“Lesson Learned: Catching Up With ‘Large Fears’ Author, Myles E. Johnson”

Some of the things I’ve been involved with probably stand out in your memory more than others. One of those things worth remembering has to be the Large Fears controversy. I was involved in it,  but it wasn’t about me. While we remember it as being about Meg Rosoff, it qQnFIiKe.jpgreally wasn’t. It was about the need for queer black boys in children’s literature  and it was about Myles Johnson and Kendrick Daye. As all too often happens with marginalized people, the real story was derailed and Myles’ and Kendrick’s  voices were lost in the fray.

I’ve kept in touch with Myles and I am beaming when tell you that he has not been, cannot be and will not be derailed. Myles is amazing. He is truly a creative talent with a voice that belongs in children’s literature. I recently asked him if he’d like to catch everyone up on what he’s been up to and he agreed to tell this part of his  developing story.

What I learned is that nothing can save you from the lesson. Recently, Edi Campbell asked me to write a type of summary of what I’ve been through since our first

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photo by Eric Cash

interaction with each other in October. Admittedly, I have had a hard time my whole life with looking back which is one of the reasons why I began writing. Writing has been a tool that I’ve always used to reflect and learn. No matter what I am writing, the purpose is consistent. I am looking for the purpose. In fantasy or essays, I am looking for the design in the chaos. 

For those not so aware of whom I am or why it would be necessary for me to write an update on my status, allow me to give you a brief overview of my life in the past year. One day, I was wildly inspired. I was inspired by the cosmos, my identity, and my childhood. This inspiration resulted in a children’s book called Large Fears that centered a character I created named Jeremiah Nebula, who was a black boy that loved pink things. I wanted to create a cosmic story that centered a black boy with a queer identity, so I did just that. The response was beautiful. 

The press and professional opportunities I received are those things of a young writer’s dreams. NPR, NBC, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and the list goes on. I was invited to talk on panels and was pursued by literary agents. Part of me as a young black queer writer was grateful and excited about the possibilities. Another part of me was thinking ‘it’s about damn time’ and I was excited to move on with this project, and to showcase other ideas that have been swimming in my mind for such a long time.  

This lands us into a pretty warm October where accomplished author, Meg Rosoff said some alarming things about my project and questioned the need for queer blac+-+560850631_140.jpgk representation in children’s literature. This comment by Ms. Rosoff spawned outrage amongst readers, librarians, and other writers alike.  The controversy was spearheaded by Edi Campbell and landed us both in “The Guardian” where I was discovered by literary agent, Bethany Buck (representative of Cheryl Kilodavis who wrote, My Princess Boy).  The negativity served my intention with creating the book by creating dialogue, creating opportunity, and making the project that much more visible. I was taught when the intention is pure, even something perceived as bad can still do good. Lesson learned.  

The relationship between Ms. Buck and myself was growing and flourishing as the relationship between myself and my illustrator Kendrick Daye, was deteriorating for both personal and professional reasons. It was becoming obvious that Mr. Daye and myself had to part, but I was passionate about little Jeremiah Nebula and this project that I knew I had no choice, but to keep going. It felt bigger than myself and my career, it felt like a service I had to do for my community. After a couple of months of talking with some of the biggest publishing houses in the world, Ms. Buck revealed to me her professional passion had never left editing and she was going back to that field and would no longer be representing. Seeing someone stay true to their passion and dedicated to take risk for their happiness, even if it stung me a little, was still quite inspiring. Lesson learned.  

We arrive at the present day, and although filled with changes and lessons, I am just as filled with hope. I’m a free agent currently working on releasing a literary project called “Fairytales for Giovanni” that is a digital visual and literary project with fairytales for adults that center queer people of color. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had in the past year, and I’m feeling renewed and ready for new adventures. Most importantly, I am ready for new lessons. I believe that the key to true evolution is inside of yourself; to be ready and open to absorb what life offers you at all times. Lesson learned.  

 ~Myles E. Johnson 

 

 

 

Conferring

I’ve been at conferences for the past two weekends. I’d hoped to blog a little about the first one before going to the second one, but that just didn’t happen. A combined post may lead me to better thoughts and insights.

