2015 Dive Into Diversity & LGBT Reading Challenges: June Roundup

July 1st, 2015 11:24 am by Kelly Garbato

This month’s Dive Into Diversity & LGBT Reading Challenge roundup comes with the usual disclaimer: In several instances, I’m not 100% certain that the book’s diverse enough to be included in the challenge (for example, how to judge a book of short stories? Is one or two diverse tales out of a dozen or more acceptable?) – so I’ve included a brief note about each book’s qualifications at the end of the post, so you can judge for yourself.

Pro tip: these notes may contain spoilers.

 

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  • More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2015); reviewed here

    Diversity: YES!

    Narrator Aaron Soto is a sixteen-year-old struggling with his sexuality. He’s Puerto Rican (on his mother Elsie’s side, I think) and, by the end of the book, is dealing with anterograde amnesia (an inability to form new memories). Aaron is surprised to find himself attracted to his best friend, Thomas Reyes (who is described as having “light brown skin”); Thomas insists that he’s straight, but doesn’t care that Aaron is a “dude-liker.” Later on we learn that Aaron also had a relationship with fellow classmate Connor; Connor isn’t ready to come out and insists that they keep things a secret. Eventually Connor gets his girlfriend pregnant and decides to stay with her, though this doesn’t stop him from having sex with Aaron.

    There’s a wonderful amount of racial diversity in the Leonardo Housing and Joey Rosa projects. Aaron’s best friend Brendan is black. Genevieve’s mom has family in the Dominican Republic. Mohad, Aaron’s boss at Good Food’s, is Arab. Eric – Aaron’s older brother – has a friend named “Chinese Simon, who is actually Japanese but didn’t speak up until a year too late.” Baby Freddy and Skinny-Dave are Latino.

    This diversity carries over to more minor characters – for example, characters who are mentioned but never seen – as well: Dr. Cecilia Ines Ramos, PhD, MD, and a Nobel-prize winning neurosurgeon, developed Leteo’s memory-suppression procedure. Ms. O, Aaron’s high school Earth Science teacher, is Puerto Rican. Kyle’s girlfriend Tina is Chinese American. And so on.

    Single-parent households aren’t uncommon; Thomas’s father abandoned the family on Thomas’s ninth birthday, while Genevieve’s mother died a few years back in an airplane accident. Gen’s father is distant, while Aaron’s abuses his wife and children.

    Mental health/disability issues also abound. Aaron’s father Mark killed himself; Aaron also has an uncle (Connor) who committed suicide. Aaron himself tried to kill himself a few months after his father’s death.

    Last but not least, one of Brendan’s fellow dealers might possibly be trans: “Nate’s real name is Natalie but she’s been reinventing herself as a dude for the past four years with thick braids, fake gold medallions, fitted hats, and basketball jerseys.” Aaron overhears Brendan asking her if she’s sure she doesn’t like guys.

  • Coming of Age at the End of Days by Alice LaPlante (2015); review coming in August

    Diversity: In the mental health arena, yes. Anna suffers from depression and also has delusions and seizures. Neighbor Jim Fulson is also clinically depressed, and has tried to kill himself several times. Anna’s mother’s friend Martha is a breast cancer survivor. By story’s end, Anna is an orphan, both her parents having died in a car accident. Clara’s father died of prostate cancer, for which his Christian Scientist wife forbade him from seeking treatment. Anna’s parents are both atheists. Her father is a recovering alcoholic.

  • The Uninvited: A Novel by Cat Winters (2015); review coming in August

    Diversity: Yes. While MC Ivy Rowan is considered “white,” she has some Native American ancestry: “We [Rowans] were known for our golden-brown eyes, freckled cheeks, and prominent cheekbones, supposedly inherited from an Iroquois great-grandmother whom no one ever talked about.” Ivy’s father is abusive and possibly alcoholic, and once hit her younger brother Billy over the head with a shovel for horsing around during chores. At story’s outset, Frank and Ivy’s youngest brother Peter, have just killed a man – Wilhlem Daniel Schendel, a German immigrant and one of the last remaining German businessmen left in Buchanan, Illinois during the height of anti-German sentiment fueled by WWI.

    While the author explores anti-German sentiment and policies in detail, other forms of bigotry and prejudice are put under the microscope as well. As WWI rages abroad, the so-called Spanish Influenza rips through America (and the world). When she encounters a Red Cross transport vehicle stalled on the railroad tracks separating south Buchanan from the more prosperous parts of the city, Ivy jumps in to help and ends up being recruited as a volunteer. Polish immigrant Nela and black, 17-year-old Addie are going door-to-door in search of influenza victims stuck in their homes in Southside. Instead of taking them to Polish Hall – an under-equipped, understaffed holding place for the “less desirable” influenza victims (immigrants of Polish, Russian, and Romanian, descent; African-Americans) – they instead transport them to Nela’s house for more intimate care.

    Winters makes clear that there’s a stark racial, ethnic, and class divide evident in the care different patients received; for example, Ivy notes with horror the personal house calls she received from her own physician when she was struck with the flu several weeks previous. Meanwhile, one lone doctor is ministering to hundreds of patients at Polish Hall, assisted only by twelve-year-old Girl Scouts.

    One of the patients they rescue from Polish Hall is Benjie, a young black man whose father was the only doctor in Southside – until he volunteered to serve in the war.

