Speaking Out – Steve Berman, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

Scheduled to release September 12th. Order it today from Bold Strokes Books

Though I don’t write YA or read it much, except for review
purposes, I certainly acknowledge its necessity and its worth as a genre that
can show young gay men and women that it’s not all prejudice and homophobia out
there. At a time of one’s life where there’s more confusion than clarity,
collections such as Steve Berman’s wonderful Speaking Out! can really
light some pathways.

Most of these aren’t your traditional coming out stories. In
fact, many of our protagonists here are already in their first relationships.
For example, Sam Cameron’s “Day Student” features Matthew and Charlie as two
students in an exclusive prep school who face difficulties with their
relationship once Charlie finds the money to live in their dorms rather than
just attend classes daily. What I loved most about this story (and others as
well) is that its voice is that of a teenager and not a thirty-plus writer, as
some YA novels and short stories seem to be.

Another piece whose voice was absolutely true was Danielle
Pignataro’s “Gutter Ball,” a wonderful story about a babydyke bowler and her
teammates who square off against homophobe Donna D’Amico and her cohorts. The
protagonist of Alex Jeffers’ “Captain of the World” and his boyfriend have not
only homophobia to contend with but Muslim hatred as well, all played out
against the backdrop of a soccer game.

But not all of the stories here center around sports or a
“big game.”  L.A. Fields’ does a lovely
job with a lifelong friendship between a gay boy and his best girlfriend in
“The Proximity of Seniors,” Lucas J.W. Johnson uses alcohol abuse to punctuate
the tale of a trans-boy who finds out who his real friends are in “Subtle
Poison” and Dia Pannes hits a home run with “The Spark of Change,” about a
budding lesbian and her volunteer firefighter father who refuses to answer a
call when lesbian couple’s house bursts into flames.

Also notable in this collection are Jeffrey Ricker’s “The
Trouble With Billy,” an engrossing character study that takes us, at times,
into the head of a bully who terrorizes a young gay boy because … well, you
know why, Steve Berman’s “Only Lost Boys Are Found,” which uses descriptions of
various closets to tell a poignant story of a boy who helps a prospective lover
uncloset himself, and Sandra McDonald’s “All Gender U,” which closes the book
on a hopeful note with a boy who wears girl’s clothes and wants to attend
Dartmouth with the help of a conservative alumni aunt.

But really, anywhere you open this book you’ll find a story
that affirms as it informs, good for both teens looking for other teens like
them as well as parents trying to get a handle on their own queer kids.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler 

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