Your New School Library: Malinda Lo, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, and Marisa Calin

 
 

Starting From Here, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Marshall Cavendish, September 2012

I received the advanced copy of this book knowing that it had to do with a lesbian girl and a dog. Accordingly, I was already pumped to read it, but within the first few chapters, it’s soon revealed that it’s in fact a three-legged dog. Lesbians and a three-legged dog? Count me all the way in, Lisa Jenn Bigelow!

Here’s the truth though, injured rescue dogs aside: all the characters in this debut novel wriggled their way into my heart, and deep. Our protagonist, Colby Bingham, has had a pretty rough go at life so far, 16 years in. A single child, her mother died from cancer a year ago, and her dad’s a truck driver who’s gone almost all the time, leaving Colby pretty much on her own in their trailer. Add on top of all this, the girl who captured her heart all summer, Rachel, just dumped her before the start of the school year. And now Rachel’s dating a dude. Yup. All in all, you would want to hug a three-legged dog, too.

If you think this is one of those all-doom-and-gloom young adult novels though, you’re wrong; there’s a lot of light in Colby’s life, too, including Van, Colby’s unfailingly loyal gay best friend, and the kind-hearted veterinarian who take both Colby and her dog under her wing. While Colby’s dad might not be there all the time, he does his damn best to love her as well as he can. And there just may be another adorable girl waiting for her–if Colby’s fractured heart will let her in.

This also rests in the beautifully growing category of novels that don’t deal with the protagonist coming to terms with her sexual identity, but instead with living her life as she is from the start. In fact, the very first sentence involves kissing Rachel in the back of Colby’s truck. Colby goes through a whole lot of doubt and hard times, but she never questions who she is, or views it in a negative light. And while she’s nervous to come out to her dad, her life is full of adults who support and love her.

Diversity is brought up a lot when discussing YA queer lit, that while there’s a lot of great queer books out there now, the diversity within those queer characters is still lagging behind a little. While this discussion normally centers around race, I think it must also involve socioeconomic class. I, for one, loved reading about a gay girl who lives in a trailer with an exceedingly blue collar dad, who works as much as she can outside of school to help support herself, who found an injured dog but didn’t have the money to fix it. Colby’s life didn’t seem sad to me, it just seemed real.

If my recommendation isn’t enough, this book has also earned the high praises of Nancy Garden and Ellen Wittlinger, two of the most long-standing and respected queer YA authors out there. This is one of those reads I could sink back into again and again, and I very, very much look forward to what else Lisa Jenn Bigelow has in store in the future. It was just released on September 4th, so go find a copy!

Between You & Me, Marisa Calin, Bloomsbury, August 2012

Another whammy of a debut, the narrative of this book uses a variety of interesting techniques, including one I don’t know if I’ve ever seen before. As our protagonist, Phyre, wants to be an actress, and our plot centers around a school play, the story is told as though it were a screenplay, fading in on the first page on “MY BEDROOM. SEPTEMBER. EVENING.” This is a really wonderful and unique way to write a book, although that isn’t the thing-I’ve-never-seen before. That thing is You. 

The main secondary character, You, is Phyre’s best friend, and is written in the second-person. Things are written in the second-person so rarely that it’s slightly unsettling to get used to, while being simultaneously highly effective. To explain it a little better: Phyre is telling the story, but addressing it throughout to You, who remains otherwise nameless, as if You is in her head–and ours–listening. The result is a feeling of impressive intimacy: you aren’t just reading about Phyre and You’s relationship, you’re inside of it.

A bit of warning: the main love interest throughout this novel is Phyre’s drama teacher, the young and charismatic Mia. While I know that the teacher-student dynamic makes many people feel uneasy, don’t run away yet. I promise, you won’t be left with an icky feeling. This is more the story of infatuation, of Phyre’s illogical obsession with Mia, pure and true, reciprocated or not, which causes her to act a little crazy and foggy-headed at times.

And that’s the heart of what really makes this book meaningful. Who hasn’t been there? Who hasn’t been so focused on one person to the point where you lose sight of everything else? Where you’re unable to stop yourself even though you know your emotions don’t make sense? Who hasn’t felt that burning longing of wanting someone you can’t have? What else is more embarrassing, yet more real?

There were times throughout this book that I wanted to reach into the pages and shake Phyre. But then I realized that that merely meant that Marisa Calin was doing her job, because she was representing my own feels too well. And it makes Phyre’s gradual realization that she should love herself for herself again–not just for Mia–all the more satisfying. And all the while, there is You. And watch out for You, because You is the best.

My only complaint about this book has nothing to do with the book itself, but I find it somewhat unfortunate that Between You and Me was published in the same year as The Difference Between You and Me, by Madeleine George, both novels with excellent queer female leads. I would hate to think that people may mistake the titles as being the same book, or switching them up, when they’re both quality reads that deserve to be read on their own. I just feel there should be some publishing employee somewhere who looks out for these things. What I’m saying is, read both of them, okay?

So if you’re not already busy reading Tipping the Velvet for the AfterEllen.com Book Club, jump into one of these, or add them to your list, and quick. I already have another stack waiting for next month. 

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