1. Annie on my mind (1982) – Nancy Garden
This novel is a bit of a tricky one as far as my likes and dislikes go. I think the first thing to bear in mind is when it was written and the climate for this type of fiction that was current when it was published. When it was written it was considered very controversial and unusual, so much so that it is 48 on the top 100 list of frequently challenged books between 1990 and 2000, quite impressive really, considering how tame it really is. In fact this controversy was probably to its benefit as a YA novel, what makes a book more tempting than being labelled as something you don’t want your kids to read?
The novel is a nice romance between two 17 year old girls, yes it is kind of melodramatic and not desperately positive in some instances, as in other peoples responses to them and the reaction of the school when they find out, that’s not to say it is unrealistic just no necessarily the most positive of attitudes to read about. I suppose it just doesn’t necessarily translate to how I have experienced my life and therefore I find it over the top but I am quite sure that for a lot of folk they may well have faced the ostracism and the somewhat harsh reactions the two protagonists, and indeed the two teachers also involved faced, so I do not want to belittle those experiences in any way. There is a fine line the novel is treading between keeping events true to life.
I’m never sure if I truly like this novel or appreciate some of its more negative aspects, but I certainly appreciate its impact upon society and its well earned place within the genre. The writing style is very readable and enjoyable in that sense for sure, I quite like her other novels on this theme as well, (The Year they burned books and Good Moon Rising) though I sometimes find them a bit contrived and not necessarily having the most stellar of writing. Still, for the sake of completion in my reading of this genre I do recommend it, at the very least to see where gay fiction has come from and where it is going and improving.
2. Becoming Bobbie – R J Stevens
Here we have an absolutely wonderful, condensed yet epic, life story of a girl called Bobbie. I love that this novel is not chock full of clichés but that it isn’t straight forward and simple either, making the events very realistic and true to life. I like that it doesn’t shy away from the harder more unhappy times in her life, that she uses them as experiences from which to grow in order to become who she ends up being.
It is an utterly engaging read, and you find yourself really wanting Bobbie to end up happy with her life by the end of the novel, even when the path Bobbie is treading at any one time might be hard to read about, you never stop empathising with her. She is a great protagonist to follow through the novel, multifaceted and so realistic of voice, tone and experience. The few people I have loaned my copy to have enjoyed it, indeed my ex bought her own copy which is unusual as she doesn’t tend to actually buy a great many books.
A truly lovely novel that is well worth the read.
3. God Box – Alex Sanchez
This is a fascinating tour of religious views and opinions in relation to homosexuality in the guise YA novel. Whilst it is most definitely a piece of fiction it is also a good discussion about the subject in a reasonably non-threatening way to bring up questions of the anti-gay/religious standpoints via references and the characters direct experiences.
The novel written from the perspective of a young gay teen who is quite heavily in denial about his sexuality and his desires because he believes that his religion is in conflict with that element of his life and that he will suffer in the afterlife should he choose to actively pursue those desires. The novel chronicles his journey to find answers for himself and his realisation that maybe his desires and his religion can be reconciled with each other and not threaten one another within his life that it is okay to be gay and a Christian that maybe he won’t be condemned for it after all.
The main protagonists love interest and eventual boyfriend is a non-believer but he equally believes that religion and belief are not the same thing and that you cannot ‘pray a way the gay’ and that there is no need to try either. I appreciate that the novel offers multiple views on the subject and actually backs up the varying views with scriptural references without really saying one way or the other, though it is pretty obvious that the general consensus is that religion and homosexuality can be mutually inclusive and that god will never judge you for who you love.
4. Luna – Julie Anne Peters
This novel is truly a rare find, even within the genre. It is about a young teenage transsexual boy/girl called Luna, told from the point of view from Luna’s sister. Transsexual novels are hard to come by at the best of times and this one is an excellent and very well thought out example.
I particularly liked that it is told from the point of view of someone watching the changes rather than from the perspective of the person trying to become who they actually are despite what their physically gender claims to society they are. The author explained that she chose to write it in this way because she is not transsexual and didn’t want to come across as preachy, patronising or non-realistic in her writing. This actually makes the novel as a whole far stronger than if she had attempted to pass herself off as the boy transitioning to a girl. I think that this makes the novels audience much wider as it is easier to relate to being a bystander of the experience more than the actual experience.
