Queer Lit Readathon: Three books down, too many to go

It is Thursday afternoon, and I have 2.5 days left of the Queer Lit Readathon. I have finished three books from my TBR, and am covering quite a few squares, but no obvious bingo yet. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the first three.

We Will Not Cancel Us and Other Dreams of Transformative Justice by adrienne maree brown

This tiny little thing, more a pamphlet than a book, has shown up several places in the last few months since it was published, and it seemed like a good fit for the Shorter Than a Novel bingo square, so I added it to my shopping list. brown makes a case for dialogue and reflection rather than “cancel culture”.

What we do now is find out someone or some group has done (or may have done) something out of alignment with our values. Some of the transgressions are small–saying something fucked-up, being disrespectful in a group process. Some are massive–false identity, sexual assault.

We then tear that person or group to shreds in a way that affirms our values. We create memes, reducing someone to the laughing stock of the Internet that day. We write think-pieces on how we are not like that persona, and obviously wouldn’t make the sae mistakes they have made. We deconstruct them as thinkers, activists, groups, bodies, partners, parents, children–finding all of the contradictions and limitations and shining bright light on them. When we are satisfied that that person or group is destroyed, we move on. Or sometimes we just move on because the next scandal has arrived, the smell of fresh meat overwhelming our interest in finishing the takedown.

(Page 66.) While her reflections are relevant to everyone who participates on Social Media (which is pretty much everyone right now), I think perhaps you may have to be more directly involved in activist work in order to engage totally with what she is saying. It was all a bit academic to me. She makes it clear in the introduction that she received push-back on publishing the first version of the text online, and claims to have addressed the criticism, however I see from Goodreads comments that some of those who criticised the first version are not happy with this version either, and I must admit to not feeling – while I read it, before having looked at Goodreads – that the issues she claimed to have fixed, especially the difference between harm and actual abuse, were necessarily made clear. In the quote above, for example, she points out that there are different levels of transgression, but it is not at all clear to me that she believes there are transgressions that cannot be resolved through dialogue. Which is a valid opinion, to be sure, but one I can understand that others, even other abolitionists, may not agree.

Anyway, an interesting read, and while not a perfect fit for me it certainly gave me some interesting ideas that will stay with me.

(We Will Not Cancel Us ticks off Intersectional and Shorter Than A Novel)

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh

This feels like a bit of a stretch, but unless I happen to fall across another queer superhero book by Saturday I’m going to let it stand. I haven’t read much Marvel, neither have I seen the films, but I have the impression Harley Quinn is at least queer coded. This is not apparent in Breaking Glass, however, so I would have nixed this as a queer read were it not for Mama and his gaggle of drag queens.

I enjoy Mariko Tamakis narrative style, Harley’s bubbly chaotic energy is charming and Ivy is a character I’d like to see more of. Steve Pugh’s art is great throughout, with flashes of pure genius. I guess the only drawback for me is the reason I don’t read much Marvel is I… don’t much like superheroes. Or supervillains. I find them kinda… boring. I’d like to read further albums in this series, though, so the conlusion is “Liked it, didn’t love it.”

(Harley Quinn ticks off Superheroes)

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

The long and the short of it? I didn’t really enjoy it.

I found it fascinating in parts, for sure, and some of the mythology, and especially the off-play between the ancient Igbo mythology and the newer, superimposed Christian mythology, was interesting and even enjoyable, but… I am unsure how much is down to the way the book is written (this review from David points out some flaws I also noted, beware spoilers galore) and how much is down to my now pretty settled atheism and, for lack of a better description, aspirituality.

Like several other Goodread reviewers I felt that the lack of plot and the emphasis on narrative monologue from the spirits that inhabit Ada made it more difficult to connect with the story. Also: I don’t believe in any gods, and the spiritual way of interacting with the world is foreign to me (in every sense, not just because this particular version of spirituality is literally foreign). I like books that play with mythology, but I feel like the difference between the books I have liked and this one is that the former are very clearly fantasy, while Freshwater seems to ask me to accept ogbanje and Ada’s being godly as something real, something that belongs in a contemporary literary novel and not in a fantasy setting. A sort of spiritual version of experiences and behaviours that a eurocentric culture would probably classify as gender fluidity and multiple personalities. And it just doesn’t work for me, unfortunately.

However, I also felt, like several other reviewers, that this might be as much a lack in me as a reader as a fault of the book itself per se. Or perhaps not so much a lack in either of us, more a disconnect, an acknowledgement that while this is not for me, there is obviously something here that speaks to a lot of other people.

(Freshwater ticks off Group Read, Hard Hitting Contemporary, M-Spec, Not Set on You Continent, Under-represented Identity and Religion)

And so we have my bingo board as it stands right now:

And now what? I will read Giovanni’s Room next (which will cover Vintage and Rec’d), but I am looking at the remaining stack of novels and realising I am not going to read them before the week is up. Partly because there is simply no way I’ll be able to read that many pages by the end of Saturday and partly because Freshwater made me crave (rational, non-spiritual) non-fiction. I haven’t covered the Memoir square on the bingo board, so I will attempt to get hold of something that can fit that slot, I think. If it can be persuaded to have summer vibes and to bring me joy in addition, I am well set, but that might be a push.

I am J – Cris Beam

I am J by Cris Beam is another book the teen brought home from the school library and read first. While being majorly frustrated by the actions and words of some of the characters, the teen’s final judgement was that it was a good book despite everything and I should read it.

I guess I beg to differ. It is not a good book.

Ok, it has some redeeming qualities. J’s descriptions of how it feels to not present outwardly the way you feel inside ring true (and I suspect Beam has drawn heavily on her interviews with trans teens in these sections), but J himself is… not particularly likeable. At the very start of the book he is completely uninterested in the news that a younger girl is doing sexual favours for money in another room at the party he’s at, even calling her a stupid bitch and briefly fantasising about being one of the guys in line. And he kisses his best friend non-consensually (while she’s asleep), and is completely confused when she’s not happy about it. Nor is anyone else in the book particularly likeable. Those that come close are so undefined and caricaturish that they still fall short. There is also the fact that everything seems to fall into place just a little bit too smoothly for J once he starts attempting transition. Not as smoothly as J would have liked (he imagines just turning up at a clinic and getting testosterone immediately), but definitely unrealistically fast, up to and including J’s plans for college.

