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Banned Books 2017 – MARCH READ – Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Published April 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.

Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.

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Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the third banned book of 2017! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. If you would like to read along with us, here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

APRIL –  Habibi – Craig Thompson

MAY – Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan – Jeanette Winter

JUNE – Saga, Volume Two (Chapters 7-12) – Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

JULY – The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

AUGUST – Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

SEPTEMBER – Scary Stories – Alvin Schwartz

OCTOBER – ttyl – Lauren Myracle

NOVEMBER – The Color Of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

First published: 2006

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)

Reasons: violence and other (“graphic images”)

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  This is one of those books where I don’t necessarily agree with the reason for challenging/banning it but I can understand why someone may have had problems. I don’t think a book should ever be banned outright and people should always have access to it but in some cases, it might not be suitable for younger readers. There is however one reason I’d like to point out as I’m confused about it – the violence part. Now I’ve just finished this graphic novel/memoir and I really am racking my brain to remember any specific incidence of violence. There is a couple of slight incidents at the beginning where Alison’s father hits her or her brothers but it isn’t portrayed terribly graphically which I was a little relieved about as that would hit a bit too close to the bone for me.

CHRISSI: I can somewhat understand why this book has had some issues. There’s some er… rather risque moments that I can imagine would be a bit difficult to handle in the classroom. That’s not to say that I don’t think it should be challenged and banned completely, but from a teaching perspective… I wouldn’t dream of having this in the library unlike some of the other books that we’ve read for this feature.

How about now?

BETH: This book is now over ten years old and still reads as very contemporary so I don’t think attitudes would have changed too much in that short period of time. I was surprised at the graphic sexual imagery that there is, I wasn’t really expecting that and although I wasn’t personally offended by it it might be a bit too much for very young readers. It shows a lesbian scene and I was quite pleased that this kind of thing is being included in graphic novels. The other graphic image is of a naked male corpse which again I wasn’t perturbed by but might frighten those of a more sensitive disposition. 

CHRISSI: I’d have to agree with Beth, there are some images that might be a bit too much for some. I’m happy that it’s an LGBT graphic novel/memoir, but the male corpse was a little bit too much for me!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: Unfortunately I was really disappointed by this book. I thought Alison Bechdel certainly led an interesting life, being brought up in a funeral home with a gay father and coming out as homosexual herself later in life made for a fascinating read. However, I didn’t really get on with the story as a whole, the literary references to Proust and Fitzgerald seemed a bit over the top and unnecessary at times and I would have enjoyed it more if she had specifically focused on the relationship between herself and her late father.

CHRISSI: Beth asked me what I thought of it before she started it and I didn’t want to spoil her reading experience. However, I really didn’t like this book. I thought it was going to be really interesting, it certainly has potential to be a fantastic read but I felt the story as a whole didn’t gel well for me. I was bored at points which isn’t what you want from a book. 

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably not.
CHRISSI: It’s not for me! – This book didn’t capture my attention.

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Join us again on the last Monday of April when we will be talking about Habibi by Craig Thompson.

 

This Is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

Published March 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely Caitlin Raynor from Headline publishers for sending me a copy of this beautiful novel in exchange for an honest review. As soon as I read the synopsis and saw that it focused on the experience of a family with a transgender child, I knew I instantly had to read it. It’s also been quite a controversial topic in the news recently when the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made some comments about trans women. Personally, I’m loving that more books are getting written and more people are speaking about individuals who are born in the wrong body. It’s an issue that may divide people depending on your viewpoint but is something that definitely needs to be addressed in an open and honest way.