The novel was at times quite hard to read, reading about Regan coming to the realisation about how desperate Luna was becoming by having to keep herself closeted and hiding who she is from everybody, the pressure that she must feel. It’s interesting that we can see both views, you can see Luna gradually unravelling and her need to be who she is, and Regan’s slow realisation that her issues are her problem, whatever she feels if she can support Luna then it will be easier for the both of them, realising that by asking Luna to not involve her and to try to be more (conventionally) ‘normal’ she is losing Luna’s trust and asking her to be something she just isn’t.
A wonderful and occasionally heart wrenching novel, that is utterly plausible and understandable.
5. Boy meets Boy – David Levithan
This is an utterly fantastic and refreshing young adult LGBTQ novel where the fact that half the kids in the novel are gay or queer in some way or another is pretty much irrelevant there is never any great coming out saga, the fact that there are gay, lesbian, drag queen etc students in the school is just fact. For example the Quarterback of the football team is a drag queen called Infinite Darlene (Actual name: Darrell) and no-one bats an eyelid.
Whilst it is entirely wishful thinking on the part of the author for the world to be like this how fantastic that the novel has been written as if the world really were so inclusive, it’s a novel you can sink into and relax and just feel yourself within. That does not mean that there aren’t complex themes within this utopian world, far from it but it makes the world that bit nicer and more manageable whilst you are reading the novel, it has nothing but a positive, if sadly unrealistic, view of homosexuality and indeed the broad spectrum of sexualities.
The whole novel is a story of love and life and acceptance a truly uplifting read, even for the genre it stands out as unusually positive and about time too. I don’t care if the reality is that the world is not this simple and welcoming (okay, I do, a lot but you know what I mean) but to have the opportunity to read that it could be is quite calming and a nice subject to sink into and enjoy without wondering when the ‘gay’ kid is going to get beat up or kicked out or whatever crap happens still.
Thank you Mr Leviathan.
6. Pages for you – Sylvia Brownrigg
This one is rapidly climbing the ranks to become one of my top 10 reads, which given how long and how fervently I have believed in the current contenders for the top 10 is quite an impressive feat. I love the prose style of this particular author, its fluid yet heavily textured and layered, yet still subtle and doesn’t succumb to heavy handedness, it’s positively delicious to read.
The narrative is that of a first relationship from A-Z but told after the fact by one of the girls involved; Flannery. In a way it would have been interesting to see Anne’s point of view as well, but that would have defeated the point of the novel, that of firsts.
I also find that this book is sort of an educational starter kit in some regards. Reading it introduced me to new ideas, authors and musicians, or at least gave me suggestions to then look out for myself.
From the very beginning I wasn’t convinced that Anne would end up staying with Flannery, it just didn’t seem likely given the contrasts of personalities and experiences and also in the long run I think Flannery deserved someone who might have thought a bit more of her than Anne seemed to do. In a way it was doomed by the very nature of it being a first love.
I love the fact that it takes you through the whole relationship from the initial curiosity to the desires and through the realisations that maybe it might not last after all and perhaps that won’t be quite as heart wrenchingly painful to eventually accept as might have been imagined.
Ultimately I think my only regret was wishing that Flannery had better luck and longevity of relationship in her next one. Though I think she is the sort of character who will grow from this experience and that her future will be even bigger and better for it.
I love this book, from the very first time I picked it up which was sort of on a whim which turned into a happy occurrence. Indeed I try to recommend the novel a lot and those who have taken up the suggestion have enjoyed it. Which is nice.
7. The Shell House – Linda Newbery
This is one of my top ten reads (as are the next two books for that matter) in that I often come back to it and usually find something new or at least take something new from it each time I read it.
I like that the ending is fairly non-specific as to whether or not Greg and end up together or not, it isn’t really the important factor. It’s about acceptance of other people and of yourself, and changing perceptions and understanding that not everyone is going to agree with each other over lots of things in life.
As a whole it is an exploration of; love, acceptance, religion, poetry, reality, loss and self-perception. The central story about Faith and Greg is paralleled with a story about a gay WWI soldier whose lover dies in battle and he can’t tell anyone about why he is feeling the way he is or what his lover meant to him. His story is particularly beautiful and well done, gradually revealing itself until you realise who Edmund is and what has happened to him.
I love the careful balance this book has between the modern storyline and its 20’s parallel and I like how the modern storyline considers the decisions and gradually unravels the mystery of Edmund versus the sadness and desperate futility of the WWI plotline.
You feel so much for Edmund, despite really only getting snippets of his story, the injustice he was shown and the arrogance of his family and those who did not have to go out to the battle field, did not lose people, whatever connection they might have had. You mourn for him for his dead lover but equally you despair at the way he was treated upon his return as many were coming back from the First World War. In a way I actually prefer Edmunds story to Greg’s, perhaps because it is less frequently told and there are finer nuances at play.
