Centers the experiences, desires, and agency of a queer black boy navigating his evolving selfhood and the challenges of society’s conditional love for his truthful existence.
Queer black existence has been here forever, and yet rarely has that experience been spotlighted within literature aimed at black boyhood. This is the context in which this “memoir-manifesto” begins, as Johnson, a still relatively young 33-year-old journalist and activist, debuts his unfolding life story within a vacuum of representation. These stories wrestle with “joy and pain...triumph and tragedy” across many heavy topics—gender policing, sexual abuse, institutional violence—but with a view to freedom on the horizon. Through the witnessing of Johnson’s intimate accounts, beginning with his middle-class New Jersey childhood and continuing through his attendance at a historically black university in Virginia, readers are invited on their own paths to healing, self-care, and living one’s truth. Those who see themselves outside the standpoint of being black and queer are called in toward accountability, clarifying an understanding of the history, language, and actions needed to transform the world—not in pity for the oppressed but in the liberation of themselves. This title opens new doors, as the author insists that we don’t have to anchor stories such as his to tragic ends: “Many of us are still here. Still living and waiting for our stories to be told—to tell them ourselves.”
A critical, captivating, merciful mirror for growing up black and queer today.
This completely absorbing memoir follows the author from age 16, when she escaped from an abusive home in the late 1970s to become a model in New York City. Although Kelle ultimately succeeds, her path from squalor to security takes her through more abusive relationships, homelessness and a sensational murder trial. Kelle is one scrappy girl, though. With a few good friends and the timely kindness of strangers, she survives. This is a cautionary story to those who dream of similar runs to fame. James pulls no punches in her descriptions of the sexual and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of predatory men in the city and in flashback memories of her violent father. She describes a sexual attack and doesn’t shy away from innuendo in her characters’ dialogue. Stark in its honesty, the book propels readers forward with a sense of suspense worthy of a thriller. James bares her former adolescent soul and proudly celebrates her toughness, while owning up to her mistakes as well. Compelling and fascinating—a striking debut. (Memoir. 14 & up)
Four teens fall in and out of longing, love and violence: Kyle, the motorcycle-riding musician, Miguel, the unpredictable poet haunted by a violent past, Natalie, a mischief-making cutter, and Tricia, a biracial teen uncomfortable in her own skin. Told in minimalist free-verse vignettes, their lives crash, simmer and smolder together in the science lab, on the soccer field, at the coffee house and more. Phillips adeptly spins complex, provocative, sharp-imaged lines of poetry in this first novel that is mostly told by the four main characters with some well-intended but pandering commentary by the school faculty, including their English teacher, who assigned them to write many of the poems for class. Though fully realized in structure, tonality and word choice, several poems lack voice, particularly those written by male characters. Readers can identify the speaker because the author has assigned names to stanzas, but any sense that the characters could be living, breathing, talking teenagers stops there. However, although much of the climatic action happens offstage, there are enough razor blades, lust, jealousy and revenge to keep readers breathlessly hooked until the very end. (Verse novel. 14 & up)