Book: Wide Awake

"Wide Awake"

Everything seems to be going right in Duncan’s life: The candidate he’s been supporting for president has just won the election. Duncan’s boyfriend, Jimmy, is with him to celebrate. Love and kindness appear to have won the day.

But all too quickly, things start to go wrong. The election is called into question…and Duncan and Jimmy’s relationship is called into question, too. Suddenly Duncan has to decide what he’s willing to risk for something he believes in…and how far he’s willing to go to hold on to the people he holds dear.

Perfectly weaving together a heartfelt love story and a possible political future, David Levithan has crafted an insightfully drawn novel that reminds us how history is built–one action, one person, and one belief at a time.

I really don’t like Duncan’s boyfriend, Jimmy. I understand that this is a weird way to start my reaction piece, but it seemed right that I should begin with that.

Jimmy is a bully, and I don’t like the book completely because I kept thinking that he doesn’t deserve Duncan who just wants to be loved. Oh, sure, he’s not the only gray character in the book, and we actually have a couple of characters who do worse things. But neither one gets a happily ever after, why should Jimmy?

He did not repent. He did not learn anything. He is being rewarded for being a bully.

And I think it’s safe to say that the book really affected me. At the same time, I think this is David Levithan’s most reaching work. Both in a good way, and in a bad way.

The good: Wide Awake has realistic characters. Yes, even bully Jimmy is a realistic portrayal of someone who is maligned, but feels superior to other people.

The way Levithan writes his characters to deal with reality is exceptional. And inspiring. The good characters, like Duncan and Janna (who you’ll meet within the pages of the book), will want you to become a better person. Their actions reach into your heart, touches it, and tells you that it’s okay to go against the grain, to go for what you believe in, provided that you’re not hurting anyone.

And the bad: the whole thing is wrapped up too cleanly, I think. It’s awesome that good triumphs over evil. But come on, after showing us realistic representations, the outcome could’ve been more realistic too.

I mean, I like the happy ending. But in real life, the opponent would’ve put up a bigger fight. Things would not have been that peaceful. And parents would’ve done everything to get their children back into their homes.

Maybe it’s because I’m not American and don’t really have first-hand knowledge of their culture and how parent-children relationships work there. Maybe. But you would think these so-called loving and caring parents would love and care more about their children who are in a few states over, taking a stand in a political rally that they know could go wrong in so many ways.

Wide Awake is a great dream. So long as you set an alarm for a wake up call.

Book: On the Count of Three

"On the Count of Three"

When Nina comes back from the first ever Summer that she’s been separate from her two best friends in the world, Avery and Mel, she has huge news. She met an amazing guy during her leadership program in California and she’s literally counting the hours until she gets to see him again. But Mel and Avery are acting strange–they don’t react to her homecoming as she expects. Suddenly she’s an outsider, and she has no idea why.

Turns out something huge happened while Nina was away. Mel had her first kiss.

With Avery.

I plead guilty. Yes, I have been looking for LGBT novels to help me with writing scripts for My Husband’s Lover. I’ve been talking to LGBT people too, of all sexes. The fun thing about doing this? I get to meet a lot of new people, I learn about so many new things–and I get to discover books like this.

Granted, On the Count of Three isn’t really an LGBT novel. It focuses more on friendship and coming of age–it just so happens that it has a lesbian character. And I’m actually very happy about this. Because it doesn’t make an issue about being gay. Well–

Sure, the book tackles homosexuality. But it does it in such a way that’s not at all preachy, or all-knowing, or whatever. It doesn’t look down on it, nor does it put it up on a pedestal. Author Maureen Johnson treats it like an everyday thing. Like it’s normal.

Because it is normal.

Once we get past the characters’ initial shock at having a lesbian among their midst, it’s business as usual: angst, love, and the entire spectrum of teenage drama come parading down.

Do I think it’s a good book? Yes. More than the fact that it treats the lesbian character as a normal character, I believe that the book has a nice statement: that friends can come and go, but in the end, it’s up to you to keep hold of them. That friendship isn’t something you can take for granted, that you have to work for it. And that friendship can be destroyed–but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

On the Count of Three also goes by the title The Bermudez Triangle, by the way. I prefer the first title because the book isn’t just about Nina Bermudez, our anchor. Conflicting, I know. How can the book not be about Nina when she’s also our anchor? Well, while the novel is her story mainly, it’s also the story of Mel and Avery, her friends. We can even say that it’s the story of Parker–a guy they meet and befriend. And while they’re a part of the triangle, they’re not Bermudezes. And On the Count of Three actually has a meaning attached to it, which may not be apparent to everyone.

