Category Archives: February – Non-hetero Nomative Love Month

#ReadingIsResistance, February – Non-hetero normative love month

Review: Cut Both Ways

#ReadingIsResistance

Cut Both Ways
by Carrie Mesrobian

Title: Cut Both Ways
Author: Carrie Mesrobian
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-234988-0
Publisher: Harper

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Home feels like Angus, and it feels like her [Brandy] and I wish I could tell him that – tell both of them that.  (p. 116)

Will Caynes is torn.  Between his upscale mom, and his down and out dad.  Between Brandy and Angus, his best friends and lovers.  Most of all, Will is torn about his sexuality.

I read Cut Both Ways in one overnight sitting.  My tumultuous emotional life keeping me from rest, Will’s struggle kept me engaged.  As I’ve said in other reviews, I identify with the confused.  The not quite one thing, but not quite the other either.  These stories fascinate me not only because I want to see how the characters navigate this in-betweeness but because I identify so closely with their struggles.  Being turned against by people who don’t want to understand, being afraid to be our own in-between selves, that’s my entire life.  The fear is ever-present.  We just want to be accepted by those we love.

As I write this, I keep thinking of the other books I read with bisexual protagonists. Etta in Not Otherwise Specified is the only one who comes to terms with her sexuality.  She finds her strength in owning who she is, a performer who also happens to be bi.  Austin in Grasshopper Jungle and Will in Cut Both Ways, both struggle mightily.

In her Author’s Note, Carrie Mesrobian writes:

Bisexual erasure is the willful disbelief that people can be attracted to both genders, as well as the tendency to emphasize sexual identities in people that fit the observer’s own narrative, e.g. a man who is bisexual is really a gay man in denial; a woman who is bisexual is just doing it for male attention.  Bisexual erasure can be perpetrated by gay or straight people.  (p. 342)

Life is complicated enough without having to battle other people’s prejudices.  Will’s life is certainly complicated by the many lives he has to navigate, and while nothing in the end is resolved for him, he learns life does go on, and the complications will work themselves out.  Eventually.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

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Review: Grasshopper Jungle

#ReadingIsResistance

Grasshopper Jungle
by Andrew Smith

Title: Grasshopper Jungle
Author: Andrew Smith
Published: 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0-525-42603-5
Publisher: Dutton
Twitter: @marburyjack

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

This one has mutant praying mantises which eat the world, horny teenaged boys, and a protagonist who is confused beyond what he considers normal for an adolescent.

History chews up sexually uncertain boys, and spits us out as recycled, generic greeting cards for lonely old men.  (p. 30)

If history were written the way Austin Szerba told it, more people would be interested in history. On the other hand, Austin’s honesty about life in his dying small town in Iowa, his love for his girlfriend Shann, and his confusing love for his best friend Robby might be more than people might want to know.

Grasshopper Jungle is such a funny story, even while dealing with the grim realities of being a teenager in any time and place.  What happens is so fantastical that the science fiction/ fantasy nerd in me giggled even while hurting for Austin and his confusion about being attracted to both Shann and Robby.

A thing I learned about in my reading for February is called bisexual erasure.  Basically, it’s the ridiculous premise that there’s no such thing.  It turns into another way to marginalize people who identify as bi.  Being bi means someone’s not gay enough to be gay, and is thus unwelcome in the gay community.  It also means that they’re not straight and have no place in the straight community.   Bi people can buy into this as they try to make sense of their feelings.

Everything makes Austin horny.  He is, after all, an adolescent boy.  But when he thinks about how much he liked kissing Robby on the roof of a building in the minimall they hang out it, some form of “but I’m not gay” enters his thought processes.  It gets even more confusing when he fantasizes about a three-way with Robby and Shann.  Horniness is its own character in Grasshopper Jungle.  Every action, every thought is laden with horniness. Austin isn’t equipped to deal with this.  All he can do is write his history and try to sort things out.

As if Austin’s life weren’t complex enough, enter the giant, horny praying mantises accidentally unleashed by the boys while hiding from the bullies from a rival high school.

To dwell on the sexual aspects of this book is to give short shrift to the apocalyptic story line.  The mutant praying mantises may be horny, but they are also hungry and set about eating their way through the humans of the world.  Leaving the world a lonely, shiny toy box for the survivors, most especially Austin and Robby.

The deluxe underground compound the three kids stumble upon is its own special kind of character.  Straight out of the 1970s when smoking was in and shag carpet was the height of fashion, the compound has its own history stretching back generations to Austin’s grandfather crossing the Atlantic from Poland, winding up in Iowa and building a successful urinal company.

The survivors amount to Shann, Robby, and Austin with assorted parental units.  And the baby Shann has from the mid-apocolyptic sex she has with Austin in the compound’s bowling alley.

It’s a new world when they emerge back into the world.  Ending in the pristine snow of a sharp winter day as Robby and Austin get set to ransack the world for supplies and nifty cars it feels as though, despite the dismal prospects, life is normal and goes on, even in the face of the stark new reality they face.