And so I guess I’d say that the book is not particularly well written. However, it is almost hard to judge, because the main problem with the book is the feeling of raging queerphobia. J himself reacts very negatively to people asking him if he’s a lesbian (because they think he’s a girl, obviously). Ok, I get it, he can’t be a lesbian because he’s a boy. BUT the reaction seems to contain more than just “that’s not me”, there’s a distinct flavour of “gay is bad” as well. Which is sort of understandable considering his upbringing, his parents are obviously not queer friendly, but it is never resolved/discussed/problematised.

Even the good sections are marred by J’s complete disrespect for other people.

Once, when he was in the car with his mother, he heard a radio program during which the announcer asked people whether they’d rather be invisible or able to fly, given the choice. Practiacally everyone chose flight, and J was shocked. Of course he’d be invisible. Not only could he spy on people’s conversations and watch how other guys had sex, but he could stop feeling so many things. That was the problem – these feelings. He felt angry and confused, and then lost and embarrassed, and all these emotions tumbled together like the bad murals at school, all the colors running into one another, making him lash out at people, like Blue.
(…)
And would being invisible mean he wouldn’t have feelings anymore? Somehow, he thought it would. Like, if people couldn’t see him and react to him in all their complicated and terrible ways, then he wouldn’t have anything to feel _about_. And, of course, he wouldn’t have this body that betrayed him all the time.

(Page 147-148.) The confusion here is well presented, and I marked the passage because of it, and because of the interesting idea that being invisible would also mean not feeling so much, which is understandable for someone who has a lot of feelings around how he looks and especially how other people see him. But am I the only one thinking that fantasising about watching other guys having sex – without them knowing, since he’s invisible, I’m not going to kink-shame here, if consensual go ahead – is… not ok? And where are the girls these guys are having sex with in J’s mind? I presume he doesn’t want to watch guy-on-guy-action, since J is straight, but I guess the girls are unimportant? Or what?

Then when he starts at a new school downtown which is – as it turns out – a school for queer kids who have run away or been thrown out (mostly, I guess? It’s never actually stated), the other students are equally unpleasant and prejudiced. And yes, I know being queer yourself does not automatically make you a good person in every way, but the ratio of jerks to not-jerks here is definitely not reflective of the queer communities I’ve ever come into contact with.

I mean… First J is hassled in math over possibly being intersex. Which… ok, he’s not, but what if he were? It’s never made clear that intersex is not supposed to be a slur, either. And then there’s the unchallenged biphobia. And Sw-phobia. And just the whole of the interchange in the classroom when reading Whitman:

“A poet was with a prostitute?” The slender boy was still fixated. “Was that legal in the olden days?”
(…)
[Charlie, the teacher:] “And Whitman did also love men.”
“You mean he was bi?” someone said. “Eww.”
“That’s nasty,” the girl in the leather jacket agreed.
Why? J thought. He didn’t expect this from queer kids.
Bisexual wasn’t a term widely used in Whitman’s day, so we shouldn’t ascribe language that isn’t historically accurate,” Charlie said. “But he did love both men and women.”
J raised his hand, just a few inches from his desk.
“Yes,” Charlie said. “Tell me your name again?”
“J,” he said quietly. He didn’t like speaking in class, but he was feeling less afraid of these kids. He’d already been hassled in the math class and survived. ” If there isn’t a term for something, then does it even exist?”
Charlie scooted back on her desk and looked at him straight on. “That’s actually a very big and difficult question. Does anyone want to try to answer it?”
“What’d he say?” asked the slender boy.
Someone else shouted, “Tyrone exists, and we don’t know what to call him!” Everyone laughed and looked at a chubby boy sitting by the window. Tyrone tried to smile, but J could tell he was stung.
(…)
“For reals, this poet shoulda picked men or women or prostitutes. Bisexual’s nasty,” the slender boy said.
Forget it, J thought.

(Page 142-144.) How the hell is Mr. “Bisexual’s nasty” allowed to have the last word here? In a book that’s attempting to tear down prejudice, I’d call it irresponsible. Just to be clear: J’s “Why?” is never answered. His “Forget it” is the last that’s said on the subject.

Another problem, and this REALLY is irresponsible, is that J makes himself a binder early on in the book, giving a detailed description on how. Basically, the book provides instructions on how to make your own binder. From ace bandages. Which is not safe. As in: You can seriously damage your health. Towards the end it is mentioned that he has a hand-me-down binder now, but it is never mentioned that his home-made one is actively dangerous. So this book in the hands of a closeted trans boy is an instruction booklet for disaster. After talking to the teen about this, they talked to the school librarian, who will put a note in the book to warn future readers. I’m not in favour of censorship, so I don’t think removing the book from the shelf is the answer, but future readers ought to know there are other, better, safer alternatives for binding and not to follow J’s example.

On the whole, I guess, my advice is to skip this one. There are (now, at least, the book was published in 2011) better books about trans experiences out there. Not least are there books about trans experiences written by actual trans authors, which Cris Beam is not.

 

 

On a Sunbeam – Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam av Tillie Walden er en grafisk roman som nevnes ofte på podcasten Book Unbound (siden sist har jeg blitt Patreon og hørt meg gjennom alt bonusmaterialet også). Det er en Sci-fi fortelling som foregår i et univers som ligner vårt. Mia er det nyeste medlemmet i et team som reiser rundt i rommet og driver med restaureringsarbeid. De fikser gamle bygninger (eller romstasjoner), noen av dem kulturelle klenodier, andre mer prosaiske – kontorbygninger som skal settes i stand for nye brukere. Parallelt med fortellingen om hvordan Mia finner sin plass i teamet får vi flashbacks til fem år tidligere, da hun gikk på kostskole og møtte Grace fra “The Stairs”. Mia og Grace blir kjærester, men Grace må forlate skolen igjen i hui og hast og de får ikke tatt farvel. Og The Stairs er forbudt område.

Teamet Mia blir med i består av Char og Alma, som er et par, Almas niese Jules og Elliot – som bruker pronomene they/them og ikke snakker. Utenom ikke-binære Elliot er alle vi møter i historien, venner eller fiender, kvinner.

Historien fokuserer på vennskap og “found family”, med noen innslag av bevaringstematikk – bevaring både av natur og kultur. Tegnestilen er ved første øyekast enkel, men har en uventet dybde og fargepaletten begrenset til rød, oransje og burgundertoner. Effekten er nesten hypnotiserende.

Char og Alma drev tidligere mer på kant av loven, selv om de nå kun tar legitime oppdrag, og en slags nostalgi for tidligere, mer rebelske tider gjennomsyrer hele teamet. Når et uhell på et oppdrag gjør at Char, som leder, blir suspendert og erstattet med en vikar, Jo, er eksplosjonen uungåelig, særlig siden Jo ikke akkurat gjør noen god figur. Hun nekter for eksempel å “huske” at Elliot ikke snakker og svarer til they/them, fordi “This is a job, none of that is important”.

