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STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

SCARS book cover

Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself--before it's too late.

Awards: #1 in the Top 10 ALA Quick Picks, ALA's Rainbow List, a Governor General Literary Award Finalist, Staff Pick for Teaching Tolerance.

Yes, it's my own arm on the cover of SCARS.

HUNTED book cover

Caitlyn, a telepath in a world where having any paranormal power at all can kill her, must decide between saving herself or saving the world.

Awards: A finalist for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award.

PARALLEL VISIONS book cover

Kate sees visions of the future--but only when she has an asthma attack. When she "sees" her sister being beaten, and a schoolmate killing herself, Kate must trigger more attacks--but that could kill her.

Awards: 2013 Gold Winner, Wise Bear Digital Awards, YA Paranormal category.

STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

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Teen Books That Have Something to Say


Totally Joe

Review

Totally Joe
by James Howe
Atheneum/Simon & Schuster,(September 2005)
ISBN-10: 068983957X

My rating:



Okay, fine, I'm not a boy like them, but I'm still a boy. The thing is, boys--by which I mean guy-guys like my brother, Jeff--have always been a total mystery to me. I mean, how do they know how to do all that stuff, like throw and catch and grease car engines? Besides the fact that I don't have a clue how to do any of those things, on a scale of 1-10 I have, like, below zero interest. Way below. Try negative a thousand.
But when you're a boy, people just expect you to:
1. Make fart noises under your armpit and think it's hilarious.
2. Make real farts and go, "Good one!"
3. Spit.
4. Relate to other boys by punching and shoving and calling them "jerk" and "butthead" and other names I'd better not put down if I want to get a good grade. (Guy-guy fact: Calling somebody "butthead"--or worse--is considered even more brilliantly hilarious than making armpit noises.)
--Totally Joe, James Howe, p. 7-8

12-year-old Joe (almost 13) knows he's gay--and he doesn't go out of his way to hide it, even though he faces homophobia at school. Joe doesn't understand macho-boys, or how they behave, and is unable to conform or to act like them. Instead, he is truly himself, and he gradually learns to appreciate this after he finds someone else wishes they could be more like him.

Joe and his classmates are asked to write an autobiography about themselves, from A-Z with a life lesson for each letter, and that is how we hear Joe's story. Joe's account is written in a vibrant voice as he moves throughout the school year, changing, growing, and eventually coming out (even though most people already knew he was gay).

This is a funny, enjoyable book with a strong voice, good observations (both inner and outer), and a great sense of right and wrong. Although Howe addresses some potentially painful issues, the book remains a fairly light read. The pain is balanced out by the fantastic humor, by Joe's own acceptance and awareness of his gayness, and by his supportive friends and family.

Readers who are gay/lesbian or who have friends who are may recognize many things that feel true to the experience--both fun and painful. Different levels and types of homophobia are addressed in this book, as well as an almost celebratory-feeling of being gay and being oneself.

Joe's voice is especially refreshing. He is funny and honest, open about being gay, and reveals details that might be surprising to some readers in a totally matter-of-fact way. These details are woven throughout the story naturally.

Joe is a very likeable character. He allows himself to be who he is, without apology, and stands up for what he believes in, though he also undergoes struggle. He is brave, funny, thoughtful, observant, and tries hard not to ridicule or put down people the way others have him. He is also keenly aware of gender stereotypes, homophobia, sexism, and more. Joe seems, in many ways, like a stereotype of a 'queen', but he is a full character, and the authors are careful to balance out gay characters, and show diversity; not all gay or straight people are alike.

Joe has a fairly non-sexual relationship with Colin (a few kisses, holding hands, enjoying movies together)--which perhaps is appropriate for the age, but I wonder if it was also to be less threatening to homophobic readers. Through Joe and Colin's relationship, we see the heartache that can come from being with another gay person who is unable to accept who they are or be honest with other people--and the homophobia or oppressiveness that can sometimes come from another gay person. We move with Joe through his excitement and elatedness, his hurt and his anger, and by the end of the book most readers will be glad at the outcome of this relationship.

There are many heart-warming, triumphant, and touching moments in the book, as well as a great amount of support for Joe from other characters. All of this makes Totally Joe a supportive, encouraging, and fun book for gay readers, their friends and family, and it may also help to make the subject matter more palatable or easier for some readers. While at times the amount and ease of support about being gay--especially from his family--may seem unbelievable or false, it adds to the positive tone--and this book cannot be separated from the context of a world that is frequently and harshly homophobic. We need more positive gay/lesbian stories. At the same time, a slightly more balanced tone may have led to a greater richness. But taken for what it is--a story of acceptance, encouragement, and support about being gay for teens and anyone else who needs this message, and the book works completely.

Joe and a few of his friends are the most keenly drawn characters here. Joe's father and Aunt Pam have some nuances and shading to them, and it is clear they love Joe. However, Joe's mother appears as a flat character, hardly present and without depth or complexity. It almost seems as if she is an unnecessary character.

There are a few places where Joe's voice or memories do not seem believable for his age; a few small inconsistencies; and a few rare places where we are being told something instead of being shown--but these are easily overlooked in the pure joy of reading such a light-hearted, funny, yet thoughtful account of being gay.

This is a positive, affirming book about being gay, being who you are, accepting yourself and others, and believing in yourself. Highly recommended.

-Added June 2006


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