More Happy Than Not

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Part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, part Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Adam Silvera’s debut More Happy Than Not confronts race, class, and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again—but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

More Happy Than Not is, in the simplest interpretation, a novel of self-acceptance, a description that surely attaches to 90 percent of all young adult fiction ever written. But it also tells us something else: that misery, while it is always available to be romanticized (and, of course, romanticizing misery remains a default position for countless 15-year-olds), is at the same time something that cannot be disposed of.

That sounds as if it might lead to trite messaging along the lines of “All that makes us suffer makes us stronger.” But what Silvera is saying is different, and profound: Hardship should always be kept close, so that we know happiness when we find it.

The New York Times

J.K. Rowling can’t stop spilling tea about Dumbledore’s sex life

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J.K. Rowling just can’t stop making her wizarding world seem more diverse and progressive than it really was in her books and films. In her latest attempt she said Albus Dumbledore and Fantastic Beasts villain Gellert Grindelwald had a ‘passionate’ love affair. Something that was barely hinted at in her works.

Even long-time fans are tired of Rowling shenanigans. And they’re letting her know as you can see in some of the tweets below…

Rowling’s comments come after Fantastic Beasts picked up criticism for skirting the subject of the romance between the two characters. In the film, Dumbledore hints that the pair were “closer than brothers,” and one flashback sequence featured a homoerotic moment between the lovers.

However, the plot was largely sidelined in the film, leading to accusations that it was being downplayed to allow the blockbuster’s release in overseas markets that forbid depictions of same-sex relationships.

Carry On

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Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right. Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Simon, an orphaned magician whose power is so immense that he is mostly inept at wielding it, returns to Watford School of Magicks for his final year of education in the magical arts. He has a talented, stalwart friend, a fascinatingly ambiguous foe, and a complicated, emotionally unavailable mentor. There is a great battle between good and evil. But there are also mobile phones, contemporary slang and pop-culture references, and gay romance.

The book is less preoccupied with the trappings of wizard life than it is focused on the relationships of the characters. The narrative perspective, shifting among Simon and his supporters and opponents, gives voice to their deeper motivations and angst; the dialogue, both internal and external, is contemporary and occasionally profane, with an authentic level of teenage snark.

The novel playfully twists genre conventions—there are plenty of wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments to satisfy faithful fantasy readers—but it also stands alone as a (very) modern novel. Read more at NPR.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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At age 15, Ari is a loner who has never had a friend before — until he meets Dante at the swimming pool. When Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim, the boys discover they make each other laugh, which seems more important than the fact that they have little in common.

Dante’s love of books and art, as well as his open appreciation of his parents, makes Ari look at his own family differently and inspires him to try to uncover the mystery of his dad, who rarely speaks. Over two summers and the intervening school year, the boys share laughs, secrets, and philosophies. As Aristotle tries to figure out his role in the universe, the importance of Dante’s friendship both bothers him and keeps him going — and, ultimately, changes the course of his life.

The story is narrated by Ari and it’s his point of view that colours the narrative. Ari is a loner who likes to wallow in its loneliness and who is in a state of constant anger: at the secrets his family keeps from him, at his father for not being open and talkative.

Dante is in a way, his opposite: quick to laugh and play, an artist and philosopher as well as a crier. Except as it turns out, they are not so different after all – and soon Ari learns to love poetry and philosophy and words whilst still being the same questioning, angry Ari (it takes him some time to learn that boys can cry too). The letting go of this anger (for a myriad of reasons) is one of the driving points of the novel and one that comes with a series of moments of self-discovery and life-discovery.

It’s interesting how Ari’s narrative is somewhat unreliable although not on purpose because it is very clear that Ari represses his feelings and don’t tell us how he truly feels about certain things because he doesn’t know them either – but his actions speak more than a thousand words.

Aristotle and Dante is a smart, intelligent, engaging coming-of-age story and a deep, thoughtful exploration of identity and sexuality. It turns out that both Ari and Dante are gay although it takes Ari the whole book to come to terms with it, whereas Dante is much more conformable in his own skin when it comes to his sexual identity. But there are other sides of who they are that are also thoughtfully examined here.

Shelter

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Some people say that heartbreak can make for great art, and the details of gay poet Kevin Tyler Norman’s failed long-distance relationship that he digested in his book Shelter might be an argument in favour of that point.

What would you do if you travelled to the other side of the world to surprise your long-distance boyfriend, only to learn he’d been dating someone behind your back? That’s what happened to Kevin, who met his then-boyfriend in the United States while the latter was travelling for work. While it could have been a summer fling, this guy told Kevin he wanted more, and the two carried on a long-distance relationship, Kevin in Los Angeles, his boyfriend in Australia.

The following months saw multiple trips back and forth, a surprise in which his boyfriend visited him for his birthday, regular video chat sessions, even meeting the family. Kevin and his boyfriend even bought a plane ticket to Australia so Kevin could make the big move Down Under.