Going back to the story, I do have one minor complaint about the book: the Nina chapters at the beginning. They’re kind of boring. I get that we’re trying to establish the normalcy in Nina’s life, but this causes a problem for me since I believe that Nina isn’t more of a main character than Mel and Avery. The three of them, in my opinion, are given the same weight in propelling the story. Take any one of them out, and the whole thing might collapse.

So when we begin with Nina being all lovey-dovey with Steve, a relationship we won’t see much in the succeeding chapters, I can’t help but feel as if my time was wasted on reading about Steve. Steve who from then on mainly serves as Nina’s sounding board.

And, well, the chapters with Nina and Steve falling in love were really boring. And Nina is grating whenever Steve is involved.

Aside from this though, the novel is A+ in my book. It tackles the issue of friendship in a manner few books do: realistically. It helped, I guess, that all three friends are main characters. The other two aren’t just hanger ons. They’re their own characters too. They’re as three-dimensional as our anchor.

Which is why the friendship story works for me.

Also, I really like how Maureen Johnson has structured the story in such a way that you would be okay with any kind of ending. The ending we get, the happily ever after, works because we see the roots of the friendship. And we see how different it is in the end, to what it was when we begin reading the book.

But had the author chosen to go a different route, to a not-as-happy ending, I think it would work though. That’s the power of having characters that are very complete. Of characters who all have journeys, and who all grew as people. You will be ready to accept whatever their fate is. Because they’re not the same people they were before. Because they may have changed, maybe not all for the better, but definitely for good.

Yes, I just quoted a musical line. Well, paraphrased. And I’m not sorry because it fits.

On the Count of Three is a great story about friendship and growing up. And it’s one I very much recommend to anyone looking for a good realistic story of what happens when we grow up, when we find ourselves diverging from the path we made with our friends.

But don’t just take my word for it. Find out what other people have said about the book as well:
Novel Attraction
Dragons, Robots, etc.

Book: The God Box

"The God Box"

Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they’re good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he’s also a committed Christian

Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel’s interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to re-evaluate everything he believed. Manuel’s outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand.

If you’re into reading diaries, then this book is for you. Unfortunately, I’m not. That’s not to say the book wasn’t well-written. I thought it was. I still think it is. I guess I was just expecting something else.

No, I’m not going to diss the novel. Because even though I was expecting something else, and even though I didn’t like the fact that it read like a journal–I still liked what the book was trying to say.

I’ve been on the lookout for a Young Adult novel that dealt with homosexuality for a few weeks now. I haven’t kept it a secret that I’m part of GMA-7’s My Husband’s Lover, right? All right. Anyway, if you hadn’t known before, now you do.

Thing is, with worlds I’m not familiar with, I go to great lengths at getting to know said world. I did this for Bantatay before, for Futbolilits, and Indio. Now, I’m doing the same for My Husband’s Lover. And I must say, The God Box is a very enlightening novel.

Again, it reads like a diary. In my case, even if I wasn’t a fan of how the story was being told, I still think that it’s the best way of getting its point across. It helped me get into the mind of at least one gay character. Sure, he was fictional, but I don’t think the struggles that were presented in the book were. Homosexuality has always gone hand-in-hand with discrimination, and the book dealt with this topic honestly. Realistically. And that’s what I wanted to know more about.

(Last aside: I’m not limiting myself to this book to get to know more about the homosexual lifestyle. That’s just another way of stereotyping, isn’t it? I’m also talking with people, with friends, and watching films that deal with the topic.)

The God Box really does a great job of presenting the homosexual lifestyle in a religious context. It presents the confusion, the acceptance, and the fear, with great care and respect. It does a great job at presenting to a straight audience the challenges of being gay without asking for sympathy, nor does it take a high morale ground.

I really have to commend author Alex Sanchez at how he handled the topic.

I didn’t care to find out what the author’s sexual orientation is. I don’t think it should have any bearing on the final product. If Mr. Sanchez turns out to be gay, then I applaud him for not being one who makes out his characters as victims. If he’s straight, then I applaud him even more for presenting realistic characters with realistic fears.

I especially like how the main character didn’t get his questions answered in black and white. He reached a conclusion on his own. He made his decisions. And then he lived with them.

Really, The God Box is a very good novel.

Of course, you shouldn’t take just my word for it:
Guys Lit Wire
Helen’s Book Blog
The Black Sheep