Review: Guapa

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Review for “Guapa” by Saleem Haddad (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ever since I saw this book on a Buzzfeed “Books to Read in 2016” list earlier this year, I knew I had to get a hold of this. Despite having read many Middle Eastern lit books before, I have to admit that much of this region of the world is still a mystery to me–the people, their customs, ideology, and of course, their Islamic religion–and my curiosity always calls me back to this setting to find out more. When I learned that this book had a gay character, I knew I had struck gold here with a unique character in a unique, often misunderstood setting.

Guapa follows twenty-four hours in the life of Rasa, a young, twenty-something gay man in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. He lives with his domineering grandmother and works for a small company that provides language translation services to Westerners. At the beginning of this story, Rasa’s grandmother catches him in bed with his lover, Taymour, and Rasa flees the apartment he shares with her in shame. From a series of flashbacks and present-day storytelling, we learn about the numerous conflicts Rasa deals with: his mother’s abandonment when he was a child, his father’s death, his time in America and the beginnings of his political activism, various social upheavals in his home country. We also get a glimpse into his relationship with Maj, a politically aware drag queen who performs at a local underground gay bar. The story also examines Rasa’s coming to terms with his own sexuality at a young age, and finally, his relationship with Taymour.

This story is split into three parts. The first part deals with Rasa’s present, the second part goes back to his past. There was some momentum lost with the second part and a lot of boring details, although the upper hand was quickly gained again in the third and last section. I won’t tell you what the third part consists of (it’s too spoiler-y), other than to say that it brought the entire book into perspective.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you have an interest in how marginalized characters discover their identity in the face of cultural taboos. Not bad for a first time author. At all.

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Review: If I Was Your Girl

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Review for “If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo (2016)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is truly a book after my own heart. It’s really really good, and I mean that. I had heard a lot of buzz about this book before it was published, so after a few weeks of watching my reserve status at the library, I finally got a notice to pick this up. Needless to say, I read this book in three days. I only paused to work on my lit review for my summer class, eat, and sleep.

Yes, it was that serious. This book had my soul.

“If I Was Your Girl” is the story of Amanda, a male to female transgendered teenager. When we first meet her, she has just moved from her mom’s house in Atlanta where she has recently been physically attacked to her dad’s apartment in a small town several hours away. At her new school, she quickly attracts the attention of a popular athlete and they begin a romance. Amanda is also surprised by how fast she makes friends and gains their trust, yet never revealing her own secret because she knows that her life could be in danger.

I can’t tell you how this story compares to other stories of transgendered individuals, because I have to admit that this is the first of its kind that I’ve ever read before. There is no discussion of genitals or body parts, because from the first page you are simply seeing the character as you are intended to see her–as a girl named Amanda. There are several flashbacks throughout the book that give you a bit of info on Amanda’s past (instances of bullying, a suicide attempt, her parents’ divorce) but from this I came away with even more of an appreciation of Amanda and her bravery to live her life in the way that makes her happy.

There is a note by the author at the end that clears up some of the criticisms I could have made about this book. For one, Amanda is able at a young age to have the surgery and access to the hormones that so many cannot afford. She’s also able to seemlessly transition into life as a female (she’s told that she’s beautiful, other people cannot tell that she was born male). The author writes that she did this so that readers could fully accept Amanda as a teenage girl. There is so little fiction right now that focuses on the trans community, so I think the author gives a decent argument for why she chose to portray Amanda this way.

“If I Was Your Girl” is one of those stories that, in my opinion, has to be out there right now. The fact that the author gives numbers for suicide hotlines in the conclusion shows that as a society, we have not progressed as far as we think we have when it comes to accepting people as they are. As a resident of North Carolina and home of the HB2 legislation (the infamous ‘bathroom bill’ that bans transgendered people from using the restroom that coincides with their chosen gender) makes it all the more important that we hear stories like Amanda’s and remind ourselves that she and people like her are real people who deserve legal protection, consideration, and respect–just like anyone else.

Needless to say, I loved this book. If you read nothing this year, save room on your TBR list for it. You will NOT be disappointed!

Review: What Belongs to You

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Review for “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell (2016)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

LGBTQ lit is an area that I’ve really been wanting to branch out into, so this book has been on my watch list for a while. That and the fact that this book was on BuzzFeed’s “Best of 2016” novels list compelled me to read it.

“What Belongs to You” is the story of a privileged American man working in Bulgaria as a teacher. He meets a young, working class hustler named Mitko in a public toilet where he pays him for sex moments after they meet. They proceed to develop a very strange, codependent, and somewhat obsessive relationship over the next several months. The American is lonely and looking for real companionship, while Mitko sees nothing wrong with taking advantage of a free opportunity for food, money, and, at times, a place to stay. The story ends exactly how we expected it to end because ummm….what are you supposed to expect as far as future prospects when you pay a stranger for sex in a bathroom stall? I ain’t the most intelligent gal in the world, but my guess is that it’s just not going to go well. It’s no different here.

This book offered no surprises, only predictable cliches. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but this book bored me to death. It’s a pity, because the writing itself is actually VERY good, which is why I gave it two stars. The author knows the emotional weight of his words, and several statements in the novel were so profound that I found myself reading them aloud, underlining them, savoring them. The story, however, was completely lost on me.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I do recommend this book. If you don’t mind a predictable plot, the writing here will ‘wow’ you. Be forewarned though, there are some pretty graphic sex scenes–so if you’re a homophobic prude who’s offended by the intimate details of sex between two men, then don’t read this. My hope, however, is that if you are reading my site, you are an enlightened person who can read whatever is placed in front of you for its artistic merit and nothing more. Voila!