Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Trio of LGBT Fiction Recommendations

In celebration of the June 26, 2015 Supreme Court ruling stipulating that same-sex marriage is legal in all fifty of the United States, here are three books I've enjoyed that feature gay and lesbian characters. First, though, I want to say how happy this Supreme Court ruling makes me. Like many folks, I spent much of the announcement day on Facebook, refreshing my news feed and clicking "like" on my gay and straight friends' happy status updates.

I also want to say that I'm embarrassed by how ignorant I was of these issues in college. I would have become an activist much earlier if I had known then what I know now. And I gained that knowledge by 1) living in/visiting a lot of places around the U.S. and the world, thereby getting to know a wider variety of people than I'd have known if I'd stuck close to home, and 2) by reading. It's no accident that fiction readers are more empathetic, sympathetic, and tolerant in real life than non-readers. It's because we imagine, over and over, what it might be like to live in someone else's shoes.

"My Real Children" by Jo Walton

Published in 2014 and currently up for a World Fantasy Award, My Real Children relates two possible timelines created when a British woman named Patricia makes a critical decision whether to marry a man named Mark, whose less than romantic proposal is really more of a "now or never" ultimatum. Looking back as an elderly nursing home resident, Patricia knows she has some dementia, but she specifically remembers two distinct lives and two sets of children, one from her life with Mark and one from her life with a woman named Bee.

Although the idea of alternate life timelines based on a single critical decision is not new (*), Walton makes it particularly interesting by straying from real world history, although the reader doesn't know whether differing big-picture events, such as some limited nuclear exchanges following the Cuban missile crisis, have anything to do with Patricia's marriage decision. The LGBT aspect of the book stems from the life in which Patricia doesn't marry Mark; instead of settling early for a less-than-ideal marriage, she has time to work and learn and grow, and therefore finds the courage to recognize and act upon her attraction to Bee in the face of social conventions.

(* Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World, first published in 2007, also does an amazing job with a similar premise.)

"Bellweather Rhapsody" by Kate Racculia

On her website, author Kate Racculia says that Bellweather Rhapsody asks the big questions, such as: "What if Glee and Heathers had a baby and sent it to band camp at the Overlook Hotel?"

That has to be one of the funniest and most apt descriptions of a book I've ever seen.

Winner of a 2015 Alex Award, which the American Library Association gives to adult books that hold particular appeal for teens, this novel follows twins Alice and Bert (nicknamed "Rabbit") to a resort hotel for an important statewide music competition. There, Alice's roommate disappears under mysterious circumstances, and Alice learns that fifteen years earlier, some kind of murder/suicide incident happened in the very same hotel room. Alice, an ambitious, talented, and somewhat manipulative girl not unlike Glee's Rachel, tries to solve the mystery of her roommate's disappearance while somewhat reluctantly learning that the universe may not necessarily revolve around her.

In the meantime, Rabbit is struggling to decide whether or not to come out of the closet. His sexuality is by no means the main focus of this book, but it's handled beautifully. When a blizzard traps everyone at the hotel, Rabbit discovers a hitherto unacknowledged desire to strike out on his own, and escape his sister's loving but sometimes suffocating attention.

This is a lovely and original book that I recommend highly.

"Totally Joe" by James Howe

Technically the second in a group of connected books, yet capable of standing on its own, Totally Joe is told from the point of view of Joe Bunch, a gay 12-year-old who is young enough that to still think kissing is kind of gross, yet old and self-aware enough to know that he likes boys, not girls.

One of the most charming aspects of this book is its format; Joe is working on an English assignment for which he must write his own autobiography with entries that start with the letters from A to Z. As such, this book, which I think would be considered middle grade or young adult or somewhere in between, is a quick read.

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