Side fra boka med følgende dialog:  Jules: When you chose not to respect us, we chose not to respect you. The fact that you expect people you shit on to treat you nicely shows how delusional you are.  Jo: I can't believe this. So I screwed up some words. You act like I'm a monster.  Jules: Wow... you, you really don't get it, do you? Have you ever even considered that something that's trivial to you could mean... so much more to someone else? You don't get to take the easy road out and just respect the parts of people that you recognize. And, pro tip: If you find yourself in a similar situation in the future where you're surrounded by people you don't understand – Try listening. It'll work a lot better for you than talking.Dialogen fra siden over:

Jules: When you chose not to respect us, we chose not to respect you. The fact that you expect people you shit on to treat you nicely shows how delusional you are.
Jo: I can’t believe this. So I screwed up some words. You act like I’m a monster.
Jules: Wow… you, you really don’t get it, do you? Have you ever even considered that something that’s trivial to you could mean… so much more to someone else? You don’t get to take the easy road out and just respect the parts of people that you recognize. And, pro tip: If you find yourself in a similar situation in the future where you’re surrounded by people you don’t understand – Try listening. It’ll work a lot better for you than talking.

Jeg synes det var interessant å bemerke at Jo er den eneste i hele historien som bruker feil pronomen om Elliot. Selv de som jager hen som en forbryter senere i boka (mini-spoiler der, altså) bruker they/them.

Utsnitt fra boka med følgende dialog:  Old woman: Find them. Bring Elliot to me, am I clear? Guard: Yes, ma'am! Old woman: It's time that they paid for what they did.On a Sunbeam ble først utgitt som nettserie og kan fortsatt leses i sin helhet på nett. Jeg anbefaler absolutt å sjekke den ut, om du foretrekker papir har i alle fall mitt bibliotek boka tilgjengelig (selv om jeg nok skulle ønske den var delt inn i flere bind, den er tung).

Boka har jeg lånt på Trondheim folkebibliotek.

If I was your Girl – Meredith Russo

Denne boka ble med tenåringen hjem fra skolebiblioteket (sammen med en bunke andre som jeg sannsynligvis får dyttet på meg etterhvert som hen får lest dem selv). If I was your Girl handler om Amanda, som bytter skole på tampen av high school, og er en ganske standard “girl meets boy”-ungdomsbok, men med den ikke fullt så standard plot-twisten at Amanda levde sine første 16-17 år som Andrew; hun er trans.

Amanda flytter fra moren til faren (som hun ikke har sett på seks år) fordi det er for farlig for henne å leve som jente blandt folk som har kjent henne som gutt. På den nye skolen er planen å være “stealth”, det vil si: Ikke fortelle noen at hun er trans, holde hodet lavt og overleve high school, sånn at hun kan flytte til New York og gå på universitetet der, et sted som forhåpentligvis er mer liberalt og inkluderende enn “the deep south” der Amanda og familien er fra.

Ting går ikke helt etter planen. Det viser seg nemlig at å være “stealth” ikke er så lett når man både får gode venninner som det er fristende å betro seg til og i tillegg forelsker seg, og det i en av gutta på fotballaget.

Som et bilde på hvilke unike utfordringer det kan føre med seg å være trans på high school er boka ganske vellykket. Amanda er – med vilje, finner vi ut i etterordet – eksepsjonelt heldig i at hun har fått det hun trenger av medisinsk behandling, inkludert kirurgi (akkurat det skurret litt, hun er bare 18, og det er ikke egentlig realistisk), og er feminin nok til å “passere”. Likevel er hun konstant på vakt mot å bli gjennomskuet, og siden hun ble mobbet for sin femininitet hele oppveksten er det ikke rart at hennes nye liv av og til gir kognitiv dissonans.

Historien i nåtid fortelles kronologisk, men vi får tilbakeblikk til livet som det var før i spredde kapitler gjennom hele boka.

Jeg må innrømme at jeg ikke hadde lest ferdig denne boka om det ikke var fra forventningspresset fra tenåringen. Til tross for “twisten”, ungdomskjærlighet har jeg visst (endelig?) vokst fra, og selv om dette ikke bare er en kjærlighetshistorie var det litt for mye fokus på den og litt for lite på det jeg var mer interessert i – forholdet til de nye venninnene og til foreldrene. Men i den siste tredjedelen eller deromkring tok spenningskurven over og gjorde at boka ble vanskelig å legge fra seg. Og uten å spoile så alt for mye kan jeg vel si at jeg likte den åpne, men positive, slutten.

Boka er altså lånt på skolebiblioteket.

Life as a Unicorn: A Journey From Shame to Pride and Everything In Between – Amrou Al-Kadhi

Jeg kom over Life as a Unicorn av Amrou Al-Kadhi ved en tilfeldighet når jeg var på jakt etter julepresang til pappa i desember. Blikket mitt ble fanget av ryggen på boka, og det tok ikke mange setningene fra teksten på ryggen for å overbevise meg om å legge den til bunken av bøker jeg skulle ha med til kassa.

Boka starter på slutten, med en historie fra Amrous karriere som Glamrou, en slags “happy end to set the mood” og som gjorde at den første gangen boka fikk tårene til å trille hos meg var på side 5. Under en opptreden under Edinburgh Fringe får Glamrous drag-gruppe uventet en gruppe “synlig muslimske” kvinner som publikum:

When I dared glance out in front of me, the mother of the group seemed to be repenting in prayer on my behalf. I started to ricochet around a mental labyrinth of paranoia, the consorious voices from my childhood chattering loudly in my mind. As my past enveloped me, the empowering armour of my drag began to dissolve rapidly. I stumbled over my lines, tripped on my heels – more than once – and even welled up onstage (which caused the eyelash glue to incinerate my cornea). The rest of the drag queens – as well as the audience – were white, so it felt as if the Muslim women and I were operating on a different plane of reality from everyone ese, one where only we knew the laws.

(Side 4) Etter showet kommer kvinnene bak scenen for å snakke med hen, og det viser seg at de var positive og henført, snarere enn fordømmende.

Historien setter scenen for boka. For visst er det en fortelling om å vokse opp som skeiv og med et karrieredrøm som faller utenfor normen, men det er også i aller høyeste grad en historie om å vokse opp som muslim. Den kronologiske historien som følger introduksjonen tar oss fra barndommens Irak, til tidlige tenår i London, to år på Eton,  studentliv ved Cambridge og tilbake til London igjen.

