Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: How Beautiful the Ordinary ed. by Michael Cart

Found via: 2010 Lambda Literary Award Finalist

The subtitle on this should really be "Twelve stories of sex." I really don't want to think of myself as a prude, but there are a lot of teenagers/young adults getting it on in this book - including a poem that wouldn't be out of place in an erotica collection. If ever there was a book that seemed intent on catching the attention of the book-banners, this is it.

I'll admit, that I was a bit put off from this book from page 2, during the introduction, before the stories has even started. As I tweeted on Tuesday, the introduction refers only (and repeatedly) to "gay, lesbian and transgender" folks. As someone who identifies under the "B" in the LGBT acronym, the forgotten bisexual reference really stuck out for me. Now it's totally possible that no stories featuring bisexual characters were submitted (though there are two stories that feature men sleeping with and/or marrying women as well as sleeping with men), but I wish that had been acknowledged in the introduction. I don't want to play oppression Olympics, but I'd bet that bisexual characters are almost as invisible as transgender characters.

So I was already spoiling for a fight with this collection. I was ready to relax after reading the first story and title piece by David Levithan. It's haunting and beautiful, addressed directly to the reader from the general collective of gay people from the past. From there the quality was rather uneven. Stories about gay men outnumber the stories about lesbians which outnumber the stories about transgendered teens. I gradually lost interest as the book went on until I about quit halfway through Gregory Maguire's incredibly long concluding story. I actually like the plot of that one, but it just dragged on for way too long, which isn't a way I'd describe Maguire's other work.

The other 2010 Lambda Literary Award finalists for YA lit are:
Ash by Malinda Lo
In Mike We Trust by PE Ryan
Sprout by Dale Peck
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

I've read (and linked to my reviews) Ash and Vast Fields of Ordinary, so of the three that I've read so far, I'm rooting for Ash to take the award. I'm waiting for Sprout from the library, but they don't have In Mike We Trust yet, so I don't think I'm going to be able to read all of the nominees before the May 1st award ceremony. What I don't understand is how something as uneven and unsatisfactory as this collection can be nominated while great, groundbreaking books like Almost Perfect and Rage are totally ignored.

If you're a fan of David Leviathan, I can definitely recommend picking up this book from the library to read his short story. If you are looking for more transgender representation in YA lit, the stories in here are good. There are also at least three stories featuring people of color: one about a transgender young man who is half black, half white, another about a gay Thai man and the protagonist of Maguire's concluding story is Iranian-American. If you want some lesbian poetry that is sure to be dogeared and passed illicitly among tittering friends at the lunch table, then this would be worth a look as well. Otherwise, pass.


Tia said...

I'm disappointed to hear the collection wasn't great. When I read the finalist list earlier, the only book I had read was Ash, and because the plots of the other novels didn't particularly appeal to me, How Beautiful the Ordinary was the one I'd added to my TBR. I've been hearing good things about Leviathan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson, so if I like that, it might be worth reading his story in the collection.

Angela Craft said...

I just got Will Grayson, Will Grayson from the library and definitely look forward to reading it. I don't like everything Levithan has written, but he always writes very well, so I can still find pleasure in the construction of the story. The short story in How Beautiful the Ordinary is both a great story and interestingly written; I'm hoping that Will Grayson, Will Grayson will be the same way.

Lee Wind said...

Hi Angela, thanks for this really well done review of this short story collection! I think part of the problem we face is that until there are many more collections of wonderful short stories with GLBTQ teen characters, there's a desire for each collection to be even-handed and represent everyone - which must be a huge challenge to pull off. I completely get that the lack of bisexual representation was disappointing, and the way the "B" was taken out of the GLBTQ acronym (without be addressed) is distressing.
Thanks for sharing,

Catherine said...

I read HBTO the other day and am glad to see that I am not the only one annoyed at yet another instance of bi-erasure, both in the introduction and in one of the stories (apparently there are only two options: straight or gay). While I was glad to see more than one story about transgender teens (something all too often not included) I only wish is had been "13 Stories Of Identity" and that the word "bisexual(ity)" appeared at least once in the book rather than it being "12 Stories of Identity... Except Mine, Apparently".

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