I’d been wanting to read this compilation of lesbian YA short stores from Julie Anne Peters for a few years and so I was very excited when I discovered a copy in my country library collection. As a fan of Peters for a while, since I love how she draws me into believable worlds of lesbian and trans teen characters with humor, warmth, and great writing, this book didn’t disappoint. In fact, it went beyond my expectations in terms of variety. Without going into spoilers on specific stories, it covers the fear of coming out and going to a Gay/Straight Alliance meeting, breakups, cheating, first love, sexual abuse, trans hate crimes & violence, impossible crushes, religion, classism and the complications of friendship, non-traditional families, less common pronouns, online dating, and so much more.
The first story, Passengers, details a budding crush one teenager, Tam, has on a fellow classmate named Andi. How she’s observed her sitting alone everywhere. “In Art, senior seminar, lunch, on the train.” Tam and Andi are drawn as different from the get go because Tam says if she were alone on the train, she’d “find something to do. Read or work on homework or doodle, fake it, so if [she were] alone it’d look like [she] wanted to be alone.” But Andi doesn’t seem to care. Throughout the story, Tam brings the reader along on her crazy whim to get to know Andi. It seems like Andi confounds Tam. She doesn’t understand the other girl. Andi is a bundle of mystery, and Tam wants to know her better. We get a snapshot of one day where they spend time talking outside in the cold and then go into school library’s “Brittanica Boneyard” where all the library and other supplies go to die. It was nice to read a story that was just…a beginning and like any great author, I so wanted to know what happened the next day.
The next story is called Can’t Stop the Feeling and it’s about the utter fear of coming out. Mariah keeps wanting to go to the Gay/Straight Alliance meeting at school, and keeps getting closer to going in. However, she has some pretty abject terror: “The dread and fear of exposing myself to them was nothing compared to telling my friends. Did they even qualify as friends? There wasn’t one of them I could trust, or confide in.” It sucks to be that lonely and I found myself rooting for Mariah to get in that Band Room to be part of the Alliance finally.
After Alex hit me pretty hard for some personal reasons. In this story, Rachael’s friends tell her not to take back her girlfriend after Alex cheated on her, but Rachael is still knee deep in heartbreak and pining for the loss of her first love. So when Alex comes back around, begging Rachael to take her back, Rachael is thrown back into remembering the first time they really made a connection and snuggled on a train ride back from a GSA field trip. It’s funny; the story just before this one was about a character who was afraid to join the GSA, and in this story, Rachael talks about finally getting up the “nerve to join the Gay/Straight Alliance at school.” Then Rachael remembers the first time they made love and we come back to Rach’s friends trying to convince her not to get back together with Alex. This is the first story we get a definitive ending on, in that we know what Rachael does in response to Alex wanting her back, and I understand her choice oh-so-well.
Outside/Inside was a clever way to tell the story of a crush, via the outside and inside of cards that the main character, Logan, wants to send to someone she cares about at the beginning of winter break. It ends with the card’s presentation to the crush and I shook my head at Logan’s feelings. I remember having similar ones when I was in high school. I don’t want to cast spoilers out here, even for a short story, so I’m just gonna leave it by saying that things are likely gonna be complicated when Logan when she gets back from winter break.
On The Floor uses a basketball game and two players who’re on opposing teams to build a sweaty, fast-paced, well played metaphor of lust and sportsmanship. I really liked the short, quick sentences in this story and how the way she wrote it really did make give it the stop-start-screeching halt-quick sprint feeling of both a basketball game and the dynamic tension of a couple.
Stone Cold Butch was a rough one for me as it dealt with sexual abuse and how it’s hard for someone who’s gone through that to connect to another person in a romantic or sexual way. The main character, Cammie, calls herself a stone cold butch. She won’t let anyone do anything for her in that intimate way. She’s shut down. Which is heartbreaking to watch from inside her head when a classmate develops a crush on her and pursues her, even though Cammie verges on cruel.
In Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder, Peters tackles the subject of how abstinence-only sex ed affects queer students. Things like how birth-control wasn’t really a thing for same sex couples because, duh, no risk of pregnancy. Also, when Aimee, the protagonist, asks why should students who were gay wait for marriage when they weren’t allowed to get married and did that mean that they were just never supposed to have sex, I almost threw my fist in the air when reading. Aimee’s teacher gets snarky with her and first tells her she’ll be playing a lot of Solitaire (wtf?! But I can totally see certain teachers I had in school answering that way, and now I’m suddenly glad that I had fairly good NOT abstinence-only sex ed in school) and then later, when Aimee presses her for a real answer, tells her it’s between her and her god. I love the anger that rises in Aimee and also that afterward, in her head, she goes into a rant:
I stormed out after class. My god? My god? What did she know about my god? She probably thought since I was gay, I was godless. Against religion. But I’m not. I have a god. I go to church. My god isn’t her god. My god doesn’t scorn or condemn me. My god is kind and benevolent and accepting. We made a sacred pact. I’d be the best person I could be and God would save me a place in heaven. The real one, where it doesn’t matter who you are or how you look or how you sacrifice your dignity and self-respect most days just to be true to yourself.
The story takes a bit of a twist (to me, at least) from there, introducing an old friend, Peyton, that had dropped Aimee after her parents got divorced and Aimee moved to the wrong side of the tracks and “inner-city housing.” But it was awesome to see Aimee and Peyton reconnect and by the end of the story, with some humor and snark, we get hope for the two girls to be friends again.
Boi deals with an FtM trans character and opens with some fairly explicit talk about children being curious about body parts and how one moment with a cousin was a tip-off for the main character that ze wanted zir own penis. Over a decade later, the same cousin helped Vince get zir first packing penis. Vince’s cousin Kevin were raised by their grandparents. I really liked this story as soon as I started reading it, so the assault that happens to Vince utterly gutted me. Fair warning, this story ends on an incredibly upsetting note and I hate these fictitious boys for what they did to Vince. The damage they did may’ve been fictional, but it’s indicative of the real damage and hate that gets carried out everyday all over the world towards trans people and it’s horrific.
I think TIAD was my least favorite story. I certainly relate to it. It mostly takes place in a chatroom online and I remember what it was like to connect to someone in a chatroom, think that you have something in an LDR, and then to have it all fall apart. This one just felt a little flat to me. However, it is funny that the acronym and it’s meaning has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently wrote a piece about how Tomorrow Is Another Day, so that’s important to remember but this one just didn’t really stick in my brain and I had a hard time connecting to the characters.
Aaaand whereas I couldn’t connect in TIAD, I did nothing by connect with the story and characters in the last story of this compilation, called Two-Part Invention. This was definitely my favorite, but that’s likely due a lot to the fact that it was music-based. Whereas On The Floor was all sweaty sports-filled adrenaline, this was pure lyricism, ripe with music references, and I love how music can be a metaphor for love. This story centered on Kat and her yearly pilgrimages to an elite camp for musical prodigies and the girl, Annika, she’s fallen in love with. There’s a beautiful tension where Kat is trying to bring herself to tell Annika how she feels about her and also trying not to freak out about how Annika has been recently talking about a fellow male prodigy musician named Bryce, throwing a wrench into things for Kat to figure out if Annika might feel the same way. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I was a fan of the ending and think it was the perfect story to end the book on.
Have I mentioned how much I love Julie Anne Peters?