Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How Beautiful The Ordinary - A GLBTQ Teen Short Story Anthology

Edited by Michael Cart

Published in 2009 by HarperTeen

Contrary to the title, the beautiful part of this anthology is that it is anything but ordinary. Each story portrays a unique take on being homosexual. Whether it’s about two boys who find a genie, or a relationship that develops over the internet, no story is alike. Each one utilizes a different form of writing, ranging from comic books to even script form. Incredibly diverse with a rich cast of characters and extremely unique story-telling, this collection is an incredibly fun must-read.

“A Word from the Nearly Distant Past” by David Levithan
This story, from which the book borrows its title, is told by a mysterious “we”. The “we” is homosexuals from generations past who are looking down on the homosexuals of the present. They observe a boy going to his boyfriend’s house with a pack of diet coke and a couple with pink and blue hair meeting at a LGBTQ prom. The “we” gives insight on the past, the present and the future. Told beautifully, this story reminds us to live every day to the fullest and push boundaries while appreciating the progress made.

“Happily Ever After” by Eric Shanower
The narrator of this story, which is told in comic book style, has a best friend Mark, who he makes out with. While the narrator is comfortable in his sexuality Mark still won’t admit that he is gay to himself or his strict dad. When the boys discover Genie Fouadi-Wadi-Wasr-Ras-Daroun-Boun-Ali-Meht-Ma-Hani-Pal the Perspicacious (try saying that 5 times fast) they are each granted one wish. Just as the narrator wishes for him and Mark to be together forever, Mark wishes not to be gay. The two boys are driven apart for the next couple of years and they must decide what they really want and who they really are.

“My Life As a Dog” by Ron Koertge
Noah is just like any college student daunted by coming out of the closet to his parents, except for the fact that Noah’s alter-ego is a dog. When Noah is a dog he is able to be free from his troubles. However, after a tragic incident one night Noah must face his fears and, with the help of his boyfriend Robbie, tell his parents who he actually is. By using a storytelling hybrid of script and narrative Koertge explores the troubles and doubts of coming out, through the mind of a dog.

“Trev” by Jacqueline Woodson
When she is in second grade Trevana Louise Johnson tells her family that she is “wrong down there”. Trev knows that she isn’t meant to wear the frilly pink dresses her dad wants her to wear. Trev knows that she is a he who belongs in the boy’s bathroom. Through tales of his heritage, Trev is able to overcome the struggle of seeking acceptance.

“My Virtual World” by Francesca Lia Block
In this modern love story, two tortured souls begin to correspond through their blogs. Rebecca goes by the screen name Ms. R.E. (misery… get it?) and feels as though the only way she can be happy is by cutting herself. Garrett, or Boy Blue, is still struggling through his decision to become a boy. Through their online relationship, Rebecca and Garrett are able to help each other through their troubles and possibly have a romance of their own.

“A Dark Red Love Knot” by Margo Lanagan
Tom Coyne, a stableboy in England during the 17th century is completely consumed by his love for a soldier in the Kings army, to whom he lost his virginity. Tom is so lovesick that he tells the innkeeper about his daughter’s affair in hopes of seeing his soldier again. However Tom’s plan backfires and he must deal with the tragedy that he created.

“Fingernail” by William Sleator
Told in his broken-English, this story is narrated by a young Thai man named Leo. Though Leo has had homosexual affairs before, he believes he has found his true love in Bernard, a French tourist. Bernard leaves Thailand, but when he comes back Leo discovers that he is not the person he fell in love with. Bernard is jealous, controlling and even attempts to suffocate Leo in bed one night. Leo must decide whether to hold on to his love for the Bernard he once knew, or to accept the man Bernard is now.

“Dyke March” by Ariel Schrag
Told in comic-book form, “Dyke March” chronicles the night of Ariel, a lesbian who goes to a pride parade with her friend Julia. Every half- hour Ariel chronicles her night, such as texting her girlfriend or taking a picture with a topless woman. The comics are Ariel’s humorous take on dealing with both the usual and unusual events that take place in that night.

