Reading Challenges: R.I.P. VII & The Literary Others

Even if I disregard all the challenges I’ve signed up for over at GoodReads (at least 3 or 4, if I remember correctly) and leave the oh-so-very overwhelming ONE READING CHALLENGE outside GR, I’m not doing too well. Should I bother to look at the books I’ve read this year, I’m certain I will spy a few translated works. Not to forget that I am currently staring at another several translated books for this particular challenge, yet I experience a ridiculous time trying to sit down and actually read them. My problem is not only hoarding books (which results in some conflict, attempting to choose one book, only to succeed in not reading anything because I’ve been too busy book-hopping). In fact, I have second problem: reading challenges. I have somehow stuck the idea in my head that why yes I can read these 10 YA books in three months and these 10 historical fiction novels in the next six months and I can probably manage another 5 classics, and oh — I forgot about the YA alphabetical challenge! Only 13 more…

I shouldn’t neglect the number of books I pick up at random — books that have no relation to any challenge whatsoever, and I grab these books by multiple truckloads like a book-obsessed, caffeinated terror (because that is what I am). It is fair to assume, then, that completing even one challenge feels like a special accomplishment for me. Regardless of the fact that I can admit to this — that the chances of me finishing any challenge by the end of 2012 appears highly unlikely — I’m going ahead with two more! Woo.

The first reading event I’m joining is R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII (September – October), hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. This “challenge” is intended to be a FUN event (but aren’t they all?), so the goal is to read as many or little perilous stories as you wish. Should you click over (which I hope you do and think you should), you’ll find there are several R.I.P. happenings taking place this September and October. Currently, there is a read-a-long of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, and I may take part in October’s read-a-long (Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book). While I am eager to attempt Peril the First (4 books), I may wind up with 2 or simply 1 book — who’s to say? Here is a list of some books I’m considering:

I’m not about to claim I will read even 3 of these, but a girl can try. If you have any good recommendations, shoot them my way, please.

The second challenge, The Literary Others, is another event hosted by Roof Beam Reader occurring in October. In light of LGBT History Month, pick however many books you wish to read as long as they are LGBT-related/themed OR written by a gay author. If this interests you even slightly, I suggest you head over to the sign-up post and comment before October 10th! (Psst: Participants who register early can enter giveaways.)

My list so far consists of:

The last few YA LGBT books I read were disappointing, so I’d especially love it if someone has good young adult books in mind for this event — please share with me? (So long as you do not recommend The Vast Fields of Ordinary. I will absolutely not read that again.)


Boy Meets Boy meets Raya

Boy Meets BoyBoy Meets Boy by David Levithan
My rating: ★★

In the words of Tony: “I honestly couldn’t believe that someone like you could exist, or even a town like yours could entirely exist.” If I pretend this is written in the present tense then I can say that I wholeheartedly agree. Reading this felt too out of touch with any kind of reality I’m familiar with for me to completely buy into Paul’s story, but this is not to say that Boy Meets Boy isn’t likable. I can easily point out that Paul lives in a peculiar town where gay teens seem to outnumber the straight kids, where tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality and cross-dressing are part of the norm, where the star quarterback is also the homecoming queen–the list goes on. And wouldn’t it be great if we did live in a world where society didn’t judge or treat people differently based on their sexual orientation? Or their preference of dress (drag queen Infinite Darlene, for example)? So I can understand why some people, especially LGBT teens, might enjoy escaping into such a story.

And in any case, isn’t escapism a reason to read? I love shoving my face into pages of good books and enveloping myself in the lives of characters. But I won’t lie: it is difficult to ground myself in Paul’s world because I find the amount of approval regarding sexuality overwhelmingly different from what I see and expect in real life. Everything struck me as simple and thus not quite believable. However, there are other aspects to this story that placed a question mark above my head–not out of confusion, but out of “in what instance would this actually happen?” moments.

Regardless how minor (supportive secondary role) her character is, there’s Darlene:

Infinite Darlene doesn’t have it easy. Being both star quarterback and homecoming queen has its conflicts. And sometimes it’s hard for her to fit in.

I can entirely see why Infinite Darlene would have trouble fitting in, and for a multitudes of reasons… and none of those reasons are why Infinite Darlene has issues fitting in. The narration continues:

The other drag queens in our school rarely sit with her at lunch; they say she doesn’t take good enough care of her nails, and that she looks a little too buff in a tank top. The football players are a little more accepting, although there was a spot of trouble a year ago when Chuck, the second-string quarterback, fell in love with her and got depressed when she said he wasn’t her type.

(If “drag queens” were removed, the first half sounds like usual back talk I’d hear roaming the halls between girls in my grade school years.)

It took me a little by surprise. Needless to say, no school in which I attended or knew of in grades K-12 had a drag queen posse. Say if I had known or attended one that did, the group would have most likely faced incessant bullying and harassment by some students. I first thought Infinite Darlene’s misfit issues would be centered around her high testosterone-filled football team. How well would they accept a drag queen as a member on their team? Instead, she strolls through halls like a Queen Bee of Gossip and still holds down star quarterback position. If anything, it is her alpha-female, catty qualities and flair for drama that are more likely to make people fume.

