IT'S PERFECTLY NORMAL

A BOOK ABOUT CHANGING BODIES, GROWING UP, SEX, AND SEXUAL HEALTH

Illustrator Emberley (Welcome Back, Sun, 1993, etc.) has teamed up with Harris (Hot Henry, 1987, etc.) to present more ethnic and sexual diversity than New York City's Rainbow Curriculum ever bargained for as they battle all concepts non-PC: They take swings at ageism (``People have sexual intercourse well into old age'') and at homophobia in the military (pointing out that, in ancient Sparta, it was thought ``that if a warrior was in the same regiment as his lover, he would fight harder in order to impress him''). But there's more information than polemic here, as the reader is guided by a corny but never condescending pair—an uninhibited bird and a repressed bee—through puberty, anatomy, reproduction, and a sense of the emotional weight that accompanies sexuality. The book intelligently covers birth-control options, how to have safer sex, how to treat STDs, and, in an especially impressive chapter, how to combat sexual abuse—all without patronizing the pre- or post-pubescent. Emberley's illustrations are often as funny as they are informative. With affirmations of homosexuality and masturbation—``it's perfectly normal''—and a choice-leaning (yet cautious) discussion on abortion, this volume will be anathema to social conservatives. But for parents who fear that a school sex-ed class may not be informative enough, it will certainly aid that dreaded birds-and-bees discussion. A terrific teaching tool that just may help slow the spread of sexual diseases and ignorance. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-56402-199-8

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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The timeline overlaps the events of the companion novel, but fans of the first won’t feel déjà vu. There’s more of a sense...

TOTALLY JOE

One quarter of the “Gang of Five” from The Misfits (2001) tells his own story of coming out and overcoming bullies and prejudice through alphabetical entries in his “alphabiography.”

Joe Bunch aka JoDan aka Scorpio (among other names) works his way from October to March to fulfill his teacher Mr. Daly’s assignment to write about his life from A to Z, including “life lessons” at the end of each entry. Though things do go Joe’s way, the story is nothing but realistic. Howe has created a character that lives and breathes with all of the inconsistencies, fears and longings of your normal average seventh-grade homosexual. Joe still thinks “exchanging saliva” is excruciatingly gross, but he knows he wants to date boys. He thinks Colin is cute and fun to be with, but Joe just can’t “tone down” on command. His family is not surprised when he finally lets them in on his secret with the gentle assistance of his artistic Aunt Pam and his (sometimes overly) helpful best friend Addie.

The timeline overlaps the events of the companion novel, but fans of the first won’t feel déjà vu. There’s more of a sense of spending extra time with a favorite friend. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-689-83957-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Ginee Seo/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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This is a minor quibble with a story that imagines so clearly for American readers the travails of all-too-many Latin...

BEFORE WE WERE FREE

A 12-year-old girl bears witness to the Dominican Revolution of 1961 in a powerful first-person narrative.

The story opens as Anita’s cousins (the Garcia girls of Alvarez’s 1991 adult debut, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), hurriedly pack to leave the country. This signals the end of childhood innocence for Anita. In short succession, her family finds the secret police parked in their driveway; the American consul moves in next door; and her older sister Lucinda is packed off to join her cousins in New York after she attracts the unwelcome attention of El Jefe Trujillo, the country’s dictator. Anita’s family, it seems, is intimately involved with the political resistance to Trujillo, and she, perforce, is drawn into the emotional maelstrom. The present-tense narrative lends the story a gripping immediacy, as Anita moves from the healthy, self-absorbed naïveté of early adolescence to a prematurely aged understanding of the world’s brutality. Her entree into puberty goes hand in hand with her entree into this adult world of terror: “I don’t want to be a señorita now that I know what El Jefe does to señoritas.” According to an author’s note, Alvarez (How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay, 2001, etc.) drew upon the experiences of family members who stayed behind in the Dominican Republic during this period of political upheaval, crafting a story that, in its matter-of-fact detailing of the increasingly surreal world surrounding Anita, feels almost realer than life. The power of the narrative is weakened somewhat by the insertion of Anita’s diary entries as she and her mother take shelter in the Italian Embassy after her father’s arrest. The first-person, present-tense construction of the diary entries are not different enough from the main narrative to make them come alive as such; instead, the artifice draws attention to itself, creating a distraction.

This is a minor quibble with a story that imagines so clearly for American readers the travails of all-too-many Latin nations then and now. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-81544-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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