With the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and Duluth-Superior Pride coming up on Labor Day weekend, I want to focus on books with LGBTQ themes.
Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian (HarperCollins, 2015) asks, “What would happen if you found yourself falling in love with your best friend of the same gender?”
Will Caynes is 17 years old and has never been kissed. His best friend, Angus, has been out since junior high.
Will divides his time between his divorced parents, who treat him as a weapon against each other. He wears glasses that are out of fashion because his father pays for those, but clothes that are more expensive because his mother provides them.
Angus, with his good looks and quiet confidence, strikes Will as everything he himself is not. One night, as Angus and Will are getting high and drunk in the park, Angus kisses Will. The make-out session leaves Will feeling confused and intrigued. On the one hand, he knows he’s not gay; on the other, he enjoyed kissing Angus.
A few days later, Will meets Brandy, a girl from school, and quickly begins a relationship with her. As Will struggles to maintain both relationships, he is beset with worry over his father, who has started drinking again, and anger towards his mother whose new family has little room for him.
It becomes clear that Will has fallen in love with Angus despite not thinking of himself as gay, but he also has a strong physical attraction to Brandy.
Cut Both Ways is a darkly honest novel that confronts emotional attraction and teen sexuality without flinching. Will’s characterization and manner of speaking are so true to a teenage boy that I was surprised to learn the author is female.
The characters are believably flawed and complex. Brandy proves that she is more than a bubbly cheerleader type. Her insecurities and attitudes ring true to the fact that she is barely 15 to Will’s nearly 18.
Despite Angus’ quiet and disaffected attitude, he too is plagued by insecurities and uncertainties in his relationship with Will and in his own sexual experiences.
Mesrobian leaves certain elements of the story unresolved, which also feels true to life.
Readers who enjoyed The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban will likely enjoy Cut Both Ways. Although vastly different stories, both novels present complex and imperfect characters. Both novels acknowledge that, unlike fiction, life does not always come with neat endings. ★ ★ ★ ★
Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli (Balzer + Bray, 2015) is lighter and more simplistic.
Simon is 16 and gay, but has not come out to his friends and family. The only one aware of his secret is a boy at school known as Blue. The two struck up an anonymous correspondence earlier in the year, and recently their emails have taken on a flirtatious tone.
One day, Simon is approached by a bully, Martin, who has stumbled upon Simon and Blue’s correspondence and threatens to reveal it publicly if Simon doesn’t help him pursue Abby, one of Simon’s friends.
Simon is faced with a choice: out himself before he’s ready, be outed by Martin and risk revealing Blue’s secret in the process, or help someone he despises.
Albertalli writes in a fun and conversational style, creating characters who are easy to imagine: Simon, the Harry Potter lookalike; Leah, the quiet bookish one who harbors a not-so-secret crush on Nick, the philosophical musician with surfer looks; and Abby, the perky, skinny cheerleader whom Nick has a crush on.
Albertalli is writing for a younger audience than expected, given the ages of the characters (or, perhaps, she’s not familiar with teenage vernacular). For example, the social networking site Tumblr features heavily in the plot, referred to as “the Tumblr,” and sections of the dialogue read as if Simon and his friends are younger than 17 or 18.
Martin commits a reprehensible act, yet is almost immediately apologetic and suffers little to no consequence. This felt out of character given his actions and words earlier in the novel.
Blue is the most developed character and the truest to his written age. Even though his identity is not revealed until the final pages, he is far more complex than the characters we know more intimately.
Through his and Simon’s correspondence, we come to understand Blue’s issues with his sexual identity. He reveals his struggles with his strict parents and his internal conflict regarding their divorce.
He also reveals to Simon his feelings of inadequacy around his father and his fear that his mother may be unable to accept him due to her religious beliefs.
Readers who enjoyed Fangirl or Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell will likely enjoy Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. The authors have a similar style and both create characters the reader will enjoy getting to know. ★ ★ ★ ½
Kris Milstead is a nerd insomniac. When she is not surfing the Internet or watching Doctor Who, she can probably be found reading and working on her next book review. You can follow her on Twitter at medelle71 or email her at email@example.com.