Not that there aren't two boys kissing...well, and more...
I just discovered this Book Riot post written by Kelly Jensen,
discussing and listing some LGBTQ middle-grade books.
Her point is well taken--although we have more and more LGBTQ YA literature
there is little published thus far for "middle-grade" readers.
Although I realize there are (especially small-town rural) libraries refusing to diversify their collections to include ANY LGBTQ publications, this should be a priority, in my opinion.
With the advent of not only more widespread acceptance of, but also appreciation for diverse gender self-identifcation, we need to widen children's perspectives and consideration of possibilities to include all people...all.
If we don't work to make children aware of possibility we may well prevent them
from ever accepting, let alone appreciating,
those who may not identify in accordance with their own limited expectations.
And that is the opposite of increasing people's knowledge base and critical thinking skills,
it is in effect preventing growth and development.
There are communities which thrive on keeping everything the same as it has always been. And that is very dangerous territory, totally self-defeating, in my opinion.
How are these children to ever fit in with the real world once they reach adulthood
and move away, as the majority do? *stepping down from my soapbox now*
Levithan's text is so emotionally dense and yet it flows so well. He presents many varied renditions of love--among and between family members, friends, and intimate partners. As you might imagine there are depictions of parents loving their children with unconditional positive regard as well as those who despise their children for 'who they are,' or perhaps more accurately, 'for who they are not.' :( There are brand-new 'couples' just getting to know each other and experiencing all those doubts and self-questioning thoughts as they delve into a relationship. There is a child who is so totally lost and unmoored in life as to search out anything he feels is thrilling--over-the-top experiences with little to no meaning or feeling involved. (I would attribute much of this attitude to his lack of love and acceptance within his own biological family.) I found myself with heart racing and so fearful of what might happen to him next--literally whether he would live or die.
The world, in his eyes, is flat and dull. All sensation has been leaked from it, and instead its energy is running through the busy corridors of his mind, making angry, frustrated noise. He is sitting on his bed, and he is wrestling within himself, and ultimately the only thing he can think to do is go on the Internet, because life there is just as flat as real life, without the expectations of real life. (5)
My heart ached for this child as I read this passage.
Cooper jolts awake, his face pressing into the keyboard, creating an unsayable word. His contact lenses feel like dry wafers on his eyes. His breath tastes like morning worms. (25)
Such wonderfully realistic description! Although his first interaction that morning is not pleasant and leads to, well...more unpleasantness.
First time meeting:
He spots Avery's [pink] hair first, then Avery. And Avery looks up at just that moment and sees the blue-haired boy glancing his way...
Things are not magical because they've been conjured for us by some outside force. They are magical because we create them, and then deem them so. Ryan and Avery will say the first moment they spoke, the first moment they danced, was magical. But they were the ones--no one else, nothing else--who gave it the magic. We know. We were there. Ryan opened himself to it. Avery opened himself to it. And the act of opening was all they needed. That is the magic. (9)
And that is the 'magical' start to any relationship, no matter how it may turn out in the future, it is that magic of opening up to another person that starts it all! However, Avery worries about Ryan's reaction if/when he knows that Avery
was born a boy that the rest of the world saw as a girl...His mother thought that maybe she'd always known, which was why she'd chosen the name Avery--her father's name, which was going to be given to the baby whether it was a boy or a girl. With his parents' help and blessing, if not always comprehension, Avery charted a new life, was driven many miles...to get the hormones that would set his body in the right direction. And it's worked. (12)
And Ryan is in disbelief that he has "found someone here in the bowels of the Kindling community center." He's worried about time...
Should he stop and talk to this boy more, before the DJ plays the last song and the lights come back on? Or should they stay like this, paired by the music, cocooned in a song?
...time can be buoyed by wordlessness, but it needs to be anchored in words. (13)
Oh, doesn't that take you back to the first meeting with someone in whom you were interested, romantically? Ah, it sure does for me...all that worry and hesitation... And meanwhile the DJ plays a song that breaks up the dancers as they leave the floor he holds his phone in the air so the boy he loves in Texas can hear this song dedicated to him. Awww...that is just so sweet! This, at the same time that
Ryan and Avery can feel their words working with each other, can feel the simple joy of falling into the same rhythm, thinking companionable thoughts. (15)
This reminds me much of the night Mr. G and I met! We talked for 5+ hours! Rarely do you meet such a soulmate and I have been fortunate enough to meet two of them in this lifetime, my current partner/spouse and my BFF!
Avery and Ryan talk the very next morning.
They begin to make plans, and a plan. Plans are the things you are going to do at a precise time, while a plan is the more general idea of all the things you might do together. Plans are the coordinates; a plan is the entire map. Plans are the things you can discuss in that first nervous phone call. A plan is the thing that goes unsaid, but puts the hope in your voice nonetheless. There is nothing so heartening as a chance. (29-30)
I swear I don't believe I have ever read a better description of the beginning of a relationship! Spot on!
[Avery] doesn't know yet that doubt lingers around anticipation like bees hover around flowers. The trick is to not let the doubt intimidate you into walking away. Doubt is an acceptable risk for happiness. (44)
True! No matter how it turns out in the end, without risk there is no happiness!
In the middle of the night, Harry's mother opens his door, checks that he's safely asleep. Then she heads to the den and does the same for Craig, smiling to see him wrapped in the afghan. She knows they have a big day tomorrow, and she is worried for them. But she will only show he worry when they are asleep. Mostly she is proud. Pride is allowed to have an element of worry, especially when you are a mother.
Harry's mother tucks him in for a second time. She kisses him lightly on the forehead, then tiptoes from the room. (20)
Oh, so true! You don't want to worry. You try NOT to worry...and I always try to twist the wording in my mind to "I want you to be happy, healthy, and "successful" in whatever way you define that for yourself...note: It does not have to fit my definition of success.
Waking is hard, and waking is glorious. We watch as you stir, then as you stumble out of your beds. We know that gratitude is the last thing on your mind. But you should be grateful.
You've made it to another day. (22)
And what a day this one is for Craig and Harry! Full of kissing!
Once they start kissing, they will have to keep kissing for at least thirty-two hours, twelve minutes, and ten seconds. That is one second longer than the current world record for the longest-recorded kiss.
The reason they are all here is to break that record.
And the reason they want to break that record started with something that happened to Tariq. (33)
He will not let it stop him from going into the city, from dancing. But still, the fear remains...And there in the back of his mind...are the most insidious questions of all:
How did they spot me? How did they know?
What did I do wrong?
People like to say being gay isn't like skin color, isn't anything physical. They tell us we always have the option of hiding.
But if that's true, why do they always find us? (36)
Freedom isn't just about voting and marrying and kissing on the street, although all of these things are important. Freedom is also about what you will allow yourself to do....this was...the thing that Tariq looks forward to. This liberation. (4)
Several present gag gifts to Craig and Harry at the 'kissing site' on the high school lawn, including Harry's parents. Tariq's is the last, after he has made certain all the cameras, lights, batteries, etc., are amassed, arranged and working properly. This even will be streamed live over the internet to ensure authenticity and at one point there are nearly a half million people watching!
With a grin, Tariq lifts out a bust of Walt Whitman to preside over the event. Then, to mark the occasion, Tariq recites one of Whitman's poems:
We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm'd and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.
Everyone applauds. (42)
The rules for this record-setting are formidable. No bathroom breaks. No actual eating. Their lips must be touching every single second of the 115,930 seconds they must continue. No sitting down. Nothing but standing and kissing. And yet...so much more! And...do they succeed? What of Craig's family? Surely they knew. They sure do now, if they didn't before!