Archive for the ‘Questioning Characters in Fiction’ Category

The Bermudez Triangle, by Maureen Johnson (2004)

The Bermudez Triangle, one of the few novels to include a questioning character, looks at the evolving relationships between 3 friends as they explore their sexual identities and struggle to understand themselves and one another. Nina, Mel and Avery have grown up together and separate for the first time when Nina spends the summer before their senior year of high school away.  In her absence Mel and Avery discover they have feelings for each other, share their first kiss and begin dating.  Mel has been sure that she is a lesbian for a long time, but Avery is not as certain and struggles to define her sexual identity.

Though Mel and Avery try to keep their relationship a secret from their parents and their peers, they struggle with how and when to come out to Nina:

“We have to decide, Mel,” Avery said. “I don’t think its time to tell her.”

“When will it be time?”

“Not when she steps off a plane. We haven’t seen her since June.”

“So why don’t we get it out of the way?’ Mel asked. “We can’t lie to her.”

“How do you think she’s going to feel?”

“Fine,” Mel said defensively. “Nina doesn’t have a problem with this stuff.”

“Nina doesn’t have a problem hypothetically.  Nina doesn’t have a problem with other people.” (p. 74-5)

Mel and Avery chose not to reveal their relationship to Nina, but she catches them kissing in a department store dressing room and they are forced to come clean.  After this revelation, Nina struggles with how to respond to this new development. Her feelings about her friends and their sexual identities are complicated by the effect their relationship has on the friendship between the three and her own feelings of exclusion. In a letter to her boyfriend she writes:

I hate feeling like I’m always intruding on my friends. This is MEL AND AVERY! I am SUPPOSED to be with them. But they kind of shift around and look at each other with love eyes and I end up saying that I have to go home…I want my friends to be happy, but I also want my old life back.  I feel like some big homophobe for complaining about Mel and Avery. That makes it even worse. And I’m not. At least I don’t think I am (p. 134).

As the story unfolds and the relationship between Avery and Mel evolves, Nina is at times stuck between her two friends, but ultimately discovers that both Avery and Mel are going through a difficult period in their lives and tries to support both the best she can.

Coming out to parents is not a central theme in the novel, but Mel and Avery are accidentally outed by Nina towards the end of the story and we observe different parental reactions.  Mel’s mother is angry and unaccepting, but her father, while confused and still coming to terms with this development, is quieter and stands up for Mel.  Avery’s mother is surprisingly accepting and even seems a little disappointed to discover that Avery is not in fact gay (p. 324).

Throughout the novel Nina, Avery and Mel all struggle to define who they are and their relationships with one another.  It is a rocky road, but all three come out stronger and rebuild the bonds which originally connected them.  With this foundation it is clear that Nina and Avery will be there to support Mel as she continues to come out as a lesbian and works through her relationship with her mother.

Johnson, M. (2004). The Bermudez Triangle. New York: Razorbill.

 

So Hard to Say, by Alex Sanchez (2004)

Frederick is new to San Cayetano Middle School, and he immediately catches the eye of Xio, the beautiful, vivacious member of the self-proclaimed “Las Sexy Seis” (the Sexy Six). Any number of boys would want to trade places with Frederick, so he can’t figure out why he doesn’t feel for Xio the same way she does for him. Xio takes Frederick’s ambivalence for shyness and does everything in her power to accomplish that all-important first kiss.

While Xio pines for Frederick, Frederick notices Victor, the friendly, affectionate jock who invites him to play soccer after school. He finds himself drawn to Victor, and even, at one confusing moment, imagining what it would feel like to kiss him. Then there’s Iggy, the dimpled enigma who endures endless teasing in the hallways. Victor and his friends taunt Iggy, calling him “maricón,” and the Sexies also talk about the rumor that Iggy is gay when Frederick sits with them at lunch:

“Here comes Iggy!” Nora interrupted.

I followed her gaze across the lunchroom to the Mexican boy I’d noticed in the hall my first day—the one who smiled like he knew me. Dimpled Guy.

“You mean icky,” Carmen murmured, making a sour face. “I think maricónes are so gross.”

“En serio?” María put down her yogurt. “You really think he’s gay?”

I recalled the boys picking on him, but I knew that calling someone gay didn’t mean they actually were gay. It was simply a put-down, like: “That’s so gay. He’s so gay. Those French fries are so gay.” Everyone said it all the time.

Sanchez (2004), p. 39

Even at this point, Frederick is far from going beyond the questions he has about himself to being able to conclude that he, himself, might be gay. The taunts are taken with a grain of salt, as Frederick observes, because it’s simply “a put-down”—nothing more. Yet, when Carmen asks him if he is gay one day at lunch, Frederick gets very defensive. Xio observes:

I’d never really seen him mad before, but I couldn’t blame him. Everyone knows calling someone gay is just about the worst thing you can say to them. And asking them if they’re gay is like telling them you think they are gay.

Sanchez (2004), p. 83

Once Carmen asks him if he’s gay (even though it’s meant more as a “put-down,” than a sincere, though prying question), Frederick begins to wonder. If Iggy is gay, how did he know? He begins to research on the Internet and finds a story of a basketball player who has come out to his school. “He didn’t look gay,” Frederick thinks. “I mean, he just looked normal.” And so begins his journey towards self-discovery. Towards the end of the novel, Frederick has made leaps and bounds, though he hasn’t yet come out to his parents. Even the students at San Cayetano become a little more aware that their words have power. Switching perspective between Frederick and Xio, Sanchez’s book is a sweet story of thirteen-year-old kids—both gay and straight—coming to understand themselves, at the beginning of their young-adult years.

Sanchez, A. (2004). So hard to say. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Lambda Literary Award 2004 Winner

Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez (2001)

The most amazing thing was how Nelson talked about all this stuff in front of his own mom. She even subscribed to XY magazine for him.

“How did you ever tell her?” Kyle wanted to know.

Nelson lit a cigarette. “You kidding? She knew before I did. I’m her fucking cause.”

Sanchez (2001), p. 14

In Alex Sanchez’s book, Rainbow Boys, we’re introduced to three characters who are in various phases of confronting their sexuality. Kyle is a shy, straight-laced swimmer who knows he’s gay but hasn’t come out to his parents or at school. Nelson is his outspoken friend, gay and proud and lucky to have an ally in his mom (she’s the president of the local PFLAG chapter), yet he faces unrelenting harassment on a daily basis at school. Jason is a popular basketball player who suspects he may be bisexual, but fears the wrath of his alcoholic, homophobic father if he were to come out—not to mention, he has a girlfriend.

Sanchez deftly portrays each character and his point-of-view—the chapters alternate between Kyle, Nelson, and Jason—and it’s a riveting read. Will Kyle ever get up the nerve to tell Jason how he feels about him? Does Nelson like Kyle as more than a friend, and if so, how does Kyle feel about him? Can Jason love his girlfriend, Debra, yet have these unexplained feelings for other boys? We are drawn into the boys’ world, and with them we face typical teen worries (about popularity, sex, friends, sports, weight, braces) as well as those challenges facing gay teens in particular. While Kyle and Jason must come out to their families and friends (and each does so to varying responses), the real issue is whether they can be truthful to themselves.

Sanchez, A. (2001). Rainbow boys. New York: Simon Pulse.

American Library Association 2002 “Best Book for Young Adults”

New York Public Library 2002 “Book for the Teen Age”

Lambda Literary Award 2001 Finalist