Category Archives: Young Adult

Dunno What Nth Discussion: Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On

simon-bazDunno what nth discussion because someone hasn’t written the past discussions yet. *passive aggressive mode on* Just kidding.

It’s back to the good old days, with Raj, Timmy and Aaron, like we were at the start of the book club 5 years ago. The book is a fan-fic of a queer Harry Potter—queer because he likes the person, not the sex—and a gay Edward Cullum.

static1.squarespaceThese are some of the things we talk about:

  1. Shallow and superficial: Simon wishes father is a footballer, mom is a model (8). All along, Agatha is trying to break out of the “blond cheerleader” typecast, yet at the end, she becomes the damsel-in-distress, and doesn’t even fight to save her life. She wishes she has nicer clothes so that she can die pretty (465). WTH.
  2. All characters are queer but with limited character development: Agatha seems to be the most interesting character because she tries to break out of her mold; none of the other protagonists does it. Simon plays his Chosen One role; Penny plays the Hermione role dutifully, and Baz the anti-hero.But Agatha struggles with her emotions, fakes her emotions (9, 74, 75), and claims “we are all monsters” (14), a deep thought coming from a putative “bimbo.” Unfortunately, the damsel-in-distress part is a big gaping plot hole.
  3. Treatment of LBGTQ characters: These characters are not human. Baz is a vampire, Simon becomes a dragon/devil caricature; and Trixie is half pixie. There is something homophobic in that.

    That is not to say this book isn’t a book with good intentions. Baz’s difficulty of admitting he’s a vampire (262) mirrors the difficult coming out. His dad, preferring him to be Undead than to be queer, is heartbreaking (215, 279).

    Futhermore, there are two gay sex scenes between the homos, and gay sex scenes are always good, even if they are encoded. First scene: Baz and Simon’s fight scene with the dragon is written in erotic terms: “I did something I’ve never done before—something I probably wouldn’t try with anyone I was scared of hurting. [anal sex hurts.] I push I just push it into Baz” (239). “His arm straightens like a rodI push a little more magic. I worry that it’s too much… His shoulder is rock hard… it’s jerking itself…I stop pushing… letting Baz draw on my magic” (240).

    The second scene is more subtle (391).

  4. Sexism: No strong male characters, only strong female ones, like Fiona, Baz’s mother, etc.

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  5. Magic as metaphors:
    1. Class: The powerful magicians are always depicted as “rich and powerful,” kept within old families. Magic is also seen as hereditary, which reeks of biological essentialism; we can never transcend our DNA, which means the novel advocates a racist, sexist, homophobic philosophy.

      In a way, The Mage, wanting to liberate magic so that even people with a smidgeon of magic can go to Watsford, and eradicating school fees, can be seen as democratic.

      But Mitali, Penny’s mom, an Indian woman, who calls The Mage sexist for no apparent reason, wants a traditional Watsford, keeping magic for the best students. She also thinks that they are better than Normals (111, 261, 401). In a way, Mitali is supporting the system that oppresses her. Raj thinks that Mitali and Penny are portrayed as a stereotypical Indian family, which makes the novel racist.

      Unfortunately, the death of The Mage, especially at the hands of Baz from an Old Family and Penny, Mitali’s daughter, implies that Mage’s democratic ways are wrong; they revert to the old traditional methods.

      One could argue, as Raj did, that the Mage represents extreme democracy, ie, he is an extremist that he must be destroy. After all, in the end, he wants to be the most powerful magician of all time.

    2. Magic as Commodity: Magic is often viewed as something to be conserved and not to “waste” (38, 78, 186, 187); it is also seen as something to be “eaten” and consumed (47). We didn’t appreciate this cultivation of materialism.
    3. Magic as Objectification: Simon is often objectified because of his magic; he’s “power” (67), a “vessel” (123), “element” (181), “nuclear” (181, 242),  “generator” (258). Simon even objectifies himself, calling himself a “current” (337), and “I am magic” (455). Ebb is also a “generator” (284). Baz is used as a “wand” (254). Penny’s dad is a “book of footnotes” (247). Like the message of magic as a commodity, this sends the wrong message.
    4. Magic as ozone layer: Magic leaves holes, unfortunately, this is not explored further in the book.
    5. Magic as finding the right words (107)
    6. Magic as texture: Different people’s magic feels differently. An interesting concept that isn’t explored in the novel.
    7. Magic as Religion (197): If magic is seen as a religion, it would explain why Agatha finds it so hard to walk away from the magic community; to become a Normal is to be outcast.

