Review: Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Released September 8, 2015.

Maggie attends the same summer camp that her mother did and her grandmother did. Camp Bellflower for Girls is one of the oldest camps in the South, and nothing has changed there since it was founded in 1922. Maggie spends her summer with friends she made there previous years. She hates the tether she has to wear to keep herself from sleepwalking at night and she’s really into the Backstreet Boys. Maggie lies the rifle range and finds herself getting better at shooting at least when she can stop herself from thinking too much. That gets a lot harder when she notices Erin, a counselor in the younger girls’ camp. Maggie struggles with her feelings for Erin and though she tries to disguise what she is feeling, other girls at camp notice. Some are supportive while others think that it is very wrong. As Maggie’s summer plays out, she finds ways to deal with the pressure of the rifle range, an angry rival, and also to explore her sexuality.

Thrash’s memoir is told with a broad humor about Christian summer camp and how it feels to be a girl different from most of the others there. At the same time, the humor is never pointed and the girls around Maggie are supportive most of the time and in their own ways. Some want to protect Maggie from her crush, others want to just tease. Yet there is no hate here, which is very refreshing. Thrash also does a nice job of allowing a crush to play out, naturally and tantalizingly. Their feelings for one another are clear even as they themselves feel confused by them. The result is a book about the confusion of being a teen, the tensions of both friendships and attractions with the added dimension of being a lesbian. It is a beautifully done memoir.

Thrash’s book is in full color, but the advanced copy I received is in black and white only. Even with that limited color palette, the illustrations are clear and clever. The characters are unique on the page, which is not easy to do with a camp full of teen girls. Each has a distinguishing feature and it all works so that heroine, her crush, her rival, her friend and others are easily recognized. Throughout the entire book, a river of humor carries through and that same humor is evident in the illustrations. This is a book that could have been heavy and still is emotionally charged. The humor helps that be bearable and makes the book a great read.

A strong and important graphic memoir, this book belongs in every public library graphic novel collection for teens who will enjoy meeting such a strong protagonist. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

Review: George by Alex Gino

George by Alex Gino

George by Alex Gino

Released August 25, 2015.

George was born with the body of a boy but knows that she is really a girl. Her fourth grade classroom is doing a production of Charlotte’s Web and George wants to be Charlotte more than anything. But when she tries out for Charlotte instead of a boy’s part, George’s teacher stops her. George is offered the role of Wilbur, but that is not the character she wants to be since she’s not a boy! As George struggles with the bullies in her class, she also finds allies who embrace her gender. Once her best friend knows about her being transgender, she and George come up with a plan that will let George appear on stage as Charlotte after all. It will also let everyone know exactly who she is.

This book is so crucial. As the mother of a transgender teen, I know that she considered herself a girl from a very young age. Books like this will help young transgender children start to figure out what they are feeling inside and realize that they are not alone. The book focuses on a fourth grader, but trans children of all elementary ages will love this look at their struggles. I also must admit that I cried on page one. Gino does something I have not seen in other books about trans kids. He uses George’s given name combined with the gender pronouns she identifies with. That alone is so powerful and so important and so poignant. Another important moment comes later in the book when George’s best friend is helping her dress as a girl for the first time in public. Gino changes George’s name to her chosen female one once that happens. Another subtle but powerful statement about identity.

George herself is a beautiful protagonist. She represents so much of the struggle of trans kids and yet her own youth doesn’t get lost in the message. George is resilient, funny, and strong. I love the process of George’s mother in coming to terms with her daughter being transgender. It is so real, the denial, the rejection, and eventually the acceptance and importantly, looking for additional help. I also appreciated the school principal being the one who understands trans issues and offers a haven for George in the future. Another important piece in supporting trans kids in our communities.

Important and life-saving for some children, this book demonstrates the acceptance that trans kids need and the power of family and friendship. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.

Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (InfoSoup)

Aaron has always scoffed at the claims that the Leteo Institute could successfully erase memories of traumatic events and allow people a fresh new life. But when his father kills himself in their home, Aaron struggles to go on. After making an attempt on his own life, by carving a smile into his wrist, Aaron has to figure out how to cope in a different way. He does have a great girlfriend, one whose father is rarely home and that gives them time to fool around. He also has a new friend in Thomas, another teen who has a great setup on the roof of his apartment building to watch movies on a huge screen. When Aaron’s girlfriend leaves for an art program, he finds himself growing much closer to Thomas and even starting to think that he may possibly definitely be attracted to him. As Aaron grapples with this new insight into his sexuality, he drifts away from his neighborhood friends: kids who would not accept him being gay. Aaron has to figure out what the truth is about himself and whether he wants to forget it all and start again, straight this time.

Silvera’s book is pure joy. He has teens who talk like teens, swear like teens, fight like teens. They play vicious games based on childhood playground themes that are brilliant and sadistic and real. His teens have sex, multiple times, and deal with the consequences. His urban Bronx setting is a brilliant mix of poverty, race and community that echoes with intolerance and also support. It’s all wonderfully complicated and nothing is simple. There are no real villains, no real heroes and the book is all the better for it.

I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, so I will not refer to how the book resolves or ends. Let me just say that Silvera writes it like it is one book and then it twists and turns and takes you down several roads until you reach the final one with tears streaming down your face. It’s just as sadistic as the playground games the characters play. It’s unfair and brutal and brilliant and alive.

This is a book that speaks volumes about LGBT hate, self-loathing and the lengths we will go to in order to start again fresh and different. One of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg

17-year-old Carson has moved from New York City to Billings, Montana with his mother to take care of the dying alcoholic father he hasn’t seen in 14 years. When they first get to town, his mother drops Carson off at the zoo to spend the day while she handles the initial contact with his father. At the zoo, Carson meets Aisha and finds himself able to speak to a pretty girl for the first time. Aisha is cool, she doesn’t mind his odd sense of humor, and she is also a lesbian. Carson also discovers that Aisha is homeless, thrown out by her father once he found out about her sexuality. Carson begins to discover that there are secrets in his own family, ones that lead him and Aisha to head out on a road trip to explore what happened to his grandfather and what caused him to leave his family and never return. Carson hopes that the answers to these secrets may be enough to help his father heal, but they also have the potential to hurt him badly as well.

I adored Openly Straight by Konigsberg and I am equally excited about this novel. In both, Konigsberg manages to speak to the gay teen experience but he does it in very inventive ways. The focus here is on Carson, a white straight male, but one who is beautifully and hauntingly damaged. Throughout the book, that damage is explored and exposed. Aisha is an incredible character too, an African-American lesbian character who refuses to be anyone’s sidekick or any novel’s secondary character. This is her journey as well, though the two of them are looking for different things along the same path. Konigsberg also takes a hard look at AIDS and early gay activism in this novel, something that is important for modern teens both gay and straight to understand.

I am rarely a fan of road trip novels since they often meander too much for my liking. That is not the case here where the journey is part of the discovery about the characters. The journey is also a way to give these two teens time to talk about big things like families and faith. It offers the core of the novel, a connection between two very different personalities where both of them discover home in one another. Even better, it’s not a romance book at all even though it has a male and a female in the lead roles. Hurrah!

An important addition to the LGBT collections, this book explores faith, sexuality, and family with humor and depth. Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.