Today we bring you an interview with Everett Maroon, author of The Unintentional Time Traveler and Bumbling into Body Hair. In 2011 he was a regular contributor for GayYA– we’re so pleased to have him back for this interview on his books, trans YA, and himself. Hope you enjoy!
Fifteen-year-old Jack Inman has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era. Since his seizures usually give him spazzed out visions, Jack presumes this is a hallucination. Feeling fearless, he steals a horse, expecting that at any moment he’ll wake back up in the clinical trial lab. When that doesn’t happen, Jacqueline falls unexpectedly in love, even as the town in the past becomes swallowed in a fight for its survival. Jack/Jacqueline is caught between two lives and epochs, and must find a way to save everyone around him as well as himself. And all the while, he is losing time, even if he is getting out of algebra class.
Vee: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you identify, to start?
Everett Maroon: I’m boring, that’s why I write books. I have two little kids and a very nice partner, and we live in the middle of nowhere, which lends itself to making up stories and doing things like staring at the clouds to figure out what kind of animal they resemble. I use the term “trans man” to describe myself, so I don’t see myself as at the malest male-y part of the gender binary, but a bit more in the middle. Like a cloud. A big puffy gender cloud.
V: Tell us about your book, The Unintentional Time Traveler (TUTT). What is it about? What should readers expect?
The logline of the book is this: “Jack’s seizures aren’t good for anything, except time travel.” So readers should expect a story that’s well within the boundaries of the time travel genre, but that is trying to pick apart several other things, like imagining disability as something empowering, unpacking gender but not by retelling yet another coming out narrative, trying to play with the idea of family history and how stories get lost between generations of people, and work against the idea of the “hero’s journey,” which is what a lot of YA fantasy and scifi boils down to.
V: Before you wrote TUTT, you wrote a memoir, Bumbling into Body Hair. What was the difference between writing these books for you?
E: Well, everything and nothing. They both are looking to create a new space in their respective genres — I find a lot of trans memoirs are pretty prescriptive, telling trans readers this and only this is the correct way to be a transsexual. That’s baloney. And a lot of YA, even stories that are trying to be more diverse, still center on cis and/or straight and/or white characters. So I wanted to push against the tropes of each genre, but with memoir the writer is trying to pull out the most important story from their own lived experience (or at least the most important for that particular book), and with fiction, well, the whole universe in the book is in play until the pieces make sense and tell the best story possible. I never had to worry about whether something in my life made “sense,” since it was just something I lived. In fact, the stranger a given event in my life, the better for its interestingness in the memoir! Fiction has kind of a stricter boundary with regard to random events.
V: As far as I know, TUTT is currently the only fictional YA book with a trans character that was written by a trans author. As a trans reader, that is so important and amazing and validating. So I wanted to say thank you for that. And also wanted to ask what it’s like to be in that position!
E: God, is that really true? That’s pretty depressing. I know s.e. smith is shopping a fantastic novel about a trans teenage girl so hopefully that’s on the market in the next couple of years. I read several of the YA books on Lambda Literary’s long list this year, and I was concerned that some of the ones with trans characters really didn’t have great messages for trans-identified readers, especially young readers. We really need more trans YA out there. It’s kind of shocking there’s not more.
V: I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons there are so few trans authors writing trans YA is that adolescence is a difficult and uncomfortable period of their life to revisit. What do you think about that? What was it like to write this book for you?
E: Well, there are many reasons we don’t see more trans authors writing trans YA, and that may very well be one of them. Right now we’re on the cusp of what I think is going to be an explosion of trans literature, and by that I mean literature in all genres about the trans experience, written by trans-identified writers. But right now, looking at the publishing industry, there aren’t a lot of trans editors, certainly not at traditional large publishers, though there are a few at some small presses. Agents by and large don’t know how to shop trans book projects, so they just decline to represent writers. I know there are agents out there willing to take on trans-themed projects, but then they have to find a house, the house has to have an editor with cultural competency, etc. I’ve got a hybrid publisher that I work with, and I still have to redirect what can go on the covers of my books, for example. So it could be that the YA publishing machine isn’t really ready for trans YA by trans authors, or that trans writers are just telling other stories that some gatekeeper (including the authors themselves) figure aren’t good for a YA readership. Publishing has a lot of moving parts, and they just haven’t quite come together yet for trans YA to be emergent, but I know it’s going to happen at some point. There are too many interested readers, and not enough books. It will shift because it just has to. But for me, I’m much less concerned with my own adolescence and how it was difficult, than my annoyance that there weren’t books that I could relate to when I was a teen reader. So I have an interest in putting trans youth into popular culture, and I want them to have at least a few books that resonate with trans youth, and I hope my work does that.
V: What was your journey to publication like?
E: It was meandering. I got fourteen or fifteen rejections on the memoir, which was the first book I shopped around. Once I started working with my publisher it was easy to sell them on the YA novel, and it was my editor for the memoir (Jennifer Munro) who found the editor for the novel (Danika Dinsmore), and she was terrific. But yeah, I pounded the pavement for two-plus years to find a publisher for the memoir. I had to winnow it down from 104,000 words to 85,000, and then it was much more sellable. I got close to landing an agent three times, and those are now good relationships that I can think about turning to at some point in the future. Publishing, like every other industry, is about relationships. So even when the rejections hurt, the author needs to stay professional and move on. Getting a reputation as a whiner or defensive will only hurt emerging writers later on.
V: Let’s talk a little more about the book itself. How did having epilepsy as a teen affect the portrayal and inclusion of it in TUTT?
E: So just to clarify, I had epilepsy from the time I was a little more than a year old until I was thirteen. It was really a drag, with a lot of searching for the right medication, and then monthly blood tests to make sure I had enough medication in my system as I grew. I felt fuzzy in the head a lot of the time, but I didn’t know any differently, so I didn’t dwell on it at the time. I’ve had a number of grand mal (they don’t call them this anymore) seizures over the years, and strangely enough my brain always created a false memory for them — I have very vivid “memories” of being on The Price Is Right, which I gave a nod to in TUTT, of a burning shed, other things. I’ve always wondered what the relationship is between actual memory, perceived memory, our cognition, and our dreams, so I wanted to get at some of that in the novel. As a child I would pretend I could teleport, because I would go to sleep in my own bed and wake up in the hospital, so it was a coping strategy and an interesting way to deal with my reality, to make up a story about why I’d been moved, even if I knew very well that someone had brought me to the hospital. And just like Jack, I was teased about it pretty mercilessly in grade school but I had a few good friends who would stand up for me, so I muddled through with their help.
