Last week I caught two of the five stops of the Openly YA! Tour that featured two of my favorite authors, David Levithan and Bill Konigsberg, and meet two authors I was not familiar with, Alex London and Aaron Hartzler. I didn’t intend to have a fanboy moment and see these guys twice, but between hearing such good stories from them and Levithan saying he was going to read the new Infinite Darlene story that is part of the 10th Anniversary edition of Boy Meets Boy I knew I needed to catch the second tour stop in the city.
As the launch of my own YA book draws closer (Hat Trick comes out in September), hearing from these four authors with four very different novels was inspiring.
David Levithan read from both Boy Meets Boy and his new book (out August 27) Two Boys Kissing at the first reading and then only Boy Meets Boy at the second. I loved hearing some classic BMB along with the new Darlene story. Meanwhile, Two Boys Kissing sounds like it’s going to be a very profound book as it looks at two different generations of gay men, the current one and those who were lived during the rise of HIV/AIDS. I know I’ll be picking up that book as soon as it’s out.
Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight (buy the book | read my review) is one of my favorite books of 2013 and it was great to hear him read from it and discuss its origins from his own life. He makes some great points about how we can get too defined by our labels and how exhausting explaining about yourself can be.
Alex London’s Proxy just came out last week. After hearing about it at Wednesday’s reading, I bought it on Friday and have read nearly half so far (quite the quick reading pace given that I played in a hockey tournament over the weekend and didn’t have a lot of reading time). This is a sci-fi/thriller set in a bleak future where the rich can have proxies take their punishment. When Syd’s patron goes too far, Syd looks to break his contract and reclaim his life.
I’d never come across a YA autobiography before, but Aaron Hartzler’s Rapture Practice is just that. It’s the story growing up in an ultra-religious family and realizing that he’s gay. While that may sound like a heavy and intense topic, the book is actually quite funny, as the passage Hartzler read proved. At the first event his brother attended with his husband and that was cool to see. At the second reading we found out his mom was nearly done reading the book. Rapture Practice is next on my reading list.
The interesting thing about all these books is that, while they all have gay central characters, they are so very different. You’ve got Boy Meets Boy set in an idyllic place … Proxy is in a dystopia … Openly Straight is in the here and now but with an very different take on what it’s like to be out … Rapture Practice is also reality but with a spin on it that you wouldn’t expect.
I hope tours like this continue to happen. To see four authors in one place discussing books like this was a treat.
Of course, my mind went to the idea of how cool it would be to get together authors who’ve done gay books with a sports theme, especially if you could look at it through the lens of how these books have changed over time. Patricia Nell Warren would be top of the list as a participant since The Front Runner is an all-time favorite book (though I’m not sure that book is considered YA). Konigsberg would have to be on hand because of the excellent Out of the Pocket as would Martin Wilson for What They Always Tell Us. I’m sure there are others out there that I’m not thinking of right now too (suggestions, anyone?).
Love meets love. Confusion meets clarity. Boy meets boy. “There isn’t really a gay scene or a straight scene in our town. They all got mixed up a while back, which I think is for the best! And whether your heart is strictly ballroom or bluegrass punk, the dance floors are open to whatever you have to offer. This is my town.” Meet PAUL. Gay his whole life, and finding love as wonderful, confusing and heartbreaking as every other teenager in his high school. Meet Paul’s friends: JONI — his best friend, who may not be his best friend any more; TONY — his other best friend who can’t leave the house unless his parents think he’s going on a date! with a girl; INFINITE DARLENE — homecoming queen AND star quarterback in the football team; KYLE — the ex-boyfriend who won’t go away; RIP — the school bookie who sets the odds; And NOAH — the boy who changes everything. Witty, engaging, refreshingly upbeat and slightly surreal, David Levithan’s debut has been attracting glowing reviews in the USA. After all, being in love at high school is a challenge for any teen — regardless of sexual preference!
If you think you’re living in an imperfect world, you can write a book about a better world and hope that enough of your readers will notice the difference between the two. What happens next is one of the great unanswered mysteries of fiction: does reading change anything? I would guess David Levithan hopes that it does. He’s written a book that cunningly superimposes some previously unwritten-about feelings and behaviour on to a thoroughly familiar frame: the vicissitudes of love between teenage boys, told as if it were a Sweet Valley High story. Fans of gay literature will perhaps tell me otherwise, but Levithan must surely be breaking new ground by producing what is in effect a gay utopia intended for a young popular audience.