Between The Covers: Queer we go again...
By Terri Schlichenmeyer, October 2020 Issue.
And just like that — boom! — the awkwardness began.
Okay, so maybe you exaggerate some, but adolescence is kind of like that: you’re just some average kid until you’re not, until you get zits and hair and feelings that you don’t know what to do with, amplified by the fact that you’re gay or pan or queer. And boom! no more average kid. So why not read some not-so-average stories about kids like you in Out Now, a short story collection edited by Saundra Mitchell.
Labels are no fun, probably because they’re never a hundred percent exact. Should you call yourself gay or “half a gay”? Maybe “bi” works better, or is it okay to shuffle through the labels until you find the one that fits best? Or, as in the first story, “Kick. Push. Coast” by Candace Montgomery, are you just you?
What do you do if your heart is broken because you tried to stand up for yourself? In “Lumber Me Mine” by CB Lee, Jasmine finally took a stand and broke up with her LTR. Everybody loved Janet; she was funny and confident and organized, but those traits kept Jasmine on the sidelines. Now Janet was lying to all their mutual friends. What was the best way to move on from that?
There’s a reason that social media sites have “follow” buttons: because it’s fun to catch up with the videos and thoughts of people you enjoy, even if you don’t actually know them. You sometimes have to wonder, though: how much of their lives are real, and how much is faked? In “Follower” by Will Kostakis, 18-year-old Jason is on a crowded beach when he spots London, who’s an influencer on a site called WeGlo. It doesn’t take long for Jason to see that London’s posts are staged just for the clicks, which is disappointing. And yet, there’s a genuine man behind the facade.
Eliza was absolutely not looking forward to a girls-only road trip, but she almost kinda had to go — though there would be camping involved, and they were picking up someone’s cousin, a girl Eliza thought she’d insulted once. Awkward, huh? In “A Road of One’s Own” by Kate Hart, this was going to be awful. Or maybe not so much.
Got an extra half-hour today?
In this time of quarantine and shelter-in-place, yeah, you probably do. So why not spend that time reading something you can wrap up quick, like the stories inside Out Now?
It’s almost like the seventeen authors presented in this book peeked inside your backpack. They know what queer teens like to read, and you’ll find that stuff here: romance-y tales with PG-ratings. Vampire stories, and magic curses. Tales of mystical beings, not-quite-sure kids, some who are bullied, and teens who confidently know exactly who they are.
Dip in and try a tale. Nobody says you have to read them all; that’s the beauty of a short story collection like “Out Now.” If you’ve got the time and want something different, boom! here’s your book.
Did you see that?
Sure you did. You couldn’t miss it, actually, because you can spot hatred, discrimination, and bad trouble a mile away. You know when something’s wrong and you saw it; saw it coming, in fact, and you weren’t alone. In “Begin Again” by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., you’ll know that a warning was sounded decades ago.
Every day, it seems like you catch the news and you cringe.
“It is exhausting,” says Glaude, “to find oneself ... navigating a world rife with deadly assumptions about you and those who look like you ... for no other reason” than the color of your skin or your sexuality.
Author James Baldwin keenly felt both and in the midst of his career, he demanded, through his writing, that America come to terms with “this so-called democracy.” Baldwin was tired of a “set of practices” Glaude calls “the lie,” or “more properly several sets of lies” meant to keep racism alive in as many American systems as possible.
Baldwin saw “the lie” and it enraged him: once, early in the civil rights movement, he made a group of Black college students promise that they would never take to heart “the lies” they heard about themselves. It’s been said that he saw “the lie” and wanted to give “warning” to White readers of the battle to come, but in truth, Glaude says, Baldwin wasn’t sure “whether white America was worthy of warning at all.”
These are the things Baldwin spoke out against, says Glaude, and that we still grapple with — especially in the political climate in which we live. He believes “the divisions in the country feel old and worn,” although we do have the tools to alter current racial and political climates. Baldwin, for instance “insisted that we reach for a better self...”
“With that in mind,” says Glaude, “we have to gather ourselves to fight and to begin again.”
In his introduction, author Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. says that he was in Heidelberg when he started this book, which gave him a unique perspective of the “current state of our politics.” He says that he didn’t write it as biography or literary criticism or history, although it ended up being “some combination of all three.” This, plus a good measure of personal memoir thrown in, adds a different twist and makes Begin Again quite deep.
But not too deep: there’s enough room here for readers to be moved by the parallels that Glaude draws between then and now, and how Baldwin perceived American society before his death. Glaude also presents Baldwin’s constant fury and sadness over “the after times” (post-civil rights movement) with an urgency that can still galvanize, though Baldwin has been gone for more than three decades.
So, what would Baldwin have thought about our current administration? Glaude doesn’t hypothesize here, so we’re left mostly to draw our own conclusions, to imagine, think, and to use Baldwin’s words as a sort of guide out.
