feminism · lgbt · Non-Fiction · review

The Gender Games – Juno Dawson

“Transitioning is not going to mystically solve all the worries in my life. I will still be skint. I will still get lonely sometimes. I will still be driven and overambitious. I’ll still be jealous and competitive. But I will be a woman. I will be Juno. I will be righted. I will be me.”

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Blurb: “Gender isn’t just screwing over trans people, it’s messing with everyone. From little girls who think they can’t be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment. From exclusionist feminists to ‘alt-right’ young men. From men who can’t cry to the women who think they shouldn’t. As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society’s expectations of gender – and what we can do about it.

Juno Dawson – primarily known for her Young Adult books – announced her transition in 2015 and was met with tremendous support from her readers, the book community and her publisher (who have since gone to lengths to reprint her books under her new name). Following this announcement – though I feel that isn’t the right word to use – Juno went on to talk publicly about her transition in a monthly Glamour Column. I’ve asked her in the past if she was likely to write a book either featuring a trans character or about her own experience of transitioning. She said yes.

I will admit I expected The Gender Games to be all about her experience of transitioning; and doing so in the public eye. Which it is in part, though it focuses on the bigger problem of gender throughout.

Gender is personified, built up to be the creature in the dark ruining everyone’s fun. She talks about growing into a gay man and how she believes that was the label that fit until society developed and “transgender” became more commonly known. She acknowledges the privilege she still had as a gay man when it came to her publishing career; once she compared it to her female counterparts and how they are many spaces for young LGBT people online with this likes of Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley racking up millions of views and subscribers along with the ever-growing success of Ru Paul’s Drag Race yet none of them are recognised in the so-called “mainstream media.” She goes into details of how men can benefit from feminism if it wasn’t seen as such a dirty word and things such as “you throw like a girl” aren’t helping anyone. She brings in contributors such as Sex & Relationships Youtuber Hannah Witton and drag queen Alaska to illustrate how universal some experiences are.

For me, I learnt a lot about the importance of not taking things at face value. I follow Juno avidly on all her social media and have experienced a sort of pride watching her publically grow but it seemed to lean towards the positive. In The Gender Games the reader really gets to see what goes on behind those glamour columns and Instagram stories. The reader gets to see the hardships, the abuse, the state of our NHS when it comes to dealing with gender, and just how isolating it can be.

She talks about how the LGBT community itself is not perfect and highlights the important stigma around bisexuals – something I have sadly experienced myself -and how a change needs to happen within for those on the outside to take anyone seriously.

Another important factor is that Juno acknowledges she is not perfect. She is aware of her privilege and quick to declare that she knows not everyone had the same resources available to them. She mentions that she messes up too and it’s important to apologise and work on being better. Which is something that I’m sure all of us can do.

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contemporary · lgbt · review · young adult

Noah Can’t Even – Simon James Green

“Screw it all. He was going to be normal. He was going to do normal things. Be a normal boy. That would show his mum! It was the night of the party. And he was going to kiss Sophie.”

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Blurb: “Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother’s Beyonce tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is…Well, it’s pure HELL. Why can’t Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone – maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely – he’d be seen in a different light? But Noah’s plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That’s when things go from bad to utter chaos.

I first heard about this book because of an interview Amber at the milelongbookshelf did with the author on her channel. The pair discussed the lack of British LGBT books and why it’s great that Simon’s is exactly that. So when release day rolled around I was very quick to get a copy.

Noah Can’t Even follows a sixteen year old boy called Noah who is the bottom of the school food chain. His dad is missing, his mum is a total embarrassment and after an unfortunate incident in P.E, he’s soon to be the laughing stock of the school. Noah just wants to be normal and when he’s paired up with the gorgeous Sophie on his Geography project, he sees this as his opportunity to win her affections. It’s all going well until he ends up kissing his best friend, Harry, at a party and the school bully turns out to have video evidence of it and he isn’t afraid to start passing it around.

There have been many discussions about Young Adult books feeling like they’re the “older teens” rather than actual teenagers but this isn’t one of those books. Noah feels like a real teenager from the awkward interactions to the ridiculous internal monologue throughout. It’s cringy, embarrassing and downright hilarious. It’s one of those books where I was laughing out loud and even after finishing, when reminded of certain scenes, I found myself laughing again.

It’s a brilliant coming-of-age story about exploring your sexuality and while there isn’t a bisexual character present, bisexuality is frequently mentioned in such a normal way and that is a beautiful thing to see. It’s great to see bisexuality be normalised and becoming more present within LGBT Young Adult books.