Amrou oppdager tidlig at hen er tiltrukket av gutter, Macauley Culkin i Hjemme alene er hens første crush, noe som fører til en av de første store familiekranglene i boka. Amrou buser ut med forelskelsen til Majid, farens venn som er sammen med Britiske Lily og har en omgangskrets som består av blant annet homofile menn. Med Majid er ingen trygg person å betro seg til, han involverer kjapt Amrous foreldre:

‘Exactly,’ said Majid, with a self-satisfied grimace that even today makes me want to go back in time and whack his face with a slab of raw tuna. ‘You just want Macaulay Culkin to be your friend. You didn’t know what you were saying – you were being stupid.’
With Lily’s eyes now fused to the ground, my dad sinking into the sofa as if it were quicksand, and my mother wearing the expression of a traumatised soldier just returned from war, I decided just to say this: ‘Yes. I was being stupid. I didn’t know what I was saying.’

(Side 49) Amrou lærer at hen må skjule sitt virkelige jeg overfor familie og venner. I kombinasjon med innlært skam over ikke å leve opp til Allahs strenge regler for hvordan en muslimsk gutt skal te seg, er det ikke så rart hen griper etter alle muligheter til å ta kontroll over eget liv. En arena hen kan kontrollere er skolearbeidet:

The decision was made, almost as if I had never believed in anything else: I can control how hard I work at school. If I get 100 per cent in everything, then maybe I won’t feel wrong any more. And even if my family think I’m wrong, I’ll have proof that I’m not because I’ll get straight As.

(Side 58) Som et resultat jobber hen seg nesten til døde, men oppnår også å få en plass ved Eton de to siste årene før universitetet. Eton blir et ledd i Amrous forsøk på å frasi seg sin irakiske og muslimske bakgrunn, hen vil være engelsk og går så langt som til å late som hen er katolikk (ved å gjøre korsets tegn over maten, blant annet – ofte i feil rekkefølge, riktignok). Portrettet av livet ved Eton er fascinerende, fordi Amrou som forteller både er fremmed for mange av forventningene og tradisjonene, men samtidig desperat etter å passe inn.

Ved Cambridge får Amrou større frihet til å leve sitt eget liv, og starter en drag-gruppe og utvider omgangskretsen av skeive folk. Men hen er fortsatt avhengig av foreldrenes økonomiske støtte, og hen er også fortsatt bundet av internalisert skam. Etter en opptreden som Glamrou i London i en ferie blir han igjen “outet” til foreldrene av Majid, og denne gangen fører det blant annet til at de fjerner alle klesplagg fra skapene hens som kan beskrives som det aller minste “flamboyant”.

‘Amrou. You seem so… confused about your life. What do you really want?’ I sat with this question for a long moment, intending to answer it genuinely. ‘I just want to be with someone and for them to love me.’
Of course they both knew that this ‘someone’ I referred to wouldn’t be a future wife, and after they searched for something to say, my mother came out with: ‘It would be unfair for you to inflict yourself on somebody. You’re impossible to love.’ I already fully believed this, but that didn’t make hearing it any less devastating.

When I went back to Cambridge for the start of my third year, drag seemed the only way to numb the pain of that brutal familial blow-up – moments in drag made me feel, on even just a superficial level, worthy of love (which I equated only with applause). But it was also the drag that was worsening the dynamic in my family – was it an unsustainable high that made the lows of my life more intense? Drag felt like a glittery Hello Kitty plaster covering up an oozing wound of rejection beneath, and whenever I ripped it off, the wound grew more infected. There was, as a result, a marked contradiction between my external and internal selves. And this led to some surprising and often saddening behaviours.

(Side 196) Amrou sliter med å knytte seg til andre emosjonelt, noe som både fører til giftige (toxic) romantiske/seksuelle forhold, men også går hardt ut over vennskap. Til tross for at hen er rollemodell for andre skeive og en slags inspirasjon som gjør at de tør å komme ut, er hen så full av selv-hat at hen ikke kan glede seg med dem.

Within the year of his coming out, he won the support of his parents and found the joys of sex. While I held my mother’s belief that ‘it would be unfair to inflict myself on anyone’, here Dennis was, able to negotiate intimacy as if it weren’t some unpredictable home-made bomb device. This was something I had no clue how to do. The idea of being emotionally intimate with somebody felt as alien to me as sci-fi.

(Side 204) Det er først når hen flytter tilbake til London etter studiene og gjør seg økonomisk uavhengig av foreldrene at Amrou klarer å begynne å virkelig også løsrive seg fra forventningene både utenfra og internalisert som de og hele kulturen de representerer stiller. Å møte andre unge muslimer som også har trosset forventningene hjelper, og å finne religiøse grupper som har andre tolkinger av Koranen enn den konservative versjonen hen har vokst opp med hjelper også.

Dette er en sånn historie som jeg er takknemlig for å ha fått lov til å lese. Den får meg til å føle at jeg har lært noe, at jeg har blitt et klokere og mer empatisk menneske. På grunn av Amrous identitet og bakgrunn gir hen meg som leser større innsikt i hvordan det er å leve som skeiv, som muslim, som farget person (hen bruker selv “person of colour”) i Britisk underholdningsindustri, som barn av to kulturer og faktisk også som kvinne (analysene av morens liv og lære gir uvante perspektiver på kvinnerollen).

Boka har jeg kjøpt sjøl.

Before I Had the Words: On being a transgender young adult – Skylar Kergil

Jeg husker ikke hvor jeg så tips om Skylar Kergils Before I Had the Words, men boka ble med på en eller annen bokbestilling i fjor. Skylar forteller sin egen historie, fra tidlig barndom, der han aldri følte seg helt hjemme i rollen som lillesøster, via prepubertet og pubertet og til transisjon og college og livet etterpå.

A brother and sister sharing a bedroom wouldn’t make sense; my reality, the one I didn’t speak about, had been that we were brother and brother. And maybe, had I articulated that to my mom, she would have heard me before puberty.
I just didn’t have the words.

(Side 19) Skylar har mye til felles med Alex Bertie, selv om de vokste opp på hver sin side av Atlanteren. Begge bruker internett generelt og YouTube spesifikt til å dele sine opplevelser, begge har foreldre som i utgangspunktet er negative, men som tar til vettet etter hvert. De er også omtrent like gamle når bøkene deres slutter.

Igjen finner jeg at jeg er nesten mer interessert i foreldrene og deres reksjoner og relasjoner til Skylar enn jeg er i Skylar selv. Og da er det litt synd at et av de store hullene i Skylars narrativ er at moren først reagerer med at hun ikke kan støtte “dette valget” økonomisk, og så plutselig gjør hun det likevel?

