Books Read in 2015 23. I am J – Cris Beam

eclecticreader15Genre: GLBT, Young Adult

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2011

Format: Kindle9780316053617

Synopsis: J may have been born a girl but he has always known that wasn’t who he really was. Now he is seventeen, he realises that he needs to do something to bring his body into line with who he feels he is. However, his parents and friends don’t always find his new identity easy to deal with. 

Reading challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge – genre diversity.

I always find it a bit of a problem reading accounts from a teenage point of view because the main characters always seem so self centred and difficult. Perhaps it is just too long since I was that age for me to really be able to identify with them. I’m sure that if you were the same age as J then you wouldn’t have this problem.

J is quite difficult to like. While I understand that being trans is difficult and would make you angry, there is little more to J than his anger and his gender. There is little sense of what sort of person he was. Perhaps this is because he is so desperately trying to be like the other boys that he never really develops his own identity. Again, I can see how this might be the case but it still made J difficult to get on with.

There is a lot of gender stereotyping in this book – and I have found this with other trans books I have read. A lot of boys do this, girls do that. This is never really questioned and I found that and J’s homophobia very irritating.

This book was not written by someone who is trans but by someone who has had a lot of dealings with people who are trans and this comes across I think. J is an amalgam of everybody who has ever been in his situation and Beam throws everything at the story – lying mother, distant father, friend who can only think of herself, older wise trans woman and so on.

There is no doubt that it is good that books about being trans are now being written and maybe if I was trans I would find more to identify with here. However, instead, I  felt detached and unable to completely empathise with J and that made me feel a little sad.

Books Read in 2015. 6. The Hell You Say – Josh Lanyon

Genre: Crime, GLBT

Narrative Style: First Person, Chronologicalhell_you_say_2011

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2006

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: This is the third book in the Adrien English series. Angus, Adrien’s assistant at his bookstore has been receiving threatening phone calls. Adrien foolishly loans him the money to disappear for a while. Foolish because it soon becomes apparent that Angus is involved in some sort of demonic cult and, as usual, Adrien feels compelled to investigate, getting himself into all sorts of trouble as a consequence. Adrien is still sort of involved with closeted cop Jake Riordan. Even Adrien isn’t exactly sure whether to call it a relationship and Jake certainly doesn’t. That word is reserved for the woman he is also involved with.

Although this was a really good read, it has probably been my least favourite so far. The main reason for this is that the romance between Adrien and Jake came to a dead end when Jake announces he had got his girlfriend pregnant. Maybe this is a good thing for Adrien in the long run but I was hoping that it would run the other way and he would realise that Adrien was who he really wanted. Of course, I am sure that Jake will still be involved in future books in the series but it would seem unlikely that his and Adrien’s relationship will ever be anything other than on again, off again which is a bit depressing.

The thriller elements were all in place and, as usual, Lanyon walks between sending up typical genre expectations and using them to fool the reader. There are a suitable number of red herrings and blind alleys and Adrien is always flying of on a whim which makes him an interesting narrator. The tension between the cold unemotional detecting of Jake and the police and Adrien’s more hysterical, intuitive style adds another element of tension to both the mystery and their romance.

Adrien is a sympathetic narrator. His voice is warm and funny as he sends himself up and over-dramatisises. He is easy to relate to and feel concerned for. As well as everything else he has to deal with, his mother announces that she is getting re-married and the descriptions of Adrien’s encounters with his three new step-sisters and ultra masculine new father are extremely amusing.

It was tempting, as always, to go to read the next instalment straightaway but I have a lot of other things to read for challenges. And I don’t want to hurry through them too quickly because then I’ll be at the end of the series. Besides, I need to have some books in reserve that I know are going to be good so that I can turn to them when I’ve read something not so great.

Books Read in 2014 – 52. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

200px-WillGraysonGenre: glbt, young adult, romance

Narrative Style: switches between two first person narratives, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2010

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: On the streets of Chicago, two teenagers called Will Grayson are having the worst night of their lives. Then they bump into each other and their lives change. 

This was, for the most part, a very pleasing read. The chapters alternate between Green’s Will Grayson and Levithan’s will. They are suitably different from each other and have different problems. I preferred Levithan’s will from the first as I felt I could relate to his depression. Green’s Will seemed more determined to make problems for himself and was less likeable. I liked the lack of capitalisation in Levithan’s chapters as it fitted well with that characters low self-esteem.

The story moved along quite quickly and the romances were well handled. Will Grayson’s confusion over whether he liked Jane or not was funny and apt whilst the romance between will and Tiny was touching and difficult. Between them they seemed to cover all the possible teenage romance problems without being too unsubtle.

