Another listicle: 5 queer YA books that killed me, and one it would be criminal to leave out

As briefly alluded to in this blog, I’ve been getting into a queer YA niche lately. While it’s not a genre without its problems—the predominance of the gay cismale experience, for example—the best queer YA fiction I’ve read has been gratifyingly good with intersectionality; David Levithan might be a white gay guy and thus best equipped to write about that experience, but his books are full of trans drag queens and multiethnic characters. It’s a refreshing change from a lot of mainstream fiction, in which even when heterosexuality isn’t necessarily a rule, there’s still the assumption of queer as something other, not quite there. All of which is to say, as much as I respect many within the #literaryestablishment, it’s the more niche writers—the fanfiction authors, the zinesters and independently published poets—where we’re seeing a lot of diversity popping up, the new vocabulary we’re putting together for a new way of interacting with the world and ourselves. Support your small presses, in other words.

Queer YA, apparently, hits one of these breeding zones for diverse fiction. As a genre geared towards teenagers, much of YA inevitably focuses on questions of identity; also as a genre geared towards teenagers, YA has less room for the kind of self-indulgent philosophizing a lot of serious literary writers seem to mistake (sorry, but if I have to read one about novel about being in your early 20s and wandering around New York trying to find yourself…) By virtue of its audience and the demands of its genre, YA is seemingly the perfect genre for exploring queer issues in a manner that is serious without being didactic. Which is not to say that queer YA can’t be didactic or dragging because oh yes, that’s totally out there as well—out of politeness and also because I couldn’t actually bring myself to finish these books, I’m not going to name names, but believe me, I’ve had experiences.

So then! If you’re new to this very particularly niche subgenre, then boy is this post ostensibly for you—ostensibly because I am in no way an expert and also because this is very definitely a way for me to just rant on about books I love. So let’s cut to chase—in proper fanfic manner, five queer YA novels that ruined me and one it would be criminal to leave out:

Continue reading “Another listicle: 5 queer YA books that killed me, and one it would be criminal to leave out”

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After Kathy Acker: And Then But So

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Biography’s an imprecise art, autobiography even more so. What, then, to make of a biography of postmodernist icon Kathy Acker, a writer who made her name by redefining aggressive oversharing?

A step backwards, before proceeding: who is Kathy Acker? Kathy Acker is/was: a punk poet, postmodernism’s female Burroughs, aggressively sex positive, a bisexual experimentalist, a tattooed biker provocateur, one of the major hubs of the 1980s New York art scene and an icon for generations of young feminists and rebels. In short, the sort of person who, when described or when self-describing, becomes a myth, something hard to grasp onto.

So let’s try again, starting from why, exactly, I’m reading this book. I discovered Kathy Acker in college, a chance meeting while browsing either the internet or the stacks of my library, possibly both, and, on a bit of a whim and the need to keep myself well-informed of involvements in the literary world, picked up Blood and Guts in High School. I found her work theoretically fascinating if less enjoyable to read, and Kathy herself just as fascinating if not more so. She was a rock star, really, the type of person you can’t help but describe as magnetic, friends with everyone from Alan Moore to William Burroughs to Neil Gaiman, for whom she served as the inspiration for Sandman’s Delirium. A quick skip through Wikipedia or Google images shows her in a buzzcut and leather, a sharp-cheeked girl with nonetheless a softness around the edges. It’s easy to admire Kathy Acker, even if you don’t necessarily appreciate the scribbled genitalia she featured in her books.

Chris Kraus’s biography, tantalizingly named After Kathy Acker, was the kind of book aimed straight at me. With the mix of biography and literary overview it promised, it seemed perfect for me, an Acker neophyte with nonetheless a tendency to overuse the word “postmodern” and a fascination about people far more punk than I am. I might not have necessarily gotten Acker’s work, but I respected it and what she was trying to do.

Plus, I’m always up for gossip.

Continue reading “After Kathy Acker: And Then But So”

The Changeling: Two Thirds of a Good Book, One Third…Less So

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Like most people who like fantasy, I’m also a major fan of its sister genres (parent genres?) mythology and folklore. Myth today colors much of contemporary fiction, and it’s always interesting to learn how the original plays out before seeing the gay crossover space opera modernization.* Plus, fairytales are a weird experience, all around. Compared to contemporary protagonists, fairytale characters can seem weirdly flat, archetypes of “The Prince” and “The Mentor” who eternally slay the dragon and save the princess with only stock reasons given as rationale. There’s something old and odd about fairytales and myths, the ritualized nature of the conflicts and characters in them, and that same strangeness is what makes these stories so fascinating. There’s an elegant economy to fairy tales, a cohesion in the way they wrap together that gives them their own, particular brand of pleasure.

So when Marlon James of Man Booker Prize winner A Brief History of Seven Killings described Victor LaValle’s The Changeling as “a dark fairy tale of New York” and NPR’s Amal El-Mohtar gave it a glowing review complete with unnecessary but somehow charming metaphor about the Pleiades—well. Of course I had to read it. Continue reading “The Changeling: Two Thirds of a Good Book, One Third…Less So”

Lives of the Monster Dogs: Well, That Happened

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I don’t know what, exactly, I was expecting when I got my copy of Lives of the Monster Dogs, but hell if there’s a universe where I wasn’t going to read it. Canine Prussian science experiments turned aristocrats trying to make it in modern-day New York? Coupled with such lines as “the first child in the world (I proudly believe) to be blessed with having a Samoyed for a godmother”? I’m so in.

