"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

29 December 2011

Jumpstart the World



Hyde, Catherine Ryan. Jumpstart the World. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2010.

Elle has just moved into her own apartment.  At 16, she's hardly old enough to be on her own, but her mother's boyfriend forced her mom to choose between him and Elle, so Elle is given her own apartment on the other side of town.  Elle's mom pays the rent and utilities, and provides Elle with money for groceries, but to say that this arrangement has put a strain on their relationship would be an understatement.  Elle is in a new neighborhood, at a new school, and completely alone, so she is glad for the friends she finds at school and for her neighbors as well, until she discovers a secret that throws her world for a loop.

I had a really great quote here that I pulled from the book, but unfortunately Blogger decided to delete it before I could save it, and I've already removed my bookmark.  All that to say, Elle learned a lot of great lessons in this book, not the least of which being that the people we love could die at any time, so we need to treat them with as much love and care as we can.  I was also glad for Elle's choices as far as her relationship with her mom is concerned.

27 December 2011

2011: A Baker's Dozen



This year it was particularly difficult for me to decide on the top ten books I read throughout the year. Part of this is due to the fact that I read a lot of books - having access to the San Francisco Public Library was an amazing thing.  The other problem, though, was that the books I read were from a variety of genres, and I had several favorites in each genre, so it was hard to narrow my list down to just ten items.  So I didn't.  Instead, this year there's a baker's dozen - the thirteen books from my reading this year that I think everyone should read.  Without further ado, here's the list, in no particular order:

1. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans.
2. I'm OK - You're Not by John Shore
3. Bulletproof Faith by Candace Chellew-Hodge
4. Love Wins by Rob Bell
5. The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg
6. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger
7. Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie
8. The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
9. After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
10. Staying Fat for Sara Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
11. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
12. Letters from the Closet by Tony Ferrante

And last but not least, a book containing a chapter written by yours truly
13. Unfair: Why the "Christian" View of Gays Doesn't Work by John Shore

25 December 2011

How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend



Ghislain, Gary. How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2011.

David's father is a psychologist who specializes in difficult cases.  David has been taking it all in stride, adjusting as much as he can, until he meets Zelda.  Zelda says she is 325 years old and is on a quest to find her chosen one, whom she would take back to her home world and place in a zoo.  David accompanies Zelda on her quest to find her chosen one, Johnny Depp.  Will Zelda be able to locate her chosen one before the key to her interdimensional door disappears?

I saw the title of this book and I just had to pick it up.  The book is funny and I did enjoy reading about Zelda's antics as she tracked down Johnny Depp.  Unfortunately, the book suffers from a horrid case of "slow end game."  The loosely woven plot did not wrap up at the end of the story, and I was left quite unsatisfied.

21 December 2011

Geography Club



Hartinger, Brent. Geography Club. New York: Harper Teen, 2003.

Russel is sure he's the only gay kid in his school.  Then he finds another person through an online chat room.  Then he discovers two more.  Then another.  Soon there are enough LGBT teens that they don't feel alone anymore, and they want to be able to meet regularly on school campus, but they don't want to advertise their orientations, so they start a geography club.  They figure no one will want to join a geography club.  Until someone else does.

I appreciated the discussion of bullying in this book.  I also enjoyed the way the teens were able to talk to each other and felt like they could be themselves while they were at geography club.  I definitely was glad for the way the book ended.  But I would have to say my favorite character was not Russel, but Brian.  Brian is the one kid in the school who doesn't fit into any group and is always picked on.  No one takes much notice of him until the group gets into a disagreement and Russel finds himself alone.  He sits with Brian at lunch, and Brian chooses to sacrifice part of himself for Russel, in a way that shows that Brian has more character than most of the other students in the school.  For that subplot alone, this book is worth reading.

19 December 2011

I am J



Beam, Chris. I am J. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2011.

J is a boy trapped in a girl's body.  His family thinks he is just going through a phase or has an interesting personality, but they do not understand how he could possibly be a boy when he was clearly born a girl. J does as much as he can to make himself look like a boy and even goes to therapy in hopes of being able to get hormones to begin his transition.  Meanwhile, he is forced to move out of his house while his mother and his father come to terms with his transgenderism.

I enjoyed the fact that this book was told from inside J's head.  The pronoun issues became a bit complicated at first, as other people in J's life referred to him as a girl, but his internal monologue referred to himself as a boy. I have read elsewhere that parents of transgendered children often go through a grieving process where they experience the "death" of their son or daughter and adjust to the new development of their daughter or son. Nonetheless, there are few enough YA stories of transgendered people, and I appreciated the way this novel handled this difficult issue.

17 December 2011

An Interview with the Author


So, Jenni, you have been at graduate school for four months now.  How are classes going?
Well, my classes are done for the semester.  They weren't as hard as I thought they would be, and I think I learned a few things from the projects and other assignments I had to complete.  It was kind of interesting to be back on this side of the desk again.

That's right - this must be odd for you to be the student instead of the teacher.  Do you miss teaching?
I miss my students.  There are parts of teaching that I miss.   Some of the things - random administrative duties and some of the other required parts of my day - I don't miss at all. But I will admit that it was easier to work one job than three, even if the one job required as much work as three.

Three jobs - wow!  How in the world do you juggle all of that on top of a busy school schedule?
To quote the character Temperance Brennan from the TV show Bones: "First I do one, then the other."  Seriously, though, it's been a bit complicated to keep everything straight, or rather, to keep track of everything.

Straight, huh? This semester is also when you decided to come out to your friends and family, isn't it?
Yes.  After a lot of thought and prayer and consideration and tears, I finally did publicly come out on October 11 - National Coming Out Day.

