My Thoughts On…: My True Love Gave to Me

My True Love Gave to Me  One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 is to actually review (some of) the books I read. I figured, Why wait? and so here we are, with My True Love Gave to Me.

Goodreads summary:

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: TWELVE HOLIDAY STORIES by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins.

Do I love holiday stories? Yes. Holiday movies? You bet! Made-for-TV-holiday specials? Ohhh yeah. Holiday episodes of my favorite sitcoms? Bring it on.

I love Christmas so much that I get excited about starting Advent somewhere around Halloween. And let’s be honest: it says “holiday” up there, but it’s mostly Christmas with a token Hanukkah story. There was a token Hanukkah story, and a token “queer” story – we’ll get to that in a minute – but it was a Christmas anthology.

I didn’t recognize most of these authors. I know Holly Black from Tithe when I was a teenager and Doll Bones now; Rainbow Rowell for Fangirl, which I read this year but it did not impress me; David Levithan from the good/bad old days of digging up something anything queer I could get my greedy little hands on reading Boy Meets Boy and then Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist in university; and though I’ve heard of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I’ve never read it. The others were a mystery to me.

Usually, I get bored of short story collections, but these were just the right length, and just the right number.

Most of the stories washed right over me. I enjoyed them enough to keep going and not skip any, but then I promptly forgot about them. (This happened with Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” and “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins.)  Others I really didn’t like at all because it felt like wasted potential. (e.g., Ally Carter’s “Star of Bethlehem,” and Holly Black’s “Krumpuslauf.” Black’s story felt too much like she was trying to be Holly Black then just tell a story.) The closest I came to skipping was “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me,” by Penny Han.

A handful really stuck out for me: “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” was probably my favorite. I hadn’t even heard of Myra McEntire, and the whole thing fell flat when I tried to explain to my roommate why I liked it so much, but I actually laughed out loud – multiple times, even! – at this story, and I’d love to read more by her.

The other two I liked were magical: “The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link was vivid and beautiful, like a Tam Lin retelling? and I love Tam Lin retellings, ever since I read Holly Black’s Tithe when I was sixteen or so. “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” was so vividly told that I’m curious if it’s part of another, larger piece… I hope so!

All in all, I’d give it three stars: a solid I liked it. (I’m trying to be stricter with my stars. Otherwise, I give everything four stars and it just becomes meaningless.)

However, in twelve stories, there was one couple that wasn’t straight – the two boys in Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” – and there wasn’t a single queer girl to be seen. There were no trans characters. While each individual story was good enough on it’s own, I guess, as a collection, I wanted to see a little… more.

Cis gay men are always the token queers. Cis gay men’s stories are the dominant narrative of what it means to be queer in 2014. That’s not David Levithan’s fault, but they couldn’t find a single author to write about a lesbian couple? Nobody would write about a trans main character?

Let me tell you: this asexual lesbian (that’s two points on your diversity bingo!) freaking loves Christmas. I’d like to read about girls like me falling in love with girls like me and kissing under the snow or whatever it is couples do in holiday specials.

That’s what I want for Christmas.

My Thoughts On…: Pantomime

PantomimeOnce upon a time, I saw Laura Lam’s Pantomime on the shelf. Intrigued by the cover, I picked it up and read the jacket copy. I put it back down.

R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilization long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

Okay. Yawn. Whatever. It sounds like a hetero romance, and that’s cool I guess but I don’t care.

I’m also really tired of “not like other girls” girls.

I was a tomboy growing up. I get it, the weird sense of alienation from your girl peers when they’re all wearing glittery tank tops and talking about make-up while you’re wearing a men’s tee shirt from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and talking about Pokémon. Believe me, I get it.

… but did no one in the coresty eras like clothes and fashion? Or do those girls not deserve to be protagonists, only fashionable, simpering friends?

So, yeah. I totally skipped this one.

ShadowplayI went on with my life and read other things and forgot about Pantomime for awhile until I saw Shadowplay. I liked that cover, too, and I didn’t connect it to Pantomime until I finished reading the blurb.

The circus lies behind Micah Grey in dust and ashes.

He and the white clown, Drystan, take refuge with the once-great magician, Jasper Maske. When Maske agrees to teach them his trade, his embittered rival challenges them to a duel which could decide all of their fates.

People also hunt both Micah and the person he was before the circus – the runaway daughter of a noble family. And Micah discovers there is magic and power in the world, far beyond the card tricks and illusions he’s perfecting…

A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey.

Oh.

Now you’ve got me interested.

So I went back and I picked up Pantomime so I could get to Shadowplay. (I never read series out of order.)

Partway through Shadowplay, I searched around for reviews to confirm my suspicions that the jacket copy was all wrong and made no sense. Gene and Micah aren’t a couple. They’re the same person. Gene/Micah is an intersex trans person.*
*He was raised as a girl, but identifies as a boy.

