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YA Review Throwdown 8/22/17

August 22, 2017

I wound up reading books that sort of paired off with each other, which made for an interesting reading experience, even though some of the characterizations and plot points blurred a bit, and possibly invited comparisons. Possibly unfair ones. Once I had the thought, I couldn’t escape it. I read a bunch of books that paired off. And wound up in cage matches. So here we go.

Small Town Preachers’ Kids With Big Questions About Sexuality

Cover image for Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin BrownGeorgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit 
by Jaye Robin Brown
HarperTeen
(Library Book)
Joanna has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and moves the family from Atlanta to a small, conservative town, he asks Jo to keep her sexuality a secret and pass for straight. Which gets even more difficult, once Jo meets her friend’s sister, Mary Carlson… who might be interested in Jo, too.
This was a fun read. I liked the supporting cast of Jo’s friends at school. And I was really interested in how central her faith was, both in her own narrative and thoughts, and in her relationship with her father. She’s secure in her relationship to God, which I think might be a rarity in teen novels in general, and possibly especially so for teen novels where they’re wrangling about sexuality and identity. I like how religion was handled here. but I’ve read scifi with less contrived, more plausible plot devices than “pass as straight, and I’ll give you a teen show on my christian radio station” “Okay, Dad!” Or… maybe that’s my own city bias showing? At best, the odd plot setup is a way to rehash a coming-out storyline, and I think the book world needs more stories where teen characters have claimed their identity as GLBTQIA, and are going on with the teen business of first loves and self discovery.  In any case: odd setup, but a fun, worthwhile book I’d rec to teens.

Jacket image of Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney StevensDress Codes for Small Towns
by Courtney S Stephens
Billie and her group of friends are a close-knit group, calling themselves The Hexagon, some of whom have deep, longtime roots in their small town home, and others who are relative newcomers. I loved getting to know the whole crew of them: Billie, Mash, Davey, Woods, Fifty, and Janie Lee. Billie’s the preacher’s daughter, definitely a tomboy, definitely an artist who likes to do big sculptures. (I want to see the Daily Sit, her couch made of layers of newspaper papier mache, in real life). All her life, she’s had trouble fitting into the mold of people’s expectations… and the fact that the first scene is her and her friends accidentally almost burning down the Church Youth Center tells you a lot about the shenanigans she and her friends get into. Billie, and to an extent, Davey and some of the other characters figuring out who they are, and who and how they’re experiencing first love, is just part of how the characters are figuring things out. They’re also trying to save the town’s heritage, in the form of the Corn Dolly festival. And trying to restore their goodwill by doing community service to atone for the accidental fire. And going to a costume contest at a science fiction convention. And sitting around being very funny and giving each other grief, like good friends.
My one quibble with this book is the way the story kept jumping into things like text messages, and Davey’s perspective and emails to tell his story. Those moments helped move events along, but felt abrupt and off balance in the whole.
Even though there are elements of romance, I absolutely love the found-family sense of the Hexagon’s friendship. And I love the fact that it tackles the complexity, and fluidity of love and identity, as Billie defies real labels to just be her own self.

Winner: Dress Codes for Small Towns, though I really do appreciate the discussion of faith in Georgia Peaches. In fact, I read both of these books in May, and have been wanting to have Dress Codes on my library shelf, to hand to teens and adults who like YA lit.

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