Tag: Abigail Tarttelin

We Need Diverse Books

Over the past week or so, I’ve been quietly watching and listening to the We Need Diverse Books campaign and conversation. Being white, straight, and able-bodied, and generally pretty privileged, I felt like listening was my job. But I also need to speak up at least long enough to say that I read and support diverse books, and I want more of them. It’s wonderful to see myself in literature, but it would be pretty damn boring if every character was just like me. I want to hear from, and about, people from all walks of life. Here are some fantastic diverse books that I have enjoyed:

Cover image for The Buddha in the Attic by Julie OtsukaWritten from the perspective of a collective “we,” Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic relates the experiences of the Japanese picture brides who came to America in the early 1900s. Betrothed to men they had chosen from photographs, and promised a more comfortable life across the sea, these women left their homes and families for a hard new life on America’s frontier. Many arrive to realize that the husbands they were promised were mere fictions, and the men they are expected to marry are poor migrant agricultural workers. The lives they are able to build for themselves over years of hard work are abruptly yanked away from them with the onset of World War II and the institution of the Japanese internment camps.

Cover image for Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

In Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan takes us back to World War II Europe, as jazz musicians Chip Jones and Sid Griffiths relive their memories of that time. They lost many of their friends and fellow musicians, first in Nazi Berlin, and then in occupied Paris. But none of those friends haunt them quite like Hieronymous Falk, also known as The Kid, a jazz horn player who could have been the next Louis Armstrong. Hiero was a Mischling, a black German made stateless by his race. Just hours after laying down the legendary track known as Half-Blood Blues, Hiero was captured by the Germans, and sent to an internment camp. Everyone agrees that Hiero died in the aftermath of the war, although there are many competing theories about how he met his fate. Chip and Sid are about to travel back to Berlin for the premiere of a documentary on Hiero’s life and music, but just before they depart, Chip receives a letter from Poland from someone who claims to be Hieronymous Falk. 

Cover image for Golden Boy by Abigail TarttelinIn Golden Boy, Abigail Tarttlein tells the story of Max Walker. Smart, athletic, and popular, Max seems to have everything going for him. He is loved by his parents, idolized by his younger brother,  and adored by his peers. But all his life, Max and his parents have been hiding a secret; he is intersex. Dating makes it hard enough to conceal this fact, but when Max is raped by a childhood friend, it seems that his secret will inevitably come out. The upheaval comes at the worst possible time; Steven Walker is about to stand for Parliament, and the ravenous British paparazzi that ran the previous candidate out of office may descend on the Walkers at any moment.

Cover Image for The Silvered by Tanya HuffCanadian LGBT author Tanya Huff often writes about straight protagonists, but in every book, you will find queer secondary characters, and wonderful female heroes. IThe Silvered, she reworks the concept of the werewolf, creating a complex social structure which combines werewolves and mages. Their country and their culture are under siege by an ever-expanding, Napoleon-esque Empire which regards the Pack as abomination. Bigotry, xenophobia, and racism complicate novice mage Mirian Maylin’s efforts to save the Mage-Pack after five members are kidnapped by the Emperor. 

Cover image for Maggot Moon by Sally GardnerMaggot Moon is the story of Standish Treadwell, a dyslexic boy keeps his mismatched eyes downcast, and tries to be invisible at school. In the dystopian society where Standish lives, being different is dangerous. Dyslexic herself, author Sally Gardner has created a wonderfully relatable hero whose learning disability isn’t a secret super power. This novel is best read with as few spoilers as possible. 

 

Cover image for The Black Count by Tom ReissSometimes truth is better than fiction, and more diverse, too. In The Black Count, Tom Reiss profiles Alexandre Dumas, father of the famous novelist. The son of an itinerant French nobleman and his black slave mistress, Dumas was born on Saint-Domingue, and became a free man when his father took him to France, where slavery was illegal. He received a traditional French education before joining the army. As a person of colour, Dumas arrived in France at a peculiar moment in history, when rising Republican ideals would enable him to achieve incredible military acclaim despite his race, eventually becoming a general in the French Revolutionary Army. Unfortunately for Dumas, the window of opportunity was short, and when Napoleon rose to power, the fortunes of the gens de couleur did not rise with him. 

 

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Golden Boy

Cover image for Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

by Abigail Tarttelin

ISBN 978-1-4767-0580-4

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

Trigger Warning: This book deals with rape.

It would be another sexuality/gender thing that would give people the creeps, and it’s no use asking why questions of sexuality and gender give people the creeps, and it’s no use blaming it on society and saying it should change, because nothing is going to change about high school, and bitches who gossip, and guys who get freaked out and think people like Samuel want to make out with the entire football team. Nothing is going to change about my high school in the next year and make it okay for people to know the truth about me.”

Smart, athletic and popular, fifteen year old Max Walker seems to have everything going for him. He is loved by his parents, idolized by his younger brother, Daniel, and adored by his peers. But all his life, Max and his parents have been hiding a secret; he is intersex. Dating makes it hard enough to conceal this fact, but when Max is raped by a childhood friend, Hunter, it seems that his secret will inevitably come out. Hunter threatens to reveal it himself if Max tells anyone about the rape, which was violent enough to force Max to seek medical attention. The fallout from this incident brings a lifetime of tension within the Walker family to a boil; the best way to keep Max’s secret has been not to talk about it—even Daniel doesn’t know—but the situation can no longer be ignored. The upheaval comes at the worst possible time; Steven Walker is about to stand for Parliament, and the ravenous British paparazzi that ran the previous candidate out of office may descend on the Walkers at any moment.

