Friends and Family

Honestly, in a year that has so many great books with queer main characters, we hope none of these win, no matter how much we love them. But here’s a shout-out to 2017’s books with queer supporting characters.

upside of unrequitedThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, April 2017
Reviewed from hardcover

This book. THIS BOOK. I love it so! Molly Peskin-Suso has had 26 unrequited crushes on boys. Her twin sister Cassie, on the other hand, is diving into a full-fledged relationship with a pansexual girl, Mina, throwing a wrench in their twin dynamics. On top of this, as soon as marriage equality is legalized nationally, their moms decide to hold a summer wedding. Molly feels like her family is changing so fast she’s not sure how to keep up–or if she wants to in the ways her sister is encouraging her. The Peskin-Suso moms feel real and relatively developed, as does the entire family’s dynamics. Mina’s on-the-page pansexual identity is refreshing, as is the rest of the diverse identities of the cast of characters (including but not limited to Molly being fat and the Peskin-Susos being both a Jewish and multiracial family). Also, anecdotally, while Molly seems to identify as straight and allo in the book, as an ace/aro-spec individual I found her anxieties about crushes/dating/relationships and how they work in practice to be really relatable! So while I wouldn’t call her a queer character, she (to me, from my own personal reading) feels queerer than I anticipated, which was a lovely surprise. –Kazia

far from the treeFar From the Tree by Robin Benway
HarperTeen, Oct 2017
Reviewed from ARC

This one doesn’t really belong on this list, since Far From the Tree is a multi-voiced, third-person narrative and its queer character, Maya, is one of the main characters. I don’t have much to say about the story’s queer content, though, except that it’s there and it’s solid–a well-balanced part of a larger story. Being gay is both important to Maya’s character and incidental. She’s dating a girl, and their relationship is impacted by the main drama of the story, which centers around the reunion of three separated siblings and their search for their birth mom. Maya is so ready to fight any bigots who come her way, but fortunately, she doesn’t have to. I picked this one up because it won the National Book Award, and I didn’t find it hard to see why. –Dani

baby's first words.jpgBaby’s First Words by Stella Blackstone and Sunny Scribens, illus. by Christiane Engel
Barefoot Books, April 2017
Reviewed from hardcover

This board book? The cutest. Bright, colorful illustrations depict a child enjoying a day at home with their dads, one of whom has dark brown skin, the other light brown. Each page shows a room full of labeled objects, in classic first word book style. It’s so nice to see this kind of casual representation in a concept book. And this one is available in English and Spanish. –Dani

honey and leonThe Adventures of Honey & Leon by Alan Cumming, illus. by Grant Shaffer
Random House, Sept 2017
Reviewed from hardcover

The story of Honey and Leon, two dogs who chase after their humans when their humans take a trip to France, isn’t anything to write home about. BUT Honey and Leon have two dads! And those dads are Alan Cumming and Grant Shaffer, the author and illustrator of their story. Even if the story is pretty substanceless, it’s nice to see bisexual actor/author/celeb Cumming team up with his husband to try his hands at a children’s book! –Kazia

lotterys plus oneThe Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, illus. by Caroline Hadilaksono
Arthur A. Levine, March 2017
Reviewed from hardcover

Nine-year-old Sumac Lottery is one of seven Lottery siblings unschooled and co-parented by partners CardiMum and SOMETHING and partners PapaDum and PopCorn. When PopCorn (the only white parent) learns that his racist, homophobic father is ailing, the parents decide to bring “Grumps” to stay with the family for a while. True confession time: I’m only about half-way through this one because I’m finding it a bit of a slog. There are *so* many characters to keep track of, all introduced at more or less the same time! There is *so* many whimsical names for everything! I’m also pretty conflicted about the portrayal of Brian, a four-year-old whom we’re told used to go by the name Briar until they shaved their head and changed their name. The rest of the Lotterys still use she/her/hers pronouns for Brian, but from what I’ve read so far and what I’ve heard, we never learn what Brian wants. It’s totally fine for a kid to not be particular about their pronouns, but that should be articulated, especially in an otherwise progressive family. –Kazia

ashes to ashevilleAshes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley
G.P. Putnam, April 2017
Reviewed from ARC

After one of their moms dies, sisters Fella and Zoey are separated. Zoey lives with Mama Shannon, and Fella has been forced by pre-marriage act courts to live with late Mama Lacy’s homophobic mother. One night, Zoey decides to return Mama Lacy’s ashes to the home they once shared in Asheville, before the family’s financial situation forced them to move. Fella ends up along for the ride, and what was intended to be a very quick, very secret trip turns into a longer ordeal that leaves everyone panicked. The relationship between the sisters carries the story—and does a darn good job of it. This one has received a handful of starred reviews, and the writing is earnest and moving. It’s a beautiful story, but from a Stonewall-focused viewpoint, not the kind of representation that feels like it’s breaking new ground in middle grade. –Dani

this would make a good storyThis Would Make A Good Story Someday by Dana Alison Levy
Delacorte Press, May 2017
Reviewed from ARC

