As she has written so many LGBTQ YA novels, I knew as soon as I started thinking about LGBTQ YA Month that I wanted to review something by Julie Anne Peters. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a struggle to find her books as they don't seem to be published in the UK. I found Grl2grl, and although it wasn't exactly what I wanted at the time, I bought it. And since reading it, I've discovered it's actually pretty spot-on for the month.
Why? Because it highlights the fact that there is such a diversity of people and such individual experiences, even in LGBTQ stories. Obviously, I knew this already, but with reading each short story, one after the other, covering such different ideas or topics, they remind you of just how different we all are, and how we all have that in common, regardless of what labels we give ourselves/each other.
The short stories in Grl2grl cover a range of topics; friendship, romance, sexual abuse, broken hearts, and struggles with sexuality, and they are about characters who are lesbian, transgender and genderfluid. Each an every single story is awesome in it's own right, and I enjoyed all of them, but there are a few I actually want to talk about in more detail.
The first is Passengers, the first story in the book. It's about Tam's interest and curiosity about and blossoming attractiong to Andi, who is genderfluid. I have to admit when I first read it, I was confused; the story is told from Tam's point of view, and I hadn't come across the term genderfluid before that I remember. Did it mean she was transgender? Or something else? I had to look it up, because even the explanation in the book still left me a little confused. Wikipedia says genderfluid is "moving between genders" and the Genderfluidity Tumblr says, "Sometimes we feel male, and sometimes female. Often, we're someplace in between...or else we're both or neither...". Understanding a little better about the character I was reading, I felt such warmth for Tam in extending friendship, acceptance and as much understanding as she was able at the time to Andi, when no-one else would.
'People talk about her. Guys mostly. They call her a dyke. Girls call her a guy. She isn't a guy. Or a girl, really. She's "questionable." Gender fluid.There were also stories that looked at self-acceptance and he struggle people have with it. In Can't Stop the Feeling, Mariah is struggling to come to terms with the feeling she has, and is trying to find the courage to go to the school's Gay Straight Alliance meetings. Her story is just so sad, and you can't help but want to be her friend, just so she has someone who knows and accepts her for who she is, someone who may make life a little easier for her.
She's not committing one way or the other, let's just say. Who says you have to? Why do we have to? If I want to dress like a guy, so what? I don't, but if I did . . .' (Passengers, p4)
'In my dreams I was happy, whole. I was me. No one cared that I liked girls. I didn't have to keep up this charade or squelch this giant secret that was killing me inside.Similar feelings are also discussed in After Alex, a story about Rachael coming to terms with the fact that her ex-girlfriend cheated on her. At one point, when she's thinking about her past, she talks about coming out to her mum, and the dismissive reaction she received, the one that implies "it's just a phase".
I didn't have to. You don't, Mariah. You're not gay.
If I didn't acknowledge the feelings, I wouldn't have to face the fact.
The fact that I was gay.' (Can't Stop the Feeling, p22)
'I was gay, yeah. A lesbian, no question. It was just harder for me. Telling Mom. My friends. Mom didn't believe it. She said, "How do you know? You can't know. You're only fifteen." Yes, Mother. You know at fifteen. You know at twelve, thirteen. You look at girls and you know. You sit next to them in class and you feel it. The attraction, the desire. You hold it inside because you're afraid of it, afraid of what it means. You never tell anyone. You hope it goes away. You hope it doesn't mean what you know it does.' (After Alex, p35)In another story, Absintence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, about two girls rekindling a platonic friendship after years spent not talking, more importante issues are discussed. During and after a Sex Ed class on abstinence, Aimee talks about the fact that she's not allowed to get married, and religion. I found this story just so awesome! I read Grl2Grl in April this year, just after #MarriageEquality was trending on Twitter when . I was disgusted by Mrs. Errasco's reply to Aimee, but Aimee's views on god had me wanting to shout "YES!", and I'm an atheist.
'"We're not supposed to do it until marriage, okay?" I repeated. "But what if we're not allowed to get married? Like me. How long am I supposed to wait?"...There are two other stories I have to mention. Stone Cold Butch, about a girl, Cam, who has issues being with someone, and Boi, about transgendered Vince during his transition. Both of these stories deal with sexual abuse/attacks, and I can't tell you how much they broke my heart. I was disturbed, I was disgusted, and I was hurting so much for these characters - more so for Vince in Boi, simply because we see it happen rather than having past events talked about, it just felt like I was there with him and that all I could do was watch his agony. It was horrific, and I had to struggle so hard to hold back the tears in my eyes while on the tube on my way to work.
Errasco ignored us and erased the board.
"I'm serious, Mrs. Errasco. How does this abstinence theory apply to us? Are we never supposed to have sex? Ever?"
She set the eraser in the chalk tray and faced front...
"Well, Aimee." Errasco's eyes lit on me. "I guess that's between you and your god."
I stormed out after class. My god? My god? What did she know about my god? She probably thought that since I was gay, I was godless. Against religion. But I'm not. I have a god. I go to church. My god isn't her god. My god doesn't scorn or condemn me. My god is kind and benevolent and accepting. We made a sacred pact. I'd be the best person I could be and God would save me a place in heaven. My heaven. The real one, where it doesn't matter who you are or how you look or how you sacrifice your dignity and self-respect most days just to be true to yourself.' (Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, p76-77)
Each story is different. There are some sad ones, some downright distressing ones, but also happy stories. Lots of different people. Lots of different experiences. One truly amazing book.
Published: 17th January 2008
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
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Julie Anne Peter's Website