      The theme of outcast recurs in the book, not just gay people—a vampire and a demon—are outcasts. Ebb’s brother, who chooses to leave the world of living to become a vampire, is ostracized by the magic community, and by Baz, Simon, and Penny who need his help badly, bearing in mind that Baz himself is a vampire and that Ebb’s brother is very powerful. Even the outcasts can outcast others.

      Ebb’s death can also be read as her rejection of her power. Because she rejects her immense power, because she lacks the training, she dies at the hands of The Mage.

      Superficially, this book seems to be a message of inclusion, but at a deeper level, the prejudice of the book shows. If you don’t want to be in the magic/religious community, you will be outcast and we will never accept you back, regardless of the direst situation. If you don’t practice your magic/religion, you’ll be punished, and in Ebb’s case, her punishment is death.

 

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Coming of Age, Ecology, Family, Food, Love, Queer, Race, Rainbow Rowell, Religion, UK, Young Adult

53rd Discussion: Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens

Shout-out to Isaac for allowing us to use his office for our discussion; Aaron moderated the discussion.

OPENING

Libba Bray's Beauty QueensAlexius thought the book was not as good as he had hoped, as he thought it could have been the female version of Lord of the Flies. He stated that it was funny for him initially; however it became cheesy and the “singing at the end spoiled the book” for him. Isaac also agreed that it was not funny and felt that the book was not catered to “people of his age.” Jiaqi thought the book was fairly entertaining, though the author did not set out to explore the presented themes in a deep manner and glossed over issues in an attempt to make it more “politically correct.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Javin actually read the book and declared that he liked it, comparing it to Miss Congeniality. Aaron gushed about the book too, saying that despite the “cheem” English being used, parts of the book were a “tour de force” with sublime writing.

THEMES

We first delved into the opening chapter, “A Word from Your Sponsor.” Aaron asked why did the author started with this. Alexius commented that it acted as a preface and to give context to the book. Javin felt that the chapter was meant to be ironic and read with a sense of humour. Like Alexius, he believed that the opening chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book. Both of them agreed that it was akin to the reality television format that we see nowadays.

Death was pretty imminent in the book; in fact, according to Aaron, they were too many of them. The closest explanation that we derived from this was to showcase the blood, sweat and tears to becoming beauty queens, and what their world is like in extreme situations (Javin).

From there, we moved on to why Taylor started on her killing spree. Aaron thought that the change in character was freaky; Javin felt it was too sudden and Alexius commented that Taylor may have been possessed. All three agreed that Taylor suddenly became unstable.

We also touched on the topic of race. Aaron felt there was diversification covered in the book, which got the thumbs up from him. It also highlighted racism and society as a whole. Aaron asked Shanti’s motives for being best friends with Nicole, the other minority character of the book. Javin viewed it as a strategy to win the beauty pageant, while Timmy felt it was just a minority allaying with another minority. Jiaqi opined that the two share the same challenges and thus, would be able to understand the problems if they face it together.

Jiaqi felt that the transgender issue was not treated in a “deep” manner and no serious conflicts were portrayed. Javin disagreed, highlighting that Petra was initially supposed to be cut out of the pageant due to her nature, but was eventually allowed to stay when they were stranded on the island. Aaron questioned whether the issue was sensitively handled. He also brought up the question as to why Shanti disliked and ostracized Petra. Timmy commented it may have been a case of minority versus minority, while Javin quipped that “all Indians dislike transgenders.”

We also discussed briefly on lesbianism, which Javin felt was handled too tamely compared to the other issues that were present throughout the book.

Aaron questioned whether the book was a feminist book, which got a positive response from everyone else. They all agreed that it portrayed all kinds of women – stupid women, weak women, strong women, coloured women. Aaron felt that this portrayal was “amazing” as it showed the different sides of beauty queens and not as one-note, dumb females; that behind these facades, they are smart, gung-ho women.

In comparison, the males were glossed over and came across as only two-dimensional. The pirates, in particular, were hardly portrayed (Jiaqi), only had to be hot, good looking and have abs (Javin), and were daft, scheming douches (Aaron).

CHARACTERS

Taylor

Aaron felt that the author was punishing her by turning her into a crazed killer and making her stay on the island. Javin agreed, adding on that she has the necessary skills to become Ladybird Hope. Overall, he viewed her as a sad character who may have decided to remain on the island because she “cannot win the beauty pageant.”

