Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Pride Month

Leali, Michael. Civil War of Amos Abernathy 
May 24th 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Amos lives in Apple Grove, Illinois, with his mother, who manages a Living History Museum, after the death of his father. He has worked as a reenactor at the LHM for a number of years, and loves history. He has a good friend in Cleo, another reenactor, who is Black and passionate about the ignored history of marginalized peoples. We go back and forth between the time Ben, a new reenactor, joins the group, and Civil War Remembrance Week about a year later. Amos is gay, and has been out for a while, and his mother is very supportive even though there are some people in their town who are not. He thinks that Ben is cute, and he and Ben have an interaction that leads him to believe that Ben might be interested in him, but Ben backs off. Amos learns that Ben's parents go to Holy Cross church, which is not as open and affirming as Grace Hill that Amos attends. Albert Cashier. When the LHM has a competition for a new exhibit, Amos and Chloe want to look into the history of LGBTQIA+ people, facing off against the rich Meredith Simpson, who works on a presentation about the history of shoes, since her family owns a local factory. Amos and his friends find that research is difficult, since terms change over history, but do locate information about Albert Cashier, who was assigned female at birth but fought in the Civil War and lived his whole live as a man. They approach their social studies teacher, Ms. Wiseman, and ask for her help. She also head the school Gay-Straight Alliance and is open about her girlfriend. Ben is willing to help, but when his parents have concerned about Amos' "bad influence", Ben stops volunteering at the LHM and the two don't speak for months. When Amos' proposal is taken out of competition because of his mother's position, and Chloe is denied an internship with the blacksmith even though she is very qualified, the group, along with some friends from the GSL, plan a presentation highlighting the LGBTQIA+ historical figures who are ignored during Civil War Remembrance Week. How will this go over with the community, and will this change the minds of the museum's board? More importantly, will Amos and Ben be able to reconnect. 
Strengths: 2022 may well go down in the history of middle grade literature as the Year That Romance Changed. I can no longer assume that students want boy-girl romances, but dispassionately ask what kind of romance they would like. Amos has a very sweet crush on Ben and is thrilled when he reciprocates-- they go to the movies together, share popcorn, and have a brief kiss on the cheek afterwards. It was interesting to see two sides of the young, gay experience, with Amos doing well with his identity because of the support he receives, but Ben struggling because of his family's religious beliefs. My favorite part was the LHM, as I share Amos' excitement about wearing period clothing, and there are so many fun things he is allowed to do as a volunteer, especially since he has friends that volunteer as well. The competition is similar to Gino's Alice Austen Lived Here, and is a great way to explore those little known historical figures. This is almost a perfect mash up of Barakiva's One Man Guy and Landis' The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody .
Weaknesses: There are three characters (Azul, who is nonbinary, Cassidy, and Kevin) who are referred to as "the gay Cerberus", and this seemed odd to me that Amos would be ignoring their individual identities by using a somewhat unflattering phrase. The flashbacks, although each chapter is dated, made this harder to follow. My students often struggle with this format and find it confusing, so I wish that this had just followed Amos' and Ben's relationship and the competition linearly.
What I really think: This is an outspoken and forthright look at the history of marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQIA+ community, and a decided commentary on the treatment of  LGBTQIA+ youth that is very timely. 

Stamper, Phil. Small Town Pride
May 31st 2022 by HarperCollins 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jake lives in Barton Springs, Ohio, which is small enough to be a village rather than a town. He's comfortable in his identity, although has just recently told his parents. They are supportive, and his father, who is given to over-the-top lawn decorating, hangs a giant LGBTQIA+ flag in the yard. Jake's friend, Jenna, is also supportive, but the neighbors across the street are not. Brett's mother is the mayor, and her platform was to make Barton Springs a peaceful place, something she accomplishes by bullying the town council and taking Black Lives Matter signs out of people's yards. Jake has always avoided Brett, who is usually wearing khakis and a polo so he can accompany his mother to events, but is surprised when Brett seems genuinely interested in the flag. He's lonely, and tired of being pushed around by his mother. When the flag garners lots of comments on social media, Jake's parents tell him he can take it down at any time, and Jake finds himself wishing that his town were as accepting of his identity as Songbird Hollow, the town in the online farming game that he plays. There, he is able to court another boy and even propose, but in his actual hometown, he is supposed to remain quiet. After reading a news article about a boy who starts a Pride event in his town, Jake is motivated to try to have a parade in Barton Springs. Brett wants to help, but his grades are suffering, he's anxious, and he doesn't want to be associated with a project that might cause his mother to ask too many questions. Jake and Jenna go through all of the official procedures to have a festival in town, and Jake's father even sponsors the motion himself after the town council changes its rules to require motions to be made by residents over 18. Jenna is concerned that her father, a town council member, might be on the side of the people who don't like Jake's flag, but is afraid to confront him. When the request is denied, Jake feels like the voice of the LGBTQIA+ community is not being heard, and that perhaps there isn't a place for him in the town after all. When a candidate opposing Brett's mother tries to use Jake and Jenna as a springboard for her own campaign, things seem even more confused. Will Jake be able to enlist the help of supportive friends and family to raise awareness in his small town and improve the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ individuals?
Strengths: Stamper grew up near Dayton, so the details about life in a small Ohio village (And yes, that is a difference that people care about. I grew up in a township.) are accurate. I did appreciate that none of the people in town are depicted as outright villains, which would be so easy to do. Jake's parents are supportive, but also embarassing in the way that parents can be when one is in middle school. There is an uncle who has views that are diametrically opposed to the father's, but the two have constructive conversations that lead to changes of opinions. There is a grandmother who is just concerned that Jake's life will be harder than it needs to be. Even the mayor, who does a number of things that are hurtful, thinks she is making the town better, and does eventually understand that she is hurting people. Those nuances are hard to capture, and Stamper does a great job of it. I also like that Jake is comfortable within himself, but is instead struggling to understand his relationship with his community. Instead of dreaming about leaving and moving to Columbus, he wants to improve acceptance for other LGBTQIA+ people in the community he loves. The details about approaching the town council are realistically drawn, but don't drag down the book, and the way that an event eventually is realized is heart warming. Jenna is a great friend, and Brett is an intriguing character with his own issues. The best thing about this book is that the overall tone is one of joy and celebration, which is much needed. 
Weaknesses: The details of the video game Songbird Hollow slowed the story down for me, but that might be because I never play video games. This might entice younger readers more. 
What I really think: The Ohio connection makes this a book that I'll definitely have to purchase, and the short length and brisk pace will make this a good choice for readers interested in current events. In thirty years, will this be very dated? We can only hope that readers are able to shake their heads a bit at how much things have changed. (Imagine how different a similar book from 1990 would be! An uncomfortable peace would have been made, but then Brett would have died in some tragic way.)

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