LGBT fiction

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Banned Books 2017 – NOVEMBER READ – George by Alex Gino

Published November 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part. . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the eleventh 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:

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

George by Alex Gino

First published: 2015

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2016 (source)

Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”

Note: This month’s book was supposed to be The Color Of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa but unfortunately we have not been able to get hold of a copy for a reasonable price so we’ve had to make a last minute switch!

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

BETH: I’m really looking forward to hearing Chrissi’s thoughts on George, she said to me she had “a lot to say,” and I’m very intrigued! I found out about this book a while ago through my sister who has already read and done a full length review of it on her blog. I could have already guessed why the book might be challenged but I was really hoping that it wouldn’t be for the reason stated. *Sigh* of course it is. I was really hoping that in 2016, when this book was originally challenged (published in 2015) we were much more enlightened as a species about transgender issues and a book aimed at children about this subject would not be a big deal. Sadly, I was wrong.

CHRISSI: It actually hurt my heart that this book was challenged. It’s aimed at elementary children and in my eyes isn’t inappropriate at all for that age group. It actually makes me mad that it is challenged. The reason why it’s challenged was because ‘the sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.’ I mean WHAT? Many children know from an early age if they feel like they’re in the wrong body that they were born into. It’s told with a child’s voice. How can it be challenged? I really, really don’t get it.

How about now?

BETH: As George is a very recent release, I’m sure attitudes have not changed very much in the year that it was first challenged. I’d be upset to see it appear again when the list for 2017 comes out but you’re always going to get those people that feel uncomfortable with children’s sexuality, particularly if it happens to be a child determined that they are the opposite sex from the body they have been born into. I think this book is entirely appropriate for the elementary level as it is handled in a very intelligent and sensitive way. In fact, I think children definitely shouldn’t be shielded from these things because in a way, isn’t that confirming to them that being transgender might be strange/wrong (when obviously it is not?!). Of course, if it can help a child that is struggling with their gender assignment and can see themselves in George then that can only be a good thing, I think.

CHRISSI: It definitely has a place for elementary aged readers and those beyond. I think it’s such an innocent read about a topic that isn’t talked about enough. I have experienced teaching a child who is absolutely determined that she’s a boy. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was transgender. I know a lot of people think it’s just a ‘stage’ and for some children it is, but we’re devaluing those for which it’s not by challenging a book like this. Argh, it makes me mad. Children should read books like this, so they know they’re not alone and that people are different. Such a valuable lesson.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a sweet, quick and easy to read novel. I loved the characters and the message it conveyed although I was quite cross for a little while with a couple of the characters which you might understand if you’ve read this book yourself!

CHRISSI: I think it’s an inspiring read. I’m really pleased I’ve read it and I’d certainly recommend it to elementary aged children!

Would you recommend it?:

BETH:  But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

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Join us again on the last Monday of December for our final banned book this year when we will be talking about The Agony Of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
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The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

Published September 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The “volcanically sexy” (USA Today) bestseller about a widow and her daughter who take a young couple into their home in 1920s London.

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction.

What did I think?:

I first came across the wonderful Sarah Waters in her novel Fingersmith that I read in my pre-blogging days and remains on my bookshelves as one of my favourite books. Goodness knows why it took me so long to get around to another one of her novels, I’ve had them on my TBR for ages! However, when The Paying Guests was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction in 2015 and I had heard nothing but rave reviews for it, I knew it was time to pick it up. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve come across a book for a long time that is so incredibly close to that five star, perfect read. The Paying Guests was a heady mixture of gorgeous writing, tantalising characters and a plot that shook me to my core with the unexpected nature of it all.

I’ll just briefly describe what the book is about and I’ll try to be as vague as possible as frustratingly, there’s a lot about this novel that I simply can’t tell you and I do very much hate spoilers in a review. It is the 1920’s, post war in Britain and Mrs Wray and her daughter Frances have realised that times have changed. They have lost all the men in their family – three sons to the war (their deaths having a daily, ruinous effect on the household) and Frances’ father who recently passed away and left the family in terrible debt. As a result, they are forced to take in lodgers or “paying guests” hence the title of the novel. The arrival of married couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber makes an enormous impact on both Frances and her mother and has dire consequences for the rest of their lives.

