Monday, March 24, 2014

Two Boys Kissing by David Leviathan

The blurb:
The two boys kissing are Craig and Harry.  They're hoping to set the world's record for the longest kiss. They're not a couple, but they used to be.

Peter and Neil are a couple.  Their kisses are different.

Avery and Ryan have only just met and are trying to figure out what happens next.  Both of them worry that something will go wrong.

Cooper is alone.  It's getting to the point where he doesn't really feel things anymore.

These boys along with their friends and families, form a tapestry that will reveal love of all kinds: open and eager, tentative and cautious, pained and scared.  New York Times bestselling author David Leviathan has sewn together their lives into a redemptive whole that will captivate, illuminate, and move readers.

I'd received a copy of Two Boys Kissing during BEA last year.  It's a book that I expected to find interesting but had delayed reading.  When I did start the book, I was drawn in and couldn't put it down.  Though a straight woman, I'd grown up quite close to my gay uncle and his friends, so I found myself reading the book in part for myself and in part to share it with my uncle and friends.  Two Boys Kissing was my first exposure to gay literature and it was a wonderful introduction. 

The narrative voice of Two Boys Kissing is a chorus of older gay men, those close to my uncle's ages - men in their mid to late 60s.    It was this voice that drew me to the book and caught my sympathy.  Leviathan acknowledges what it was like to grow up in the time of this older generation and what these "pioneers" might think and say to the young gay men of today.   There is great sympathy, celebration of youth, identity and love.  

The young boys are interesting in their own right.  We read about Korean American Neil and his young boyfriend and best friend Peter.  Peter is out to his family and has an amazing support system.  Neil is not out for most of the book but when he does declare his sexuality, it isn't a surprise to his parents or his sister.  Neil and Peter live near each other in a small town and are comfortable walking to each other's houses, spending much of their waking time together, both in and out of school.  It's a love story that seems comfortable and sweet - and the absence of fear and censure is wonderful. 

Craig and Harry have a much more complicated relationship.  Their breakup was very civil and they'd continued as friends although Craig had a much harder time recovering.  Their mutual determination not to lose touch or to move apart gives their relationship a special tie as well.  It's easy to sympathize with both Harry and Craig and to appreciate how they can continue as close friends throughout their lives - though the chorus and the book doesn't presume to predict that far in advance.  Both Harry and Craig are solid characters, well developed and very sympathetic.    Harry's family is very supportive of his sexuality.  Craig's family learns his secret unexpectedly and it the process of acceptance is painful and difficult - which makes Craig a convincing character.    The book makes you wonder just how supportive people's families are in these situations and how hard it must have been 20 or 30 years ago.

There are the singles in the book that have their own complicated stories.  Two Boys Kissing doesn't shirk from touching on violence, intimidation, what it's like to be the target of hate.   I found the book engrossing, sympathetic and a window into what it might be like to be a young gay man.  I'm sure that there are grittier, sadder accounts but Two Boys Kissing is the sort of book that you could share with both a young man exploring his identity and those who love him and are trying to understand what he might face.

  • ISBN-10: 1405264438 - Paperback $9.95
  • Publisher: Electric Monkey (March 27, 2014), 256 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

A Hundred Horses by Sarah Lean

The blurb:
Nell is not happy about spending her school vacation on a boring farm with relatives she does not know.  But when a half-wild and mysterious girl named Angel steals the suitcase containing Nell's most precious procession, the two girls are united in an adventure of Angel's devising.  Nighttime  meetings and a horse that might just be magical pique Nell's curiosity, and soon she may find a way to put together the mystery of who Angel really is, understand the legends about the herd of a hundred horses, and also discover something special about herself.

Eleven-year-old Nell has a very busy schedule during the school year with all her after school activities.  There's drama club, math tutor, and swimming club to start.  When she gets home, it seems like her mother is always working or on the phone or focused on something else.   Nell was looking forward to spending her two weeks of Spring Break with her Nana just playing cards, talking, watching videos and tv.  But a medical emergency causes a change of plan and Nell readies herself to spend her weeks with relatives she's never met: Aunt Liv and her two young children on a farm.  

When Nell packs her bags, she comes across the carousel of metal horses that her father had made. It's the only thing that she has left of him.  Her mother had removed all traces of him after he abandoned them.  Nell wants to put the carousel together again and worries that her mother might discover this last trace of her father. She hides the carousel with her bag and brings it to Aunt Liv's.

Nell's not excited to spend the next weeks with chickens, geese, pigs, horses, cats, five-year-old Gem and seven-year-old Alfie.  But Gem and Alfie are so happy to have her with them, introducing her to the animals, baking her cupcakes, showing her all their favorite places.  She's the Big Sister-Cousin to them and she loves them back.

Nell encounters eleven-year-old Angel and is warned against her.  Regarded as a troublemaker and living in the woods, Angel is associated with all sorts of disappearing animals and property.  Angel seems surly, hostile, but there's something about her that reminds Nell of herself.   Nell learns about Angel and where she stays from her young cousins.  Nell searches for Angel and when she does find her, she follows her clues, and slowly makes friends.  

Angel forces Nell to take risks and keep secrets.  But their friendship brings the girls unexpected gifts and an adventure that changes their lives. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Nell and her adventures with her young cousins and Angel.  A Hundred Horses is a story of hope, adventure and finding one's way. It drew me in from the start and I'm very much looking forward to sharing the story with my six-year-old niece.

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • ISBN-10: 0062122290 - Hardcover $16.99
  • Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (January 7, 2014), 224 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Sarah Lean won the Schneider Family Book Award for her first novel for young readers, A Dog Called Homeless.  She lives in England with her husband, son, and dog.