“I planned a surprise trip to visit him, and right before I was to leave the U.S., he called me and confessed he was seeing someone else in Australia but ended that relationship because he ultimately wanted to be with me. So, being foolishly in love, I still followed through with my trip, letting him know I was coming, and after a week with me in Australia, he said he made a mistake and wanted to be with the other Australian guy. He then left me alone in his apartment while he went to go make amends with his now-boyfriend.”

The very next day Kevin flew back to the States, “heartbroken and completely wrecked.” In order to process his grief and dismay, he says he turned to writing. “I started to see the story I needed to tell.” Back in October, he released Shelter, a self-published, 196-page book of poetry detailing the whirlwind experience of a long-distance relationship that ends in heartbreak. “It documents the falling in love, the heartbreak and the healing,” he says.

“I named it Shelter because poetry is what has always helped me feel safe while I wait out the storm,” Norman tells Hornet. “When I returned home from Australia, I had a choice — I could cry and beg my ex for answers or I could just accept the truth of the situation and move on. I chose to move on, but I wasn’t going to do it without a fight. And in turn, I fought for myself and brought my poetry to life so that anyone who faces a terrible heartbreak can know they are not alone, and they never will be.”

If nothing else, Shelter is proof that hardship and pain can be turned into something beautiful. Since its release, Shelter has been making traction among all sorts of people, gay and straight, and the L.A. Times wrote a glowing piece about Kevin’s goal of helping others to appreciate love and cope with heartbreak.

“When I released Shelter, I never could have imagined the amount of love and support it’s been receiving,” he says. “It was always just a project to help me heal from my own heartbreak, but now I am seeing it heal others as well, and it’s so empowering. Love is such a universal thing, no matter your sexuality, and the feedback I’ve received from readers helps to remind me I am not alone in my struggles, and in return, neither are they.”

Gay Man’s Worst Friend

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In the early years of this blog the glossy Destroyer Journal from Swedish queer activist & troublemaker Karl Andersson was a steady source of inspiration. It was the first magazine that dared to put teenage boys into a perspective that modern society had reserved for adolescent girls. What was normal for the latter—to be adored and idolised—was unforgivable once the same patterns were applied to boys.

The predictable outrage didn’t just come from the usual right-wing suspects but also, and even harsher, from the gay community. While love without boundaries was an ordinary part of the queer spectrum once (no matter if you take historical personalities like Oscar Wilde & Walt Whitman or the fact that mainstream gay mags in the 70s & 80s used to make no difference between teenagers and buff men when it came to lewd photos) it seems to have become somewhat of a dark family secret of the past that must be kept under the rug lest we fuel the “homos are pedos” argument and eventually lose the equal rights and fragile freedom we achieved over the last decades.

You can read the whole story in a recently published book. Gay Man’s Worst Friend is not only the thrilling story of Europe’s most controversial gay magazine, told from Stockholm, Prague and Berlin. It’s also the story of the gay movement in the 21st century. The outraged reactions to Destroyer expose hidden power structures and show how gay identity has been steadily shrunk over recent decades, excluding ever more expressions of queerness.

You can order the book at cmykrush.

School Lies

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A post from my dear friend Xag:

I wanted let you know of this project I’ve been working on and that you might find interesting: As a photographer I’ve been working with my own body in front of a camera and I’ve made a photo book about my memories from school, because being in school is weird, being a teenager in school is weirder and my time there was especially weird.

During the past years I’ve kept my used teenage uniforms, and created images, that I hope to share with you to give you an insight with a photo story that shares what happened there, what I saw, what it felt like.

This recreation was a methodical effort. I stalked people’s old photos on Facebook, I had a list (I keep a lot of lists) of moments, of memories from what I witnessed back then. Then continued to shoot myself all over the city of Bogotá, especially around the neighborhood I grew up in and reenacted through images, my experiences of those transgressive school moments as faithfully as I could.

There are a lot of behaviors almost exclusive to school-like environments, some which are unexpectedly outrageous, or silly and simple and some that are… just hot (Specially if you are boy, a queer boy, in a boys-only catholic school.) The themes of bullying, hazing, boyhood and masculinity are at the cornerstone of this work.

Now, I’m looking for your help, to publish a photo-book I created called: School Lies.

If you want to help Xag publish School Lies you can read more about it at http://igg.me/at/school-lies 

Cult of Boys

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With her scrapbook Cult of Boys fashion photographer Toyin Ibidapo created a visiual memorial for the (slightly older) androgynous sons of the fading emo decade.

You can’t always trust your gaydar. Opening this book might let you think of the numerous gay photographers with their affection for teens. Not this time though. Cult of Boys comes form a woman who photographed for clients like the Dazed & Confused magazine or the late queer fashion star Alexander McQueen.

The portraits of the emosih lads featured in this book were made over a longer period of time in her own flat. Most of the boys are scantily clad (or not at all) but eroticism isn’t the major theme; there seems to be an intimate atmosphere built on trust and maybe even friendship. Ingenuous models explore who they are–and who they could be. Although carefully staged the photos seem genuine and emit the honesty and frankness the photography of the young and beautiful so often lacks. Impetuous and with lots of charm the fascinating pictures capture the raw vulnerability of the soft youth.

Leviathan

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Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is a half adventure, half coming-of-age novel set in an alternate steampunk past, in which the powers of the world are divided into “Clankers” who favour huge, steam-powered walking war-machines; and “Darwinists,” whose hybrid “beasties” can stand in for airships, steam-trains, war-ships, and subs (they even have a giant octopus called the kraken that can seize whole warships and drag them to their watery graves).

Set on the eve of WWI, the story’s two main characters are Aleks, the incognito orphan of the freshly assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (fleeing his murderous uncle Emperor Franz Josef from Austria to the safe haven of Switzerland in a liberated battle-walker); and Deryn, a Scots girl who has dressed in boys’ clothes to muster into Britain’s Darwinist air-corps and finds herself a midshipsman on the Leviathan, a floating ecosystem a quarter-mile long, made up of whales, bats, bees, six-legged hydrogen-sniffing dogs, and all manner of beasties that make her the meanest thing in the sky.

Filled with gripping air and land-battles, political intrigue and danger, science and madness, Leviathanis part Island of Dr Moreau, part Patrick O’Brien. And to top it all off, the volume is lavishly illustrated with fabulous ink-drawings of the best scenes from the book, executed in high Victorian style by Keith Thompson (who also produced contrafactual propaganda maps of alternate Europe)

Westerfeld writes gripping, relentless coming-of-age novels that are equally enjoyable by adults and kids, and Leviathan is no exception. Leviathan is also available as an unabridged 8-hour audiobook on DRM-free CDs for a very reasonable price. The reading is by Alan Cummings, who absolutely nails it, and the production — bed music, editing — is just superb, bringing the whole swashbuckling tale to life.

The Empress Sword

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With a kingdom to save and a dragon to slay, not to mention the loss of a dear friend and the first stirrings of a childhood crush, transitioning into a female is literally the least important problem on Crown Prince Aster’s mind. See, there’s this dragon attacking Caledon, and the only way to defeat it is to find and wield the mythical Empress Sword—a sword that will not bear the touch of any man. So Aster does what any sensible thirteen-year-old crown prince would do: he gets magical gender reassignment surgery.

Actually, it’s more complicated than that, and Aster doesn’t exactly understand what he’s agreeing to when he grasps the sword for the first time. Nonetheless, Aster becomes Astrid and what had the danger of becoming yet another too-straightforward boy’s adventure book on the shelves swiftly takes on new dimensions. We suddenly have a strong, female protagonist where we once had a slightly naive but endearingly noble male—one who has no problems with it beyond the obvious issues of a changed centre of gravity and a vague sense of “this is new and a bit weird!”

The narrative continues to refer to the prince as “him” because for Aster (as he still thinks of himself—though he quickly realizes that introducing himself by the prince’s name would draw confusion), the transition to “femaleness” is at first only a matter of changing some outward behaviors—like when the prince has to convince people that “he’s” become a girl, but maintains a comfortable male wardrobe, manners, and speech with friends. The prince’s own perceptions of “femaleness” are challenged and turned over frequently, but Aster’s assumptions are the fault of a royal upbringing (and a perception of “maleness” that is also quite skewed due to that heritage).

Aster’s transition is a non-issue in the book, with no broad, overarching statement made about transphobia. There is no fear over body image, shame, disgust, or humiliation—these things are entirely absent from Aster’s transition experience. And that’s a statement in and of itself. The fact that Jaxton doesn’t make a big flurry/trauma/statement about the gender change—nobody calls Astrid gross, unnatural, or a freak when they find out she used to be the prince—is a small but important victory.

In Aster’s arrogant and selfish selflessness, we see the ego of a child who has always been treated like an equal and a grown-up, played fantastically against the condescending humiliation of being a “little girl.” More important is Aster’s realization that people were just as condescending when she was a boy, but in a more subtle way because she was a prince. And Aster has no problems with being a girl in love with another girl.

Aster is also rather egalitarian in other relationships. Aster is good friends with a stable boy and doesn’t see why a merchant’s daughter can’t be asked to dinner, and when confronted with a monster who displays intelligence, actually listens to what the dragon has to say and concedes that the dragon’s point of view and concerns are as valid as the humans’ are. In that moment, the book is elevated from mere adventure story to a tale about equality, compassion, and the basic rights of all people—be they dragons, foreigners with unfamiliar features, or boys in dresses.

In the end, the success of The Empress Sword lies in the normalizing of transgender characters and heroes who treat everyone around them equally, and offering a fantastic quest adventure yarn for young people that teaches as well as entertains.