Staff Picks Category: LGBT

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell []

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Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On reads like a compact and quirky alternative Harry Potter. The parallels are impossible to miss. Our protagonist had no knowledge of the magical world until he was discovered and brought to a magic school where he quickly makes friends and begins a series of fantastic adventures. We have characters who clearly have analogs in Harry, Hermione, Draco, Hagrid, and Voldemort, and there are more subtle references as well. Carry On is more than an homage, however. It is an engaging fantasy with good world building and a satisfying plot. Many aspects of the book simply seem better than they have to be, which is delightful. The story is told from a number of viewpoints, each of which satisfyingly reveals something different about the characters. (The everchanging dynamic between our protagonist Simon and his rival Baz is a driving force in the book, and the contrast between their individual perspectives is part of what makes the book work so well.) The world is well thought out with complex politics and an intriguing, novel, and entertaining magic system. And Carry On is compact—it is as if Rowling had decided to tell the entire Harry Potter story in a single Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sized volume that concentrated mainly on Harry’s last year, only touchiching upon earlier adventures in brief flashbacks.

 

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If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan []

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Negin Farsad is playful and intentional in her reading of this beautifully tragic love story by Sara Farizan. Sahar and her best friend Nasrin have grown up together in a world where homosexuality is a crime. They know they are in love, but they must hide their romance from everyone in their lives. Their romantic feelings for one another become even more dangerous when Nasrin is engaged to marry a man. Sahar must deal with Nasrin’s engagement and the loss of their own romantic relationship, but this is not easy for her. The feelings she has are so strong and there is no safe way for her to talk about them or express them. Sahar makes a drastic decision that she hopes will save her relationship with Nasrin, but how far will she go to be with the woman she loves? Will she ever get over her first love? What’s more, how will she continue to pursue her career goals and take care of her father while being true to herself?

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky []

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Johnny Heller narrates exactly the way you imaged Charlie’s voice while reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie’s matter-of-fact tone and use of direct language juxtaposes with the intensity of his experiences and the sometimes stunning depth of his observations. Anyone who has been 15 knows that navigating friends, family, and high school can run the gambit from terrifying to exhilarating. Charlie is figuring out how to be a person in the world. He is called a freak, he experiences pain and love and every emotion in between. I highly recommend both the print book and the audio book to adult and teen readers. And while I’m at it, the movie is pretty great too!

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When I Knew by Robert Trachtenberg []

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These stories of queer moments, crushes, fantasies, and coming out will make you smile, cringe, and maybe even tear up. Trachtenberg arranges the stories to oscillate between the quippy and the emotionally charged and highlights something amusing from each story with a provocative illustration. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I would have loved seeing a broader representation of queerness and more stories from POC. Check out more of our LGBT Teen staff picks!

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Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block []

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“Lanky lizards!” Block paints a off-beat world of magical realism through her lyrical prose. Weetzie Bat is a glittery, non-conformist teen living in L.A. She meets the coolest guy at school, Dirk, and her quest for “happily ever after” begins. After you fall in love with this fun and quirky book, there are six others in Block’s Dangerous Angel series.

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Coffee Will Make You Black []

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April Sinclair’s young adult novel tells the story of Stevie, a young black girl, living in Chicago in the late 60s/early 70s. Stevie has to deal with other people’s ignorance about race and sexuality as she comes into her own identity. Her mother wants her to use bleaching cremes to lighten her skin, but she’s becoming involved in the Afro-American Club at school and she begins to wear her hair natural. Stevie’s Grandma and her mama are strong influences on Stevie and she finds comfort with her Grandma and is often frustrated by her mama. This is a great book for adults, young adults, and teens.

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In One Person by John Irving []

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I’m glad I read John Irving’s In One Person, though I almost gave up on it in the first few pages. The rambling conversational tone took some getting used to, and the sexually explicit language did not yet seem justified. Something in the quirky characterization of the protagonist, Billy, kept me reading and as the conversational tone became familiar and Irving’s wonderful story telling took over, I soon found it difficult to put the book down.

What began as a strangely narrated story of a quirky child soon becomes an engaging coming-of-age story, then a touching examination of the life of a bisexual man in a world that is deeply uncomfortable with his bisexuality and the gender bending behavior of those he loves, and eventually a stark look at the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Over the course of the novel John Irving illustrates the changing attitudes towards cross-dressers and transwoman in American society from the 1940s until the turn of the millennium. While his portraits are certainly not representative they are believable and always sympathetic.

There is nothing titillating about In One Person despite its sexually explicit language and themes. This is a story about friendships, crushes, prejudice and acceptance.

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October Mourning: a song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman []

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Matthew Shepard was a gay college student who was lured out to the prairie by two young men who brutally beat him, tied him to a fence and left him to die. Using a variety of poetic forms and various perspectives including from the fence, the victim and the perpetrators, Newman has created a book of poetry that is powerful to read and works extremely well as a tool to discuss important issues surrounding Shepard’s tragic death. Excellent forward, epilogue and explanation of the poetic forms used adds to the reader’s understanding and makes this an especially valuable book to use with high school students.

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Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide []

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The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide (formerly The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, 1994-1999) is a bimonthly journal centered around a conceptual theme with contributions from leading scholars and writers in the given field. Also in each issue are interviews, poetry and both in depth and brief book reviews which are great for either catching up or for keeping current of interesting literary developments. Some notable contributors have included Andrew Holleran, Emma Donoghue, Larry Kramer, Jewelle Gomez and Barney Frank.

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