V: You said in a post you wrote for GayYA back in 2011 that you were interested in “making orientation and gender so fluid in the narrative that it would even be difficult to assign a pronoun to the protagonist,” which I think you’ve indeed been successful with. How would you go about explaining Jac(k)’s identity?
E: Well like I said earlier I wanted to write against tropes. I also wanted to write against the idea that all trans people see themselves as absolutely the other gender on the far, far end of the spectrum, and blammo, that is all there is to it. I wanted readers to have a conversation with themselves about who the protagonist becomes by the end of the novel. I want it open for debate whether people think Jack transitioned or not, or (SPOILER) is hiding out in Jacqueline’s life or not. I will close down a few of these possibilities with the second installation of the story (or maybe I won’t!), but for now, I want readers to determine what they think has happened with Jack’s gender identity.
V: There is a fair amount of racial diversity in TUTT, like Jac(k)’s best friend Sanjay and the character Darling. Can you talk about the development of those characters?
E: For the logic of the story, I needed the two major time frames to be a certain distance apart, and I got a lot of pushback from agents that no contemporary YA novel can be set not in present time. They really didn’t like that Jack lived in the 1980s. But the historicity of the novel was important to me for plot reasons, but also to say that our country has its own story to tell, and it is a story that involved a lot of people who were cast to the margins for one reason or another. But without the slave trade, without immigrants of all kinds, without women’s labor (hence the chicken catching scene), we wouldn’t have the country we have today. So I wanted to think about who those people have been, at different moments, to push their communities forward, and what their participation looked like. Darling was the daughter of a freed slave, and Sanjay was first generation American, and Jack really takes their presence in his life and country for granted until they show him why their race and ethnic backgrounds are important. Jeannine too, is Cuban-American, and that will play a larger role in the next story. But I didn’t include these characters in order to tokenize them in the narrative—I wanted to be true to the kind of mixed neighborhood I grew up in and that reflects a lot of people’s neighborhoods and relationships. They each have moments where their specific experience has helped them have insight and they bring their intelligence to Jack’s quest, which will eventually work to support them in return.
V: The Unintentional Time Traveler has a sequel in the works. Can you give us a brief peek into what’s going to happen in it?
E: The working title right now is The Intermediate Time Traveler, suggesting that Jack has some more experience and control over his time travel ability. We will pull out a bit more and see more of his family relationships, but the second book is going to involve his buddies more, and Darling will be making a return as well. This one is going to answer many questions about the Travelers and the Guardians, and their complicated relationship, and reach much further back in time…
Thanks so much for these questions, I really enjoyed commiserating with you about them! And if folks have any more questions, they can ask in the comments or over on Goodreads where I allow for such things in their system. Happy reading, everyone!
Here at GAY YA we are extremely excited about the upcoming SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli, and today we have the pleasure of featuring an excerpt from the book!
Get excited because SIMON it’s an amazing debut, and you do not want to miss it. No seriously, all that praise it has been getting online? Completely worth it and you need to check it ouuuut.
But first, what is it about?
Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
Curious ? The following excerpt, is from one of the emails exchanged between Simon (Jacques in his emails) and Blue. Not only is the book adorable, but the humor is pretty on point…
DATE: Oct 31 at 8:26 AM
SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners
aaah—autocorrect fail. DICK a good guess.
SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA comes out on April 7th, and it was chosen as the GAY YA BOOK CLUB pick for April! Don’t miss out on the fun and pre-order it now: B&N, Amazon, IndieBound. (The date for the official twitter chat will be announced soon.)
Aaaaand if you can’t get enough of SIMON, don’t worry we have got you covered.
And then you can go ahead and read our interview with Becky Albertalli here. See you at the book club!
About the author:
Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers; some of these experiences inspired her debut novel. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Visit her at www.beckyalbertalli.com and on Twitter: @beckyalbertalli.
“…before you go on, yes, most likely whatever you’re about to ask is very rude. If you’re wondering about what’s under my clothing, it’s very rude. If you’re wondering about my genetics, my hormones, my biology… there’s a pretty damn short list of people for whom any of that is actually relevant. Having said that, for the sake of simplifying things: you and I would not be able to have children together, for example, unless we were to adopt or employ some extremely invasive medical science…” Ellis’ face showed that ey was unperturbed, perhaps familiar with impolite questions, and this was a well-rehearsed litany. –Superdome by Casca Green, page 83
The protagonist of my newly-released book is intersex and agender, which was not something I expected. I sat down to write Superdome with a few rough ideas in mind: one of my major characters was bisexual like me, but I wasn’t sure yet if I would even find a way to state or demonstrate this in the text. Prior to er current characterisation, Ellis’ role was filled by three different characters over several drafts, and problems with that role were the reason I kept discarding drafts. First I had an asexual, aromantic girl named Metal as protagonist. Metal was simply too angry to be relatable; she was so consumed by her desire for revenge that she was difficult to write, and I imagine she would have been difficult to relate to. My second draft replaced Metal with Aaron, who I felt was simply too traditional: while was a nice guy, he was fundamentally no different from any other genre-adhering superhero, white, male, and straight with unassailable morals. His mere presence made Superdome feel more like a genre piece than a deconstruction, and he bored me.
Slowly, Ellis started coming together: different powers, different gender, different personality and ideals. Ellis was unlike any other character I had ever written. An intersex, agender person with Antisocial Personality Disorder? There were times when I wondered if I was biting off more than I could chew, but Ellis developed into such a strong personality, demanding er share of the page, and I couldn’t deny em. Ellis’ romantic interest in every draft was pansexual; nothing about these character changes would interfere with the characters’ relationship dynamic in any meaningful way.
Part of the challenge of writing Ellis was placing em in a cultural context that wasn’t a crude extraction of western gender norms. How would the Dome culture handle Ellis’ intersexuality? What about Ellis and Ellis’ family? How would I handle pronouns, and would it be realistic and acceptable to allow other characters to arbitrarily assign a gender to Ellis, before meeting em properly? Ellis broke the floodgate on my hesitation, and my cast quickly evolved to include two lesbians, bisexual, asexual, and pansexual women, a man with a totally unidentifiable sexual orientation, people with disabilities and mobility devices, people with speech and communication disorders, and a Deaf man, all falling across various races and neurotypes. I doubted I’d find a publisher. I doubted I’d find readers.
