Awake – Tracey Pennington, ed. (Cheyenne Publishing)

Buy it now from Giovanni’s Room or from our store – Awake

Nothing is given to men, and the
little they can conquer is paid for with unjust deaths. But man’s greatness
lies elsewhere. It lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition. And
if his condition is unjust, he has only one way of overcoming it, which is to
be just himself.

Camus – Resistance, Rebellion and

all net proceeds from the sale of Awake
will go to the Trevor Project.The Trevor Project,” as
described in the book, “is determined to end suicide among LGBTQ youth by
providing lifesaving and life-affirming resources including our nationwide,
24/7 crisis intervention lifeline, digital community and advocacy/educational
programs that create a safe, supportive and positive environment for everyone.”

the foreword for this book comes from Kathe Koja. It is an eloquent foreword
that begs young LGBTQ folk to look in the mirror, to look at their own souls
and conclude, “Yes, look, there you are: and you are FINE. You are fine
exactly the way you are

I do
not read or write YA. And, in saying that, I don’t devalue the worth of the
genre, especially as it applies to kids who find themselves ensconced within a
very dark and dangerous shroud of self-loathing simply because they are
different, simply because their particular drummer taps a different rhythm
unlike all the others, all the “normal” others.

first short in this collection, Worth
Waiting For
by Nancy Garden, provides a picture of young woman, a lesbian
who struggles through the implications of joining her high school’s newly
formed GSA—Gay/Straight Alliance. She is not certain she has the courage to
come out amongst the minions of the two-bit town where she lives, knowing that
surely they would look upon such a thing (and her) as perhaps just simply
wrong, worthless, dirty. Indeed, she
realizes, if one joins a GSA then one will be perceived as gay, or
gay-friendly. Her mother espouses the
love the sinner, hate the sin
mentality, while her older brother, little
sister, and her father embrace her as just a sister, a child—loved
unconditionally in spite of all the hurtful baggage that comes with the
realization one is queer. Their preacher, a wild-eyed Fundamentalist,
exacerbates the problem by condemning the high school’s intent to embrace a GSA
program. The high school stands firm on its commitment, in spite of the
preacher’s admonitions. In the mean time, the protagonist meets a “big city”
young woman who certainly believes joining the GSA is a worthy endeavor. The “big
city” young woman is eventually revealed to be gay, and the story weaves this
revelation through the yearnings of both young women to be with the other, to
love the other eternally.

Worth Waiting For is an all too (sadly)
typical story about not only the angst suffered by young women who struggle to
accept and celebrate their lesbianism, but also about the struggle of a mother
to understand this strange, nasty,
incomprehensible journey into the psyche of a child who defies the norm, as
well as the teachings of her church. I will not reveal the ending except to say
it is heartening, providing some little hope that reconciliations do occur,
even from the most disparate ends of understanding and acceptance. Garden’s
writing is matter-of-fact, capturing the roller coaster of emotions that surely
young folk can identify with when confronted with matters of principle and
courage, even matters that, at first, bode ill for continued love from

A Line in the Sand by Robin Reardon, the
second story in this collection, gives us a fifteen-year-old young man, Dustin,
born to a well-to-do family vacationing on the South Carolina shore, where he
soon discovers the dark-haired, very tan sixteen-year-old Randy. While Dustin’s
parents—whom he refers to as Mamma and Daddy—are, like him, very accepting of
his sexuality, Randy’s father, born a Saudi, and, even having renounced Islam,
is not at all comfortable or accepting of homosexuality. Although Randy is not
“out” to his parents, he knows that his father knows about him. 

is presented as thoroughly gay, perhaps a little stereotypically so. He advises
his Mamma on everything from dress choices to cuisine. Randy, on the other
hand, is thoroughly closeted and certainly not about to reveal any affectations
to further confirm in his father’s mind that he is queer.  

takes a little time—quick glances, stares, smiles in passing—for Dustin and
Randy to quite innocently hook-up (lots of kisses, lying side-by-side on the
sand) and reveal familial histories to one another, as well as the oh so
different relationships they have with their parents.

struggles with the unfairness of his relationships (he’s had only two, counting
Randy, for heaven’s sake!) ending up with boys who are not fully comfortable in
their gay skins, and with parents who, unlike his, are not accepting of their
sons’ sexuality. Dustin decides that he’s had enough, literally draws a line in
the sand for Randy to cross, having convinced himself he will no longer accept
the less than fulfilling relationships with boys so encumbered.

Dustin’s surprise, Randy announces that he’s through trying to hide who he is.
Dustin is thrilled, and soon Randy meets Dustin’s parents who are also happy
their son has met such a nice young man.

suffers through a day without seeing or hearing from Randy. He wonders what
could have happened. Has another, his second, relationship just fizzled out?
Then, to his horror, his mother announces that she and Dustin’s father have met
Randy’s family, and has invited them to dinner. 
What will Randy do? Randy’s father has surely put two and two together.
Yes, Dustin knows  he’s drawn that line
in the sand, but can he really put Randy through this?

and Randy finally meet up and, again to Dustin’s surprise, Randy is determined
to stand firm, be himself and face what may turn out to be a very revealing,
perhaps contentious dinner with the two families. The dinner, however, does not
occur after Randy’s father finds Dustin and Randy together on the beach. A
confrontation between Randy’s father and Dustin’s parents ensues, where
poignant truths are drawn out from Randy’s father who, perhaps, has not left
that much of his Islamic upbringing behind him.

storytelling is charming. The humor encased in this little story is wonderful,
as well as the backstory provided relating to family histories…some of it
lighthearted, some of it darkly disturbing.

Shattered Diamonds, by Jordan Taylor is a
very disturbing, intentionally dismal journey into not only the life of a
bullied boy, but also that of his bully.

from the POV of the bully—who has made the effort to view the blog entries of
the boy he and his friends unmercifully harassed—the story painfully inches
toward the bully’s epiphany: “The truth—that tiny, precise spark which
occasionally crosses my path—is that I do not know how to face his mother and
say,  ‘I killed your son.’

me how. Show me how to look into the eyes of a stranger and justify death like

experiment. I do not know where to begin. I cannot face death as Jeremy did—

looking back. I cannot look forward into the eyes of pain.

“So I
write this. Because I don’t know what else to do. But I have to do something.”

Shattered Diamonds was, for me, a
difficult read. No, not because Taylor’s writing is anything other than superb.
It was difficult to read because of the persistent, over-and-over again
recapitulation of the pain—both physical and emotional—inflicted upon the young
man, Jeremy, whose crime was simply that he was skinny, unathletic, and—Oh me,
Oh my!—that he made eye contact with the protagonist, the beau of the ball, the
football jock, the desired stud who, in the end, became the one to realize that
the rest of his life would be haunted by what he and his compadres had done to
the skinny fag who dared to look into his, the protagonist’s eyes.

ye faint of heart, avoid this one if you are not prepared to experience the
harsh reality of what occurs in America’s schools these days. 

final story in this collection, Pervert
by Brian Katcher, gives us an insight into a young man’s passion to explore the
sexual parameters of his “other;” the overwhelming acknowledgement that his
psyche demands he embrace that “other” as a thing as natural as a bird to
flight, a horse to a gallop.

dressing in his mother’s and his sister’s clothes, our protagonist, “the boy”
suffers the shame that attends any realization that one’s physical gender is,
um, wrong, just simply wrong. But “the boy’s” sister comes to the rescue and
accepts his “perversion,” actually accepting him/her to the point of dressing
him/her up herself, applying makeup and inserting boobs into his “prom” dress.
His sister concludes: “Sometimes holding something inside can just eat you up.
Sometimes a secret isn’t so hard to deal with if you share it with someone.”

other stories in this collection, “the boy’s” parents are untypically accepting
of his departure from the norm. Hallelujah!

As I
noted at the outset, I don’t read or write YA. But, after exploring the tales
in “Awake,” I am reminded that young folk—some of them, at least—do still read,
and those that do just might be those young souls who need the affirmation that
it does get better.  “Awake” provides that affirmation. I do so
much thank the publisher for this collection, and their decision to contribute
net proceeds from the sale of the book to the Trevor Project.

be yourselves, my young brothers and sisters. Find the courage to just be

by George Seaton        

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