Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Boy Meets BoyReading level: 6.3
Lexile: 730
Genre: Romance, LGBT
ELL-Friendly: Mostly
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.

When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.

David Levithan is a bit of a literary hero to me because he writes such fabulous gay characters. But that’s also because my experience with LGBT literature is fairly minimal. In any case, I read Boy Meets Boy because I love the author, even though Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was a bit of a bust for me. Boy Meets Boy is, in a lot of ways, a typical romance story. That part I didn’t care for very much because I’m not one for the romance genre as a whole. But what Boy Meets Boy does differently and spectacularly is create “a high school like no other.”

This story makes me wonder what our schools could be like if kids weren’t afraid to come out as gay to their friends, community, and family. With the freedom to do this, Levithan opens all sorts of doors, like straight boys having crushes on manly-quarterbacks-turned-girls and characters not tip-toeing around the “is he gay?” question and moving straight into business.

To throw a wrench into this little utopia, Paul’s friend Tony’s parents try to make him not gay anymore, which is something that happens all the time over here in the real world. Tony teaches us that even when parents try to change something about their child, it is out of love, even if it hurts. At least in this circumstance.

I would recommend this book to students who enjoy romance, whether or not they’re gay. It’s just a fun story about love and more importantly about friendship. What I took away from the story wasn’t the love between Paul and Noah but the friendship between Paul and all his friends and family. I might also recommend it to students who read books not just for the plot but for the writing. (Do those students even exist?) Levithan’s prose flows like poetry and is half the fun of reading his stories.

It’s more of a high school book because the characters are in high school, but it’s fine for upper middle school. I also don’t recall anything inappropriate unless parents think that any sort of gay content is inappropriate.

Finally, it is a coming-of-age story as Paul tries to figure out himself and his loves and his friends. These subjects relate to all adolescents, because LGBT books are for everyone.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and DanteReading level: 5.0 (ish)
Genre: Realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Like Eleanor and Park, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe has a lot of hype surrounding it, but it lived up to every ounce of that hype. It is as complex and stunningly beautiful as the book cover, and I wish it never had to end. It was that kind of book.

This story has a lot of levels. First, there is deep friendship between the two boys. Then there’s the sexuality and romance. Add to that Ari’s coming of age a Mexican-American confused about identity and angry about an absent brother wrapped together in prose that feels like poetry. It’s not a book driven by plot. Rather, it’s driven by Ari moving forward with his life and plodding through his thoughts to discover himself in all his teenage boyness.

I would recommend this book to more mature readers who enjoy beautiful, deep stories and don’t need to be entertained by a fast-moving plot. Readers must be willing to open their hearts to these characters and to be gentle and nonjudgmental, as you would treat a friend. I might also recommend it to a boy searching for his identity, whether gay or not, but girls could easily enjoy this story, too. It’s definitely not boy-exclusive.

I adore Dante and Aristotle, of course, but I also love each of their parents. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a book with such realistic and fantastic parents. So often in YA lit, parents are either perfect or so flawed that you really can’t forgive them. These parents are flawed and forgivable and generally wonderful. I’ve spent way too long on this paragraph and have written so little, so I’ll move on…

I would give it a PG-13 sticker due to language and brief discussions of boy body parts and sex stuff. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for teenage boys to be thinking about, and nothing more graphic than kissing happens, but it’s still there.

Because the characters are in high school and the writing moves slowly, I would recommend it to high schoolers over middle schoolers. As a middle schooler, I was not about to slow down and savor a character or beautiful prose, and that is half the story! But a more mature middle schooler might just fall in love with the story…

Pick up Aristotle and Dante when you’re feeling introspective and when you’re not in a hurry. A nice cup of tea would go nicely.

The Misfits by James Howe

the misfitsReading level: 6.1
Lexile: 960
Series: The Misfits book 1
Genre: Realistic fiction, LGBT
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Skeezie, Addie, Joe, and Bobby — they’ve been friends forever. They laugh together, have lunch together, and get together once a week at the Candy Kitchen to eat ice cream and talk about important issues. Life isn’t always fair, but at least they have each other — and all they really want to do is survive the seventh grade.

That turns out to be more of a challenge than any of them had anticipated. Starting with Addie’s refusal to say the Pledge of Allegiance and her insistence on creating a new political party to run for student council, the Gang of Five is in for the ride of their lives. Along the way they will learn about politics and popularity, love and loss, and what it means to be a misfit. After years of getting by, they are given the chance to stand up and be seen — not as the one-word jokes their classmates have tried to reduce them to, but as the full, complicated human beings they are just beginning to discover they truly are.

The Misfits is a lot of fun. I particularly liked the voices of Addie and Joe, but all the main characters were pretty hilarious throughout the entire story. Not only was it funny, but it included lots of important and serious topics written at the middle-school level.

First of all, we learn how people deal with the death of loved ones, how people heal, and how the pain  never really goes away. Anyone who has experienced loss can relate.

Another topic is equality and fairness, as shown by Addie’s struggle to form a third party in the school elections and her opposition to saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Joe brings to light issues that gay teens and young adults face, from name calling to complicated crushes and beyond.

Addie shows us unintentional racism by her wanting DuShawn (an African American) to be president of the party because he’s a visible minority, although she won’t admit that his skin color is her main reason for targeting him. DuShawn calls out her stereotyping (that all Black people experience racism, bullying, etc.), and Addie struggles to believe what DuShawn says, perhaps because she has a fixed idea of how society functions and who struggles the most.

And, of course, name-calling is a big part of The Misfits. The middle school I interned at had a no name-calling week where students pledged to not call people names, not just for one week, but for always. It’s important for students to take a moment to think about how the things they say can have an impact on one another.

In essence, this book deals with how people treat and judge one another. I don’t think The Misfits is a terrific piece of literature, but I think it’s important for students to read and discuss, making it a contender for a class read-along in middle school.

Apparently there is a whole series?! The Misfits ends in a way that could be the end without continuing into a series, so there aren’t any cliffhangers or anything. It was intriguing enough that I want to read the others, though.

The lexile is apparently pretty high (I listened to the audiobook, which is harder for me to gauge), but it seems basically ELL-friendly if they’re reading at about the 6th grade level. It’s geared more towards middle school since the characters are in middle school themselves, but I think the concepts are deep enough to be enjoyed and discussed with high schoolers too.

The Misfits is my eleventh book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

Books with LGBT Themes

Lee Wind has a great blog about books with LGBT themes called I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?

YA Books About LGBT Characters of Color

Here is a link to a blogpost about YA books with LGBT characters of color.

The Fight for Civil and Gay Rights

Here is a lesson plan about the similarities between the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s and the Civil Rights Movement (if I may borrow the term) of the contemporary LGBTQQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex) community. The lesson (from Teaching Tolerance) is for grades 9-12 but it can probably be adapted for middle school. See this blog post for resources about teaching about the n-word.
Even if the teacher doesn’t want to devote so much time to this lesson or subject, this lesson is at least full of ideas about possible discussions and activities for relating the Civil Rights Movement to contemporary struggles.
Objectives:

Students will:

  • Learn how Bayard Rustin was an instrumental figure in the modern civil rights movement.
  • Develop an awareness of how individuals have the ability to simultaneously advocate for multiple causes, even if they conflict or overlap.
  • Analyze the connection between civil rights and gay rights.
  • Understand the similarities and differences between racism and heterosexism.
  • Explore how individuals, their beliefs and actions evolve over time.

Essential Questions:

  • Who was Bayard Rustin and why is he one of the twentieth century’s most important political organizers?
  • What challenges did Bayard Rustin confront as a gay man involved in the civil rights movement?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the civil rights and gay rights movements?
  • In what ways has our society changed for the better for LGBT people, and what improvements remain to be made?

Materials Needed:

Central Text

In this lesson, students will study the similarities between the modern civil rights movement and the current gay rights movement, through the words of Bayard Rustin. Earlier in his life, Rustin was open with his sexuality in private circles, but remained publicly silent about his homosexuality. Later in life, Rustin was more vocal, and became a vociferous advocate for gay rights in ways that had eluded him in his earlier years. In this lesson, students will discuss the similarities and differences between the civil rights and gay rights movements, as well as the dilemma black LGBT people often find themselves in while involved with social and political movements.

(Note: The recommended central text for this lesson uses the n-word. For information on the n-word, review Teaching Tolerance article “Straight Talk About the N-Word” and the accompanying toolkit.)

Word Work

In this task, you will read parts of the “Gays are the New Niggers” (see handout).

(Note: The recommended central text for this lesson uses the n-word. For information on the n-word, review Teaching Tolerance article “Straight Talk About the N-Word” and the accompanying toolkit.)

  1. Read the first seven paragraphs. While reading underline these words: heterosexist, appropriating, pacifism, Gandhian and villainized.
  2. After you have finished reading, discuss how each vocabulary word is used as an entire class or with a partner.
  3. Following the class discussion, independently define each term using your own words, and explain how it applies to Bayard Rustin’s life and activism. Remember to use complete sentences.

Close and Critical Reading

Read and Response

(Note: Number the paragraphs from 1-31 for the reading “Gays are the New Niggers.” Treat indented quotes like they are paragraphs. Suggested divisions: Excerpt 1: Paragraphs 8-11; Excerpt 2: Paragraphs 14-16; Excerpt 3: Paragraphs 25-28; Excerpt 4: Paragraphs 29-31.)

  1. In groups, analyze the excerpts and react to them. (Note: Consider doing this task as a jigsaw.) What is the statement being made? What reasoning is used to make the statement? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  2. When reading, it’s important to analyze or deconstruct the text. Consider some of these suggested questions from the Center for Media Literacy: Who created this message? How might different people understand this message differently from me? Whose point of view is presented? What reasons might an individual have for being interested in this message? (Note: For more information on media literacy, visit the Center for Media Literacy.)
  3. Read “Gays are the New Niggers” again and complete the graphic organizer about the life of Bayard Rustin. In what organizations was Rustin active? When was he involved with these organizations? What cause or movement did the organization support? What role did Rustin play with the group? What leaders and activists did he meet due to the diversity of his political activism?

Community Inquiry

Discuss Rustin’s accomplishments and their significance. Is it possible to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership in the civil rights movement without also discussing Bayard Rustin? How did Rustin directly influence Dr. King’s leadership philosophy? How did Dr. King feel about Rustin’s homosexuality? Did Rustin’s sexuality impact the ways in which he was able to contribute to the civil rights movement? What does Rustin’s relationship with Dr. King reveal about the connection between gay rights and civil rights? Are gay rights separate from civil rights? Do you think that gay rights and civil rights should be studied separately, or should they be taught together? 

Write to the Source

Using the completed Graphic Organizer as your resource, reflect on what you learned about Bayard Rustin and how your understanding of him evolved throughout the activity. How did Rustin contribute to the civil rights movement despite the challenges he faced as a gay man?  What does Rustin’s life and activism represent about him as an individual, as well as how ideas, perceptions and people evolve over time? What accounts for the changes in Rustin’s willingness to openly advocate for gay rights in his later years? Did Rustin change? Did society change? Support your answer using examples from the text. Your answer must include examples that demonstrate how Rustin changed or did not change.

Do Something

Create a Bayard Rustin Award at your school. Each year, recognize a diverse group of students who embody the qualities that made Bayard Rustin such an important activist. With the help of a faculty mentor develop a list of personal qualities and other criteria that will be used to select recipients. Bayard Rustin’s birthday is March 17th. Honor Rustin’s legacy by announcing the group of students chosen by their peers to receive the award on that day. Give each student a certificate for the award.

Common Core State Standards (English Language Arts Standards)

Reading

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Writing

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Speaking and Listening

1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Language

1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.