To almost everyone who knows her, Amy Sturgess is a stressed out woman trying to climb up the ladder in the marketing world. She’s pretty good at it, too…or at least she would be if her second job didn’t keep interfering with all aspects of her life: she’s the superhero named Starling.
Amy takes the concept of trying to juggle it all to a new level, and it’s been blowing up in her face more frequently. She’s good at her job, but to her coworkers, she just looks flaky since she’s always running off to “go to the bathroom” (her explanation for all that time allegedly spent on the toilet is hilarious). In reality, she’s changing into her Starling costume to go fight bad guys.
But lately, she’s been slacking on that, too. She procrastinates and shows up late to stop the bad guys. Rather than dutifully stop crime and hand the criminals over to the police, she’s started tuning into the hard luck stories that made the criminals turn to crime. Superheroes are supposed to be assertive, moralistic, and see things in black and white. Starling, on the other hand, pops Xanax before flying off to her next criminal encounter, often shows up looking disheveled, and sometimes even helps the bad guys! It all goes downhill from there when superhero life and real life collide.
Following a homophobic attack on one of their high school classmates, seventeen-year-olds Harry and Craig are two ex-boyfriends (and current best friends) on a mission: they plan to break the world record for longest recorded kiss. They get the okay to do it on the lawn of their campus, and it’s game on: they’ll have to kiss for at least thirty-two hours, twelve minutes, and ten seconds, and they’ll have to do it standing.
Meanwhile, a blue-haired boy named Ryan and a pink-haired transsexual boy named Avery have just met at a gay prom; they’ve clicked and are tentatively working out what happens next. In another town, longtime teen couple Peter and Neil are going through their relationship ups and downs. And in yet another town, terrified Cooper is keeping his sexuality a closely guarded secret and acting out in unhealthy ways as a result.
Narrating it all — rejoicing in the strides made in the past couple of decades and commiserating over the painful things that have yet to change — is a chorus of gay men who lost their lives to AIDS:
You can’t know what it is like for us now — you will always be one step behind.
Be thankful for that.
You can’t know what it was like for us then — you will always be one step ahead.
Be thankful for that, too.
Trust us: There is a nearly perfect balance between the past and the future. As we become the distant past, you become a future few of us would have imagined.
While there are breaks in the narrative, there are no chapters in Two Boys Kissing. All of the stories are weaved together and flow continuously, with the narrators dividing their attention among the different stories in the book.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Things You’re Thankful For (it can be bookish or not). I went with bookish. As you might imagine, this is a really really really hard topic to narrow down. These aren’t necessarily my top ten favorite books ever (although they’re up there), but each left its mark in some major way. They’re listed in alphabetical order, and all of the links lead to Goodreads.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
There aren’t enough words to describe how much I love this book. It’s also always a huge hit with my students, many of whom are reluctant readers. I only use one chapter in class, and they always ask for more (if I could assign the whole book, believe me, I would).
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I think this is the first “school book” that I ever took seriously (and that was in college, which is a terrible and kind of mortifying thing to admit!). It was also my first Morrison book. I think it was just kismet: the book came to me at exactly the right time and we clicked.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
I know. You are shocked.
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
A big chunk of my MA thesis (on images of Mexican immigrant motherhood in Chican@ literature) was based on this book. The storytelling is fabulous. It’s one of my favorites.
This one goes out to all you perverts out there. (The rest of you: just keep on giving me that side-eye.)
This week’s Nonfiction November topic is to match a nonfiction book with a fiction recommendation. I finished up Jesse Bering’s Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us a few weeks ago and have been mulling it over periodically ever since. The premise is pretty straightforward: we’re all “perverts” in one way or another, so (to an extent) we should all be less judgmental and more sympathetic to other people’s deviant desires.
Bering starts with himself as an example. As a gay man, he grew up hearing that people like himself were perverts (among other pejorative things); these days, society as a whole tends to be more accepting towards LGBTQI-identified folks. We’re not quite there yet and there are still plenty of homophobes out there making life miserable for people, but there’s definitely been a cultural shift towards acceptance. The definition of “pervert” has changed somewhat.
And that’s because it’s completely subjective depending on society’s values at any given time. (The original “perverts:” atheists.) Bering dives into a fascinating cultural history of perversion and provides countless interesting/horrifying tidbits along the way. Case in point:
When we hear the phrase “female genital mutilation,” our thoughts usually sail over to Africa, but the practice of eliminating a woman’s capacity for sexual pleasure by removing the critical parts of her anatomy has a distinctively Western history, too. …One of the first uses of radiotherapy was the cauterization of teenage girls’ clitorises to discourage them from masturbating. These X-ray clitoridectomies weren’t happening in backwater clinics, either, but in some of the most fashionable cities in the world, including London and Manhattan. And this was just in the twentieth century.
First off: if you read Ernessa T. Carter’s smart and fabulous 32 Candles a couple of years ago, you’re gonna need to pick up this book ASAP. Because not only do a couple of 32 Candles characters make some appearances in Carter’s second novel, The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men, but this book is even more awesome than 32 Candles was. And that’s saying something, because 32 Candles was pretty freakin’ awesome, AMIRITE?
Okay. Now that that’s settled…
Sharita, Thursday, Risa, and Tammy are single and all about to turn 30. Most of them have known each other since their days at Smith College, and even though they’re all completely different from one another in almost every way, they’re extremely close. Sharita is the level-headed one; she’s a boring accounted with her heart set on finding the perfect Black man to settle down with and start a family. Thursday is pretty and neurotic; she’s an aspiring comedienne who’s estranged from her famous father, a once-successful political hip-hop artist, and she can’t seem to settle down with anyone for more than a month. Risa is an in-your-face rocker who’s trying to make it in the LA music scene; she’s also a lesbian who’s been pining over a lost love for the better part of a decade. And Tammy Farrell — 32 Candles! — is now a model-gorgeous, chirpy, positive thinker who also pines for a lost love; she was badly hurt years ago by a now-famous actor and hasn’t managed to get back into the dating scene.