Highly Illogical Behaviour – John Corey Whaley

highly-illogical

This book revolves around three characters; Solomon, Lisa and Clark. Solomon is a reclusive agoraphobic with severe anxiety disorder and, at seventeen, has not left his house for over three years. Lisa is a girl from his middle school who remembers him having a breakdown in the school fountain on his last day of school. Clark is Lisa’s boyfriend. There are other incidentals; Solomon’s grandma is my favourite character in the book, when you read it you’ll see why.

Lisa wants out of Upland, California. She thinks it’s a dead end place and her future is brighter than that. Her plan is to get into the second best psychology course in the country with a full scholarship. In order to do this she needs to write an essay about her personal experience with mental illness. She decides that her essay will be about Solomon, primarily her saving Solomon and making him ‘normal’ again. The snag is, she’s not going to tell Solomon she’s doing it.

She does tell Clark though, and he agrees to go along with it. She discovers that Solomon is warm and intelligent and fun to be with – and gay. As they become closer she realizes that Solomon has a lot in common with Clark and asks him if Clark can come over too. A strong friendship develops between the three of them and they spend most of their time together. Lisa starts to have doubts about the paper but thinks it all a means to an end so she continues with it. Clark meanwhile, is not happy at all.

Stuff happens that I can’t tell you about but needless to say, the ending is kind of predictable. The book deals with some big issues. Mental health and sexuality are the two big ones but there are other sub themes as well. The relationships with the young people and God are explored too. Lisa’s best friend Janis is religious and goes to a religious summer camp; Clark and Lisa don’t have sex and his mum is also religious so that may be the cause, not that they have discussed it all!  Lisa assumes that her relationship with Clark is a. normal and b. strong enough to withstand anything but really it’s a relationship based on non information and assumptions; the consequences of which will hurt Solomon as well as them. Solomon, on the other hand, almost makes  you want to just stay at home and never leave; his life is definitely pretty easy. With the inclusion of friends though, it starts to make him question why he has made the decision to leave the outside world behind.

Essentially Solomon won’t change and, although Lisa does make some breakthroughs, his problems are bigger than she can solve. She comes to realize that Solomon needs a lot of help to change and, most importantly, he must want to change his life – and he really doesn’t want to!

This is a quick and thought-provoking read which will introduce you some nice characters that will stay with you for a while. Everyone would probably like a break from the madness of life, but where’s the fun in that?!

Further Reading: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Advertisements

What We Left Behind – Robin Talley

what-we-left-behind

Morning all; before I write my review of this book I am going to get all technical and give you some terms which are frequently used.  This would have helped me out a lot when I was reading so…. you’re welcome.

Genderqueer: A person who does not identify with either gender but with both or neither or a combination.

Transgender: A person who is ‘presenting’ themselves as the opposite gender to what they were assigned to at birth.

Cisgender: A person who is ‘presenting’ themselves as the same gender as they were assigned at birth.

We  first meet Toni at her high school dance. She has arrived with her girlfriend Renee and is dressed as a man, the whole place is clapping and shouting her name. We then learn that she goes to an all girls school and has been battling away against the school for some time to be allowed the right to wear trousers instead of a skirt as she feels more comfortable that way. She claps eyes on a new girl, Gretchen, and bam… it’s love at first sight. The book is written as a split narrative  so we get both of their perspectives on this, and it really is love at first sight for both of them.

Fast forward two years and they are preparing to go to college. Toni is determined to go to Harvard and has been accepted. She thinks that Gretchen is going to Boston University so that they can meet up every weekend and still stay together. Gretchen isn’t sure she wants to go to BU and applies to NYU (New York) as well (without telling Toni). This will give you an inkling of what their relationship is like. Toni is a wee bit selfish.

