Posted in 2018, Fiction, LGBTQ, Romance, young adult

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

This is the second book of Sara Farizan that I’ve read. I wasn’t too impressed with the first one, but I gave this one a shot anyway. I’m glad I did because I thought it was great (at least in comparison with Tell Me How A Crush Should Feel).

In this book, we have Nasrin and Sahar keeping their love a secret because, in Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death.  But since they are best friends, no ones thinks any differently that these girls love hanging around each other.

Conflict: Sahar’s parents have arranged her to marry a man.

Solution: Nasrin attempts to try to change her gender (because being a transexual is legal in Iran, did not know that) so she could marry Sahar instead.

This books is funny, emotional, entertaining, slightly annoying (it’s not uncommon to be annoyed of a character when you are binge reading first person point of view.) but overall educational on the experiences of a teenage Iranian coming to terms with the injustice.

One thing I did like about this book is that both characters loved each other equally, although they showed it in different ways. There was no pity love. There was no “I’m better than you, and I can have anyone I want so you better be good to me (which is how I first thought Sahar’s character would be like).” Both character were committed to each other, but circumstances got in the way.

Posted in 2018, Fiction, LGBTQ

Minotaur by J.A. Rock

This book is very well written…but badly executed. I read it because, 1) I have a thing for bull drawings (see cover) and 2) it was featured in Pride’s month reading recommendation.

I personally felt as if it were two different books merged together. You have the book of the Rock Point home….and then you have the book of the Labyrinth. Both stood well alone, but combining them felt disappointing.

I would have settled for a longer book if it had better action. My guess is that the author originally wanted to make the labyrinth scene, but then fell in love with the back story and focused more on that than on the labyrinth itself.

The labyrinth, full of promise and spooky potential, was treated like a badly managed circus. It’s not that I have an issue that a complete amateur was able to survive the place, it’s that she didn’t even get hurt. Yes, she got tricked, but she, for the most part, suffered outside of the Labyrinth way more than she did inside. How then, can I be convinced that the Labyrinth is a scary place?

The flow of the second part of the book felt like those unnecessarily dramatic stories that you can read to children to scare them. This differs from the beginning which felt more young adult and self-actualization.  

Our protagonist, although a teenager, has the emotional mindset of a child. That’s probably what made her interesting. Child-like heart but adult-like brain (or at least she wanted to act adult, anyway).

The love interest isn’t really about love….but about need and want. That, however, inspired the best quotes!

The character development is uninteresting since regardless of the circumstances, they were all haunted by their pasts. The character relationships were well thought out though.

The Beast was probably the biggest disappointment. Maybe that was the point. To not give us such an obvious villain. Or clever yet, to instate that the real villain isn’t the Beast, but society. The Beast then, becoming relatable.

Favorite Quotes:

We are all a step away from goodness cracking  under our feet and collapsing us into villany.

Loss, violence, bullying, starvation, boredom, the promise of beauty or fame or sex–chances are there is something somewhere you’d turn wicked for. Innocence starts to look haggard with age, same as skin.

My tantrums, my rotten words, the joy my fists took in meeting flesh–those were to distract others from seeing all the spots the spear could go. Until one woman stripped me truly bare, and together we built an armor that rendered me both powerful and humble. It looked so right on me that seeing myself in it for the first time.

Rivulets of grief, sliding down their bones, blushes of it in their cheeks. They suffered because they were lonely in a way people seldom talk about, a way that affects grace and movement and dreams and memory.

Perhaps we believed that if we never acted like adults, we’d never be forced out into the wider world to confront the magnitude of our desolation.

Loneliness is like having a wound sewn shut with barbed thread. We close off the parts of ourselves that are open to others and pretend to embrace the privacy of our bodies–and yet we do the closing with something that will hurt every time we move. That will remind us of the secrets we’ve tried to stow away.

I didn’t give a shit about being pretty. Yet it’s hard sometimes, in a world that promises you the most basic treasures in exchange for being a looked-upon thing, not to wish your face had been a better construct.

A soldier-ish loyalty grew on me ivy-thick, and I started to feel less like an awkward angry child and more like a warrior, with followers and a destiny and a tortured soul.

Bad things, I thought, can’t hurt you if you pursue them with devotion.

I’d spent a fair portion of my life taking, but I could now see the appeal of doing the opposite. Could imagine that it was its own sort of power, to do murder on somebody’s heart with a gift.

