“Life can be hard. I know how hard it can be. And then she said, ‘Déjate querer.’ Let yourself be loved.”

9781471171031The LGBTQ Book club met way back in March at the Central Library to discuss The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz. It follows Sal through his senior year in high school as he struggles with his identity as the adopted white son of a very supportive gay Mexican-American man, his place in his loving extended family and the trials faced by his best friends.

Book club members liked this poignant coming-of-age story. It isn’t plot driven, but the characters are so well conceived and complex and the story is so uplifting that the pace doesn’t flag. Even in a long book we wanted to hear more from Sal’s supportive family and his best friend, a girl named Sam. It was refreshing that Sam and Sal could be friends without romantic complications. However, we agreed that Sal’s father Vicente was the real star of the novel. His unending patience allowed him to embrace his ex-boyfriend Marcos, to take care of both Sam and Sal’s other friend Fito and to have a successful career as an artist. At times he seemed too saintly, but is certainly an aspirational character. His orientation was both slowly revealed and fully integrated into the story. He becomes the de facto dad to these three motherless teens.

Vicente gives Sal a letter Sal’s dead mother wrote to him. The plot hinges on Sal’s decision to open the letter but we all felt that was secondary to getting to know the characters. We were a bit surprised with what he does with it (especially in a world with social media) but thought the ending was deserved.

We also discussed intersex. Here’s one explanation.

Join us tomorrow for our final meeting as we discuss The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara. We’ll also be hosting an LGBTQ book swap at Central on September 15 from 2-4. Bring your own books and leave with new-to-you  titles. 

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“do you know what it’s like to live/someplace that loves you back?”

31IhYveEJTL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_The LGBTQ Book club met on May 29 at the Central Library to discuss Alex Gino’s George, a children’s book about a fourth-grade transgirl who names herself Melissa. Melissa’s dearest wish is to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web, but her teacher dismisses her because she presents as male. With help from her best friend and ally Kelly and the low-key support of the school principal, Melissa confides in her mother and brother. The novel ends with Melissa and Kelly enjoying an anonymous day at the zoo as two little girls.

Most of the readers who attended book club on the 29th don’t regularly read children’s literature so it took us a while to adjust to the vocabulary and pacing aimed at middle grader readers. Once we locked into the story, we did find the story accessible and Melissa’s family and friends familiar. We debated the term aspirational – Melissa’s journey is fairly easy as far as transitions go, could it be that Gino wished to showcase the possibility that transitioning doesn’t have to be a worse-case scenario, filled with rejection and violence? Did they write the transition story they wished they could have read as a child? The story normalizes transitioning and gives its intended audience of children the vocabulary to discuss trans identities, be it for themselves or like Melissa’s best friend Kelly, allies. As gentle as Melissa’s coming of age story is, the book does acknowledge that being trans is hard. Melissa’s mom is initially hesitant (she has her suspicions when she finds Melissa’s hidden purse full of images of women) but does explain her complex feelings. The ending is a soft landing and not as strong as the dénouement earlier in the book when Kelly shares clothes with Melissa, and through Kelly’s photographs show Melissa as subject and no longer object.

We discussed the title of the book. Gino has expressed regret at deadnaming Melissa so prominently, but some of our group found the pairing of a masculine name with feminine pronouns to be a compelling opening.

The novel is a great example of an own voices story. The audiobook is narrated by a transwoman actor. We thought it is useful for kids questioning their identities, the friends and families of those children and adults who want a glimpse into the mind of a trans girl.

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“do you know what it’s like to live/someplace that loves you back?”

The LGBTQ Book club met on April 30 at the Central Library to discuss Danez Smith’s poetry collection, the 2017 National Book Award finalist Don’t Call Us Dead. It was our first foray into poetry as a group, in honor of National Poetry in April (and a feature of this year’s #NPRPoetryMonth). Smith identifies as Black, Queer and HIV postive (Pos), uses the pronoun they and is a member of the Dark Noise collective. danezsmith

We decided to focus on the first poem in the book, “summer, somewhere,” which “imagines a utopic afterlife for victims of racism and police brutality.”  The men and boys who have been killed by racist violence in America now exist in a perpetual, free, summer, where they “earned this paradise/by a death we didn’t deserve.” In that same interview, Smith says they found the writing of the poem cathartic and the chance to “build this world and imagine this alternate ending, to imagine something past what we call an ending.” Book club members all agreed that they were not regular poetry readers. Some don’t like the abstractness of poetry while others find line breaks distracting interruptions. Perhaps because of those preferences and that none of us share Smith’s identities, we probably missed many of their illusions. The poem is distinctly grounded in the Black, male experience (“I am sure there are other heres/somewhere for every kind”) but one reader was disappointed that he didn’t get an emotional connection to the experience of a Black, gay man. Some were put off by vulgarity. However, we all were able to find phrases that resonated and stuck with us.

We talked briefly about the other poems in the book, which was originally two manuscripts, one about “Smith’s personal identity and sexuality . . . the other focused on violence and brutality against black bodies.” There were instances of humor in  “dinosaur in the hood,” for example. More generally, we thought about the poems featured on the local bus service and the local poetry scene. There doesn’t seem to be an ongoing spoken poetry series anymore, but JMRL does host the annual Poetry on the Steps event as part of the Poem in Your Pocket celebration.

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