PRIDE month is over but that doesn’t mean we have to go back into any closet. In fact, and I hope Joel Christian Gill doesn’t mind me completely coopting his 28 Days Are Not Enough (See his excellent TEDxAM14 Talk) here, but he is super correct. I’m going to say PRIDE month isn’t enough.
So, welcome to LGBTQIA-July, which will be closely followed by LGBTQIA-August. No, it does not roll off the tongue but what the heck. What LGBTQIA-Fill-in-The-Month lacks in suave it makes up for in accuracy. In my world it is always time for LGBTQIA themed children’s and YA literature.
I received a review copy of a graphic novel, Alexis Vs. Summer Vacation by Sarah Stevenson and Veronica Agarwal (Avanue A Books). I was just coming off of the bitter disappointment of a picturebook about the Stonewall riots that erased Black butch and trans women and, well … let’s just say I was suspicious. I read so many problematic books, I get exhausted.
But, this one was interesting. The cover was cute, the protagonist looked interesting, and let’s face it – I’m a sucker for a graphic novel for elementary/middle school readers and this one hits that spot perfectly! Instead of being coy and making you wait for it, I’m just going to put it out there now … Alexis vs Summer Vacation is great. It’s fun, has lots of teen angst, and most of all, is full of solid and fully realized characters.
The color pallet is bright and inviting (I read it as an electronic book on my laptop) and really does a good job of bringing summer to the page. There is lots of blue skies and pool water to give it a coolness and loads of white space that gives room for the dialogue. And, there is lots of talking! Which makes sense since we are reading about 13 and 14 year olds. Lots of talking.
Alexis, the protagonist is going through a lot. Her parents are newly divorced, she’s going from 8th grade to high school, she’s babysitting (free of charge) her younger brother and sister for the summer, and she’s figuring out what it means to be bi.
Yup. There’s a lot. Luckily, Alexis has two new friends, Jason (Jay-Jay) and Luke to help her. With these two guys at her side, she gets through her summer full of responsibilities, figuring out her crush on Hayley Stein (the very words leave Alexis breathless), and how to be a little less bossy. The three of them form an important triad of friendship, they play something similar to Dungeons and Dragons, and they begin the hard work of growing into the people they want to be when they grow up.
The majority of the book takes place at the local pool, with some short hops into the ER (drama!) and Alexis’s house. This setting is a convenient conceit, but it also gives the characters the all important parent-free hours to talk about life, family, love, bullies, and the impending change from middle to high school. Another aspect I appreciate about this book is the effortless character diversity.
There is no polite or civil way of saying this so I’m going to just go ahead with it. Too many comics and graphic novels are all White as far as the eye can see or the racial diversity is done but done badly. Luke is Latinx and he and his brother do not look the same. Jason is bi-racial (black and I assume Japanese although we never see his mom). Most importantly, not everyone is the same skin tone, even within groups!
Reading Outside My Lane
One aspect we don’t talk about enough is HOW do you start reading and evaluating literature that falls outside your own identity? Although I am an out and proud member of the LGBTQIA community, I am not bisexual. That meant I had to re-read the book with a keen eye on the tropes and stereotypes associated with bisexuals. I had to read for my engrained biases. I have found that the more stereotypes and lazy literary tropes there are, the worse the representation.
But that means I had to think and record the stereotypes and lazy tropes I know about bisexual people. Here is my list, your might be different, and again, these are stereotypes based on BIASED AND WRONG HEADED crap ideas about people that I learned because I live in a sexist, homophobic society!
- Bisexuals are attracted to every human being at all times, regardless of any kind of personal aesthetic.
- Bisexuals are always polyamorous and only exist to complete a dissatisfied couple, or they have crushes on both of their best friends (always a cis boy and a cis girl).
- Bisexuals do not actually exist.
- Bisexuals are always cis.
With these stereotypes in mind I reread the book. I am please to see that although Alexis is the only open bisexual in the book, and she does appear to be cis, those are about the only tropes I could see. She has definite and stated preferences. She is actively interested in Hayley and no one else and she appears to be unattached. She is not attracted to either Lara, Jason or Luke. She does exist in the world, she exists as bisexual, and she’s figuring it out. She comes out to her friends and her parents and the world does not come to an end.
It’s good to see bi visibility in kidlit. I hope you grab a copy and head to the pool!
I welcome your comments.
Please know I will not publish nor respond to anonymous posters.