The weekend of 1 & 2 April I was at the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy National Conference in Champaign, Illinois. I needed this conference. I’m 4 years into the tenure process and finally focusing on projects that will build my career. But, I am more than my career.

Dr. Sonia Nieto opened the conference stating “I am my culture.” This sentiment contracted and expanded with me throughout the day as we recounted the ups and downs of being intersectional marginalized individuals who don’t necessarily know the academy’s code, speak its language and belong to the right clubs. But, while there we had access to each other.

Most of us came from campuses or departments where we are one a few Latino, Asian American or African American women, if not the only and we aspire to positions that are difficult for any women to attain even in the 21st century. I can wallow in the mud only so long before I’m ready for a visionary and uplifting message and that message for me came from Dr. Juliane Malveaux who spoke about resisting the nonsense we’re exposed to because if we become part of that then how are we creating space for our daughters? Or we could ask, do we want a piece of the pie or do we want to change the recipe? And how then, will we, will I, change it? They say we bring our experiences, our culture to all of our encounters and in that moment, I heard her speak of our need to reach out beyond these safe spaces if we really want to make change. If we/I want to be heard, then show up and in the showing up, look beyond my corner to understand the political in higher ed that will trickle down to my corner. Build allies and be an ally. I heard her reminding me to quite focusing on tenure and focus on authentically being me. Speak my voice. Now.

Being at the Virginia Hamilton Multicultural Conference is being in a space where I could authentically be me. This was my third visit to the conference, the other two visits about 10 years ago. Muscle memory kicked in and I could remember moving into these same spaces. What is it about this conference? It’s well done. The committee that puts it together is intent on honoring Virginia Hamilton, multiculturalism and children’s literature. The atmosphere is collegial and inviting. There are more people in attendance than past years I’ve attended, but not very many. The conference is 32 years old but not on the radar of teachers, librarians and scholars who are Native American or of color. The conference presented the Rudini (honoring Rudine Sims Bishop) to Angela Johnson, Jacqueline Woodson, Margarita Engle and Melanie Crowder. Authors Helen Frost and Mariko Nagai were present as was illustrator Christian Robinson.

I’ve spoken with so many people about the need for a sustainable diversity conference and here one is. I can’t really complain about what was lacking her because the conference can’t control who attends and it can only accept from presenters who submit proposals. I do know that on this same weekend other conferences that were held included the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival (Hattiesburg, MS) Kweli (New York City), Augusta Baker’s Dozen: A Celebration of Stories (Columbia SC) and the Public Library Association Annual Conference (Denver, CO). As Nancy Tolson says ‘Events are like cowards. They never come alone.”

If I want to be heard, then show up and in the showing up, look beyond my corner to understand the political in children’s literature will trickle down to your corner. Build allies and be an ally.

review: Booked by Kwame Alexander

FC9780544570986

title: Booked
author: Kwame Alexander
date: HMH; April 2016
main character: Nicholas (Nick) Hall
Middle Grade Fiction

Eighth grade is a grade filled with growing up and this is especially true if your name is Nick Hall. Nick and his mother are quite close but he has a strained relationship with his father. Poor relationships with dad seems to be a constant source of problems for young men in books and movies and Booked is no exception to this observation. Nick particularly doesn’t like that his father forces him to read the dictionary to improve his vocabulary. Despite how much energy Nick uses to resist his father, even the least observant reader will see how much Nick takes after him.

Nick feigns a disinterest in school but offers no pretense in his love of soccer. While Nick’s dad thinks grades are the key to college, Nick thinks his will be soccer. He shares this passion with his best friend Coby. While they’re both agile on the field, only Coby has what it takes to talk to girls. Even with his growing vocabulary, Nick has no words for April. The cast of characters is rounded out with Dean and Don Eggleston, twins who terrorize Nick and even more so his bff Coby who they attack with racial slurs. Alexander deftly handles these scenes, writing the reality of these verbal assaults while giving readers no reason to tolerate them. These scenes are the only time race is mentioned, making Coby’s mixed heritage more of a burden than a blessing. These supporting characters lack development, leaving Nick to carry the story himself. Will he find himself? Will he find and use his words? Will he grow up?

