I think I may have missed the deadline for this, which is crazy, b/c I was all set to blog about my beloved James Baldwin and Audre Lorde (I’ve done June Jordan enough for one month! though her words did pop into my mind when this guy hollered at me in the street: “What’s your name?” And I thought of quoting June: my name is my own, my own, my own…) Ali over at Worducopia gives you plenty of options for this month’s Diversity Roll Call, which is designed to highlight LGBTQ authors and books. And since I hadn’t read any contemporary queer YA lit, I figured I’d wait and read something by a living author writing NOW. I chose Mayra Lazara Dole‘s Down to the Bone; Mayra’s part of What a Girl Wants, and I’d heard good things about her book from Black-eyed Susan…so I gave her book a whirl.
WOW! I’m still trying to understand my reaction to the book, but I have to begin this short report by praising this author’s daring…I think it’s great that books now exist that don’t dance around teen homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender issues. Whether you’re familiar with these issues or not, you sort of have to just surrender to this story; it’s a high-energy explosion of language, laughter, love, and drama between Cuban teens in Miami. There were moments when I wanted everything to stop–I needed *someone* to sit Laura down and talk about her problem in a serious (adult?) manner. But the community created by the author is unique in many ways, including the way conflicts are addressed and resolved. Despite her best friend’s appetite for disposable boyfriends, Laura is into just one partner (Marlena), who crushes Laura’s young heart by moving to Puerto Rico and caving to her family’s pressure to marry. Laura feels betrayed and wary of a queer identity that would mark her as a “freak” or “immoral daughter.” To win back her mother’s love, she tries falling in love with a guy, but in the end realizes she cannot find happiness or acceptance from others until she accepts herself. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a novel YA–is it writing FOR teens, or ABOUT teens? I feel like I do both, but perhaps my “home training” and family history make me more inclined towards seriousness and intolerant of frivolity. I was pretty serious even as a teen, and I did find the spastic energy of Laura and her friends a little hard to take at times; her puppy actually figures as a character in the first half of the book, but by the end, I had a better appreciation of the loving community/family Laura managed to build for herself. It’s one that is *fluid*, not fixed, which means its members respond quickly and easily to trouble or change. I now feel compelled to read more queer lit for teens so I can get a better sense of the options that are out there—and the strategies used by authors to represent queer experience and identity.