SHINE

Patrick is a victim of a gay bashing hate crime. He was beaten tied to a gas pump with the nozzle taped into his mouth, suck on this was written in his own blood on his chest and then left to die. Now he is in a coma, and sixteen-year-old Cat, his former best friend, is investigating what really happened. The police are incompetent and want to believe that it was out of town boys who came looking for trouble and who can never be found. It sounds pretty clear-cut, but it’s more complicated than that. There’s all sorts of relationship dynamics between the inhabitants of this small town, and, of course, there’s the small-town mentality that Cat needs to overcome, especially considering that Patrick was supposedly attacked because he’s a homosexual.

Cat is threatened when she asks too many questions, but the threats only make her angrier and more determined to find the answers. In the process of digging up information about Patrick’s attack, Cat also has to dig up her own past and the emotions she buried a long time ago.

This is the town that Cat grew up in; these are people that she knows and have relationships with. Some of them she’s had bad experiences with; some were her former best friends. There  is a lot of emotional depth in the young adult novel. Ironically the novel is essentially about a gay youth but he is barely in the book.

Well worth the read.

SECOND PERSON SINGULAR

SAYED KASHUA

“Second Person Singular” follows two main characters, one  “the lawyer,” the other Amir Lahab, a poor Arab from the occupied territories who moves to Jerusalem to study and become a social worker. The lawyer, too, is from a small village in the territories, and as their stories unfold, it becomes clear each is trying to leave not only class, but a large part of their Arabic heritage behind.

Amir lands a job as a caretaker for a comatose Jew about his own age, working the overnight hours in the young man’s house shared with his wealthy mother. Trouble begins when the lawyer buys some second hand books. The comatose young man’s name is inscribed in the book from which falls a note in the lawyer’s wife’s handwriting. “I waited for you, but you didn’t come,” the note says. “I hope everything’s all right. I wanted to thank you for last night. It was wonderful. Call me tomorrow?” This drives the lawyer completely insane with jealousy as he imagines his wife with another man.

Both the lawyer and Amir leave their villages in flights from their pasts, and as steps to different futures. The lawyer is ambitious , he works hard to become accepted among upper-class Arabs in Israel, and by Jews, as well. Though his rise as a criminal defense lawyer isn’t driven by a social conscience. He has constructed a persona, pursued his career simply because it buys him the social access and acceptance he so craves. A liberal in conversation with the self-important crowd with which he socializes (premarital sex is fine, gays should be treated as equals, women are victims across the Arab world), the small-town traditionalist within bubbles to the surface when he talks himself into being a cuckold.  Amir is driven by fear of returning to his village and his mother’s scandal-wracked past. He goes one step further than the lawyer in trying to create a new sense of self: He assumes another identity completely, begins to speak only Hebrew, and forges a career in Jerusalem as a Jew.

An unusual story coming out of Israel and Palestine. A good read.

TALK FUNNY GIRL

ROLAND MERULLO

Marjorie is a strong character who is tortured at home and at church. You would have to be strong to survive such an upbringing.  At seventeen Marjorie is the only child of  parents who live off their daughter’s earnings and beat her silly for any kind of conduct — good or bad. They do all this in the name of God, whom they worship in a little church where children are routinely inflicted with hideous torments, such as immersion in freezing water, for their real or imaginary sins. The congregation is bound together in an unspoken understanding that not only do the members get to torture their children, they’re encouraged to twist their evil conduct into righteousness. In the church children are seen as the worst sinners.

Marjorie “talks funny,” as does her father and his ancestors. “We talk like the same for everybody,” but she knows that isn’t true. Her family members have withdrawn from civilization so thoroughly and completely that language has begun to leave them. “Most high school kids would have tried to change, I know that,” she says, “would have tried desperately to fit in. But I had a lot of my father in me then, the same woundedness, the same fierce stubbornness. . . . I knew our speech was odd, obviously, but it had been natural to me for so long that, really, I preferred the sound of it to standard American English.” Marjorie and her family members are freaks, half savage, not entirely human.

Her Aunt is her saving grace.  “Whenever I saw Aunt Elaine I had another glimpse of that kind of life,” she says. “During all those years there was a way in which I believed people like that were a different species. There had been an invisible wall that stood between their lives and mine, something impossible to climb over or break through.”

An interesting read. Could have used some editing.

THE VIRGIN CURE

AMY MCKAY

The virgin cure refers to the belief that men can be cured of syphilis by having sex with a virgin. This same misbelief will be repeated 150 years later about AIDS in certain parts of the world only spreading the disease further. McKay’s novel takes place in New York in the later part of the 19th century. It is a good companion novel to “The Gods of Gotham” which took place 50 years earlier. Gotham explored New York’s dark side from the point of view of  the first detective when NYPD was first created. Virgin Cure explores the same territory but from the point of view of a 13 year old child. Moth’s mother sells Moth into service into a fine house. There is always food on the table; a kindly butler gives her advise. But the lady of the house is abusive, beating her with a fan and slapping her face all the while demanding affection and kisses.  She doesn’t want to leave  because she believes her mothers continues to receive financial assistance for her work. When she is attacked with a knife she knows she has to leave.