From the title of the book (a triple entendre) and even the very first page with ‘soccer’ embedded into its text, we are alerted to the fact that this book will be all about word play and hidden meanings and for the most part we’re not let down. I understand the contextual meaning of footnoting in the book, but accompanying Nick’s growing vocabulary with footnoted definitions makes me question for whom this book is written. Readers have to be trusted enough to know the words or to know how to figure them out. Just like with translating Spanish words in English books, this practice can annoy readers on a couple of levels levels.

Few people like reading dictionaries but many students are friends with the school librarian and will relate to Skip MacDonald aka The Mac aka the librarian.

He sounds
like he’s on the mike,
rapping,
His flow is sick.

He pops his shoulders.
Bobs his head.
All while reading.

You listen.
You laugh.
You follow along.

Never through
you’d like
a book

of poems.
Two hours later,
when The Mac lands

on the final page,
the doctors and nurses
who’ve lingered
and listened, and who
crowd your room,
give The Mac

a standing ovation.

I have to wonder how well it works to write a book that goes on about how great books and reading are. I imagine Alexander visiting a school, delivering one of his highly engage sessions and every young person there will want to read his book if they haven’t already. They’ll come across titles of other wonderful middle grade books and they may go on to read them. Wordsmith, poet and storyteller that he is, I’d bet the name of this blog that he can get them to read. I reluctant readers will just want a good story and the same may be true for those who already enjoy reading.

Despite all that I mention, Alexander writes a cohesive story. That may sound like a trite compliment, but he builds upon several complex story lines and they all come together quite well, and he does that in narrative poetry, a structure with few if any safety nets. Alexander explores ways of adding textured meaning to his story, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The book I reviewed was an advanced copy and changes may have been made in the final copy. I do have two ARCs of this book and will be glad to send one copy to each of the first two teachers who emails me their school mailing address. I’ll remove this offer once I’ve received two requests.

crazyquilts at hotmail dot com

April Releases (middle grade and YA)

Meet Marly: Marly Book 1 by Alice Pung; Penguin Books Australia. Ages 8-12.
It’s 1983 and Marly is just trying to fit in at Sunshine Primary School. But being a refugee from Vietnam doesn’t make things easy, and when Marly’s cousins come to stay and end up at the same school, her friends make fun of them. How can Marly stay loyal to her cousins and keep her school friends as well?

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan and illustrated by Ben Hibon; Disney-Hyperion. Ages 8-12.
Thorn, a boy sold into slavery who must serve the royalty of Castle Gloom for a year and a day to earn his freedom, and Lilith Shadow, the 13-year-old ruler of Gehenna, who is forbidden to practice the magic that is her heritage, join forces to solve the murders taking place in Gehenna.

Prodigy: The Graphic Novel by Marie Lu; G. P. Putnam. Ages 12 and up.
The second book in the best-selling “Legend “trilogy comes to life in this vibrant graphic novel adaptation.
After escaping from the Republic’s stronghold, Day and June are on the run in Vegas when the country learns that their Elector Primo has died and his son has stepped in to take his place. They meet up with the rebel stronghold of the Patriots a large organization straddling the line between the Republic and its warring neighbor, the Colonies and learn about an assassination plot against the Elector. Using threats and blackmail to get what he wants, the Patriots’ leader, Razor, convinces June to let herself be captured by Republic soldiers so she can win over the Elector and feed him a decoy assassination plan. But when June realizes that the new Elector is nothing like his father, she must work with Day to try to stop the Patriots’ plot before Razor can fulfill his own devastating plans.

Golden (Heart of Dread) by Melissa de la Cruz; G.P. Putnam. Ages 13-17.
With the ruins of New Kandy still smoldering around them and Nat’s bond to her beloved drakon quickly fraying, Nat and Wes are lost amid a sea of destruction with Wes at death’s door. Wes tried to save his sister, Eliza, and protect them from her cruelty, only to see firsthand just how dark her power had become.
Desperate to escape the dangers lurking in New Kandy, Wes accepts help from a mysterious voice calling out to him from the Blue, leading Nat and his crew into even more perilous surroundings. They quickly realize that their only chance for survival lies with Nat and the quest for a new world to replace their broken one but at what cost?
In this epic conclusion to the Heart of Dread trilogy, Nat and Wes must put their love to the ultimate test in hopes of seeing their world reborn.