That’s a little blunt

I think our wishes often get as muddled as dreams. In our wishes, people are their better selves and walls lose their permanence, and no matter how heavily we populate our fantasies with friends, with family, with lovers–we are ultimately in them alone.

I don’t know why it works this way–that we blame the one who shatters the illusion, rather than the illusion itself, or ourselves for buying into it.

Shame is perhaps both a form of self-pity and a form of loneliness. In the heat of embarrassment, it’s possible to believe you are the only one who has ever felt such guilt, such a profound understanding of what an impossibility evil thing the self is.

388073c6-914c-43fc-bda1-028dd50234cc-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1 Love, love, love that one!

I didn’t want to be shy or delicate. I wanted to know what it was like to ravage a body with a misguided admiration for it. To know that skin got in the way of the truth of the person, and yet that truth, that soul, was untouchable, and so you had to settle for skin.

When you fall in love with someone, you fall in love not only with her face and eyes and heart, but with her vision of the world. Love leaves no room to stand back and pity another’s delusions. You share them. You join hands lying down and draw an arc across the sky and tell a story about what a cloud looks like, a story that becomes your shared truth.

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You can’t unleash an act of good to tame a tragedy.

It’s not that revenge has no place in the world. But we so often clamp our jaws around the things we think we want, while the real prizes escape between our teeth, slide down our necks in rivers and are lost in our skin.

I always thought loneliness must be a quiet thing. Up all night with frog sounds, wandering an empty room by day, resenting the sun squares on the floor. Guilt too seemed like it ought to be a silent kind of suffering. But what was going on inside me was a filthy and violent underground. Jeers and wagers and the sound of creature versus creature.

I do not want the truth gone from me. I do not want only stories. What stories do to heroes is edge out the things that make them bravest–their insecurities and wrongdoings, their trashing-tailed desire for self-preservation. The way they sharpen their love with a quiet, occasional contempt for the object of it. We paint heroes in broad strokes–nameable virtues and forgivable flaws. They brood, yes, but they are never paralyzed by self-loathing. They kill, but only monsters.

Courage without fear is simply recklessness.

I could have fucked her until our cries twined and drowned out the music of suffering.

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Miss Ridges had said once that reading meant nothing unless you could articulate what a story had given you. But I’d always disagreed–though I’d never found the words to argue. You didn’t have to be able to analyze to appreciate a story. You had only to be able to feel, deep in a place that didn’t deal in words, how that story was yours and everyone else’s too.

I don’t know which one I believe in.

“Violence starts as a discovery–of power, of ambition. Of a force that rests with its head against your heart. It is always there–a shadow, featureless. Until you turn a certain way, and the silhouette resolves itself. You see the nose, the lips, the curve of the shoulder. You see what you are capable of. You feel both the danger and the ordinariness of it. Because in the end, the blood comes out of each of us the same way. And one dead human, weighed against the world and the galaxy and everything beyond, means very little.” She paused. “Every act of violence is a disappointment before it even begins.”

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Overall, I don’t think I would recommend this book. The end doesn’t justify the means.

Featured image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25866851-minotaur

 

Posted in LGBTQ

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Non-Spoiler Review

I got this book because I liked the title. It was not at all what I was expecting (well, I was expecting it to be a finding yourself story, which it was, so I guess that’s a lie. The delivery was not what I expected). This book was the first book I ever read with the gender-fluid main character. To spare you the time of Googling what that means, a gender-fluid person doesn’t identify as a fixed-gender. Therefore one day they can feel like a female, and the next hour like a male and then a couple minutes later…like nothing. That’s what happens to our protagonist, Riley. The book never mentions what gender Riley was at birth (I deduced it to “male” but I won’t mention as to why because that would be a spoiler.) In order not to insult, I won’t be reviewing using pronouns for this post.

What makes Riley special is that Riley is the child of a Senator who is trying to get re-elected. Therefore there is a lot of pressure on Riley to be the model child, and apparently, it’s not cool for Republicans to be associated with anything relating to the LGBT community. I don’t buy it because the setting is in California, and regardless of your political affiliation, California is a liberal state and for the most part, accepting (or at least, tolerant).

Riley’s therapist suggested to Riley to start an anonymous blog to help communicate the gender-identity situation. Riley recently transferred to a public school after leaving a religious school after having an anxiety attack due to the realization that (wow, not using pronouns has proven to be extremely difficult) there is more to Riley’s gender than just genitalia. This is all explained within the first few chapters so it’s not spoiling anything. Unsurprisingly, Riley is terrified of not being accepted in this new school. Riley dresses up gender-neutral in order not to expose one gender over the other, that way when there’s a shift, it won’t be weird to the public.

