Small Town Pride by Phil Stamper
Jake came out to his friend Jenna first. Then other kids at school. Last he came out to his parents. His dad decided to support him with a “grand gesture” none other than A HUGE Pride flag – for everyone to see – when Jake got off the school bus.
At school, people were supportive of the flag. Some started wearing Pride pins themselves or putting out Pride signs of their own. Jake hadn’t expected that. Elsewhere, the flag caused a stir. The mayor visited his parents (she lived across the road). She wanted to know what people would think? What next, some asked, a parade? That, Jake had expected. Jake loved his home, his small village, Barton Springs; but he’d always assumed he’d have to leave when he grew up. He’d assumed being gay meant he wasn’t welcome. It occurred to him to give his community the benefit of the doubt, and find out. With Jenna’s help and the support of his parents, Jake set out to organize A Pride Festival. Would his community shut it down? There are lots of books about gay kids, conservative small towns and negative outcomes. Anecdotally, in my own life gay and lesbian friends have – indeed – left the small towns and villages they grew up in to live in more accepting larger cities. Jake and Jenna are well drawn characters. Readers from small towns will cheer for their Pride Festival and maybe, gain some encouragement from their journey.
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Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao
Set in a near future world, Zachary and other kids in this book wear augmented reality portal lens devices. They facilitate playing AR games like Mythrealm but can also be used to access email, social media, the internet in general, etc. Zachary meets another Chinese boy, Simon, in summer school, who seems way too interested in Chinese history, encouraging Zack to look up the first Emperor of China on his portal lens. Simon claims it will help in Mythrealm. Walking home, Zack reluctantly is reading a brief bio. summary when he hears a voice in his head. He’s confused if the feed is coming from his portal lens or someone around him he hadn’t noticed. Before he can work out what is happening, a group of boys he knows through Mythrealm confronts him. The conversation quickly becomes an argument that escalates into violence. As Zack struggles, he sees one of the boy’s eyes are glowing green. A tag, in his portal lens labels the boy a Chinese “malevolent creature of greed” complete with dates, name, and pronunciation. In the midst of this chaotic action, the voice is back repeating a question which Zack eventually answers and the school ground explodes with things that make glowing green eyes seem tame.
“Chaotic action” is an accurate description of the complex plot and world building that ensues in this Canadian novel. The portal lens is a fantastic literary device for inserting snippets of Chinese history into escapes, fight scenes and conversations as Zack, Simon and later Melissa sprint from crisis to crisis. The device also makes it possible for Zack (and the reader) to have some idea what’s going on as he, Simon and Melissa essentially gain super powers from different Chinese emperors - who are their direct blood relations – and embark on a truly unique quest.
Before reading this book I had a vague knowledge and – frankly - not much interest in Chinese history. Now I am intrigued. I actually took notes on a bookmark while I was reading. Something I haven’t done in years. For me and other readers who have no links to China, this book is a thought-provoking window. For Chinese kids, either Daluren or Huaren, this offers what I would guess – for them - might be one of the finest mirrors published in recent years. (For definitions of Daluren or Huaren, read the book! See page 62.) Other bonuses of this book include that its author lives in Vancouver, it is the first in a series and that there are LGBTQ characters.
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Me Three by Susan Juby
Rodney, his sister and mom are forced to move to a small town when Rodney’s celebrity father is forced to stop production of his show because of false accusations from a recent, female guest. Rodney is confused that his friend, Larry – who’s mom worked on the show - won’t answer his calls or texts. He’s also confused that his dad isn’t suing the woman making the false accusations. Eventually, Rodney asks his mom why they aren’t suing the woman – and all the other women who are now also making false accusations. When his mother asks, “Why would we sue the women?” Rodney ends the conversation.
Gradually, Rodney comes to understand that the accusations are not false. Rodney’s perspective offers age appropriate revelations for young boys of what is and isn’t civilized behaviour towards girls (for them) and women (for men). Despite this heavy subject matter, I laughed out loud almost every time I read this book. Rodney’s interactions and comments with his older sister are particularly comedic. Susan Juby’s writing is hilarious. She is one of my very favourite writers. This important book is easy to recommend to anyone looking for a good laugh.
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