Shine defies description. Yes, it is a poetry collection whose verses have an easy-to-read quality that makes them flow smoothly off the page. But the collection is also a mystery of what happened to Bray, a young street hustler who died in a seedy motel room right before he was planning to get out of the business.
It’s also a Rashomon-style novella told from several different perspectives. And the collection plays with time and form, placing poetry within poetry. In short, Shine can be hard to define. This doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a fantastic collection, and well worth the effort.
Donnelle McGee delivers the story of Shine through 79 interlocking poems, almost universally Cormac McCarthy-esque dialogues with ambiguous speakers and no quotation marks. The short bites delivering pieces of the story make the reader as much a sleuth as the detective investigating Bray’s murder. But McGee makes you want to know what’s happened, and you want to know it right now. I finished Shine in a single sitting, but the reader is rewarded by going back for more.
If anything negative can be said about Shine, it’s that the reader has to pay attention or risk missing out on something. McGee does not waste a single word in this collection; thus the ambiguous narrators, unclear time periods, and out-of-order story could be confusing to some readers. However, McGee always shows up just at the right moment, providing just a little bit of narrative help, pointing out who the narrator is or what the time period for this particular poem might be. He forces the reader to work for the full story but he leave them adrift without a paddle.
McGee has previously published poems in a variety of journals, but Shine is his first independently published work. A forthcoming novel is expected soon. More examples of his work can be found at http://www.donnellemcgee.com/.
Shine is recommended to any library looking for a reader’s gateway into poetry. The poems combine together into a narrative mystery that drives the reader on to the very end. In the same way, it has the potential to drive readers into considering poetry that may have never considered it before.
Reviewer: John Mack Freeman
In his poem “Secret Admirer: An Essay,” Benjamin S. Grossberg asks, “Why do people often end up contemptuous of the population they serve? Is there a way to avoid that?”
It’s probably this question, more than any other, that This Assignment is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching seeks to answer. Although not every teacher poet has the same answer, each of these poems struggles with the idea of being LGBTIQ, a teacher, and a person–all at the same time.
This collection contains 75 poets from the entire LGBTIQ spectrum. The reverse alphabetical order or authors gives a spark of the egalitarian nature of education. Each poet has between one and four poems in the collection, and most of the poems tend are a page or less in length.
As with any anthology, everyone has a different favorites. For me, highlights include Jeff Mann, Terry Martin, Stephen S. Mills, Rebecca Lynne Fullan, and Benjamin S. Grossberg. The points in the collection that work the best are those that deal with teaching in direct, flowing language that speaks in equal measure from the heart and the gut. These teacher poets don’t have time for abstraction: there’s too much to get done in a day.
The repeated recurrence of the theme of fear is unfortunate, although hardly unexpected. Some poets express fear for their students, but many others express fear that their schools, coworkers, administrators, and/or students will discover that they are queer. While some poet teachers rise to the challenge, many turn and hide. This anthology provides a sobering cross-section of how far there is to go between the Briggs Initiative of the past to true at-homeness in the modern school workforce for LGBTIQ employees.
From humor to horror, from sadness to solace, this collection embodies the true breadth and depth of a teacher’s life. It isn’t easy, these poets seem to agree, but it wouldn’t be the same if it were. This collection is recommended for any library that collects poetry.
Reviewer: John Mack Freeman
In this touching young adult book about giving others a second chance, Barnes displays the same writing style and experiences that he expressed in his plays and other writings. Although one character’s parents are a same-sex couple and two other characters are gay and bisexual, the content is not blatantly gay. Instead it is a well-written story of true love and friendship that anyone can appreciate.
This heartwarming story begins when Destiny loses her mother to cancer and is sent to live on an isolated island in South Carolina with her uncle and his partner. She makes friends with two misfits, bisexual Tasha, who cares greatly for others and protects Topher, a gay boy who is the target of the bullies on the island. The two lead Destiny to find her family’s secret, a magical place called Wonderland. Once there, Destiny learns that her family has the ability to give a second chance at life and love to one select person who knows the meaning of true love.