Han forteller dette om når han kommer ut til moren (han har fortalt om at han er “questioning” før, men nå er han sikker på at han er trans):

“You can come to therapy with me, actually, I want you to if that’s okay!” I suggested. “There are other people like me and it’s possible for me to be happy and feel like myself finally.”
“it’s not that, it’s just” –she started crying– “I can’t financially support any of this, this choice. The world is going to be so much harder if you choose this path. What if you can’t even go to college? Or find a job? Or a loved one? It’s going to make your life so very, very hard.”
I felt like I had broken her heart. I asked her real quick about the financial support part of her statement, and she said she simply wouldn’t pay for testosterone, surgery, or anything else that reinforced “this idea I had.” My therapy sessions, thankfully, she was willing to still cover. Even though it was the second time I had heard it, it was heartbreaking for me, and I got super angry as I walked up to my bedroom, feeling again like the world was out to get me.

(Side 131) Men så kommer den kronologiske fortellingen plutselig til både testosteron og “top surgery” uten at det har blitt sagt eksplisitt at – eller hvordan/hvorfor – hun har endret mening. I slutten av boka er det kapitler der moren, faren og broren får komme til orde (igjen en likhet med Alex Berties bok, selv om der er det begrenset til moren), og der kan vi lese:

When you told me that you would always love me, but not support me financially, I understand that–now–was to make sure I wasn’t about to rush into hormones, surgery, etc. At what point did you realize that I wasn’t choosing to be transgender and that these steps were needs and not wants?

Yes, the lack of financial support (for that which wasn’t covered by insurance…remember, my insurance covered lots of your therapist visits and eventually hormones) in your mind, was putting the responsibility for your decisions about how you wanted to proceed with your transition on you. I did not want to jump in and quickly move through hormones and surgeries without you being 100 percent sure what was right for you. When you started testosterone, and I saw how much that made a difference in how you felt about yourself, I realized that you knew what you wanted and needed and I was fine with moving along as quickly as you wanted. I am sorry that I didn’t recognize that in time to have your top surgery before you went to college… that is the one thing I would change (but knowing what I learned along the way and know now… hindsight is wonderful).

(Side 246) Og det føles som… historieredigering fra morens (og til dels Skylars) side? “Jeg kan ikke støtte dette valget” blir til “Jeg vil ikke at du skal forhaste deg”?

Når jeg hadde merket boka som ferdiglest ble jeg sittende og klikke meg videre på “Readers also enjoyed” på Goodreads, og fant dette sitatet, om en helt annen bok med samme tema:

I admire Arin’s bravery in writing about his journey from female to male, and writing frankly about his romantic relationships. But the whole book has a dry, journalistic tone: there’s something about it holding the reader at arm’s length. There’s a lot of discussion of the personal journey, but lacks the heart, the emotional connection. He tells us his thoughts and feelings, but the showing part doesn’t really happen–he tells us what’s in his head but we never really get inside it ourselves.

Fra Brandys omtale av Some Assembly Required av Arin Andrews.

Jeg tar med sitatet fordi det beskriver det jeg føler om denne boka, og om Alex Berties Transmission. Det er veldig bra at disse bøkene finnes, at disse historiene om hvordan det også kan være å være menneske er tilgjengelige for oss alle, men…. men… Jeg skulle så veldig gjerne ønske at boka i seg selv engasjerte meg emosjonelt. At det var mer en følelse av at boka fikk meg til motvillig å bli engasjert og involvert i stedet for at jeg gjerne vil være engasjert og involvert og derfor prøver å presse de følelsene ut av boka.

En noe blandet leseopplevelse, altså.

Jeg er fortsatt på utkikk etter flere memoarer, men jeg kommer til å lese gjennom omtaler før jeg kjøper flere, og har de denne typen kommentarer kommer jeg nok til å bla videre… Og jeg må vel innrømme at jeg håper å finne noen som er skrevet av folk som er nærmere meg selv i alder, i alle fall ikke så unge at jeg kunne vært moren deres.

Boka har jeg kjøpt sjøl.

Dette blir mellom oss – Alexander Kielland Krag

Jeg må bare beklage og si at Dette blir mellom oss av Alexander Kielland Krag ikke var min kopp te. Så vidt jeg kan bedømme er det objektivt sett en god bok, og jeg er glad for at historier som Felix’ skrives og utgis, men… jeg er ikke så fryktelig interessert i kjærlighetshistorier generelt og enda mindre i ungdomsforelskelser spesielt, og selv om det at Felix forelsker seg i Nicolai og ikke i, si, Nina gjør at historien rommer mer enn den jevne tenåringsromanse, blir jeg ikke engasjert.

Og en stor grunn til det er bokas fortellerteknikk. Felix er forteller, i førsteperson, men han forteller ikke bare i jeg-form, men også i du-form fra første stund når han snakker om (til) Nicolai (på side 6):

Da jeg har hentet alle bøkene jeg trenger og har armene fulle, ser jeg deg for første gang. Du står ved skranken litt bortenfor meg.

Er det noe jeg misliker i fiksjon er det du-form (unntaket er selvsagt der fortelleren faktisk snakker direkte til leseren). Det funker ytterst sjelden på noen annen måte enn at jeg føler meg fremmedgjort. Jeg gjorde et Google-søk på “fortellerteknikk du-form” og fant et talende innslag i Det norske akademis ordbok; de har sitert en anmeldelse i Klassekampen (av en helt annen bok da sitatet er fra 2012): “hele boka er skrevet i presens og i du-form, en krevende fortelleteknikk som lett kan bli anmassende”, og sjelden har jeg vært mer enig med en anmelder. Jeg skjønner hvorfor historien er fortalt sånn, og et grep helt på slutten (her skal jeg la være å komme med spoilers) gjør at det et øyeblikk fungerer på en særdeles spennende måte, men da har jeg allerede irritert meg gjennom 200 sider og er håpløst fortapt.

Jeg heier på Felix, for all del, og glimtvis føler jeg at han kommer under huden på meg. Det er nok dessverre en kjensgjerning at det fortsatt er vanskeligere å ta det første skrittet i en flørt med noen av samme kjønn, der man i heterofile forhold er redd for å bli avvist først og fremst fordi det er flaut kan man som homofil ikke være garantert å ikke bli møtt med avsky og hat, og å bli avslørt overfor alle andre i “flokken” kan føre til sosial utstøting og i verste fall vold, ikke bare hånlig latter fordi du trodde du var noe som var interessert i HAN/HENNE (for en gangs skyld er “han/henne” riktigere enn “hen”). Som Felix selv sier det (på side 114):

Hun sier jeg er modig. Men jeg skulle ønske at det ikke krevde mot å være meg selv, det føles håpløst at det er sånn det er.