It blows my mind that this is a debut because it’s so well put together. I cannot wait to see what Simon James Green comes out with next!

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contemporary · lgbt · review · young adult

Radio Silence – Alice Oseman

“If nobody is listening to my voice, am I making any sound at all?”

 

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Blurb: “Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.
But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

The story follows a girl called Frances who is very much a model student: she’s the head girl, has really good grades and is on track to securing a place at Cambridge University. On the side she is a devoted fan to a YouTube based podcast called Universe City and spends the gaps between studying not only listening to the show but also creating fan-art for it. When she is approached by the creator to make official art for the show it feels like a dream come true and she finally learns the identity of the person behind Universe City and they become close friends but things quickly turn sour within her beloved online community.

I was reccomended this book on the basis of it having a bisexual character. Frances identifies as bisexual and unlike many books which claim to have one but is never stated, Frances outright says that she identifies so and the way in which it was portrayed felt very authentic; it was just another layer to the story rather than being the main focus.

This is a novel that any reader can relate to: from the stress of exams, choosing universities and even in some cases questioning whether your choice of degree is actually something you want to. Radio Silence does a fantastic job or depicting what it feels like to be young and facing big choices that are intended to set your life on a certain path. I also really like that Oseman showed how university isn’t for everyone.

In a modern age where so many people are connecting via online communities based around something they love, the podcast side of it is very relevent today and shows just how quickly things can become toxic when select members start to stir things.

While there were many elements I liked and appreciated within the plot, overall the story just fell flat for me. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and, honestly, I haven’t really thought about it since I put it down.

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contemporary · lgbt · review · romance · young adult

History Is All You Left Me -Adam Silvera

“If bringing up the past annoys you now – as I know it did when you left New York for California – know that I’m sorry, but please don’t be mad at me for reliving all of it. History is all you left me.”

 

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Blurb: “When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.”

Adam Silvera is another author who’s quite popular within the book community but I’d never read before. The reason for that is, in part, due to the fact that his  debut More Happy Than Not is actually available in the UK. I started to hear about History Is All You Left Me frequently as the hype for his new book started to bubble. However, I wasn’t really sold on it until he posted a video on his YouTube channel where he read the first chapter of the book. After that, the book sat patiently on my “to read” list as the release date drew closer.

The story follows a boy called Griffin who is about to attend the funeral of his ex-boyfriend Theo and the narrative flits between the past and present, building up a picture of their lives together from friendship to their relationship,  what happened after they split up and then, inevitably, how Theo died. Griffin speaks directly to Theo throughout the book almost like a long letter that he will never get to read and that aspect added extra emotion and heartbreak to the story, especially when Griffin comes face to face with Jackson; Theo’s current boyfriend.

History Is All You Left Me is an incredibly bittersweet story. The reader gets the joys of seeing the relationship between these two characters form, the duo coming out to each other, first dates, first time having sex (which is very realistic and positive might I add) and there’s even an incredibly awkward scene where they buy condoms together only to bump into someone they know in the store. There are segments where Griffin discusses his OCD and how Theo helps him and discussions of Theo’s bisexuality (I really feel like 2017 is finally going to be the year for more bisexual characters) and relationship issues are really dealt with rather than being left to fester. It’s all truly wonderful and heart-warming to read until you’re hit in the face with a present day chapter and you, along with Griffin, remember that Theo is no longer alive.

Something I found rather unexpected was Griffin and Jackson finding solace in each other, despite having been previous quite averse to each other. They both share that loss of love even though they have different memories of Theo and Griffin even expresses that he feels Jackson is the only one who truly knows what he’s going through; how big of an imprint Theo has left on their lives.

I couldn’t work out whether I liked Griffin or not. Through his narrative you can really feel how much he cared for this other person, even after Theo had moved on to someone else. Griffin made a lot of sacrifices for Theo and that loss ran so deep and it’s really gut-wrenching to read in the present chapters. However, he made some choices out of spite and ignorance to sort of “get back” at Theo which I didn’t like and he treated a lot of other characters badly, but maybe that was just part of his healing process.

I did find the book to be very slow moving at points but that’s to be expected as this is a story not just about reliving memories, but the process of moving on and adapting to a part of life where there won’t be new memories created with the person no longer alive.

This week I’m going to end on a heart-breaking quote from the book:

“I don’t know what will be left of me if love and grief can’t bring you back.”

