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) *****

How one family copes with life’s many challenges

stressheadTITLE =STRESSHEAD

AUTHOR =ALLAYNE WEBSTER

GENRE =FAMILIES, GROWING UP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 AND UP

The cover may suggest this is a lighthearted read about a drama queen but in fact, it is much more. Denise (or Dennie, to her family and best friends) has a bit of a reputation for being a stresshead  and in the opening pages this seems justified, as she seems obsessed with worry over her exam results and why her boyfriend hasn’t called her for 4 days. So obsessed that she misses the early signs that there is something much more worrying on the radar: her Mum’s possible health scare. And once her Mum’s condition is known, the reader will discover that the novel is as much about families and secrets as it is about resilience and dealing with stress. And it seems that everyone in this novel has a secret!

One of the best parts about the novel is the portrait of Dennie’s family who are wonderfully real: they don’t always say the right thing, they don’t always tell each other the truth and they don’t always behave in the right way (in fact, poor Dennie has to witness her parents having a major tantrum in Maccas!!) As in all families, some members get along better than others. Friends are important too in this novel and Mum’s friend, Clara, is a wonderfully comic and ascerbic character – who can get away with her sharp tongue perhaps because she is a friend (and not family).

Although there are some serious issues in this novel (two minor characters are struggling with gay identity issues and Mum’s health issue could be life threatening) there are also many moments of humour and lightness to provide a refreshing balance to some of these concerns. The novel also ends on a positive and upbeat note.

A delightfully engaging story that should be enjoyed by teen girls in particular.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A beautiful and thoughtful picture book

and tango makes 3TITLE = And tango makes three

AUTHORS = Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell

ILLUSTRATOR =  Henry Cole

GENRE = FAMILIES

INTEREST LEVEL = ALL AGES

This is a delightful picture book about families: their differences and their similarities. Roy and Silo are two male penguins who live in Central Park Zoo and are best of friends. They swim and sing and walk together just like all the other penguin couples. And when the other couples make nests and hatch eggs, Ron and Silo try and copy them, sadly without success. Eventually, their keeper, Mr Gramzay takes pity on them and gives them a real penguin egg to hatch, and thus Tango comes into being, making their family unit complete. The softly textured, realistic and detailed illustrations in this picture book complement the gentle story line beautifully. And the Author’s note at the end (explaining the factual basis behind this tale) only adds to the warmth of the whole book. A picture book that is sure to be enjoyed by readers of any age.

A deserving winner of numerous awards.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Behind some games lurks a hidden danger

Headgames_cover.inddTITLE = HEADGAMES

AUTHOR = Casey Lever

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

This is an intriguing novel, with a strong sense of tension in the early chapters. Five teenagers decide to play a dangerous game of Truth and Dare, where the truths they have to face reveal something of their inner fears. Gradually the fears of the five teens is revealed: fears about their sexuality, about the grieving process (after the loss of a parent), fears about never breaking out of the poverty cycle or a life of crime . However, what the teens learn is that although confronting their fears is painful, facing the truth can also provide the opportunity for them to gain a deeper understanding of themselves or for others to offer support and understanding. Friends can become important in helping all of them to survive their family situations or to build stronger bonds with the family who matter most to them. A compelling read.

Highly recommended (dma) *****

The uncertainty of growing up

peterTITLE = PETER

Author = Kate Walker

Genre = Sexuality, Identity

Interest level = Years 9 and up

Although this novel was written nearly 20 years ago it does not seem dated as the characters and the central situation are all too real. Peter’s passions are motor bikes and photography and he is s killed at both. But he isn’t quite sure where he fits in the world. His dirt biking “friends” are obsessed with proving how macho they are by taking risks, talking rough and labelling anyone who doesn’t fit in as a “poof”. His best mate is obsessed with sex and setting Peter up with a girlfriend. So Peter begins to worry about his own sexuality when he doesn’t seem attracted to these girls and even more so, when he begins to have feelings for his brother’s best friend, David, who happens to be gay. Does this mean Peter is gay?? At 15, when he hasn’t even had sex yet, how is he supposed to know and what will it mean for him if he is gay?? Especially with a father who seems to think gays are in need of a cure (in other words, a good beating). This is a compelling novel as Peter’s dilemma unfolds with increasing urgency and the ending is also realistic. A CBCA short listed book.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Life as an extravaganza

will-grayson-will-graysonTITLE = Will Grayson, Will Grayson

AUTHORS = John Green & David Levithan

GENRE = Relationships, Friendship, Growing up, Sexuality

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 10 and up

As the title indicates, this novel is based on two characters with the same name. John Green’s Will Grayson is rather timid about life (in fact, avoiding emotion and keeping quiet are his basic rules for existence). His best friend (Tiny Cooper) is exuberantly gay, falls in love every hour and is writing a musical extravaganza. David Levithan’s Will Grayson is depressed, moody and gay (although he hasn’t really told anyone this yet, not even his so-called best friend, Maura). Both Will’s meet under unexpected and amusing circumstances; they become intertwined when Tiny becomes the boyfriend of the sad and moody, Other Will. The journey for each Will is a little bumpy but often quite funny and refreshingly uplifting as they both learn that friendship and taking a chance can bring the best rewards…. and the best finale possible for Tiny’s extraordinary “Life of Will” showpiece!