Fire and Glass (Keepers of the Vault #1) by Marty Chan. Clockwise Press. ages 8-12
A fourth floor that is only pretending to be a storage room, stairs that lead to an abyss, and a goth djinn with an attitude who likes to play with fire: Krystina finds more than she bargained for when she moves to a new school. The adventures of the Keepers of the Vault are just beginning. Written in dyslexia-friendly font High interest – low reading level.

Soldier (Talon Series) by Julie Kagawa; Harlequeen; Teen. ages 14 and up.
When forced to choose between safety with the dragon organization Talon and being hunted forever as an outcast, Ember Hill chose to stand with Riley and his band of rogue dragons rather than become an assassin for Talon. She’s lost any contact with her twin brother, Dante, a Talon devotee, as well as Garret, the former-enemy soldier who challenged her beliefs about her human side.

As Ember and Riley hide and regroup to fight another day, Garret journeys alone to the United Kingdom, birthplace of the ancient and secret Order of St. George, to spy on his former brothers and uncover deadly and shocking secrets that will shake the foundations of dragons and dragon-slayers alike and place them all in imminent danger as Talon’s new order rises.

Nothing Up My Sleeve by Diana López; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Ages 9-12
Sixth graders Dominic, Loop, and Z stumble upon a new magic shop in town and can’t wait to spend their summer mastering cool tricks to gain access to the Vault, a key holders-only back room bound to hold all kinds of secrets. And once they get in, they set their sights even higher: a huge competition at the end of the summer. They work on their card tricks, sleights, and vanishing acts, trying to come up with the most awesome
routines possible….Problem is, the trip is expensive, and it’s money that each guy’s family just doesn’t have.

To make things worse, the shop-owners’ daughter, Ariel (who just so happens to be last year’s competition winner), will do anything to make sure the boys don’t come out on top. Even pit them against one another. Will they make it to the competition? And if so, at what cost?

The Return: Fall of the Beasts Book 3 by Varian Johnson; Scholastic. ages 8-12
Split between two worlds, Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan are four young heroes who are racing to stop an ancient evil. Even the spirit animal bond, the sacred link between humans and animals, is on the brink of destruction.
The friends face an enemy with the power to enslave others to its will-and to steal spirit animals away from their rightful partners. With their own allies falling to this darkness, the four must look to their bonds to light the way forward.
But one of those lights is about to go out. Briggan, Uraza, Jhi, and Essix. Before their journey is over, one of these legends will be lost.

Unidentified Suburban Objects by Mike Jung; Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. ages 8-12
The next person who compares Chloe Cho with famous violinist Abigail Yang is going to HEAR it. Chloe has just about had it with people not knowing the difference between someone who’s Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. She’s had it with people thinking that everything she does well — getting good grades, winning first chair in the orchestra, et CETera — are because she’s ASIAN.
Of course, her own parents don’t want to have anything to DO with their Korean background. Any time Chloe asks them a question they change the subject. They seem perfectly happy to be the only Asian family in town. It’s only when Chloe’s with her best friend, Shelly, that she doesn’t feel like a total alien.
Then a new teacher comes to town: Ms. Lee. She’s Korean American, and for the first time Chloe has a person to talk to who seems to understand completely. For Ms. Lee’s class, Chloe finally gets to explore her family history. But what she unearths is light-years away from what she expected.

Keep Me in Mind by Jaime Reed; Scholastic Point. Ages 12 and up
Ellia Dawson doesn’t recognize the handsome boy who sits in tears by her hospital bed. He claims he’s her boyfriend, Liam. But to Ellia, he’s a stranger. She remembers her name. Her parents. Her best friend, Stacey. But Liam is a total blank in her life.
Liam McPherson is devastated. His girlfriend, Ellia, suffered a terrible accident–maybe because of him–and now she’s lost her memory. But the harder Liam tries to reach Ellia, and remind her of what they had, the more she pulls away. As Ellia begins on the slow road to recovery, Liam begins work on a secret project that he hopes will bring back the girl he loved. But can there ever be a future when the past is in pieces?