I'm sure that was difficult. What was the hardest part about coming out?
It definitely was hard.  The hardest part, I think, was fielding all the reactions from people who do not understand or who are choosing not to understand.  I spent a lot of time in a pretty strict religious group, and most of my friends are still involved with that group.  So they can't really wrap their brains around the idea that I can love Jesus and be attracted to women at the same time.  I got more than my share of messages from them - things that probably were intended to be "Hate the sin, love the sinner" type messages, but that ended up being "Hate the sin, hate the sinner."

Did you lose contact with a lot of people after coming out?
I did. Actually, the last year and a half has been a process of losing contact with a lot of my old friends.  It's been hard and sad, and a big part of me wishes it didn't have to be that way, but just like my friends said that they couldn't just ignore my orientation and go against their convictions to be my friend, I also can't pretend to be someone I'm not just to make them happy.  It helps that I have a good support network around me, now, too.

So, who do you count as your support network?
I actually draw my support from a couple of different places.  Online, I am a part of the Gay Christian Network, which has been amazing, as many of the others in that group have also experienced difficulties in dealing with the religious beliefs of their families.  It's also a good place for me to ask the questions I can't ask anywhere else.  I'm also part of a group of former BJU students and it's been good to talk to them as well and get encouragement and support from them.

Do you draw any support from people in your community?
I'm beginning to.  It's hard when you move to a new place to try to find your spot in the community.  But I'm part of a wonderful open and affirming church where I've met people who love God and love me and for whom my orientation is a non-issue.  My church is also a safe place to ask the hard questions about my beliefs and which beliefs are important for me to keep now and which I feel I can leave by the wayside.  I'm also getting to know my fellow students in library school, as well as other members of the GLBT community here.

I heard that there's a certain person who's a SLIS student and a member of the GLBT community that you've gotten to know particularly well. 
[Blushes] Why, yes, yes there is.  I never, ever imagined myself being at a place where I could act on the attractions I feel. For the longest time I squashed all of that and imagined I'd be alone and lonely forever.  Even after I came out, I didn't expect to begin dating this soon.  I'm continually amazed at how lucky I am; my girlfriend is completely wonderful and I totally don't deserve her.

Wow.  It sounds like your plate is pretty full, between classes, work, church, and dating.  Looking back at this semester, would you say your choice to come to library school was a good one?
Definitely. I wouldn't change one thing about it. It's been a busy semester and it's had its ups and downs, but it's been so worth it.

Before we go, what are your plans for this Christmas break?
I'll be working a lot - this is a busy season in the retail business. And I'm going to catch up on some reading and relaxing, things I've had to neglect a bit as the end of the semester hit and things were due in classes.  And of course, I'll be spending time with my girlfriend.  I'm glad we have this break to spend some time together before the spring semester smothers us.

13 December 2011

The Year They Burned the Books



Garden, Nancy. The Year They Burned the Books. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999.

Jamie is the editor-in-chief of her school's newspaper, and early in her senior year she publishes an editorial concerning the school's choice to make condoms available in the nurse's office after school on Fridays.  Meanwhile, a concerned parent is running for the school board in the hopes that she might be able to alter the school's health curriculum to remove any mention of sex outside of marriage or homosexuality.  Things quickly spiral out of control: the faculty sponsor of the newspaper is put on administrative leave, the health textbooks are removed from the school, and everyone is up in arms.  The school newspaper staff is divided: some, like Jamie, believe that the school should educate students about all aspects of the world they're about to face; others believe that the school has a responsibility to educate students according to the conservative moral views of the majority in the community. Jamie herself is coming to terms with feelings she's never acknowledged before and wondering how she'll obtain information about homosexuality when all the library books on that topic have been locked up.

I enjoyed this story, especially once I realized it had been published shortly after I graduated from high school. I appreciated the librarian angle in this book, which reinforced the theory that libraries should be storehouses of information, not moral guides to a community. I was sad when the school board member and her minions burned books in a bonfire, even though they were books they themselves had purchased for that purpose. I also appreciated Jamie's conflict with her friend Nomi, which is the topic of another blog post. Overall, this book is very well done and definitely worth reading.


11 December 2011

David Inside Out



Bantle, Lee. David Inside Out. New York: Henry Hold & Company, 2009.

David is on his school's cross-country team. All is well until his best friend comes out to him and David realizes that he has a crush on a teammate.  David does everything he can think of to deny his orientation: he begins to date a girl, he snaps a rubber band on his wrist whenever he has a thought about a guy, but the feelings don't disappear. At the end of the novel, David finally comes to terms with his orientation and apologizes to his best friend for avoiding him.

I can appreciate David's reaction to his friend's coming out, and I can understand his difficulties accepting his orientation. However, the sexual scenes in this book are quite graphic, more so than I think is entirely necessary to benefit the plot or develop the characters.  Because of this, I recommend approaching this book with extreme caution.  There are other, better novels to read, folks.

09 December 2011

Of All the Stupid Things



Diaz, Alexandra. Of All the Stupid Things. New York: Egmont, 2010.

Tara, Pinkie, and Whitney have been friends forever. There couldn't be three more different people, but somehow they manage to make it work.  Then a rumor and an argument spiral out of control, and the three friends are separated, each trying to come to terms with the truth.  Tara is dealing with an absent father, a cheating boyfriend, and possibly a new girlfriend; Pinkie is still grieving her mother's death, and Whitney doesn't know what to do with herself when she discovers she is not the center of everyone's universe.

Although I will admit that both Pinkie and Whitney managed to get on my nerves throughout this story, I can understand how people who seem to be from different universes can become friends, so I won't begrudge Tara her friends. I was glad both that they weren't perfect and that they manged to work out their differences by the end of the story.  And I was especially glad for Tara's mom's reaction to Tara when she told her she was dating a girl.  Tara was able to talk to her mom honestly about how she felt about her girlfriend and how confused she felt that she had left a boyfriend for a girlfriend.  Her mom said, "So maybe you're someone who falls in love with a person, not a gender" (201).  A wise friend of mine gave me similar advice when I was struggling through coming out; she suggested that I not worry about the gender of the person I love, that labels don't really matter that much.  And I've passed that very piece of advice along to others as well; there's something to be said for being just a person and not a label.