I shirked my reading duties, because this book was apparently not the one for me. I was put off from page one by the tired, over-used character types. Aspiring writer protagonist. Annoying but cute little sister. Over-the-top crunchy environmental activist college students. My immediate reaction was irritation, and I didn’t stick the book out to see how the lesbian moms were portrayed. But there are lesbian moms, and the family is traveling cross-country by train because one of them won a rail writing fellowship on the merits of her parenting blog about raising kids in a two-mom-household, so normalization and acceptance seem to be the name of the game. I’d love to hear thoughts about this book from someone who gave it a proper chance. –Dani

inevitable and onlyInevitable and Only by Lisa Rosinsky
Boyds Mills, Oct 2017
Reviewed from ARC

This is a YA novel that reads on the less mature side (I am always looking for this kind of book when doing reader’s advisory, so praise be). Like others on this list, it has beautifully drawn family relationships at its heart. It’s funny and warm, and it’s got all kinds of lovely details for drama nerd readers (and plenty else to enjoy in the character interactions for those who could care less). And one of the secondary characters is queer. I don’t go in for “identity as a spoiler”—but I’m keeping this one quiet. While I’m wary of books where anyone’s queerness is leveraged as a surprise, I think it works for me here because of the care Rosinsky takes in developing the character beforehand. It’s more of a “ha! yes!” moment than a “whoa, what” moment, if that makes sense. –Dani

inexplicable logic of my lifeThe Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Clarion, Jan 2017
Reviewed from ARC

If you recognize Benjamin Alire Sáenz as the author of Aristotle and Dante, there’s a good chance you were already excited about this book. Sal is a white teen adopted by a Mexican American friend of his late mother. In addition to dealing with a violent streak he didn’t know he had in him, he’s also grieving the death of his adoptive grandmother. And, for the first time since Sal was adopted, his dad has started dating again, which comes with another set of complex feelings. A large part of the story is about Sal’s relationship with his friends Sam and, to a lesser extent, Tito, who both have difficult family situations and eventually become part of Sal’s family. Tito is gay, and having Sal’s dad as a caring adult gay Mexican American role model is huge for him. Sal’s dad is basically the dad everyone needs. This is a warm, sensitive depiction of found family and friendship. –Dani

charlie and mouseCharlie & Mouse by Lauren Snyder, illus. by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books, April 2017
Reviewed from hardcover

This is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of a deal, but still worth mentioning, if for no other reason than I love this easy reader and I hope it gets more attention! Charlie and Mouse are brothers with slightly Frog and Toad-esque personalities who go on gentle neighborhood shenanigans. At one point they stop by the house of Mr. Erik and Mr. Michael, their neighbors. It’s a comfortable, almost throw-away interaction that certainly won’t garner Snyder and Hughes a Stonewall, but it’s still completely wonderful to see. –Kazia

who's that girlWho’s That Girl by Blair Thornburgh
HarperTeen, July 2017
Reviewed from ARC

Main character Nattie is the “token heterosexual female” of her friend group, and as such, spends a lot of time hanging out with them at her school’s LGBTQIA club meetings. A significant side story focuses on the LGBTQIA club’s attempt to host their own school dance, free of gender assumptions, in place of the annual Sadie Hawkins. Perplexingly, for a story about an LGBTQIA club there were very few characters identified as queer on the page–just Nattie’s one gay friend and one lesbian friend–and most of the supporting characters were underdeveloped. This lack of characterization rubbed me the wrong way in particular when it came to Nattie’s Chinese host-brother, who was there mostly as a joke. The main plot line of the story is a very predictable romance, and I found the pacing much too slow. Nattie’s humorous voice and some rom-com cuteness might make this worthwhile for some readers, but it was not a favorite of mine. –Dani

saturdays with hitchcockSaturdays with Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger
Charlesbridge, Oct 2017
Reviewed from ARC

Twelve-year-old Maisie’s best friend Cyrus has a crush on their classmate Gary, who has a crush on Maisie and whom Maisie eventually convinces herself she too “like likes.” When Cyrus comes out to Maisie, though, she responds with a selfish inconsiderateness that, while perhaps realistic, is pretty brutal to read. The writing about queerness is stilted and old-fashioned, including lines like this one, from Maisie’s uncle: “I know you’re growing up in New Aztec, Illinois, which is not the most cosmopolitan place on earth, but it’s not Brokeback Mountain either. Surely you know other gay or lesbian people.” Her response is no better: “Well, sure, everybody knows the music teacher at school, Mr. Edwards, is gay, and most people are fine with that. And there’s a woman Dad works with at the post office who’s a lesbian, though I don’t really know her” (154). We’re REALLY going for the gay music teacher and the lesbian postal worker as our examples, in 2017? Everything about this felt like it was supposed to be Very Educational for straight kids–no thanks. –Kazia

 

2 thoughts on “Friends and Family

    • Alec says:

      Sorry, it didn’t seem to go through… Were you reacting to the characters constantly misgendering Brian? I couldn’t get past that, even though I loved how quirky the premise was.

      Like

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