The Misadventures of Max Crumbly #1: Locker Hero by Rachel Renee Russell; Aladdin. ages 9-12
Max is about to face the scariest place he’s ever been South Ridge Middle School He has been home-schooled by his grandmother until now, and he’s begged his parents to finally let him start attending public middle school. He’s starting to question that choice, though, with the Thomas Silver Problem. As in, Thomas Silver keeps stuffing Max in his locker.
If only Max could be like the hero in all the comics he likes to read or the ones he draws and magically escape the locker and defeat Tommy. Unfortunately, Max’s uncanny, almost superhuman ability to smell pizza from a block away won t exactly save any lives or foil bad guys. But that doesn t mean Max won t do his best to be the hero his school needs.

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi; St. Martins Griffin. ages 8-12 Debut Author
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself. A lush and vivid story that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology. The Star-touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry; Algonquin. Ages 12-18.
In this stunning debut, legends collide with reality when a boy is swept into the magical, dangerous world of a girl filled with poison. Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the senoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill. Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers–and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.

Booked by Kwame Alexander; HMH. Ages 10-13.
“Like lightning/you strike/fast and free/legs zoom/down field/eyes fixed/””on the checkered ball/on the goal/ten yards to go/can t nobody stop you/””can t nobody cop you ” In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER, soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams.Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read. This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match.

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki; Roaring Book Press. Ages 13-17
A beautiful and offbeat novel from Mariko Tamaki, co-creator of the bestselling Printz Honor and Caldecott Honor Book “This One Summer.”

Montgomery Sole is a square peg in a small town, forced to go to a school full of jocks and girls who don’t even know what irony is. It would all be impossible if it weren’t for her best friends, Thomas and Naoki. The three are also the only members of Jefferson High’s Mystery Club, dedicated to exploring the weird and unexplained, from ESP and astrology to super powers and mysterious objects. Then there’s the Eye of Know, the possibly powerful crystal amulet Monty bought online. Will it help her predict the future or fight back against the ignorant jerks who make fun of Thomas for being gay or Monty for having lesbian moms? Maybe the Eye is here just in time, because the newest resident of their small town is scarier than mothmen, poltergeists, or, you know, gym.

Thoughtful, funny, and painfully honest, Montgomery Sole is someone you’ll want to laugh and cry with over a big cup of frozen yogurt with extra toppings.

March Rights Reports

The following deals were announced for Native American authors and authors of color in March.

HarperCollins has bought B.A. Binns’s middle grade novel, Courage, about T’Shawn, whose older brother returns from prison, forcing him to choose between his loyalty and love for him and the desire to protect his mother and little sister. Publication is set for winter 2018.

Razorbill has bought a middle grade fantasy series, Peasprout Chen by Henry Lien, about a girl determined to take top ranking at Pearl Academy where she will study Wu Liu, a form that blends figure skating with martial arts. The first book, Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, pubs in fall 2017.

Little, Brown has acquired world rights to Useni Eugene Perkins’s Hey Black Child, a picture book based on the text of a rediscovered poem that promotes the self-esteem and celebration of African-American children, to be illustrated by Bryan Collier. Publication is slated for summer 2017; the author was unagented.

Tundra has bought Chihiro Takeuchi’s Can You Find My Robot’s Arm, a picture book about a robot in search of his missing arm, in a paper-cut journey through home, garden, library, aquarium and the big city. Publication is slated for spring 2017.

Grosset & Dunlap has bought the first two books in a new chapter book series, Jada Jones, by Kelly Starling-Lyons, about a science-loving fourth grader making new friends, facing new challenges, and finding her way. Publication is scheduled for fall 2017.

Random House/Wendy Lamb Books has preempted Mae Respicio’s debut middle-grade novel, A House Like This. The story is about a Filipina-American girl who sets out to build her own tiny house where she can escape her intrusive family, but her summer DIY project becomes life-changing when her long-lost father suddenly reappears. Publication is planned for spring 2018; Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary negotiated the deal for world English rights.

Little Simon has acquired world rights to Lines by Sarvinder Naberhaus, to be illustrated by Melinda Beck. The story follows the many ways a line can shape and grow, smallest scope to the largest. Publication is scheduled for fall 2017.

Delacorte has acquired at auction Unraveling Lovely, a debut YA novel by Ashley Woodfolk. In alternating voices, and in part through interactions on social media, three diverse teens experience life and love in the wake of tragedy. The first book is set for fall 2017.

