Tag Archives: love

If I Was Your Girl

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18-year-old Amanda Hardy is the new senior at Lambertville High School in Tennessee. She just moved down there to live with her dad, after her time at her previous school ended in a suicide attempt and left her scarred and too terrified to return. High school should not be dangerous, but for Amanda, it is. Because she was born Andrew.

But Lambertville is a new chance, a new opportunity to fit in and make friends and have a life beyond Saturday evening take-out with her mom. As the new girl, she is automatically intriguing to both boys and girls alike. And not only does she make a circle of friends in the close-knit conservative town, she also meets the boy of her dreams. But how close friends can they be, when she can’t be honest with them?

This is the story of a girl who wants to fit in, have a “normal” high school experience, and not have to look over her shoulder. It is the story of family. And it is a fun boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love story. It is the story of a girl who hasn’t received a lot of love and respect in her life, and is now surrounded by friends and family who give it to her. And what is awesome is she realizes she deserves it.

Despite a suicide attempt and some quite graphic violence, the novel isn’t that dark.  It has moments of light and joy and humour, and real-life high-school experiences that took me back to those years, hanging out with friends, shopping for prom dresses with giggling girls, first kisses.

There are tons of characters that surround Amanda in the novel – her mom and dad, the girls who make up her circle, Bee, Grant, Parker, and so many more. The friends run the gamut from religious to fashionista to closeted lesbian to bi. Some are judgey, some accepting. Grant is sweet and protective. Her parents are present throughout, and although her mom struggles at first to understand, in the end just wants her child alive and happy. Dad takes longer to accept her and vacillates between feeling self-righteously unsupportive one moment, and in the next, trying to find a way to accept and protect his child.

The big reveal was well done and not in the way I expected. And as much as I always want closure, the open ending is perfect for this story.

This is a story about a trans girl written by a trans woman, with a cover that features a beautiful trans model. Read the author’s notes at the end. She writes separate messages to both the trans and the non-trans community and explains her motivations for writing the novel the way she did. Incredible.

Is the portrayal of Amanda’s life as a trans woman realistic?  Not totally, according to author Meredith Russo, but life can be difficult enough for trans teens, and perhaps reading something that is not 100% true to most experiences can give hope, and offer the belief that life can get better and there can be acceptance.

If I Was Your Girl was published May 3rd, 2016 by Flatiron Books.

A Mango-Shaped Space

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This is a difficult book to review, and I am not entirely sure why. It was an easy read with lovely writing and interesting characters, it made me cry absolute buckets of tears by the end, but I am having trouble distilling the main message. Be true to yourself? Those who love you never leave you? Don’t be so wrapped up in your own thoughts that you ignore others? Maybe it’s all of them and more. It seems to start one way and meander over to an entirely different path by the end. This may be a short review. Or I may ramble on ad nauseam. Probably the latter, who’s kidding who.

By the way. It is a wonderful story.

13-year-old Mia Winchell is entering 8th grade, and she dreads it. Math is impossible, she has to learn Spanish, which is just not going to happen, and she lives in fear of her secret getting out. No one knows about her, not even her best friend Jenna. No one knows that she sees sounds and words and numbers and names all in colour. No one knows that their names have colour. No one knows that their voices make shapes in the air. And no one knows that Mango got his name because his little meow is mango-coloured. Mia’s grandfather died a year ago, the same day that Mango appeared. She is pretty convinced a piece of her grandfather’s soul is in the cat.

Then a fight with her best friend and two big purple Fs on math tests lead to her secret getting out, and nothing will be the same again.

Mia has synesthesia – she perceives sounds and letters and numbers as colour. I hadn’t heard of this before, but after a bit of research, found out that it is not uncommon in the population. There are a lot of different forms of it, and essentially it means “blended senses.” But when Mia tried to tell people abut it in grade three, her fellow students laughed at her, and the adults didn’t believe her. So she figured it wasn’t normal, and has kept it a secret her whole life.

I like Mia. She is a middle-school girl with all the normal angsts and worries of any 13-year-old, she has her best friend and her squad of girls that have always hung out together. She is starting to notice things changing, and isn’t sure if she likes what she sees. And she is starting to notice boys. She is also self-absorbed and ready to blow off plans if they interfere with something she wants more. In short, she sounds pretty normal.

Basically, I found all the teen characters fit that description. Her brother Zack is obsessed with superstitions, but is quirky and fun, rather than obnoxious. BFF Jenna deals with loss and heartbreak, and needs Mia to need her. Roger is sweet and bashful and vulnerable.

This is a story of a few months in their lives, when they are all dealing with different changes and losses.

A couple things bothered me about the story. One is that her mother, a scientist, was sceptical when Mia told her about her synesthesia, and wanted her “cured.” This isn’t the Middle Ages, we aren’t afraid of black magic, I cannot understand why she wouldn’t just say “ok, this changes the way you learn and see things, let’s figure out a way for you to learn math…” Why her parents treated it as a disorder or a serious condition is confusing to me, other than just to give the author a way to move the story in a certain direction.