07 December 2011

WIth a Name Like Love



Hilmo, Tess. With a Name Like Love. Harrisonburg, VA: RR Donnelley & Sons Company, 2011.

Ollie's daddy is a traveling preacher.  Along with her four sisters and her parents, Ollie travels throughout the country, stopping in various towns for her daddy to preach a three-day revival.  When they arrive in Binder, however, they realize that all is not as it should be.  Ollie meets a boy named Jimmy who is taking care of himself while his mother is in jail for murdering his abusive father. Ollie is convinced that Jimmy's mother is innocent, and she is sure that she can find the evidence to prove it before her family leaves town.  But will she be able to find it in time?

I really enjoyed this story.  Not only was it practically squeaky-clean, but Ollie and her family do make a difference in the town of Binder.  Ollie is convinced that there is a lot of good in the town of Binder, if only people can stop judging each other.

05 December 2011

A Coat for Jesse


One of the unfortunate side effects of working retail is that I'm around stuff all day long.  I see stuff, I straighten stuff, I put stuff back where it belongs.  I fold stuff and return stuff and direct people to stuff and answer questions about stuff.  I see the new stuff when it comes in too early (swim suits in December, anyone?), and I see the fun, shiny stuff that goes on sale. 

Spending five hours straightening the toys in the toy department or folding clothes in the clothing department has a serious effect on my priorities when I decide what to do with my paycheck.  Fortunately for me, as a grad student I don't happen to have enough extra cash for stuff.  At least, not usually.  Other things - rent, gas, groceries, cat food - take priority. 

Occasionally, however, I find myself anticipating a paycheck with a bit of wiggle room.  Oh, then it's fun to think about what kind of STUFF I might possibly buy.  Should I get holiday goodies, or a pair of pants to replace the ones that disintegrated this past weekend, or some new LEGOs, or an e-book? Should I buy a treat for my cat or get the oil changed in my car or get my hair cut?  The options are endless.

I have one of those paychecks coming up this week.  I paid rent on my last paycheck, so this next one should  have a bit of room for something.  I was considering buying myself some stocking stuffers or ingredients to bake some Christmas goodies, or maybe a pair of gloves since the weather in this town is so finicky.  I was pondering the possibilities as I entered the bowling alley for my weekly league night when I noticed the angel tree.

For those of you who haven't seen one, an angel tree is a Christmas tree with very special ornaments. Instead of the usual shiny ornaments, candles, bows, etc., an angel tree bears the names of children who haven't made it onto Santa's list.  If no one does anything, they'll have nothing for Christmas.  Perhaps their parents are unemployed.  Perhaps they are in foster care. Perhaps one of their parents is in jail.  In any case, the angel tree kids list their hopes on a little card that gets placed on the tree, waiting for someone to help.

I was a bit early for bowling, so I stopped by the angel tree to see if there were any names left.  That's when I met Jesse.

I guess to say that I met him is a bit of an exaggeration.  There was no little boy by this tree.  But there was a card for a 6-year old boy named Jesse, and I was hoping he'd want some LEGOs or something I'm fairly confident I could choose for him.  I like buying toys for random kids, especially for kids that get left off Santa's list.  Usually I don't have a lot of money to do that with, but maybe I could get Jesse some toys this year.

Then I looked at what he was asking for.  Jesse is six years old, which means he's probably in first grade.  When I was in first grade, I played with Transformers and LEGOs and my bicycle and I had just discovered books and reading.  You know what Jesse wants for Christmas?

A coat.

Yes, this six-year old, who could ask for anything in the world, asked for a coat.  A coat, of all things.  Forget the toys or the games or any of the "fun" presents, Jesse wants what many children complain about: clothing as a Christmas gift.

So this year I'm forgoing anything in my stocking (or my cat's stocking, for that matter), and I'm going to make do with the pants that have not yet disintegrated, and I'll just check books out of the library instead of buying any new ones.  I can't do much this Christmas, but I can make sure that a little boy named Jesse has a coat to keep him warm this winter.  And he'll probably find some LEGOs in that package, too, since everyone should have something to play with on Christmas.

03 December 2011

Gravel Queen



Benduhn, Tea. Gravel Queen. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

Aurin and her friends Kenney and Fred spend a lot of time doing the things Kenney wants to do. Aurin and Fred are happy to follow in Kenney's footsteps until Neila arrives. Aurin quickly develops a crush on Neila, and they begin spending more time together.  Kenney cannot understand why she's been thrown out of the driver's seat and she lashes out at Aurin.  Soon Aurin finds herself in the middle of a mess: how can she continue to pursue her relationship with Neila while maintaining a friendship with Kenney?

This was an interesting book, and I enjoyed watching the dynamics between Aurin and her various friends. I found Aurin's relationship with her parents to be an interesting one.  She was grounded during part of the story, but somehow her parents still allowed her friends to come over and visit her.  Nonetheless, this story was worth checking out of the library.

01 December 2011

Agree to Disagree




“Nomi!” Jamie ran after her. “Can’t we disagree and still be friends?”

“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. It’s too important an issue, Jamie. Not agreeing means we’re very wide apart, morally, sort of. I mean, it’d be like not agreeing on abortion, or homosexuality, or murder, or something like that.”

Jamie felt a sudden chill. “Well, we probably don’t agree on most of those. But can’t we agree to disagree? Look, you probably know this—Clark’s invited me to debate at your youth group. It seems to me that’s a healthy way to deal with disagreements. Maybe we can all learn from each other.”

“Maybe. We can learn what the other side thinks, anyway. But I don’t see how you and I can be friends if we’re so far apart. It’s hard for me to go on being friends with someone who I think believes in immorality.”

Jamie hesitated. Then, trying not to sound angry, she said, “Did it ever occur to you that I might think what you believe is just as immoral? But that doesn’t mean I can’t like you as a person, respect you, want to be your friend.”