The only thing I did not doubt was that I wanted this. It stayed true to my desired deconstructive tone and my need to be integral and honest in my writing. The people closest to the “typical” heroes still aren’t “typical” by any definition, and I reject the idea that superhero stories must intrinsically exclude disability. 15% of the population of the real world has at least one disability. One in four people in the US has a mental illness or atypical neurotype. The world of the Dome involves violence and significantly mutated DNA and genetic problems, so filling it with able-bodied, neurotypical, binary-gendered, heterosexual people wouldn’t make sense. Cities in particular have especially high populations of minority races and marginalized demographics; the Dome is a strict archetypal city which does not ignore this fundamental truth.
Why do I try and write marginalized characters, you might wonder. That’s reasonable; content creators should be scrutinized for how their own intersections of privilege and marginalization occur and touch the page. For the record, I have never been “normal.” I knew I was into men and women both, since I was eleven, even if it took me another seven years to admit it, and even longer to learn that non-binary genders exist and offer me no less attraction than binary genders. I’ve struggled with my own assigned gender for the past three years, and still I haven’t reached enough of a conclusion that I would be willing to call myself one gender or another. I was assigned “female” at birth, but I feel displaced from and alienated by much of what that word entails in western culture. I have more than one diagnosed mental illness and chronic physical problems.
I hope to continue to represent MOGAI (LGBT+) individuals and their life experiences in my books, which means Superdome is not the end of my efforts in this regard, but is in fact only a starting point. As of its release, I have yet to write male-male non-platonic relationships or transgender characters, but I do have plans to include both in my future works. My life has compelled me to deeply empathize with marginalized people, no matter the form of marginalization; I have no justification not to represent them, and myself among them, in my writing.
by Suzanne Van Rooyen
Authors need a thick skin. Putting a book out there for others to read takes enormous amounts of courage. Not only does it feel like you’re exposing yourself – if not laying your soul bare for strangers’ eyes – but you’re also opening yourself up to the possibility of criticism, and not just the constructive kind.
All of this I had experienced before with my previous novels, so I knew what was coming when my YA trans novel, The Other Me, made its way into the world. But I wasn’t entirely prepared for the kind of criticism my novel received.
The Other Me is an intensely personal story based on my experiences in high school as well as my own evolving gender identity. I wrote this novel from the heart. How my character feels and sees the world is almost exactly how I felt and experienced things at their age. I didn’t do any research for this novel – aside from the few trans novels I had already read and my own interactions with LGBT+ friends – because it was always a personal story first, a novel second, even when the characters took over and it became more about them than me. At the core of this story is my journey to understanding and accepting who I am.
While my book was mostly received positively, there was inevitably some criticism and I tried my best to learn from it. One reviewer – who identifies as trans – found the novel to have some cliché aspects and cliché expressions in it, such as the idea of being born in the wrong body. When I heard that, I was actually rather delighted because up until writing this novel I didn’t really believe that other people felt the same way I did or had been through what I was still grappling with. So, in hindsight, there are absolutely clichés in The Other Me simply because that was what went on inside my head and how I knew best to express myself at the time.
One of the most interesting and troubling criticisms I received comes from a highly respected trans reader who said they thought certain things in my book just didn’t ring true. This comment gave me a lot of food for thought, especially when it was echoed by other readers, trans and non-trans alike.
…We’re getting into spoiler territory so look away now if you wish…
In The Other Me, my character is struggling with their gender identity, eventually realizing that they want to be a boy, that they ‘are’ a boy albeit still anatomically female. My character doesn’t stop shaving or take up ball sports to compete with boys, they don’t have a particular interest in cars or topless women like the clichéd straight teenage boy; they still have long hair, paint their nails, sing in choir (are those specifically girly things?) and for some readers, this seemed to be a problem. My character wasn’t presenting as male enough to pass for trans.
This made me angry, sad, and concerned. Everyone’s gender identity and journey to that authentic self is going to be different. No one – straight or otherwise, cis or not – has the right to police another person’s identity, to set certain criteria defining an authentic trans experience. Not only is this mode of thinking awfully binary, it undermines the very freedom of identity expression so many in the LGBT+ community have been fighting for. To suggest that an FTM boy isn’t ‘male’ enough because he isn’t into typical ‘boy’ things and doesn’t present the way society has been conditioned to think males should present is extremely unfair and simply perpetuates the cycle of gender stereotyping and misgendering some of us are working so hard to leave in the past where it belongs.
Trans and non-binary teens – and many trans/non-binary adults too – have a hard enough time as it is feeling safe enough to be their authentic selves without facing additional prejudice from those within the LGBT+ community. I don’t believe we should have certain expectations about which experiences are more valid or genuine than others. Should a person who identifies as male never be allowed to wear a skirt again? Does a person who has shaves their head, grows their armpit hair, and never wears lipstick be denied the right to female pronouns? The idea that we within the LGBT+ community are starting to police others is despicable. We should be the last to judge, and yet we are often quick in passing sentence on those who are different from us, or who aren’t different enough from the supposed norm to join our acronymed ranks.
Is The Other Me a perfect book? Of course not, and I don’t expect everyone to like it. There are absolutely things I could’ve done better and I’m so glad I’ve had this opportunity to learn and grow from people in the LGBT+ community through discussion about my book. I was terrified of having The Other Me published, but I’m so glad that I did because of the questions it has raised and the awareness it has created, specifically the awareness it’s created for me as a genderqueer author.
Today, we’re honored to be hosting a short excerpt from the newly released Honey Girl by Lisa Freeman.
The records on my turntable were stacked starting with Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon. When Rox flipped the switch, she listened and said, “I love Joni,” like she was her best friend or something.
It was the first time I had ever seen Rox without her waterproof mascara. She looked younger. Also, wearing my flannel nightgown and slippers, she looked downright sweet.
“Would you like to go to Fiji with me?” she asked, tickling the inside of my hand.
I rolled onto my side and thought before I answered. I imagined us running away together. Maybe we could find an apartment, work as stewardesses, and get fake IDs. It would be great to go to Fiji with Rox. We could kiss all the time, get a cat, name it Jerry, and be best friends forever.
“Yeah, definitely,” I told her.
Rox turned off the lava lamp next to my bed. Her silhouette moved closer, and her teeth glowed white in the dark. I hoped we were going to practice-kiss some more, but she tugged at my robe and said, “Let’s cuddle.”
Rox nuzzled against my ear and nestled her body into me real close.
“I love to cuddle,” she said, twisting the nightgown around her thigh. I waited for her to continue, but she didn’t. She just wrapped her arms around my midsection and pressed her nose into my neck. I guessed we were going to sleep.
Lying all tucked in was the best feeling I ever had.
I tried to breathe at the same time Rox did. It was like Double Dutch jump rope, trying to step in at the right time. Matching Rox’s rhythm was nearly impossible with my heart beating fast until she softly hummed off key with Joni Mitchell’s song “The Circle Game.” Then I relaxed into her.