And for that, Begin Again is a book you’ll want to see.
One step forward and spin.
Shuffle backward, left step, left step, spin again and back. Dancing isn’t hard if you’ve got the right moves in the right sequence. It’s not calculus, you just need to shimmy at the proper times. Dancing can actually be fun unless, as in the new book Bear Necessity by James Gould-Bourn, you’re about to get a bad kind of “beat.”
Things probably would have been different, had Danny paid the rent on time.
As it was, it had been months since he’d given his landlord any money and Danny didn’t care; Reg was mad, of course, but so what? It didn’t matter. Not much did, since the night Danny’s wife, Liz, died in a car accident and his son, Will, who was also in the car, was traumatized. Rent? Whatever. Danny only worried about Will, who hadn’t spoken a word since that terrible night.
But did Reg care about that? Nooo, and so when he came around with a hammer-wielding henchman to collect back-rent, Danny was terrified, but he’d lost his job by then and couldn’t find another one. With a usury rent extension granted, busted-kneecap threats in mind, and a growing 11-year-old to feed, he did the only thing he could think of: he bought a smelly third-hand panda costume and headed to the park to earn money.
And it was horrible.
People threw things at him. He didn’t know what a street-performer even does, and he was robbed on his first day. On his way home, a woman on the bus called him names he couldn’t repeat. If he didn’t need the money, he wouldn’t’ve gone back.
At first, Will didn’t want to talk about his Mum’s death. He didn’t want to talk at all, so he didn’t; most kids understood, but his favorite teacher said that sometimes, a good listener could help. It didn’t even have to be anybody Will knew, the teacher said. It could be a stuffed animal.
Or maybe, Will thought, some anonymous, weird guy in a panda costume.
Now, granted: Bear Necessity starts slow and stays that way for a considerably long time. It’s almost too slow, but you may barely notice.
That’s because author James Gould-Bourn lets you spend those warm-up pages with a gently funny cast of characters that are as cozy-comforting as a warm cuppa. The plot is familiar, bordering on predictable, but two notable side characters — one, a pole-dancer with a heart of ice; the other, a mountainous but soft-sided Slav — soon set the story right and move it right along. It just takes a bit of patience to get there, and a willingness to ignore the occasional “Huh?” and be charmed.
You might think you know how it wraps up (you won’t) but in the end, this book becomes a cute bunch of nots: not brain-busting, not overly-profane, not gratuitously violent, not to be missed (despite a few minor growls) and likely not found on any best-seller list. Look for it, anyhow, and give Bear Necessity a spin.
The choice is yours: do you pick one thing, or take the other? Stay where you are, or reach for better? This or that, any way, you always have to decide: do you take either, or, as in A Most Beautiful Thing by Arshay Cooper, do you take the oar?
Growing on Chicago’s West Side, Arshay Cooper was used to seeing blood on the sidewalk. Gunshots were like lullabies and he hated it. His father was long gone, his mother was then too addicted to care for her children, and he “had a funeral” for her in his heart. Later, once his mother was clean and he started attending high school at Manley Career Academy, he became firm in his belief that his future was not on the streets. He knew gangbanging wasn’t for him, so he mostly stayed home and watched Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and A Different World on TV, absorbing their lessons and wishing his life was more like that of the characters.
And then he saw a boat.
It wasn’t just any boat, though: it was long and sleek, and Cooper quickly learned that it was used in a sport he’d never heard of. The white female coach said team members would be taught all they needed to know; the white man who’d put the program together said that there’d never been an all-Black high school rowing team, and he promised that anybody who stuck with the program would succeed in life. Though Cooper’s schoolmates talked smack about it, and in part because of a girl, Cooper and his best friend signed up for “crew.”
And everything clicked into place.
Rowing required discipline. It was exhausting, emotionally and physically. There were sacrifices. But when on the water, rowing, he says, “I don’t hear gunshots or ambulance sirens. I don’t see gang signs and I don’t be afraid ... I feel powerful.”
Here’s all you need to know: A Most Beautiful Thing lives up to its name.
It doesn’t start out that way, though: in laying the ground for his tale, author Arshay Cooper writes about the realities of growing up in a Chicago neighborhood that he hints could have been any-inner-city-where, any-inner-city-time. This gives the story its muscle and allows readers to better picture the scenes and the struggles he and his young teammates withstood. You’ll be happy to know that there isn’t a shred of boasting or false pride in that.
Once you’re that far into the book, then, you may notice that Cooper masterly makes you feel a part of the team. At that point, just go ahead, take their losses to heart. Be proud of the changes they’ve made. Think about the grace on race that Cooper offers. Grin like a fool at the triumphs and laugh at their nonconformity.