(The Day They Burned the Books, p. 67)

Interestingly enough, the above passage is an excerpt from a novel published in 1998, and the two characters are discussing whether the school nurse should make condoms available in her office at the public high school.  The community, the school, and the school's newspaper staff become divided over this issue, and Jamie and Nomi's friendship suffers as a result.

It's been approximately two months since I started coming out.  It hasn't been an easy road, it hasn't always been fun, and I have grieved the loss of several Nomi-like friendships where my friend simply could not look past my orientation.  However, I've also been amazed and encouraged by the friends for whom this is not an issue or who have been willing to agree to disagree. I've also fielded some very interesting questions from more than a few people and been involved in some discussions that have led me to a better understanding of exactly how much the Christian community does not know about homosexuality.  Periodically I will be interrupting my regularly scheduled book reviews to post some of those questions and answers in the hopes that even if we don't agree, we still might be able to understand.

27 November 2011

Shadow Walkers



Hartinger, Brent. Shadow Walkers.Woodbury, MN: Flux, 2010.

Zach lives with his grandparents and younger brother on a small island off the coast of Washington state.  Without much to do on an island, most of Zach's time is spent online.  When his brother Gilbert is kidnapped one day, Zach resorts to desperate means, using astral projecting in an attempt to locate his brother before it's too late.

I really wanted to enjoy this book. Really, I did. But the astral projection stuff just got a bit too weird for me.  Zach bought some special incense in order to leave his body and find his brother, so most of the book involves Zach zipping around like a ghost, discovering what's happening with his brother, and then trying to invent a plausible reason why he'd have that information so the police would follow up on his leads.  Someone else might find this book fascinating, but I had to put it down.


25 November 2011

The Borrower



Makkai, Rebecca. The Borrower. New York: Viking, 2011.

Lucy is a children's librarian at a small public library.  She enjoys suggesting books to her young patrons and chatting with the "regulars" as they appear for the weekly Chapter Book Story Hour.  The mother of Ian, one of her young patrons, expresses some concern over her son's choice of books containing witches, magic, or "girly" themes. Lucy has to walk a fine line between honoring the mother's request and honoring the First Amendment. Soon she discovers that Ian is being required to attend an ex-gay youth group.  Ian chafes under his parents' rules and decides to run away ... to the library.  When Lucy puts Ian in her car on the pretense of taking him home and ends up running away with him, she soon has to decide whether it would be easier to keep running away or to run back home.

I found the beginning of this book to be very interesting.  I enjoyed the chapters where Ian would sneak books out of the library and when he bored his babysitter by playing a very slow, very old computer game.  I appreciated all the references to classic children's and YA literature.  However, the last third of this book went very slowly.  I was disappointed not to discover what happened with Ian once he returned home.  This book suffers from a horrible case of bad end-game.  It's worth checking out of the library, but I only recommend the first 150-200 pages.

23 November 2011

Wild Things



I volunteer at a local elementary school, reading stories to preschool children once a week.  My co-volunteer and I alternate weeks, so half of the time I get the privilege of pretending that I am a child and just enjoying a story that someone else is reading.  This past week was one of those times.

The book of choice this week was Where the Wild Things Are, an award-winning story with memorable illustrations and a fairly simple story line.  This story stands out in my mind, not due to any warm and fuzzy childhood memory, but because when I was in college it was set as an example of dangerous literature.

Dangerous, you might say; what could possibly be dangerous about a children's book, and a well-known one at that? I was taught that this story is problematic because Max, the protagonist, disobeys and disrespects his mother, and then instead of being properly contrite and facing his punishment, disappears from his room into a fantasy world.  When he returns to his home after his adventures, he finds that his punishment - going to bed without supper - has been reversed and a hot meal is waiting for him.  Clearly this book teaches children to disobey their parents and that actions do not really have consequences.

As I listened to this book being read aloud, I listened to this story with new ears and I began to wonder about the validity of the objections to this classic children's story.  When I listened this time I heard the story from a very different perspective.  I heard a story of a small boy who disobeyed and was punished, to be sure, who entered a fantasy world where he was king of all the land and had wild adventures, but who came back home because he missed the one "who loved him best of all."  He came home to find his supper waiting for him, a clear indication that all was forgiven and that the one who loved him best of all was ready to forgive, forget, and move on.

Seen through this lens, this story sounds more like the biblical story of the prodigal son and less like an author's attempt at corrupting the youth. This sounds like a story of grace and mercy, things that I think are important to God.  This sounds like a story of a boy who was dearly loved, since he knew exactly where to go when he was homesick.   This sounds like a story of a parent who knew her child's frailties and loved him anyway.  This sounds like the story of God, who loves us in spite of our weaknesses, who is ready and waiting to take us back when we realize how homesick we are and how we want to be with the one "who loves us best of all," who is willing to offer us forgiveness and a hot meal.

21 November 2011

Shadowmagic



Lenahan, John. Shadowmagic. London: The Friday Project, 2008.

This book is billed as "A Lord of the Rings for the 21st century. Only a lot shorter. And funnier. And completely different."

Conor thinks his dad is a bit odd for forcing him to learn swordfighting and teaching him Ancient Gaelic, that is, until two people on horseback break through the front of his house and take him to Tir-Na-Nog, an ancient Celtic "neverland" of sorts. Conor and his father are soon involved in an epic battle involving an ancient prophecy and family secrets long hidden. 

This was a fun story.  It was exactly like its description - like Lord of the Rings, only shorter, funnier, and completely different. I enjoy fantasy, and any story that involves imps and banshees and trees with personalities is right up my alley.  I will probably finish reading the sequel, Prince of Hazel and Oak, sometime tonight, and I eagerly await the next installment in the series.

19 November 2011

A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie



Blackstone, Matt. A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.