Toni throws a wobbly but they still vow to stay together. Off they both go with plans to meet up the first weekend of term. Toni really wants to join the LGBTQA+ group at Harvard and meets Derek. Derek used to be a woman but is in the middle of transitioning. Toni is immediately drawn in to a group of people who are all at various stages of this process and makes friends. Gretchen meanwhile, makes friends with a gay guy called Caroll and they hit it off. Then it all starts to get a bit annoying. even though Carroll is gay he makes some fairly derogatory remarks about lesbians and gay people and admits that he has never had a boyfriend or even kissed a man. He is almost like a caricature of a gay man and this is a little annoying. That’s ok though because by the end you won’t care anyway!

Toni is genderqueer and does not identify with either sex. Toni does not use male or female personal pronouns so instead of using he or she Toni uses peoples names or ‘they’ or ‘them’. This gets a bit annoying and confusing. Gretchen struggles to describe this to her new friends so she doesn’t bother – I know how Gretchen feels.

Toni gets more and more involved with her trans group and just becomes more and more irritating. She is obviously in some turmoil and doesn’t think that this is appropriate to speak to her girlfriend about it, instead she leans on Derek and ‘the guys’ and immerses in their world.  Gretchen is lovely and just wants to get on with things – Toni is selfish and doesn’t give her any leeway. Toni refuses to see Gretchen for weeks because she is too busy (she is punishing her for going to NYU) and they don’t meet again until Halloween. Toni wants to ‘show her beautiful girlfriend off’ to all her new mates. You couldn’t get more rugby club machismo then that.

Gretchen just wants to be with Toni but struggles with all the changes that Toni wants to make. Toni thinks Gretchen is a bit thick and can’t understand what’s going on, so just doesn’t tell her. Unfortunately, Gretchen starts to believe she is a bit thick too. Her biggest problem is that because Toni isn’t telling her what’s going on, she is totally in the dark about what to do. If Toni transitions and becomes a man, will she still find her attractive? Does she want a boyfriend even though she’s a lesbian because it’s Toni and she loves Toni. See why she’s confused?

The blurb says that these two are made for each other. I disagree. It makes me angry when people are prejudiced, and Toni is a prejudice of the worst kind. Toni (you see even I’m not using personal pronouns!) thinks that people who aren’t trans won’t understand what she’s going through. Well, maybe that is the case to a certain extent but give us straight people (or cisgender) some credit!

I love Lies we Tell Ourselves. I thought it was an outstanding book, the sexuality in the book was almost incidental to the racial tension but it was so well written I identified with them all in many different ways. I liked Gretchen. I’d want to be friends with Gretchen. She’d have to dump Toni though!

The book does highlight the problems of going to university with a partner in tow. Will you stay together even though you meet new people and your horizons broaden? Are  they holding you back or holding you together? This is an age old problem and not confined to LGBTQA+ people. It also highlighted the problem of trans people when they are mid change, what bathroom do they use when out in public? If they are identifying with a particular  gender but don’t look like it then it must be hard – there is a scene when Toni’s gang go out for dinner and are having a lovely time until the waitress says “anything else ladies?”: half the group are mid trans and identify as men. That must be hard and I felt that. But don’t think that because we aren’t the same as you we can’t sympathise and understand, because that’s labelling us as idiots and that’s not true. Nance, one of Toni’s friends, says that Toni labels everyone as soon as Toni meets them, can you get more prejudiced then that?

Well written and thoughtful book but sometimes I think that the LGBTQA+ community are so desperate to be heard that forget that most people are tolerant and kind and just want to get on with life. It’s  not a fight for most us, it’s just a confusion that needs explaining. I did some research on it though and am much more clued up so, I guess that’s good for me!

PS> Count how many times Toni says ‘the guys’ but doesn’t like using male and female pronouns to describe people – oh the irony!

Remix – Non Pratt

remix

This book is on the longlist for the Hounslow Teen Read Award 2017.

Remix is essentially the tale of two friends. Kaz is dumped by her rugger bugger boyfriend Tom. She is a tiny bit devastated as she super loves him and expected to lose her virginity to him, as well as get married and have lots of babies I expect. Ruby is her wayward friend who has recently dumped her gorgeous but untamed boyfriend Stu after she found out that he had been unfaithful. Her brother Lee and his boyfriend Owen manage to get the two girls tickets to the local music festival (think Glasto and then scale it down a bit) and both are looking forward to a new start before the summer ends; or are they?