Rox etched her name into my arm with her fingertips.
“Are we going to play the tickle game?” I asked.
The tickle game felt so good. I closed my eyes and let Rox swirl the tip of her finger slowly up the inside of my arm. When she got to the middle part, just on the other side of my elbow, I was supposed to stop her. That was the point of the game. But I let her keep going all the way to my shoulder because I didn’t want her to ever stop. She said, “I’m too hot in this.”
She took off the nightgown. Naked on her side in the dark, she looked better than Miss December. She was flawless.
The curve of her waist was just an inch from my hand. If I moved even a tiny bit I could touch her. But that inch might as well have been a million miles.
“You wanna go to Fiji?” Rox asked again.
I thought to myself, How great would that be—living on an island, in the middle of nowhere, with Rox? “I’m packed and ready.” I tried to look casual without moving any closer to her and kept an eye on that inch between us.
She smiled so I smiled. She pulled at the tie of my robe.
“It’s hot in Fiji. You better take this off,” she said.
I didn’t want to look like a prude, so I did what she said and laid back down. The distance between us didn’t last long. Rox rolled over me to the other side of the bed.
“Now, pretend you’re Jerry.”
We clutched each other tightly. It was like we were one person, hair tangled, bodies glued together until the third Joni Mitchell record flopped down and was halfway over. She pushed and squeezed herself tightly before letting go of the grip she had around my shoulders.
“Now, pretend I’m Nigel,” she told me.
When we were done, I was on the other side of reality.
Praise for Honey Girl
“Where was this book when I was fifteen? Honey Girl is a daring debut. A fierce story of female friendship, earned acceptance, and following the unwritten rules of Southern California beach boy and girl culture in the’70s.” —Jamie Lee Curtis
“A time machine that zipped me straight back into Southern California in 1972!…Lisa Freeman tells an authentic, funny, poignant, and touching story with a delicate but subversive feminist touch. Paddle out and hang ten with this gnarly read!” —Mimi Pond, author of Over Easy
“If Jane Austen had been a fifteen-year-old Southern California beach girl living in the 1970s, this is very possibly the novel she would have written. Lisa Freeman catches it all: the baby oil for tanning, the abalone bracelets, the taste of salt on skin. Honey Girl is a bildungsroman and book of etiquette rolled into one, and its subject is one of my favorite cultures: the brother (and sister) hood of surfing.” —Jim Krusoe, author of Parsifal
With more publishing options out there than ever before, and many stories of success and failure on every front, how do you know which path is right for you? Traditional, indie, and self-publishing all have their pros and cons. It’s important to know what to expect with each one, but it’s even more important to know yourself and your project.
Know your strengths, your limitations, and your relationship to the project. Each project is different. What is an ideal publishing route for one might not be for another.
In a feature I wrote on publishing, author Steve Almond said, “Do a self-inventory. Ask yourself what sort of publishing experience you want to have. If you’re determined to publish a book with a big New York publisher, then take your patience pills and go that route. The truth is, at this point—provided you have the necessary talent and patience—you get to choose the sort of publishing experience you want to have. And only the writer can know what that is.” Last year when indie publisher 215 Ink offered to publish my debut YA novel, A Boy Like Me, I remembered Steve’s words and did a self-inventory.
At the time 215 Ink offered to publish A Boy Like Me, my agent had the manuscript out to several traditional publishers. We’d only heard back from a couple at that point and their feedback was enthusiastic. However, even though they had very positive things to say about the writing, they passed on it, saying they had something similar, something else LGBTQ.
I could have waited to hear back from the other publishers, waited for the time that A Boy Like Me was that something else, but 215 Ink and I had already successfully published Flutter, Volume One: Hell Can Wait, the first of a graphic novel series. Working with 215 Ink on Flutter, I had a hand in every aspect of the publishing process, from selecting the release date to reviewing all press releases.
As much as I poured my heart and soul into Flutter, A Boy Like Me was even more of a labor of love. Part of the reason was that Flutter’s a complete 50-50 collaboration with artist Jeff McComsey. It’s as much his project as it is mine. Also, A Boy Like Me featured Peyton, a teen transgender boy protagonist. While my agent had it out with the big publishers, I had more than one sleepless night thinking about how the marketing of it would be handled. With a traditional publisher, I’d have little or no say in the cover of the book. They could slap a face of a boy on the cover, instead of letting the reader form their own idea of what Peyton looks like.
Also, I’d have no say on when it would be released. With a traditional publisher the wait could be months, even years. One of the many things I’ve always loved about comics is the fast turnaround on publishing work. Finally, the idea of not having a say in how A Boy Like Me would be marketed, how it would be described in press releases, for example, the terminology used or misused – just the thought had me tossing and turning.
Part of my self-inventory also included looking at the kind of girl I am. Flutter began as a self-published black and white comic series. Publishing that early version of Flutter myself led to a job writing nonfiction features for infoplease.com. It also led to working with 215 Ink on a full color graphic novel series.
Before I turned my focus full time to writing, I played in indie rock bands and worked with indie record labels. While playing in a band in Chicago, I helped organize Ladyfest Midwest. While organizing that four-day event, I began to truly understand what ‘grassroots,’ ‘indie,’ and ‘DIY’ meant. We held several benefits to raise money to pay performers and to keep ticket prices low. We turned down corporate sponsorship. All profits went to two local organizations, Chicago Women’s Health Center and Women in the Director’s Chair. Ladyfest Midwest was an offshoot of the original Ladyfest held in Olympia, Washington, which involved Sleater-Kinney and many other great bands.
Sleater-Kinney has long been one of my favorite bands, for their music and for their indie spirit, which is in everything that they do. Corin Tucker was even an inspiration for Tara, the girl who sees and loves Peyton for who he is in A Boy Like Me. During my self-inventory, everywhere I looked was indie, from previous choices I’d made to artists and musicians I loved. The path for A Boy Like Me became clear.
I’m not putting down other publishing routes. The website I write nonfiction features for is owned by a major publisher and self-publishing an early version of Flutter led to that job. The important thing is to explore all of your options and, when the work is ready, go with the one that feels right for you and the project. You’ll know because your gut, your self-inventory will tell you. Another sign will be that you won’t have to burn any bridges.
My agent supported my decision to go with an indie publisher for A Boy Like Me. In the end, after all the soul searching, it was the best decision for a girl like me.