Also, I love dogs.

Continue reading “Lives of the Monster Dogs: Well, That Happened”

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Sounds Gay, I’m In

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(if you don’t get the joke, click here)

Two books came to mind while I was reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Meddling Kids and the Gemma Doyle trilogy (okay, that’s technically three books, but whatever). Meddling Kids I’ve talked at length about, mostly about how fantastically trope-y yet earnest it was as a pastiche/affectionate parody; there’s a similar vibe to that in TGGVV, which takes a decidedly Hitchhiker’s Guide/Monty Python attitude to genre conventions. Gemma Doyle I haven’t talked about, mostly because I read it way before I started this blog, but in essence it’s a YA series about secret magical societies and all-girls boarding schools in fin-de-siècle England. The Gemma Doyle connection is partially stylistic, but it’s also more thematic: both are YA period fiction, both have magic, both discuss how the past was real cool aesthetically but also awful for people who weren’t straight white cismen.

Mostly, though? The vibe I got was fanfiction. Continue reading “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Sounds Gay, I’m In”

Meddling Kids: The (Eldritch, Pop-Culture Saturated) Beach Read of 2017

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There are any number of personal anecdotes/mini personal revelations I could use to ease into a discussion of this book, but I’m going to cold open with this: I like weird stuff. I don’t know if it’s been a consistent thing, my attraction to bizarro shit, or it’s a more recent and mildly alarming development in my personality, but it’s one that I’ve pretty much embraced. It’s confused people, the weirdness generally tends to confuse people, but I stand by my Eraserhead enthusiasm and unironic love of pigeon dating games. Weird is great, okay? Weird is playful, the ability to step back and go yes, but what if, an impulse that puts it catty-corner to surreal and experimental on the avenue of delighted surprise. Weird doesn’t always mean well-conceived or even ultimately all that interesting—think of any of the failed start-ups that litter college campuses—but it does mean a willingness to do things differently, and that is something I can admire.

So then. Personal anecdote over. Meddling Kids.

(cw for discussions of mental health, suicide, and general trauma) Continue reading “Meddling Kids: The (Eldritch, Pop-Culture Saturated) Beach Read of 2017”

Swing Time: A Shamelessly Biased Review

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I have a complicated relationship with Zadie Smith. By which I mean I read White Teeth when I was nineteen/twenty and, like basically every other collegiate female of that age, loved it with a fervor and intensity makes it nigh-impossible to fairly judge anything else by Smith. Not that I dislike Smith’s other books or that I’ve been particularly vigilant about reading them; outside of Swing Time, the first few chapters of The Autograph Man (I liked the first chapter/prologue, but could not get past the rest), and a few scattered essays, I haven’t strayed far beyond White Teeth. Because, you see, when I finished White Teeth I was exhilarated, filled with the kind of lit nerd high that comes from discovery of something really, really fucking good. There’s a particular image I have of Zadie Smith the author, and it’s an one I’m reluctant to tarnish by exposing to reality.

Swing Time, though…Swing Time was interesting. Swing Time looked promising and more than that, everyone was talking about—couldn’t pass a bookstore without seeing it at a display table, browse a book blog without finding it somewhere on the ledge. And the marketing worked: I was curious. I bit.  

Continue reading “Swing Time: A Shamelessly Biased Review”

Horrorstör: And Then The Real Monster was Capitalism

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For those who’ve always wanted a novel about a haunted Ikea knockoff, well then, Horrorstör is the long-awaited answer to your prayers. Taking place in Orsk, a faux Scandinavian furniture store in the heart of America, Horrorstör provides everything you would expect from a horror novel packaged as an Ikea catalogue: umlaut abuse, likeable but flawed protagonists, and none-too-subtle critiques of capitalism. What else could you want, really?

Let’s be real, though. This is a book about a haunted Ikea; there’s no way I wouldn’t be there for that shit. Continue reading “Horrorstör: And Then The Real Monster was Capitalism”

Boy Meets Boy: The Literary Equivalent of Eating Honey Out of the Jar

(Yes, I’ve sat in the kitchen and eaten straight honey from a spoon. Don’t judge.)

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The last few months, I’ve been really getting into queer YA. So far, it’s been a good ride: while (as with any genre) there’s been some meh stuff (mostly due to writers either not understanding how teenagers act or letting characters be defined by their queerness), as a whole, it’s delivered on the promise of fun, decently well-written fiction that’s thoughtful without being too self-indulgently navel-gaze-y. Plus, as someone who (as a teenager) got most of her queer representation through fan projects or the internet, I can’t help but get excited about books that feature non-straight people, even moreso when they’re YA—it’s fucking difficult to be a teenager even without the queer thing in the mix, and anything that tries to alleviate that I am 100% behind.

All that said then, Boy Meets Boy. BMB is a book from David Leviathan, an author who’s contributed a lot to the rather niche queer YA genre—he’s written twenty-three books and worked with multiple YA authors, including John Green, with whom he co-wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Boy Meets Boy was Leviathan’s first novel, in 2003, and its premise is as simple as its title: a boy (Paul) meets another boy (Noah). They fall in love. Their parents and the small town they live in are incredibly accepting of their non-straightness (background characters include a drag queen star quarterback and the straight football player still bitter over getting rejected by her), and yet high school has a way of getting in the way of even the best of romances go awry.

Continue reading “Boy Meets Boy: The Literary Equivalent of Eating Honey Out of the Jar”