Friday, November 28, 2008

My Tiki Girl

Jennifer McMahon, May 2008. Traditional YA lesbian problem novels tell the stories of teen girls who fall madly in love with their female friends, only to face serious consequences when parents and classmates find out. In recent years, however, the trend is toward books featuring protagonists whose sexuality is only one aspect of their complicated lives.

Despite its 2008 copyright, My Tiki Girl is a reversion to the problem novel. Its heroine, Maggie, was pretty and popular until the car accident that killed her mother. Now she wears a leg brace and feels like an outcast until new girl Dahlia asks her to join her rock band. Maggie develops a crush; Dahlia reciprocates; and the two have a secret and joyous relationship until Dahlia’s mother walks in on them half-dressed.

Until this point, My Tiki Girl, while formulaic, is charming and different. It features appealing secondary characters like Dahlia’s younger brother Jonah, who believes he is a wizard, and funny portrayals of teens smoking clove cigarettes and obsessing about Sylvia Plath. But when the girls’ secret is discovered by Leah, Dahlia’s mother, the plot takes some bizarre turns. Leah has been portrayed throughout the book as a cool hippie mom who shoplifts with the girls and creates doll alter-egos for them. Her reaction to the girls’ love affair (“Abomination! Pervert!”) is, then, wildly out of character. It doesn’t get better from there: the last chapters of the book involve a car accident that too obviously parallels the one in which Maggie’s mother was killed as well as a makeout session between Maggie and Joey, a brain-damaged boy who lives in a cave. Recommended only for libraries where authors like Nancy Garden and Julie Anne Peters are popular.

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park

Steve Kluger, March 2008. Kluger's second epistolary novel for younger teens features diary entries, emails and online chat transcripts written by its three protagonists: T.C., an amorous athlete recovering from the loss of his mother; Augie, T.C.'s theatrical quasi-brother, closeted only to himself; and Alejandra (Alé), a new student whose father's career as a diplomat means she's met all the teen idols her classmates have only seen on TV. During their junior year in high school, T.C. plays matchmaker with his father and his advisor while ardently courting Alé. She, in turn, rebels against her parents' expectation that she'll major in foreign relations and follow her father's footsteps into a government career; she throws herself into the performance arts with a vengeance and becomes close friends with Augie. Augie himself discovers his sexuality and falls in love with cute jock Andy, but tragically, Andy is uncomfortable with Augie's rather fabulous self-presentation, encouraging him to go out for sports and tone himself down. This tale of coming out into the surprisingly welcome world of a suburban high school has David Levithan to thank for setting the gay-utopia standard in his instant classic Boy Meets Boy (2003). Kluger lives up to his predecessor, creating memorable characters who keep the reader rooting for them throughout their triumps, mistakes, and exploits. Recommended for all libraries with young adult collections; the sexuality doesn't go beyond kissing, so it would be appropriate for middle-school libraries as well.