Source: review copy provided by publisher
Review by Lydia Sharp
SPEAKING OUT is a diverse collection of short stories about teens who must speak up and take a stand, either for themselves or someone close to them. The stories feature gay teens, lesbian teens, bi teens, and transgender teens, all with different backgrounds and facing different obstacles.
I was especially intrigued by the variety of parental views highlighted in the stories. For example, in the opening story, “Lucky P” by Rigoberto Gonzalez, the main character, Pedro, has already had “the talk” with his parents that he is bisexual. His parents are outwardly supportive of him, but it becomes clear as the story progresses that they don’t really understand him.
In the very last story, “All Gender U” by Sandra McDonald, we see a completely different parental perspective. The main character’s mother has believed, since the day he was born, that he is the reincarnation of her dead sister. He–or more accurately, she–grew up not only feeling that she is a girl born with the wrong parts, but is also a very girly-girl who wears dresses and has long hair and everything that goes into maintaining that, not the least of which involves constant waxing. I loved the viewpoint in this story. Lin is a girl inside of a boy’s body, but her sexual orientation is fluid, open to either boys or girls. It’s a good example of how gender identity is not the same thing as sexual identity.
Touching on something entirely heartbreaking, Dia Pannes’ story, “The Spark of Change”, offers a unique perspective from a girl whose father works as a volunteer fireman. He gets a call about a fire in the area, but no one responds to it (including him) because the home belongs to a lesbian couple. This particular passage highlights how some people, sadly, view others in their very own town.
“People like that should stick to their own. New York. San Francisco. The cities. Where they already have their own community, and they can look out for each other.”
“So if Ms. Gibbs was black, you’d still sit here and let her house burn down? We don’t have no black people up here.”
“How is that different?”
“People can’t help being black.”
“And they can help being gay?”
If you’re in the mood for tears, that’s the story for you.
“Duet: A Story In Haibun” by Charles Jensen is one of those stories you want to read over and over again to savor the beautiful prose. So it’s a bonus that the story itself is just as inviting. Abbott and Lancaster have a wonderfully intimate relationship that goes far beyond the physical. They also come from different family upbringings, which affects their outward actions in opposite ways. The musical imagery and infusion of poetry throughout made this story a favorite for me. It reads like a work of art.
If you prefer characters with grit, then you’ll enjoy “Subtle Poison” by Lucas J.W. Johnson as much as I did. The story is told through the viewpoint of an alcoholic gay teen who has a crush on his friend’s boyfriend. While dealing with this inner conflict he also must stick up for his transgender friend who has recently decided to go public as a boy. This story is uncomfortably crass, intellectually complex, and at times, genuinely tender. It’s the kind of mix I personally love to see in YA.
And as much as I hate to play favorites, I have to admit that my personal favorite of all the stories is “Captain of the World” by Alex Jeffers. This is the story of Burak, a teen who is not only fighting against sexual prejudices for being gay, but also racial and religious prejudices for being a Turkish Muslim. Add to this that he’s the captain of his high school’s soccer team–a confident leader in this particular arena–and at the same time totally insecure about his relationship with a certain someone. He’s afraid of ruining their friendship by acknowledging his crush, and the inner conflict here is refreshingly realistic. His characterization is nothing short of awesome. Burak is the kind of person I would’ve loved to have had as a close friend in high school.
The entire story takes place over the course of a single soccer game. The taunts from a specific player on the opposing team become harder to ignore as the game rolls on, until finally, Burak has no choice but to speak up for himself. Loud and unmistakably clear.
And that’s what this whole anthology is about, really, taking a stand for yourself and others. Because no matter the immediate consequences, seemingly good or bad, in the long run it’s the right thing to do. Always.
About the editor:
Steve Berman sold his first short story at the age of seventeen, so he’s always considered himself a young adult author. His novel, Vintage, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy as well as named to the GLBT Round Table of the American Library Association’s Rainbow Project Book List, which is recommended reading of queer books for children and teens. He has edited the young adult fantasy anthology Magic in the Mirrorstone (a Parade Magazine Pick), as well as Lambda Literary Award finalists Charmed Lives (co-edited with Toby Johnson) and Wilde Stories. He regularly writes queer spec fic short stories for teens—his most recent being a lesbian retelling of the Swan Lake story for The Beastly Bride and a gay vampire tale for Teeth. He has spoken about queer and young adult fiction at numerous conferences around the nation but always returns to New Jersey, as his cat Daulton demands it so.
Full table of contents:
“Lucky P” by Rigoberto Gonzalez
“Day Student” by Sam Cameron
“Gutter Ball” by Danielle Pignataro
“Captain of the World” by Alex Jeffers
“The Proximity of Seniors” by L.A. Fields
“Subtle Poison” by Lucas J.W. Johnson
“Forever Is Composed of Nows” by Will Ludwigsen
“The Spark of Change” by Dia Pannes
“The Trouble With Billy” by Jeffrey Ricker
“Only Lost Boys Are Found” by Steve Berman
“Waiting to Show Her” by Ann Tonsor Zeddies
“Duet: A Story In Haibun” by Charles Jensen
“All Gender U” by Sandra McDonald