Rene is a high-school freshman with OCD.  He passes up face-down coins, smells his left hand when he's nervous, and doesn't do anything when the digits in the time add up to thirteen.  He is trying his best to survive high school and keep his English teacher from leaving, while becoming friends with Gio, the cool new kid at school. 

Unfortunately, folks, this is where the plot ends.  Actually, there isn't much of a plot.  It's kind of sad. Books about teens with disabilities or different abilities are quite popular, and I've read several interesting YA novels featuring teens with OCD.  This novel, however, has no plot.  The cover is interesting, the title is interesting, but the book is just not interesting at all.

17 November 2011

Annie on My Mind



Garden, Nancy.  Annie on My Mind. New York: Ferrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007.

Liza met Annie at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Though they attended different schools and lived in completely different neighborhoods, Liza was enchanted.  She and Annie quickly became friends, and as they spent time together, their friendship blossomed into love.  However, as Liza school is facing a possible closure, the reputation of every student soon becomes very important.  When her classmates find out that Liza is a lesbian, the school's reputation and Liza's relationship with Annie are on shaky ground.  Liza has some rocky ground ahead of her as she tries to choose between what is right and what is easy.

This book was originally published in 1982 and caused no small amount of controversy at that time.  Obviously if Liza and Annie had met each other in 2011, things would have been different and hopefully much better for them.  Annie on My Mind opened the door for more LGBT lit to be published, reaching teens across the spectrum and helping those who love them to understand where they're coming from.

15 November 2011

Apologies


I borrowed this picture for an earlier post when I reviewed the book unChristian.  I have found it fascinating that the fundamentalist churches in general place much emphasis on confronting others with their sins, on apologizing for sins against other Christians, and on making things right with Christians, but that we don't, as a whole, apologize to the world at large when we screw up.  And let's face it: when the church screws up, it screws up loudly and enthusiastically.

A friend recently issued an apology on her blog based on the choice of Bob Jones University to keep Chuck Phelps on their board of directors.  I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with what she has said.  Although my views on many things have changed drastically from the time I was at Bob Jones University, I am more than willing to allow that God has enough grace to cover their beliefs and mine, even if we approach the same book and come away with very different answers.  There are many areas where I am more than willing to "agree to disagree" and continue to be grateful for the lessons I learned and the friendships I formed at my alma mater.

However, this blatant expression of ungrace, of anti-testimony, is exactly what drove me away from fundamentalism in the first place.  Jesus placed a high priority on loving our neighbors and showing His love to the world.  When we shelter ourselves from the outside world, when we "close ranks" and attempt to hide the sin in our camp, this is exactly when we become an anti-testimony.  Instead of drawing people to Christ's love, the church is giving the rest of the world yet another reason not to ever darken its doors. I've met too many people who have been pushed out of church by the hate they saw there.

I echo what Rachel said on her blog: I am sorry.  I aligned myself with a group whose reputation for ungrace has reached monumental proportions.  By my silence I consented to their actions.  For many years I also taught numerous children of various ages and in various schools, Bible clubs, Sunday schools, etc.  In each of those cases, I mindlessly parroted the party line, thus ensuring that the next generation will also be well skilled in demonstrating ungrace and will believe that they are doing right, as an authority in their life told them this was correct.  James rightly warned against the dangers of being an educator; not only am I responsible for my actions, but I have spurred further actions in the hundreds of children who passed through my classroom doors.

I was a jerk.  I supported jerks in my silence.  I taught others to be jerks as well. 


13 November 2011

Tamar and Tina

The sex abuse scandal at Penn State has been in the news and  flying around Facebook and the blogosphere recently. More than a few people, especially in Christian circles, have compared this scandal, and the fallout thereof, with the Chuck Phelps scandal that came to a head earlier this year.

For the most part I've chosen not to read the posts, follow the links, or involve myself in the discussions.  I've dealt with sexual abuse in a far more personal way for long enough this year, and, quite frankly, I don't like thinking about it.  There are times when this issue rears its ugly head and I find myself unable to think about or deal with anything else, but lately this hasn't been a problem.

This Sunday, though, as I flipped through my Sunday bulletin before the service began, I discovered that we would be reading 2 Samuel 13, which is the story of the rape of Tamar.  This is not a Bible story I ever look forward to hearing.  I hate how Amnon plots to rape his half-sister, how his friend encourages him to do it and even helps him come up with a plan, and how Tamar's father, King David, doesn't seem to care that his daughter has been raped.  This is not a pleasant story, and it's one that I have skipped or skimmed in the past.



My brain was just about to take a nosedive into survival mode, which means my heart was racing, there was a rushing sound in my ears, and while I was sitting very, very still, my brain was frantically calculating the distance to the nearest exit and the likelihood of my egress going unnoticed.

Then something happened that I never would have expected: My pastor gave the congregation permission to not pay attention.  She warned us that the topic was likely to be difficult to digest and that it was okay for us to choose to tune out, to make use of the finger labyrinth [pictured below] provided in our bulletin, or even to get up and leave if we needed to.   Having this permission - a "get out of jail free" card, if you will - made me feel safe enough to keep listening.



What we discussed about the rape of Tamar and the scandal at Penn State was exactly what had bothered me so much about all of these abuse stories.  In each case there were adults who knew what was going on and chose to ignore the situation, or worse, to blame the victim.

And I learned something important: in the state of Indiana, every single person is considered a mandated reporter. This means that no one's off the hook - we are all responsible to make sure the children we encounter are safe.  We are all required by law to report any abuse or suspected abuse.

If there's anything I've noticed about Jesus by reading the red parts of the Bible, it's that Jesus always rooted for the underdog, the outcast, those who slipped through the cracks of society. If anyone can be defined as an outcast or an underdog, an abuse victim certainly can.  God and the state of Indiana both agree that we need to help those kids who cannot help themselves.

