"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.