Tag Archives: robin talley

Things in Print Thursday :: monthly big queer book review [As I Descended]

9 Feb

So through January I was doing a gigantic reread of all of the Wicked Years books, but when I was done I thought “well. Drift partner’s library is now under the same roof as me. I should avail myself of it, and more specifically the collection of queer books I’ve wanted to read but just haven’t gotten around to.” So I decided, somewhat to make up for the fact that I wimped out of last year’s read-a-book-a-month challenge to myself, I would make a point of doing one of these queer books per month. Or other queer books, maybe, I don’t know yet. I’m starting here.

As I Descended was explained to me, by her, as “crazy lesbian Macbeth.” Adjectives such as “bonkers” were also utilized. That was pretty much all I needed as a recommendation. Plus, I’d done a bit of Robin Talley’s stuff last year, so I figured I’d be on even ground.

One nice thing about this book: the constantly shifting (third-person) POV. I’m fond of the multiple POV approach in general, but it was really interesting to see how it played out here, shifting multiple times in a chapter. The overanalytical drama kid in me says “well but that makes sense, because plays can be seen from any of the characters’ POV” but then the English major says “this is even better than complete objectivity this is a constant interplay of equally pissed-off emotional teenage narrators all with different psychoses for maximum dramatic effect.” It didn’t get confusing, it kept you constantly appraised of different ideas characters were having about the goings-on (which were, in fact, bonkers), and it gave a good sense of motivation for everyone.

Another nice thing about this book: okay, yeah, it’s a queer book, but it’s… based on a famous Shakespearean tragedy. You know most everyone is gonna die, so the queer kids are probably gonna die, but it’s not gross or burn-your-gays. Plus, the author is a queer lady, so you know she’s not doing it out of awful. Her books just have a lot of queer people in them, so what happens happens. It helped, I admit, having a good sense of who was going to die. Took some of the edge off. Also, by virtue of knowing ~the Scottish play~, I knew that everyone was also probably going to be a little bit horrible, and again, that was just how it was. No judgment.

I’m not sure how much you’re supposed to really sympathize with most of the characters, protagonists included, but there are moments where each of them invites it. I wasn’t out even to myself in high school, but it’s easy for me to imagine how that could color the motivations of especially a misanthropic queer kid. Up to a point, everyone’s motivations were pretty understandable.

Except, you know, the whole ghosts thing. That catapulted it into full-on Southern Gothic spoopy creppy nonsense land, and I am 100% in favor of that.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that this book was a bunch of my interests put in a blender, and that’s fun. Rarer than you might think.

–your fangirl heroine.



Things in Print Thursday :: monthly book review [Lies We Tell Ourselves]

3 Mar

In the spirit of February, I asked drift partner to rec me a YA book with a black protagonist.  Oh, and one who was queer.  And preferably a book with a happy ending.  (I figured that qualifying as YA would slightly increase my chances of a happy ending.  Also, I wanted something I could read in a few nights, just because life has a way of interfering when you least expect it and I wanted it done by the end of the month, which it was, I’m just posting now.)  What she suggested was Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, which is also a book not just about black characters but about Black History.

It’s not a difficult read.  It’s YA and it knows it.  But given the subject matter – the integration of public schools – this actually really worked for me.  Because it was realistic.  The two protagonists – Sarah, a black girl whose parents are integrationists, and Linda, a white girl whose parents are segregationists – are teenage girls, experiencing this very real conflict from a teenage viewpoint.  Throughout the book they both see themselves as pawns of their parents’ respective goals, because the parents speak of the struggle but they’re the ones who experience it.  It might not have felt as genuine if the narration sounded like it was that of a thirty-year-old.

It also provided a really interesting contrast between recited rhetoric (Sarah’s anxieties that her feelings about other girls weren’t what the Bible taught, Linda’s parroting of her father’s segregationist theories) and the genuine feelings of the girls, which are – surprising no one – much more complicated.  They think in ideals, but they act by impulse, standing up for people, arguing with each other, getting closer to each other.

And somewhat related to that, it didn’t romanticize the actual events of integration.  Sometimes YA books, children’s books, tone down the horrors of particular events either by evasion, language, or something else, but this didn’t shy away from the horrible vernacular of the time and didn’t pretend that there weren’t problems.  Linda herself was a problem for a large part of the book, but you got to read her mind changing, her gradual acceptance, her thinking that was still flawed in ways at the end of the book but had the potential to change.

This wasn’t a “traditional” happy ending.  There was no sunset kiss, no declaration of love.  There was just a pair of girls in an interracial queer relationship getting on a bus and smiling at each other.  Very, shall I say, of the Carol Paradigm sort of happy ending.  But nobody died (a favorite part in the book is the discussion of a lesbian fiction book where everything ended horribly, as if to say “but this is how it should be?”) and everyone was in one piece and everyone was headed in the right direction, and that’s a happy ending to me.

–your fangirl heroine.