave in 1860, I was unable to resist the muffled cries of my 10 year-old self, pleading with me to give it a chance.
I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction anymore, but what I can say is this: The Freedom Maze would have ended up the way of The Devil’s Arithmetic in my younger self’s hands. (I was pleasantly not-quite-surprised to read Solomon’s thanks to Jane Yolen in the acknowledgements.) In fact, as someone who tends to avoid young adult fiction, I found myself thoroughly charmed and surprised by the risks Sherman took in this novel.
Recommended: When you’re looking for a unique, well-written YA story.
This post includes links that are part of Amazon’s Affiliate program. If you click a link and buy the book, I get a (very) small portion of the profits.
As you may have heard, Tuesday is Election Day here in the U.S., and while I am engaged and (of course) plan to vote, I haven’t been exerting as much energy this election cycle as I did in 2008. That was the year it was all news, all the time in the Cass household. This time around, I’m getting my election/presidential-nerd kicks by engaging in some Presidential pop culture.
The West Wing
I avoided this show pretty much forever, which is weird for someone with liberal politics and an obsession with presidents. In my defense, after I got super into Aaron Sorkin‘s “Sports Night” thanks to Netflix Instant, I found out that the show was cut short so Sorkin could focus on the more popular West Wing. Boooo.
Nevertheless, a while back Kim was kind enough to send me the DVD set of the first season of The West Wing, and when I realized I’d had them way too long I figured I should probably watch them and send it back as soon as possible. (Sorry and thank you, Kim!) I just finished episode 16 and I am completely addicted. What strikes me the most, though, is that even as President Bartlett is portrayed to be a super liberal president, he’s against same-sex couples adopting (not to mention serving openly in the military and other issues). There’s even a story line about a high school student who is the victim of an anti-gay hate crime and the staff avoids having the parents of the boy talk to the press because the father is mad at the president’s weak stance on gay rights.
In a year when the President of the United States has come out in support of same-sex marriage, it’s a bit of a shock to the system to realize just how far mainstream gay rights ideas have come since the first season of The West Wing (1999-2000).
Of Thee I Sing
I am currently listening to Passage of Power by Robert Caro, the fourth book in his extensive biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson. While discussing the view many folks had of the Vice Presidency in a pre-Dick Cheney world, he mentions a song from the Gershwin musical Of Thee I Sing where no one can remember the Vice President’s name. I tracked down the original Broadway recording of the musical on Spotify and I’ve been giggling over the ridiculous songs all morning. I highly recommend it for light-hearted listening.
Louis As Lincoln
From last night’s SNL episode with host Louis CK:
Just as straight readers have always done with mainstream literature, I could finally read fictional works to see my own life reflected, explored, analyzed and re-imagined Through gay literature I could come to understand my place in the world. (425)
— from How To Be Gay by David M Halperin
Queer Library is a new feature on Bonjour, Cass! Every Friday I’ll write about a queer book on my shelves, an upcoming book I’m looking forward to reading, a review, or anything else related to LGBTQ books.
There’s a new biography of Thornton Wilder out, written by Penelope Niven and published by Harper. When I went to read the New York Times review of the book I was astonished to read this:
Ms. Niven, the author of books about Carl Sandburg and Edward Steichen, has dug deeply into the copiously documented life of her subject, drawing on access to substantial troves of previously undisclosed family papers. And yet, setting aside the dubious testimony of a single man who claims to have gone to bed with Wilder,“Thornton Wilder: A Life” tells of a life lived without the sexual relationships and romantic attachments that we sometimes falsely assume to be the most momentous passages in an artist’s — or anyone’s — life.
That “dubious testimony” was from Samuel Steward: author, tattoo artist, and friend of Gertrude Stein, who himself was the subject of an award-winning biography by Justin Spring. While Spring acknowledges that it is not 100% provable that Wilder and Steward had an affair, he presents a strong case based on the papers of Steward and letters from Wilder, Stein, and Alice B. Toklas.
What gets me about this whole situation isn’t that the NY Times refuses to acknowledge Steward by name or that Wilder is presented by Niven as a man without “sexual relationships and romantic attachments” (although that bugs me plenty), it’s the implication that acknowledging even the possibility that a beloved historical figure may have had homosexual entanglements will be offensive. Especially given that Wilder wrote “Our Town,”the most New Englandy of all New Englander plays, and a perfect example of the tendency toward repressed emotions of my fellow New Englanders.
If Wilder had written less famous or less popular plays, I don’t think Steward’s “dubious testimony” would be dismissed so easily. There is a major gap between modern society’s willingness to acknowledge the effeminate Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality and our discomfort in assuming the sexual orientation or desires of a less flamboyant, more traditionally masculine artist like Wilder.
Shorter: I really wish you’d read Secret Historian instead.
Total books read: 18
# of pages read: 1785
# of hours listened: 106
- Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (audio): I was freaking out at work because I didn’t have an audio book ready and I couldn’t concentrate. This was a free download from an Amazon promotion for their new Whispersync feature (where qualifying ebooks and audio books sync to the same place when you open one after reading the other) so it was easy to decide to listen to. I probably wouldn’t have, uh, maybe ever read this classic otherwise. It’s an endearing portrait of middle-class life in 19th century England–and then I searched in vain for literary criticism of it to get a better idea of the impact it had.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (audio): Another free audio book from Amazon. It’s read by Anne Hathaway, an actress I generally feel meh to yick about, but she does a really good job.
- Heart of Darkness by Joesph Conrad (audio): Yet another free Amazon book. Shorter version: WHITE IS GOOD BLACK IS BAD. Yikes. I immediately read Chinua Achebe’s famous response and felt much better for it.
- Love, In Theory by E.J. Levy
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (audio): Free amazon audio book, read by Elijiah Wood. I pretended to read this book in high school so I finally gave it a chance. I am not a fan, although Wood narrates it really well.
- Seconds Away (Mickey Bolitar, #2) by Harlan Coben: Readathon mystery fun.
- You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (audio): My general response: meh.
- Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (audio): Enjoyable fun, performed excellently by Martha Plimpton. Hey did you know Palahniuk is gay? Cool cool cool.
- The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid (audio): My second attempt at a McDermid mystery. I just don’t think she’s the one for me.
- Astray by Emma Donoghue (audio): Thanks for reminding me how interesting and fun short stories can be, Ms. Donoghue.
- Dancing In the Streets: A Novel of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich (audio): You know those books you generally have nothing to say about?
- Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King (audio): When your subtitle is more interesting than your actual book, you have a problem.
- Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes (audio): Surprisingly fantastic.
- Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti (ebook): Birthing children is terrifying.
- But I Really Wanted to Be an Anthropologist by Margaux Motin: More readathon fun.
- Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin (audio): Shorter: Dickens was nice to prostitutes, not so much to his wife.
- Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Life of Bible Belt Gays by Bernadette C. Barton (ebook): Writing reviews of academic works makes me SO nervous, but I really need to try with this one.
- How to Be Gay by David M. Halperin: I have never before encountered a 500+ page work of queer theory and thought “I WISH THIS BOOK WAS LONGER!” I could talk about this book forever.
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