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 2018, Becky Albertalli, Fiction, LGBTQ

Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

NON-SPOILER REVIEW

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a fun read. It’s also a fast read. I spent a whole day trying to be productive only to find myself back in bed with the book unable to spend more than an hour away from it. If this were a relationship, my friends would have an intervention to stop my clinginess. In short, it’s addictive.

What makes Simon Vs The Home Sapiens Agenda different than most LGBT books is that Simon isn’t ashamed of being gay. He is more afraid of someone outing his online love interest: Blue. The reason he doesn’t want to come out himself is that he doesn’t want to be treated like a different person. He knows his family and friends will accept him but he doesn’t know how it will affect how they act around him.

I love Albertalli’s version of coming out. It’s not about declaring your sexuality, but rather, any change of your personality is a version of coming out. Whether you suddenly decide you’re going to be in a band or you started drinking coffee, anything that alters the perception of you is a form of coming out to the world. It’s neat that it’s comparable to little things because sometimes, coming out as gay seems like a monumental change when in reality, in this day and age, it is far more accepted than a decade ago (depending on where you live and your belief system, of course).

Simon has three best friends; Nick, Leah (Albertalli announced a sequel called Leah on the Off-Beat), and Abby. He has a younger sister who goes to the same high school and an older sister in college. His parents are happily married. The story basically centers around him trying to find out the identity of Blue while keeping it secret from his friends and family. The storyline might sound boring but because life happens, it’s actually interesting. Since he is not constantly beating himself up, like most LGBT books, it’s not as emotionally draining.

Warning: if you read this book, you might develop a strong craving for Oreos.

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Favorite Quotes (some contain spoilers)

“Thanks, but I’m driving.” says Leah. But she wouldn’t be drinking if she wasn’t driving. I know that. Because there’s this invisible line, and on one side are people like Garrett and Abby and Nick and every musician ever. People who go to parties and drink and don’t get wasted off of one beer. People who have had sex and don’t think it’s a huge deal.

I like this quote because it perfectly sums out how I felt as a teenager. The outside of popular kids who go to parties and can talk to strangers without overanalyzing everything.

I know this is weird, but I make my bed every single day, even though the rest of my room is a hellscape of paper and laundry and books and clutter. Sometimes I feel like my bed is a lifeboat.

I like this quote because before I read this book, I saw a video where a soldier was saying “If you want to save the world, start by making your bed.” But I can also relate in the sense that if my bed is made, I feel like I can breathe when I walk into my room. There is something about it being made that brings a sense of calm. And if it’s unmade, I not only feel tired, I feel the overwhelmingness of my future that I was trying to avoid the whole day. Lifeboat, indeed.

My mom was the one who got obsessed with the idea that I had a girlfriend even though I had never had one before. I don’t know why that came as such a freaking surprise to her, since I’m pretty sure most people start out never having had one.

This was just hilarious. And true.

But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.

This twist on coming out has been comforting. He didn’t see his sexual preference any different than all these little changes in habits. “Before I didn’t drink coffee, now I do.” “Before I wasn’t sure I liked boys, now I know.” It’s a life-changing moment, but not in the typical sense of life-changing. Not in the way that it feels like EVERYTHING is going to be different…just a part of you. It reminds me of a study that I was told about where people assume the life-changing events are big, like moving to a new home or changing careers…but in actuality, life-changing events are small, like reading a good book or watching an impactful movie. These things that you can do on your leisure time that do not require much thought about how it is impacting your life. That might not be a fair comparison since Simon did think about it…a lot. But you get the point, I hope. Coming out is just an addition to your personality; not the entirety of your personality.

I actually hate when people say that. I mean, I feel secure in my masculinity, too. Being secure in your masculinity isn’t the same as being straight.

Funny. Never thought about it like this.

They don’t have a clue. They don’t even know I’m gay.
And I don’t know how to do this. Ever since I told Abby on Friday, I kind of thought it would be easy to tell Leah and Nick. Easier, anyway, now that my mouth is used to saying the words.
It’s not easier. It’s impossible. Because even though it feels like I’ve known Abby forever, I really only met her four months ago. And I guess there hasn’t been time for her to have any set ideas about me yet. But I’ve known Leah since sixth grade, and Nick since we were four. And this gay thing. It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out of it feeling like Simon. Because if Leah and Nick don’t recognize me, I don’t even recognize myself anymore.

2d7202eb-7380-4e61-bb10-fe0cea0c76f8-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1That last sentence is heartbreaking. It’s also scary. But I get it, as a teenager, you aren’t really an individual yet (yes, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, we are a combination of our friends, families, and education.) Best friends are usually more important than family. Best friends are the family we chose to be a part of and if for whatever reason they stop choosing us…that’s just…emotionally scarring.

Trying not to think about something is like playing freaking Whac-A-Mole. Every time you push one thought down, another one nudges its way to the surface.

5b8bb193-be92-43af-8542-64710654691b-c2c6fc9d-a9ca-4363-8ef0-ed51522b6d12-v1I know the feeling!

In this moment, all I want is for things to feel like Christmas again. I  want it to feel how it used to feel.

This reminded me of the post that I saw where someone wrote something similar to this and someone else responded by saying that “we’re growing up” as in Christmas is for kids. When I was in college I joked with my professor that I believed in Santa Clause but the reason he stopped coming is that once we hit puberty, we are naughty by default. So I understand how Christmas feels different. But I think what makes it different is a form of growing up. We lose some sort of innocence when we have to show up and own up to our lives. Essentially, that is what was happening to Simon when he started feeling like this. He had to come out. It made things different because he no longer had the blissful ignorance of wondering what the future would hold. Because he knew. Everyone at school would know. His friends would now know. Blue knew. Things changed. It was no longer an innocent interaction of e-mails with another gay boy from school. It became real. And realness ruins the magic of Christmas. It will never feel that way it used to feel…but that doesn’t mean it will always feel awkward or uncomfortable.

 

PS. The Oreo craving took a month to settle down.

Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19547856-simon-vs-the-homo-sapiens-agenda

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)