Avril is certain that her father is insane, but there is
nothing she can do about it. Of course, the rift between the two is deeper than
different methods of grieving. And when her father remarries, Avril is forced
to accept that life has changed.
Throughout this difficult time, Avril is also falling in love
with her best friend Nicole: "Sometimes I thought that all girls secretly
liked girls in the way that I did. Other times I felt perverted, sick for the
places I traveled in my fantasy world. I tried to push away my feelings but
could not. Trying to will my desire away just intensified it."
At Cornell Avril attempts to face her sexuality and the loss
of her mother, but she slips into a profound and debilitating depression that
leads her to consider suicide: "Jump. I dare you to jump. No one will miss
you. There might be nothingness when you die and nothingness would be so much
better than all of this."
Just as Avril finally gets help, she learns that her father
is sick with AIDS. She is confused. She doesn’t understand how her father
contracted the disease and does not necessarily believe his hypotheses — a
blood transfusion she doesn’t recall, a blood brothers’ pact with someone he
knew had AIDS, a car accident where he helped one of the victims.
Avril deduces heroin but accepts that she will never know the
real cause — that is, until she gets a phone call from her uncle five years
after her father’s death and learns that the story is far more complicated and
painful than she had suspected. The news challenges nearly everything Avril had
thought she understood about her family, her parents and her childhood.
Author Janine Avril
Nightlight is a
deeply moving account of secrecy, loss and, ultimately, redemption. Avril’s
voice is strong and compelling. Though the story of her family is certainly
unique, the themes here are universal and powerfully rendered.
The Chelsea Whistle by Michelle Tea (Seal Press)
Michelle Tea’s The
Chelsea Whistle is a stunning and unsentimental memoir about growing up in
a small, rundown suburb of Boston. With characteristic rawness, Tea examines
her childhood with insight, humor and grace.
Tea is not known for traditional storytelling, and The Chelsea Whistle is no exception. The
fast-paced and multilayered narrative is easy to follow, though many passages
begin with a meditation on one subject — how to play dead successfully, why
people are racists, the lesbian nuns at her Catholic school — only to branch
out into a whole new range of topics.
As Tea navigates the mean streets of Chelsea, she begins to
develop her own aesthetic and style. She is often misunderstood, and her
attempts to fit in at home, with her peers, or out in the world are both
heartbreaking and hilarious. Her life, like that of most teens, is filled with
contradictions. But one of the biggest issues she tackles is her sexuality.
For most of the book Tea recounts sleeping with both guys
and girls until finally identifying as a lesbian: "I Just Think I Like
Girls, I said, and that was that." After breaking up with her boyfriend,
she falls in love with Steph: "Steph was against everything. It was
Meanwhile, Tea and her sister suspect their stepfather may
be spying on them in their bedrooms and in the bathroom. They have little
proof, but when Tea’s younger sister Madeline gets the courage to confront him,
it changes everything for the family.
Though the prose here is similar to that in Tea’s other
books — including Valencia and The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate
Corruption of One Girl in America — The
Chelsea Whistle is more complex and, in many ways, more accomplished. The
book will be re-released this month. If you haven’t read it yet, you must.