Jennie Wood is the creator and writer of Flutter, a graphic novel series. The Advocate calls Flutter one of the best LGBT graphic novels of 2013. Bleeding Cool lists Flutter as one of the 15 best indie comics of 2014. Jennie is also an ongoing contributor to the award-winning, New York Times best-selling FUBAR comic anthologies. Foreword Reviews named her debut YA novel one of the 10 best indie YA novels of 2014. Born and raised in North Carolina, Jennie currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with her girlfriend. She writes non-fiction features for infoplease.com and teaches at Grub Street, Boston’s independent writing center. Flutter, Volume Two: Don’t Let Me Die Nervous will be released in 2015. For more: jenniewood.com.
I first read Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight in April, 2014. Ten months later, reading it again, the questions it poses are as powerful as they were the first time.
How do I really feel about being gay? I always thought I was okay with it. Am I though?
Relative to many (most, even) members of the LGBTQ+ community, I have had something of a charmed life. I was never really in any doubt about my sexuality: like Paul from Boy Meets Boy, it just seemed obvious to me. I talk sometimes about my parents having two sets of friends: friends from school (both my parents are teachers), and their lesbian friends from the girl scout camp my mother attended and directed. As I noted in an earlier essay, it was my father who gave me Hey, Dollface. I attended the liberal private schools my parents worked at. My entire 9th grade class was required to take what was essentially an introduction to social justice, and although many of my classmates complained about it, it helped create a baseline dialogue about social justice issues that extended beyond this specific class. I was sorry to hear that we would be the last students to take it.
When, freshman year, an installation art piece was defaced with slurs, it sparked a schoolwide dialogue. A significant portion of the upper school participated in the Day of Silence my freshman year, and the GSA followed up with a presentation on homophobia in schools. Things had changed somewhat by senior year, but it was still, on the whole, a liberal, safe environment.
I have never experienced physical violence because of my sexuality. Only once in my life, senior year of high school, have I been the target of a homophobic slur, and the student who called me and one of the other theater techs “faggots” was subsequently suspended. I deal with microaggressions, like any other gay person, but that’s about the worst of it.
Sometimes I do actually listen to the things straight people say about their lives as straight people. I recently went to a reunion of drama students from my high school, where two of the people I was talking with spent part of the evening reminiscing about their high school romances (plural), and all I could think was
I didn’t kiss another guy until I was twenty.
High school romance was a passing fantasy. I asked a straight guy out senior year, embarrassing myself in the process, but that was it. The idea of there being enough people in my social circle of compatible gender and sexual orientation for me to not only date at all but actually go through multiple relationships just doesn’t quite compute. I would never want to be straight, and yet — sometimes it’s obvious how much easier things would be if I were. I hate it.
Straight people have it so much easier. They don’t understand. They can’t. There’s no such thing as openly straight.
Last summer, through a combination of chance and nepotism, I was able to go to Japan for four weeks in August. Thrust suddenly into a new group of people, I found my high school habits coming back. “I’ll tell them eventually,” I said to myself. “Just not yet. Maybe it’ll come up naturally.”
There are not a lot of contexts where “by the way, I’m gay” is a natural addition to the conversation.
For the first week and a half or so, I was Rafe: “I was elated. That was the feeling in my chest. Elation.” I never exactly said I was straight — if anyone had asked me outright (one person did), I would have told the truth. But it was assumed. I was deeply amused that people thought I was dating one of my close (female) friends. I made straight guy friends in a way I never really had before. The barrier came down.
The longer it went on, though, the more I hated not being able to talk about this key part of myself and my experiences. Every interaction felt like a lie. “When I put away the label,” Rafe says, “things were great for a bit because the burden of it all went away. But then it was like I went away too, and that part sucked.”
Not until my second to last night did an opportunity present itself, and I seized it: “This seems like a good time to mention that I’m gay.” And I was me again, more or less.
I wonder, though, how things might have been if I had been that comfortable in my skin from day one. If I could have been that comfortable.
After I came out during high school, one of my parents’ lesbian friends mentioned that there was an LGBTQ+ youth group at her church, if I was interested. I said I’d think about it, and I did, briefly. The idea of outing myself like that, even in a relatively contained environment, seemed impossibly daunting.
I don’t think being gay is a curse. Definitely not. But we all know that being open about it comes with a lot of things that make life harder. Even if you have great parents and a school where you’re treated well, it adds stuff to your life.
I can’t change the choices I made in high school, but I wonder, now, how things might have been if I had gone. How much the defense mechanisms, the straight-acting techniques I built up in high school have hurt, rather than helped, me. Part of me is angry with myself for not being a little braver, for denying myself that chance, for not taking advantage of my safe surroundings. Who could I have been if I had felt different about my place in the world?
Another part of me whispers, not unreasonably, that the homophobia I internalized, the microaggressions, the low-level heterosexual discomfort — in short, all the things that convinced me not to be open about my sexuality — none of these are my fault. The first question leads inevitably to a second one: who could I have been if the world had been different?
I’ll never get to know.
Nathaniel Harrington was born and raised in suburbs of Boston, studied (comparative) literature in college, and is currently improving his Gaelic on the Isle of Skye. He has been writing gay YA since 2008 and reading it since 2009; someday he hopes to be able to share it with others in a format that isn’t half-finished NaNoWriMo first drafts and miscellaneous fragments. He enjoys working out the details of magic systems, doing citations for academic papers, reading in several languages (although he has yet to read any LGBTQ YA in a language other than English; suggestions are welcome), and obsessively categorizing books he reads on Goodreads.
We’re so happy to be revealing the cover of Pat Schmatz’s newest novel, Lizard Radio! Lizard Radio will be released September 2015. I could go on for quite awhile about how excited I am for this book, but I think you’ll experience the excitement yourself, as you learn more about this book, without any prompting.
First, here is the newly released blurb! FEAST YOUR EYES.
Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz:
Fifteen-year-old bender Kivali has had a rough time in a gender-rigid culture. Abandoned as a baby and raised by Sheila, an ardent nonconformist, Kivali has always been surrounded by uncertainty. Where did she come from? Is it true what Sheila says, that she was deposited on Earth by the mysterious saurians? What are you? People ask, and Kivali isn’t sure. Boy/girl? Human/lizard? Both/neither?
Now she’s in CropCamp, with all of its schedules and regs, and the first real friends she’s ever had. Strange occurrences and complicated relationships raise questions Kivali has never before had to consider. But she has a gift—the power to enter a trancelike state to harness the “knowings” inside her. She has Lizard Radio. Will it be enough to save her? A coming-of-age story rich in friendships and the shattering emotions of first love, this deeply felt novel will resonate with teens just emerging as adults in a sometimes hostile world.
here is the cover!!!!!!!!
