Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Alice Austin Lived Here and Pride

Gino, Alex. Alice Austen Lived Here
April 5th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sam lives on Staten Island with their single mother, and can see the Statue of Liberty from their window. Downstairs neighbors Jess and Val, along with their baby Evie, provide a lot of positive support for Sam. Jess loves to bake, embraces a fat positive lifestyle, and is able to help Sam when they have questions about queer history and lifestyles, since Jess identifies as a queer femme and Val is nonbinary, as are both Sam and TJ. When a school project is assigned by social studies teacher Mr. Watras to promote a meaningful Staten Island resident from the last century or before, Sam thinks it will be just another glorification of a dead white male, but is pleasantly surprised to learn about the photographer Alice Austen. They and TJ visit the Alice Austen museum and request a library book for research, and find out that Alice Austen actually spent the end of her life living in Sam's apartment! Further conversation with Jess reveals that an older neighbor, Ms. Hansen, actually met Alice Austen, and is also part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Sam and TJ do a lot of work on the project, writing a good report and envisioning a statue that could be put in place, but are crushed when classmates who researched Henry Hudson have a higher grade, so have their entry is submitted to the official contest. Sam is sure that Hudson, who has plenty of other statues, was the winner because Mr. Watras "hates gay people". At the same time, Sam has a misunderstanding with Jess, and is crushed when Jess says that they aren't best friends. Jess isn't being mean; it's just hard for a 29 year old to be "best friends" with a 12 year old. Still, the loss of a supportive person in their life is difficult for Sam. Luckily, Ms. Hansen (who asks everyone to call her Leslie, because "only straight people cal me Ms. Hansen") is a former teacher and submits the Alice Austen entry. This is one of the four finalists, and Sam and TJ go to the council to make their final presentation. Is Staten Island politically forward enough to honor Austen and her work with a statue?
Strengths: There need to be more books about school projects, since middle grade life depends so deeply on them. I appreciated the fact that even though TJ and Sam weren't thrilled about the assignment to begin with, they both discovered things in it that interested them. TJ found the clothing styles especially intriguing, and was able to include their own interest in fashion in aspects of the project. Sam's mother is supportive, although doesn't make many appearances. The chosen family of Jess and Val, with the new addition of Leslie, supports the chosen family aspect of LGBTQIA+ life. Jess' fat positivity will also appeal to many readers. The story moves along quickly, and the Staten Island setting and inclusion of New York history contribute additional layers of interest. 
Weaknesses: There are some lengthy explanations of queer lifestyle that may date this book in the future and slow down the plot a bit, but are helpful in the current moment. Sam is slighty mean about other people's lifestyle choices even though they expect understanding and acceptance for their own. For example, they have a preconceived notion of Mr. Watras' thoughts and beliefs based on his age, general appearance, and older teaching style. We never really find out what he really thinks. 
What I really think: Reminiscent of Landis' The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody with current sociopolitical topics of Bunker's Zenobia July. It's especially intestesting that Gino lived in the same building depicted in this story, although in a different apartment than Sam and Austen. 

Caldwell, Stella. Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement
Published April 19, 2022 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This history of the LGBTQ+ movement gives a good overview of history combined with more explanation of some specifics and a few short memoirs addressing the meaning of pride from currect activists. A lot of information is packed into 128 pages! Starting as far back as ancient Greece and Rome and proceeding quickly to the twentieth century, young readers learn about the general treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community and hear about significant individuals who forwarded the cause. From Anne Lister and Oscar Wilde to Marsha Johnson, Harvey Milk, and Glenn Burke, there are short biographies that are used to highlight changes in perception and acceptance. The Stonewall Riots are mentioned as a turning point (for further information on this pivotal event, Pitman's The Stonewall Riots is a must read), and the AIDS Crisis is described under the chapter heading "Disaster". The book concludes with chapters on "The Fight Goes On Around the World", which is helpful, since the book does have a slight UK focus when it comes to some individuals and legislation. There are also plenty of US connections, including a sidebar about the Native American concept of two spirited individuals. The format is very brightly colored, and there are a few photographs included with some of the biographies and historical descriptions. There is a glossary, index, and very nice and complete timeline. (That would be helpful to have as a fold out, even though thoses don't hold up to library use very well.) 
Strengths: This is a very thorough history packed into a very short book, and will introduce younger readers to the Pride movement in a very complete way. The addition of "what Pride means to me" essays by younger people will add to the appeal. 
Weaknesses: The print is a bit small, and middle grade could use a slightly shorter version that didn't delve into as many details of British legislation. Because so many LGBTQIA+ titles are currently being held to such unfair scrutiny by members of the public, I think it is important to mention that there is a definition of sodomy as anal sex, and very brief and completely nondescriptive mentions of the fact that sex occurred and there were political and sociological consequences for this. Absolutely nothing is instructive or graphic in any way; "had sex" is about as detailed as it gets. Students would get more information from the dictionary, but this is important for teachers and librarians to know should there be questions. 
What I really think: This was a very complete and interesting history of LGBTQIA+ history and the Pride movement, delivered in a very attractive book that is well formatted and illustrated. Since it is published by Penguin Worshop, I'm assuming that it will be paper over boards, which is a shame, since a jacketed hardcover would have a longer shelf life. It is a starting point for high school readers, since most of the history is not investigated in depth, but will be a lot of information for middle school students to digest, especially if this is their first foray into this social history. This does not have as much detail as Wind's No Way They Were Gay, but provides a lot more information than Lombardo's Inside the LGBTQ+ Movement (Gareth Stevens, 2018).

 Ms. Yingling

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