Bo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and a mama who’s not exactly sober most of the time. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
Agnes Atwood has never gone on a date, never even stayed out past ten, and never broken any of her parents’ overbearing rules. Rules that are meant to protect their legally blind daughter—protect her from what, Agnes isn’t quite sure.
Despite everything, Bo and Agnes become best friends. And it’s the sort of friendship that runs truer and deeper than anything else.
So when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, with police sirens wailing in the distance, desperate to get out of town, Agnes doesn’t hesitate to take off with her. But running away and not getting caught will require stealing a car, tracking down Bo’s dad, staying ahead of the authorities, and—worst of all—confronting some ugly secrets.
This book would have wound up as a Disappointing Reads Haiku except that I actually didn’t have high expectations for it going in. The description didn’t appeal to me that much, and I had a feeling I might feel lukewarm about it. So why did I read it? I heard one of the two girls was bisexual, and hurting as I am for bisexual literature (it’s hard to find just from book descriptions), I’m willing to give most of it a shot if it sounds even moderately appealing. I do like stories of unlikely friendships and representation of less than ideal parenting situations (the realistic kind, not the fantasy kind of conveniently dead parents). I also liked the representation of not just bisexuality but also someone who is legally blind. I found the writing to be clunky, though, and the ultimate plotline to be a bit puzzling, rather than moving.
Agnes is written better than Bo. The depictions of her over-protective parents, what it is to be legally blind but not 100% blind, how others treat her, particularly in her church as an angel and not as a regular person, these were all great. The author is herself legally blind, and you can really tell. I’ve read many books about blind characters by people who were not themselves blind and the depiction was nowhere near as realistic as in this book. I think it speaks a lot to why own voices literature matters.
This realism doesn’t come through in Bo though. Bo reads like a two-dimensional caricature with the quick correction that oh hey I know I’ll make her bisexual but not a slut and that makes her seem sensitively written. Bo whose family is known in the small town as the trouble-makers, the no-goods. Bo with rumors spread about her and no-good drug-addict mom. Bo who, unlike Agnes, doesn’t speak mainstream English but mostly just in the sense that she says “ain’t” a lot. Bo who’s terrified of foster care so runs when her mom is arrested again. What bothers me the most about Bo (this may be a minor spoiler) is the book seems to think it gives her a happy ending. Like everything is ok now. But it’s clearly not. Speaking as a bisexual woman who had a less than ideal living situation in rural America in her teens, nothing about Bo strikes me as realistic. She reads as fake. She sounds fake. Some of her actions themselves are realistic but there’s no soul behind them. It might not have stuck out so badly if Agnes hadn’t been so well-written or perhaps if I wasn’t able to relate to well to who Bo was supposed to be.
One of the lines that I think demonstrates this problem that I couldn’t stop re-reading is below. It should have made me happy because Bo actually says the word “bisexual.” (Very rare in literature). But I was just irritated at how fake it all sounded.
“So … you’re all right with it, then? Me being … bisexual, I guess? I ain’t never used that word before, but … you’re all right with it?” (loc 2359)
It bothers me on two levels. First, rural people don’t just decorate their sentences with ain’t’s and double negatives. There’s more nuance to the accent than that and also Agnes and her average blue collar parents would have the same accent as Bo (they don’t). Second, I’ve never in my life heard a bisexual person speak about themselves this way, and I certainly never have. The number of times Bo asks Agnes if she’s “ok with it” (this is not the first time) is unrealistic. You know as soon as you come out if someone is “ok with it” or not and you deal and react to that. You don’t just keep wondering. You know. No amount of inexperience coming out would make you not know.
If Bo had been written as powerfully as Agnes, this would be a very different review, but since that’s not the case I have to say my dislike of the representation of Bo paired with my like of the representation of Agnes left this an average read for me, and it certainly won’t be a piece of bi literature I’ll go around recommending.
3 out of 5 stars
Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.
Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; and not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere— until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca seems like Etta’s salvation, but how can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?