By the time they turn 18, one in four girls and one in six boys has become a victim of abuse.  Let's stand up for the Tamars and the Tinas of this world until we can truly see that it is "one in four no more."

11 November 2011

Pathfinder



Card, Orson Scott. Pathfinder. New York: Simon Pulse, 2010.

Rigg has a special talent: he can see the paths that people and animals have made as they walk.  He knows where people have gone, how long ago they were near, and how to find animals in the forest. Rigg's father has been trianing him to use his talents.  When a tragic accident in the forest takes his father's life, Rigg sets out on his final mission: to find his sister and his mother.

Meanwhile a man named Ram is on the first ship to jump into hyperspace.  An inexplicable accident causes his ship to become nineteen separate ships, all traveling in different folds of time but all heading toward the same planet.  Ram, the only human not in stasis on this ship, must decide what needs to be done in order to save those on the ship and to complete their mission.

I love books by Orson Scott Card, and I especially love YA fantasy, so this book was a perfect combination for me.  The story was interesting, if predictable, and Card employed a strategy similar to what he used in Ender's Game: each chapter starts with a snippet from one plot, then the rest of the chapter is told from a different perspective.  These two bits helped me to piece together what was going on and to enjoy the fantasy aspect even more because of what happened in the sci-fi sections.  Stop by your local library and check this book out if you have a chance.

07 November 2011

Cut



McCormick, Patricia. Cut. New York: Scholastic, 2000.

Callie is a cutter: in order to avoid other issues in her life, she chooses to cut herself.  She has been sent to a residential treatment facility, but she is choosing not to speak, not to cooperate, not to heal.  Eventually Callie finds her voice and makes a choice for healing.

This is a short book, and a good book, but not an easy book to read.  Again, as a former English teacher, I would place this book on my classroom shelf, if I had a classroom or a shelf.

05 November 2011

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester


Zielin, Lara. The Implosion of Aggie Winchester. New York: Penguin, 2011.

Aggie is a Goth girl.  Aggie is also the principal's daughter, and those two things don't always mix well.  Throw in a best friend who is pregnant, a mixed-up prom election, and a breast cancer diagnosis for the principal, and Aggie's got more than she can handle.  Aggie spends much of this book attempting to do the right thing, failing miserably at it, and trying to discover who she really is.

I enjoyed parts of this book.  I liked how Aggie was trying to do the right thing, even though she often made mistakes in doing that. I liked that she was (usually) very honest with her family.  I very much appreciated the ending of this book.  What I didn't like was the fact that Aggie often attempted to tell her parents the truth and was not believed.  Perhaps the author added this element to induce the frustration that Aggie likely felt in these discussions with her parents.

01 November 2011

Evolving in Monkey Town



Evans, Rachel Held. Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Rachel Held Evans's memoir should be a part of everyone's home library.   Evans describes the unique position the Millennial generation of Christians is in: being educated in the fine art of defending one's faith, more so than our predecessors, but also more connected to people globally than ever before.  It is entirely possible that Evans and her peers could defend Christianity in a discussion with a Muslim, but it is also highly likely that they have all had personal contact with a Muslim through work, school, or the internet.  Evans defines the perspective of Millennials and also takes the reader through her life story, showing how Evans herself learned to ask hard questions and not to be afraid of not having all the answers.  This book will be going on my shelf, very near to Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God.

28 October 2011

The Children are Free



Miner, Jeff and John Connoley. The Children are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationsihps. Indianapolis: Jesus Metropolitan Community Church, 2002.

This book is divided into several sections.  The first part of the book examines the seven "clobber" passages that are typically quoted as proof that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The next part of the book examines passages that could be interpreted as including homosexuals, and the third section attempts to answer a question I've had for a long time: of the 613 rules listed in the Old Testament, how do we know which rules we are supposed to follow and which we can ignore?

This book is an invaluable resource for Christians who are members of the GLBT community as well as those who want to understand how a person can reconcile Christianity and homosexuality.  I checked this book out of a library, but I will be purchasing a copy to place on my shelves.

26 October 2011

The God Box



Sanchez, Alex. The God Box. New York: Simon Pulse, 2007.

Paul attends a very conservative public school in an equally conservative small town.  His friends are all Christians, many of them attending the same church as Paul and participating in after school Bible studies.  Then Manuel moves to town. Manuel is the first openly gay teen in Paul's school, and Manual also is a Christian.  Paul and his friends have to wrestle with what they have been taught is truth and what Manuel is saying is truth.  Manuel's very presence rips the Christian group in two, with those who accept Manuel on one side and those who condemn him on the other.  Paul feels the effects of this debate very personally, as he is wrestling with his own demons of homosexuality.  His friendship with Manuel causes him to evaluate what he thinks and believes as well.  When Manuel is savagely beaten for his orientation, Paul must take a side once and for all and stand for what he believes in.

This book interested me for obvious reasons.  I can completely relate to Paul's struggle with his orientation as well as his concern for what the Bible says about homosexuality.  I have listened to and argued on both sides of the homosexuality debate and know how personal and heated these discussions can get.  Parts of this book, I will admit, read a lot like many of the websites about what the Bible says about homosexuality.  It almost seemed as if the author was attempting to turn one of those websites into novel form, perhaps in the hopes that more people would read the novel.  In any case, I was glad for Paul's decisions toward the end of the novel, and I appreciated that the author made this struggle seem real and the characters real as well.  This story does not make for easy reading, but it is definitely worth it.

22 October 2011

Dark Mirror



Putney, M. J. Dark Mirror. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. 2011.

Tory is growing up in a world where magic is reviled by the aristocracy just as it is revered by the lower classes.   Highborn children who show magical ability are sent away to school to "cure" them of this problem.  When Tory chooses to use her abilities to save the life of her nephew, her family has no choice but to send her away for treatment.  At school, Tory discovers an underground network of people who still believe that magic is good and who want to use their abilities to help others.  Tory must decide what is most important to her.