Eeeee! I love it a lot! For some reason I have always been a huge fan of circles, so this design pleases me greatly. And I LOVE the silhouettes and the colors and aaaaugh. I’m looking forward to having this on my shelf.
I also got the chance to ask Pat a few questions!
Vee: What can you tell us about Lizard Radio? What should we expect?
Pat Schmatz: In Lizard Radio, you can expect many blurred lines. Kivali Kerwin, the protagonist, duels with CropCamp authority on questions of independence, power and leadership. New friendships and feelings push Kivali to question everything about herself, her background, her nature and her future.
V: Talk to us a bit about the world of Lizard Radio– it seems pretty futuristic, but still maintains some things from our culture, like the gender-rigidity. There are also many terms in the blurb that are piquing my curiosity. Without giving away too much, can you tell us a bit about the world we’ll step into when we open this book?
PS: Lizard Radio takes place in “a world similar to ours, with some genetic twists and decisional turns.” It is not necessarily futuristic. It is one of the ways I can imagine our own world going, or having gone. In this world, it is mandatory for all teens to attend three months of an educational work camp between their 15th and 18th birthdays. Camp certification is their official transition into adulthood.
Kivali is a “bender” – meaning she landed between 48 and 52 on the mandatory gender-testing scale. She chose not to transition, and barely passed post-decision-gender training. Her guardian Sheila unexpectedly sends her to CropCamp just a few weeks after her 15th birthday, to learn about raising organic crops. What Kivali doesn’t bargain for are the extracurricular lessons in love, sex, loyalty and power.
V: Let’s talk about the cover! What are your thoughts on it? How does it relate to the book?
PS: I love the cover! Kivali and the Komodo dragon whisper to each other among shimmering circles that capture the essence of Kivali’s Lizard Radio – the fantasy-flavored hum, the shifting shadows, the chitter and moan. Waiting to see cover design is one of my favorite parts of the book process, especially when the designer comes up with something beyond what I could have dreamed.
V: Lizard Radio sounds like nothing we’ve ever seen in YA before. There are not many books that have nonbinary or gender-variant characters in them, and none of the ones that I can think of are in alternate realities?. How did the idea for this book come to you, how did the book start to take shape?
PS: There are many aspects of this story that have been roiling around in me for a long time – things I’ve been afraid to write about, or not sure how to start. Kivali snuck in some years back when I was doodling around between books. For several weeks, I drew pictures of a lizard. The lizard began to mutter about being a lone lizard dropped in a hostile world. I kept drawing. One day, the lizard appeared wearing headphones and saying “Hello – hello? Are you there? The signal’s weak.” I began to study lizards, especially Komodo dragons, and Kivali began to reveal herself – at first, mostly in poetry. From then on, it was a matter of learning to tune in and listen.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND MY EXCITEMENT NOW???? I MEAN. YA’LL.
Make sure and add Lizard Radio on Goodreads.
March 2nd (USA)
Top 250 LGBTQ Books for Teens: Coming Out, Being Out, and the Search for Community by Michael Cart — (LGBTQAI+)
Goodreads Summary: “A summary of the 250 best books for LGBTQ teens, written by experts on the subject and addressed to teen book buyers. Identifying titles that address the sensitive and important topics of coming out, being out, and the search for community, this catalog spotlights the best gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, and questioning books written for teens. The authors cover fiction of all kinds, as well as graphic novels and general nonfiction aimed at readers in middle school and high school, and include recent publications as well as classics that continue to be read and enjoyed by 21st-century teens. Information on how to find library programs, services, and additional resources for LGBTQ teens is also provided, making this a one-stop sourcebook for LGBTQ teens, their families, friends, and classmates, as well as teachers and librarians.”
March 3rd (USA)
GAY YA BOOK CLUB’S PICK OF THE MONTH!
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz — (BISEXUAL)
Goodreads Summary: “Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown. Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; and not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere— until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca seems like Etta’s salvation, but how can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself? The latest powerful, original novel from Hannah Moskowitz is the story about living in and outside communities and stereotypes, and defining your own identity.”
March 5th (USA)
I’ll Always Miss You by Raine O’ Tierney — (BISEXUAL, GAY)
Goodreads Summary: “Isa Zaman might forgive his parents for taking in a friend’s son if only he wasn’t the most boring teenager in the universe. Macklin “Mackie” Cormack’s only interests are reading and the outdoors. Yeah, right. Isa’s convinced Mackie is either a pyro or a klepto. Plus, as a white kid, Mackie looks ridiculous in the Zamans’ Arab American household. Forced to share a bedroom, the boys keep butting heads until an absurd fight finally breaks the tension between them.
Isa’s just starting to figure life out: this new houseguest, his cultural identity, school, and even girls, when the entire family is uprooted from their home for reasons Isa can’t understand. They move from their tiny city apartment to a giant, old house in a small town, hours away from everything he’s ever known. Oh, and the new house? It’s probably haunted, or so says the blank-faced ten-year-old next door. As if things weren’t weird enough, Isa’s friendship with Mackie suddenly takes a strange turn down a path Isa’s not sure he’s ready to follow. It turns out Mackie Cormack isn’t nearly as boring as Isa once imagined.”
March 10th (USA)
Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles — (GAY)
Goodreads Summary: “Does anyone ever see us for who we really are? Jo Knowles’s revelatory novel of interlocking stories peers behind the scrim as it follows nine teens and one teacher through a seemingly ordinary day. Thanks to a bully in gym class, unpopular Nate suffers a broken finger—the middle one, splinted to flip off the world. It won’t be the last time a middle finger is raised on this day. Dreamer Claire envisions herself sitting in an artsy café, filling a journal, but fate has other plans. One cheerleader dates a closeted basketball star; another questions just how, as a “big girl,” she fits in. A group of boys scam drivers for beer money without remorse—or so it seems. Over the course of a single day, these voices and others speak loud and clear about the complex dance that is life in a small town. They resonate in a gritty and unflinching portrayal of a day like any other, with ordinary traumas, heartbreak, and revenge. But on any given day, the line where presentation and perception meet is a tenuous one, so hard to discern. Unless, of course, one looks a little closer—and reads between the lines.”
March 12th (USA)
The Grim Life by K.D Worth — (GAY)
Summary: “Max Shaw is dead. Well, sort of. After dying on prom night, Max was recruited by a mysterious tattooed angel named Slade to join a group of teenage reapers. Cocky and sarcastic, Max thinks he has his afterlife together, but the moment Slade assigns him to his first suicide case, everything changes. Christian college student Kody Michaels is struggling to make sense of his life and his faith. After a failed suicide attempt at an antigay camp, Kody is determined not to fail again. Tired of disappointing his family and God, he is going to end his life once and for all. But in a split-second decision, Max saves Kody—defying the rules of a reaper. Max believes his only concern is convincing Kody that God loves him just the way he is, so he can save him from a hellish afterlife as a shade. Little does Max know, some shades have found a way to walk among the living as wraiths. These evil wraiths know Kody has been slated for death, and they have another, darker purpose for him. Max has only one night to save Kody before one of Slade’s team finishes the job Max lacked the courage to complete.”