The way Riley explains gender-fluid is as a dial. In one end you have male, on the other end you have female. When you wake up, the dial points in one direction over the other. And it can change as the day and circumstances changes. I noticed that when he was hanging around guys, he felt more like a male. But when she was hanging around with girls, she felt more female (pronouns are appropriate here). I also noticed that when she was liking the idea of being a romantic interest, she felt more female. I guess her inner flirt is a queen.

Riley is paranoid that either someone will figure out that she/he is gender-fluid, the child of a Senator or the author of the blog discussing gender-fluid. We spent most of the time in his/her thoughts.

If you are into YA novels, this one fits the criteria and I’d recommend it. If you don’t have an open mind of the different associations in the LGBTQ community, this is probably not for you. You’d be rolling your eyes everytime Riley talks about being misunderstood.

In-Depth Review (Contains Spoilers)

In order not to spoil the dynamic of Riley’s new found friend and enemies, I decided to write them in this section instead of the spoiler free review.

Bec was the best possible love interest Jeff Garvin could have created. She was patient, sympathetic and comforting. Not to mention a tease that was able to produce a swarm of butterflies.  When she said her sister had a bad reaction to some medication and they couldn’t resuscitate her, I first thought of suicide. I know, my brain sucks. I’m used to reading tragic stories. So when she confessed that her transexual sibling killed herself, I was not surprised. It sucked, don’t get me wrong. Loss, especially through suicide, is hard to deal. I understand how Riley thought that Bec just saw her sister and that’s why Bec hung around. I get the low self-esteem “no one will like me unless they want to use me” mentality. So when it all worked out, I was happy! Also, “don’t be stupid. I don’t have a type. I have standards” is an evolved form of love for a teenager.

Solo is the reason I think Riley was born a male. When Riley’s father saw Solo at the hospital, he was…concerned. Riley has mentioned that his/her father thinks he’s gay. And his/her father would get excited with the idea of Riley handing around with a girl and going on dates. But the point of the story is that gender is irrelevant. I really liked Solo. I was sad in those chapters were Riley thought he was a dick. Solo is an understanding guy who loves Star Wars. He stood up for Riley and got him/her out of his/her head. He was honest and persistent.

I wish we knew more about Riley’s mom. The story was really dad centered with hints of mom here and there. Makes sense, the senators get more attention than the senator’s wife’s.

I was disappointed by the bullying. Not that I wanted Riley to get hurt or anything, but it just seemed unoriginal. Which might have been the point? To create a story where your worst enemy is literally yourself. Where the bullies might be bad but they are no worse to you than others. They didn’t seem too focused on making Riley’s life a living hell up until Riley decided to break Vicker’s arm. Not that I’m saying Riley should not have fended for him/herself. I’m simply stating a point. It was typical high school bullying. Typical namecalling and taunts. Nothing deliberately aimed to imply hated. It just felt that way to Riley. Because he/she couldn’t accept his/herself, she/he assumed the rest of the world would act that way. Then again….if he/she were “normal”, the same thoughts would probably occur and he/she would find another reason to find him/herself unlikeable. Maybe zits or crooked teeth. I do not miss my teenage years at all!

Unfortunately, I didn’t find that many good quotes in this book. Most books that I’ve read so far regard teenagers who are forced into a serious situation that requires them to grow up too soon and that is where all the introspective insights that I love reading about come from. With Riley’s case, he/she was arrested at the age of 6 when he/she had to decide what toy to get. He/she saw his/her dad looking disapproving at his/her choice of either a blue power ranger and a Bratz doll. That little incident was registered as “I did something bad. What I like is bad. I have to please my parents” and that is what started the hiding process. So in other words, Riley has a 6-year-old coping mechanism while being thrown in the zoo that is high school. No wonder his/her anxiety is off the charts! As cliche as it sounds…you need love to grow, at least emotionally. He/she didn’t have that. Not until Bec and Solo. And the LGBTQ support group (which I think they should have their own reality TV show because they were just amazing people, even if they were fictional). Then he/she started feeling more confident. More transparent. More visible. Like he/she belonged.

