MG Guest Post: Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

For today’s post, I am excited to feature a guest blog from Lisa Bunker, the author of the LGBT middle grade book Zenobia July (published on May 21st), as part of the “Hear My Roar” Blog Tour. Thank you so much for sharing your advice for young, LGBT readers as well as more about your book!

After the death of her last surviving birth parent, Zen has moved to live with her cool lesbian aunties in Portland Maine, and takes the opportunity to live and attend school as the girl she has always known herself to be. She’s living in stealth, so when someone posts hateful memes on the school website, she has to decide whether to offer her advanced cyber-skills in pursuit of the hacker, despite the risk of premature outing increased attention may bring.

Zenobia July has several characters in it who identify outside the traditional gender binary. What advice would you give to young readers in a similar situation?

Dear Young Human,

If you’ve started to feel that the traditional binaries are too simple to explain the you-ness of you, cool! Welcome to the Rainbow Family! And, may I step in for a second as your temporary Auntie of choice and offer some thoughts?

First and most importantly, in case no one else has said it to you yet (or even if they have): no matter what word(s) you end up using to describe yourself, you are a beautiful human, worthy to love and be loved, exactly as you are. No footnotes, no conditions, no provisos. That’s for always.  

Secondly, please, if you possibly can, take your time. Identity is as much a journey as a destination, and exploration and experimentation are definitely part of that journey. Some versions of self you try won’t work out, at least not completely. Don’t worry about it! Breathe! Rest when you need to! It’s all part of the process.

That said, when you do feel sure of next steps, I encourage you to take them as soon as you can. I got through my own transition by neither forcing myself when I didn’t feel ready or holding back when I did. It worked out real-world fine.

One more thing about time: if someone in your life is struggling with understanding who you are, try to give them time too. First reactions don’t have to be final reactions, and if they love you, most humans will try to learn and re-connect. Keep yourself as safe as you can while they’re doing their work, and don’t give up on them too soon.

Third point: you are so not alone. I know it feels that way sometimes, but please, try to remember, there are literally millions of other people like you. They can be hard to find, and you won’t connect in a useful way with every single one you meet, but there are still plenty enough that you should always be able find the connection you need. Friend groups, community spaces (real world and online), family of choice…these are the ways the Rainbow Folk support and uplift each other.

And finally: no single identity-marker defines a human. Of course your gender and orientation are crucial facets of your total being, but they are only facets, and you have so many more: your loving heart, your quirky mind, your particular body, your talents and strengths, your blind spots, your knowledge, your humor, the experience of your life until now. All these and more make you who you are, a precious irreplaceable soul, unique and beautiful.

Hang in there, dear! It truly does get better!

Love,

Auntie Lisa

Lisa Bunker lives and writes in Exeter, NH. Zenobia July is her second book; her first, Felix Yz, about a boy fused with alien, came out in 2017. In 2018 she was elected to represent her town in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She is married and has two grown children. Her geekeries include chess, piano, gender, storycraft, and language. You can learn more about her work at lisabunker.net.

The “Hear My Roar” Blog Tour is spreading the word about three brave and inspiring middle grade books being published this year! You can see previous stops in the tour and follow future posts below:

ZENOBIA JULY

WEEK ONE

May 20 – Reed Family Reads – Creative Instagram Picture

May 21 – Tucker the Reader – Review

May 22 – Four Violet Reviews – Craft + Creative Instagram Picture

May 23 – The Quirky Booknerd – Review

WEEK TWO

May 27 – LGBT YA Catalog – Author Guest Post

May 28 – Here’s to Happy Endings – Review + Moodboard

May 29 – The Nerdy Girl Express – Review

May 30 – thebookishfiiasco – Instagram Picture

MY CORNER OF THE RING

WEEK THREE

June 3 – Iwanicki Mom & Daughter Adventures in Teaching – Moodboard

June 4 – Bridget and the Books – Review + Why it’s important for girls to have books on girl power

June 5 – Babybibliophile – Creative Instagram Picture

June 6 – The Book Blondie – Playlist Recommendations + Creative Instagram Picture

WEEK FOUR

June 10 – That Reader Girl – Moodboard

June 11 – Eastern Sunset Reads – Listicle: Other books with Strong Females that come out swinging

June 12 – DJ Reads Books – Reflection + Instagram Picture

June 13 – Between the Shelves – Playlist

GIRL WHO SAILED THE STARS

WEEK FIVE

June 17 – 4dogsandanurse – Review + Playlist

June 18 – Two Points of Interest – Review

June 19 – Always in the Middle – Review

June 20 – Bookish Friends and Feline Fancies – Creative Instagram Picture

WEEK SIX

June 24 – trissinalovesbooks – Review + Creative Instagram Picture + Inspired by the Book: Piano Music

June 25 – Cozybooknook – Creative Instagram Picture

June 26 – Drop and Give Me Nerdy – Creative Instagram Picture

June 27 – DoodleMom’s Homeschooling Life – Review + Listicle

Middle Grade Review: Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

Image result for Summer of a Thousand Pies cover

TitleSummer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Twelve-year-old Cady has never met her Aunt Shell but is sent to her countryside home for the summer. But can she, Aunt Shell, and her aunt’s partner Suzanne save their struggling pie shop from bankruptcy?