Jiaqi disagreed; he felt that she became more interesting due to the transformation and may have even found herself. “She became what she wanted,” Alexius quipped, from being leader of the (beauty queens) tribe to leader of the jungle.

Adina

Javin found her annoying, “high and mighty”, sarcastic and disrespectful; someone who was no better than the rest of the beauty queens. Aaron agreed, commenting that she was too moralistic and compared her to Sandra Bullock’s character in Miss Congeniality. Alexius felt there was nothing special about her.

Shanti

Javin’s favourite character; he found her “realistic” and felt that she was “interesting” due to her devious nature. Aaron, however, felt that the author made her unlikable and only used her “cultural background” to make people/ readers like her. Javin disagreed, proclaiming that Shanti “does not represent her race.”

Petra

Jiaqi thought that she was not negatively portrayed. Aaron and Javin both agreed, saying that her character was fleshed out quite well (Aaron) and she was tastefully written (Javin). Javin further added that the author gave her a good ending and allowed her to shine. Alexius agreed to a certain extent, but also found her “scary” as “transgenders may influence heterosexuals to like them.” (WHUT.)

Tiara

Jiaqi felt that she was not stupid, perhaps just “slow” in thinking and reaction.

Jennifer

According to Aaron, she was not like a typical beauty queen, although Jiaqi felt that she did not get her “happily ever after.”

Sosie

Javin viewed as a typical, normal person who struggled with her decisions and took more time to figure things out. Jiaqi felt that she was sexually experimentative, and that was fine with him, which led to Aaron asking whether she was just using Petra to figure out her sexual orientation (“any hole to poke”).

Mary Lou

Jiaqi found her to be the more interesting character of the book. Aaron thought her sexual awakening scene to be the dreamiest and sublime part of the book.

Agent Jones

Like Taylor, this character too ended up going crazy, which led to Aaron proclaiming it as his punishment for being the mastermind of the island. Jiaqi and Javin both viewed him as the bad guy of the book. Alexius felt that he was the only one to have a back story out of all the characters. Agent Jones is also Alexius’s favourite character thanks to his humorous outcome (he put on a bunny suit, had a serious exchange, and then died shortly afterwards).

Apart from Javin and Alexius, both Aaron and Jiaqi did not have any favourite characters. Aaron found them all to be unlikable and hated them, yet he still liked the book, which he felt was very difficult to achieve.

CLOSING STATEMENTS

In capping off the discussion, everyone was required to share something (good) about the book. Alexius liked the back cover and thought it showed some initial promise and meaning to the book. Javin liked the book and found it hilarious, commenting that the book did not take itself too seriously and was portrayed realistically to a certain extent. Jiaqi found the book fairly easy to read and was kept entertained. Aaron thought the book was well-written and multi-faceted, though he felt it was rather difficult to sustain a satire throughout 400 pages.

Isaac, however, found the book annoying and the humour did not bode well with him; hence he had a DNF (did not finish) stamped all over it.

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Filed under Americas, Bisexuality, Class, Disability, Lesbian, Libba Bray, Love, Queer, Race, Transgender, USA, Young Adult

52nd Discussion: Sonya Sones’s One of those Hideous Books where the Mother Dies

one-of-those-hideous

Present: Timmy, Luke, Aaron, Jiaqi, Gavin and Alexius.

Themes

1. Father-Daughter Relationship: Why does Ruby need to know that Whip loves her mother before forgiving him? Timmy suggested that knowing it is a revelation for Ruby, turning her world around, sets her thinking.

Timmy also said that Ruby giving Whip his name is Whip’s way of submission.

For Ruby to reconcile with Whip, several severe incidents have to occur: death of a classmate (Jiaqi’s point), betrayal of best friend and boyfriend (Jiaqi), natural disaster (Timmy), and substitution of absent, seemingly uncaring Aunt Duffy with Aunt Max (Aaron). (Alexius chimed, “Wah, Ruby makes a very good accountant, she knows her debts and balances”.)

Except for Jiaqi, we thought that it was heavy-handed for the author to bring the father-daugther together in such a manner. Jiaqi was thinking in terms of time, and said that it was relatively short time (6 months) for the daughter to accept the father.

Would the author be so heavy-handed if it were a straight father? Aaron contended that the heavy-handedness is a form of overcompensation, and hence, showing insecurity of one’s sexuality: “Look here, everyone abandons you, except for your gay father and his boyfriend, so gay people are nice people after all.”