In fact, I was close to giving this novel 5/5. There were a number of reasons why I didn’t. First of all, I felt Green’s characters were too large for the page and like in The Fault in our Stars, they were hard to get attached to because they seemed to represent so much. Tiny, in particular was annoyingly loud and painfully self-centred. He seemed to embody every gay stereotype. will was more convincing because he was just a teen who happened to be gay. I was actually pleased when the romance between will and Tiny did not work because I felt that will deserved better.

I’m not a fan of musicals. Although there was no singing, obviously being as how it is a book but even so there were songs. And while they were often witty, they were annoying. People bursting into song – hypothetical or otherwise – does not appeal to me.

Finally, the ending seemed to be quite sudden. Partly, this was due to reading on my kindle which claimed 91% because there was an interview with the two authors and an extract from The Fault in Our Stars but I could have read more. I thought that all the Will Graysons offering support to Tiny was a little sentimental although the two Wills were both in better places at the end so that was pleasing.

All in all, a witty and insightful look at teenage romance. The sort of book I wish I could have read when I was sixteen.

 

Books Read in 2014 – 48. Philomena: The True Story of a Mother and the Son she had to Give Away – Martin Sixsmith

Genre: Biography, GLBT88d6b45af6786ed7d9322639cd94e4d4

Narrative Style: Journalistic – Third person with occasional first person input from Sixsmith

Rating 3/5

Published: 2009

Format: Paperback

 

 

I’m always a little dubious when someone loans me a book and says I think you’ll really enjoy this. First of all, the book that they then loan me represents something of what they think of me. Always a bit worrying. Secondly, there is the added pressure of whether or not you will actually like it and what they will think if you don’t. My mother in law loaned me this after she had watched the film and then read the book. She did warn me that it was very different from the film but as I hadn’t seen it, it didn’t trouble me much.

However, this book is not only different from the film, it’s different from it’s own blurb. The quotations from reviews on the back of the book suggest it is about a mother’s search her child. It is not.

I enjoyed the opening which described the life of Philomena and the other girls at the convent and what happened to them and the babies born to them. I also enjoyed the descriptions of attempts to stop the scandalous export of babies to the USA. However, after this point Philomena disappears from the story until the very end. I would have liked to know more about how life was for her after she gave away her baby. She isn’t mentioned again until the last chapters where she is dealt with in a cursory fashion.

The rest of the account is focused on Michael, the son she gave away. This story is interesting enough and Michael comes across well. Not only does he struggle with being an orphan but he faces the difficulty of being gay at a time when being open and successful within politics wasn’t possible. The choices he makes often come back to his status as an orphan and his attempts to find his mother add interest.

It doesn’t quite work for me. I’m not even sure why. It may be that a lot of the dialogue seemed stilted, unreal – a bit too exact to quite ring true. And Sixsmith seems a little too fascinated by the darker side of Michael’s personality and sexuality. It is a story viewed from a distance and it seems that Sixsmith felt little emotional connection with Michael. Overall the tone is too journalistic and it was hard to feel personally for the characters.

It seems a bit of a shame – there is definitely a story to be told here. Just not this one, in this way.

 

 

Books Read in 2014 – 39. A Son Called Gabriel – Damian McNicholl

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Genre: GLBT, Irish Fiction

Narrative Style: First Person Narrative, Chronological

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2004
Format: Kindle

Synopsis: As if it wasn’t hard enough growing up Catholic in Northern Island in the 1970s, Gabriel starts to suspect that he isn’t like other boys. Add to this the pressure of getting into grammar school, a turbulent relationship with his father and the strange secret of Uncle Brendan’s leaving and you have a compelling tale of teenage confusions.

This grabbed me from the very start. Gabriel was a funny and honest narrator who details his life from his first day of school until he is ready for university. From the very first, Gabriel is sensitive and doesn’t like many of the things it is considered normal for boys to like. At school he is bullied, at home his father is always on his back about not being masculine enough. Added to this is the constant presence of the Catholic church and his mother’s horror of what the neighbours might say and you get some impression of the pressure that Gabriel is under.

The conflict between Gabriel’s growing knowledge of his homosexuality and the ideas of the Catholic church is sensitively handled. Gabriel tries desperately to pray his way out of homosexuality and his strategies for dealing with his feelings are both funny and painfully touching.

When Uncle Brendan’s secret was revealed I was surprised although the clues had actually been obvious enough. It was pleasing to have not spotted them though and to be surprised for once. The ending itself was ambiguous in as much that Gabriel tells his mother his homosexual phase is over. However, the reader suspects that this is wishful thinking on his part.

