Sunday, May 15, 2022

The One Who Loves You Most

medina. The One Who Loves You Most 
May 10th 2022 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gabriela lives in New York City with her mother, who is a sign language interpreter and adopted Gabriela from Honduras when she was a baby. The mother suffers frequently from bouts of depression, and has the highs and lows that seem to go with bipolar disorder, although this is not named. Gabriela is used to fending for herself and taking care of her mother because of that. When her teacher, Mrs. Anderson, assigns the students a project to explore their "authentic self" and present it in various ways, Gabriela is conflicted. Ever since hitting puberty, she has become increasingly uncomfortable in her own body, and between that, dealing with her mother, and feeling disconnected from her Honduran background, she has no idea what her "authentic self" is. It doesn't help that she has had a falling out with her best friend Maya. She gets to know Héctor, who is Latinx and identifies as nonbinary and is okay with any pronouns, and Abbie, whose mother is Peruvian and whose father is Indian, and identifies as intersex and trans. Abbie even has a vlog chronicling her journey. Both of her new friends ask Gabriela how she identifies, but she's not able to explain to them, since she is still struggling to understand. Hector suggests some books for her to read, including Garden's groundbreaking Annie on My Mind, and when her former friend Maya sees her reading it, the two start a conversation and start to hang out again. Maya identifies as a lesbian, and mistakes the renewed friendship for a romantic one. She is hurt when Gabriela doesn't want to hold hands or kiss her, but Gabriela starts to understand that while she likes to be with Maya, her identity is asexual. Since she didn't know herself, it was hard to share this information with Maya. When her mother's mental health reaches a crisis level, Gabriela has to stay with Abbie's family, and sees a counselor at school, Mr. Shapiro, who is a trans man and shares a little of his journey with Gabriela. The "authentic self" projects cause a bit of a stir, but also lead to more understanding among the students, and some positive changes in the way the administration handles bullying. Gabriela's mother comes home, and while there is some family conflicts when Gabriela tells everyone she identifies as nonbinary and asexual, her relatives all are supportive in the end. An upcoming school dance gives Héctor a chance to take Gabriela shopping at One Size Doesn't Fit All, an inclusive store where she/they buy their first binder. Héctor's older brother, who is gay, has a periwinkle suit he has outgrown that seems perfect to Gabriela, and they wear it to the dance, even though some students still give them a hard time. Even though things are still difficult, Gabriella finally feels a bit more able to define their "authentic self".
N.B. Since Gabriela uses "she/her" pronouns at the beginning of the book and "they/them" at the end, I have not used "they/them" for Gabriela earlier in the book. 
Strengths: This could be used as a textbook on how to properly ask about and address people whose exterior appearance might not align with their inner identifications. Many of the characters are within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and Gabriela learns a lot about describing what she feels from other people, books, and YouTube videos. There is some information about her mother's mental health condition, and she does get help after a somewhat accidental overdose of sleeping pills. The school is very supportive, and the students who exhibit bullying behavior are dealt with firmly and constructively. I appreciated that several LGBTQIA+ books are mentioned; I reread Annie on My Mind (1982) to see how it holds up and decided that while an excellent  book for its time, it would probably be less helpful to modern teens.
Weaknesses: While very helpful, the involved discussions about identity slow the story down a tiny bit and might be apt to date the book if terminology changes, in the same way that the treatment of Annie and Liza has dated Annie on My Mind. 
What I really think: Along with Gino's Alice Austen Lived Here and Sass' Ellen Outside the Lines, this is a good example of how middle grade books about gender and sexual identity are currently being written. medina is a Honduran born transracial adoptee who identifies as a nonbinary asexual lesbian (from the biography in the book), so brings personal experience to Gabriela's narrative. 

Garden, Nancy. Annie on My Mind
July 1st 1982 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Ohio Digital Library Copy

This is definitely a Young Adult book representative of the style of the 1980s-- Liza and Annie are 17, but seem very young by today's standards. It's a good romance, with lots of longing glances and kisses, but does have some more involved but not graphically described activity. The thing that dates this the most (aside from the fact that Liza is writing letters to Annie) is the way the girls are treated when it is discovered that they are lesbians.
I can see this having been a very relevatory text to readers at the time it was published, and it is worth a read to understand the history of LGBTQIA+ representation in children's literature, but I'm not sure how helpful this would be to a modern teens who are questioning their identities or orientations. The 1980s still centered these conversations on the gender binary a way that modern books do not.

Like many books from this era, people who were different did not have a good ending. 

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