Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan

New York Times  bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS. 

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: homophobia, AIDS, suicide attempt

This book. Oh, I have all the feelings for this book. Let’s start with the fact that I read this entire book in one sitting. In about two and a half hours. And I cried almost the entire time. Seriously, I started crying within the first five pages, and although I cry a lot when I read, it’s usually at the end of the book, not at the beginning.

The book starts out with the “Greek Chorus” of men who were lost to AIDS, written in a poetic and immediately-evocative style. Because I’m me and once I’m interested in a book, I don’t go back and read the blurb when I actually start to read the book, I didn’t realize that this was a sort of framing narrative for the novel. Although I’d assumed the entire book would be written in that fashion, I wasn’t disappointed when it shifted focus onto specific, living characters. All in all, I thought the writing struck that balance between plot-driven and poetic, catching the attention of both readers who appreciated every individual word and readers who focus on the bigger picture.

There were times that I found myself frustrated by the overwhelming focus on gay men, an already-dominant demographic in LGBTQ literature. However, I felt like this book was very clearly the story of gay men, and so the lack of bisexual and lesbian characters did not feel as harmful as it could have been. Two Boys Kissing doesn’t market itself as queer YA but as gay YA. Others may disagree with me, but even though the lack of other queer identities was frustrating, I was ultimately ok with it.

*SPOILER* I think part of why I loved this book so much is because it kept seeming like it would be a sad book, but everything ended on a positive, hopeful note. It’s so important to have books with gay characters who face a lot of the same problems other gay teens face without those problems being sugar-coated. By ending the book on a hopeful note instead of a “happily-ever-after” note, it felt both realistic and positive. *END SPOILER*

All in all, this was an excellent book. The writing is good, the characters are sympathetic, and it is gripping enough to make me read it in one sitting.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner

Bi: Notes for a Bisexual RevolutionBi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner

Depicted as duplicitous, traitorous, and promiscuous, bisexuality has long been suspected, marginalized, and rejected by both straight and gay communities alike.

Bi takes a long overdue, comprehensive look at bisexual politics—from the issues surrounding biphobia/monosexism, feminism, and transgenderism to the practice of labeling those who identify as bi as either "too bisexual” (promiscuous and incapable of fidelity) or "not bisexual enough” (not actively engaging romantically or sexually with people of at least two different genders). In this forward-thinking and eye-opening book, feminist bisexual and genderqueer activist Shiri Eisner takes readers on a journey through the many aspects of the meanings and politics of bisexuality, specifically highlighting how bisexuality can open up new and exciting ways of challenging social convention.

Informed by feminist, transgender, and queer theory, as well as politics and activism, Bi is a radical manifesto for a group that has been too frequently silenced, erased, and denied—and a starting point from which to launch a bisexual revolution. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG-13, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: see review

This book took me a long time to get through, but not because I didn’t like it. I found it absolutely fascinating. The problem was, with school and all, I often found it hard to focus while I was reading it. In those moments, I would call it fascinating, but dense. From the perspective I have now, from having finished it over Thanksgiving break, I recognize that it wasn’t so much that it was dense, but more that it was more similar to the books I was reading for classes than the books I read for fun. So it took me awhile, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

In a way, I’m glad it took me so long to finish this book, because that gave me plenty of time to process. When it comes to ideological stances, I find that I often either accept or reject the whole of the ideology almost immediately. Not so with this book. I found there were things I definitely agreed with, but there were also things that I definitely disagreed with, and there were even things that I was (and am) on the fence about. It wasn’t comfortable, but I’m glad about that. This isn’t supposed to be a comfortable book. It asks tough questions about what it means to be bisexual, and the answers are no more comfortable than the questions.

This book was incredibly user-friendly. Like many textbooks from my primary school days, it highlighted “vocabulary words” right in the text and defined them in a separate box on the same page. This is very handy for people who might not be familiar with feminist and queer jargon. Trigger warnings were placed before the sections of the book that were relevant, even down to the paragraph, and there were additional “warnings” placed at the end of the triggering sections. I absolutely loved this idea, and I wish more writers (or editors?) took this approach. The availability of trigger warnings within the text is why I didn’t include them above (mostly because I’m slightly lazy and didn’t want to look up specific trigger warnings, because many of them were very specific). All I can say is that Eisner covered her bases when it comes to potentially triggering passages.

One aspect of the book that I definitely have mixed feelings about is the type of parallels she draws between bisexuality and other social issues/oppressed groups. While Eisner always makes clear that true parallels really don’t exist, and that one oppressed group isn’t better/worse off than any other (because you can’t compare them like that), she does often compare the bisexual movement to other movements, and she often chooses movements that she has connections to or experience with, such as trans* movements and movements specific to Israel/Occupied Palestine. This is where the mixed feelings come in. It was often hard for me to make the connections, because she used movements that I really have no familiarity with. This frustrated me, but I also recognize that Eisner isn’t an American author, so it wouldn’t even make sense for her to solely use American social movements, not to mention the fact that movements besides mainstream American social movements deserve attention. I recognize that my frustration comes from a place of privilege, and part of me enjoyed learning about social movements that I really had no prior knowledge of. But I was also frustrated quite a bit. Hence my mixed feelings.

Overall, this book is an excellent, both for bisexuals and those who identify on the queer spectrum, but also for feminists and anyone who is open to learning about bisexual issues. Be prepared to be uncomfortable while reading, maybe even angry--but hopefully you’ll take that discomfort the way I did by appreciating how relevant it is to the discussion this book is starting.

Note: I received a free ebook copy for review, but I also purchased a copy when I was financially able to.