My only complaint about this book is that it had to end. I could happily have gone on reading about Gabriel’s university years. Very enjoyable.

Books Read in 2014 26. A Dangerous Thing – Josh Lanyon

Genre: Crime, GLBT

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/517608680

Format: Kindle

Published: 2002

Synopsis: Fed up with his in the closet, not even sure if he should call him a boyfriend and suffering from writer’s block, Adrien English takes off to his house in the country. On arrival, he almost runs over a dead body which has disappeared into the night by the time the local cops arrive. What has Adrien stumbled into this time.

I was looking forward to reading this as I enjoyed the first in the series and had been tempted to read it straightaway. (I was tempted at the end of this one to read the third straightaway but I am rationing myself because I really don’t want to come to the end of the series.) I wasn’t disappointed and if anything I enjoyed this one more perhaps because I had more invested in the main characters this time.

Lanyon is well aware of the cliches of detective stories and sends up some of the worse excesses of the genre. Adrien is given to ridiculous flights of fancy and always puts himself in danger which could seem cliched if it wasn’t done with such self-deprecating good humour. There are a suitable amount of red herrings to keep the reader guessing and Adrien himself changes his mind about the culprits quite regularly.

As well as the action, there is the romance between Adrien and his closeted policeman friend, Jake. This also was convincing in the details. Both Jake’s unease with his sexuality and Adrien’s frustration with it were well documented. When they eventually manage to get it together, it was well handled and very sexy. However, there is still the fact that Jake casually announced that he plans to get married to a women to keep the reader interested in what happens next between them.

Overall, it was a satisfying read with the answers to the mystery being not too obvious but not too obscure either. The romance was both touching and sexy and I will definitely be reading on.

 

Books Read in 2014 – 1. Luna – Julie Ann Peters

Genre – Young Adult, GLBT

Year of Publication: 2006

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Narrative Style – First Person narrative, chronological timeline

Format: Kindle

Published: 2004

Synopsis: Regan’s brother Liam really wants to be a girl. He has always known that he was a girl. At night, he dresses as Luna, his true self and named in honour of the moon. The story is told from the point of view of Regan and shows the problems that both Liam / Luna and Regan face.

Rating: 2/5

I was quite excited to start reading this. It seemed it would touch on gender issues that I find very interesting and also be something new and exciting. It is exactly the sort of issue that books for teenagers and young adults should be tackling. And it does, successfully I think, show some of the issues that transgender teens face and also the effect on their families.

However, ultimately this book did not fulfill that promise. There were a number of reasons for this. The first was stylistic. I found Regan intensely irritating. To be fair, her voice was recognizably teenage and I am willing to admit that if I was sixteen or so, I probably wouldn’t have found it so annoying. She came across as having very little personality of her own. It may be that this is a side effect of her family situation where she focuses on Liam / Luna so much but it didn’t lead to her being a very engaging protagonist. Personally, I think it would have been more interesting for Liam / Luna to have the narrative voice as after all this was her story.

This lead to difficulty at the end of the novel which ends at a positive moment for Liam/Luna but leaves the story hanging in terms of Regan. As we have found out about other aspects of her life, it would be nice to have some closure on these too. It’s as if she isn’t even the centre of her own first person narrative. Even the writer just dismisses her in the end. Also, it lets everyone else off the hook. Because Liam leaves, the opportunity for just not dealing with the situation is given to his parents.

The other issue I have is to do with stereotypes. This novel seems to be full of them. The stereotypical masculine father who only wants his son to play sports and never gives up hope that one day it will happen. The pill-popping working mom who ignores all family issues. And of course, any feminine gender stereotype you care to mention in terms of Luna’s personality. There was some danger of associating femininity with vanity as when she was Luna, she became obsessed with her looks. Understandable I suppose, given the circumstances. But a little irritating all the same.

Maybe it is true that when you feel you are living a life that is not your own, that you will take any opportunity to dress as your alter ego, but there seemed to be a suggestion that Liam was unable to control his urge to be Luna. This led to him dressing up at a neighbours house, going through the wardrobe of the mother of the children he was supposed to be baby-sitting. This, and the extreme reaction of the children’s parents when they returned, was one of the least convincing moments in the book. It made Liam seem less sympathetic and I didn’t really believe he would risk it all in such a way. Not when he was so careful about other aspects of his life.

Overall, it was an interesting attempt to tackle a difficult subject but one, for me, that didn’t quite make it.