Identity and acceptance

keeping you a secretTITLE = KEEPING YOU A SECRET

AUTHOR = JULIE ANNE PETERS

GENRE = IDENTITY, GAY THEMES, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 +

Holland Jaeger is in her last semester of school and life seems fairly comfortable: she is popular, athletic, head of the student council, has a charming boyfriend (Seth) and two close girl buddies. Yet beneath the surface, Holland is worried: her mother is nagging her about college applications, which is driving her crazy, and she feels just a tad overwhelmed by her subject load. Why has she even taken on art as a subject and is she really happy with Seth??

But things are about to change for Holland: from the time she first spies the new girl whose locker is across the hall from hers. Cece is different. Out and proud, she is not afraid to advertise her sexuality (with bold T-shirts) and she is keen to start a gay & lesbian club at her new school. Unfortunately, the school may not be ready for Cece and her gay pride. More importantly for Holland, why does she suddenly feel so attracted to this girl – she has had girl crushes before but she has never felt like this?

Forced to examine her feelings and consider her own sexual identity, Holland struggles to be accepted by her friends and family. She is shocked by their reactions and her easy life disappears before her eyes. Will she have the strength to follow her feelings and be true to herself?

This is a moving story about identity, relationships and family. It may be set in an American high school and at times seem a little dated but the characters are credible and the storyline is still relevant for Aussie readers.

Recommended (dma) ****

A thoughtful account of gay life

2 boys kissingTITLE = two boys kissing  

AUTHOR = DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, HOMOSEXUALITY, ROMANCE, LOSS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 -12

As the title suggests, this novel is about two boys kissing, quite literally, but at its heart it is really about relationships and love. Craig and Harry are the 2 boys who have pledged to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss. Ex-boyfriends, they are making their world record attempt on the front lawn of their high school. Both boys are openly gay but whilst Harry’s parents are supportive, Craig’s parents are unaware their son is gay … until his Mum stumbles upon them in their record breaking attempt!

Against the background of this kiss, we also watch two other teenaged gay couples: Peter and Neil have been together for a year (again, one with his parents’ full knowledge and consent, the other in a more circumspect situation) whilst blue-haired Ryan and pink-haired Avery have only just met. AS these 3 couples navigate the course of their relationships, it becomes apparent that apart from their feelings for each other, their relationships with their parents and families is quite crucial. So the saddest story thread of all, is that of Cooper, the teenager who can barely come out to himself let alone his peers and parents. His world has narrowed to a unsatisfying virtual existence and readers will be following his story with an ever-growing sense of dread.

Whilst this novel is moving and insightful, it may take a few pages for the reader to feel truly at ease. This is because instead of dipping straight into a delightful David Levithan world of teenage characters with smart and perceptive dialogue, the first voice we hear in this novel is one of commentary, much like a Greek chorus: it gradually becomes apparent that this is the voice of gay men past – those many gay men who were lost to the blight of the AIDS epidemic. So the modern day story of the many and varied gay relationships in “two boys kissing” is filtered through this commentary from gay men of the past. And gradually this voice becomes a more natural part of the overall narrative so that it no longer interrupts the modern story but rather adds greater depth and meaning.

It is 10 years since David Levithan wrote the ground-breaking “Boy meets boy” (read a review here) – and this new novel is very much building upon that first delve into the ups and downs of  gay relationships, the highs and lows of love and life. For more info about David and/or this novel, check out his website.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky awards.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Boy meets boy

TITLE = BOY MEETS BOY  

AUTHOR = DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, HOMOSEXUALITY, ROMANCE, LOSS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 -12

This novel was acknowledged to be a trend-setter when it was first published, as few Young Adult novels at that time had put gay characters fair and square in the centre of the story, and such a wonderful story, at that. Paul has known that he was gay from a very young age and he has the full support of his caring family, friends and school. So life seems unfailingly good. However, through Paul’s friends, we see that not all gay young men find life so easy: Noah has been badly hurt in a past relationship, Kyle is afraid to acknowledge his own gay sexuality whilst Tony feels he must hide his gay self out of respect for his deeply religious (but loving) parents. As Paul attempts to navigate the path of friendship and burgeoning love, there are moments of laughter and moments of real tenderness. This is a beautifully crafted and uplifting story.

Highly Recommended (Deb Marshall)