    The dances at the Masonic Lodge offer a respite from the despair and suffering. There, an integrated jazz bands lets loose every night. When Ivy asks if Daniel – a guitarist – would be welcome to play with them, the pianist notes with a grin that their drummer, Ernest Ford, is half black, half German – and one hundred percent American jazz.

    The Uninvited has a strong, socially conscious backbone and explores issues of sexism, racism, xenophobia, and othering in detail. Since it’s historical fiction, many of the details – Fort Oglethorpe, the Prager lynching in Collinsville, the American Protective League, Alien Registration Cards, even bans on German music and language – are based on or inspired by true events.

  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry: A Novel by Fredrik Backman (2015); reviewed here

    Diversity: In Elsa’s building, there lives “the boy with a syndrome” who doesn’t talk but loves to dance. When he begins school, he’s naturally a target for bullies; and, when he shows up to a costume party dressed as a princess, Elsa rushes to his defense by donning a Princess Spider-Man costume. There’s also Wolfheart, who was a peacekeeper in an unnamed war and seems to suffer from PTSD and/or OCD; the woman in the black skirt, a psychotherapist who’s battling alcoholism and depression after the death of her husband and two sons; and the boy with a syndrome’s mum, whose husband beat her and her son. She’s now living in the same building as her in-laws, who helped her escape from their son.

    And there’s Elsa, Granny, and Mum, all exceptional women in their own right (see my review for more on the feminist elements of the story). Last but not least, there’s an insinuation at the 11th hour that Granny may have been bisexual. (“She was the love of many men’s lives. Women as well, actually.”) Either way, she took many lovers. (“If your granny had been a man of her generation rather than a woman, she would have been called a ‘playboy.’”)

  • The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (2015); review coming in August

    Diversity: The story is set in turn-of-the-century Russia, and as such, all of the characters are Russian. However, Rundell drops hints that thirteen-year-old child soldier Ilya is gay. For example, he’s forever blushing in the presence of Alexei and loves to dance. Not that dancing makes him gay, mind you; but when the owner of a nearby ballet school comes to recruit him, they share the following exchange:

    “Dancers – they are not always respected. They often find it hard to marry.”

    Ilya fiddled with his lip. “That’s not a problem, for me,” he said.

  • Those Girls by Chevy Stevens (2015); review coming soon

    Diversity: All the girls are traumatized from their experiences in Cold Creek, as well as the abuse the suffered at the hands of their father and foster parents. They suffer from PTSD, and Courtney struggles with drug and alcohol addiction.

    Racially, this is a very white book; the only POC to be seen is Tina, Skylar’s Asian counselor, who’s mentioned in passing once.

  • Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–and What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding (2015); review coming in August

    Diversity: Yes. Harding frequently addresses the intersections of misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc., and how they play out in rape culture in general, as well as how they influence the treatment and outcome of specific cases.

  • Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade (2015); review coming in August

    Diversity: Yes! When their father accidentally kills their mother (it may have been manslaughter, but the rape was totally on purpose) and then runs from the police, four-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz and her six-year-old brother Sam are effectively orphaned. They’re sent to a Jewish orphanage, but separated due to their ages: Rachel goes to the Infant Home, while Sam is placed in the Orphaned Hebrews Home. Instead of caring for them, the doctors at the Infant Home – Dr. Hess and Dr. Solomon – experiment on the young children, for example, purposefully withholding Vitamin C in order to track the progression of scurvy.

    Rachel become subject #8 in Dr. Solomon’s study, where she’s subjected to high doses of radiation to destroy her (healthy) tonsils in lieu of a surgical tonsillectomy. The x-rays cause alopecia: Rachel is completely bald. Naturally, the kids at the Orphaned Hebrews Home tease her mercilessly; her brother can barely stand to look at her; and she struggles with self-esteem issues her whole life. As she approaches 40, Rachel discovers a lump in her breast. (The story alternates between Rachel’s childhood and adulthood.)

    Complicating matters is Rachel’s sexuality: she’s gay, back in the days when “passionate female friendships” were whispered about as “unnatural.” (Rachel was born in 1914, I believe.) She develops a relationship with an older classmate at the Orphaned Hebrews Home, Naomi; at first her brother pays the girl to protect his sister, but eventually they become friends, and then lovers. When she’s working as a nurse at a tuberculosis clinic in Colorado, she befriends a young woman named Mary, who’s also a lesbian; it’s when Rachel inherits her letters to Sheila that she begins to picture something more with Naomi.

    Even in the ’50s, Rachel struggles with having to pretend that her lover is her roommate, and worries what will happen once she goes under the knife (her lover has to pretend to be her sister, since only family is allowed visiting privileges). Orphan Number Eight challenges the reader to imagine what life had in store for LGBTQ folks in the days before Pride Parades, before gay marriage (now just marriage) was the law of the land, when homosexuality was something to be pitied – at best.

    Elsewhere, Dr. Mildren Solomon recounts how difficult it was being a pioneer in her field, and Sam may struggle with PTSD.

    On her way west, Rachel meets a porter named Ralph who asks her employers not to call him “boy”: “as I am lately a grandfather, I’m afraid I’m just a little too old to answer to ‘boy.’” And later on, while she’s working the night shift at the Old Hebrews Home, she meets a “Negro” janitor named Horace to whom she gifts a lock of her hair: for his art studies.

     

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