Etta is a character I wish I had been able to find in fiction when I was a teenager. She’s unashamedly herself, even when it hurts or it involves some floundering. She’s from a small town with dreams of the big city. She just doesn’t fit in her small town. She is so very real because she is so many intersectional elements at once. Most important to me is that she’s bisexual (and she actually SAYS the word), but she’s also female, black, and suffering from Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOs), where the name of the book comes from.
What’s so great though is that, even with being all of these things, her main point of conflict actually has nothing to do with any of them. She desperately wants to live in NYC, and she sees a contest to get into a musical theater high school in NYC as just the chance to do that. She has a huge dream, and that is something any YA reader can relate to. So even if the reader happens to not relate to Etta on anything else (and honestly, who cares? kids like Etta have to reach really hard to relate to most of the literature out there so it’s about time the mainstream kids have to as well), but even if they don’t relate to her on anything else, they should be able to relate to her on this adolescent experience of The Big Dream.
I loved that Etta is allowed to be the person she is without speaking for All Bisexuals™. She very clearly presents herself as a bisexual person who is not representative of all bisexual people beyond the being attracted to more than one gender thing. I also appreciated that the complexity of the queer community is shown. Etta talks about being pushed into being an outsider by both the straights and the lesbians because both of them kind of just want her to “pick a side.” The book begins with the lesbians being angry at Etta for dating a boy. They’re acting like she was a “fake lesbian,” and this is how Etta feels about that:
And bi the way, I was never a lesbian, and I told the Dykes that all the time, but there isn’t a Banjo Bisexuals group or whatever. (location 54)
While a lot of the book eloquently deals with Etta’s sexuality, it also takes time to talk about race and racism. I lost the highlighted passage but essentially Etta is talking with a friend and discusses how hard it is to be part of so many minority groups and how she can never hide being black but she can hide being queer, and how that means she can never escape racism. On the other hand, she also points out how exhausting it can be to constantly be reminding people of her queerness. No one denies that she’s black but people keep trying to take her bisexual identity from her. It’s a non-preachy passage that introduces the complexities of intersexuality to a YA audience.
Finally, there’s the EDNOS. The best part about this is the book come in when Etta is in recovery. Most books about eating disorders come in during the downward spiral, but Etta has already gone to treatment and is working in recovery. We so often don’t get to see recovery and how messy it can be in literature, but we see it here. We get to see how mental illnesses don’t just go away, people just have strategies for staying in recovery.
There’s a ton that’s good about this book, but I must say that I did think the level of partying could sometimes be a bit over the top. While obviously not all kids are straight-edged I was a bit skeptical of the level of partying going on in Small Town USA (including high schoolers getting into a gay bar repeatedly). Perhaps what struck me as a bit less realitic, actually, was Etta’s intelligent and put-together mother who is clearly caring being somehow out of touch about the partying going on, whereas Etta’s sister is 100% aware. It wasn’t enough to truly bother me and I do think on some level some YA readers expect an unrealistic set of partying situations just for the interest level but in a book that had so much realistic about it, it just struck me as a bit out of place.
Overall, this is a great addition to contemporary YA with an out and proud main character and a timeless plot of a small town girl with big dreams. I requested it at my library to be added to the collection (and they did!), and if you can’t buy it yourself, I highly recommend you doing so as well. It bring so much different to the YA table.
4 out of 5 stars
Counts For: Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge #miarc
Specific Illness –> EDNOS
Book Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Julia Whelan)
Pen’s life was destroyed when an Earthshaker took away her family (even their dog) and destroyed the Los Angeles she once knew. She’s now on a quest to save them from the monstrous giants that rose up after (or with?) the Earthshaker. Along the way she finds other teens who’ve miraculously survived, each with secrets and talents of their own.
This book left me completely torn. I loved, oh how I loved, the representation of both bisexual (Pen) and trans (Hex, her boyfriend) teens. But the story to go with these teens failed to live up to both these wonderful characters and the beautiful title.
