Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Review: Of All the Stupid Things [2010]

I picked up Of All the Stupid Things, by Alexandra Diaz, on a recommendation from one of the blogs that I follow. I'm always looking for new and interesting GLBT teen fiction, and recently I've been harping on the lack of gay characters in more mainstream books, so it seemed like this might be just the ticket.

The book has three main characters: Pinkie, who lost her mother at a young age and is unable to restrain her own mother-hen instinct; Whitney Blaire, a beautiful and wealthy (but manipulative) girl who is always referred to by her first and last names; and Tara, who uses running to distance herself from her emotions, and the disturbing rumor that her boyfriend might be getting it on with another guy. These three lifelong friends are thrown into chaos by the arrival on the scene of the new girl, Riley. Whitney Blaire is convinced that Riley is out to steal Tara's now-ex-boyfriend, while Tara finds herself fascinated by Riley and her beautiful hair. Pinkie, caught in the middle, also finds herself caught up in a serious flirtation with a student teacher. Can their friendship survive when everyone starts taking sides?

This definitely had a "first novel" feel to it, in that it sometimes felt like Diaz had bitten off more than she could chew in the space allotted. Written in alternating chapters from each of the girls' perspectives, I often found myself wishing for more depth or perhaps fewer plotlines (each girl has several). The book addressed a whirlwind of issues: friendship, sexuality, communication, death, marriage, body image, class, etc, to the point where I wondered what was being left out. The issue of Tara's (ex)boyfriend and his possible dalliance with a male cheerleader was an intriguing catalyst for the action. I did like the fact that instead of being a coming-out book, in which the lesbian romance was the focus of the story, Tara's attraction to Riley was just one of several ongoing plots (albeit one that triggers a series of subplots). I also enjoyed the hints at character development that appeared throughout the course of the book. I'm not sure a whole lot of new ground was broken, but I found it an enjoyable and easy read.

Grade: B-

Random Thoughts: I had to get this book through the Virtual Catalog from Watertown because it wasn't available in western or central Massachusetts. I'm not sure if that means it wasn't widely reviewed, not that many copies were printed, it was too recently published, or there is still some reluctance to buy GLBT-oriented books for teens. I am hoping for an innocuous reason, but in any case this would be a decent addition to any YA collection looking to expand in that direction.

ETA: I'm also not sure about the cover, which was nicely designed but seemed pretty heavy-handed, given the careful treatment of subject matter in the book. Also, it was strangely sensationalizing (in a misleading way): "Three Friends, One Forbidden Love Affair" . . . Also, I didn't "get" the title. Nit. Pick.

The author's website.

Dead Mother: Y


Amanda! said...

Dudette, it's not nit-picky to dislike the title! Titles are important!

On a side-note, do you think GLBT lit focuses too much on coming out, not enough, or just the right amount? I'se just curious.

Helgagrace said...

GLBT lit in general (and I am speaking here from an extremely one-sided perspective, so keep that in mind) is by now well enough established to cross all genres. Sure, you have your coming out stories (married women who realize they're lesbians, etc.), but mostly it's about telling stories, usually romantic ones. That's true for the L, and probably for the G, too, but I think that there is still a huge hole to be filled in terms of bisexual and trans lit.

Here's my speculation: that B/T lit is a little closer to GLBT teen lit (or GLBTQ if you prefer) in terms of the need to have coming out stories so that readers can identify themselves in the narrative and find comfort and community. Bisexuality and trans issues are definitely not prioritized in the queer community, and I would guess that's probably the same in the literature. I know that when we were looking for trans teen lit for the NELA panel I participated in, there were only two books that kept coming up: Parrotfish and Luna. There are no doubt more that are less well-known, but there's definitely a lot of room for growth there.

In terms of writing for GLBTQ teens, coming out stories should always (in my mind) be a large part of the literature. Questioning teens don't always have a lot of places to turn to learn about people who have had similar experiences. I do think that the literature has broadened recently to include more books where the character just "happens to be" gay, and that's definitely a good thing. It would be like if TV shows had regular gay characters and not special one-shot episodes where the main character questioned their sexuality and had a ratings-boosting kiss and then it was never mentioned again. I am generally optimistic about the growth of GLBT YA lit, although I think it could probably use some more non-white main characters.

Clearly there is a whole post in here. What was the question again? :)

Amanda! said...

Hey, look at that, I gave you an idea for a post! ;-)

Thanks for the thoughtful response. I was pondering if I was GLBTQ myself if I would find the proliferation of coming out stories to be useful and comforting for the community or some sort of odd pigeon-holing/stereotype type thing. If they're needed, then I'm glad they're there.

I had an interesting talk with my lesbian friend Nina once about how she feels that bi and trans people aren't treated with the same level of acceptance and respect within the GLBTQ community as G and L, and how that concerns her. I wonder if that has some role in a lack of representation in literature?

Also, my verification word was "cocular" and I'm loling my ass off right now.

Helgagrace said...

An interesting series of comments that tackle the subject of YA/LGBTQ literature and the direction it's going (thanks to Cassandra):