Posts tagged ‘lesbian’

Dare Truth or Promise, by Paula Boock (1999)

Dare Truth or Promise is a love story about two girls, Louie and Willa, who meet working at a local fast food restaurant.  Sparks fly and soon they enter into a passionate and loving relationship.  Willa has been involved with a girl before and her mother is both aware that she is a lesbian and supportive of her sexual identity.  Louie is only discovering her sexual identity so she has not come out to her family, yet her mother takes an instant dislike to Willa and tries to prevent the two from spending time together.  Louie’s mother eventually catches the two girls in bed and in an intense and traumatic scene, kicks Willa out of the house and forbids her from returning.

Much to Willa’s dismay, Louie is devastated by her mother’s reaction and internalizes these feelings of shame and guilt, withdrawing from their relationship:

Louie…looked at her in such pain that Willa couldn’t bear it. “I love you, Louie,” she said, starting to cry though she’d promised herself not to.

“I know.” Louie’s voice sounded ready to snap in two. “I love you too,” she said, at last. “But that’s not the point, is it? (p. 104)

Louie’s mother continues to push her away from Willa and tries to convince her to date men, yet Louie is miserable and eventually comes out to her priest in hopes of receiving moral guidance.  In a very touching scene he explains to her what is really important:

Louie stared at him.

“And she? Does she love you?”

“Yes, I think she does.”

Father Campion smiled. “How wonderful.”

“How lucky you are, to love and to be loved in return.”

This wasn’t what Louie had expected. (p. 147)

This information gives Louie a much more positive perspective to reflect on, but it is eventually a car accident which brings the two back together.  After this near tragedy they realize how lucky they are to have found each other and Louie is able to work through the negative messages which she received about herself and her sexual identity.  At the same time Louie’s parents are so shaken by the accident that they reevaluate what is best for their daughter and open up to Willa as well.

In Dare Truth or Promise, we see how damaging it can be for young adults to be “outed” before they have time to work through their own emotions surrounding their sexual identity.  Louie survives this experience and it ultimately strengthens her relationship with Willa but it is a very difficult time for both girls and highlights just how vulnerable young adults are at this stage in their lives.

Boock, P. (1999). Dare Truth or Promise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 1998 Winner, Senior Fiction Category
New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 1998 Winner, Book of the Year Award

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Deliver Us From Evie, by M.E. Kerr (1994)

Told from the perspective of Evie’s brother, sixteen-year-old Parr, Deliver Us from Evie is about a lesbian living on a farm in rural Missouri who refuses to change who she is or feel ashamed of her sexual identity.  Though frequently gossiped about for her masculine clothing and hairstyle, Evie has kept a low profile in her rural town until she meets and falls in love with Patsy Duff, the daughter of the town’s banker.

Parr is one of the first to suspect Evie’s romance with Patsy when he spots a telling postcard in the mail box.  While he is very curious about Evie’s sexual identity he is also almost immediately accepting and questions the prejudices around homosexuality.  When his mother tells him that it is against the law he responds: “Maybe something’s wrong with the law” (p. 67).

Evie’s mother also inadvertently discovers evidence of Evie’s sexual orientation and approaches Evie directly.  When confronted Evie is unwavering and unapologetic:

“Evie,” Mom said, “I wasn’t born yesterday. I’m not unfamiliar with lesbianism. Gays. Whatever you call it. Is that what you claim you are?”

“Its not what I claim I am. It’s what I am.”

“You don’t know that for sure, honey.”

“I know it. For sure. I’ve always known it.” (p. 85)

Evie’s sexual orientation is not a surprise to her mother whose reaction is based less on anger than it is on fear for her daughter and the hardships which her sexual orientation will bring.  Evie’s mother tries to hide the truth from her husband, since, as she explains to Parr, “Douglas is not a sophisticated man. He won’t understand this…”(p. 66), but he also uncovers the truth, which leaves him “heartbroken”. Though he does not kick Evie out of the house or react violently, he begins to avoid his daughter and the close relationship which they previously shared deteriorates.

The story takes an interesting turn when Parr fears that Evie will leave town and the family farm, forcing him to give up his dream of going to college. In desperation he helps post a sign which outs her to the entire town.  Parr’s plan is unsuccessful and he immediately regrets his actions, but in the aftermath of this event we see Evie’s parents stand up for her, and recognize that they have not abandoned their daughter.  Eventually Evie does leave the small community and moves to New York and then Paris to be with Patsy, but by the story’s end Evie’s parents have worked through many of their own issues and welcome her back into the family.

Deliver Us From Evie is about an incredibly inspiring young woman who refuses to compromise who she is and a loving family that must overcome their own prejudices and fears so they can come to terms with Evie’s identity and offer their acceptance and support.

Kerr, M.E. (1994). Deliver Us From Evie. New York: Harper Collins.

1994 Best Book Honor Award (Michigan Library Association)
1995 Best Books for Young Adults (ALA)
1995 Recommended Books for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (ALA)
1995 Fanfare Honor List (The Horn Book)
1995 Books for the Teen Age (NY Public Library)

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.

 

Orphea Proud, by Sharon Dennis Wyeth (2004)

Orphea Proud is an incredibly touching story about a young black poet who must come to terms with herself in the face of great loss and rejection. We first meet Orphea in an open mike club where she tells us her story, which begins with her love for childhood friend, Lissa. Their short lived romance is discovered by Orphea’s guardian and brother, Rupert, who reacts with fury and beats Orphea.  Lissa then dies in a car crash moments after fleeing the scene, leaving Orphea in a state of grief and despair. It is in the aftermath of this tragic event that Rupert sends her to live in rural Pennsylvania with her elderly aunts. Luckily in this back country setting Orphea finds the warm and supportive family which she has been missing, uses her poetry to work through her anger and sadness and discovers unknown parts of her heritage which help her understand who she is.

After facing her brother’s wrath earlier in the story, Orphea fears being rejected by her aunts for her sexuality and delays revealing this part of her identity. However Orphea eventually realizes that she needs to be open about who she is order to be true to herself:

I was still afraid, but…I wanted them to know me, to know me as well as I was getting to know them. By keeping my love for Lissa a secret from my aunts, I was keeping myself outside of the circle. I was keeping myself apart from what I wanted, a family (p. 158).

After finding the courage to come out, Orphea discovers that she truly has a loving and accepting family behind her:

Relief washed over me. “You don’t think I’m unacceptable?”

“Of course not,” said Aunt Minnie. “I worry about how other folks who don’t understand these things might treat you, though. But you’re strong. You know who you are.”

Hearing her say that, I began to feel stronger. (p. 160)

Once Orphea comes out to her family she begins to really accept herself and is open about her sexuality with neighbours and acquaintances as well.  She has another very negative run in with her brother later in the story, but survives this with the support and backing of her aunts and cousin. Eventually Orphea develops the courage to follow her dreams and moves to New York to pursue a career in performance arts.

Orphea Proud delivers a strong message about being true to oneself, but the story also highlights what a journey self-acceptance can be and the value of identifying loving and supportive family and friends along the way.

Wyeth, S.D. (2004). Orphea Proud. New York: Delacorte.

2005 LAMBDA Literary Award Finalist
2005 New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens, edited by Jane Summer (2004)

Not the Only One

Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens is a collection of short stories edited by Jane Summer.  The stories generally do not deal directly with “coming out,” but the reader still sees the consequences of coming out (or not, as the case may be).  Perhaps “coming out” is too complicated a theme to discuss within the confines of a short story.  Below is the discussion of two individual stories.

“Fooling Around” by Claire McNab

“Brett – how could you?”

“Mum, we were only fooling around.”

“Fooling around?  Fooling around!”

“Give me a break –” (p. 53)

Brett has been caught kissing his friend Steve, but he isn’t ready to admit to his parents that he’s gay.  Brett tells his mother that it was no big deal, that they were drinking and it didn’t mean anything.  Besides, Brett has a girlfriend.  Brett’s mother is very upset, and concerned about what everyone will think when they find out that her son was fooling around with a boy.  Martin, Brett’s father, arrives home mid-argument.  His reaction is surprising: he doesn’t seem even remotely affected by the news, and he advises Brett to make a joke of it.  Martin later reveals the truth: he himself is gay, but decided that it was better to get married and have a family than to live as a gay man.  Brett admits to Martin that he wasn’t just fooling around, and the reader is left wondering whether or not Brett will make the same decision as his father.

“Her Sister’s Wedding” by Judith P. Stelboum

Veronica has never told her family about her long-time girlfriend Leslie.  Her family has no inkling that she is a lesbian: they have always assumed that she would meet a nice man and get married.  Veronica is at her sister’s wedding, and is feeling the pressure to get married more than ever.  She gets set up with her new brother-in-law’s cousin, Buddy.  Buddy seems genuinely interested in her, and is obviously looking for a wife.  Veronica is not interested, but enjoys having her family’s approval.  Will she give in to the pressure and marry a man, or will Veronica be true to herself and tell her family that she is in love with a woman?  The story ends thus (p. 98):

She followed him outside, and he lifted his arm to wave goodbye.  And in that moment she realized she had to stop the panic attacks, the lying, the pretense.  If she didn’t do it now, there would be a million excuses not to do it later.  She turned back to the party and looked first for her brother, Terry.

Summer, J. (2004). Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens. Los Angeles: Alyson Books.

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)