I enjoyed this story.  It has some fun twists and turns that kept me reading.  The romantic subplot could have been left undone, but other than that, this was an interesting and well-written story with a new twist on the idea of being born with magical abilities.

20 October 2011

The Perks of Being a Wallflower



Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.

Charlie is a wallflower.  As such, he notices things that others don't.  He overhears things others miss.  He sees with different eyes.  This book is a series of letters Charlie writes to a friend explaining things he's seen or experienced.  This perspective makes the book seem much more personal than a simple first-person perspective would be.  We follow Charlie through his year at school and the ups and downs of his relationships with those around him. We get to watch Charlie grow up as he discovers who he is and what is really important to him.

This book was interesting, although it was much different from other books I've read.  This book doesn't have a definite, obvious plot to follow, there's no conflict aside from the ins and outs of normal life, so the action isn't as gripping as it could be in another book.  But I still looked forward to reading each of Charlie's letters and seeing what he had learned and discovered in his adventures.

16 October 2011

I'm Okay - You're Not



Shore, John. I'm Okay - You're Not: The Message We're Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop. Colorado Springs, CO: Nav Press, 2007.

John Shore's message is a fairly simple one: we've been focusing on the wrong thing.  For far too long, Christians have focused most of their time and energy on the Great Commission - telling others about Christ in the hopes that they will accept His gift of salvation, and not enough time on the Great Commandment - Christ's command to us that we love God and love our neighbors. Shore's logic works like this: most people, especially people in the United States, have already heard about Jesus.  The average person on the street has been exposed to the message of the gospel at some point in his/her life, and has chosen to reject it.  Think of it this way: if a follower of Islam or a Jewish person or a Mormon came up to you and told you that everything you ever thought and believed was wrong and that you needed to think like they do in order to attain heaven, what would you think? 

Because most people have already heard and chosen to reject this message, Christians need to take their focus off of spreading the gospel and put it on showing Christ's love to their neighbors.  Nonchristians know what we believe, have rejected it, and are frustrated by our continual focus on changing their minds about something that, as rational, intelligent adults, they have already decided.  So rather than pushing them away with our preaching and continual plea for a decision, we should focus on loving them as fellow human beings, loving them without an agenda.

Shore is not saying that we should stop witnessing; far from it.  There are some people who haven't heard the gospel, or some who have heard and are now questioning their own faith.  Churches and Billy Graham crusades and other places of worship where people can choose to attend and learn should still be places where God's Word is preached.  But on the street, on a day to day basis, we should be focusing on loving our neighbors, because that's what Jesus said we should do.  Our love for our neighbors will open the door to the message Jesus has for them, much more than our words have done.

13 October 2011

Shift


Agell, Charlotte. Shift. New York: Henry Holt, 2008.

Adrian lives in a world where church and state are not separated.  The United Christian States arose after an apocolyptic event as the world attempted to restore order to the chaos.  Religion is now mandated through the state, with televised chapel services and vacation Bible school required for graduation.  Rumors have spread of a great shift when Jesus is supposed to return and all unbelievers will be condemned.  Adrian isn't sure what he believes anymore, but he is sure he isn't being told the whole truth.

Okay, so this plot line was really, really obvious, and actually rather offensive.  This novel took the idea of religious control to an extreme I have not seen before.  While I understand the underlying theme that it is best to be accepting of all people, regardless of their faith, and that state mandated religion can easily become corrupt, I didn't like the additional unspoken message that Christianity itself is corrupt and ridiculous.  I read this story closely and carefully for the first several chapters, hoping that this Giver-esque world would also yield a Giver-esque ending, but I will admit I skimmed the last portion of the book when things became predictible and, well, boring.  Don't bother with this one, folks.

11 October 2011

National Coming Out Day


October 11th has been designated by the Human Rights Campaign as National Coming Out Day.  It is a day to spread awareness and for straight allies to support their LGBT friends. 

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while may have noticed an interesting trend.  Although I have written extensively about many other issues related to the church and to my exit from the fundamentalist movement, I have been rather silent on the issues regarding homosexuality and the church.   Also, until recently my book reviews covered quite a range of books, but never books that discussed homosexuality or featured protagonists who were members of the LGBT community.  Then, in what may have seemed to be a sudden change, I started posting reviews of both fiction and non-fiction books about the LGBT community in general and its relationship with the church specifically. Possibly some of you are wondering, "Why the change?"

I am going to quote something A'isha Marbach, who has guest posted on John Shore's blog, wrote. I don't share all of her life experiences or understand everything she's going through, but we have more in common than might be expected:
“God, please make me pure. Take these feelings from me and make it so I can like boys instead of girls. Amen.” This is the prayer I prayed so many times I lost count. Throughout high school my one goal was to live a life pleasing to God. I’m not sure exactly where I got the message that it wasn’t okay to be a lesbian, that God didn’t approve, but that is the message I got loud and clear. So I pushed all those crushes, all those tingly feelings I got when I saw a pretty woman, deep inside me, and pretended to like boys. I needed to be accepted by people around me, and I wanted God to approve of my life.
Like A'isha, I realized early on that I was a lesbian. Like A'isha, I also realized that the Christianity I saw practiced around me didn't allow for members of the LGBT community to also be Christians. If you watch the video the Gay Christian Network has produced, you will hear the same story echoed over and over again: many gay Christians, when faced with a choice between their faith and their orientation, have chosen to squash their orientation in order to please God.

The decision to be "out and proud" as a gay person is especially complicated when the only thing one ever hears in church is how awful it is to be gay, how much God hates homosexuality, and stories of gay people who have gone through ex-gay ministries and experienced some sort of recovery.  So gay Christians traditionally have ended up with two choices: keep their faith and attempt "recovery" from their orientation, or embrace their orientation and deny their faith.  Until recently I didn't know there was a third option.


After much thought, study, prayer, contemplation, reading, crying, and consideration, I have come to the conclusion that my faith and my orientation don't cancel each other out.  I am proud to say that I am a gay Christian.
The Christian community has for so long excluded gays and lesbians that it is very difficult for any LGBT person to come to the realization that God loves them and wants a relationship with them. Even if not every Christian spouts, “God hates fags,” like Fred Phelps does, that is indeed the message we get, as long as every Christian doesn’t stand up and say, “No, that’s not true. God loves you.”
Because of this history between LGBT people and many Christians, it’s very difficult to meet gays and lesbians who are also Christians. Honestly, why should any of us choose to be part of a group that condemns us? Fortunately there are many like me that are coming to realize that it’s God’s followers who mistakenly condemn us, and not God himself. (Emphasis mine; the rest of A'isha's post can be read here.)
My faith is very important to me.  My orientation is, too, and it wasn't until recently that I was able to allow the two to coexist peacefully.  I was reading in Matthew 8 where Jesus heals a man who has leprosy. The first three verses say, "When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, 'Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.' Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!"'  I cannot even begin to count the number of times I said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me straight." Always before God was silent on the issue.  For the first time I ever, I finally heard Him speak.  He said, "My precious child, you are not sick.  I don't fix what isn't broken. I love you just as you are."

If you have questions about the idea of being gay and Christian, I strongly recommend you visit the Gay Christian Network's website or watch their videos on YouTube.  Of course, you are also more than welcome to email me with any questions you may have.  And I'd also recommend visiting John Shore's website and the Canyon Walker Connections site, as both have more information than I can possibly fit in one blog post. I will certainly be writing follow-up posts in the weeks ahead; check back periodically for updates or become one of my faithful blog followers. 

09 October 2011

Anne Frank and Me



Bennett, Cherie and Jeff Gottesfeld. Anne Frank and Me.  New York: Putnam, 2001.

If you have read The Devil's Arithmetic, then you have the general idea of the plot of this novel. The main character, Nicole, is learning about the Holocaust and is less than enthusiastic about this study. An unusual accident at a museum causes Nicole to believe she has been transported back to France during the second world war and is now part of a fairly rich Jewish family.  Nicole's family faces the difficulties of being Jewish in German-occupied France, and eventually Nicole is taken to a concentration camp.  She chooses to go to the gas chamber with her sister rather than abandon her to die alone, and as she "dies" in the past, Nicole wakes up in the present with an increased appreciation for what others have endured.

I appreciated this novel and I did enjoy the story, but this novel is not unique.  Perhaps, though, it was time for a reinterpretation of an old story.

07 October 2011

Hanging on to Max



Bechard, Margaret. Hanging on to Max. Brookfield, Connecticut: Roaring Brook Press, 2002.

Sam is a high school junior.  During the day he goes to school, and at night he picks his son up from day care and takes him home to care for him.  Caring for a toddler while also juggling academics and decisions about his future has become difficult, but Sam is sure that keeping Max was the right thing to do.  Or was it?

This book was interesting; never before have I heard of a book about a teen single father.  Sam faced many struggles and found it difficult to relate to his peers and struggled with ideas of college and the realities of caring for his son.  The ending of this book was both happy and sad.  I will admit: this book made me cry.

05 October 2011

Freak Magnet


Auseon, Andrew. Freak Magnet. New York: Harper Teen, 2010.

Charlie charts the movements of the stars in a small black journal while he takes care of his mother who is slowly dying of Huntington's disease.  To the rest of the world, Charlie is a freak; he speaks his mind and doesn't understand social conventions.  Charlie is a freak, and Gloria is a freak magnet. Gloria keeps a notebook of all the freaks who follow her; her notebook is her one grip on sanity in an increasingly crazy world.  Her brother has been dead for a year and no one else seems to be mourning his death.  Freak and freak magnet collide in this fascinating and entertaining novel.

This book is told from both Charlie's and Gloria's perspectives, so it was neat for me to see the story from two different angles. I did enjoy this story, and it had a satisfying ending; however, it isn't going to end up on my top ten list this year.

03 October 2011

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2007. 
Junior is trying to navigate the world of the Indian reservation through a host of medical issues and a severe lack of resources.  He is extremely intelligent but still constantly picked on by people twice his size and twice his age.  One of his teachers challenges him to go to school off the reservation.  Junior then must balance between his life on the reservation, where he is looked down on for deserting his people, and his life at school, where he is being challenged in his classes and accepted by his classmates. Trying to keep the best of both worlds and bridge a gap of misunderstanding is a task much larger than most high school freshman would face, but Junior is up to the challenge.

I loved this book.  I loved Junior's sense of humor and his cartoons and illustrations throughout this book.  The first-person perspective allowed me to gain greater understanding of life on a reservation and the difficulty Junior must have faced when he began attending the all-white school.  If I still had a classroom, this book would be on my shelf.

29 September 2011

The Knight



James, Steven. The Knight. Grand Rapids, MI: Revel, 2009.

Agent Bowers is hunting a killer who is re-enacting a story through the deaths of his victims.  As he draws closer to a solution, Bowers realizes that the final chapter in the killer's story involves the death of Agent Bowers himself.  With a deadline looming, how will Bowers catch the killer and save both himself and the killer's other potential victims?

I had a guess that this novel was published under a Christian label, although this book doesn't fit the stereotype of Christian fiction from earlier decades.  This falls more into the category of "well-written fiction that is relatively clean and happens to be written by someone who is a Christian."  A bit of googling about the publisher confirmed my suspicions: Revel is a part of Baker Publishing.  Because of that, I was a bit surprised to find this book in the meager browsing collection at my university's library.  However, this book was excellently written and I truly enjoyed the experience of reading this novel.  For the first time in a long time, I woke up early enough in the morning so that I could finish reading the book before I began working on homework or other duties.  And I was not disappointed.  If you haven't read this one yet, folks, you need to check it out.  Or buy a copy and pass it around to your friends.  You'll thank me later.