Samtidig er det mye som er gjenkjennelig i Felix’ forelskelse, Love is Love tross alt, og jeg tror nok at Ragnhild (15) hadde vært mer positiv til kjærlighetshistorien enn Ragnhild (47), selv om også Ragnhild (15) hadde problemer med du-form. Ragnhild (47) er mer interessert i vennskapet mellom Felix, Max og Philip. Felix har ikke vært så flink på dette med venner (eventuelt har folk ikke vært så flinke til å åpne seg for vennskap fra Felix, homohat er quite some drug), og utviklingen her fra den spede starten med hilsning i klasserommet til ekte vennskap, inkludert avsløringer om forelskelser (og dermed legning) er fint fortalt på særdeles få ord. Uheldigvis ødelegger slutten en smule, jeg hadde gjerne vært den varianten av happy end foruten, men det er kanskje bare meg.

Dette blir mellom oss er en av tre bøker på kortlista til Bokbloggerprisen 2020 i årets kategori Ungdomsbok. Jeg hadde nok ikke lest den om det ikke var for det, de to andre bøkene på kortlista (Sinne og Hør her’a) har jeg heller ikke lest ennå, men de hadde jeg planer om å lese før kortlista kom. Vi får se hvordan jeg liker dem når jeg kommer så langt, men med mindre de begge er gedigne skuffelser er det nok lite sannsynlig at Dette blir mellom oss får min stemme.

 

 

 

How to be Ace – Rebecca Burgess

For noen år siden, fordi jeg begynte å lese mer om LHBT+ både i bøker og på nett, oppdaget jeg at “aseksuell” en ting. Den merkelappen tror jeg ikke fantes når jeg vokste opp på 80- og 90-tallet. Om den gjorde var den i alle fall ikke noe folk flest hadde hørt om. Mye av det som definerer aseksualitet var veldig gjenkjennelig, og etter å ha satt meg mer inn i det har jeg vel landet på at jeg er både demiseksuell og demiromantisk (to merkelapper som begge faller inn under Ace-paraplyen). Lykkelig gift som jeg er er det likevel en slags lettelse å få plassert meg selv i en sammenheng som gir mening til alt jeg har tenkt og følt (eller kanskje helst IKKE følt) om romantisk kjærlighet og sex i mine noen-og-førti år på jorda. Å putte denne boka i handlekurven på en av mine shopping-runder hos Waterstones’ nettbutikk var derfor en no-brainer.

I How to be Ace får vi følge Rebecca fra tidlige tenår, når alle andre plutselig ble kjempeinteressert i kjærester og sex, til nåtid, der hen er anslagsvis rundt 30 og etablert som illustratør. Både forvirringen rundt seksualitet og psykiske problemer (hen har OCD og angst, og i følge baksideteksten er hen autist også) skildres ærlig og åpenhjertig, og selvutleverende. Innimellom presenteres faktabokser som gir leseren bakgrunn for noen av begrepene som lanseres. Tegnestilen er sjarmerende og er i aller høyeste grad med på å fortelle historien. Er begrepet aseksuell nytt for deg er dette en bra intro.

For meg ble boka mindre bra enn den kanskje kunne ha vært fordi jeg ikke klarte å la være å sammenligne den med Alice Osemans Loveless (som også handler om aseksualitet) som jeg leste før jul (og ikke har skrevet om ennå, fy meg). Gjenkjennelsesfaktoren i Loveless var for meg langt større, og leseopplevelsen min av begge bøkene er farget av det. How to be Ace handler som sagt også mye om psykisk helse, og det er ikke negativt i seg selv, men jeg hadde forventet en slags grafisk variant av Loveless, og det var ikke det jeg fikk, og så ble jeg kanskje urimelig skuffet. Det blir interessant å gjenlese How to be Ace om et år eller noe, og se om opplevelsen blir annerledes når jeg er forberedt på tematikken. Den skal få forbli i hjemmebiblioteket, i alle fall, så får jeg muligens diskutere med tenåringen hvem sin hylle den skal bo på.

Forsvarlig behandling – Unni Cathrine Eiken

Jeg fikk anbefalt Unni Cathrine Eikens Forsvarlig behandling under et av bildene mine på Instagram i løpet av Queer Lit Readathon. Boka var tilgjengelig på biblioteket, og det passet bra å plukke den opp nå januar, siden punkt 15 på #riordathon2020 del 3 er “To close the doors: read a book recommended to you by a friend.”

Eilif legges inn på Haukeland sykehus med benbrudd, der møter han sykepleieren Vegard. De er umiddelbart fysisk tiltrukket av hverandre og boka handler om hvordan de navigerer seg fram, forbi etiske problemstillinger om pasient og behandler og misforståelser angående sivilstatus, og ikke minst Eilifs historie med egne psykiske problemer og Vegards som pårørende til en psykiatripasient. Begge har blitt såret før og sliter med selvtilliten i inngangen til et romantisk forhold.

Både Eilif og Vegard er elskelige på sin måte (selv om de altså ikke tror det selv), Elise er vekselsvis irriterende og sjarmerende og Mats er befriende rett fram. Narrativet er bygd slik at leseren i stor grad oppdager sammenhengene og får oppklart misforståelser og forklaringen på halvkvedede viser i takt med hovedpersonene, et grep som fungerer tålelig (selv om jeg mentalt kjeftet på hvor trege til var til å peke på den største elefanten i rommet og også synes hva som ble avslørt når om Vegards mor var litt rotete). Jeg har ingen egen erfaring med angstanfall, men har ingen grunn til å tro annet enn at Eikens beskrivelser er realistiske. Derimot stusset jeg litt på noe av behandlingen Eilif får, den virker til dels skjødesløs, jeg tror f.eks. lite på at ikke man som pasient blir spurt først om man ønsker vask/dusj og hvor mye hjelp man eventuelt vil ha. Men hva vet jeg, jeg har bare veldig korte sykehusopphold bak meg.

For meg personlig ble det hakket mye fokus på fysisk tiltrekking og erotiske beskrivelser av berøring og stirring inn i den andres øyne, men jeg anser at det egentlig er godt innafor det man kan forvente i en bok som tross alt handler om starten på et kjærlighetsforhold og noterer den på “personlig preferanse”-lista heller enn å mene at det nødvendigvis er en svakhet ved boka*.