I simply can’t say anymore than that, I really want you to discover it all for yourself. There are twists and turns in the narrative that I have to say, I did not see coming and was absolutely delighted to discover a story with so much convoluted detail, both in plot and with Sarah Waters’ endlessly fascinating characters. Frances at first comes across incredibly prickly, bitter and difficult but as we get to know her better she becomes so intriguing and she still plays on my mind long after finishing the novel. Lilian too is beautifully drawn and just as captivating to read about, especially in the second half of the story where certain incidents precipitate a thrilling and tense situation where I had no idea how on earth Sarah Waters was going to wrap it up. The sheer allure of the writing, the atmosphere of post war London which the author captures to perfection, and these amazing characters means Sarah Waters is instantly pushed onto my list of favourite authors and I’ll certainly be getting to another one of her novels as soon as I can.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

Published August 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

What did I think?:

If you’ve not heard of A Little Life before now where the devil have you been? Critically acclaimed, this incredibly powerful novel was short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction in 2015, was a finalist for the National Book Award in the same year and won the Kirkus Prize in Fiction, also in 2015. I jumped on the bandwagon a bit later (as usual!) in February of 2016 but because of my back-log in reviews I’m only getting round to reviewing it now. There is also the minor fact that I can’t seem to form any coherent thoughts about it without wanting to turn into a blubbering mess but we’ll leave that to the side for now!

A Little Life is not an easy read, far from it and as a result may not be for everyone. There are trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse but the entire novel felt like an insanely emotional roller-coaster for me. The story follows four friends in New York and we learn a little bit about each of their lives and the bonds of friendship that tie them all together. However, we mainly hear from Willem and more specifically Jude, the latter of whom has undergone major trauma and suffering in his past – trauma that still deeply affects him in his everyday life, threatens to spoil his future happiness and has the potential to ruin relationships with those dearest to him. Throughout the novel, we learn more about what Jude’s mammoth struggles, both in the past and in the present, learn more about him as an individual and, in the end, suffer with him as it seems like his disturbing past will be a cross to carry for the rest of his life.

As I mentioned earlier this book is incredibly harrowing and deals with some intensely difficult subjects. If you find abject misery and trauma hard to read about, this book might not be for you. I hesitate to say that I “enjoyed” this book, enjoy is not quite the right word as the topics I read about were so awful at times I found it hard to keep turning the pages. It’s quite strange, by about fifty pages in, I honestly couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and was seriously considering putting it down. Yet by about one hundred pages, I was completely invested in the characters and their lives and if someone had tried to tear the book out of my hands, there might have been trouble! This might sound very silly but it’s a novel where when I finished it, I actually felt changed as a person and that feeling has stayed with me over a year later as have the characters of Willem and Jude. I can’t stop thinking about them or about the fact that I know what it feels like now to have your heart break into pieces when you read an astounding story such as this.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Published August 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

What did I think?:

I was super nervous about reading this book. It was one of my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads’ favourite book last year and although I’m always confident that if she tells me I’ll like a book I will really like it, she hyped this one up good and proper. I’m sure you’ve had it before – that dreaded hype monster, where you feel the pressure to like a particular book that has been praised to the skies? Yep, that was Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda for me. So, you can imagine my relief when by about halfway through this novel, I declared myself in love. With the book, with the story, with the characters…. it’s a wonderfully diverse yet inclusive story and I still find myself thinking about the characters today and wondering what they’re up to.

