April 29, 2014

Sandra Scoppettone: "Trying Hard to Hear You"

Title: Trying Hard to Hear You [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sandra Scoppettone [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 1973
Age: 12+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Simple but compelling story of friendship, prejudices and coming out, with a great cast of characters.
Cons: This is an oldie...you might feel like it's outdated. On the other hand, most issues are still relevant today. Sadly so.
Will appeal to: Those who prefer reading about feelings than about actual sex. Those who like stories with a strong friendship accent.

Blurb: In this heartbreaking tale of love and prejudice, one single summer changes the lives of an entire community. "Two of us were going to suffer like we never had before, and none of us would be the same again." (Amazon)

Review: Sort-of-disclaimer: I read the Italian translation of this book, so I can't really judge the writing style. Also, I don't know if any parts of this novel have been cut off in my version.
Yes, I know. Really old stuff. The seventies! Even for me, who was already born at the time, this is a story that dates a little way back, since I was only a kid in 1973. Also, I've never lived in a small American suburb during an age of turmoils and attempted change. What I mean is, everyone can relate to this story. It's not ancient history, and it's not boring, and it's not outdated. Well, maybe (just maybe) the racial episode...but not the gay content. Which is a pity, of course. Yes, there was so much more ignorance going around those days, and lots of people thought that homosexuality was a mental illness (or a perversion, pure and simple). But mind you, if less often, this still happens today. So, what I mean in the end is, you have to give this story a chance. Because, 1973 or not, it will touch your heart.
Let me start by saying that the frame for this novel is one of my favourite: the kids are setting up a summer theatre show. I took an immediate liking to Camilla, the 16 year old narrator. She's genuine, fresh, introspective but outgoing. I also loved her relationship with Jeff, her best friend. The two of them have known each other for years, and Camilla doesn't see him as a possible boyfriend, which is refreshing. You can tell they are really close, though Jeff has a huge secret he didn't tell Camilla...he's gay. I sort of experienced a situation like that, so I think it's very plausible...especially given the still-not-so-enlightened time frame. Also, much later in the book, Jeff tells the story of how he realised he was gay, and it sounds so realistic and genuine.
In a sense, you might say this is a love triangle - except it isn't. Yes, there are a girl and two boys, but the dynamics at work here are really peculiar. Of course, the big secret doesn't hold for long, but this is not the point of the book. The point is how the secret, once revealed, affects the characters - especially Camilla. [...]

April 26, 2014

Kate Larkindale: "An Unstill Life"

Title: An Unstill Life [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kate Larkindale [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2014
Age: 14+
Stars: 2.5/5
Pros: Honest depiction of first love/sexual orientation awareness. Synesthesia episodes make for a different, creative prose. 
Cons: Some convenient (if not often agreeable) occurrences piling up.  Inconsistencies with the side characters (they seem to change their opinion/stance too easily). Requires some suspension of disbelief.
WARNING! Underage sex (though not overly graphic). A couple of sexual harassment episodes. A self-harm instance. Book also features a terminally ill character.
Will appeal to: GLBTQ+ romance lovers. Fans of coming-of-age stories.

Blurb: Things at home are rough for fifteen-year-old Livvie. Jules, her beloved older sister, is sick again after being cancer free for almost ten years. Her mom becomes more frantic and unapproachable every day. Just when she needs them most, her closest friends get boyfriends and have little time for Livvie - except to set her up on a series of disastrous blind dates. Livvie seeks refuge in the art room and finds Bianca, the school ‘freak’. Free-spirited and confident, Bianca is everything Livvie isn’t. Livvie finds comfort and an attraction she never felt before with Bianca. When their relationship is discovered, Livvie and Bianca become victims of persecution and bullying. School authorities even forbid the pair to attend the Winter Formal as a couple. At home, her mother’s behavior escalates to new levels of crazy and Jules is begging for help to end the pain once and for all. While searching for the strength to make her life her own, Livvie must decide how far she’s willing to go for the people she loves. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. Here goes...
This novel touches many bases. First love. Sexual orientation awareness. Coming out. Bullying. Friendship. People drifting apart. Mental issues. Family issues. Sibling love. Terminal illness. Death. And of course, synesthesia. All packed into 220 pages. Maybe that's why I found it a bit difficult to suspend my disbelief about some of the events occurring here. Sometimes it sounds like too much is going on all at once. On the other hand, I can feel the author is striving for honesty about the love story and the people involved in it. And if you're looking for a first love tale where the sex element is only part of the equation, and the characters involved do, indeed, have more compelling reasons to be together, you have come to the right place :).
Livvie doesn't have a clue about being a lesbian. To be more precise, she doesn't seem interested in having a love life of sorts - she simply acknowledges that she's pretty invisible to the boys at school, but doesn't make much of it. She's not your typical loner though, because she's been friends with Hannah and Mel for years. Livvie's first crisis arises when the two of them suddenly get boyfriends and drift apart from her, while, at home, her sister Jules relapses into cancer after ten years. From here, all hell breaks loose. The girls' mother dotes on Julia, but is pretty uncaring when it comes to Livvie. And when Jules' doctor finds out that Livvie can't even donate her marrow this time, because of a tattoo that might have given her hepatitis, her mother crosses the line from indifferent to maddened. It doesn't matter to her that Jules is refusing treatments this time, aware that she won't make it anyway (while the mother herself refuses to admit it). In the meantime, Hannah and Mel obliviously try to drag Livvie into the dating game, pairing her with the worst specimens of the male gender. And in the middle of all this, Livvie finds herself drawn to Bianca, the school freak, who seems to be the only one who genuinely cares for her.
Now, I have some issues with this part. All the characters who play a part in Livvie's life at this point (except for Jules) seem to suddenly follow a rigid pattern in a way. Her mother hates (or, at best, resents) her; her friends are so totally engrossed in their love lives, they can't even see what's in front of them anymore. Bianca is always there when Livvie needs help (and she always seems to need it in a big way), like a deus ex machina. No wonder the poor girl ends up clinging to her. Undoubtedly, there's more than that to their relationship. Livvie and Bianca share a passion for art (and I really like what Larkindale did here), and Bianca is protective of Livvie, which is sweet; also, the attraction between the two of them is believably depicted. I only wish that Livvie had met at least a decent guy in the dates her friends set up for her, and that she weren't so helpless and dependent from Bianca. That would have added depth and (more) believability to their romance, making us feel like Livvie had chosen to be with Bianca, as opposed to falling in her lap, so to speak. One thing I did appreciate a lot, though - Livvie doesn't immediately identifies with a lesbian just because she's in love with a girl. She's aware that it may be this particular girl she wants to be with. Since she hasn't questioned her own sexuality for fifteen years, this sounds like reasonable and mature thinking. [...]