As a side note: I think it’s great that Darlene is accepted for who she is. My thoughts and expectations surrounding how she might be received outside of Paul’s far-from-ordinary town, if anything, reflect my views of modern society.

Oh, and then this happens:

The gymnasium doors open and the cheerleaders come riding in on their Harleys. The crowd goes wild.

We are, I believe, the only high school in America with a biker cheerleading team. But I could be wrong. A few years ago, it was decided that having a posse of motorcycles gun around the fields and courts was a much bigger cheer-inducer than any pom-pom routine.

Paul carries on to describe the motorcycles forming into pyramid formation, etc. So how big is your school’s budget, Paul? Or were the parents so enthusiastic about their daughters pulling vehicle stunts that they rallied for the school board’s approval and paid for the bikes themselves? See, Levithan lost me here, because the environment threw me off. Is this realistic, even slightly? Not in my opinion, but on to topics that actually pertain more to the actual theme:

I’ve always known I was gay, but it wasn’t confirmed until I was in kindergarten.

It was my teacher who said so. It was right there on my kindergarten report card: PAUL IS DEFINITELY GAY AND HAS VERY GOOD SENSE OF SELF.

What is the likelihood of a teacher commenting on a student’s sexual orientation? Genuine curiosity, and I imagine the probability might vary from region to region? My elementary teachers limited their focus on classroom behavior and personality quirks. “Raya is a very quiet child,” “she is depriving the classroom of insight,” “speak more,” “diligent,” and so on with the usual, “attend class more often, please.” But never anything regarding “RAYA IS DEFINITELY STRAIGHT” or “SHE SHOWS NO INTEREST IN EITHER GENDER ON A ROMANTIC LEVEL.” Although.

I recall an odd instance in which my step-brother’s kindergarten teacher felt it necessary to inform my dad on how his step-son announced that he and another boy student were getting married. Nothing else–no hand-holding, no pecks on the cheek or hugging. Just a comment he made. Would she have called my dad if my step-brother had said he was marrying a female student? Unless a teacher is concerned about inappropriate behavior, I doubt it. So in short, I suppose this part struck me as unlikely but in the realm of possibility? I also don’t think a kid’s sexual preference is a teacher’s business to report on, so…

From there on in it was smooth ‘coming-out’ transition for Paul. His parents are supportive, he has (had?) a fantastic best friend who defends him at will, and lives–as said–in a generally welcoming community. While I think it’s great for a character to feel comfortable and so sure of who he is, I wonder how relatable this makes him. And it’s not like all book’s characters have similar accepting environments and confidence. Kyle, Paul’s ex-boyfriend, is utterly confused about what and who he likes while Tony (Paul’s gay BFF) is the child of religious parents and feels his ‘true self’ caged by his family’s intolerance. In a way, due to inferred inner (and outer) conflicts, I think Kyle and Tony would have made a more interesting couple than Paul and Noah.

When I take a look at the book overall, it is difficult for me to not compare it to real life, to society’s norms, and especially when gay marriage has been a hot topic for discussion in the U.S. At the same time, Levithan manages to accomplish what I think this book is meant to (for the most part). I don’t think Levithan wrote it with the intention of involving the negative beliefs regarding homosexuality that many people still hold. Rather, it’s a simple, sweet story about finding your first love and experiencing the bumpy ups and downs of high school life. Yes, the clash between the book’s environment versus real life issues catches my attention, but I mostly find Boy Meets Boy lackluster.

I didn’t feel too involved with the characters or particularly attached to Paul, and that’s what I often seek in books. Paul’s troubles are understandable although simple: he develops instant feelings for Noah that eventually grow, but then complications ensue for a short while as Kyle re-emerges into Paul’s life. In the mean time, his best friend Joni has decided that her new boyfriend is the best thing in existence and has left Paul feeling abandoned. It’s easy to spot the precursors that ultimately call for the “Everybody Freaks Out” chapter, which leaves Paul in a “My life’s in shambles!” sort of state. How is he going sort it all out? I’ll leave that mini-adventure for other readers to journey on, though I must say: I am disappointed, once again, by the lack of depth.

What I am pleased about, however, is that not everything and everyone end on perfect terms. Well, not entirely, anyway. In honesty, things still ended a little too hunky-dory for my taste, but they aren’t perfect–just on the road to “things are 95% decent and still headed upward,” I suppose. One thing that does (intensely) bother me: Joni. She is/was such a large portion of Paul’s life, so I feel like her and Paul needed to end on some kind of definitive terms (good or bad). Instead, despite that Joni does show up for Tony, I’m still left wondering what her feelings and thoughts are on de-friending Paul. I know this book isn’t focused on Paul and Joni’s relationship alone, but she is part of his life and thus deserved more recognition (or so I feel).

If a layer or two of depth had been added to the characters and their interactions, this book would have been more engaging to read.