This overcompensation is also shown in the “clean” handing of Max and Whip’s relationships. Alexius pointed out, “Why is the house so quiet at night? How come they don’t moan?” Throughout the book, there are no telltale signs of Max having an intimate moment with Whip, or no direct declarations of “I love yous.” Javin said, “They are gay, but they have no sexuality.” Indeed, it seems like gay men are Ken dolls.

Because of the overcompensation of a gay father, Aaron argued that the author worked so hard to bring about the reconciliation of the father-daughter pair. A gay father is better than “an alcoholic heroin addict who brutally beats her and sexually molests her thereby causing her to become a bulimic ax murderer” (p. 7). It is as if the author is saying, “phew.. look here, the father is gay, but he loves the daughter and does all these things for her that no one else can do. A gay father is a step up from a child-molester, right?” Jiaqi disagreed with Aaron, stating that there was no direct evidence of the sexuality of the father having to do with her acceptance of him.

2. Gay Stereotypes: Alexius observed that stereotypes of gay men are presented: goodlooking actor and buff, sensitive nanny. The usage of “Aunt Max” irked us, although Alexius justified that it is easier to call “Aunt” (1 syllable) than “Uncle” (2 syllables).

3. Mother-Daughter Relationship: Timmy brought up the emails that Ruby sends to a dead mother as a form of working through her grief, which Aaron found touching while Alexius found inane.

Structure/ Literary Devices

1. Verse: Both Alexius and Timmy thought the novel is MRT-friendly, easy to read in bite-size.

2. Readership: Javin pointed out the narrator is an American teenage girl and the target reader is an American teenager.  Timmy continued that we may be too old to read a Young Adult book, which accounts why we didn’t like the book.

3. Lyrics: Aaron noted that in many instances (pp. 89, 48, 87, 191, 207, 205) are written very similar to song lyrics. Timmy suggested that the writing came off as trite.

4. Movie references: There are several movie references, as if Ruby’s life is a movie. Alexius hinted that it is because Ruby’s epistemology is learned from movies, and Timmy suggested that instead of coming off as smart, the author’s plans backfire, making the novel predictable and cliche.

5. Title: Alexius disliked the title because it is too long to be keyed in the National Library catalogue, hard to search, while Timmy thought the

Characters

1. Ruby: Most of us, especially Timmy, disliked her because she is self-absorbed and unforgiving but insecure.

2. Ray: Alexius’s favorite character.

3. Colette: Timmy’s favorite character.

4. Max the muscle bear is Aaron’s favorite, although Alexius finds him creepy; he keeps going to Ruby’s room, like he’s the 3 bears and Ruby is Goldilocks.

5. Alexius hates Mom because she is the cause of everything.

Conclusion

Timmy said the book doesn’t deserve the blurbs on the back cover. “‘Ruby’s voice is pitch-perfect’….ly off-pitch,” Timmy said.

While we all disliked the book, we wanted to end on a positive note and say something nice. Timmy calls on the “Disney ending.” Both Timmy and Jiaqi agreed it was easy to read. Alexius liked the consistence book covers across all her books–they all have an orb of light. Javin, who didn’t read the book, turned the cliche-ness of the book into something positive: “I can discuss the book even without reading it.” Timmy’s favorite part is page 226. The page starts with “Things I am Thankful For”–and is a blank page.

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Filed under Family, Gay, Love, Sonya Sones, USA, Young Adult

31st Discussion: Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Dave Egger’s The Wild Things (15 Mar)

Moderator: Isaac
Minutes and Notes: Helmi
Attendees: Timmy, Alex, Alexius, Joshua, Gavin, Javin, Aaron.

We discussed Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic Where The Wild Things Are, and Eggers’ novel adaptation of it titled The Wild Things. Sendak is gay but made an official admission of his orientation in 2008. He’s lived with psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn for 50 years.

On the whole, the book club felt that Eggers, while a good writer of prose, did not capture the vivid and magical world conjured by Sendak’s short children’s book. Some members, such as Joshua and Gavin, felt the fleshing out of the characters and the “heavy-handed” commentary on war and violence killed the seemingly innocent charm of the original. However, Eggers’ biggest crime, some say, is his failure to capture the gay subtext inherent in the original.