April 14, 2014

It's THAT Time of the Year Again...Get Ready for Armchair BEA!

Button designed by Amber @ Shelf Notes
Calling all book bloggers around the world!
As some of you may be aware of (especially those who live in the U.S.), New York will host the annual Book Expo America (better known as BEA) from Thursday, May 29 to Saturday, May 31. For those of us who can't attend the actual event and drown in book & author awesomeness, a generous and dedicated team of book lovers brings BEA to our homes every year, via a project called Armchair BEA. What is that? As the site puts it, "A conference for book bloggers in the comfort of our favorite chair [...] This virtual convention is the place to be!". Curious? Interested? Feeling lonely in your armchair with your book and no one to talk about it? Read all about the event here. Or, if you've already made up your mind about joining, you can do it here. I just did (my first Armchair BEA ever!), and I hope we'll meet on there...
To all those who will be able to attend the real BEA...have fun! and maybe, between a signing and a haul, spare a thought for us... ;)

April 11, 2014

LGBT Month Think-Piece: What Does the Genre Need?

The LGBT Month hosted by Cayce @ Fighting Dreamer and Laura @ Laura Plus Books is a great opportunity for us to spotlight our favourite books in the genre, but also to discuss everything LGBT+ related. I decided to be highly original (LOL) and share my own thoughts about what the genre needs...or would better do without. Basically, what I would like to see more (+) or less (-). Please keep in mind that I'm addressing YA books here. So, here we go...

Image source

Gay or lesbian characters with friends of the same sex.
Most people assume (or want to) that everyone who's not "straight" is defined by her/his sexuality. That their lives revolve around sex. That they can't look at a person of the same gender as theirs without becoming horny or something. Duh, get a grip, folks. Just like not every man and woman are necessarily attracted by each other and willing to, erm, take the plunge, the same goes for gay or lesbian individuals when they meet someone of the same sex. Gay and lesbians can have male or female friends, respectively. Books need to focus on this aspect more. [Though it's customary to pair gays with female friends. This is a stereotype, but only up to a point, I have to admit. Been there myself]. The new book by Jeri Smith-Ready, This Side of Salvation, takes a step in this direction - the (male) main character has a gay best friend. Hooray for JSR! (I haven't read the book yet, but I'm sure she dealt with such topic the best way).

GLBT+ characters in a steady relationship.
Most books in the genre are coming-of-age or coming-out stories, where the main character becomes aware of her/his sexuality, or falls in love for the first time. Which is perfectly fine of course. But I wish there were more books where the gay, lesbian etc. character already has a partner, and they've been together for a while. It would debunk another myth - LGBT+ characters' promiscuity. Again, folks, get a grip...

Image source

GLBT+ characters defined by their own sexuality.
See "Gay or lesbian characters with friends of the same sex". Again, we need more stories where sexuality - of any kind - is dealt with like any other defining feature...like being fond of rock music, able to paint, interested in history, you name it. While it's right - and often necessary - to make a stand for alternate sexuality, I do believe we should be shown the other face of the issue...normality. The no-big-deal side.