Let’s talk about the good first, because I don’t want it to be overshadowed by what didn’t work. Pen is a bookish teenager who generally prefers to stay in reading the Encyclopedia or The Odyssey to going out to parties. But she still has two close friends. She’s not a loner. She’s brave, open, loving, and sometimes makes rather short-sighted decisions. And it is gradually revealed throughout the book that she is also bisexual. The scenes exploring Pen’s bisexuality, and how it’s hard for her to be out about it, in spite of being completely comfortable with herself, are wonderfully done. Pen acknowledges that even though her parents have always told her that it doesn’t matter a whit if she is straight, lesbian, bisexual, or trans, that the world at large doesn’t always think that, and that’s part of what makes being out hard for her. The world is not always the welcoming place her family is.
The book early on establishes that Pen currently has a crush on a boy, so the reader may perhaps be surprised when she reminisces about an earlier crush on a girl, and how she first realized she liked girls too.
Thinking of how I once kissed Moira on the lips. We were drunk and dancing, and our lips just brushed for that electroshock nanosecond, and then she smiled at some boys who were watching us, laughed, and danced away from me like it was a joke. But I’d had an epiphany, even though I hadn’t fully accepted it at the time. I wanted to kiss girls. And it was no joke. (loc 2:14:53)
Similarly, Pen struggles with self-editing her past when telling Hex about her life before the Earthshaker. She is not sure if he’ll understand or accept the fact that she’s perfectly capable of having crushes on girls as well as boys like himself, so she edits herself when speaking to him. She’s telling him a story about a party she didn’t go to, and the picture that her friends sent her of a boy with her friend, Moira:
I went to sleep staring at the last image wondering not what his mouth tasted like but hers. This part, this last, I don’t tell Hex, although I trust him enough to tell him anything. Don’t I? So I’m not sure why I don’t. Because I don’t want him to know I had a crush on a girl? Or because I have a crush on him. (loc 1:39:44)
It’s rare to see a book explore so eloquently what it is to be bisexual, and these feelings Pen has while not universal still explore the difficulty of coming out and being out as a bisexual person, and they were so wonderful to see in a book that I had to restrain myself from jumping up and shouting “Yes!” when they showed up on my audiobook on the bus.
Similarly, Hex, Pen’s love interest and eventual boyfriend (this is not a spoiler, when Hex shows up he may as well have a giant neon “future boyfriend” sign over his head), is a FTM transman. Hex is just as nervous about being out to Pen and their other travel companions as Pen is about being out to him, probably more. Being cis myself, I can’t say as definitively about the quality of FTM representation as I could about bisexuality, however, the author certainly tries to broach topics that I believe would be of interest to a trans YA reader reading this book: acceptance (or not) by family members and impact on romantic relationships with other teens. Hex comes out to Pen as a transman only because she has fallen for him, and he wants her to know precisely who he is before anything more *ahem* romantic happens. Pen immediately accepts him and tells him he is clearly a boy to her, and this changes nothing about how she feels about him. They then have to navigate their sex life. Hex, like many trans people, is uncomfortable with his body. He would rather touch Pen than allow Pen to touch him. Eventually, they reach an arrangement that both supports and asserts Hex’s maleness and allows Pen to give the pleasure back to him that she wants to. I was glad to see a YA book “go there.” I frankly haven’t seen much of that even in adult literature including a trans person. It both addresses the “how do they….” question some YA readers would certainly have after learning about Hex and also serves a purpose in the story to demonstrate a mature, healthy, loving relationship between the two characters.
In addition to Hex and Pen, they also wind up with two male travel companions who become a couple. The characters themselves point out at one point how odd it is that the minority before the Earthshakers is now the majority (none of them are straight AND cis). I was glad the author acknowledged the quirk and had the characters process why that may be. The answer they decide upon is a positive one, rather than the potentially negative one of punishment.