Timmy found Sendak’s version dark and evocative, allow your imagination to run wild and fill in the gaps. He did not enjoy Egger’s detailed “deconstruction” of Sendak’s original. Like many others, he feels Eggers’ verbose writing style detracts rather than adds to Sendak’s much-beloved characters. When fleshed out, Max appears pesky and the monsters become unloveable. Javin says the events on the island are rendered meandering and “plotless” in Egger’s hands. Helmi calls them a “patchwork of incidents that don’t build on each other for a satisfying climax”.

Aaron spent much time explaining why Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are is really a gay fable clothed in a child’s tale. Max’s foray into the island represents a gay man’s jaunt in Central Park where staring incidents and “wild rumpuses” take place. Alex is convinced that Max has entered a gay sauna – what with all the dark spaces and furry plus-sized monsters (bears) who want to “eat you up”. The wolf suit that Max dons, says Aaron, is a specific reference to the term “wolf”, which in the gay lingo of the 1960s, stands for unbridled sexuality.

Ultimately though, Aaron felt the books’ ending is a cop-out because it propagates the idea that the “gay life”, as symbolised by the wild forests, is not as safe, comfortable and desirable as a conventional home. Joshua took a different view – the idea that you can return home suggests you can be gay and still be part of conventional family arrangement. Alex/Alexis pointed out that a subversive power of any work lies in its ability to plant non-conventional ideas within a conventional narrative.

When Aaron began discussing Sendak’s style, the run-on sentences and the lack of punctuation, the discussion took a turn for the campy as Alex, Alexis and Joshua speculate (jokingly or not) that the circularity of the prose reflects Max being neither top nor bottom – but a flex!

 

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Filed under Children's Literature, Dave Eggers, Family, Love, Maurice Sendak, Queer, USA, Young Adult

28th Discussion: Christian Burch’s Hit The Road, Manny

Biggest turn out in the history of the book club. Thank you, Raj, for the wonderful pre-Chinese New Year BBQ. Timmy moderated the discussion.

Characters:

1. Manny: Timmy liked how Manny forms a social family that is unrelated to him. Aaron couldn’t stand how meek the Manny is, unable to stand up for himself when faced with homophobic slurs. Melissa, however, thought that Manny is a realistic portrayal because he obviously has issues he needs to deal with. Glenn and Ernest were convinced that Manny is a sad person and uses humor to mask his melancholy. Helmi asked, “How sad can he be when he has a family who accepts him and when he is married?” Aaron claimed that although it is true Manny may have experienced some sad incidents in his life, it doesn’t mean that he cannot deal with it happily and it doesn’t mean he cannot be happy: your situation doesn’t dictate your fate. Ernest liked Manny because he represents both the masculine and feminine side: he can be nurturing to the kids and yet he is not afraid to play the role of a disciplinarian with regards to Belly’s behavior towards another girl.

2. Belly: Melissa’s favorite character. Timmy said that Belly reminded him of Mel and Teri.

3. Keats: Alexius found Keats annoyingly immature.

4. Lulu: Ernest detested her because she’s a mean bitch. Timmy said, “But she’s just like a fag hag.” Aaron disagreed with Ernest because Lulu is just authoritative and follows rules but when she is fun, she is really fun. Lulu simply acts as a contrast to chill India.

Themes:

1. Acceptance of family:

(a) Raj felt that the acceptance of Manny’s parents of his sexuality is too facile. Aaron agreed, stating that it is only after Manny helps the birthing of a calf that the father accepts him. Immediately after the calving when the cow accepts the calf–usually they don’t accept after difficult births as explained in the book–Manny yells, “There will be no rejection of children by their parents today!” (182) And at this moment, “He and his dad looked at each other eye to eye, like they were speaking telepathically” (182). Aaron felt that it is silly that the father accepts his son’s sexuality after he helped him in the delivery. Helmi, Glenn and the rest of the group disagreed that this is the watershed moment and postulated that perhaps Keat’s mom and Manny’s mom have spoken to the Father prior to the birth.

(b) Raj insisted that Keats’s parents should have spoken to the kids about Manny’s sexuality although the rest of the group (such as Mel, Helmi and Aaron) didn’t feel like there is a need on the parents’ part. Manny and Max kiss in front of the kids; the parents trust Manny to be the kids’ manny — isn’t that enough?

2. Sexuality: Is Keats gay? Teri said no, he’s just a campy straight boy, while Helmi said yes, he’s a campy gay boy who shows no interest in girls. Mel said he is just a kid coming to maturity. Aaron said that the question is important because it would make the novel more complex by making a statement about gay parenting/ gay influence.

3. Family:

(a) Ernest appreciated that this is a family that give gifts that multiply… like herpes. For instance, India is given a present of a sewing machine, which she in turn uses to make clothes for the family.

(b) Timmy brought up the issue of weak/absent father-strong/caring mother.

(c) Alexius liked the social aspect of the family, of how Keats’s family could interact well with other families, such as at the RV park.

(d) Mel liked to be brought up in such a loving and open-minded family but Aaron thought the family is very ANTM, you’ve to have a fierce personality to stand out or you’ll be neglected and unloved.

Literary Devices:

1. Names: Why is Manny’s name revealed only much later? Timmy explained that Manny VS Matthew is like J Lo VS Jennifer Lopez. Ernest elaborated that the Manny is slowly actualized as a real person.

2. Realism VS Idealism: Raj contended that the plot is cliche and stereotypical. “Really? A wedding at the end?”

3. Humor: Roy and Aaron liked the humor.

4. Target Audience: Helmi questioned what the target audience is, and, in turn, questioned the efficacy of the novel. Straight people wouldn’t pick up the book and teens may not get the pop culture references although some members (such as Melissa) contended that people do grow up with such a culture and the pretty cover is attractive to all kinds of people.

5. Road Trip: Teri noticed that the road trip symbolizes a journey of growth while Glenn noted pragmatically that if there is no road trip, there is no story.

6. Narrator: Aaron said that the author is very manipulative to use a child’s voice so that the readers could trust the point of view of the narrator. The other members–such as Mel and Raj–said that if other voices were used, the novel wouldn’t be as effective or as easy to write.

7. Silver Money Clip: Ernest read out a passage: “My silver money clip doesn’t have any moeny in it, just phone numbers and old movie tickets. And Sarah’s and Scotty’s school pictures” (31). He found it a poignant symbol of childhood: as you grow up, these memorabilia will be replaced with money.

Ernest argued that the insidious novel presents complex ideas in a simplistic form and liberates the minds of the narrow-minded. A hook-and-catch method. On the other hand, Helmi thinks that this is merely a feel-good book without much depth.

Just want to mention a few other people who came and socialized with us: Gavin, Isaac, Gil, Estee, Javin, Roy, Sejin, G-an, and Lydia. Thank you very much, your presence made the affair more jovial and convivial. Your presence is much appreciated. We hope we got everyone down. Please tell us if we miss out your name.

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Filed under Christian Burch, Family, Gay, Love, USA, Young Adult

27th Discussion: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson’s Target (15 Dec)

Our general response to the book was dislike. Isaac thought it was too mild and full of stereotypes. Timmy, Raj and Roy thought it was too slow. In addition, Timmy didn’t feel for the character perhaps because, as Alexius suggested, the depression was exaggerated although Alex said, “But if I were raped by women, I would die.” The abrupt ending fueled Timmy, Alex and Glenn’s disapproval of the novel. In defense of the book, Roy said that the style is easy and immediate; Alex enjoyed it; Melissa felt the atmosphere is well-written, conjuring a raw and uncomfortable mood. Ernest and Teri came to lend their moral support.

Themes

1. Sexuality: Grady – Gay or Not? A few evidence that he is gay: he doesn’t retaliate in the rape (Alexius’s point) but perhaps Grady doesn’t want “his anus to be torn” (Timmy, 2011). Grady dreams of Fred (Roy’s point); Grady lets Mr Howell touch him (Alex). But he’s also not gay in the sense that he is always in love with women. Alex brought up an excellent point that perhaps the rape is too traumatic and Grady cannot reconcile that his (gay?) sexuality can be so monstrous. Alex also stated that Grady’s sexuality is ambiguous. Roy suggested that perhaps the author wants us to think through the ambiguity.

Aaron claimed that the novel precludes the possibility of Grady being bisexual. Why? Because, he further argued, the novel makes it very, very hard for us to see that gay is normal. Grady’s struggles are partly struggles over his sexuality; if he could think that it is alright to be gay, then he wouldn’t struggle so much. Grady is presented to the readers as a very “straight” teenager, always in love with girls, and it is the rape that screws him up. Only in homophobic societies is heterosexuality taken a criterion for normality. Aaron also brought up several examples of homophobia: no one who is homophobic is punished for it. For instance, the homophobic cop receives no censure. Grady’s parents are more worried about Grady’s sexuality than his well-being. Even Jess, who arguably is punished by getting into a fight with gay Fred, gets off rather lightly and is unrepentant of his homophobia. The rapists, who set out to punish “faggots,” get away. What are the rapists, anyway? If they are gay, isn’t it a homophobic  stereotype that gay people rape? If they are straight, the message behind the book seems to be, “Be homophobic anyway, you won’t get punished.”

