Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Boy Meets Boy, David Leviathan

 Title:  Boy Meets Boy
Author:  David Leviathan
Publisher:  Alfred A Knopf
Date:  2005
Pages:  195
Genre:  Realistic (?) Fiction
Age Level:  7th Grade and Up

I was a HUGE fan of The West Wing.  I thought the writing was smart, and the characters were interesting.  But most of all, I thought that Aaron Sorkin had created a fictional world that I actually wanted to live in.  For an hour each week, I could sit in my living room and pretend that Jed Bartlett was the president instead of that Republican from Texas.  I'm pretty sure I would even vote for Martin Sheen in real life-he and I agree more than we disagree when it comes to politics.  But I digress-the point was that I wanted to jump through the television and live in that America.

That's how I felt when I read Boy Meets Boy, by David Leviathan.  It is the story of Paul, a gay boy who was outed by his kindergarten teacher as being "definitely gay".  Paul goes to a high school where the star quarterback in a drag queen named Infinite Darlene, and everyone is free to be gay or straight for bi or trans (or geeky or smart or talented, etc...) without repercussions.  Paul meets new-boy Noah, and his first real love starts to bloom.  But Noah comes with baggage from a bad break-up, and when Paul's ex-boyfriend starts sniffing around, Paul has to find a way to show Noah that he is not like other guys.

This is your basic teenage love story-two young people, strong feelings, obstacles to be overcome...what makes this novel more than that is the idealized world that Leviathan creates.  Not everything is rosy-Paul's friend Tony, in the next town, has fundamentalist parents who must be tricked into letting him leave with Paul and their other friends-but this is a view of what high schools, and our communities could be like if they were truly accepting and everyone could live openly.  And while I enjoyed the sweet love story between Paul and Noah, what I am grateful to Leviathan for was a chance to live in that world, if only for a few hours.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Love, Stargirl

Title:  Love, Stargirl
Author:  Jerry Spinelli
Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers
Year:  2007
Pages:  288
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  6th Grade and Up

Stargirl (Stargirl, 2000) is disappearing. She and her family (including pet rat Cinnamon) have moved to Pennsylvania, leaving her boyfriend, Leo, behind in Arizona. "Can you lose your favorite person without losing yourself?" she writes in one of the many letters to him that comprise an epistolary companion to Spinelli's first story of the eccentric, large-hearted, happy-to-a-fault teenager. The questions abound: Will she be reunited with her Starboy, or will he be replaced by Perry, the petty-thieving, dangerously attractive new boy in her life? How will she help her new friends (five-year-old motormouth Dootsie, angry Alvina, agoraphobic Betty Lou, grieving widower Charlie, developmentally disabled Arnold)? And are the many genuinely nice moments in this novel buried under too much sentimentality, whimsicality, and self-conscious cuteness? The answer lies with individual readers. (from Amazon)

When I started reading Love, Stargirl, I was concerned that having Stargirl herself narrate the book would somehow take away from the myth of Stargirl that was created in the first book.  Seeing Stargirl through Leo's eyes made her seem so magical, I wasn't sure if the effect would be the same.  I shouldn't have worried.  If anything, Love, Stargirl gives the character a depth and authenticity that would be impossible without seeing some of her inner life.  And the story brings home the idea that to a large extent we choose how we see and act in the world.  Things don't always go as planned, but each of us is empowered to choose how we frame our thinking, and how we respond to the challenges that life throws our way.  I will admit to crying at the climax of the book, when Stargirl has her Solstice party, and the beam of light that is her touches so many lives in such a positive way.  What I hope that Stargirl gives to the teens who read about her is faith in themselves, and the courage to be who they are, even in the face of society's differing expectations.