This book did exactly that. I fell instantly in love with the family – Rosie and Penn, the parents who give birth to a succession of male children, the last of which, Claude is quite obviously not your stereotypical male from a very young age. He is sensitive and perceptive, always wants to hear about the princess in the fairy stories his father tells the children every night and doesn’t see what is so terrible about wearing a dress and playing dolls with other girls. When Claude finally decides that he wants to be a girl and goes by the name Poppy, his four brothers and parents are incredibly supportive. They accept Poppy for the way she has always been and love her just the same. However, living in a town where everybody thinks you have five sons, not four sons and a daughter can be difficult especially with the more ignorant of the community and the family soon run into trouble. This leads to them going to drastic lengths to protect Poppy and the rest of their children and may eventually lead to further problems for them all in the future.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. It was a touching, heart-warming story where the author drew such wonderful characters that they really get under your skin and stay there for the duration of the novel. The family we read about could be any of our own, they have the same dynamics, problems at school, normal difficulties in adolescence, etc. The only difference is, this family has a child that is so deliciously cuddle-worthy and instantly loveable, he just happens to have been born in a male body while his mind is clearly female. Of course, this causes a lot of tension in the family when outsiders who don’t understand or are themselves uncomfortable with the situation cause Poppy almost irreparable damage. Yet there is such love in this novel, especially between the family members that really gave me the warm fuzzies and made this story one to treasure, read again and certainly educate other people with.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale

Published March 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In the golden 1900s, Harry Cane, a shy, eligible gentleman of leisure is drawn from a life of quiet routine into courting and marrying Winnie, eldest daughter of the fatherless Wells clan, who are not quite as respectable as they would appear. They settle by the sea and have a daughter and conventional marriage does not seem such a tumultuous change after all. When a chance encounter awakens scandalous desires never acknowledged until now, however, Harry is forced to forsake the land and people he loves for a harsh new life as a homesteader on the newly colonized Canadian prairies. There, in a place called Winter, he will come to find a deep love within an alternative family, a love imperiled by war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism.

If you’ve never read a Patrick Gale, stop now and pick up this book. From the author of the bestselling NOTES FROM AN EXHIBITION comes an irresistible, searching and poignant historical novel of love, relationships, secrets and escape.

What did I think?:

I’ve always enjoyed Patrick Gale’s work, having read Notes From An Exhibition and A Perfectly Good Man, the latter of which I loved, but when I saw the hype that this novel was getting and read the synopsis I knew I simply had to read it. And what a story it is. Oh my goodness, without a doubt this is my favourite thing that Patrick Gale has written (er…so far, she says with quiet confidence not having read the entirety of his back catalogue!). It’s not an easy read at points and it certainly played with my emotions on multiple occasions but that’s the best kind of book for me. This is a novel that I can really feel the reverberations of the plot and the characters months after reading it and it is certainly a story I am still eagerly anticipating to re-read at a later date so the author can put me under the same spell as he did on the first read through.

The story is set in the 1900’s and when we first meet our main character, Harry Cane it is in an asylum where he is undergoing a harsh treatment regime for events that have happened in his past that the reader has, as yet, no clue about. Everything is slowly revealed as the narrative pans back to when Harry was a shy, unpresumptuous young man, married to a woman from the Wells family and utterly miserable until a chance occurrence causes him to up sticks and leave everything (including his wife) and become a member of a new, but very isolated community in the Canadian prairies which have recently been colonised. His brave decision leads to him undergoing a remarkable journey, both personal and physical as he struggles to deal with the harsh environment and deprivation, brutal weather conditions and loneliness whilst finally falling in love and dealing with people who don’t have perhaps the best or kindest intentions towards him. It’s almost like a coming of age story as Harry finally figures out who he is as a person and a man, what he wants out of life and the way he overcomes both physical and emotional hardships is truly beautiful to read.