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

DO REAL MEN CRY?

boys don't cry

TITLE = BOYS DON’T CRY

AUTHOR = Malorie Blackman

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP, SEXUALITY

INTEREST LEVEL= YEARS 10 AND UP

This is a gripping and gritty novel about two brothers (Dante and Adam) who take it in turns to tell their stories.  As the cover suggests, the focus for much of the novel is on Dante, whose life is turned on its head when he discovers that at just 17 years of age, he is the father of a young baby daughter, Emma. As Emma’s young mum feels she can no longer cope with a baby, Dante is left, quite literally holding the baby. And we watch as Dante struggles to cope with the new responsibility and the new direction of his life. And whilst his dad offers practical suppport Dante can’t help but feel is father’s disappointment. However, during the last third of the novel, Adam’s story gradually comes to the fore. Adam wants to live life out loud and he is open about being gay, a fact that Dante and his dad tend to ignore (Dante going so far as to suggest this is just a passing phase). However, not all of Dante’s friends are willing to simply ignore Adam’s sexuality, and this is brought home to the family in a brutal fashion. So Blackman cleverly explores not only teen pregnancy and family relationships but also issues of homophobia, as well as the confusion of those young men who cannot accept their own gay feelings. As Dante observes, boys may not cry but real men do – both gay and straight men need to open up and ask for help sometimes. And in this family, baby Emily provides a welcome key to unlocking men’s tears and bringing family together. Whilst this is ultimately uplifting novel, those readers who don’t like violence might find parts of the gay storyline difficult to read. For this reason, the novel may be more appropriate for slightly older readers.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A brilliant blend of humour and pathos

loose lipsTITLE = LOOSE LIPS

AUTHOR = Chris Wheat

GENRE = HUMOUR, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

Vistaview Secondary College seems to be peopled with rather eccentric students: from Zeynap (obsessed with wardrobe neatness), to Matilda (obsessed with dogs), to Angelo (obsessed with Georgia who is obsessed with avoiding Angelo), to Chelsea (obsessed with poking her nose into everyone’s business). Hilarious consequences ensue from all these competing obsessions and there are many truly laugh out loud moments. However, there is also room for more genuine emotion, as we see how family and friends respond as Josh carefully and cautiously reveals to each of them that he is gay. The conversations that follow are sometimes painful, sometimes poignant and sometimes laced with gentle humour. Khiem’s story also provides a counterbalance to some of the humour as this young Vietnamese orphaned refugee struggles to free himself from criminal elements of his community. All in all, a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable novel. (And if you like this one, pick up the sequel in Screw Loose)

Highly Recoomended (dma) *****

Love, laughter, friendship

m or fTITLE = m or f?

AUTHOR = lisa papademetriou & chris tebbetts

GENRE = Love, Friendship, Sexuality

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 9 and up

This funny story is cleverly told in alternating chapters by best friends, Marcus and Frannie. Marcus is comfortable in his gay skin and whilst he is not really expecting to find love at his school, he is happy to help Frannie in her quest to snare the gorgeous Jeffery. But the path of teen love rarely runs smoothly – especially when Marcus pretends to be Frannie in online conversations with Jeffery. Is he really doing this to support his best friend or could it be that he is attracted to Jeffery?? And just because Marcus is gay, doesn’t mean that he is always able to judge which of his classmates may also be gay… even Frannie, who prides herself on having a well-developed gaydar, may have missed some key signs…. So who should be kissing whom?? And will these teens be able to sort out their misunderstandings without losing their best friends in the process?? An amusing story which should appeal to boys and girls, gay and straight …. because at its heart is friendship and romance.

Highly recommended (dma) *****

SURVIVING YEAR 12 …

MeasuringUp_Hi-Res_CoverTITLE = MEASURING UP

AUTHOR = G.J. STROUD

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 11, 12

Jonah is feeling the pressure. He is in Year 12 but has no clear idea of where he wants to go when school finishes. One of his best friends seems to be taking to a life of drugs. The mother of a girl with whom he is close, is fighting a losing battle with cancer. His dad is the local town cop. And he has always felt that he lived in the shadow of his popular elder brother. The same brother who reveals he is gay but swears Jonah to secrecy. Is it any wonder that Jonah starts drinking too much and lets his studies slide? Is it any wonder that Jonah’s main obsession seems to be how to lose his virginity before he turns 18? Jonah is a refreshingly credible teenage boy trying to survive Year 12. He makes mistakes, says the wrong thing and doesn’t always know what he feels or why (especially when it comes to his brother’s sexuality). At heart he is a decent kid trying to make sense of his life and stumbling along the way; and as a narrator he has a delightful sense of humour, and is not afraid to laugh at himself. One of the joys in reading this novel is Jonah’s love of surfing – not only does he find solace in the sea and the physicality of surfing, but these scenes are also beautifully described and will be enjoyed even by the non-surfer. A great novel for older readers (the strong language and sexual themes make it more appropriate for this age group) which could be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****