This is a wonderfully written and very thoughtful of its subject young adult novel, thoroughly worth a read.
8. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café – Fannie Flagg
What haven’t I said about this one already? I suspect folk are sick of hearing me wax lyrical about it by now, therefore what is left to say about it?
It is one of my classics, one of my all time favourites, one I come back to repetitively, although I haven’t much of late, I suspect that is because I am currently quite happy wit my lot and don’t have such a blatant need for such comfort reading as I might have in the past, that is not to say that I will not come back to it any time soon for it has been on my mind quite a bit recently, so I think the time for re-reading and re-watching is nigh, or at least imminent.
Every time I read it I get something new from it, or notice something new about the text and its themes. Sometimes I only read the Idgie/Ruth storyline, sometimes I read the whole thing and it blatantly depends upon my mood as to which way I choose to read it.
Every time I read it I fall in love with Ruth just a little bit more, the defiance of Ruth towards societal convention and being happy because of that choice. I love that it is about two duos of strong women, though in very different ways. It is a truly lovely, if somewhat harrowing occasionally, love story and a story of friendships. It is lively and interesting, certainly never a dull moment for any of the characters. It is unpredictable, although that element has obviously waned significantly with the amount of times that I have read it. I like that no-one is really who they appear to be, they all have subtle facets and nuances that take a while to develop and become evident to the reader.
Additionally I quite like the style of narrative Flagg utilises, in that it flits around the era’s and reflects very much that Ninny is reminiscing and as with all things from the memory it isn’t in a precise and clear cut chronological order and that is reflected in the way the narrative unfolds.
A wonderfully eccentric story.
9. Strangers in Paradise – Terry Moore
Another of my ‘classics’ and my absolute favourite graphic novel ever… at least that I have read so far. This absolutely epic graphic novel was my introduction to the genre when I was about 14/15. I have read a lot since, of varying types and qualities and this one still stands out as the best, in terms of story line, character arcs and actual art work.
It is truly epic, it was ten years in the making and over 100 issues all told and I was along for the vast majority of the ride, the last few months as its storylines were gearing up to the finality of the end were particularly wrought with tension for me and the waiting was equally intense for those last few issues.
The artwork is something that especially draws me in as does the incredibly complexity of the multiple plot lines. It was always unpredictable and there was never a dull moment in the reading of this collection… occasionally it was confusing but everything was cleared up by the end.
The characters are ones that you end up quite heavily involved with, even those that you might initially have thought very little about. You care about where their lives are going and how they are going to get there, rooting for them wholeheartedly and commiserating with them when needed.
The characters keep you guessing right up to the end, you’re never sure how everything is going to pan out, the baddies’ might not actually be necessarily the baddies and the ‘goodies’ might not be as clearly defined either.
I have recommended and lent this collection to a number of people over the years as my friend introduced it to me and I have never yet had anyone who hasn’t finished it or not liked it. Both make and female friends, in fact I lent it to one lady and her husband having initially scoffed at the idea ‘borrowed’ it from her and wouldn’t give it back until he had finished. A universal graphic novel it would seem that I have never received a negative response about upon its return.
Not bad at all, for a graphic novel… or any other form of fiction for that matter.
10. Dar & Kerry Series – Melissa Good (Merwolf)
Finally then, this one isn’t a single novel, but rather a series about the same group of characters. The author started out as a Xena fan, wrote a whole passle of Xena fanfiction and Uber Xena (which is technically what this series is, Uber Xena) on the internet (merwolf.com go and have a nosey, she’s very good) and ended up so prolific that the writers of Xena got wind of her works and asked her to write two episodes for season 6 of the Xena programme. Not bad for someone who was ‘just a fan’.
Whilst the novels are not always the most technically sophisticated or stylistic and they do occasionally succumb to writing clichés they are incredibly engaging and intriguing stories with impressive plot arcs.
I love that they are ridiculously geek orientated, the characters being heavily entrenched within the world of IT, so whilst not precisely the main focus of the novels if you have absolutely no interest or knowledge of computers I can see why a person would be put off from reading them, though I urge you to give them a go regardless of your personal proclivities towards computers.
I enjoy them for both their ‘dyke’ and their ‘geek’ held within a lovely combination of the two. I also like that she is not exploitative or particularly explicit, less is more in my opinion anything else just makes me feel voyeuristic, but that’s just me I suppose.
I come back to the series fairly regularly though I don’t tend to pass them on to others mostly because I’ve never met anyone yet who might find the mix of genres appealing.