So now let’s talk about what didn’t work. The plot and the setting. The book is meant to be a magical realism style story told in a non-linear way. This could have worked if in the end the overarching plot, when reassessed by the reader from beginning to end, made sense. But it doesn’t. For most of the book, Pen refers to everything in fantastical ways, such as saying “Earthshaker” for what appears to the reader to be an earthquake. Why is she saying “Earthshaker”? Was there something different about it? Does she just like prettying up her language? What is going on with that? Later it is revealed that an earthquake seems to have happened when some genetically engineered giants escaped (showed up? were released?). The whole world basically goes to shit overnight, though, and it just doesn’t seem logical that that would happen from just a few giants escaping. Similarly, there are other fantastical creatures who are never explained.
Similarly, although it is indicated early on that this is a modern retelling of The Odyssey, it doesn’t line up well with the original. In the original, Odysseus is trying to come home after a war and keeps getting swept into side-quests. In this book, Pen starts out at home and then quests away from home. It would have made more sense for Pen to be somewhere away from home (maybe on a school trip or something), have the disaster occur, and then have her have to find her way home encountering fantastical things along the way. Starting her at home just doesn’t work.
Several elements feel like they are just thrown in because they look pretty or work with the scene even though they don’t work with the book as a whole. For instance, butterflies appearing around people who can be trusted pops up in the middle of the book, but isn’t particularly present at the beginning or the end. Similarly, some characters are revealed to have magical powers toward the end of the book, with no foreshadowing about that, only to have them….not use them much beyond the scene where it’s revealed.
Also, I’m sorry, but the whole some evil scientist genetically engineered giants to be his children and now the giants are out to destroy us but also the whole world inexplicably now resembles a myth just really doesn’t work. First, it makes no sense why a scientist would even want to engineer a giant. To be his children? Really? Why would anyone want giant children? Second, to give the mystical elements that started this whole thing a scientific explanation but then leave the rest fantastical doesn’t work. Either they’re all explained by science or they’re all fantastical. I really felt the book went way downhill for me when there was suddenly a “scientific” explanation for the giants. But just the giants and nothing else.
Finally, we need to talk about the name of the book. It’s a beautiful title but it’s really wasted on this book. First, global warming doesn’t come into play in the book at all, so why is it mentioned in the title? Second, it’s clearly a send-up to Love in the Time of Cholera, but it has nothing in common with that book save both having elements of magical realism in them. It feels as if the author came up with a title that sounded pretty and couldn’t bring herself to let go of it in spite of it not fitting the book she actually wrote.
Overall, this is a short read featuring four well-rounded and written teen characters on the LGBTQ spectrum. YA readers looking for positive representations of bisexual and trans characters, in particular, and who don’t mind some inexplicable fantasy elements will enjoy this quick read. Readers who will easily be bothered by the title not matching the content, a mixture of magical realism and scientific explanations for things, and/or nonlinear plots that when told linearly don’t make sense should probably look elsewhere, in spite of the positive representations of underrepresented letters in the LGBTQ spectrum.
3 out of 5 stars
The month of June in the United States is Pride Month, celebrating LGBTQ people, culture, and history. In Boston, the culmination of Pride is this weekend, with the Pride Parade and block parties. I wanted to contribute to my local celebration with a little something on my own blog–obviously a reading list! There are a lot of good reading lists out there for LGBTQ reads, so I wanted to do something a little different. First, I wanted to feature one of the letters not featured very much — the B for bisexual. Second, I wanted to to highlight both that bisexual people are everywhere and the issue of bi invisibility (more info on that term and issue here) by featuring books that have bisexual characters but that don’t mention that in their blurbs. You’d be amazed how hard it can be to just find books with bisexual characters. It’s usually downplayed or not named. So, here is my list, in alphabetical order, with a mention as to which character is bi and whether the book ever actually uses the term “bisexual.”
- Bad Glass
by Richard E. Gropp
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Lovecraftian
Something strange is happening in Spokane, and the US military has taken control of the city, closing it and its happenings to the press. Dean sees this as the perfect opportunity to break into photography before he graduates from college and is forced into giving up on his artistic dreams to work a regular 9 to 5 job. So he sneaks into Spokane, where he meets an intriguing young woman and her rag-tag household of survivors, and quickly starts to see the inexplicable things that are going on inside the city.
