Posts tagged ‘LGBT’

Spinning

Spinning.jpgTitle: Spinning
Author/Illustrator: Tillie Walden
ISBN: 9781626729407
Pages: 395 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2017.

In New Jersey, the discipline and tension of practice had terrified me. But I found myself missing it. The screaming, the crying, the exhaustion. It seemed so far away now. I had hoped that the simple familiarity of synchro would make me feel comfortable here. But even that didn’t work out as planned. I quickly found out that skating here operated on an entirely different system than the one back in New Jersey. Formations had different names, levels and titles changed, even judging was different. The one part of my life that I thought I understood was plunged into confusion with everything else. (57-58)

Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir recalls her years of competitive figure skating. Starting when she was five, the sport had been her only focus, monopolizing her time outside of school and dictating who she was close with during her childhood. While we don’t see many details about her early years, we get the impression that they were joyful. When she finished fifth grade her family moves from New Jersey to Texas. After that move, her parents were less involved in the sport then she was, often making her feel alone. “Skating changed when I came to Texas. It wasn’t strict or beautiful or energizing anymore. Now it just felt dull and exhausting. I couldn’t understand why I should keep skating after it lost all its shine.” (139) She relied on the small acts of friendship and camaraderie in her teammates, and even found forbidden romance. But when that abruptly ended and her art pursuits bring the joy and feelings of accomplishments that she was no longer feeling with ice skating, she quit without looking back before starting her senior year of high school.

It’s a story of trying to find your place in the world. Tillie is struggling throughout the novel with her identity of an ice skater being the only way she and others see herself. Latching on in turn to her first girlfriend, her coaches, and fellow skaters, she’s looking for the support and attention that skating previously provided her before moving. The slow unspooling of the years of early practices, taxing competitions, and disconnectedness with her fellow skaters begin to take their toll, and readers can empathize in those feelings that something has got to give. “I was starting to realize that skating wasn’t what it seemed. I always thought of it as simply a sport. But with that sport came a lifestyle. And it wasn’t optional.” (262) Once she finds an alternative for this lifestyle in art, she is allowed to find a passion that ice skating had been lacking. Bright patches of yellow emphasize light sources and break up an otherwise monochromatic color scheme, with focus on faces except in cases where wide lens landscapes mimic the reflective internal narration and the emptiness that Tillie is feeling.

But by the time I finished the story, I found myself in the same position as Tillie. Why did I continue? While yes there is the revelation at the end that she finally builds enough courage to quit a sport, it’s quickly over and is hardly the climatic finish were were hoping for. “How easy it was. I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t done this sooner. But I didn’t have an answer. Even now, I’m still not sure. [… After the last lesson] I cried whole way home with my eyes wide open.” (362-370) After the monotony of skating, I would have liked to see her evolution post-skating, especially the development of her artistic aspirations. While I connected with her feelings of loneliness, it was difficult to connect with her when skating was such a major part of her little character development. Traumatic events are alluded to but never elaborated, and I feel like she is still holding herself back from connecting with readers. A contemplative collection of nostalgic considerations, possibly best suited for when you are facing your own moody state of stagnation.

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The Pants Project

Pants Project.jpg

Title: The Pants Project
Author: Cat Clarke
ISBN: 9781492638094
Pages: 267 pages
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. c2017.

Bankridge Middle School had a strict uniform policy, unlike nearly every other school I could have attended. […]
Sexist. Dumb. Unfair. Even the moms agreed with me. […]
“Girls must wear a black, pleated, knee-length skirt.”
I bet I read those words a hundred times during summer vacation. I stared at the computer screen, willing them to morph into something sensible.
The problem wasn’t the last word in that sentence. Skirt wasn’t really the issue, not for me. The issue was the first word. Girls.
Here’s the thing:
I may seem like a girl, but on the inside, I’m a boy. (6-7)

A point of clarification seems necessary, because the only time that Liv is identified with the “he” pronoun is on the book jacket summary, since throughout the book most people are uninformed of Liv’s transgender status and it’s told in a first person perspective. I’m going to try to honor what is obviously the author’s choice to have Liv use “he” pronouns.

Olivia “Liv” Spark is starting middle school with best friend Maisie, but Liv already feels out of place. The dress code requires girls to wear a skirt and boys to wear pants, but while Liv might have been born a girl and looks like a girl, Liv definitely feels like a boy. Nobody knows though, and it’s hard enough to be the new girl in school, much less the outcast that the class bullies Jade and Chelsea are routinely ridiculing about everything, including the too short haircut, lesbian parents, and attempts at making the skirt more bearable. Liv knows that this rule needs to change, and isn’t afraid to start that fight, even if it costs friendships.

This impressed me as a very well written novel. It allowed for some thought-provoking reflection and relayed Liv’s plight with sensitivity but without becoming didactic and was age appropriate in it’s portrayal of a transgender person. Refreshingly unromantic in nature, Liv makes friends with both guys and girls by the end of the book and his struggle to find himself runs parallel with efforts to change the dress code. He’s a nuanced character, with one action at his previous school hanging over his head, making him fearful that he’s been pegged for life with labels (that have nothing to do with his gender) that don’t match how he sees himself. The bullies actions are accurately portrayed both for their spite and pettiness, and the adults are clueless about the behavior, with Liv being reluctant to reveal the specifics because he knows their ability to stop the bullying is limited. The solution to this problem is idealistic at best, but nevertheless resolves the issue.

Liv shows several different ways of activism, including petitions and protests that could serve as a primer for young activists, but his efforts are not always successful. The principal’s initial refusal to hear Liv out seems intended only to drag out the plot, but his exasperation at Liv’s insistence is realistic to an overtaxed and ambitious adult who doesn’t see the priority in Liv’s problem. Liv’s overworked mothers are much more sympathetic to Liv’s feelings, but they are also willing to step back and let Liv work out his own problems and follow his lead. Engaged parents who listen to their children? What a novel idea that isn’t showcased often enough in books! Liv’s confusion about how he feels about them also provides a side of the family that most books don’t show, where children love their family but also want to protect them and themselves from scrutiny.

Highly recommended for collections and children and families seeking this sort of representation.

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