I did find two good quotes though:

“‘So, first, I want you to know that everybody experiences some level of anxiety. It’s a normal human response to stress. It’s like your body’s smoke alarm. If there’s a fire, you want to know so you can put it out or call 9-1-1, right?’
I shrug. ‘ I guess. But it feels like my alarm is going off all the time.’ 
Doctor Ann nods. ‘Some people’s systems are more sensitive than others’. For you, Maybe all it takes is burning a piece of toast, and your alarm thinks the house in on fire.'”
Anxiety is a trip (for more quotes about anxiety, read my blog post of Queens of Geek where I posted a good selection).

“‘You always say the best leaders figure out how to turn a bad situation to their advantage. When life gives you gators, you make Gatorade. Remember?'”
That should be a shirt!

(Featured Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22692740-symptoms-of-being-human)

Posted in Fiction, LGBTQ

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

You know you’re about to embark on a good book when one of the first sentences you read is “The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.”

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a young adult fiction book about two teenage boys discovering themselves…and the secrets of the universe.

For those of you who haven’t read it, before going into further detail about what it’s about, I wrote the reasons for why I would and would not recommend this book in the hopes that I’d spare you time in your decision making.

I would recommend this book if you like:

  • LGBT characters.
  • teenage protagonists…correction: smart mouth teenage protagonists to which their teenage angst helps develop the story.
  • questions for the sake of asking them, not answering them.
  • minority groups who are uncertain of their identity.
  • characters with a sense of emotional awareness who overthink the tiniest of events
  • strong character development, without it progressing too rapidly or forcing change for the sake of interest.
  • simple love stories.
  • sad stories.
  • a hint of mystery, but not to the point where it takes away from the main storyline.
  • family drama where they overcome society’s challenges.

I would not recommend this book if you:

  • lack patience. This story takes a while to unfold. If you want immediate action, you will be disappointed.
  • prefer passionate love scenes. This isn’t that kind of book. It’s simple and innocent.
  • don’t like introspection. The majority of the book is spent inside the mind of our main character.
  • are a grammar nazi. The book that I have felt like there were some missing words here and there (pg 120 for example). But really it was only 3 incidents that I caught.

If these notes fit your criteria of books you want to read, great! Come back and leave a comment with your thoughts. If it’s not what you like in a book, then thank you for taking the time to read my post, I’m glad I helped you save time.

For those of you who have read it, let’s discuss! 🙂

——–the below content will contain spoilers———

Within the beginning, we get an explanation of Aristotle’s (Ari for short) family. He has two older twin sisters and one older brother. His older brother is in prison and he feels like he has to be the good son. His older sisters don’t give him any information regarding his brother. No one talks about him. His father, a soldier of the Vietnam war, also remains speechless regarding his own demons. Ari doesn’t understand him at all, even though he desperately wants to. His mother, however, is the only person he feels remotely connected to. They have this relationship built on honesty, wit, and respect (I immediately fall in love with this mother-son dynamic). They understand their roles and don’t try to blur it.

Then, we meet Dante. Dante offered to teach Ari how to swim.  My favorite thought that Ari had was “If a guy was offering to teach me how to swim, then for sure he didn’t have a life. Two guys without a life? How much fun could that be?
I had a rule that it was better to be bored by yourself than to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have any friends.”

So now we know how Ari feels about Dante, but upon exchanging names, they bonded on their philosophical names. Instant friends based on this crazy coincidence. They swam together, suggested books and comics, had discussions, came up with stories about other people…you know, typical boyhood antics.

I like to think that swimming is a metaphor for life. See, before he decided to go swimming that day, he was saying that his life was not really his. He did most things because of his parents. He was proud to go swimming that day because it was his original idea, even if he didn’t know how to swim. So here’s this kid who barely knows how to float (live his own life) and suddenly, Dante appears in the picture to teach him how to swim (learn how to slowly become his own person, with his own emotions and own stories).

Ari is your typical Mexican American who doesn’t mind his identity so much but rather, dislike the characters around him. Dante is your typical Mexican American who has shame over being Mexican.

What made me fall in love with Dante was when Ari observed that “He tried not to laugh, but he wasn’t good at controlling all the laughter that lived inside of him.” That made me smile from ear to ear, it made my heart melt and it made me jealous. I can’t remember a time where I was so filled with laughter. It feels like a dream that everyone should strive to be.

What made me fall in love with Saenz (author) was when I read “That afternoon, I learned two new words. ‘Inscrutable.’ And ‘friend.’
Words were different when they lived inside of you.”