Inaccurate depictions of bi/trans/queer/etc. characters (?).
Writing a gay or lesbian character without actually being in their shoes is probably easier than portraying one of the other shades in the LGBT+ universe. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong...but I often happen to read reviews that complain about the unreality of some characters/situations, and they're almost never aimed at gay or lesbian ones. So I guess most of the others are not only rarely drawn from direct experience, but also - maybe - more difficult to deal with, because of their complexity. Or maybe, they're more difficult to write about with a teen audience in mind? Whatever the reason, according to the reception they get, stories about bi/trans/queer+ characters often ring less true to readers. While I commend the effort of each and every writer who decides to tackle the LGBT+ topics, I wish they were more in touch with the actual issues, and less with their own version of them.
(Please note...this wasn't meant to be offensive or judgmental in any way. It's just that I've repeatedly tried to approach LGBT+ books with different nuances than the usual gay or lesbian ones, but I've always found a few reviewers that weren't able to buy them for some reasons - random example here - so I'm wary of reading them).

I'm very interested in your opinion here - especially about this last point. And should any author join the conversation...it would be awesome :).

April 06, 2014

The Sunday Post - Monthly Edition (#2)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer

It’s a chance to share news. A post to recap the past week on our blog, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. 

See rules here.

Note: Since it's rare for me to post more than once a week, I opted for my own Monthly Edition of this meme. Be sure of stopping by every first Sunday of the month for my blog recap, blog teaser and bookish news. Thanks!

So, where were we?

Well...it's been two weeks since my latest post. A calculated hiatus, more or less. I guess I needed a little space and ease. Nothing much happened in the meantime...unless you count annoying car problems. Expensive car problems. Oh, never mind. Now I'm ready for an exciting new month! And I'm already looking forward to the next Armchair Bea (in May). This year I'll be a first-timer :). BTW - any of you participating? In the meantime...here is what I've been up to last month, and what I'm planning for this one...

On the Blog

Mar. 8: Book Review: "Soul Storm" by Kate Harrison
Third installment in her Soul Beach series. Cute but extremely lacking.
Mar. 11: Announcing LGBT Month by Cayce and Laura!
An interesting, not demanding event. You can participate without stressing yourself too much :). Are you inclined to? Read about it in my post above.
Mar. 18: Offbeat YA's Secrets Revealed!
Guinevere and Libertad @ Twinja Book Reviews interviewed me about my blog.
Mar. 20: Book Review: "All Our Yesterdays" by Cristin Terrill
One of my rare mainstream books ;). I tried to say something new about it...hard task, but I hope I succeeded!

I planned to review Christopher Pike's Die Softly as well this month, but what with the LGBT Month involvement, the interview and the Feedburner impromptu (so to speak), I lacked the time to do that. The review has been put on hold till May - hopefully...

Around the Web

I have read many interesting articles this month, but I forgot to list them...bad, bad blogger *sighs*. I will do my homework next time - I promise! The only one I bookmarked is...
Mar.20: Let that Post Breath!
Cayce @ Fighting Dreamer has the guts to shout it out loud: you don't need to post every single day - sometimes less is more...

Latest Additions to TBR List

"Burnout" by Adrienne Maria Vrettos (published Sep. 2011)

On the day after Halloween, Nan wakes up in a subway car. She is not dreaming. She doesn’t know where she's been or what she’s done. She’s missing a whole day from her life. And she’s wearing skeleton makeup and a too-small Halloween costume that she doesn’t remember putting on. Nan is not supposed to wake up in places like this anymore. She’s different now, so far from that dangerously drunk girl who hit bottom in the Nanapocalypse. She needs to find out what happened to her, and fast. As she tries to put together the pieces of the last twenty-four hours, she flashes back to memories of her previous life. But she would never go back to her old friends and her old ways. Would she? The deeper Nan digs, the more disturbing things get. This time, she may have gone one step too far. This time, she may be a walking ghost.

"On a Clear Day" by Walter Dean Myers (out Sep. 23)
[Note...this one is on my Not-Sure List for now. I'm waiting for an excerpt]

It is 2035. Teens, armed only with their ideals, must wage war on the power elite. Dahlia is a Low Gater: a sheep in a storm, struggling to survive completely on her own. The Gaters live in closed safe communities, protected from the Sturmers, mercenary thugs. And the C-8, a consortium of giant companies, control global access to finance, media, food, water, and energy resources - and they are only getting bigger and even more cutthroat. Dahlia, a computer whiz, joins forces with an ex-rocker, an ex-con, a chess prodigy, an ex-athlete, and a soldier wannabe. Their goal: to sabotage the C-8. But how will Sayeed, warlord and terrorist, fit into the equation?

What's Next...

April is LGBT Month on Laura and Cayce's blogs (see above). I will be busy with participating, which will leave me with no time left for branching out. So, stop by Offbeat YA this month for...

LGBT Month Think-Piece -> What Does the Genre Need?
Classic post. What I'd like to see more or less in the LGBT book universe.
LGBT Month -> Book Review: "An Unstill Life" by Kate Larkindale
I requested this book @ Fiction and Film, Kate Larkindale's blog.
LGBT Month -> Book Review: "Trying Hard to Hear You" by Sandra Scoppettone
My favourite book in the genre so far. Yes, it's an oldie. Don't let this put you off.

Also, I guess I'll take part in discussions and the like, since Cayce and Laura have lots of things planned for this event...

OK, that was it...what have you been/are you up to instead?