Histories are actually full of conjectures.  Those conjectures become so accepted by descendants and readers that time itself is forced to rearrange its own furniture.  This is a new history and I cannot do such a thing.  (p. 367)

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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Review: Not Otherwise Specified

#ReadingIsResistance

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Not Otherwise Specified
by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: Not Otherwise Specified
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9781481405959
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Twitter: @hannahmosk

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

“Not gay enough, not straight enough, not sick enough, not healthy enough.  I am Etta Not Otherwise Specified.”  (p. 77)

When I was a SFF con-goer I used to describe myself as, “too mundane for the freaks, and too freaky for the mundanes.”  (Substitute muggles for mundanes and you get the picture.)

Reading Not Otherwise Specified took me back to those days, and all the others when I didn’t know where I fit.  That, in a nutshell, is the story of Etta, a black, bisexual, food disordered, high school student who wants to dance and get out of Nebraska.

Etta doesn’t fit in with her clique, the Disco Divas who shunned her when she had sex with a boy.  She doesn’t fit in with the others in her support group because she’s not sick enough to be given a specific diagnosis for eating disorders but not well enough to be considered healthy.  This, by the way is where the title comes from,  EDNOS – Eating Disordered, Not Otherwise Specified.

Throw into the mix an 14-year-old anorexic girl from a fundamental Christian family with a closeted gay brother who falls in love with a boy from another town, a new boy for Etta, and there’s conflict for all kinds of stories.

Sounds like the story of me.  Only, I’m white, straight, well above high school age, and I kick my food addiction’s ass every day.  But not fitting in, anywhere, that I know like it was braille.

The thing I like most about Moskowitz’s writing is how relatable  she makes everything.  Etta is snarky, fearful and fearless, broken and healer.  Any one of her issues could belong to anybody else.  Every human has fought with their sexuality, not fitting in, not knowing where they wanted to go, afraid of doing something true to themselves because it might alienate someone.

Having changed my relationship with food not quite a year ago, this really resonated with me.  Read what Etta has to say about food disorders and recovery.

“Recovery was my choice, and sometimes it sucks like I can’t believe.  But the truth is I am really damn positive about it …”  (p. 7)

That might as well be me.  Recovery was my choice, and, in the beginning, it sucked so hard I would sit in my car in the parking lot and cry because I was afraid leaving the parking lot meant I would head straight for food.  And even while I was going through that, I knew I had made the right choice.  So crying in the parking lot it was.

Which leads into another issue I identify with so deeply, body image.  Etta wants to be a ballet dancer, has since she was a little girl.  But, her body is not what anyone would call ballerina friendly.  She’s too big and she lets a friend convince her that her body will never allow her to dance the way she wants.  So they give Etta’s toe-shoes a proper burial in the backyard.  Only, Etta keeps hearing their siren song, and with the help of her new friends, she decides  to exhume them and audition for musical theatre school.

“I’m the girl who’s too loud and too much and too big for a lot of people.  I’m the girl who got through two rounds of cutthroat auditions on her damn personality.”  (p. 246)

Etta learns at 16 what it took me decades longer to figure out.  I’m the woman who changed the way she relates to food, and gained a lot of confidence in the process.  I’m also the woman who can be too loud, and too much for some.  And, bonus points, I was too big for a lot of the world.  So yeah, relating to Etta is easy.

In the end, I found myself rooting for them all.  For recovery, living out of the closet, and dancing.  Etta inspired me.  Not Otherwise Specified also made me wish that I had known in high school what Etta learns.

Hannah Moskowitz deserves your readerly attention.  Etta deserves an afternoon with you explaining how screwy life is for those who don’t fit into a nice, neat, little box.  And follow Moskowitz on Twitter (@hannahmosk), because she’s a hoot.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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Book Review: Shye Ryder

Making Mandi by Shye Ryder
Making Mandi
by Shye Ryder
What About Marsha? by Shye Ryder
What About Marsha?
by Shye Ryder

#ReadingIsResistance

Title: Making Mandi & What About Marsha?
Author: Shye Ryder
Publisher: Mordant Media

Full disclosure:  I have worked as proofreader, and sometime copy editor, for Mordant Media.  I make it a policy not to review books I have also worked on.

I can’t do justice to these books anyway.  Not being the target audience, it’s hard to judge whether Shye’s books are a good fit for the lesbian romance genre.  What I will say is what a great time we live in, where lesbian romance is an openly acknowledged legitimate genre for readers, and writers.

My eyes are not shut to the continuing fight for equality for everyone not white, straight male.  Especially in today’s political climate.  But to have writers like Shye Ryder take a step out in boldness and write stories about characters who reflect a reality other than hetero-normative, is a wonderful thing.

If romance, lesbian or not, is your thing, check out Shye Ryder’s work.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

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