Love, Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Published: 17th September 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
RHCP Digital
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

GROWING UP. FALLING IN LOVE. COMING OUT.

Frankie is nearly fourteen and teenage life certainly comes with its ups and downs. Her mum is seriously ill with MS and Frankie can feel herself growing up quickly, no thanks to Sally and her gang of bullies at school.

When Sally turns out to be not-so-mean after all, they strike up a friendship and are suddenly spending all of their time together.

But Frankie starts to wonder whether these feelings she has for Sally are stronger than her other friendships. Might she really be in love?

Frankie doesn’t want Sally to just be her friend. She wants her to be her girlfriend. But does Sally feel the same?

I picked this up because I was looking for some LGBTQIA books that were directed at younger audiences and while this does have a storyline of a hopeful romance, it honestly falls short. There are a lot of things to praise Wilson for, she shows a strong character who deals with her sick mother and stands up to bullies which is good, but this wasn’t the coming out story I was expecting.

That’s not to say it isn’t there at all. There are a few major themes playing out through this narrative from illness, bullying, as well as a young girl trying to work out if she loves her new friend. Wilson combines all of these together well so we see and understand the pressure Frankie is under concerning her mother and the girls at school, but also her own internal struggles she has to come to terms with.

I found myself becoming worried for Frankie and what Sally’s intentions were for her, I didn’t want to read about any homophobic slurs, especially since Frankie is so unsure herself and since the blurb wasn’t matching up with the story I was reading. However Wilson brings it together in a slow but sure way and you see the start of a story between these girls where there is something more than friendship on the cards.

This story is young adult but it is very much aimed at the low end with younger readers. There is drinking and talk of drugs but none are actually done and there is never a feeling of long term between Frankie and Sally, more is placed on the long lasting friendship than the romance. But it is still an important story about young girls of thirteen and fourteen discovering who they are.

While it feels unresolved and open, the ending is positive in its own way. Not to have Sally outed if she isn’t ready is an unspoken hurdle but there is a light in the future for both girls. The story ends in hope for Frankie and for her mother as well which is a good decision from Wilson given the young age of her main character. For young teens trying to work out their own sexuality it is a stepping stone to show how small steps can feel like big steps and at this age there doesn’t need to be definitive answers or pressure. It just wasn’t the full experience I was looking for and it fell flat in terms of voice. I may have forgiven it if it fell into the junior category, but bumping this into the YA group I wanted a strong voice and writing style that felt less childlike.

You can purchase Love, Frankie via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Published: 10th July 2007 (print)/22 December 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon Schuster/Audible Studios
Pages: 294/6 hrs
Narrator: Sunil Malhotra
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

“Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys’ clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.”

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady’s first love.

Why did I read this? I saw three one star reviews before I started but decided to see for myself. Yeah, no. One star is about right. Look, it isn’t the worst book I have read, but the fact it is trying to tell a trans story and if I, with my limited knowledge and experience, know that this is a terrible story then I can only imagine how any trans people reading it must feel.

I disliked this pretty early on. There is one sentence that told me this story wasn’t going to be right and it only got worse as it went along. The entire thing revolves around Grady and his attempt to be himself. Commendable, brave, all those things in a small town USA high school of course were going to be a challenge, but where Wittlinger has failed is she’s made these big emotional and social changes into small hurdles that all get overcome and resolved in the space of a few weeks and now everything is ok. I felt it brushed over trans issues quickly and at times barely mentioned anything about them at all.

Away from that, the characters themselves had no depth, they are forgettable, one dimensional, and honestly some of things coming out of their mouths is problematic on a whole different level. They are quick things, often said in a single sentence but stick with you. There’s racism, fatshaming, whatever it’s called where we’re still apparently making fun of people for “being a geek”, plus there’s a whole thing about trying to hook up with a girl who has a boyfriend. It’s as if Wittlinger needed to make everything around Grady nice so when the few bad things happen it stands out, but also have everyone around him be less somehow, so these key characters could feel superior. It felt weird and grubby at times and I hated reading about the mocking of these characters.

The one saving grace of this story is that it’s short. Malhotra does an ok job on narration, there isn’t much distinction in his voices for each character but I was too focused on the issues with the writing to worry too much about the voices. The stereotypes, the sexism, and the insensitivity throughout is astounding and it is evident Wittlinger has no concept of what being a boy means other than a short haircut and typical boy clothing. I am so glad I have read and know there are better trans books out there to enjoy because if this was my first point of call to books about coming out or an introduction to the trans community I would not only horribly misinformed but incredibly disappointed.

You can purchase Parrotfish via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond | Amazon

Amazon Aust | Audible

Pulp by Robin Talley

Published: 13 November 2018 (print)/13 November 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HQ Young Adult/Harlequin
Pages: 406/11 hrs and 48 mins
Narrator: Stephanie Cannon
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favourite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

I loved this story. I loved how Talley created these two lives that shone on the page so well and their bravery and determination, passion and heart comes through. Talley has been remarkably clever with this story; dual narrators but if often feels like there are four. You get the story of Janet and Abby, but you also get each of their stories that they’re writing. We get snippets of the lives of their fictional characters and it was a great way to include each story and reflect on how they gained inspiration and changed their ideas. Told across two different eras it blends together beautifully and seamlessly, interconnecting and mirroring but each voice and experience unique.

