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The FABULOUS (!!) Tamora Pierce on her Favorite LGBT-Themed Books

tamorapierceTamora Pierce is the author of seemingly millions of books for young readers.  With a backlist spanning more than 20 years, it’s fair to say she’s had a massive influence on fantasy for young adults.  Her extremely popular Song of the Lioness series features Alanna and Thom, a pair of twins willing to challenge gender roles to pursue the lifestyles of their choice.  Her latest works include the Beka Cooper books, Terrier and Bloodhound and the Circle of Magic Quartet, featuring the recent Melting Stones.  With so much on her plate, I was thrilled to find that Ms. Pierce was willing to contribute so much of her time to our LGBT blogging project.  Below are her fabulous reviews.

Grady’s family originally named him Angela, and it took him a while to work out that she was a boy.  This story begins on the day he goes to high school with his new name, one that finally fits his feeling about who he is.  He wants people to know him as Grady and to recognize the truth of what he is, but he already knows there will be plenty of resistance, starting at home, with a mother who wanted a girly girl, and a younger sister who thinks Grady is doing this to torture her.  Grady’s former best friend has turned from him to the popular, bullying girls who loathe any difference, and only sees Grady when no one else is around.  The school teachers, except for a surprisingly sympathetic gym coach, also refuse to address Grady by name, and the principal tells him that he’s going through a phase.  Luckily there is the weird kid Sebastian, who knows about the sex-changing parrotfish and is in Grady’s video class, and Kita and her boyfriend Russell, who accept Grady just as he is.
It’s a wonderfully real world book, with bullying on a  school level, and the kind of nastiness that involves the death of a thousand cuts rather than physical death at high noon–the kind of reception any GLBT kid can expect from their schools.  Grady may be a little too secure in himself for a trans kid who’s facing the world for the first time, but on the other hand, he’s been thinking about this for years, even setting up a trial balloon as a lesbian a year or two before so people can get used to the fact that he likes girls (back when he was treated as a she).  I liked that fact that he is so thoroughly a boy, particularly when it comes to dealing with Kita.
I also think this is a good book for this era in time, when more of our population has gotten used to GLBTs.  This is a second wave book, for people who know they can probably come out safely at school, but would like a realistic picture of what they will find.
on AM I BLUE?: Coming Out from the Silence edited by Marion Dane Bauer

This collection features powerhouse writers in the field like Francesca Lia Block, Nancy Garden, and Gregory Macguire, as well as some of the giants of intermediate and teen literature like Bruce Coville, William Sleator, Jane Yolen, M. E. Kerr, and Lois Lowry.  The entire spectrum of coming-out experiences is shown, in a wide variety of ways.  Friends grow apart under the pressure of changing sexuality in Jacqueline Woodson‘s “Slipping Away,” while Jane Yolen ties coming out to the legends and the magic of the dark sister in her fantasy tale “Blood Sister.”  My favorite is Bruce Coville‘s title story, “Am I Blue?”, featuring the first fairy godfather and a sly bit of psychology.
Anyone can read this anthology and enjoy it.  For GLBT readers many stories depict what coming out was like for people in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s as well as more recently.  These stories are a way to connect with those who have gone before as well as a way to experience coming out through others’ eyes.

TAMORA PIERCE on HERO by Perry Moore
Thom Creed doesn’t want much from life.  He wants his mother, who abandoned him and his father, to return.  He wants his father, a stern, disgraced former superhero, to love him.  He wants to be a superhero himself and get to know his mancrush, Uberman, blond and perfect.  And he is certain he will get none of these things because he is deeply closeted.  Hide his sexuality though he will, the whispers go out, first at a basketball game, and then around Thom’s school.  That’s what makes him so nervous when his help during a bus hijacking results in Thom’s invitation to the superheroes’ tryouts.  He’s afraid the superheroes will throw him out when he admits he’s gay (to save a supervillain from an unjust accusation—I love this kid!)—and he’s right.  Worse, now his father knows, and he doesn’t react well.
Thom joins but keeps his membership a secret, afraid his father will forbid him to belong to the League that kicked him out.  It is when he reports for lessons that Thom learns he’s been assigned to the most misfit crew of wannabes in the League: elderly Ruth, who sees the future; obese Larry, who dispenses disease of all kinds; Miss Scarlett, the rude, foul-mouthed fire-and-radiation pizza delivery girl, and Golden Boy, an official side kick who’s in disgrace with his partner for some reason.  They bungle along, messing up and learning about each other, as Thom’s home life gets worse and worse.  Why is his mother in hiding?  Who is the Dark Hero, and what is he trying to tell Thom?
Then Thom’s universe blows apart.  The misfits have to save the world from the worst enemy ever, and they know they aren’t up to the fight!
I Love This Book.  It has superheroes.  It has a gay superhero-in-training in it.  It has a fat superhero, and an old superhero, and the blond superhero isn’t the perfect object he’s portrayed to be.  In fact, none of the superheroes who told us to brush our teeth and do as we’re told show very well—and yet they’re still recognizable as the superheroes we grew up knowing, so we get that kid-thrill as well as the adult charge of seeing new heroes for our time coming into the picture.
In terms of Thom being gay, this reads more like a book for the 1990s.  In this day and age, in a school in a town where the superheroes make their headquarters, I find it hard to believe everyone would turn their backs on Thom and start defacing his house.  I do believe his dad would go off on him—GLBTs are still having immense problems with family—but the whole school?
I also loved Thom’s romantic side, his fantasies about Uberman, his can I/can’t I? temptation regarding the gay club, his uneasy pick-up, his new crush.  I was totally involved in his romance and Scarlett’s straight romance, cheering them on as if I knew them in real life.  In fact, all of Moore’s characters, the ones he spends more than a couple of sentences on, spring to life on the page, real people living real lives.  One criticism constantly leveled at comic book writers is that the characters are one-note, or cardboard.  Admittedly, Moore got more time to write his characters, but he still does a wonderful job!