Golden Boy opens with a graphic rape scene that sets the tone for the type of subject matter being dealt with—all the way through it is emotionally heavy and issue-oriented. Modern family dynamics, sexual and gender identity and cultural attitudes towards gender all come under the microscope. When we first meet Max, he seems to be happy and well-adjusted, but after the rape it becomes clear that this status quo could not have held forever. Unable to agree about how to deal with Max’s condition, his parents have been ignoring and avoiding the situation, and keeping Max in the dark as well. They have been putting their own comfort and personal issues about gender ahead of helping Max and considering his interests. No one is giving Max the information he needs to make choices for himself, and it is painful to watch him stumbling in the dark.

If being intersex can highlight family tensions, it also brings to light many of the deficiencies of the medical profession. Caught in the midst of the Walker’s family drama, is Archie Verma, the local general practitioner. Though Max has seen numerous specialists in the past, his parents’ competing ideas about how to deal with his situation have left him with no medical advice or information at all. Despite her lack of expertise, Dr. Verma turns out to be the advocate and confidante Max desperately needs, but throughout the novel she must scramble to educate herself about issues that were never covered at all in her medical education—and the reader gets educated along the way as well.

Speaking at University Book Store Seattle, Tarttelin described her book as an accessible read about an intersex child born into a normal family in an average community that readers can relate to. Many other intersex narratives focus on characters born on the margins of society, or born into extraordinary circumstances (think Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides). Max is heartbreakingly normal, always trying incredibly hard to be good—to be perfect—to ensure that his parents don’t perceive him as the problem child. Indeed, many of the aspects of Max’s story—dating, family relationships—have nothing to do with intersexuality; they are part of any coming-of-age story. In fact, Max’s intersexuality is not the problem of this book; it is the way in which the characters conceptualize gender and impose these ideas on others which complicates things, and with six narrative voices in the book, there are myriad conflicting view points, even within individual characters. Golden Boy may be accessible to a mainstream audience, but it is neither simple nor one-sided.

Spring/Summer Fiction Preview

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. In addition to attending workshops and hanging out with other folks in the library profession, I was able to attend a Book Buzz event, and visit publishers at their booths on the exhibit floor to find out about the new fiction titles coming this spring and summer. I didn’t get much reading done this past week, so in lieu of sharing a review, here’s a peek at some of the forthcoming titles I am excited about for the first half of 2013.

Blood of Dragons (978-0-06-211685-7)
Cover image for Blood of Dragons Well known for writing fantasy trilogies in interlocking worlds, Robin Hobb is adding a fourth and final volume to The Rain Wilds Chronicles after a cliff hanger ending in volume three. The dragons and their keepers have reached Kelsingra, and the rebirth of the Elderlings is imminent. But although Kelsingra is no longer lost, the legendary silver wells on which the dragons depend are nowhere to be found. The keepers must steep themselves in the magical memories of the city to try to find out what has become of the wells before the dragons die. This series Harper Voyager continues April 9, 2013. (Update: read my review.)

Categories: Fantasy

Golden Boy (978-1-4767-0580-4)

Cover image for Golden BoyThe Walkers seem to be the perfect family. Karen Walker is a high power criminal attorney, and her husband Steve is about to stand for the British Parliament. Their son Max is the popular golden boy of his school. But for Karen, it all feels like a charade, and one that could fall apart at any moment. Steve’s candidacy for public office means that their lives are about to be laid bare to intensive media scrutiny. Between the publicity and the return of one of Max’s childhood friends, the Walkers are afraid that the secret of Max’s intersex condition will be exposed. Abigail Tarttelin’s novel is due out from Atria Books (Simon and Schuster) on May 21, 2013.

Categories: LGBT, Contemporary

The Golem and the Jinni (978-0-06211-083-1)

Cover image for The Golem and the JinniIn Helene Wecker’s debut novel, an unusual pair of magical immigrants arrive in New York City in 1899, creating an improbable connection between Jewish and Arabic mythology.  Ahmad is a fire jinni, accidently release from his lamp into the streets of the city. Chava is a Golem whose master, a Kabbalist magician, dies on the voyage from Poland to America, leaving her to make her way alone in a new country. United by their common immigrant experience, but then driven apart by their disparate heritage, only a “powerful threat” can bring them together again. HarperCollins is recommending this title for fans of The Night Circus, A Discovery of Witches, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Look for this HarperCollins book on April 23, 2013.

Categories: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology

If You Could Be Mine (978-1-61620-251-4)

Cover Image for If You Could Be MineSara Farizan’s debut novel is a young adult title about forbidden love in Iran. Sahar and Nasrin are best friends, but they are also in love, and in Iran homosexuality is a crime. Nasrin must marry the prosperous doctor her parents have selected for her. The girls keep their love a secret, passing only as friends in public. When Sahar learns that while homosexuality is a crime, being transgender is not, she must consider whether it would be worth transitioning in order to be able to love and even marry Nasrin openly. The only problem is that Sahar doesn’t identify as a man. This title is due out from Algonquin on August 20, 2013.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT, Romance

The Rithmatist (978-0-7653-2032-2)

Cover image for The RithmatistTor is hyping this title as Brandon Sanderson’s YA debut, since his previous books are classified as either middle grade or adult. Rithmatists are powerful magicians who use their skills to bring creatures known as Chalklings to life from two-dimensional chalk models. These Rithmatist-controlled creatures are all that protect the American Isles from being overrun by Wild Chalklings. The son of a chalkmaker at the Rithmatists’ academy, Joel dreams of being a Rithmatist himself. It seems more likely that he will follow in his father’s footsteps, until students at the school begin disappearing, and Joel must help solve the mystery. Following shortly on the heels of the conclusion of the Wheel of Time series, The Rithmatist is due out on May 14, 2013.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

I received ARCs of a number of these titles, so look for reviews closer to the release dates.