“The only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit the mold.”

simon coverThe LGBTQ Book club met at Central on July 31 to discuss the young adult novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. Everyone liked the warm coming-of-age story of Simon’s email flirtation with an unknown classmate, his forced outing, and the revelation of the surprise identity of his online crush. The novel is populated with Simon’s family and many, many friends, which are hard to keep track of but all have clearly drawn personalities. The book is lauded for its diverse cast of characters, but this seemed very subtle to us.  We were pleasantly surprised with the support Simon received from his family, friends and teachers, something that would have been unusual in a young adult novel ten years ago. While some of us who grew up in the area thought it rang true, a few of us thought that Simon’s classmates could have be crueler in real life and that Simon was free from any religious shaming.

Simon notices small, physical details about his friends such as the shape of their fingers. However, his primary relationship with Blue is conducted all online, with no physicality. Getting to know each other through email allows each boy to craft what they are saying, making their relationship less awkward and more intimate than it would have been face-to-face. This is mirrored the first time they are intimate, which is hilariously cringe-worthy.

The quotation “straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold,”  resonated with us. One participant read an interview with the author who explained that the title was a play on the phrase “homosexual agenda.” While we didn’t think that would resonate with today’s teens (and none of us realized it while reading the book), it does position the coming out story as part of the human condition. This is a deeply human story and everyone must struggle with identity, ideally without wounding others along the way.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
Other works
Movie adaptation

Recommendations:
Alex Stranglove (film)
Rise (TV series)

Next meeting:

“But when you’re inside it, the closet is vast.”

marriage of a thousand liesCentral Library launched the new LGBTQ Book club on June 26.with Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu.  This debut novel follows Lakshmi, a lesbian Sri Lankan-American married to her gay Indian-American college friend but caught up with her childhood best friend and first love, Nisha. Just as her complicated relationship with Nisha rekindles, Lakshmi’s front of a marriage is crumbling. In fact, her whole life is quietly changing. She’s lost her full time desk job and is a freelance illustrator. She’s left the home she and Kris share and has moved back with her mother to care for her dying grandmother. Turns out Nisha has a wide circle of local lesbian friends from her college rugby days, who embrace Lakshmi (Lucky) and in whom she sees another way of living. Throughout, she must contend with the secrets and accusations of betrayal within her family.

We agreed that we all liked the book, especially it’s specific lens of the Boston Sri Lankan community. This specificity didn’t prevent the story from feeling universal, however, and each of us recognized part of ourselves in it. We noticed that Kris almost disappears from the story, but Lucky’s mother, who has been shunned and worries about the same fate for her daughters, is a driving force.  The mother’s support is all one-way, with no adaptation. While we sympathized with her feeling stuck, we also wondered if her daughters would ever take her in the same way she did for her mother. Nisha’s support is also one-way, in her own direction. We wondered if she was a user because she was scared (the girls seemed in physical danger when first together as teens by Nisha’s parents) or because she was spoiled and didn’t have to think of anyone else.

Nisha does open up a new world to Lucky through her chosen rugby family. Through these women Lucky reconnects with the physical release of emotion she first discovered dancing with Nisha. We decided that in both dancing and rugby Lucky finds self-acceptance and an identity not controlled by her family. One of Lucky’s sisters conforms to parental pressure and the other one lives independently but with no familial contact. The women of the rugby house offer Lucky one blueprint for the next chapter of her life with her needs and wants at the forefront.  Ultimately, we felt hopeful for Lucky.

More Information:
About the author
VA Festival of the Book Q&A
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Upcoming meetings:

*Other formats are available.

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

fahrenheit451coverBooks on Tap read Fahrenheit 451  by Justin Torres at Champion Brewery on June 7.  The group votes on the titles we read each period and this was our “classic” selection. Many of us had read it in high school or had watched the 1966 film adaptation (none of us has seen the newest HBO version) and recalled the basic outline: in the near future fireman Guy Montag burns books because they are dangerous, meets a young woman, rethinks society and his role in it and joins a band of outcasts determined to memorize and preserve literature as the government fakes his assassination. Throughout he is surrounded by citizens who use entertainment and drugs to numb themselves, making it easy for a political/military elite to wage a war that seems to destroy the cities in the end.

The group doesn’t read many sci-fi titles and this one was within our comfort zone. The wall-to-wall screens and omnipresent earbuds presaged today’s obsession with Facebook, Twitter, Virtual Reality and fandoms. The mechanical dog functions like today’s drones, complete with the paranoia of being singled out for constant monitoring and crime-fighting-through-DNA. Similarly, Montag’s wife Mildred is repeatedly overdosing and being brought back with little fanfare and with seemingly no harm. Not only was this a way for her to numb herself against the monotony of her life and to distract her and the rest of the population from the war, it also reminded 2018 readers of the current opioid epidemic.

We were most interested in Montag’s boss, Chief Beatty. He seems conflicted – he’s read and hidden books but daily burns them and those who hide them. It was unclear if he was currently reading books or had memorized some and was now just hoarding them as a display of power. Some of us posited that Beatty committed suicide by provoking Montag. We then considered Montag’s young friend, Clarisse. She is the one who exposes Montag to an alternative way of living, where people discuss ideas and sit on porches to meet with neighbors. Not only is she one of the few people to talk to Montag for any length of time, she is one of the few woman with a backstory.

Bradbury’s coda disappointed us. He claims that writers are splintering into ethnic, social and racial divisions but until recently sci-fi was notoriously non-diverse. It was hard to square this novel, a call to arms to preserve intellectual freedom, with his restrictive view of how writing should be presented.

What struck us most about the novel in 2018 was need for deep, sustained reading for pleasure as opposed to purpose. It is an antidote to our plugged in society, getting us out of our bubbles and exercising our attention spans. That led us to list the books that hooked us on reading as children and young adults:

Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Roald Dahl‘s works
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Cherry Ames series
Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope

More Information:
About the author and book
Other works

Adaptations:
Play
Short stories as origin
1966 Movie
2018 Movie

Read Alikes:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Stand by Stephen King
A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Mr. Burns, a Post-electric Play by Anne Washburn
This is America a music video by recording artist Childish Gambino

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