Preface: this is quite possibly the best book I have ever read. You may continue.
Angie Thomas tackles the topic of police violence through the eyes of a teenage girl. Starr lost two of her best friends to gun violence by the time she’s sixteen, one by a gang drive-by, and the other by a police officer. As the only witness to her friend Kahlil’s murder, Starr must face the overwhelming pressure to testify on his behalf before a grand jury. This tragedy is the catalyst that begins to destroy the separation between her two worlds: one in which she spends her weekdays at a private, majority-white school, the other in which she calls “home,” a gang-ridden city neighborhood.
While Starr struggles to balance her two different worlds, her father’s desire to make their neighborhood a better place, her mother’s desire to move away to keep their family safe, AND the pressures of being in the spotlight, Starr’s story, though fictional, depicts many aspects of reality that hit close to home. Starr is afraid of what will happen to her is she speaks out, but knows that she has to use her voice to speak on behalf of her friend and the injustice that he faced.
As the story progresses, readers get to see how the criminal justice system and the media in our country and society skew (and even alter completely) stories before releasing them to the world. Starr’s experiences depict the struggle of getting the real story out there in situations such as hers and how industries silence and oppress the voices of minorities.
The title of this novel is derived from the rapper Tupac Shakur’s philosophy of “THUG LIFE,” which Thomas explains as “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” This phrase ends up as a motif for the novel. Right before his murder, Kahlil explains to Starr that this phrase is really an indictment of systemic inequality and hostility: “What society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” Essentially, what we are taught when we are children will eventually come back to haunt us as a society in the future. (For example: racism and systematic oppression and inequality.)
Throughout this riveting debut novel, Thomas utilizes Starr’s perspective to speak out about this ever-present, bone-chilling issue of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. While I read this book, I truly connected and empathized with Starr, heartbroken that a teenage girl outlived two of her best friends. I commend Angie Thomas for shedding light on this important and current topic.
I realize that many individuals will attempt to discredit The Hate U Give and the real-life experiences Thomas fictionalizes in the book. I am not going to discuss the politics surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement (at least not in this blog post) but I encourage those who disagree to read this book, because it is possibly the most important book I have read in a very, very long time.
I read some amazing books this summer and some of them were LGBTQ+ young adult fiction. Even though some are more recently published than others, they’re all still definitely worth a read!
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of the most gripping coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read. I loved that this book followed Cameron from a young age and readers get to experience the different stages of growing up. When Cameron was merely twelve years old, both of her parents died suddenly in a car accident. Hours before this tragedy, Cameron was kissing a girl, and in Montana during the 1990s, this was not acceptable.
Cameron develops a relationship with a close friend of hers and then her conservative aunt and paternal grandmother send her to Promise, a camp that practices conversion therapy and promises to teach “appropriate gender roles.” I was truly disturbed by this aspect of Cameron’s story (which is the point, obviously), especially since camps similar to Promise still exist today in our country and around the world.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was overall a rollercoaster ride of emotions and heartbreak, but in the end, is a great coming-of-age story of a gay teen in the south whose only salvation is staying true to herself.
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
Gracefully Grayson follows a twelve year old boy who is battling an internal struggle: he was born in the wrong body. He was meant to be a girl. His identity, however, has been suppressed following the tragic death of his parents when he was only four years old. (There seems to be a trend of dead parents in LGBT coming of age novels…Hm.) Since then, Grayson lives with his dad’s brother and his family. Grayson befriends a new girl, who helps him break out of his shell and audition for the school play, “The Myth of Persephone.” The choices he makes during this audition are life-changing.
Though the main character of this book is much younger than the usual characters of young adult novels, I still encourage YA readers to read Gracefully Grayson. While I was reading this book I just wanted to protect Grayson, he is innocent and fragile, yet very self-aware. I truly admire this book, because I feel readers never get to see this perspective – many stories we hear, books we read, or shows we watch – never focus on young transgender children. We almost always see the “after” – after they come out, or transition, et cetera. We rarely see the “before” – the struggle of a young transgender person trying to figure themselves out. Gracefully Grayson is an emotional, heart-warming glimpse into the “before” that is rarely depicted.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Amanda Hardy is finally living her life as her true self. Not a single student at her new high school knows about her past – about her attempted suicide (which was when she was previously known as Andrew) or about the brutal assault she experienced in her old town. Amanda is focusing on making friends and fitting in, but all of this seems much more difficult as she gets closer to girls in her grade and a boy named Grant. If I Was Your Girl is truly an outstanding coming of age novel and stays true to the hardships of being a transgender teen, post-transition in high school.
There was one aspect of Amanda’s story that really stuck with me long after I finished reading If I Was Your Girl. Amanda reflects on when she attempted suicide at one point in the novel. She recalls something her mother said to her when Amanda first came out as trans: “I’d rather have a daughter than a dead son.” I found this statement riveting, chilling, and incredibly eye-opening. I cannot stop thinking about it. I wish all of the parents around the world who have trans children had this mindset.
