Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill

Wind, Lee. Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill
October 2nd 2018 by BookBaby
Public library copy

Wyatt's parents run the Lincoln Slept Here bed and breakfast in Lincolnville, Oregon. Business isn't great, so they try to supplement their income by selling reproduction documents and having special events, but it's still a struggle. Wyatt's mom works for the mayor, whose son Johnathon is consistently nasty to Wyatt. His favorite insults tend to center around "sissies", and since Wyatt is Gay but closeted, this is extremely hurtful. To try to ward off comments like this, Wyatt publicly kisses his best friend, Mackenzie, in a hall at school. This makes her very happy, since she has always had a crush on Wyatt, makes him mom and dad happy, since they also like Mackenzie, and slows down the comments a little, but is extremely uncomfortable for Wyatt. When his class goes to the public library to start a 9th grade history project on Abraham Lincoln (partly in preparation for the town's annual Valentine's Day "Abe and Mary: A Great Love" celebration, the librarian, Mr. Guzman,  hands a very old book to Wyatt and tells him he might be surprised at how interesting Lincoln can be. In the book, letters from Lincoln to Joshua Fry Speed are reproduced. Speed had offered to share his room, and his bed, with Lincoln when he was a struggling young lawyer, and the two lived together for four years. When Speed got engaged to a woman, Lincoln wrote him an impassioned letter asking if he really felt that this was the right course of action, and shortly after Speed married, Lincoln married Mary Todd. Wyatt posts this information on the school blog he is supposed to do, and the information eventually gets picked up by the national news. This starts all sorts of trouble-- the library asks for the book back, the blog is supposed to be taken down but is reposted on another server, and the family business is in jeopardy. Wyatt agrees to appear on a right wing talk show, the Von Lawson Report, to discuss the matter, but the host is incredibly cruel, and the family business is put in jeopardy. So is Wyatt's mother's job, since the mayor is none too happy about the publicity for the town. Enter a Civil Rights lawyer and her very cute son, Martin. Martin is Gay and not ashamed of it, and this adds a new dimension to the fight. Martin helps Wyatt navigate the social media waters and deal with the negative comments, and the two think about starting a relationship but know that it is not a great time. Eventually, the LGBTQIA+ community embraces the news about Lincoln, and makes Lincolnville's Valentine's celebration a destination vacation, which helps the hotel, and gives Wyatt space to come out to his family.
Strengths: I am always looking for LGBTQIA+ books that don't involve drinking or high school level romance, and this is perfect. Bonus points for having a mystery plot that is not about Wyatt's coming out! There's certainly room for books like that, but it's not the only story that Gay kids have. Wyatt's relationship with Mackenzie is well done, and her range of emotions is understandable and realistically portrayed. Johnathon is a typical, unenlightened high school jock, but he does come around late in the book. Mr. Clifton is a great example of a librarian who knows his patrons and looks out for them, and his declaration that he's on Wyatt's side and wants him to know that things get better, without actually saying much more than that, was fantastic. The historical notes on the actual letters of Lincoln and Speed are complete, and it would be interesting to have a nonfiction book on this topic. This is a must purchase for high school, middle school, and public libraries everywhere!
Weaknesses: I must live in a fortunate bubble-- our school system had an openly Gay superintendent, my principal for many years was Gay, and no one has ever made a big deal out of it. This made the issue of the community being upset by the assertion that Lincoln was Gay seem a little unrealistic to me, and it's just sad that there are places in the world where this is the reality.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and hoping that Mr. Wind doesn't experience the problems he had in publishing this book with any future titles. !

1 comment:

  1. My he did experience a slew of problems, but glad to see that he had a happy ending and was able to get his book published after all.