Thursday, February 26, 2009

Project Sweet Life

Brent Hartinger, February 2009. Dave, Curtis, and Victor are fifteen years old and, they feel, exempt from having to get summer jobs; unfortunately, their fathers disagree. How can the boys manage to have the awesome summer they've planned while working at the same time? This conundrum launches Project Sweet Life, their plan to make a whole summer's worth of income in one fell swoop. They start out simple: have a garage sale, selling everything they own that has a market value. When that backfires, they try to win reward money for catching a bank robber. This also doesn't go well, so they decide to find hidden treasure...and so on, throughout the summer, until they've logged more hours on these schemes than they would have at their fictional jobs lifeguarding, mowing lawns, and frying chicken.

Hartinger is known for his sensitive, funny portrayals of gay teens in Geography Club and Order of the Poison Oak, but there isn't a lot of homo action in Project Sweet Life. This is a new type of gay novel altogether, where the gay characters - Dave's uncle and his "friend" - are in the background, assisting the boys with the least illegal of their plots, and the word "gay" isn't even mentioned. That makes this a good pick for a conservative community and for middle-schoolers. Recommended for all public and school libraries.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Twelve Long Months

Brian Malloy, June 2008. Malloy's last gay YA novel, The Year of Ice, was a harsh, depressing portrayal of what it was like to be gay in a rural area thirty years ago. Twelve Long Months couldn't be more different: it's contemporary and lighthearted. High school senior Molly lusts after her lab partner Mark, and is delighted when she learns they're both leaving Minnesota for New York after graduation. Molly will be attending Columbia while Mark will be painting houses with his uncle. It's only after the move that Molly discovers what he couldn't tell her in their small town: he's gay. She's not as devastated as you might think; instead, she and her friends tag along with Mark to gay clubs, and she begins dating a boy who shares her interest in physics. The characters are not vividly drawn, and the plot is slight, with coming-of-age the only real development. Recommended for large YA collections or where there is high demand for queer YA fiction.

Absolutely Maybe

Lisa Yee, February 2009. Yee, the author of an excellent middle-grade trilogy that recounts the same events from three different points of view, takes her first foray into YA with Absolutely Maybe. Eighteen-year-old protagonist Maybe (christened Maybelline after her mother's favorite line of makeup) flees from Florida to LA after high school partly in search of her absentee father, but mostly to escape her self-centered mother and Mom's abusive husband.

Traveling with Maybe are her friends Hollywood, an aspiring filmmaker enrolled at UCLA, and Ted, the reason this book is reviewed here. Ted, a short, funny Thai boy who's very close to his adoptive parents, quickly finds work as the personal assistant to an aging diva. Ted's presentation is rather fabulous, raising my gaydar early on, but I decided it was my imagination. After all, the book jacket and subject headings don't address homosexuality, and neither does the author's earlier work. It's not until page 272 (of 273) that Maybe and I learn the truth.

This isn't the gayest book you'll ever read, but Ted and his friends are strong, appealing characters, and the story is an intriguing one. Recommended, especially in communities where you can't buy most of what I review.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Absolute Brightness

James Lecesne, February 2008. When Phoebe's cousin comes to stay with her family in the small town of Neptune, New Jersey, she's embarrassed by his flamboyance. Leonard is only thirteen, but he's pretty obviously gay, and not just gay but "different. Don't get me wrong. I like different. I am different," says Phoebe, "but when different goes too far, it stops being a statement and just becomes weird." Her cousin wears rainbow platform heels, believes in channeling the dead, creates inventive vodka drinks to soothe his aunt's stress, and makes over every female in town - except Phoebe, whom he deems his ideal.

Phoebe's worried about Neptune's reaction, but in fact, Leonard gets along with everyone except a few token adolescent homophobes. When he begins to work at her mother's beauty salon, he befriends her middle-aged clients and even reads to a lady whose eyes are failing. He arranges a reunion between his aunt and her ex-husband and befriends the theater kids after an amazing audition as Ariel in The Tempest. When he disappears, then, the town rallies to look for him, but not for long, as other local events gradually take precedence over the search for a boy they knew briefly and who probably ran away.

Phoebe can't forget Leonard, though. After he's gone, she learns that he considered her his best friend, and her guilt and love drive her to continue the search. Even after Leonard's body is found, Phoebe doesn't give up until she's satisfied with her knowledge of his relationships and his ultimate good nature.

The book goes on a little too long at 472 pages; a few characters, such as Deirdre and Larry, could have been sacrificed to make the length more manageable. The sainthood of Leonard is a little overboard as well. Still, the story is a sweet one of a teen girl learning to judge people on their merits instead of their reputations. Recommended.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Really Nice Prom Mess

Brian Sloan, February 2008. I'm a sucker for books and movies that happen all in one night; Dazed and Confused and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist come to mind. Screenwriter Sloan's first novel is in the same vein: high school kids party like there's no tomorrow, which, you know, there isn't, in the book at least. In A Really Nice Prom Mess, Cameron can't go to prom with Shane, his closeted jock boyfriend, so they double with a pair of girls: their best friend Jane and smoking hot, falling-down-drunk Virginia. Cameron's night gets progressively more bizarre as he meets porn stars and drug dealers; makes out with a stripper and his boyfriend's date; breaks into a house; dances onstage; and in the end, befriends a cop who looks oddly familiar.

No one's ever been to a prom like this; the story is intended as a farce, not a realistic night in the life of a high school senior. It's tons of fun. Give it to your readers who enjoyed Fat Hoochie Prom Queen