Author Guest Post: The Whispers By Greg Howard

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Hey, everyone! Today I’m super excited to participate in the blog tour for The Whispers by Greg Howard, a moving LGBT middle grade debut released on January 15th and available in stores and online. Check out the book teaser below, then read a guest post by the author on queer representation in middle grade fiction.

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Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again. 

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

The Whispers is a middle grade novel that features a queer protagonist. What influenced you to write LGBTQ middle grade and what are some of the positives or challenges of writing in this genre? Do you have any LGBTQ middle grade book recommendations?

Like Riley, the main character in The Whispers, I grew up a queer kid in the rural deep South. When I was Riley’s age, I never saw myself in books, television, or movies and that was very lonely and isolating. I sometimes thought I was the only little boy in the world who liked other boys instead of girls. While this story was first and foremost inspired by my mother, I also wanted to write it for all the queer kids still living out there in areas where they feel they must hide who they really are. I want them to feel seen, represented, and understand that they matter. If I can just reach a handful of those kids with Riley’s message of hope, then I will be thrilled.

The biggest challenge when writing for this age group however, is getting a book past the gatekeepers and into the hands of the kids who need it the most. Fortunately, librarians are some of the most progressive thinkers I’ve met.

While LGBTQ kids are still massively underrepresented in middle grade fiction in comparison to young adult, a few of my favorites are The Best Man by Richard Peck, George by Alex Gino, and Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle.

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Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

Thanks so much for your insights on LGBT middle grade fiction and for sharing more about your inspiration for Riley’s character! The Whispers is a middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

If you want to catch up on the tour’s stops so far, check out the blog posts below!

January 14 – Novel Novice – Creative Instagram Picture + Spotlight 

January 15 – Pages Unbound – Author Q&A

January 16 – Bookish Connoisseur – Creative Instagram Picture

January 17 – Velarisreads – Review

January 18 – The Desert Bibliophile – Playlist

January 21 – Bookish Bug – Review + Creative Instagram Picture

January 22 – A Bronx Latina Reads – Review

January 23 – Buttons Book Reviews – Author Q&A 

January 24 – The Hermit Librarian – Review + Book Aesthetic

YA Review: Tomboy by Liz Prince

Title: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir 

Author: Liz Prince

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Adventure Time artist and webcomic writer Liz Prince explores what being a girl meant for her growing up as a staunch tomboy, which she saw as someplace in between masculine and feminine. As Prince navigates her adolescence as a middle and high schooler, she pushes gender expectations aside and finds meaning in her tomboy identity.

What I loved: As a trans guy, this novel was fascinating for me to read. So many of Prince’s growing up experiences matched my own—like me, she also would consider it a compliment when strangers saw her as male, she felt most comfortable while wearing men’s clothes, and as a child, she hoped that she would eventually become a man. Yet she does not seem to identify as transgender but instead as a woman who defies gender expectations. I thought about this, wondering if I could have found solace as a “tomboy” in the same way, but I don’t think I could have.

But you know, that’s okay. I think both of our perspectives are valid. It goes to show how diverse and personal gender identity can be and how important it is to define that for yourself. Gender can be as complex or as simple as you make it to be, and there’s enough room in this world for cis men and women, tomboys, trans folk, and everyone else on that spectrum to find self-actualization. If you want to think a little more about your own relationship with gender, you might find this book a good starting point.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of Liz Prince’s books. She’s got a perspective that I can relate to but how she processes it is different enough that I’m able to learn from her. Her take on gender goes beyond both traditionalist and more liberal perspectives, and she defines her gender identity in an individualistic way that everyone could learn from.

Quote: In lieu of a quote, I thought a little snippet from the graphic novel would be more appropriate:

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Recommended: If you like graphic memoirs, which I am personally a big fan of, you might find this one both humorous and heartfelt. I haven’t read Prince’s book on her long-term relationship, Will You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed?, but sure want to now. And, y’know, if you were a tomboy growing up (or still are) … this one might be a little cathartic for ya. All in all, highly recommended!

Next: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera