If you use a thesaurus, you’ll find that the title of this post basically says, “Taking the Shit Out of Reading”. Because I like to read. All my friends like to read. Smart people generally like to read. But for the love of all that is holy I
hate ABHOR LOATHE BREATHE FIRE UPON the section in my library known as “the Young Adults” section. In this section, the general formula seems to be that male protagonists get interesting, cool, relatable and well-written books. Female protagonists, however, get a steaming pile of turds wearing the thin disguise of a love story. How to Take the Ex- Out of Ex-Boyfriend, Instant Boyfriend, My Secret Boyfriend, My Fake Boyfriend, My Real Fake Boyfriend (clever, I see what you did there), The Boyfriend War, and, of course, My Best Friend’s Boyfriend are all aimed at young female adults! Yippee! Because what do young female adults love more than focusing their entire lives and fantasy lives around dicks and the men who own them? Absolutely nothing!
Well, some of us have brains. Some of us would prefer not to have to read about ur fke boytoyz. In fact, part of the reason I read is to AVOID this sort of “isn’t-he-cute-he’s-so-hot-I’m-already-planning-our-wedding” mentality. So, just for you, I have prepared a list of YA novels that are not focused around the cultural phenomenon known as “boyfriends”.
Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught: This is a fun book, more than anything else. Admittedly, the protagonist, Jamie, has a boyfriend who a pretty major part of the storyline focuses around. But it is not focusing around him purely because he is a man and therefore SO COOL. And guess what? Jamie’s fat. The entire book is pretty much what the title suggests; a manifesto against fat-phobia. But it is also well-written, clever, and kind of wonderful. I recommend it for all human beings. Jamie writes a column for her school paper called Fat Girl about what it is really like to be fat, exposing assholes and irritating salesladies through the whole book. She is sassy and cool and intelligent so basically my favorite kind of person. She also sings in her school’s musical, prepares for college and has two cool friends (Freddie and NoNo) who are also complex female characters whom I want to hug repeatedly.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: Wow. I am kind of in love with Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing, because it is beautiful and sort of fragile-sounding like if you read it too harshly the words might accidentally crack. The book is about a girl who is raped by a boy at her school and doesn’t tell anyone, becoming depressed. That description is really crappy, but honestly, it is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. The ending WILL make you cry, unless you sold your soul to the devil or are dead, but I don’t want to spoil it. Even if you are not a young adult, maybe you’re even old and crinkly and grouchy, you still need to read this because it will cleanse your soul of all impurities. Plus, there’s a movie with Kristen Stewart in it. I haven’t seen it but I can assume her acting will be stiff as usual.
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan: I found this book to be a little bit vanilla, but I like really, really dark stuff. I did enjoy it, though. It’s set at a good-pace, the writing is better than a lot of YA novels, and it has a good plot and believable voice. The basic storyline is that girl goes to summer camp, girl falls in love. With another girl. One thing I liked about it was that it didn’t make a HUGE deal out of the fact they’re both girls. Obviously figuring out that part of your identity is kind of a huge thing, and it doesn’t mention some homophobia they face, but it doesn’t seem to be jumping up and down screaming “LOOK! A BOOK ABOUT LESBOS! AREN’T WE SO INCLUSIVE AND OPEN-MINDED.” which I appreciated. And do you know how hard it is to find books with any kind of girl-on-girl romance? DO YOU KNOW?
Ash by Malinda Lo: Speaking of girl-on-girl romance… I confess– I have not actually finished this book. Actually, it’s laying splayed open behind me as I type this. I am having a hard time getting into it because of the writing, which is not really my thing; it plays out to sound very fairy-tale-ish. HOWEVER I think this would appeal hugely to a lot of people, and it won the Lambda Literary Award, YA fiction category! (That’s the award for LGBTQ literature, if you didn’t know). Overall, the writing is good, and the plot is so far interesting. It is a bit slow moving, but I think pretty good overall. UPDATE: I just finished Ash and boy, does it pick up. I was feeling so-so about it when I wrote this review but now I really love it.
Speaking of the Lambda Awards… if you are sick of reading books with female protagonists… get off this blog. If you have read a lot of books with strong female protagonists and wish to expand your mind with diversity, check out some books by Alex Sanchez. He has won the Lambda Award multiple times. All of his books are about gay guys, and there are very few ladies in sight, just a warning. But they are still pretty good and queer books are hard enough to find either way. My personal favorite is The God Box which is a great book about a young man’s conflicting identities; his identity as a gay man and his identity as a Christian. Also he meets a cute boy named Manuel who has some great lines about why Christianity doesn’t actually say homosexuality is a sin, which I am definitely going to be using. P.S. the Bible doesn’t ever say homosexuality is a sin. Read The God Box and find out more after the jump.
Girl by Blake Nelson: At my library, this is in the adult fiction section, but I think it should be in YA. It is more for the upper teens though, because there’s a lot of sexuality in it. But this book is mindblowing. The writing is incredible, and yes, it does sound like a teenage girl– but a real teenage girl, not a valley girl. It is about a (you guessed it) teen girl’s coming-of-age in Portland, OR (holla for my hometown) in the nineties. The best part about it is that it feels so real. Even some of the very best books have a thin layer of fantasy– this one completely rips it all to shreds and makes you feel like you’re reading an older sister’s teenage diary.
The Tank Girl comics are technically graphic novels, and O.K., she has a boyfriend. But her boyfriend is a kangaroo named Booga and she rescues him nine times out of ten. Tank Girl is hilarious, raunchy (yeah, really raunchy) and she kicks ass.
And if by this point your eyes have fallen out of your head from all this reading, go watch The Runaways or something. That is an awesome movie*. Promise me you will sing along to “Cherry Bomb”. And if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments!
*I watch it whenever I’m sick and have to stay home from school. I’ve got Kim Fowley’s “I want an orgasm” speech memorized and I scream along. Which isn’t good when I have a hoarse throat, but oh well. Priorities. Plus, the music is what I’d be listening to anyways, so I can sing along! It’s sort of like High School Musical: Singalong Edition but there are cool rock star girls with guitars who sometimes pee on guitars.