It is in Wonderland, currently led by Destiny’s great-grandmother, that the potential savior meets his or her target and then must decide if there is a desire to save this person. The decision for Tasha and Topher is easy: they meet the true love of their personal desires.
Destiny’s choice is more difficult. She must decide whether to save her mother or the boy who will be Destiny’s true love if she saves him. Barnes calls upon the reader to consider the meaning of true love and friendship as well as the reasons for sacrifice.
Although this novel belongs in any youth collection, adults will also appreciate the descriptive and evocative writing.
In this novella for children and young adults, the author shares the story that inspired the Trevor Project. Lecesne uses his own experiences to tell the story of adolescent Trevor who seeks to express his true self without fear of repercussion. Yet he is frequently told he is gay and faces discrimination, bullying, ostracism, and disbelief from his family. Each time Trevor feels he is succeeding he is betrayed, ridiculed, or attacked by a person he thought was his friend and ally.
Trevor’s suicide attempt causes him to find help and acceptance from his family and the friends who learn to accept him for who he is. The novella shares a heartbreaking story of a call for help and acceptance, a plea for change in attitudes.
The afterword shares the birth and growth of the Trevor Project that would have changed Trevor’s life if it were available when he needed it. The “Resource Guide” in the back of the book can help readers get the assistance Trevor couldn’t even dream of seeking.
This book belongs in any upper elementary, junior high, and high school collection, but adults will also benefit from this honest, poignant tale of a lost soul seeking help, whether for being gay or for being different and bullied in any other way.
Why is it that each minority group passes through a phase where all their stories feature a noble, self-sacrificing individual who rescues his or her oppressors? Gordon belongs to that tradition of needing to be twice as good as those you hope will accept you as an equal.
In this case, Gordon the giraffe is bullied because he plays “Mulunga Doo,” a game of banana tossing and neck twining, with Gary instead of with a girl. Gordon’s mother is supportive, and tells him to follow his heart, but the other boys decide to enforce their ideas of what’s right. Their plan goes awry, and Gordon saves them from the fate they’d planned for him.
Another discordant note is the stereotype of Africa as a place of hidden kingdoms with names like “Ugladunga.” Combined with those pseudo-African words, the names “Gordon” and “Gary” are jarring.
Arcana, a new Canadian publisher of graphic novels, has listed Gordon the Giraffe as a graphic novel for all ages. Visually, it appears to be a picture book with full page illustrations, each facing a page of text, a format that may put off readers old enough to empathize with Gordon’s dawning sexual attraction.
The lovely art work by A. Shelton evokes West African fabrics and savanna landscapes as it amplifies and explains the text, yet transitions sometimes seem to be missing, leaving the reader dependent on the pictures to follow the plot.
Nevertheless, there are so few books for elementary school aged children that attempt to address bullying of gay kids that this story will have value for now. The book will also work as a read-aloud selection for small audiences, and the text font is large enough to be readable for some children with impaired vision.
Reviewer: Carolyn Caywood, Retired
Virginia Beach Public Library
In this Christian romance set in 1970, the obstacles to happiness are first that Jamie has Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis, and second that her parents insist she is a boy. MGD means that some of her cells have XY chromosomes while others are missing the Y, a medical condition resulting in a body quite small even for a girl—elfin as Jamie thinks of it. Her body had nonfunctional ovaries and cancerous testis which had to be removed. She would need hormone replacement in order to experience puberty in either gender. Her parents want her to take testosterone which Jamie fears would turn her into a hairy dwarf.
Jamie is home-schooled to protect her from bullying and to instill in her a strong desire to be the boy her parents want. (At that time, much of the medical profession believed in the malleability of gender and advised parents to stifle any variant gender expression.) She prays for some resolution, and gets a scholarship and admission to college at 16. There she begins to encounter people who accept her as she is, so she sheds the Jamison pretense she has been using to please her father. She also falls in love with a friend’s brother who has enlisted for the war in Vietnam.
