Friday, August 1, 2008

Homos Libros

It's an exciting time for LGBT-themed publishing. More and more books reflecting the strength, experience and vision of LGBT people appear on the shelves of book stores and libraries. What follows are reviews of recent books released by the LGBT Services Committee of the Pima County Public Library. Enjoy!

Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

In the book Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks, the House of Lilterwess has fallen to the invading Sainnites. The leader of the land of Shaftal has died without passing on the elemental power which had kept Shaftal in peace and prosperity for centuries, and the country is falling into chaos. Emil, the soldier, must leave his scholarly pursuits to return to war. Zanja, the boundary-crosser of the Ashawala'i people, must try to protect her people as well as herself in an increasingly dangerous and violent world. Karis the half-giant possesses formidable earth powers, but can she come out from under the heavy hand of her addiction long enough to see how she might use them to protect all she loves? When Zanja realizes that she loves Karis will she get the chance to express it? A wall of danger and war stands between them.

This book portrays a society in which relationships between women, between men, and between men and women are treated equally, and either a man or a woman may fill any job, but the effect of war on the people is at the forefront of the action. This is a nuanced book with many shades of gray which explores how warfare changes a people and what they must do so that they do not become the invaders they hate.

--Reviewed by Shawn F.

Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks

The events in the book Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks take place a few years after those in Fire Logic. It has now been 30 years since the Sainnite invaders first set foot in Shaftal and there's no indication that they will be leaving. The half-giant Karis and her tribe of friends have experienced a few peaceful years, but the tides of war are changing the land again.

Shaftal had been without a G'deon, their true leader, for a generation. Plague is devastating the Sainnese and Shaftali people alike, and the Sainnites keep escalating the cost of the war. Karis and her friends find themselves drawn into conflict with a group of Shaftali fanatics who claim to speak for the Lost G'deon of Shaftal and with Sainnites who cannot imagine any path but endless war, victory at any cost. What will it take for a new path to be forged for the war-torn land of Shaftal?

The fate of one of the major characters in this book is quite mysterious and remains so throughout. The conclusion is ultimately satisfying but a long time coming. Perhaps, that particular line of events tipped a bit far into symbolism. However, I found myself turning over the many possible meanings of the events long after I finished reading the book.

Earth Logic continues the explorations begun in Fire Logic. How does a person make moral decisions in a time of war, and what is the path to peace? The tribe of friends who comprise the core characters of this book continue to provide a path for exploring many types of relationships between people.

--Reviewed by Shawn F.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

High school can be challenging enough by itself, add to it having only been homeschooled previously, then after Thanksgiving break, coming back and announcing you're no longer "Angela," a girl, but rather "Grady," a boy ! That's just what Ellen Wittlinger did in this very well written book covering the very difficult issue of being transgendered and a teen.

Eve was Angela's best friend. They even homeschooled together. Now that Grady has emerged and Eve has other girlfriends at the school, she is confused. It is not cool to be friends with the school freak. However, she loves this person like a sibling. New friend Sebastian, the school geek, introduces Grady to the Parrotfish. The female born of this fish can change its sex to male and become superior to the birth males. The school staff has very different opinions of the issue and how to handle it. The principle says wait until you’re in college to confront this issue in your life, but the gym teacher offers protection and resources for support groups. As Grady soon learns, people's views of this issue are anything but predictable. The popular couple, school Athlete, Russ and the beautiful Kita are the very proof of this. Russ starts asking Grady for relationship help and Kita and Grady are spending enough time together to cause feelings of guilt. The denial, hurt, compassion, and finally acceptance from his family is brilliantly relayed throughout the story.

--Reviewed by Brandon M.

Zookeeper: A Novel by Alex MacLennan. 2006

An enjoyable first novel from a writer I hope to read more of. Sam Metcalfe, a Zookeeper, is a 40ish, single man whose life is dictated by the needs of others, his sister and her bright, but rebelling son, his best friend, who is having a hard time juggling her restaurant business with needs of her Alzheimer- inflicted mother and Dean the super-model local news personality boyfriend on the fast track to celebrity. Added to this is his job at the National Zoo, where he often ponders life, what it might have been, where it is going.

While on an exploratory trip to the rainforest, to study his beloved Howler Monkeys, Sam begins to question his circumstances. When he returns home he discovers that putting his needs first is no crime and that is in fact a necessary move to make if he wants to participate fully in life.

--Reviewed by Rich D.

Wide Awake by David Levithan. 2006 (Teen)

"I can't believe there's going to be a gay Jewish president." So begins Wide Awake, the latest novel by the prolific David Levithan. Set in the near-future United States, Wide Awake presents a vision of a post 9/11 country, rocked by the Greater Depression, Denial Education, the Opus Dei Trials, Prada Riots, and Reign of Fear. For 16-year-old Duncan, his boyfriend Jimmy, and their idealistic coterie, the election results are more than a ray of hope. The victory of President Abraham Stein and running mate Alice Martinez hails the return of sanity, love, and community. Could it be this easy?

Alas, no. Enter Kansas, and its Decent Party governor, who contests the results. With the election and all it stands for threatened, Duncan and friends travel to Kansas to take a stand. Throughout Wide Awake, Levithan juxtaposes the macrocosm of national identity with the microcosm of Duncan's world, effectively exploring concepts of relationship, duty, patriotism, and love. Readers are treated not only to the author's trademark charm, idealism, and eloquence, but also to enjoyable lessons on the United States Constitution, political history, Judeo-Christian religions, and social responsibility.

The one misstep in this otherwise enjoyable and provocative story is Levithan's stereotypical portrayal of the Kansas governor. In a novel that ceaselessly explores the complexity of its subject matter and characters, the contrived behavior of this individual seems out of place.

--Reviewed by Cathy J.

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger. 2003 (Teen)

In Brent Hartinger's enjoyable first novel Russel Middlebrook is a fun and funny high schooler with a problem. He's gay, closeted and tired of trying to navigate the minefield of high school alone. In his first tentative attempts to find a community, he discovers a few other gay, lesbian and bisexual students at his school. They really need a safe space to meet and talk, so they get the idea to create a school Geography Club. It seems like a great idea. After all, no one will want to join a Geography Club. Will they?

Russel finds a boyfriend and experiences some popularity by being on the baseball team. Life's far from perfect for him but Russel's starting to feel pretty good. Then fissures begin to appear between the members of the Geography Club. Next, rumor turns Russel's life upside down. The resulting events cause him to examine the costs of popularity, the complexities of love, and the true nature of inclusion.

--Reviewed by Shawn F.

The Order of the Poison Oak by Brent Hartinger. 2005 (Teen)

This is the second novel to focus on Russel Middlebrook from Geography Club. This time he and his two best friends are working at summer camp. Russel just wants to get away for the summer to someplace where he's not known as "the gay kid," and have a fun problem-free summer. Of course, things are never that simple.

He and one of his best friends fall for the same guy, and his attempts to help his other best friend find a girlfriend seem to be doing more harm than good. Then there are the kids. Russel finds his campers more challenging than he could have imagined, but through his relationships with them and the other people at the camp he both learns and teaches about betrayal and forgiveness, the nature of real beauty and the complex relationship between joy and pain.

--Reviewed by Shawn F.

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