The Book Smugglers reviewed Pantomime and talked about all of this and improves significantly on the original jacket copy:

An intersex teen, Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, raised as the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Gene’s parents wish to force a decision on which gender Gene will spend the rest of Gene’s life as, so Gene runs away from home, assumes the identity of Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

There. That’s much better, and it actually tells potential readers what the book is about. This is not a book I would have skipped over on the shelf. I almost missed out on it, which is a real shame, because it’s so good. I’ve gotten a lot more strict about my Goodreads stars, and it still earned four. (My average is 3.54, but I went and added all of my favorites/five star books from before I started the account and didn’t add anything that I didn’t adore, skewing the average up a bit.)

I don’t want to be a queer book detective any more.

Could you write a very interesting story, told in a series of alternating flashback/present day chapters and have it be a big reveal that they’re the same person? Yes. It would be a cool story, but it is not this story. It’s no surprise to discover that Gene and Micah are one and the same. It’s not a spoiler. There’s no reason not to put it out there.

How many other readers aren’t finding this story because the jacket copy says it’s not for them? Do we have to “trick” cis/het readers into picking up queer books at the expense of queer readers?

My Thoughts On: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

11595276I finished reading Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post yesterday during my lunch break. I first heard about it recently, when it was removed from a Delaware school’s reading list (and the reading list was subsequently cancelled entirely to avoid controversy.*)
*spoiler: it didn’t work

Officially, Miseducation was removed for “profanity,” but let’s all be honest here: it’s because Cameron is a lesbian, and because she’s resistant to the “ex-gay” therapy she receives at a Christian “school” where she’s sent by her evangelical aunt when she’s outed by a “friend with benefits.”

I didn’t grow up anywhere near Miles City, but it sounds an awful lot like Milton(, Vermont). The profanity never sounded gratuitous to my ears; that’s how rural kids talk. We didn’t have a cool old abandoned hospital, but we did have a broken down creamery where teenagers went to smoke weed and graffiti walls. I only went in there once, as a senior, in broad daylight. I was never one of the “cool” kids like Cameron, who grieve by acting out.

Cameron is sent to Promise by her evangelical aunt, who raises her after her parents die suddenly in a terrible car accident. This is going to sound weird, but bear with me: I felt like the “dead parents” thing didn’t fit in with the story. It was the one thing that didn’t quite work for me, although Danforth’s writing rang painfully true when Cameron talks about how she never knew her parents as people, and how they became saints in her memory, untouchable because she felt so guilty, like they died because she was kissing a girl and shoplifting.

My father passed away when I was fourteen, the summer before I started high school. Unlike Cameron’s parents, my family saw my father’s death coming. I guess I wanted her parents’ deaths to play into her character more – the only time it came up directly was when her counselor suggests that her parents’ parenting mistakes “made” her act out on “inappropriate gender identity” and “sexual sin.” At the same time, I knew how after a parent dies, it’s everything but also nothing. How do you write that? I don’t know.

I wonder why Danforth decided to go with the dead parents route. After all, it’s not like parents never send their kids to “ex-gay/conversion therapy” – although it is now banned in many states, at least for minors.

Either way, I couldn’t put it down. The first half or so seemed long, but maybe that was because of the sense of impending doom. Everyone knows Cameron gets sent to Promise, so every time she kissed a girl, I kept wondering, is this it? is this the time she gets caught? 

In Kat’s article about the book banning controversy, she says

It’s a lot like But I’m a Cheerleader except a lot less campy and a lot more depressing. It takes place around the same time as the cult classic movie, beginning in 1989. It was the year I started elementary school, and if the world was a different place for LG and B youth, trans youth didn’t even “exist.” Don’t expect the novel to be painless if you grew up queer in the 90s. Having read the novel, I can attest to its impact, since I did grow up queer in the 90s.

I’m a little younger than Kat, and much younger than Cameron. I was born in 1989. But I grew up in a rural town like Miles City – only, we didn’t even have anything exciting like the Bucking Horse Sale – and I remember VHS tapes and looking through the tiny rental store for something, anything out of the mainstream. (I wasn’t looking for queer content, because approximately every person I ever knew realized I was a lesbian before I did. I was looking for anime, and the one thing the rental shop had available was Princess Mononoke in the “Adults Only” cabinet.)

Maybe it was that, or Danforth’s beautiful writing, but I believed in Cameron in a way I haven’t believed in a story protagonist in a long time. Maybe it was the first person narration? I don’t know. I wrote before about how we lose some of that immersive reading we had as tweens when we get older, but I found it again in this book. It’s that good.

The ending left me hungry for more, but in what I think of as “a His Dark Materials way.” I want to know what happens to Cameron throughout the rest of her life, immediately after up to wherever she’s writing from, but I don’t want to be told. I don’t think I want a sequel. (Of course, I would read one, if Danforth wrote it.) Some of Cameron’s reflective narration hints that she turns out okay, especially when she’s reflecting on the pseudoscientific nature of her “therapy” at Promise.

I resisted the urge to run around, recommending this book to everyone I’ve ever met until I finished reading it. (Last time I enthused about a book I hadn’t finished reading, I was disappointed by the ending and had to eat my words.) Now that I know how it ends, I can say, wholeheartedly, “everyone I’ve ever met and everyone I’ve never met should, without a doubt, read this book.”