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contemporary · lgbt · review · romance · young adult

The Upside Of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli

“Certain nights have this kind of electricity. Certain nights carry you to a different place from where you started. I think tonight was one of the special ones.”

 

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.
Right?”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

When I finished Becky Albertalli’s debut novel Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda, I knew that she was going to be an “auto-buy” author for me. As known if you keep up date with me on my various social media channels, I am not always the biggest fan for contemporaries but that one spoke to me in a way not many books too. So when I got wind of a new book from her, you bet I was dancing around to kill the time until I could have it in my hands.

The Upside of Unrequited follows a girl called Molly who really wants a boyfriend and feels that she is quickly falling behind her peers (including her twin sister Cassie) who seem to find mutual love easy to obtain and are having sex or already in relationships whereas she is yet to experience any of those “firsts” that are so important to a teenager. The only experience she has is her list of 26 unrequited loves; one of which includes Lin Manuel Miranda. When she bumps into a Korean-American girl called Mina in the toilets of a nightclub she has no idea how much this girl will change things.

This book does a fantastic job of depicting what it really feels like to be a teenager from the concerns about lack of experience, to those constant buzzing questions when you do find someone attractive, to body image. Whatever you can think of, it’s covered and it isn’t glossed over either. Each topic is addressed with the right amount of time paid to it. Even the heart-breaking ones such as Molly being concerned that her weight will be a turn-off and how big girls don’t get boyfriends or have sex unless it’s a joke and she doesn’t want to be one. It all adds a layer of authenticity to the story because, as we all know, problems don’t disappear straight away.

The sexual diversity in this book is a breath of fresh air with characters identifying as straight, pansexual and bisexual which are all presented in positive and healthy ways. I’ve already spoken to the author about my thoughts but I am going to share them here too: I’ve spoken out in the past about the lack of bisexuals in YA, let alone female bisexuals and this book made me cry in the best way possible: because I was happy. Becky Albertalli included a female bisexual character and I felt valid. Representation is so important.

At times it felt almost as if I was reading an old diary from my teenage years because it captured certain experience so well and I am sure everyone will be able to find something that reminds them of a moment when they were a teenager (even if it’s a memory that is best forgotten). Becky Albertalli does not miss the mark with this one and not picking up a copy should be considered a crime.

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contemporary · lgbt · young adult

What We Left Behind – Robin Talley

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Blurb: “Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college – Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU – they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive. The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship. While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won’t understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni’s life. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide – have they grown apart from good, or is love enough to keep them together?”

*I was sent this book by the publisher but this in no way affects my review*

*Toni uses “they/them” pronouns at the end of this book and so those will be used in this review until Robin Talley informs me otherwise*

There are so many things that attracted me to this book. For one, this is a story more about the relationship rather that how the relationship came about. For another, it’s realistic in terms of how a distance relationship is handled, and most importantly, it features a genderqueer character.

Quick definition of genderqueer for those who don’t know:

Genderqueer (n): a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both or a combination of male and female genders.

As the “we need diverse books” outcry seems to be growing in numbers, there are a lot of books featuring trans characters dominating the shelves: recent books include The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson and George by Alex Gino. However, there doesn’t seem to be many books tackling genderqueer characters. Although genderqueer is a term that falls under the trans umbrella, genderqueer folks are a lot more fluid in their gender.

This book has so much complexity to it and that it’s hard to know where to start.

The plot is centered around Toni and Gretchen who are in a relationship and makes use of both “before and after” and dual perspectives to tell the story. While I’m getting slightly bored by books that follow this format, Robin Talley couldn’t have told this story in any other way. The reader sees the two characters going to university and through Gretchen’s perspectives we learn that the pair originally planned to go to the same university – Harvard – but Gretchen feared she would spend her time there focused entirely on Toni. Gretchen wanted the freedom to explore herself in an entirely new place with entirely new people and so applied (and got into) NYU. So there’s already some tension bubbling under the surface. As the story progresses, each chapter states how long it has been since the duo last saw each other.

Toni becomes involved with Harvard’s LGBT society where they meets a lot of interesting and diverse people. Being round this group and people gives Toni the freedom they’ve be waiting for to explore their identity. The most prominent internal monologue for me was this: “If I call myself trans I’m afraid people will think I’m a dude when truth is, I’m not really there.”