The rest of the group disagreed. Melissa, Alex, Timmy, and Raj all voiced that the novel is a realistic portrayal of homophobic society in general. Isaac claimed that there is a positive portrayal of gay people (Fred). The reason why Aaron was ambivalent about the novel in the first place is the confused garble. What is the author trying to say? On the surface, there is positive portrayal but if you look deeper into the plot, homophobia surfaces: this is the same for issues of gender and race.

2. Gender: Aaron claimed that the major female characters in the book are colorless and known only for their beauty or art. Art for girls? That’s a stereotype. Melissa countered that it is because the girls are seen from Grady’s perspective. But, Aaron said, how does the fact change anything? The message seems to be that it is alright to objectify women. But the group disagreed.

3. Race: Timmy notes the stereotypical behavior of a fast-talking black boy is racist. Alexius notes that Jess may be putting on a brave front to hide his vulnerability.

Characters:

1. Timmy let out a high-pitched wheeee when talking about Fred.

2. Aaron felt very strongly that Jess has no redeemable qualities, a point the rest of the group disagreed. Aaron claimed that Jess’s sarcasm is overboard, unwarranted and hurtful. And, as Gwendolyn rightly points out, Jess is still homophobic and sexist despite his minority status.

3. Raj and Alex liked Pearl. Timmy asked, “Why? Is it because she’s a magician? Can wear 2 layers and not sweat?”

3. Timmy and Aaron had no sympathy for Grady who is like bad actress Joanne Peh and couldn’t decide what role he is: is he a rape victim or a nutcase? Alex found it interesting that most of us cannot stand Grady’s depression. Isaac claimed that it is because the rape scene is handled too mildly. If it’s more hardcore, we can feel more for Grady.

Literary

1. Ending (I): Alex elucidated that Grady’s breakthrough comes when he can reconcile the past and the future, to accept, confess and face the fact that he is raped. In a way, like gay people coming out, Grady is coming out as a rape victim. Aaron wondered whether this was patronizing, as if Grady is in AA’s 12-step recovery program.

2. Ending (II): Alexius had a unique interpretation of the ending. He claimed that Fred’s boyfriend may be one of the rapists. Aaron saw the usage of the word “shimmer” as homophobic–why couldn’t the author use “unfix” or “fluid” instead of such a disco-ball description?

3. Birds: What’s up with the ubiquitous bird metaphor? Roy claimed the bird may represent the mental trauma. Alex asked if there are birds during the rape. “Three,” Aaron answered.

4. Self-eroticizing: Why does Grady keep touching himself? Melissa said it’s a mental thing; Alex claimed it is the only comfort he has; touching himself is a blue blanket, commented Isaac.

5. Rape Divided: Roy asked why the rape is slowly flashed out throughout the book. Raj replied Grady doesn’t want to think about it but the memory keeps resurfacing.

6. Depth of character: We all found that there is no depth to the characters, even for Grady. Melissa explained that perhaps we are meant to read the novel as such, that Grady is distanced from the reader and this distance emphasizes the alienation he faces.

In the end, our opinions of the book remained unchanged. Alex still enjoyed the book although he admitted there are some stereotypes. Timmy was XXX Fred. Glenn felt for Grady. Roy said there is no plot. Ernest claimed it is Prozac Nation meets St Augustine and was glad he didn’t read this. He said, there are moments of beauty in our other book club books, but this one doesn’t. Aaron concluded that it seems that the author has good intentions and tries to be as generous and liberal as she can but her work cannot transcend the ideology she’s trapped in, showing slippages of homophobia, sexism and racism.

We’d like to thank Raj for hosting us and Timmy for helping us access the book.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Family, Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, Queer, Race, S/M, USA, Young Adult

22nd Discussion: Perry Moore’s Hero (15 July)

It’s half-and-half vote for the book. Timmy, Alex, Alexius, Raj liked it because of the idealism although Timmy admitted the novel isn’t original. Jason was on the fence. David, Nicole and Aaron didn’t like it. Javin and Leo lent their moral support.

