March 9, 2010

Teens and identity

by Ellen Wittlinger
Parrotfish begins on the day Angela Katz-McNair changes her name to Grady and starts living life as a boy. It isn't easy. His mother is uncomfortable, his father in denial, and his sister mortified. Worst of all, he's lost his best friend. Only Grady's classmate, Sebastian, is excited, exclaiming "You're just like the stoplight parrotfish!" Parrotfish change gender when they need to, depending on fluctuations in their population density. 
Grady faces a lot of confusion and hostility, but he is not without support. Along with Sebastian and a sympathetic teacher, Grady finds friends in Russ and Kita, to whom he becomes attracted. Throughout, he is always himself, and eventually others begin to understand his choices. The hysterical holiday celebration that closes the novel demonstrates how truly normal Grady's family actually is. A terrific book. 

by Mayra Lazara Dole
When Laura's mother finds out that she's a lesbian, she kicks her out of the house. After that dramatic beginning, the story gets slightly dull. Laura spends most of her time denying her sexuality and pretending to love a boy in order to reunite with her family. Meanwhile, her best friend Soli and others introduce her to the lively gay community. 
The narrative then gets overlong, with descriptions of parties, dancing, food, and clothing. It's also overly concerned with who is attracted to whom, which gets a little confusing since all the characters sound the same. Overall, it's a superficial soap opera with a predictable ending.

by Alex Sanchez
Three teens - Jason (in denial), Kyle (closeted), Nelson (openly gay) - try to navigate the high school minefield with the added trauma of homophobia. The plot is overly concerned with the characters' vacillating attraction towards each other, but their emotions and situations ring true.

by Michael Harmon
Ben Campbell has been angry ever since his father came out, his mother left, and his parents got divorced. Now he's stuck in Montana with his father and his father's boyfriend Edward.
Ben is not a likeable character. He spends too much time making sarcastic remarks about everything and everyone, especially the tough-talking Miss Mae (Edward's mother), the easy-going sheriff, the homophobic preacher next door, and the wholesome girlfriend; all small-town stereotypes. Ben often acts impulsively and thoughtlessly, leading to angry confrontations with his father. Throughout, I kept wondering why Ben, if he hated his father so much, didn't go to live with his mother and why Edward would want to return to a town that had ostracized him.
After some melodramatic developments, including a run-in with the town psychopath, Ben evolves from lazy rebel to hard-working cowboy. An epilogue wraps things up a little too neatly in this less-than-satisfying novel.

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