The next is that it came a big surprise to everyone. I have three children, and if they saw letters as colours or tasted sound or anything, I would have heard about it long before grade three. Because kids talk about everything. And a four-year-old would tell you your name sounds purple or the dog barks green. And it would be normal to them, because everything is normal to a child. So I have trouble buying that Mia kept it a secret and no one knew.

Those few issues aside, author Wendy Mass tells a lovely story. There is love and acceptance and friendship and a LOT of tears, both happy and sad, by the end. It is a nice read for anyone. Just have tissues handy.

A Mango-Shaped Space was published October 19th 2005 by Little, Brown and Company

Annie on My Mind

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I had an incredibly difficult time writing a review for Annie on My Mind. And not for any negative reason – it is unbelievable. All I can think to write is “READ THIS!” Not only did I not feed my children last night, I didn’t even phone for pizza. I threw them $$ and told them to take care of it themselves if they wanted dinner. (Damn kids didn’t save me any.)

17-year-old Eliza meets Annie during an afternoon visit to the Museum. Annie is singing in an empty room, and Liza is spellbound. And a friendship starts. Which slowly and carefully blossoms into love.

Liza attends a private high school in New York City, while Annie goes to a rough public school across town.  They are both driven in their respective fields: Liza wants to study architecture at MIT, and Annie wants to study music in California. But they have much more in common than not, and their differences add to their friendship, not diminish it.

First published in 1982, this novel was written during a time when homosexuality was hidden and forbidden and something of which to be ashamed. I was just a teen starting high school then, but remember well the atmosphere surrounding the gay community. It was not, for the most part, welcoming or supportive.

This is one of the best, most powerful novels I’ve read in ages. Not just as an example of LGBT literature, but as a YA novel as well. Nancy Garden writes such a beautiful novel of acceptance and love and growth and coming-of-age that it will resonate with anyone. I love how she looks at the connection between the girls, and how not only does the society in which they live affect their relationship, but also that she takes a good look at Liza and how she comes to terms with herself. Annie is more open to the idea of falling in love with another woman, while Liza struggles more with what that means, even as she recognizes her passion for Annie.

The characters throughout the novel are incredibly true to life. I absolutely adore Liza’s parents; their acceptance of their daughter’s sexuality is touching and heart wrenching. Their love, even as they try to come to terms with this new information, strikes such an authentic chord, and one you wish every teen coming out could face.

The teachers who accept Liza and Annie, and the ones that don’t, are all familiar and well drawn. Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer are just plain perfect. And Liza’s fellow students strike the right balance; some who turn away in disgust, some who are curious, while others could care less.

But it is the authenticity of the relationship that makes this book incredible. Whether lesbian, gay, straight, bi, trans, everyone can relate to the feelings and emotions of the two girls.

Annie on My Mind is an absolute page-turner. Once I started it, it was impossible to put down, and I read it through from start to finish in one sitting, laughing one moment and crying the next, then cringing in sympathy, and back to laughter. I was on the edge of my seat the entire book, and could not turn the pages quickly enough. And I loved the ending.

Nancy Garden’s interview at the end of the book is a must-read. She is breathtaking.

Everyone needs to read this book.

Annie on My Mind was published 1992 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (first published 1982).

Fire Colour One

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This could possibly be a perfect story.

Iris loves fire and art and Thurston. She sees art in the moment and in the flame and in her friendship with the sometimes homeless but always brilliant boy. Almost 17 years old, she is blank, empty. Setting fires clears her mind when she is overwhelmed. But she is about to learn that some things are brighter and more powerful than the hottest fire.

Hannah and Lowell are her mother and wanna-be actor stepfather, drowning in debt and always a scam away from riches.

Ernest is dying, far away from his only child.  Iris thinks he abandoned her.  He believes that she must hate him.  But her mother’s greed and Ernest’s illness gives the two of them a final chance to be father and daughter. A short, wonderful, bittersweet chance.

I loved this book. Not at the beginning.  At first, I thought it was a bit precious and obnoxious and pretentious. Then came the realization that I was reading it cover to cover, afraid to put it down in case the story went away without me finishing it.

The characters are fabulous. Iris is, at first, a self-absorbed teen, filled with disdain and anger for everyone but her only friend. She reserves a special antipathy for her money-grubbing parents. While none of that is entirely a put-on or front, it does hide her loneliness, and is something she willingly gives up for Ernest.

Neither Hannah nor Lowell are subtle characters. Jenny Valentine intends for the reader to intensely dislike the two of them, and while her writing may be a bit obvious in their development, it worked: they were perfectly vile, and you won’t feel forced to hate them.

Ernest is lovely. Just how lovely isn’t fully revealed until after his death, but I fell hard for the lonely man who finally listened to his sister, and spent his daughter’s lifetime thinking of her, hoping for her happiness.

FC1 is a painting by artist Yves Klein, a stunningly graphic work he finished just before his death in 1962 (and looks NOTHING like the cover art of this book, in case you are wondering). Valentine uses the imagery of the painting, as well as references to other famous works of art to parallel the plot. A great story and a bit of art history, all in the same novel.

In the end, the unexpected plot twists makes it a masterpiece of manipulation and deceit and pure love.

Appropriate for any age, this story has something different in it for every reader.

Fire Colour One is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.