Our main protagonist of the novel is Simon Spier, recently come to terms with the fact that he’s homosexual but not that willing to shout it from the rooftops just yet, so is remaining firmly in the closet until he can be sure of his family and friends reactions. However, he has been recently emailing this one guy, Blue and their correspondence has turned a little on the flirty side. Blue goes to the same school as him but like Simon, is not comfortable about being out and proud and both boys have no idea whom the other is.  However, their secret could soon be out and their relationship compromised when one of their emails falls into the wrong hands, hands that threaten blackmail and revealing the two boys for whom they really are. This could ruin everything for both Simon and Blue but is Simon brave enough to take a stand against the threats? Or is it just too much to risk when he is unsure of the reactions from his nearest and dearest?

As I mentioned before, I fell head over heels for this story and the characters within it. I loved both Simon and Blue and the emails that flipped between them – believe me, I’m not a fan of sickly sweet and conventional romance but their relationship was just too damn cute not to fall for and also incredibly convincing to read about. Also, it’s so refreshing to see more diverse, different ethnic groups and sexuality in young adult fiction nowadays, the more the better I say and please keep it coming! The humour, authenticity of the characters and all round good feelings I got from this novel was second to none and I applaud Becky Albertalli for writing such a touching piece of fiction that I think a lot of teenagers are going to be able to relate to. There’s no point in saying any more – just go read it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Highly Illogical Behaviour – John Corey Whaley

Published August 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sixteen year old Solomon has agoraphobia. He hasn’t left his house in three years, which is fine by him. At home, he is the master of his own kingdom–even if his kingdom doesn’t extend outside of the house.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to go to a top tier psychiatry program. She’ll do anything to get in.

When Lisa finds out about Solomon’s solitary existence, she comes up with a plan sure to net her a scholarship: befriend Solomon. Treat his condition. And write a paper on her findings. To earn Solomon’s trust, Lisa begins letting him into her life, introducing him to her boyfriend Clark, and telling him her secrets. Soon, Solomon begins to open up and expand his universe. But all three teens have grown uncomfortably close, and when their facades fall down, their friendships threaten to collapse as well.

What did I think?:

I was given this YA novel a while ago now when I attended a Faber event with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads. Thank you so much to Faber for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review and apologies I’m only now getting round to reading it. In fact, the only question on my mind when I finished this book was why on earth did it take me so long to read it?! I remember being really excited about it when it was advertised at the event especially when I read the synopsis but then stupid life got in the way and it slipped off my radar. I’m here to tell you now though that John Corey Whaley is an amazing talent in the world of young adult fiction and I’ll certainly be catching up with the previous two books that he has written.

There are a few main characters in Highly Illogical Behaviour but our main focus is on Solomon, sixteen years old and severely agoraphobic, to the extent where he can no longer leave his house after a particularly nasty breakdown at his school a few years back. Lisa went to Solomon’s school and remembers the incident quite vividly but she wasn’t friends with Solomon at the time. She is desperate to get into a good psychology programme at college and is required to write an essay about her experience with mental illness which will give her the chance of a scholarship. She decides to make Solomon her new project and along with her boyfriend Clark, attempts to be-friend Solomon, break down his walls and set him along the road to recovery – or to a point where he can leave the house, at least.

Highly Illogical Behaviour follows Solomon’s struggles as we learn about what life is like for him on a daily basis, particularly when he goes through one of his traumatic panic attacks. We also see the blossoming friendship between the three teenagers and how it changes Solomon for the better, brings him out of his shell and gives him hope for the future. However, we also see the dangers of not telling the full truth and what that can do to a person who is already highly vulnerable.

This has everything you would want from a good young adult novel. It’s diverse, touching on race and LGBT issues not to mention mental health and the importance of friendships and family. I adored Solomon as a character and really sympathised with the trials he had to go through every day just to try and function and have a normal life. Lisa and Clark too were wonderful additions to the plot and even though Lisa had an ulterior motive initially in acquiring Solomon’s friendship, she goes through a huge growth of her own as a character throughout the story which was lovely to read about. It’s quite short as novels go, just 250 pages but I think that was the perfect length for the author to say what he wanted to say, in just the right way and he made an admirable job of it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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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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