I honestly can’t give enough praise to this book. It’s a fine piece of writing that deserves to be savoured and I found myself quite bereft when I had finished. I especially love that Patrick Gale based some of his narrative on the real adventures of his great-grandfather who left pre-war England to build a new life and farm in a remote area of Canada which only made the story more authentic and interesting for me as a reader. Harry himself was a wonderful character who made mistakes but was a good, gentle man who is so strong in the face of extreme hardship. I don’t really have any criticism about this novel to be perfectly honest. Some reviewers have mentioned the slow start but I enjoyed the build up and felt we got to know and fall in love with Harry better as a character because of it. Seriously, if you haven’t read this book and have always been intrigued about Patrick Gale, do yourself a favour and read A Place Called Winter, it’s a stunning piece of work that I won’t easily forget.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Banned Books 2017 – JANUARY READ – Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Published January 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A  2015 Stonewall Honor Book

A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens.

Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.

bannedbooks

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the first banned book of 2016! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. If you would like to read along with us, here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

FEBRUARY – The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time – Mark Haddon

MARCH – Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

APRIL –  Habibi – Craig Thompson

MAY – Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan – Jeanette Winter

JUNE – Saga, Volume Two (Chapters 7-12) – Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

JULY – The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

AUGUST – Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

SEPTEMBER – Scary Stories – Alvin Schwartz

OCTOBER – ttyl – Lauren Myracle

NOVEMBER – The Color Of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

First published: 2014

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)

Reasons: anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: This is a one of our most recently published “banned/challenged” books that we’ve chosen, only being published in 2014. Well, it sure seemed to cause a stir as it was immediately placed on the frequently challenged list for 2015! I don’t agree with any of the reasons for this book being challenged to be perfectly honest but I think I do know why the topic causes such a furore. I think the world of children who are transgender is relatively new (in the fact that we hear about it a hell of a lot more, not that the children never existed before). I think a lot of people either don’t understand or don’t believe that being transgender even exists and find it difficult to come to terms with, sometimes especially if it is their own child. I’m hoping with more publicity that people can educate themselves and the majority of ignorance surrounding it can be reduced.

CHRISSI: This is one of the books that is banned/challenged that I want to roll my eyes at, because it really shouldn’t be. Like Beth, I understand why it has been challenged. It seems recently that transgender is much more publicised than it used to be. Of course, there’s always been transgender around, but it’s definitely more prevalent in the media. You would think that this means the book shouldn’t be banned, and I’d agree, but I can see why it is at challenged because it kicks off a whole debate and arguments about what gender really is. I hope that one day it won’t be such an issue and those that aren’t educated about transgender could be!

How about now?

BETH: See above answer. I will however, go into more depth about the reasons but will try to remain relatively calm. Offensive language – yep, I admit, it’s in there but as I’ve said about other banned books in our series, no worse than what children would hear in school, television, out and about etc. Then there are other reasons that make me want to do that little red angry emoji face. Like anti-family?! I mean, WHAT? Why would being a transgender teenager threaten or go against a loving family? Especially if they are supportive which is just all kinds of awesome if they are. And the last reason…oh my goodness, I just really wonder at the people who are complaining, to be honest. They really need some education.

CHRISSI: My answer is the same as the above although I would like to see the world in change in their attitude towards transgender. It seems ridiculous to me that we can’t be more accepting but perhaps that’s me being naive. As I read this book, I thought of a girl at my current school that still adamantly insists she’s a boy. I wonder what the future holds for her and hope it’s a more accepting one.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I enjoyed it! I felt I learned a lot more about what teenagers go through if they feel they have been born into the wrong body. I watched a Louis Theroux documentary here in the UK recently about transgender children and that was brilliant but I really wanted an informative, touching non-fiction book about the real experience as kids grow up. That was exactly what I got. The photographs were the icing on the cake and it was marvellous to see the children in their “wrong” and in their “right” body. I think this could be a hugely important book for any teenager struggling with this issue.

CHRISSI: I thought it was a great book! It was really interesting to read from their experience of how they felt in their ‘wrong’ body. It was fascinating to see the photographs too. I really thought that added to the reading experience.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’S personal star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Join us again on the last Monday of February when we will be discussing The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon. As one of our favourite ever books you’ll understand we’ll have some strong opinions!