Because of the strong and pervasive element of Christian faith, this book has the potential to reach readers who might avoid LGBT-themed fiction. In so doing, it may open more eyes to the realization that gender identity and sexual orientation are not genitally determined. Jamie appears to believe that her medical condition justifies her gender identity/sexual orientation and thus avoids any suggestion of homosexuality, an attitude which fit the 1970s but can be jarring if the story is read as set in contemporary times. Nevertheless, Jamie’s anguish at being pressured to deny her core identity will ring true for readers who are transgender.
Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite helps fill some of the great void in accurate and readable stories about intersex people. Although intersex is often described as rare, the Intersex Society of North America states that one in every 100 births is of a person whose body differs from biological male or female. Every public library needs to be aware of serving this population.
Reviewer: Carolyn Caywood, Retired
Virginia Beach Public Library
Swim teams, pagans, and mysteries, oh my! Holly’s young adult novel follows Tip Trencher, a high school senior in a rural Oregon community, as he seeks to discover the reason for the mysterious disappearance of his two older brothers 15 years earlier. On a fluke, he gains access to their locked bedroom and starts to unravel a mystery that puts his brothers in a gay pagan group at odds with the small town’s conservative values. As Tip is drawn into his brother’s journals, he begins to explore his own sexual awakening with two fellow seniors on the swim team. This story of the awakening of new youth and old rituals is an enjoyable erotic romp.
While the story was engaging and moved quickly, the novel has some problems. The weakest section of the whole book by far is the first 20 pages with some clunkily-worded passages that may put off readers. In addition, some word choices may distract the reader because of their oddness. For instance, reading about a movement described as “widdershins” had me scrambling for a dictionary.
The dual nature of the narrative is a double-edged sword for Holly that sometimes aids and sometimes hinders his story. While the introduction of the journal provides needed backstory (and a fast-track to erotic material), the constant bouncing back and forth between present day and the past can make the narrative feel disjointed
A Portland (OR) native, Holly is a prolific author of gay erotica and romance. His stories can be found in the anthologies Nice Butt, Erotica Exotica, Black Five, and History’s Passion.
The Moon’s Deep Circle is recommended for libraries that cater to the general public and that seek to meet the personal reading interests of their clientele, including an interest in explicit language and sexual content.
Reviewer: John Mack Freeman
Chana Wilson’s memoir Riding Fury Home chronicles her remarkable, challenging relationship with her mother that ranges from the height of dysfunction to a bond so deep most people could only imagine having with a parent.
The narrative begins with Wilson as a lonely child in 1950’s New Jersey, feeling the loss of a mother who is basically incapacitated because of the radical treatment and heavy drugs she receives at various mental institutions.
As a twenty-something, politically active lesbian in the Bay Area during the early 1970’s, Wilson is happy to be free of the burden of her mother. The twist is that after Wilson comes out as gay, her mother follows suit. Her declaration that she is a lesbian paves the way for reconciliation and for her mother to reveal her experiences of confinement in mental institutions and a loveless marriage with Wilson’s father. Wilson comes to the realization that “homophobia had shattered us all.”
While the story that Wilson presents is a dramatic one, dealing with strong personalities, intense political movements, and the worst of homophobia, the writing is at times a bit too timid, too careful. Much of the book is spent on Wilson’s childhood and college years. It doesn’t really get moving until 200 pages in, but it’s worth the wait. The writing is very accessible, at times funny and other times sad, with the main focus on relationships, both familial and romantic. The women’s movement and gay liberation are primarily left as backdrops.
Riding Fury Home is light reading on heavy subjects and a good addition to any public library biography collection.
Reviewer: Kevin Coleman
Library Specialist I, Alameda Free Library
The diversity of transgender people is shown through the results of the author’s online survey of 3,474 participants between November 2005, and February 2006, the most comprehensive survey to date. Using a design to gather data not previously sought, the authors made every effort to include people who identify outside the usual binary gender assignments.