Abrams has acquired world English rights to two nonfiction books by Coretta Scott King Honor winning author Tonya Bolden. In both books, which are set for spring 2018 and spring 2019, Bolden will chronicle a milestone of African-American history.

Tor Teen has acquired Kimberly Reid’s #Prettyboy Must Die, a YA thriller featuring Jake Morrow, a young African-American CIA prodigy who accidentally becomes an Internet sensation, thereby blowing his cover. Publication is slated for spring 2017.

review: A Very, Very Noisy Tractor

FC9788415619659.JPGtitle: A Very, Very Noisy Tractor
author: Mar Pavón
illustrator: Nivola Uyá
date: Cuento do Luz, 2013
picture book

If you’ve ever been a woman, a person of color, Native American, disabled, overweight, too short, too poor, queer, or gifted with any other reason for someone to marginalize you then you’ll have a real affection for A Very, Very Noisy Tractor by Mar Pavón. It’s the story of a lady with too hair high, too blue a coat, too happy a smile who just should not be driving that noisy tractor. She’s told she should not because she’s a lady with too high hear, too happy a smile when really, no one thinks she should drive the tractor because no one thinks a lady should.

Have you ever been in that position where no one thinks you should take that class and they say it’s because it’s too hard for you but it’s really because you’re too brown? Or has someone ever told you not to apply for that job because it’s too far away and it’s really because you’re too queer? While the lady in this book faces many such assaults, her story ends on a good note, providing the reader with encouragement and many reasons to never give up. While young children will appreciate the story for its repetitive rhythm, positive outlook and vivacious illustrations, the book could also serve as a good tool for discussion microagressions with older children or adults.

Mar Pavón is an award winning children’s author who was born in Spain. She’s published over 30 books, most of which are poetry books and short stories.

review: Down to the Bone

FC9780060843113

title: Down to the Bone
Author: Mayra Lazara Dole
date: Harper Collins 2008
main character: Laura

 

It’s close to the last day in this Miami high school and a love letter has Laura fantasizing about celebrating her anniversary with Marlena, the love of her life. The daydream is cut short when Sister Asunción snatches the letter from her hand and GASP!! reads it aloud to the entire class.

Laura is outed. The word I remember from that scene is “tortillera”. I didn’t need the glossary to figure that one out.

The rather conservative nuns kick Laura out of school and her mother kicks her out of her home for not revealing her lover’s name. All seem to think it is a sin against all that is good and righteous for Laura to love women. Her immediate problem becomes needing a place to live in one but, the larger one is figuring out who and what she really is.

Her lover is written as a shady kind of lady who readers will view as reciprocating no real love toward Laura. She’s written in a way that allow readers to vest more interest in Laura getting on with her life rather than back with Marlena. Getting on with her life means accepting what it means to love women, to be queer and to able to say that word out loud.

Laura was thrown out of her conservative, upwardly mobile Cuban American home and she heads to her friend Soli’s home where life is completely different. It is musical, bright and accepting. Upon meeting Tazer at the beach, Laura comments that Tazer looks like a cute surfer boy and her sleek, dark sunglasses make her look hip. Tazer? Is that a Cuban name? While it’s actually short for Tazmina, we’re being clued into the fact that we’re about to find out that Cuban Americans are not a monolithic culture group. Tazer explains what it means to be genderqueer and specifically a boi in a way that is meant for readers outside the queer community. It’s informative, but flows as part of the story because Laura has never considered neither her sexual orientation nor her gender identity. She doesn’t know about these things.

I like the awareness to socio-economic groups that Dole provides and the fluid way Laura travels through them. Soli and her mom in their cramped apartment are clearly working class while Tazer and her dad are upper income living in their sprawling mansion. This working class family lives happily within their means just as Tazer and her dad do. Dole presents so many diverse lifestyles without accentuating them, making them normal parts of life, similar to how it is in real life. She takes the time to include these important observations in her story, validating many realities. Tazer and her dad are a family, as are Soli, her mom and now  including Laura. Laura’s mom, stepdad and brother are a family as well. That’s life.

Down to the Bone conveys a lot of the pain and hurt endured by too many in the queer community, but it is also filled with the joy of finding one’s self and one’s community of friends and family. I was a little late on this one, but that’s OK. Good books with good messages will endure.