“The Missing Person” by Jennifer Finney Boylan
The narrator of this story decides after 8th grade that he wants to become a she. She buys new clothes and steps out into the world as her new identity. Meanwhile a Taiwanese exchange students gets trapped inside a wall, symbolizing the narrator’s transsexual experience.

“First Time” by Julie Anne Peters
Jesi and Nicolle, a lesbian couple, are about to experience a tremendous right of passage: making love for the first time. Told by both girls simultaneously, this story details the ups and downs of Jesi and Nicolle’s relationship, from their first hug to their first time. A little racy at times, this story is honest and heartfelt.

“Dear Land” by Emma Donoghue
A 40-year-old lesbian decides to reconnect with her long lost 16-year-old daughter Lang. Lang’s mother Cheryl had been in a relationship with the narrator and conceived Lang through artificial insemination. Two years later the two women broke up and Cheryl won custody of Lang. Now, 14 years later, the narrator is ready to start anew with her new pregnant partner and communicates her situation to Lang through a letter.

“The Silk Road Runs Through Tupperneck, N.H.” by Gregory Maguire
Faroukh Rahmani, an Iranian American, must take a summer class at Tupperneck College because he failed his music class in high school. There he meets the incredibly suave yet aloof Blaise D’Anjou, a fellow music student. Immediately Faroukh is attracted to Blaise and fate brings them together after a tragic event in Blaise’s family. More of a novella than a short story, “The Silk Road” details Faroukh’s struggles with his family, money, and his conflicting feelings for Blaise all while fast-forwarding years later to when he brings his kids who he had with his husband Jake back to Tupperneck. There he finds Blaise and feels all of his feelings from the past rushing back.

- Posted by Hannah


Unknown said...

I was rather distressed by this title - the introduction goes out of its way to eliminate bisexuals from the "LGBT" acronym without addressing it, even as the collection contains two stories about men who have relationships with men and women (those characters might not self-identify as bi, but the actions are there at least). I don't expect every single LGBT collection to be evenhanded, giving equal page-space to Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered folks, but to see my identity completely and apparently purposefully ignored was distressing. My full review can be found on my blog

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

***response from Hannah***

Hi Angela,
First that I would like to say I loved your review on How Beautiful the Ordinary and it really opened my eyes to what the book was missing (as much as I enjoyed it). It also made me think about my use of the term “homosexual” in my own introduction. I used homosexual to mean people who identify themselves as GLBTQ, but I realize now that’s not the case and that “queer” or “GLBTQ” would be more inclusive. I was also wondering what your thoughts are on the topic. Do you identify yourself as homosexual? It’s a learning process so I love the feedback and help that you are giving me.

Unknown said...

Hi Hannah -

I identify as bi and part of the queer community, or LGBTQ if I'm being formal, since I know not everyone appreciates the word "queer." Since this blog has "queer" right in the title, I don't worry too much about throwing it around as an identifier and think it or LGBTQ would be right at home in your intro. My thought is that "homosexual" isn't quite the right term for this anthology since there are at least two stories about being trans, which is about gender identity not sexual orientation.

I'm enjoying this series of posts thus far - keep up the good work, and thanks so much for being open to feedback!

Anonymous said...

Well, I've only read a couple stories so far, but it really bugged me that they kept saying gay, lesbian, and transgender. Like Angela said, it seemed like they were trying to exclude bi/pan/otherwise queer people. Even the handling of trans* characters was pretty awful in most of the stories. In "Dyke March," one of the lesbians makes a comment that there's no young lesbians because "They've all turned into boys and are over at the trans* contingent." First off, trans* men are not lesbians that "turned into boys." They're men. Secondly, some trans* men are gay men. Even if they're attracted to women, they're straight men, not lesbians. Maybe it was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't. It was borderline transphobic. In my virtual world, there's a whole conversation about whether or not liking blue boy makes Ms. RE a lesbian. While it's natural that that causes some confusion when someone is first coming to terms with their significant other's/love interest's trans* identity, it should have been better explained that liking a trans* man does not make someone a lesbian because trans* men are not women.
Anyway, I've only read about half of the stories so far. I'll come review the rest when I'm done.
So far, though, the book has seemed very GL(t)