You want to be able to get together with others in your school you know are gay, people who would like to be able to talk about their issues without anyone else interrupting.  All of you are closeted for one reason or another.  And then you come up with the perfect idea.  Pick a club name so boring no one else will want to attend.  Invite a teacher adviser you know will never look into things.  And—ta da!—the Geography Club is born!  Russel, who’s still dating girls to keep his best friend happy, discovers that his crush, Kevin, likes him back.  Min and her tennis star girlfriend, who kept telling people they were just friends, eventually break up.  And they all grow, doing good things and bad to ensure their standing at school.  Some of the things they do are out-and-out lousy, but they help drive Russel and his friends to a stronger sense of who they need to be.
As with most books I like, the thing which I enjoyed most about Geography Club is the realness of the characters.  There are no magic gays or all-understanding, all-loving straights—there are people, doing the things people do all of the time.  I could practically smell the gym socks as I read.  And I like Hartinger’s sense of humor.  The book isn’t weighed down in Importance.  That’s what makes it work.  Whenever I can read a book and feel I can walk around the corner and meet the people in it, and hang out with them for a while, that book’s met my ultimate criterion.  Since this was the first of Hartinger’s books I ever read, it also meant that I’ve bought every book he’s written ever since!
If you like Geography Club, I recommend Russel’s further adventures in becoming a caring human being in The Order of the Poison Oak.  Russel is a counselor at a summer camp—and he’s got the ungrateful kids!

Thanks to all the authors who participated in this exciting project!  Not only for their lovely reviews, but for writing books for young adults that open our eyes to different ways of life, and helping us keep Austin weird, wonderful, and friendly to all our amazing citizens and visitors!

About EKA

E. Kristin Andersonis a Pushcart-nominated poet and author who grew up in Westbrook, Maine and is a graduate of Connecticut College. She has a fancy diploma that says “B.A. in Classics,” which makes her sound smart but has not helped her get any jobs in Ancient Rome. Once upon a time she worked for the lovely folks at The New Yorker magazine, but she soon packed her bags and moved to Austin, Texas where she works as a freelance editor and writing coach. Wearer of many proverbial hats, Kristin an editor at NonBinary Review, helps make books at Lucky Bastard Press, and is a poetry editor at Found Poetry Review. Kristin is the co-editor of the DEAR TEEN ME anthology (Zest Books, 2012), based on the website of the same name. Her YA memoir THE SUMMER OF UNRAVELLING is forthcoming in 2017 from ELJ Publications. As a poet she has been published in many magazines including Juked, [PANK], Asimov’s Science Fiction, Hotel Amerika, Contemporary Verse 2, Room and Cicada and she has work forthcoming in Plath Profiles and The Quotable. Kristin is the author of seven chapbooks of poetry: A GUIDE FOR THE PRACTICAL ABDUCTEE (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014), A JAB OF DEEP URGENCY (Finishing Line Press, 2014), PRAY, PRAY, PRAY: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press, 2015), ACOUSTIC BATTERY LIFE (forthcoming from ELJ Publications), 17 DAYS (forthcoming from Choose the Sword Press), FIRE IN THE SKY (forthcoming from Greybook Press), and SHE WITNESSES (forthcoming from dancing girl press). She hand-wrote her first trunk book at sixteen. It was about the band Hanson and may or may not still be in a notebook in her parents’ garage. She blogs at EKristinAnderson.com and is currently trying to trick someone into publishing her full-length collection of erasure poems based on women’s and teen magazines.

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