They group respondents into four categories: “female-to-male/transgender, male-to-female/transgender, female-to-different-gender, and male-to-different-gender.” Overall, the female-to-male/transgender respondents and those who identify as genderqueer were younger than those who identify as cross-dressers or male-to-female/transgender.
Discussions of gender always struggle with language. This difficulty is particularly evident when respondents try to categorize their sexual orientation. According to the authors, “throughout the book, we use a number of terms and concepts with highly contested and unstable definitions.” They also use gender neutral pronouns rather than the circumlocutions that have popularly replaced the generic masculine. At birth, sex is assigned by a doctor based on the presence or absence of a visible penis: “gender assignment is thus medicalized, phallocentric, and dichotomous.”
In asking about genderism, transphobia, and gender bashing, the authors learned that harassment and discrimination rates, as well as the likelihood of violence, are much higher for people of color who are gender variant. “Genderism is the negative cultural ideology, gender prejudice is the emotional expression of that ideology, and gender bashing is the violent manifestation of those emotions.” Their research provides justification for more inclusive hate crime laws. According to a study by Genderpac, “homicides classified as hate crimes were about one-and-a-half times more likely (50 versus 33 percent) to result in the apprehension of a suspect.”
Earlier studies tended to lump together all transgender people and to view them in sequential stages of “becoming.” The survey shows that similar events are experienced differently by persons who identify as female-to-male transgender, male-to-female transgender, cross-dresser, or genderqueer. The authors emphasize the importance of not defining people by surgeries.
Despite the much wider availability of information about transgenderism, many of those under age 23 do not find it any easier to accept that they are transgender. In general, children who are labeled male experience more pressure to conform to gender expectations and therefore may become aware of their gender difference earlier. Children labeled female are often able to behave in ways that fit their internal gender, at least until puberty.
Those who identify as genderqueer, or as some other non-binary gender, sometimes encounter hostility within the LGBT community, as well as struggles in a society that presumes there are only two choices on everything from forms to sports. Of particular interest was the discovery of how higher education can become more welcoming. College campuses that have taken a step toward inclusivity, such as offering domestic partner benefits, are more likely to have LGBT individuals willing to come out and to report any harassment.
Unfortunately, survey participants did not include significant numbers of transgender people in the military or blue-color work. Otherwise, this research will be valuable for agencies that provide services to transgender people, whether the organization’s focus or simply part of the population served. The book would not be a first choice for someone needing basic information about what it means to be transgender.
Reviewer: Carolyn Caywood, Retired
Virginia Beach Public Library
In this heart-breaking and heartwarming memoir, Walsh shares a story of confusion, love, hate, seeking love, and search for identity, and soul searching.
From a broken family that goes from healing to breaking and offers hope before danger and despair, Walsh, the eldest, seeks to find her true self. She doesn’t fit at school or socially, her mother berates her for her body, and her father figures keep changing. Interspersed with remembrances of food and meals, this memoir hits home with the late-identified, the abandoned, and those from broken homes or labeled misfits.
Walsh does not yet realize her lesbianism, although Walsh acknowledges her lack of sexual release when with men and her attraction to women, she does not recognize herself as a lesbian while she is young. When beginning to explore lesbianism, Walsh has heterosexual encounters until she decides that they are not satisfactory. These elements, combined with her inability to find a suitable job, frustration with her therapy, and continued abandonment, create an upward battle towards happiness. Set in Manhattan, Buffalo, Long Island (NY), and Santa Fe as well as western European cities, the book takes readers with Walsh on an emotional and geographical journey.
With several recipes included at the end, this book will appeal to the culinary-oriented by title, although the cooking journey is only a small part of the entire narrative of personal, spiritual, and sexual journeys. Readers who enjoy books of self-awakening will find pleasure in this down-to-earth and heartfelt memoir of a life of searching. Occasional foreign words without definitions might at first be confusing, but this infrequent lack of translation contributes to the sense portrayed by the book. Recommended for public libraries and readers of memoirs.