Who’s bi? Dean, the main character, is bi. He at first appears to be straight but later it is revealed he also sometimes is interested in men.
My Full Review
- The Drowning Girl
by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Genre: Fantasy, Psychological
India Morgan Phelps, Imp to her friends, is sure that there were two different Eva Canning who came into her life and changed her world. And one of them was a mermaid (or perhaps a siren?) and the other was a werewolf. But Imp’s ex-girlfriend, Abalyn, insists that no, there was only ever one Eva Canning, and she definitely wasn’t a mermaid or a werewolf. Dr. Ogilvy wants Imp to figure out for herself what actually happened. But that’s awfully hard when you have schizophrenia.
Who’s bi? Eva Canning (both iterations of her). Also, Abalyn, a transwoman who is also Imp’s girlfriend at one point. She states that she likes both men and women but currently prefers women because men in her experience tend to negatively react to her now that she has had bottom surgery.
My Full Review
- Doctor Sleep
by Stephen King
Genre: Fantasy, Thriller
Danny Torrance didn’t die in the Overlook Hotel but what happened there haunts him to this day. Not as much as the shining does though. His special mental powers that allow him to see the supernatural and read thoughts lead to him seeing some pretty nasty things, even after escaping the Overlook. He soon turns to drinking to escape the terror. But drinking solves nothing and just makes things worse. When he sees his childhood imaginary friend, Tony, in a small New Hampshire town, he turns to AA to try to turn his life around and learn to live with the shining.Abra is a middle school girl nearby in New Hampshire with a powerful shine. She sees the murder of a little boy by a band of folks calling themselves the True Knot. They travel in campers and mobile homes, seeking out those who have the shine to kill them for it and inhale it. They call it steam. They’re not human. And they’re coming after Abra. Abra calls out to the only person she knows with a shine too, the man she’s talked to before by writing on his blackboard. Dan.
Who’s bi? Rose, the main antagonist. What makes her the antagonist or the “big bad” has absolutely nothing to do with her sexuality. She’s just an antagonist who happens to be bi.
My Full Review
- Love in the Time of Global Warming
by Francesca Lia Block
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait.
Who’s bi? Pen, the main character. She has a crush on one of her best female friends in the time before the disaster, and then later falls for a transman. There is one particularly beautiful scene where she talks about being afraid of telling her friends that she likes girls the way she likes boys.
My Full Review not yet posted
- The Miriam Black Series
by Chuck Wendig
Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
Miriam Black is an early 20-something drifter with bleach blonde hair and a surprising ability to hold her own in a fight. She also knows when and precisely how you’re going to die. Only if you touch her skin-on-skin though. And it’s because of this skill that Miriam became a drifter. You try dealing with seeing that every time you touch someone. But when a kind trucker gives her a lift and in her vision of his death she hears him speak her name, her entire crazy life takes an even crazier turn.
Who’s bi? Miriam, the kick-ass main character. Miriam uses no labels for herself whatsoever (she would probably hate even being called a brunette, to a certain extent), so she also refuses to label her sexuality. However, she also states she enjoys being with all genders. It’s interesting to note that the first time Miriam’s sexuality comes up is not until the third book in the series, and only because she (minor spoiler warning) breaks up with her boyfriend. A great example of how bisexual people’s sexuality can be erased when they’re in a monogamous relationship.
My Full Review of the first book in the series
Entry #11 Terri Babcock!
Terri’s winning entry was for following D.S Kenn’s twitter account.
Terri, I’ll be providing your email address to D.S. Kenn, who will contact you directly to find out if you prefer an ebook or print copy. She will then send it to you.
Thanks for entering!
How to Enter: Fill out the Rafflecopter by clicking here!
Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL
Contest Ends: April 13th at midnight!
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