I found Toni a very frustrating character to read most of the time. They are relatively open with their gender, trying out different pronouns to see which best fits before abandoning pronouns only to use them again, which gives an insight into the thoughts of someone who identifies as non-binary. However, Toni is obsessed with putting other people into boxes and gets internally stressed when they can’t place people’s sexuality or gender. The most memorable scene that is an example of this is when some of the LGBT group are out together and Toni is unable to genderise a particular character until Toni spots the binder under the character’s shirt. They then automatically label them as trans and wonders if this character is on hormones and even internerally discusses with themselves how much this character “passes” as a specific gender.

(It actually reminded me of someone I used to know who would constantly force people into boxes. I had a conversation with them once about sexuality as I identify as bisexual and when I was asked if I’d ever date someone trans, I responded with “if I liked the person and enjoyed spending time with them, then yes. Genitals don’t matter to me” to which this person then said “well you’re pansexual then, not bisexual. But back to the actual review…)

Naturally Toni exploring their gender creates a big issue in their relationship with Gretchen because Toni never actually talks to Gretchen about well… anything. Toni lets Gretchen know they’ve started using pronouns, might try hormones but doesn’t actually discuss any feelings with Gretchen which ,as you would expect, feels like a punch in the face for her because she makes mistakes and Toni takes things badly. Something that’s pointed out later in the book when Gretchen says “you can’t be so hard on everyone, sometimes people make mistakes, say the wrong-” to which Toni responds “whatever” and shrugs it off.

It was really interesting seeing both sides of the relationship because Gretchen identifies as lesbian, but if her partner starts identifying as male and is thinking of transitioning, doesn’t that make Gretchen straight? This combined with the distance makes for a very stressful, complicated read but it felt real.

Anyone who’s ever had a distance relationship can relate to this: the time spent apart, wondering if anything will be different and if you’ve changed too much as people when you’re finally together.

The internal monologues of the characters -especially Gretchen – just added to the layers and I wanted to physically crawl into this book and just give Gretchen a hug.

You also have the horrific scenes where characters aren’t too accepting of trans people that just made me sick to read them, but you also had more accepting characters.

This book was just so well written.

If you are going to pick up any book in October, make sure you mark October 27th on your calendar because you don’t want to miss this book.

 
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lgbt · Non-Fiction · young adult

This Book Is Gay – James Dawson

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Blurb: “Former PHSCE teacher and acclaimed author James Dawson gives an uncensored look at what it’s like to grow up as LGBT. Including testimonials from people ‘across the spectrum’ this inclusive book explores everything anyone who ever dared to wonder wants to know – from sex to politics, how to pull, stereotypes to come-out and more. Spike Gerrell’s hilarious illustrations combined with funny and factual text makes this a must read.”

This was a book which I stumbled across when perusing the teen fiction shelves looking for LGBT fiction. The title really stood out and I found myself drawn in by the bright rainbow coloured cover. Taking a different direction this time, this is a review of a non-fiction book, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

I am so glad that this book exists. It’s the kind of book I wish I’d had in my early teens as it would have answered all those pesky sexuality questions a lot sooner: I always knew I liked men and women, however, it wasn’t until I was fifteen that I discovered the term “bisexual.”

Whether you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, asexual etc. or even if you’re questioning/curious or firmly identify as straight, this book has a wealth of information that covers everything from sex, STIs, stereotypes, definitions and background history on the sexuality terms, what NOT to say when interacting with LGBT and even lists of websites, safe places and numbers you can contact for help.

No matter what you identify as, you will come out (pardon the pun) with so much knowledge about each aspect of LGBT and more, basically the big no-no’s such as misgendering a trans person. Seriously, don’t do it.

I expected, given the subject matter, for this to be a serious book. And it was, but it had a nice, frequent injection of humour delivered both by Dawson and Gerrell (the illustrator). It made it more enjoyable to read than just reading a textbook on a subject. Obviously, coming out is terrifying. When I came out to my parents, I had been with my boyfriend for a year, so I had the fear that they wouldn’t believe me because I was (and still) am in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. There is a whole chapter dedicated just to how to come out.

I actively search for information on trans people and issues and this book was a learning curve for me. I came out of it with a better understanding of what trans people go for (even though I can never identify with trans issues and feelings in the way they do).

The addition of stories from various LGBT people around the world was really interesting and shows that there are in fact bisexuals out there like me who have a long-term partner but still say “yes I am bisexual.” I felt comforted by that. The quote I connected to the most was : “I identify as bisexual, thought I rather like to describe it as ‘people are beautiful. People are hot. People are attractive, and if I fall in love, I fall in love.'”

I applaud all the research and planning that went into this book, covering all the areas the silly education system fails to include.

I encourage everyone to read this book!

Bravo James Dawson, Bravo.
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