1. Themes

a. Daddy Issues: Alex pointed out that Thom gives Hal, his father, new hands–a metaphor which we didn’t explore. David pointed out that there is certainly some sexual tension between Thom and Hal. For instance, Thom jerks off to Uberman who is, Thom informs the reader, a superhero of his father’s age, quite like his father. The metaphor of wearing his father suit is wanting to be IN his father, although as Timmy pointed out, Thom is a bottom. What Thom does is to substitute one father figure for another: from his father to Uberman to Goran, who is a father figure, teaching Thom boxing, training him, and taking care of his younger brother. Obviously, the father issue isn’t resolved yet.

b. Mummy Issues: We were surprised about the relatively unimportant role of Thom’s mother in his life since gay novels usually revolve weak father/strong mother stereotypes. Jason noted how appalling it is to kill off the mother in a single sentence.

c. Gender: Continuing on how cruel the author is to the Mom, Nicole, Raj, Timmy et al pointed out that there are no strong woman figures in the story. In fact, the powers of the women are stereotypical of female superheroes. (This being said, Alexius observed that Thom’s power is feminine and passive. Timmy said, It’s because Thom is a bottom.) Even motherhood is portrayed negatively, with Mom instructing Thom to retrieve the ring, slicing his body up. What sort of mother would do that? While some of us thought that the book was sexist, others disagreed. Some say that perhaps this is a book written in a male prospective, for boys, gay boys.

d. Race: Aaron thought that the book is racist in the portrayal of Goran, as if every non-White has to excel in sports, studies and do volunteer work. Furthermore, Goran is metaphorically silenced since he never speaks in his superhero guise. To recognize Goran, Goran has to place Thom’s hands, one covering the forehead, and one the lower half of the face, leaving only the eyes, effectively effacing Goran’s identity. Alexius thought the gesture is romantic, and shouldn’t be misconstrued.

e. Love: Aaron hated the idea that teenagers are made to believe in a fairy tale ending when they should be taught to be realistic and taught that it takes hard work to maintain a relationship. For example, why should Invisible Lass be demonized just because she falls in love with the wrong man? Timmy argued that perhaps Invisible Lass’s sudden and unsentimental death comes from a punishment of not manning up to her mistake. Besides, most members in the group like a happy ending.

f. Media/glamour: Nicole and Jason mentioned the fast pace, action-packedness of the novel; both can envision the novel as a movie. The pace and action are definitely related to Hollywood. For example, in the scene whereby Thom is held captive in the pantry, there are product placement everywhere. Or the superheros themselves are movie-stars, glorifying muscles, and all want to be A-listers. This world, Aaron felt, was contemptible. Jason believed that perhaps the novel is trying to show that superheroes are as superficial and human and liable to err as humans.

g. Ageism: The older generation has to be screwed-up and died to pave the way for a new generation, full of hope.

h. Sexuality: Why do every character know that Thom is gay? Some of us believed that it is just taunting Thom, but, Aaron pointed out, Gary Coleman does it in such a matter-of-factly way that it isn’t a jibe but an observation. David said people just know because there is a difference in thinking between gay and straight people. Some of us questioned if this is really true since gay people can pass very well, a basic skill for survival. But if Perry Moore is suggesting there is indeed a difference between gay and straight people, then, as Nicole claims, isn’t it detrimental to gay people, i.e., gay people are outcasts and weird?

2. Characters: Timmy and Raj liked Ruth because she’s a layered character and has spunk and is accepting of others.

Alex liked Larry because he’s vulnerable and finds it hard to get close to people. Timmy said that Larry is ernest.

Alexius liked Golden Boy because of his immaturity.

David liked Goran because of his painful and dark past.

Jason persuaded Aaron that Justice is the most complex character who struggles between the good and bad within him; Justice wants to go back to the planet that isn’t even there but by doing so, by using Earth’s energy and destroying the planet, there will not be Earth for him to return to. Jason contemplated on the agony of such trauma.

Nicole didn’t have a favorite character. Aaron thought all the characters are one-dimensional and flat. For instance, Ruth only have one issue, and that screws her up for life. Everyone has one issue that screws him/her up in the book – but surely, Aaron thought, they could move on and grow, something the characters haven’t considered.

3. We all concluded that it’s a fast-paced book, easy to read, and we shouldn’t put much thought while reading it because we would end up indignant like Aaron who thought the book is racist, sexist, and ageist. Old curmudgeon fart, he is.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Family, Gay, Love, Perry Moore, Race, S/F, USA, Young Adult