Jeg kunne ønsket meg mer om begges erfaring med psykiatrien i stedet, særlig Vegards forhold til moren hadde jeg gjerne lest mer om, men da hadde det vel blitt en helt annen bok, kanskje.

Selvopptatt, uten kontakt med virkeligheten, med et voldsomt behov for å prøve å formidle de forvrengte tankene sine til Vegard. Og selvsagt syk, slik at Vegards irritasjon og utmattede resignasjon blir forbudt og egoistisk, til noe som gjør ham følelseskald og lite empatisk i andres øyne. Han har sett det mange ganger, egentlig hver gang temaet kommer opp. Det er kun de vennene han har hatt aller lengst som forstår hvorfor han reagerer som han gjør, som vet at det er helt nødvendig for ham å bo i en annen by, at det er i et forsøk på å bevare sin egen tilværelse trygg og håndterbar at han slår telefonen på lydløs når hun ringer og melder som verst. Sykdommen hennes eter ham hel hvis han slipper henne til, gjør ham til et barn igjen, får ham til å lengte etter at noen skal skjønne at han ikke er sterk nok til å alltid være den som passer på.

(s. 112) Det største problemet for meg i lesingen er et titalls tilfeller av språklig rusk (jeg har markert 12, og det var et par før jeg begynte å markere også). Jeg kastes ut av min “willing suspense of disbelief” og mister tråden i historien av slikt. Det handler både om at forfatteren gjentatte ganger bruker “funkler” som substantiv: “Glitterspetter, hundrevis av blåtoner, funkler som treffer ham i brystet (…)” på side 46, f.eks., som var andre gangen det ble brukt sånn, den første markerte jeg ikke. Og om plutselige innslag av noe jeg etter googling finner ut at er dialektord, hvilket er greit nok, men når de brukes som tittel på kapitler og ikke gjentas i noen kontekst som gjør at jeg kan “lære” hva de betyr blir jeg litt oppgitt. “Dussemang” (s 155) kan jeg gjette på, men hva pokker er “Knekete” (s. 125). Det er også tilfeller av rene feil der hele ord har falt ut av setninger: “Hun har fått den høylydte skingrende stemmen som Eilif irriterer ham” på side 51 eller “Elise har satt seg svarte stolen ved siden av sengen” på side 163. Det er vanskelig å ikke mistenke at det henger sammen med at boka er selvpublisert, for det som mangler her er opplagt en skikkelig språkvask utført av en ekte person (stavefeil fant jeg ingen av, de tar jo stavekontrollen i tekstbehandleren seg av).

Jeg har likevel ingen problemer med å anbefale Forsvarlig behandling om du er i humør til en kjærlighetshistorie mellom to smått skadeskutte individer.

____________________

*  La meg også understreke at min motvilje ikke hadde vært mindre om det var et heterofilt par det var snakk om. Jeg er bare ikke så veldig interessert i andre folks… la oss kalle det “erotiske samhandlinger”, i mangel på et bedre begrep.

Boka har jeg lånt på biblioteket.

Queer Lit Readathon wrap-up

It’s been a few weeks, but here’s a belated summary of my Queer Lit Readathon reading.

This Winter by Alice Oseman checks off Background Romance, Non Coming Out and Winter Vibes. I thought Tori was Ace according to canon, so that  This Winter would count for Ace/Aro MC, too, but I think I may have been wrong about that.

Love Lives Here by Amanda Jette Knox was my pick for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (the latter, obvs), ???, and See Yourself (I am Cis, and so is Amanda).

George by Alex Gino covers Pre/Non-Medical Transition.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta covers #ownvoices, BIPOC MC and MC Not Like You.

Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales was picked for Retelling, but also works for Host Rec and Queer Friends.

Lumberjanes vol. 9: On a Roll squeezed in to cover Graphic Novel.

So that’s every square checked (well, with some doubt about Ace/Aro MC), except the group read. I ordered Summer of Everything by Julian Winters at the same time as Only Mostly Devastated, and it was supposed to arrive on time according to the estimates from the shop, but alas. It would have been a challenge to finish it within the readathon week in any case, but without the book in hand it was obviously impossible. It has arrived now, though, so it will be read eventually.

I have, to a certain extent, been prioritising reading over blogging about the books I’ve read over the last few months (if not longer), so to make sure I get these written up I will stick to a very brief summary of my thoughts for each of them here, rather than pretend to myself that I’ll do a proper review of them at some later point.

This Winter by Alice Oseman is a novella that takes place after the three volumes of Heartstopper that are already out and before Solitaire (which I’ve since read). It is narrated by the three Spring kids, Tori, Charlie and Oliver, who each get a section in order of age from oldest to youngest. It is also illustrated in Oseman’s characteristic style. The whole of the plot takes place on Christmas day. The book comes with a content warning, in that it references mental illness and eating disorders and includes “ignorant views regarding mental illness” (a wording which I particularly liked).

Tori and Charlie are trying to put a rather rough autumn/winter behind them, and for Tori that means trying to protect Charlie as well as dealing with her own “disasterous” life. Charlie seems to want to escape from himself (and his family). Oliver mainly wants someone – preferably his elder siblings – to play Mario Cart with him. The novella is a moving and insightful portrait of a family dealing with mental illness, and of how everyone is unavoidably tied up in the situation, though the way they try to deal ranges from trying too hard to help to pretending nothing is wrong (or even, in the extended family, making fun of the whole thing).

This is Tori:

I walk back into the kitchen. Mum is still washing up. I walk up to her, and her face looks like stone. Like ice, maybe. There’s a pause, and then she says, ‘You know, I am trying my best.’

I know she is, but her best isn’t really good enough, and it shouldn’t be about how she feels anyway.

(Page 44.) It’s hard not to feel like the Spring parents are fumbling at their parenting job, but as a parent myself, who has not had personal experience with mental illness, I’m not all that sure I’d have done a much better job. Well, in fact, that is very much one of the reasons why I read books – like these and in general – in order to learn, to get the perspective of the struggling teens, in this case, letting me see the world from their point of view.

Here’s Charlie:

I should explain about the argument with Mum and all the arguments we’ve had over the past few weeks. I should explain how difficult it is to keep trying to do better when there are so many people who just refuse to understand how hard it is. I should explain that I barely slept last night because I was so anxious about dinner and, even though I actually did quite well, I still felt like everyone was watching me, waiting for me to fuck up and ruin the day.

(Page 72.) I started reading Solitaire at the tail end of the readathon, and I’m looking foreward to making my way though all of Oseman’s books, probably in the near future (I have purchased them all, so it’s just a matter of finding the time).

