Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Meat On That Bone!

Down To The Bone
Mayra Lazara Dole
Harper Teens

I just finished Down To The Bone, a wickedly funny and smart LBGT teen novel. It is a welcomed and needed addition to a genre that is sorely under represented in the media, libraries and book blogs. The issue of who we love is front and center here, and the writer doesn't deviate from the issue. That said this book isn't for gay teens only (I really wish we wouldn't overlook books just because they address a marginalized group). It is for everybody who knows and loves someone who is LBGT and I hope that people who judge members of this community will read it, too.

Okay, I don't want to preach here, but Laura's story, while fiction, is a reality for many teens and that reality is ugly and scary. The book opens with drama: Laura is reading a love letter from her girlfriend, Marlena in class. Not the smartest thing to do and she chides herself for it later. Her teacher snatches the note and proceeds to humiliate Laura. Now you would think a mature adult would stop when she realizes the consequences of finishing the letter aloud, but the teacher is cruel. Yes, I say cruel. Laura is expelled from school and then her mother kicks her out of their home, too. If you don't know, you cannot be Cuban and gay. The homophobia and gay bashing is vicious. Reminds me a lot of how intolerant the black community is. Still, I was surprised how intolerant the young people were. One of the things I think Dole does exceptionally well is to describe how a young person comes to term with her sexual orientation and the process of self-identifying. Laura does not call herself gay. She has loved only one girl and she is understandably afraid of associating with openly gay people. She wants a normal life even if it means not being completely honest with herself. She wants her life back. I appreciate that Dole doesn't make Laura a teen who is the exception. In other words, Laura has to figure out who she is and what she wants. She's not this super strong, assertive person who thinks she knows all the answers. Laura admits she's confused. She gets angry. She does all the things that make her believable.

The upside to Laura's story is that despite the trauma of being separated from her family (she is exceptionally close to her little brother, Pedri) she has an incredible support system. Here best friend, Soli and her mom, Viva take Laura and her dog in. She has a job and she meets new people in the gay community including Tazer, a boi. Laura makes a lot of mistakes including hurting someone in attempt to be what her mother wants her to be. In the end she does decide to live her life as who she really is. It is not the life she thought she'd have but it is a good life.

For a first book, Dole gets a lot right: pacing, crazy dialogue, you will be laughing a lot, and the language is authentic from the teens' vernacular to Viva's English. A personal plus for me was all the talk of food. I don't just love food, I love eating (all the foodies know what this means) and according to Laura, so do Cubans. Between the wicked dialogue and all the food, I could not get enough. Don't laugh. This book feeds a hunger that only a good book can. The book is huge and I wondered if that would put readers off. Not to worry, this is page turner, and while the book is thick, it's also shorter than a standard hardcover. I read the book straight through. There were only a couple of scenes I felt were heavy handed but I get the aim and the lessons won't be lost on anybody. I know most of us hate overt preaching, but this is one peer trying to let another peer know that it's okay to be who you are.

I highly recommend, Down To The Bone. May is Latin Book Month. If you haven't chosen a book to commemorate the month, pick up this one. It imparts what every parent wants for their children: love, self-acceptance, self-discovery and personal growth.

Read an interview with Mayra Lazara Dole at Lee Wind's.
Find a short list of recommended Latin books at Crazy Quilts.


Anonymous said...

I agree there's a lot of really good LBGT material that never sees the light of day. For one thing, they're usually not available in most book stores. And then they have a special section so no one browsing would see them. It's really pretty similar for literature of by or about blacks - changing a little but not totally! Thanks for bringing it up!

susan said...

Hi Rhapsodyinbooks, I used to be one of those readers who loved the African American section of the bookstore. Now, I think that section has outlived its purpose and the well-intended aim backfired. Let a knowledgeable staff and an interested reader make the effort to find books that broaden our perspective. We don't need special sections only a willingness to promote and support. Put the LBGT teen prominently on display like you do all other new titles and make sure your staff can help readers find good reads. We don't have to wait for someone to ask specifically for the genre.

Anonymous said...

Gracias for showing SO much love for Down to the Bone, Susan. I'm off to read your entire blog now and recommend it to everyone--compelled to show some love back.

un abrazo!


Summer said...

Great review. Definitely makes me want to pick this up.

Sadako said...

This book seems really interesting. Books about gay/lesbian teens are always fascinating to read--great review!!

susan said...

Thank you all.

And Mayra came by- unsolicited. Don't know how she found her way here. Now maybe some of the established reviewers would not be impressed, well, I'm not Cool beans to me!

Doret said...

Hey Susan, don't forget to link this one to diversity rocks

susan said...

Thanks for the reminder, Doret.

Ana S. said...

I just added this to my wishlist earlier this week, after reading an interview with the author. It sounds like such an amazing book. Thanks for the fabulous review - I'll definitely have to read it soon.

susan said...

Hi Nymeth, Thanks for coming by. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I read an interview with her at I'm Here, I'm Queer...