The similar experiences mirrored back sixty years apart was clever and Talley has done a great job in cementing us in each era without needing to go into heavy detail or description. Fashions are included naturally; jobs, society and the general societal beliefs at the time comes through in dialogue and character actions and activities and this helped keep the story about the characters. Talley doesn’t set things up so we know we’re in the 50s, aside from the date to show a change we’re thrown right in and pick it up almost immediately based on the writing. It’s almost as if we’ve started reading right in the middle of Janet’s life, already playing out as we’ve arrived. The different worlds but same experiences are a great reminder of common experience and that young love, family drama, and outside forces happen all the time.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of the narrative because learning more about pulp stories and how and why they were created was a fascinating story to be woven into the fictional lives. Janet and Abby both offer perspectives about its purpose from both consuming it, as well as discovering it historically and seeing the evolution. It was a great way to weave in the romances and the friendships, as well as the personal dramas. They provide an escape, an outlet, and inspiration for both girls and their lives.

Nothing in this story felt like it was wasted. Every action, scene and conversation had intention and whether that was to bring depth to friendships, explain about lives and circumstances or the history of LGBTQIA struggles. The world that Janet lives in isn’t fun and even seeing the contrast with Abby’s where it’s more open and accepting, where her friends are out and proud with their various identities, the sharp contrast back to Janet where even the idea of holding another girl’s hand in a certain way would be enough to endanger you is shocking as you forget it wasn’t that long ago and is still happening today no matter how far we’ve come.

There’s so much going for this novel – the characters are likeable, it puts you into the world and each character feels established and unique. The story is slow but it builds into a story that is enriching and fascinating and one that was full of little surprises.

You can purchase Pulp via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Jacob’s Room to Choose by Sarah and Ian Hoffman

Published: 7th May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Magination Press
Illustrator: Chris Case
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The beloved lead character from Jacob’s New Dress is back in an encouraging story about gender expression. When Jacob goes to the boys’ bathroom he is chased out because the boys think he looks like a girl because of the way he is dressed. His classmate, Sophie, has a similar experience when she tries to go to the girls’ bathroom. When their teacher finds out what happened, Jacob and Sophie, with the support of administration, lead change at their school as everyone discovers the many forms of gender expression and how to treat each other with respect.

Jacob is back and once again Sarah and Ian Hoffman have made a nice story that is about acceptance, understanding, and education. We’re introduced to Jacob’s friend Sophie, we aren’t give a backstory on this character but she is Jacob’s friend and dresses in typically masculine dress. She, like Jacob, experience problems when trying to use the bathroom.

Neither Jacob or Sophie are presented as being trans, but their different ways of expressing themselves makes them appear to others like their opposite gender which results in issues when trying to use the bathrooms at school. I loved the exercise the teacher has the class conduct because it is a basic, visual experiment that not everyone looks alike nor does it matter who uses the bathroom because everyone must go at some point. In both stories about Jacob the teacher has been a fighting force which is fantastic, even the small nudges make huge impacts and I love seeing adults so supportive and understanding.

I also love that these books are about gender expression and gender non-conformity. It fills the gap between cisgender and trans books which kids can easily understand and be educated on. The authors are writing from experience and they use this to create a heartfelt story showing that education really works and everyone deserves to feel safe and happy no matter where they are. I loved that these lessons can be taught to kids from an early age, the problems come, as the author’s message at the back states, with those who are older who haven’t been taught these messages of acceptance.

Once again Case’s illustrations help represent the message the story is trying to convey. The pictures are a mix of full page and small patches on the page but they tell the same story with a lot of emotion behind them in the character’s actions and expressions.

I’ll be interested to see if there are future books about Jacob because It’s love to see the Hoffman’s cover other situations and challenges the gender non-conforming kids will face.

You can purchase Jacob’s Room to Choose via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

Introducing Teddy by Jess Walton

Published: 31st May 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Illustrator: Dougal MacPherson
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

One sunny day, Errol finds that Thomas the Teddy is sad, and Errol can’t figure out why. Then Thomas the Teddy finally tells Errol what Teddy has been afraid to say: ‘In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl Teddy, not a boy Teddy. I wish my name was Tilly.’ And Errol says, ‘I don’t care if you’re a girl teddy or a boy teddy! What matters is that you are my friend.’

This is a beautiful story about Thomas the teddy, his friend Errol and Thomas’ desire to be his true self.

The narrative is a lot simpler than what I was expecting, but it is still a great story because it doesn’t complicate anything. We’re shown Thomas the Teddy’s fears about not having a friend anymore when he tells his friend his secret, but we’re also shown acceptance and love when he does.

Walton shows that nothing changes in teddy and Errol’s routine, it is exactly the same and she shows that telling people and showing them who you really are can be easy and matter of fact as well. Highlights have to be how Teddy’s friends immediately switch to her new pronouns when she tells them she would like to be Tilly instead of Thomas.

The illustrations by MacPherson are adorable, simple but descriptive as well, and I love that Teddy and Errol have this fun relationship that they continue to have when Errol learns Teddy would like to be Tilly.

Because it is a simple narrative it doesn’t take away the importance, but it is an easy to understand story for kids and with all the main moments covered by Walton’s story it is a great way to explore the topic. As the subtitle on the book says, it is a gentle guide to gender and friendship.

You can purchase Introducing Teddy via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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