I came across Amanda Jetté Knox on Twitter a while back, and have been meaning to read her  well, I guess we can call it a memoir? Love Lives Here was a very interesting, and in parts moving read. Someone on Goodreads called it a bit of a Trans 101, and I suppose there is something in that, if you’ve already read a bit about the issue and you’re looking to understand more about transness in itself, this is perhaps not where you should go.

I did, however, find it interesting to get the coming-out-as-trans stories from the point of view of a cis woman, since I myself am cis, and moreover from the point of view of a parent. There is also quite a lot of discussion about advocacy, about being public as a family of supportive individuals, and being public in general. When Amanda’s partner suggest she uses her parenting blog as an advocacy platform, Alexis (then out as trans boy, now non-binary) makes a point:

“You should do that!” Alexis agreed. “When I searched for trans kids in Canada, I couldn’t find any stories of families who were supportive. Not one. We should be that one.”

(Page 99.) The frequency of sucicide and suicide ideation is already much higher in trans and non-binary kids, how much worse is a Google-search that tells them they will be thrown out from home and shunned by everyone they love going to make that situation? It is admirable to out oneself out there as the (sensible but apparently unusual) alternative: The loving and accepting family.

Interesting as this was, though, the next book I pick up about trans issues will be by a trans author. Time for some #ownvoices to teach this old cis lady about the myriad of human experience.

I read Rick by Alex Gino, which happens after George chronologically, a few weeks before the readathon. A pity, since it would have worked beautifully for Ace/Aro. Ah, well. In terms of order it didn’t make all that much difference to me that I read them “the wrong way round”, but Rick does spoil George (quite a bit, and not just on the coming out parts which you could probably take a guess at either), so if you can stick to the proper order, do.

George is a sweet story, very much not intended for 46-year-olds. Which doesn’t mean we can’t read it, obviously, and certainly doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. I don’t suppose it’s too much of a spoiler to say that it’s a book about being trans. In fact, if so, the synopsis will spoil it for me. George/Charlotte is lucky enough to have a best friend that sticks with her, a mother who, despite taking some time, comes round and an older brother who takes it all in his stride:

“Weird. But it kinda makes sense, No offence, but you don’t make a very good boy.”

“I know.”

(Page 156.) Which feeds into the theme from Love Lives Here: If we are going to make progress, we (and most especially trans/LGBTQ+ kids/teens) need stories with happy endings and families that are able to adjust and stick together and love one another, or else coming out is just going to remain as terrifying as it must have been for centuries.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta was already on my TBR pile, suggested to me by who knows. The combination of it ticking several bingo boxes and being a relatively quick read, being in verse, made it the perfect pick for the readathon.

The narrative being from the first person perspective and the verse form combine to make this a hard-hitting read. The book fits the prompt “MC Not Like You” perfectly, Michael is my opposite in every element of the snappy shorthand descriptions we use to group people. He is male, mixed-race, gay and gender bending, I am cis female, white and straight. Even so, it is not difficult to empathise with Michael’s exploration of his identity, and his emergence towards the end of the book as ‘The Black Flamingo’, fierce, in drag, and wholly himself, is a triumph the reader shares.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are standalone poems by Michael. Here’s an example:

I Come From

I come from shepherd’s pie and Sunday
roast, jerk chicken and stuffed wine leaves.
I come from travelling through taste buds
but loving where I live. I come from
a home that some would call broken.

I come from DIY that never got done.
I come from waiting by the phone
for him to call. I come from waving
the white flag to loneliness. I come from
the rainbow flag and the Union Jack.

I come from a British passport
and an ever-ready suitcase. I come from
jet fuel and fresh coconut water.
I come from crossing oceans
to find myself. I come from deep issues
and shallow solutions.

I come from a limited vocabulary
but an unrestricted imagination.
I come from a decent education
and a marvellous mother.

I come from being given permission
to dream but choosing to wake up
instead. I come from wherever I lay
my head. I come from unanswered
questions and unread books, unnoticed
effort and undelivered apologies
and thanks. I come from who I trust
and who I have left.

I come from last year and last year
and I don’t notice how I’ve changed.
I come from looking in the mirror
and looking online to find myself.
I come from stories, myths, legends
and folk tales. I come from lullabies
and pop songs, hip-hop and poetry.

I come from griots, grandmothers
and her-story tellers. I come from
published words and strangers’ smiles.
I come from my own pen but I see
people torn apart like paper, each a story
or poem that never made it into a book.

(Pages 217-218.)

Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales was suggested by one of the hosts for the “Retelling” prompt and I’m glad we crossed paths.

I found it to be a clever reworking of the Grease plot. In place of Sandy and Danny we find Ollie from California, plonked down in North Carolina because his parents want to stay near his aunt (who is very ill with cancer), and Will, basketball jock, definitely not out. The supporting cast is both charming and interesting (a bit like in the movie) and help bring the story to life. Quite apart from the summer-romance-oh-now-we’re-at-the-same-school-and-that-is-not-who-I-am-here plot, there are other echoes of Grease, not least in the gradual realisation of Ollie’s that while he is finding the situation tough, so is Will, and that if they want to have a chance at an actual relationship they both need to give as well as take. Even down to the words and phrases there are echoes. I feel the title (a phrase that appears in the book, too) sounds like “hopelessly devoted” in some intangible way (and it made me hum the song every time I thought about the title), but those words also appear:

If I didn’t cut Will off cold-turkey, I’d end up pining over him, all hopelessly devoted, and hurt, and unrequited.

(Page 79.) It’s been quite a few years since I last watched Grease, but I’m positive that a careful side-by-side comparison would reveal even more details that the two have in common than the many I spotted.

It’s more of a YA romance than I would normally read (I may be growing old after all, I have grown out of teen romance…), but the revamped Grease story and the nicely handled theme of coming out – how different the experience can be depending on your family, friends and local community (Ollie from liberal-minded California has been out “forever”) – made it a much more interesting read than the plain boy-meets-boy-and-after-some-obstacles-they-live-happily-ever-after romance story.

The Lumberjanes series is a firm favourite in this house. Some time in the autumn I resolutely purchased all the volumes we were missing from Waterstones. They propmtly disappeared into the teen’s room, but I have been asking for them back in order so I could (re)read the whole thing chronologically. In volume 9: On a Roll our heroes, the Roanokes, find an overground roller derby track and challenge a group of Sasquatches to a game, in order to help the neighbourhood Yetis whose digs the Sasquatches have taken over. This being Lumberjane-country, the track turns out to have… well, deadly booby traps.

It’s unabashedly queer (yes, in both senses) and undeniably weird and unendingly charming.

Alle bøkene har jeg kjøpt sjøl.