March 17th (USA)
Honey Girl by Lisa Freeman — (LESBIAN)
Goodreads Summary: “How to survive California’s hottest surf spot: Never go anywhere without a bathing suit. Never cut your hair. Never let them see you panic. The year is 1972. Fifteen-year-old Haunani “Nani” Grace Nuuhiwa is transplanted from her home in Hawaii to Santa Monica, California after her father’s fatal heart attack. Now the proverbial fish-out-of-water, Nani struggles to adjust to her new life with her alcoholic white (haole) mother and the lineup of mean girls who rule State Beach. Following “The Rules”—an unspoken list of dos and don’ts—Nani makes contact with Rox, the leader of the lineup. Through a harrowing series of initiations, Nani not only gets accepted into the lineup, she gains the attention of surf god, Nigel McBride. But maintaining stardom is harder than achieving it. Nani is keeping several secrets that, if revealed, could ruin everything she’s worked so hard to achieve. Secret #1: She’s stolen her dad’s ashes and hidden them from her mom. Secret #2: In order to get in with Rox and her crew, she spied on them and now knows far more than they could ever let her get away with. And most deadly of all, Secret #3: She likes girls, and may very well be in love with Rox.”
March 17th (USA)
Hold Me Closer by David Levithan — (GAY)
Goodreads Summary: “It’s Tiny Cooper’s turn in the spotlight in this companion novel to New York Times bestseller Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
Jazz hands at the ready! Tiny Cooper (“the world’s largest person who is also really, really gay”) stole readers’ hearts when he was introduced to the world in the New York Times bestselling book Will Grayson, Will Grayson,co-authored by John Green and David Levithan. Now Tiny finally gets to tell his story—from his fabulous birth and childhood to his quest for true love and his infamous parade of ex-boyfriends—the way he always intended: as a musical! Filled with honesty, humor, and “big, lively, belty” musical numbers, the novel is told through the full script of the musical first introduced in Will Grayson, Will Grayson.”
March 17th (USA)
Fifty-Yards and Holding by David-Matthew Barnes — (GAY)
Goodreads Summary: “Victor Alvarez is in serious trouble. Now seventeen and flunking out of high school, he’s been chosen as the leader of the violent street gang he’s been a member of since he was thirteen. Riley Brewer has just broken a state record as the star of their high school baseball team. When Riley and Victor meet by chance, a connection begins to grow. When friendship turns to love, both young men realize their reputations contradict who they really are. Once their secret relationship is discovered, Victor realizes their lives are at risk. Refusing to hide in order to survive, Riley vows that only death can keep him apart from Victor.”
March 17th (USA)
Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson — (GAY) + (NEW ADULT)
Goodreads Summary: “With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon. As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry. But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion. Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding.”
March 19th (USA)
Ray of Sunlight by Brynn Stein — (BISEXUAL, GAY)
Summary: “Russ Michaels has his whole life ahead of him but no plans beyond dropping out of school as soon as he turns eighteen. He’s been in and out of juvenile detention for the last four years and thoroughly expects to end up in an adult penitentiary at some point. He hates life and everyone in it, especially this latest community service that he earned in lieu of juvie yet again. CJ Calhoun has big plans. He wants to bring joy and happiness to sick and injured children for as long as he can by performing as a clown. The problem is, he has stage-four cancer and a horrible prognosis. When circumstances throw these two polar opposites together, they find they have more in common than they imagined. CJ discovers Russ’s talent for art and arranges for Russ to create a mural in the hospital foyer, which leads to a tentative scholarship to the Art Institute. As life changes in ways neither of them could have expected, Russ must work harder than ever to better himself as CJ struggles with his deteriorating health.”
March 26th (USA)
Life Beyond the Temple by Nikolai Joslin — (LESBIAN)
Summary: “Casey Kelley, a powerful young mage, has spent her whole life inside the walls of the Temple. The day she leaves to venture into the real world, the Old Ones task her with killing a dangerous necromancer who is gaining strength. She is joined by knight protector Regan Cartmell. Society may despise mages, but Regan never did, and she has sworn to protect Casey, even at the price of her own life.
Pickpocket Cameron is a mage whose father escaped the Temple, choosing to raise her in secret. After her parents were killed, she was forced to live on the streets, gaining a deep distrust for mages. She wants nothing to do with the Temple or magic of any kind.
The three friends must put aside their differences and defeat the growing evil before it spreads.”
March 31th (USA)
Playing a Part by Daria Wilke, Marian Schwartz — (GAY)
Goodreads Summary: “In June 2013, the Russian government passed laws prohibiting “gay propaganda,” threatening jail time and fines to offenders. That same month, in spite of these harsh laws, a Russian publisher released Playing a Part, a young adult novel with openly gay characters. It was a brave, bold act, and now this groundbreaking story has been translated for American readers.
In Playing a Part, Grisha adores everything about the Moscow puppet theater where his parents work, and spends as much time there as he can. But life outside the theater is not so wonderful. The boys in Grisha’s class bully him mercilessly, and his own grandfather says hateful things about how he’s not “masculine” enough. Life goes from bad to worse when Grisha learns that Sam, his favorite actor and mentor, is moving: He’s leaving the country to escape the extreme homophobia he faces in Russia.
How Grisha overcomes these trials and writes himself a new role in his own story is heartfelt, courageous, and hopeful.”
BONUS! Our friends at VITALITY, a literary magazine featuring LGBTQAI+ protagonists, have launched their first issue! Go check it out and buy a copy here.
More info from their website: “Vitality is a literary magazine publishing exciting, entertaining fiction featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists. What we hear people asking for, most often, is more stories featuring queer people – and not just serious, often difficult-to-read “issue” work dealing with the hard stresses of real life, but fun stories that happen to be about queer characters, and portray queerness in a positive way. In answer to this need, Vitality seeks to be an escape for the reader. A safe place full of wonder and awesome where the reader can see characters like themselves doing things like battling dragons, solving crimes, acting in a circus, or traveling the world. All genres and styles can be found in Vitality. The only limit is your imagination.”
FROM PREVIOUS MONTHS:
January 29th (USA)
The Flywheel by Erin Gough
High Heels and Lipstick by Jo Ramsey — (LESBIAN, BISEXUAL)
Stealing Bases by Anne Key — (LESBIAN)
At the Lake by Geoff Laughton — (GAY)
by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012) opens in the summer of 1987 in El Paso, Texas and follows Aristotle Mendoza’s journey toward self-discovery. Fifteen year old Ari is smart and witty but quite isolated from other boys his own age. However, after meeting Dante Quintana at the pool he begins to feel a renowned interest in life and an unfamiliar feeling for Dante. Benjamin Alire Saenz creates a beautiful flourishing relationship between the two young boys that forces both of them to look inward. Ari and Dante find solace, friendship, and love in one another that helps them overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. Saenz’s novel speaks to the innocence and pain of accepting one’s cultural and sexual identity in a society that might not be as accepting. Aristotle and Dante is a fabulous novel for many reasons but here are five reasons why you should love it too.
1. There’s an important discussion on a family member in prison
One of the issues burdening Ari’s identity is the silence around his brother’s incarceration. While his parents refuse to speak about Bernardo and what he did to end up in prison, his presence is still very much palpable for Ari. His parents’ shame of having a son in prison dictates what they expect from Ari and this becomes too much of a weight for him. After Ari gets into a fight and sends another young man to the hospital it is revealed that Bernardo went to prison for doing something similar. Ari’s parents fear that he may be headed down the same path. Saenz’s discussion on a family member in prison complicates the novel and makes it more than a simple coming out narrative. Ari must contend with what it means to be a man of color in his present society and his brother is a constant reminder of the racism and discrimination that men of color face. Ari cannot fully embrace his sexuality until he comes to terms with what Bernardo represents about Latino masculinity and how those terms define Ari. The focus of the novel is certainly Ari’s coming-out; however, Saenz’s makes it evident that Ari’s intersectionality with race, ethnicity, and class are also contributing factors to understanding the character as queer.
2. You’ll wish Dante was a real person so y’all can hang out
Dante first meets Ari at the pool and they bond over their rather unusual names. Dante is different than the other guy’s Ari knows and is estranged from. He is intelligent, kind, and vulnerable. Ari and Dante become inseparable that summer and spend much of their time reading, writing, and taking the bus around town. Dante’s romantic view of the world is new to Ari who has a darker vision of society. His positive outlook, though, sometimes gets Dante into trouble and Ari becomes protective of him. Dante forces Ari out of his comfort zone and into a special, almost magical, place of self-discovery. With Dante, Saenz has created an opportunity to talk about how class, ethnicity, and sexuality intersect. His father is a professor and his mother is a psychologist and while they are both supportive of his queer identity, he still feels like does not fit in with other Mexicans/Mexican Americans. Many readers will be able to identify with Ari because he can’t quite seem to find a place where he belongs and these readers will wish for a friend like Dante. Dante gives Ari hope and we all either have or need someone like that in our lives.
3. Ari and Dante’s passion for literature is contagious
One of the subjects that Ari and Dante bond over is literature. The accessibility to literature that the boys and their families have is extremely important because it challenges many stereotypes about literacy and education in relationship to Mexican-American communities. While it certainly helps that Dante’s father is an English professor, and it says plenty about class, this accessibility remains significant because they use it as part of their healing process. The books that Ari and Dante share help them process much of what they understand about the world around them. Books also allow them to connect to their parents in ways they didn’t know was possible. For example, Ari learns that his father’s favorite book is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Other literary references in the novel include Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, The Grapes of Wrath, War and Peace, and W.S. Merwin. Reading leads Ari and Dante to begin journaling and writing letters to one another. Writing allows Ari to process many of the nightmares he has and it allows him to stay connected to Dante. It is through these letters that the Ari and Dante talk about issues like kissing, smoking, and masturbating. Whereas the books and the letters promote a healing process in Ari and Dante’s life, they also encourage the novel’s readers to delve into a literary world with which they may not be familiar.
4. Ari’s genuine desire to have a relationship with his father
It is likely that Ari’s father suffers from PTSD after serving in Vietnam. Mr. Mendoza’s silence about Bernardo and the war make it difficult for Ari to get close to him and this distance pains Ari. Throughout the novel, Dante becomes a catalyst through which Ari gets to know more about his father. By knowing his father he gains more knowledge about his family and about what it means to be a man. However, Mr. Mendoza recognizes his son’s inner struggle and is there to help him come-out. The father/son relationships in Aristotle and Dante are more supportive than those found in other young adult Latino gay novels. Most often the fathers either reject their son’s gay identity or are entirely absent from their lives as is the case in Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys and Charles Rice-Gonzalez’s Chulito, for example. While Ari and his father definitely have some important issues to work through, his father is there to support him when it matters most. Ari’s desire to have a relationship stems from a desire to accept himself. By the end of the novel, Mr. Mendoza becomes instrumental in helping Ari see that he loves Dante and is able to go after him. In Ari’s coming out process, it is significant that he has relationships with the other men in his family. That he can have some sort of a relationship with them by the end of the novel is a beautiful gesture.
5. Because “I don’t think liking boys is an American invention”
Aristotle and Dante creates a space to discuss the intersectionality of being queer and Latino. Ari struggles to come out because he has some unresolved issues with the other men in his family, who are essential in defining Latino masculinity for him. Dante is openly queer but he struggles with feeling a connection with his cultural identity. He feels that his class status and his sexuality separate him from the Mexican community around him. Dante’s fear is a real experience that many Latino youth face. Often times, queerness is constructed and understood as an identity only accessible to white people. In claiming a queer identity, Dante feels further removed from his cultural community. However, Ari and Dante, and other queer characters of color, complicate and challenge these misconceptions. Dante reveals to Ari that he does not feel Mexican because he likes boys and Ari replies that he doesn’t “think liking boys is an American invention.” Ari’s nonchalant reaction is powerful because he directly challenges notions about who can claim a queer identity while simultaneously creating a space where he and Dante can exist. Saenz’s novel contests many stereotypes about queer and Latino communities; in doing so, he further affirms to queer Latino youth that their experiences are legitimate.
Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of California Riverside doing research in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature. When she’s not reading or writing about Latina/o kids lit she spends her time reacquainting herself with her home city of Chicago. She is also a contributing blogger for Latinos in Kids Lit. Follow her on twitter @mariposachula8
 Saenz is the author of several young adult novels and children’s books including Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, Carry Me Like Water, Names on a Map, Last Night I Sang to the Monster, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, and A Gift from Papá Diego. Aristotle and Dante has won numerous accolades including a Pura Belpre Award, a Stonewall Book Award, and a Lambda Literary Award.