Arriving at her mothers home she finds strangers living in the tenement. Her mother has left and Moth is out on the street. Eventually she is taken to a brothel to be trained for a whore. There she meets a kindly female doctor, Sadie, who actually based on the authors great-great-grandmother.

IN ONE PERSON

JOHN IRVING

Irving is a great American novelist. In his latest novel he revisits themes of transgender and bisexuality. He follows the narrator, Billy Abbott, through his life as a student in a boys school, Favorite River Academy, in the 50’s when he was 13, through the AIDS crisis in the 80’s to 2010 when he is 60.

Billy is in the town library of First Sister, Vt., hopelessly infatuated with the librarian, Miss Frost. He is clutching a copy of “Great Expectations.”“ ‘There are a lot of books by Charles Dickens,’ Miss Frost told me. ‘You should try a different one, William.’ . . .“Miss Frost’s second reference to me as William had given me an instant erection — though, at 15, I had a small penis. . . . (Suffice it to say, Miss Frost was in no danger of noticing that I had an erection.)” Miss Frost knows nothing of Billy’s sexual anguish as he tries to check out “Great Expectations” for the second time. Billy knows that only two things matter to him at 15 — to be a writer, and to sleep with Miss Frost — “not necessarily in that order.” Billy’s first sexual experience was with this transgendered librarian in the basement of the library. He loved her small breasts and preferred small breasts on his female partners. When Billy slept with Miss Frost for the first time, he believed she was a woman. When he returned for more, he knew she was a woman with a penis.

 His lumberyard baron grandfather express his cross-dressing tendencies by acting in school and local theatre productions in female parts. He actually performed Caliban from the Tempest as a woman. When his wife died he kept her clothes to wear as his own. His father is a gay man living in Europe.
The novel end and begins with: “Don’t make me a category before you get to know me.”  A Great Read!

JERUSALEM: Chronicles from the Holy City

GUY DELISLE

Jerusalem is a graphic memoir of Delisle’s living in Jerusalem with his wife who works with Médecins Sans Frontières. His two previous memoirs were also excellent: ShenzenPyongyang and Burma Chronicles. Delisle illustrates the mundane and the fascinating aspects of the places he chronicles with an incredible eye for detail. He begins with the flight to Israel, a jovial old Russian man on the plane to the city calms Delisle’s cranky child by hoisting her in the air. Delisle is surprised to see concentration-camp serial numbers tattooed along his forearm: “We’ve seen so many horrific images from that time in history,” Delisle remarks, “that my imagination just takes off. But I’m treated to a whole other picture tonight, as this old Russian plays with my daughter thousands of feet in the air.”

Jerusalem provides both an excellent introduction to the conflict in the Middle East and a fascinating close-up of what it’s like to live in the most sacred city in the world. The city of Hebron,is an example of the deeply rooted strife in Palestine. Delisle guides us through the Old City section of the West Bank community, where Israeli settlers live on one side of the street, and Palestinians on the other, between which famously documented hanging nets prevent them from throwing stones and refuse down onto passersby of the opposite religion.

Delisle is astounded at the desensitization of Jerusalemites to repression. Men go for jogs with assault rifles strapped to their backs, and whether or not one can visit certain neighbourhoods depends on a number of factors, including your ability to cite the proper religious prayers, your dress, the day of the week and which soldiers are on duty.

Jerusalem is a must read.

THE GODS OF GOTHAM

LYNDSAY FAYE

Gotham is historical fiction of the time the NYPD was created against the wishes of the populous who feared the creation of a standing army. These untrained “copper stars” patrolled the city in 16-hour shifts, trying to keep members of the populace from robbing, swindling, thrashing, raping and murdering one another. Timothy Wilde was assigned to patrol the Sixth Ward, the most dangerous area of New York at the time. It was full of lawless street gangs, abandoned children and ramshackle slums teeming with impoverished immigrants. Tim encounters new depths of depravity when 10-year-old Bird Daly alerts him to the activities of a serial killer in a black hood who is kidnapping and butchering child prostitutes — “kinchin-mabs,” as they’re known in the street slang called “flash-patter.” Tim is assigned by the head of the police department to detect who the killer is, thus becoming New York’s first detective.

This takes place when the Potato Famine in Ireland is worsening and thousands of immigrants are fleeing to the new world. In 1850 New York had a population of 60 000 in 50 years it had increased to 500 000. You can imagine the social problems created in that situation.