It’s kind of like a comedy of errors this book. All the main players end up being at the festival; Tom is there with his mates, Stu is there being all brooding and effortlessly cool, Lee is having some problems with Owen and is just about to go travelling and leave it all behind…. Then there is the lead singer of the girls’ favourite band; Gold n Tone.

The book has two narrators; both girls have their own POV and this can get a little frustrating because sometimes you just want them to speak to each other. Surely as best friends they should be able to be a little bit more honest with each other about how they feel and what they’ve done?

I was also a little bit disturbed about the amount sex going on in this book!  I am no prude but these girls are only 16 years old. They are drinking and smoking and having sex. One of them has sex with two different boys at the festival (it was only two days!) I didn’t particularly like either of them TBH but Ruby was the least likeable I think. Perhaps if they had been a bit older it would have been a little more believable. Maybe I am just an old granny who doesn’t understand the world today but I was 16 once believe it or not and I don’t remember it being like this, apart from the cider drinking obviously!

I did like Lauren though, and Owen. Not too keen on Lee either I’m afraid,they felt a little bit like they were the token gay couple and it was a tad forced. All in all a good book but it’s left me a little concerned about the yoof of today….

Further Reading: Trouble by Non Pratt

Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley

lies we tell ourselves

I thought that this book had won the Carnegie so I told all the students that it had. Then I saw Sarah Crossan on BBC Breakfast and realised that I had made a serious error! Anyway, IMHO this had the potential to win – I really enjoyed it. Well, enjoyed it is perhaps the wrong word. It made me feel angry and ashamed that white people, not very long ago, could treat black people so badly, all for the sake of the colour of their skin.

Lies We Tell Ourselves in the story of Sarah – a black 17 year old girl who lives in America in the 1950s. the book begins with Sarah’s first day at a new school. Her parents wanted Sarah and her sister to be one of the first black students in America to go to a white High School. I had to do a bit research here (as ever) and found out that some schools in the Deep South had closed because the Governor of the State didn’t want the schools to be integrated. Eventually, Congress overruled them and the schools had to be opened. Sarah is in a group of nine black students who are attempting to integrate. I have recently read a book about JFK and Martin Luther King and the work that they did to push integration through Congress so it was interesting to see it from a teenagers POV. What came across was that their parents were fighting for this right for their children but the children themselves really struggled. I have never read a book were the hatred comes across so strongly. The first few chapters where the students are just trying to get into the building and then find their classes were amazing. These kids were spat at, racially and physically abused and derided wherever they went. It is a sad time in American History and, I think, goes some way to explain why they are in the situation they are in today. Remember, this was only 60 years ago.

The added complication is that Sarah has to work on a school project with two girls who are white. One of them is friendly enough (if a little confused) but the other one is Linda, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. She hates Sarah and Sarah hates her – at first. The book is written from both their view points and is an interesting tale of people being told to think something without actually knowing the reason behind it. Linda’s father sounds horrible and she has been brought up to believe that black people are second class citizens who don’t deserve the same education or rights as white people. Sarah is about to blow that all out of the water. As the girls spend more time together they both get more and more confused. Sarah has feelings about girls that she knows are wrong and Linda, well Linda realises that she is attracted to Sarah in a way she cannot explain. This is not a spoiler as it describes it quite accurately on the front of the book!

This book is mesmerising. It is so evocative of the time, and the awful things that black people had to go through just to get the same fair, basic treatment as white people – in their own country. It is another book that should make you feel grateful that you are alive at a time when we have never had more freedom of choice. It should also remind everyone that we have a lot to be thankful for, our battles pale in to insignificance against the wall of hatred and abuse that these kids must have suffered. A powerful book that will make you think.

Further reading – Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett – This is a trilogy starting with Fall of Giants. Well worth a read if you have some time as they are big books but they are really informative and easy to read and will give you  lot of information about 20th Century history.

Also, 11.22.63 by Stephen King.