“Amanda’s life and identity would be just as valid if she didn’t figure herself out until later in live, or if she were tomboy, or if she were bisexual or lesbian or asexual, or if she had trouble passing, or if she either could not or chose not to get ‘bottom’ surgery…It is easy to get hung up on these points if you haven’t lived our lives…I hope that, having gotten to know Amanda you will not apply the details of her experiences as dogma other trans people must adhere to but rather as inspiration to pursue an even broader understandings of our lives and identities.” (Excerpt from Meredith Russo’s “a note from the author”).
If I Was Your Girl is not only a story of one young trans girl’s coming of age story as her true self, but it is also a message to the world – trans people’s experiences are valid, regardless of how or when or what or why, and, as Amanda learns, they are deserving of love.
Rage: a Love Story by Julie Anne Peters
Johanna is a senior in high school who lives in the apartment above her sister’s home because both of their parents have died (ANOTHER instance of dead parents…). Johanna loves Reeve. She constantly is fantasizing over her and wishing that Reeve would give her the time of day. A Teacher ropes Johanna into tutoring Robbie, a boy with mild autism, so he can graduate on time. Luckily for Johanna, Robbie is Reeve’s twin brother.
Rage depicts the love story between Reeve and Johanna, for what it is – truly a struggle. As Johanna tries to get closer to Reeve, she begins to experience some of the physical abuse that is a part of Reeve’s everyday life. I give Julie Anne Peters props for depicting this type of abusive relationship – we very rarely see abuse depicted in any way besides a heterosexual relationship in which man abuses woman.
However, there was something about this book that just left a bad taste in my mouth. I was put off by Johanna’s obsession over Reeve – it’s almost as unhealthy as the abuse coming from Reeve’s end of the relationship. (Maybe the reason Johanna stayed with Reeve and endured her abuse is because she put her on a pedestal and thought she could do no wrong..?) The whole story overall felt oddly rushed and didn’t focus on detail whatsoever, but is definitely an interesting read nonetheless.
I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since I was merely eight years old and when I first heard that J.K. Rowling was publishing another installment of the Harry Potter series, I honestly was not excited – at all. I was skeptical at first. I didn’t think I wanted to know any more about the Harry Potter story, simply because I believe that the future of some stories should be left to the imagination of the readers. I enjoyed pondering different scenarios and situations the trio – Harry, Ron, and Hermione – would face in their futures. I enjoyed that there wasn’t a solid, concreate ending to Harry’s story. However, as time passed, I slowly by surely began to anxiously await the release date of The Cursed Child.
The story of The Cursed Child is written in script format and follows along Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and even Draco Malfoy, and all of their respective children as they face the struggles of living in a world post-Voldemort. This story picks up right after the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows and its main focus is on the push-and-pull tension between Harry and his middle child, Albus Severus.
Albus is almost always the odd-one-out and doesn’t fit in at Hogwarts as much as his older brother, James, and definitely not nearly as much as his father once did. Bearing the weight of the Potter legacy is almost too much for Albus – he barely fits in and isn’t living up to others’ expectations of him as one of Harry Potter’s children. As The Cursed Child progresses, readers get the opportunity to see the Harry Potter characters as adults, experience the ways in which they grew and learned as people, and a different perspective of the wizarding world in a world many years after the Battle of Hogwarts.
I was truly impressed with how The Cursed Child turned out. The script format made it very easy to read (I finished the entire book in about eight hours). J.K. Rowling mentioned when she first announced The Cursed Child script publication, that she felt that telling the story in this manner was the best way to depict the story she had in mind. I definitely see where she was coming from because I cannot imagine The Cursed Child as a regular novel, much less another Harry Potter movie. I think Rowling had everyone’s best interests in mind when she decided to go the route of scripts and on-stage performances. (I literally BEG J.K. Rowling and all others involved to release a recording of the performances for those who won’t be able to see it live.)
The Cursed Child was just the right amount of information – it answered many questions I’m sure most Harry Potter fans had, such as what Harry’s children were like, what sort of problems they faced while living in his shadow, how the main characters that were so near and dear to our hearts aged and continued their lives. The story also raised questions as well, tapping into the idea of leaving aspects of the story up to the imagination of the readers, an aspect of fiction writing that I adore so much.
I was so, so pleased with the ways in which Rowling adapted her characters for this script. I think the ways in which the characters spoke and acted was truly realistic and true to the personalities depicted in the original novels. They seemed real. Harry would totally be oblivious to the struggles of his second son and Ron would definitely be cracking jokes the whole time. The consistency of Rowling’s character development and characteristics in general is astounding.
While reading The Cursed Child (on the beach at the Jersey shore, which added quite lovely ambiance) I was taken back to the first time I read the Harry Potter books, reminded of the characters I connected to and grew up with. I started the series when I was young and the main characters were young, as they aged and grew up, so did I. Reading The Cursed Child as a young adult was an incredible experience and there’s so much more I would say about it, but most importantly I’m so happy J.K. Rowling decided to share this final part of Harry’s story with us.