If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong, reading sentences like that is…home. There is no other word to describe that sensation.

The boys eventually met each other parents. The parents were happy that this relationship was developing because they’ve seen their sons grow up without making any real friends.

One event that made us realize how much Ari cared about Dante is when Dante was telling these boys off for killing a sparrow with a BB Gun. Ari was ready to beat them up if they dared touch Dante. This sparrow showed Ari how much Dante cared about things that no one cares about. That’s also when Dante knew Ari liked to fight, but it didn’t disturb him. That night, Ari had a nightmare about sparrows falling from the sky, hurting him. He became sick and had more of the same dream, except eventually he was fighting back. Flash forward a couple chapters later, Dante sees a sparrow in the middle of the road and he goes to help him out. That’s when a car suddenly turns the corner and Ari jumps in to push Dante away, damaging his own legs in the process. I like to think of the fallen sparrow and his inability to feel free. And in those dreams, how his desire hurts him and how strongly he fights back because he feels like that’s all he can do.

During the hospital, Dante gives Ari his drawing sketchbook (earlier in the book, Dante told Ari he didn’t let anyone see his drawings). Ari decided not to look at them. At this point, he wasn’t aware, but he was conflicted with his feelings for Dante. He has this thought that if Dante really knew him, he wouldn’t like him. So Ari liked to keep a field of protection around him and his emotions. He was upset that Dante gave him the sketchbook to begin with because he felt that Dante only did it because he felt responsible for the accident. Also, he was jealous of Dante’s ability to be so expressive.

There was a moment, in the hospital, where he saw his mother and father holding hands. He then thought “I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.” I felt like this would have been a great opportunity to use “secrets of the universe” to foreshadow the scene in the end. Get it? You can find the secrets of the universe in someone’s hand….Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe….in the end, Ari took Dante’s hand to hold. Get it?! Cute, right?

The next few chapters we’re introduced to more people, mainly because Dante moves to Chicago. His father got a temporary job there. So we meet some of Ari’s classmates, a potential lover, his new truck, new job and a new pet. We also receive letters from Dante telling Ari he’s experimenting with weed, alcohol, and kissing. In a letter, he tells Ari that he’d rather be kissing boys.

When Dante returned, they made some ground rules. Dante can’t kiss Ari. Ari can’t run away from Dante. Although Ari was okay with Dante being gay, Dante was not confident that Ari would stand by his side due to his sexuality. Later, Dante pretty much talked Ari into kissing him. Ari said he didn’t feel anything, Dante said he did. A couple more chapters later, we find that Dante winds up in the hospital because he was beaten up by a group of guys when he was caught kissing another boy. Ari, of course, not only stood by his side, he decided to punch the leader of the pack. What a loyal friend!

However, when his parents find out that he was violent, they start becoming concerned. They confessed that his older brother was in prison for getting violent and killing someone. After an incident where Ari instinctively punches the wall. His mom has a family meeting and here the father tells him some of his war stories. After, he tells Ari that he has to stop running from Dante. When he didn’t comprehend, he explained it’s obvious Dante loves him, but what he needs to face is that he loves Dante. When Ari became confused and asked why he was saying that. His father told him that “because I can’t stand watching all that loneliness that lives inside you. Because I love you, Ari”

Whoa! Take a deep breath, right?

I still need another moment.

WOW!

Profound comfort. I will admit, I cried…

We’d have a lot less LGBT related suicides if more parents had a conversation like that with their children. Well…there would be a lot fewer suicides in general if more people chose to love.

Anyway, the book ends with Dante and Ari getting together….very pg guys. They kissed. This isn’t Brokeback Mountain. See, not that much “passionate love”…just…innocent love.

I liked a few quotes that I think are worth blogging about. The first one is from his diary entry and says “The problem is not that I don’t love my mother and father. The problem is that I don’t know how to love them.” This is relatable to anyone who was ever told that their way of loving is wrong. We learned to hide it up to the point where we don’t know how to effectively show it.

“I don’t know why I was thinking about all these things–except that’s what I always did. I guess I had my own personal television in my brain. I could control whatever to watch. I could switch the channels anytime I wanted.” This is so relatable to overthinkers! To people who think about everything!!! At all times! I remember laughing and appreciating the description of what goes on in our head.

Those are my thoughts for now. What were your thoughts on the book?

(featured image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12000020-aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-universe?ac=1&from_search=true)