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Summer of a Thousand Pies features a lesbian couple, Aunt Shell and Suzanne, who care for Cady after Child Protective Services relocates her from her dad. For the most part, the aunts don’t face any backlash from their community as a same-sex couple raising a child. Their sexual orientation is less a conflict in the story as it is something that makes their characters feel more nuanced and human.

What I liked: When I saw the cover for Summer of a Thousand Pies, I thought I’d be settling into a fun and lighthearted middle grade contemporary. I was wrong. This is a beautiful, important book, but it doesn’t deal with easy themes. Cady’s mother has died and her grief-stricken father descends into alcoholism to the point where she has to live with her Aunt Shell. Her aunt’s pie shop is run with equal amounts of passion and joy, but it isn’t easy to thrive as a small bakery. And Cady’s new friend Jay, whose parents are undocumented and works at Aunt Shell’s bakery, depends on the pie shop staying open to keep from going homeless.

But that doesn’t mean that this book is free of uplifting moments. Thanks to her aunts and her new friends, Cady’s is able to let down her guard and trust the people she loves the most for the first time in her life. Through baking and immersing herself in life with Aunt Shell, Cady is able to heal from the loss of her mother and her father’s mental health issues. Summer of a Thousand Pies is an example of how middle grade can delve into just as real and heartbreaking issues as YA, as well as queer representation, in a way that’s appropriate and helpful for its young readers.

Recommended: This is hands-down one of the best and (no pun intended) sweetest LGBT middle grade books I’ve read. I’d recommend it to elementary and middle school students in particular but also teachers who are looking for a way to introduce LGBT characters to their students in a compassionate and normalizing light

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

Author Guest Post: The Whispers By Greg Howard

whispers_blogbanner

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.

Related image

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.

Greg Howard.jpg

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

LGBTQ MG Review: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

Image result for one true way shannon hitchcock

Title: One True Way

Author: Shannon Hitchcock

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: It’s 1977, and twelve year old Allie and her grieving family move to the South following the death of her brother Eric. When Allie meets the smart and courageous Sam on her first day at Daniel Boone Middle School, she begins to question her faith and her sexuality in her conservative small town.

onetrueway

What I loved: This book is a charming story that I think many LGBTQ people, regardless of age or era they grew up in, can relate to. Because Allie’s just beginning her journey to understanding her sexual orientation, she is filled with questions about what it means to follow your heart, even if other people don’t like you for it. Throughout the novel, she struggles to balance her need to belong with her need for understanding in a small town that doesn’t have any easy answers for her. It’s hopeful in a way that doesn’t gloss over the tough parts about being queer and emphasizes the importance of finding a way to live authentically with yourself.

Although her and Sam’s journey is tough, she finds support and comfort from people she can trust, like her church minister and her teacher Miss Holt, who is implied to be partners with the female school coach. While I don’t like to pare stories down to a single “take-away” message, I think it’s important to remind young queer kids that they don’t have to figure everything out alone. Figuring things out is a lot easier with someone to confide in who won’t push you to do what isn’t right for you. Whether that’s a friend, a parent, or another person who you trust, building a support system based on people who love you unconditionally is an essential part of being queer that One True Way touches on well.

Quote: ” ‘Why do you look so serious?’ Sam asked.
I reached into my back pocket and handed her the gold yarn friendship bracelet. ‘I made it out of school colors for you. Phoebe showed me how.’
Sam slipped it onto her wrist. ‘See? A perfect fit.’
I reached out and touched her arm just above the bracelet. ‘Do you like Phoebe more than me?’ 
‘I like all my friends.’
But that wasn’t what I was asking.
Sam turned and stared directly into my eyes. ‘I don’t like anybody as much as you.’
My heart hammered so hard I could barely breathe.”

Recommended: The past few years have been wonderful for LGBTQ inclusion in middle grade fiction. I still remember when it was incredibly controversial when J.K. Rowling revealed that Albus Dumbledore is gay, so having in-story queer characters is refreshing. One True Way is a sweet story about crushes and first loves that I think, despite its historical setting, matches what a lot of LGBTQ kids still experience today. This is a perfect book for both kids who are just starting to have their own first crushes or who appreciate a good love story, despite the odds placed against it.

Next: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour