There are some books that are written so beautifully that you can choose a random page in it and find something so lyrical, so prosaic that you can read it out loud and be blessed by it. Ocean Vuong’s ‘On Earth We’re Briefly gorgeous’ is one of those books. I was lured into the book because I found it filed under ‘gay fiction,’ but the book is certainly more than that. It is also an immigrant story, and it touches upon something that for me is very interesting; the complicated oftentimes passionately love and hate relationship between a gay man and his mother. Indeed, the structure of the book is a letter of his son to his mother, knowing she probably will not read it. There were times I saw myself in how he interacted with her, as he is torn awe and pain of what she does to him, unknowingly adding more to the pain when one is discovering himself in the world. You can easily luxuriate in the words here, and instantly live in the narrator’s world. It is not one of those books with a lot of storytelling, and it does sometimes feel like it is stream of consciousness, but there’s so much beauty, and beauty is beauty.
I devoured the first two books about Nate Foster, so for sure I thought I would feel the same about the third (and unfortunately, last) on the series of books about him, written by Tim Federle, titled ‘Nate Expectations.’ When we last saw him, he was starring in a Broadway production of ‘E. T.,’ but the show is kind of floundering, and after it was not nominated for any Tony awards, got a closing notice. So this sends Nate back to Pittsburgh at his old high school, and of course he is somewhat dejected by all this, and has to repurpose and rebrand himself as a student. To be honest, this is the weakest book in the series for me, and it took me a little bit to get back int he groove of it, but it’s still a good and fast read. I still cherish all the Broadway references, of course, and it was a very nice touch for me that his new love interest is Filipino (who cooks him adobo!) I love the fact that his parents are very supportive of his sexual orientation (we knew all of this was coming, for sure) and it was nice to see him close up that way. I hope Federle revisits him at some point as I would be curious where Nate eventually ends up.
Bill Konigsberg’s ‘Openly Honestly’ is a novella that is meant to bridge the gap between his novels ‘Openly Straight,’ and ‘Honestly Ben.’ This short piece is told from Ben’s point of view around the time he went home for Holiday break after realizing he has feelings for Rafe. In here he questions his feelings, compounded by a scene where he sees his ex-girlfriend. I think at times that is the pivotal point when he realizes the enormity of his feelings. This was just fine – and I know this was just meant to satiate the thirst for those people waiting for the sequel.
Over the summer, Palma de Mallorca, Spain was one of the stops of our cruise, and that is what made me want to read ‘The Vacationers,’ by Emma Straub, which is about a family vacation of a family from New York City to Mallorca. In the course of their vacation, secrets come out, some relationships break, and some get solidified.
This was a quick read for me, and the characters were interesting, though I thought the book was a bit overcrowded as some characters were a little bit left behind and were not explored as much. Still, this was probably meant as a nice beach read, and for that purpose, was successful.
‘Honestly Ben’ by Bill Konigsberg is the sequel to ‘Openly Straight’ and I kind of wish I had brushed up on that book before starting this because the novel starts just right after where that book ended. But I remember enough about the characters that I quickly got into their story. The narration also changes to Ben’s point of view and I like his voice better – more mature, and in a lot of ways he know more about himself. But there’s some irony to that, though, cause in here he finds himself in conflicting emotions about who he has fallen for, for he meets Hannah, and he finds that he is attracted to her as well. He decides that he is straight, but in love with one boy – Rafe.
I found the book enjoyable, and Ben is irresistible, though there are times when I wanted to shout at him for always doing the right thing. Seriously, his honesty is to blame for a lot of the conflicts here. And I don’t know why, but I found myself rooting for Hannah too. But the end is a good payoff, and we know a lot more about these characters – and ourselves – by the end of the book.
‘Payback’ by John Inman is a very engrossing story, and touches up[on some very important issues: homophobia, gun violence, even immigration. But I foudn it very hard to get past some of the stupid choices the main character makes. The story revolves mostly around grief, and how it affects us in different ways. But I guess it is my own prejudice that hinders me from accepting what Tyler, the main character, does to deal with grief, and in particular how he deals with thought of revenge. But Inman’s book is never boring, I gotta give him that – you will be riveted from the first page to the last. Some things don’t really make sense, but I charge it to good storytelling.
‘Educating Simon’ by Robin Reardon is a book that got to me – to the core. It is a story of Simon, a teenager living in England, on his way to Oxford University. But his mother meets an American, and this whirlwind affair has them relocating her and Simon to Boston. Of course, Simon gets upset. I know a lot of readers have said that in this initial part of the novel, they found Simon unlikable. But for me, I sort of understood. Yes, there is a feeling that he seems to be entitled, but I kind of got where he was coming from, especially since he found that he was being lied to. he then comes to Boston, and obviously, life has changed. Life is different, but in here he starts to blossom as a young gay man, meeting suitors, getting his heart broken, even breaking someone’s heart.
Usually when I read a book, I want to go through it quick, especially when I am so engrossed by the story. but here, I found myself stopping, reflecting on what has happened. In a lot of ways, I felt a little envious of his life – how everything is still new, and he has the whole world to discover. I found myself reflecting on my life a bit, oh hell, a lot. This book isn’t perfect. I felt that sometimes too much is going in his life, events are getting overwhelming even for the reader. But this book always kept me involved, and more importantly, always kept me reacting, and making me think about life…and love.
I remember, years ago, I read André Aciman’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and was so touched by it. I started recommending it to everyone, and to this day, mention it as one of my favorite books of all time. Now he has written another book that I love, titled ‘Enigma Variations.’ The book consists of five novellas, all exploring the loves of one man : Paolo, Paul, Pauly. They come at different stages of his life, with different loves of both genders. My favorite is the opener, ‘First Love,’ wherein a twenty two year old Paolo goes back to the Italian island where he spent his summers as a young boy, and where also he first fell in love with his mother’s carpenter. As he tries to find this gentleman, he finds out discoveries about his family and specifically his father. This is a story of an awakening, of a young man accepting terms from his first infatuation. Aciman writes with such intimacy and frankness that we cannot help but see ourselves in this characters. Years later we see Paul in ‘Spring Fever,’ when he suspects the woman he is dating is having an affair, only to realize things are not always what it seems. Here Aciman’s tone is serious but becomes playful, and I loved the way Paul interacts with different characters in the book. ‘Star Love’ finds Paul dissecting his years-long friendship and courtship with Chloe, and while I found their relationship interesting as it crosses and tests the gray areas, I found this part a little tedious. ‘Manfred’ is about obsession – about how we change and move our lives because of another, how we analyze instead of do, and how unexpected sometimes life can be. I found this novella fascinating, its frank sexuality talk immensely powerful in conveying that feeling of wanting, the senation of deep desire, and its payoff. I wouldn’t say ‘Enigma Variations’ is as good as ‘Call me By Your Name,’ but I know what book I will be recommending to friends this year.
Since ‘The Rise And Fall Of A Theater Geek’ was written by Seth Rudetsky, I guess I was expecting more from it. You know that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Broadway, so I was kind of expecting a little bit of that here. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because this is a young adult novel about a teenager, Justin, who got a two-week internship in New York City. never mind all the pesky details, I was trying to go along for the ride. but Justin has such an obnoxious voice, though, that it was very difficult to like him. Plus. all the characters around him were unlikable and the ‘mystery’ he got embroiled in was a little hard to just accept. But, I really do not want to knock this book off – it has good intentions and really, a young theater geek will probably identify himself in one of these characters. It just wasn’t for me.
We have all had summers that changed our lives, and that is the premise of Karen Hattrup’s ‘Frannie and Tru.’ It’s the summer before Frannie has to change schools because of an economic downgrade in her family, and she finds out her cousin Tru, is arriving from Connecticut. She overhears her parents say that it is because he just came out to his parents and is being shipped to his family so things can cool down. (I mean, what do you expect when you name your child Truman?)
Tru’s character is meant to be complex, and does complicated things but I never thought the character was truly fleshed out as well as Frannie, who is fascinating on her own. And the plot was slow to come, with not enough character study to fill up the space between. There are flashes of great here, but it was slow coming.