Posts tagged ‘award’

Down to the Bone, by Mayra Lazara Dole (2008)

Down to the Bone

Laura Amores is a tortillera: a girl who loves girls.

In Down to the Bone, by Mayra Lazara Dole, Laura is a Cuban-American teen living in Miami. When her teacher (“Sister Fart Face”) reads aloud a letter from Laura’s girlfriend, Laura is abandoned by most of her friends, kicked out of her ultra-conservative high school, and banned from her home by her mother. Laura will only be allowed to come back home and see her younger brother if she changes and marries a man. Laura’s beloved girlfriend, Marlena, is forced to move back to Puerto Rico, where she decides to marry a man to appease her conservative Christian family. Laura has to decide between living a lie in order to regain her mother and brother, or being true to herself and possibly losing her family forever.

The characters in this book have one of two reactions when they find out that Laura is a tortillera: they are either fiercely supportive of her or violently opposed to her sexuality. When Laura is kicked out of her house, she goes to live with her best friend Soli and Soli’s mother: they are loving and nurturing, and encourage Laura to forget Marlena and date other girls. Laura also receives a lot of support from her new friend Tazer, who is “genderqueer” or a “boi” (that is, Tazer was born a girl but identifies as a boy; he does not want to undergo gender assignment surgery to become genetically male).

Many of Laura’s other close friends and family members abandon her when they find out she is gay. Her friends call her “revolting” and spit on her. Her teachers tell her she is immoral and deviant. She is nearly assaulted with a knife at work. Her mother has a strong negative reaction, and obviously believes that being gay is a sinful choice that Laura is making (2008, pp. 17, 27):

On our way home I try to reason with her: “Let me explain.”

She yanks my hair. “Explain? You’re a disgrace to our family name. If your father were alive, he’d die right now… I’ve never been so humiliated and embarrassed in all my life.”

Mami pushes me out the front door. I stumble and almost fall, but I don’t. “I’m sorry, Laura, but I can’t continue loving you if you stay gay.”

Laura’s love for her family and her desire for acceptance are so strong that she finds a boyfriend and considers marrying him. She cannot admit, even to herself, that she is a lesbian. Despite her difficult situation, Laura never loses her sense of humour and her fire.  Her lively narration gives the reader a sense of what it is like to be a gay person in Cuban American culture.

Dole, M. L. (2008). Down to the Bone. HarperTeen.

ALA Booklist Top Ten First Novels for Youth

ALA Rainbow Books highly recommended title

Américas Award Commended Titles (2009)

10 Outstanding LGBT Teen Reads (from the last 10 years)

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Luna, by Julie Anne Peters (2004)

Luna

Luna by Julie Anne Peters is a story about a male-to-female transgendered teen. Born as a boy named Liam, she can only reveal true self – Luna – at night. The story is told by Luna’s younger sister, Regan. Regan is the only person who truly knows Luna, and helps Liam transform into Luna every night in the secrecy of Regan’s bedroom. Liam/Luna is suffocating under the weight of concealing her true self, and knows that she must become Luna permanently. But will her family and friends accept her once they know the truth?

Regan has always known that her brother was different. She is fiercely protective and supportive of Liam/Luna, and though she is a bit conflicted about her brother, her support (almost) never wavers. For example, when Luna announces her intent to transition and have sex reassignment surgery (pp. 70-71):

Why did this shock me? Because I never allowed myself to go there.

He called to my back, “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.” Don’t desert him, my brain screamed. Don’t do this. Don’t let him down. Don’t let him know.

He asked more softly, “You understand, don’t you?”

I stopped in the threshold, my eyes squeezing shut. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Holding my stomach, I opened my eyes and forced a smile over my shoulder. “Well, yeah,” I lied. “Of course.”

Regan and Liam/Luna have a complicated relationship. Liam is exceptionally intelligent and popular at school; Regan goes virtually unnoticed, except when her teachers are unfavourably comparing her to Liam. At the same time, Regan and Luna seem to share one life, and Regan is willing to sacrifice everything to help Luna. Liam realizes that just as he must free himself to become Luna, he must free Regan to become her own person as well.

The other characters in the story have a variety of reactions to Luna. Liam’s best friend Aly has been in love with him since they were children: she is upset when she learns the truth about Liam/Luna, but is beginning to accept Luna by the end of the novel. Liam’s father, who is very traditional in his beliefs about gender roles, has an extremely negative reaction to Luna. He is angry, almost to the point of physical violence; after the confrontation, he falls into a near-catatonic state. Regan is afraid to let her new boyfriend, Chris, know about her brother/sister: she is pleasantly surprised when Chris accepts the situation without hesitation.

Liam/Luna’s mother has the most interesting reaction of all. Through Regan’s memories, the reader can see that there have been many clues to Liam’s gender identity ever since the children were young: Liam asked for a bra for his ninth birthday; as a very young boy, he begged his mother to take off his penis, and then found a knife and tried to do it himself; his mother caught Liam/Luna dressed in her clothes and makeup. But when confronted with the truth, the mother feigns deafness and amnesia as if nothing is going on. The mother has known all along, but she felt the truth was “unspeakable” (p. 241).

Luna is a poignant and touching story about the search for identity and the strength of love between siblings.  The story gives the reader insight into how harmful it can be not to come out: in this case, the secrecy erodes Liam/Luna’s family as well as Luna’s true self.  It costs Luna a lot to come out to everyone, but the reader can see how much better her life will be because of it.

Peters, J. A. (2004). Luna. Little, Brown Young Readers.

National Book Award Finalist
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Stonewall Honor Book
Lambda Literary Award Finalist