Monday, January 16, 2017

I Need Advice On A Creative Block

I still can't write what I want. 

I mean, I do want to write these posts, and I'd even say I enjoy doing so, but nothing much has changed since I blogged about feeling unable to create after the crushing results of the 2016 election. 

I've focused a lot on nonfiction and other projects, but whenever I want to write creatively...meh. I can't bring myself to open a Word doc. Nonfiction writing can be creative, but I feel more personally invested in fiction writing.

I'm trying to think of how to describe the feeling. It's like when I think about continuing something fiction -- or even re-reading an old draft to ease myself back into it -- I want to glue myself to the floor (and not get up). Or, maybe it's more like a weight pressing down. Or when you know you ought to take the trash out, but it's freezing outside, and all your winter weather gear seems to have disappeared. So you leave the trash in the can. 

Image result for dumpster fire
Since we're talking about trash cans...

I've always been able to at least open the document, look at what I wrote before, and say, "Wow, this is shit," before closing it. Now I don't even want to open the doc. The closest I've gotten is plugging in my thumb drive. 

Everyone is urging creators and artists to create when they feel down about the direction our country is taking. Perhaps it's the overwhelming pressure of responsibility for one's creative output to be meaningful or "worth it," or perhaps it's simply my physical limitations, but this strategy hasn't worked for me. I don't have a ton of energy at the best of times. I have a job, fortunately, but I spend almost all of the rest of my time saving and scrounging and conserving my energy to do that job. 

And my off days I generally spend recovering and preparing for the next day I work. My friends see active and smiley me, but in order to socialize at that level, I need to be a potato before the visit. Sometimes energy output exceeds the rate at which I can replace it, and I just...fall asleep. Or end up sitting quietly off to one side, burned out or in too much pain to be meaningfully present, and knowing that I should have conserved more. Or I'm the buzzkill who has to insist on ending an outing early, because my body imposes limits on how much of certain activities I can do at one time. Depending on the condition of my health that week, I need to spend more or less time conserving and recharging, but I always do need to put significant physical and mental energy towards it. 

Perhaps with the stress that comes with being keenly aware of current events, I don't get any leftover energy for creation. Maintenance is hard enough without trying to do anything new. Or perhaps it's a sense of, what is the point of making a new thing at the moment? 

This is all coming to a head because I have an important appointment on the same day as Inauguration Day. I'm not sure I'll be able to focus on ANYTHING beyond basic, day to day stuff until my unease surrounding the inauguration and my fears over the fate of the ACA are resolved. I don't even know if I'll get an answer at this appointment, but I'll at least have closed off a line of inquiry.

Everyone is writing hopeful think pieces and urging writers to write like nothing fucking happened, like it's business as usual. They're sitting in a burning house pretending everything is fine, and I'm like, that's nice and all, but writing your book is not going to help me if I lose my health coverage. And somehow all these think-piece writers and writing activists and the pressure to be positive and productive have managed to make me feel guilty, as if by having a totally justifiable shock reaction, or feeling too down and blah to write, I'm letting The Bad Guys win. 

Tl;dr: I don't know how to work back up to writing again. Keep plugging in that thumb drive until I open the Word doc one day? Write something total trash that I'm not invested in? Do longhand? Do a different form, like poetry? Just wait it out? Advice would be nice.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The ACA Is In Danger. Please Contact Your Reps.

I had this plan the other day where I was going to call the wavering or opposing Republicans who didn't want to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act, Obamacare) without a replacement plan. They only needed three defectors in order to stop the repeal -- and, as of yesterday, anywhere from 6-12 were reported as wavering. 

Conservatives who have opposed Trump and his policies have tended to make a big fuss at first and then lie down and roll over under party pressure. ("Who's a good ol' boy? Who's a good ol' boy? You are! YOU are!") I wanted to contact people who were wavering and say, hey, this is super important, please vote against your party and don't give in to that pressure.

But then the Senate voted by a tiny majority to repeal the ACA without a replacement. At around 1 in the morning. So, that was my plan gone out the window. 

Now, I'm going to call and send personalized emails to my Representatives, in the hope that the House will see this nonsense for what it is and block the repeal.

Do I deny that the ACA needs some work? No. I realize that as a 24-year-old with a uterus, I'm in the demographic that it's tended to work out well for. I've gotten to stay on my parents' insurance and I've gotten birth control for free. (Hooray! No more migraines so severe they cause auditory hallucinations!)

But that's not what this is about. This is about the conservative party trying to put President Obama's legacy through the shredder. They don't care about making sure they have a less cumbersome healthcare system. They just know that it's called Obamacare, and so they want to KILL IT WITH FIRE. 


Image result for fire

I can't stress enough that this would be a death sentence for many Americans. A quiet, coolly legislated death sentence. It's not like they're going door to door rounding up disabled, sick, and mentally ill people and killing us en masse so that we won't be a burden on society. This isn't Nazi Germany. Not yet. 

But if you deny people the care they need to live, you may as well be doing that. People with preexisting conditions, including children, will die because they are denied health coverage. 

The effects aren't always so obvious. We already have a problem with high rates of homelessness among veterans and mentally ill people. If a person loses their healthcare and eventually their job and home as a result, and then freezes to death, that's on the GOP. If someone loses their health insurance and kills themselves -- from depression, chronic pain, PTSD, or as an alternative to dying of cancer without proper care -- then they may have pulled the trigger, but it would still be the GOP's fault.

I'm not entirely comfortable getting into all the reasons why this is a personal issue for me, but for now, know that it is. I'm going to be contacting my reps about it. If I lived in the state where I was registered to vote, I would consider making the trip to D.C. and walking into their office to deliver a message in person. 

If you are a U.S. citizen, it would mean a great deal if you would call or write (a personalized letter or email, not a form letter) to your Representatives to let them know that repealing the ACA without a replacement is foolish. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Diverse Reads: Defying Convention by Cecil Wilde

I don't read a ton of romance, but Defying Convention was just the romantic novella I needed at the moment: sweet, adorable, but with enough serious themes that I didn't feel like it was total fluff. 

This book was the cutest, OK? The. Cutest. 


Image result for five star image

So What's It About?

Defying Convention is the story of two best friends, AJ and Danny, who have known each other online for five years yet have never met in person. On impulse, they decide to attend a con together, hoping that their long-distance chemistry will translate to friendship...and potentially romance. 

Image result for defying convention cecil wilde

Characters, Cuteness, and More Serious Stuff

AJ was my favorite of the two. They are witty, sarcastic, and a ton of fun to read. AJ ends up being the sexual mentor of the couple (this is romance, so duh, they become a couple). We get the sense that Danny has a lot of body insecurity as well as sexual inexperience, so being with AJ helps his confidence.

These two are just?? So?? Cute?? And so perfect for each other? Their online friendship does translate pretty well to an in-person relationship. The sexual tension between them is obvious as well. 

However, they don't immediately spring onto each other in lustful passion or anything. They are careful about boundaries, talking about what is and isn't OK contact-wise, and picking up on body language. Defying Convention emphasizes mutual consent and respect -- for ALL levels of intimacy, not just sex -- in a way that much romance doesn't. It's a behavior model that I wish more people followed. 

Mental Illness and Romance

Consent and boundaries are particularly important to Danny, who has anxiety. Defying Convention shows some of Danny's symptoms and management strategies.

Image result for anxiety
source

Danny is also touch-averse, leery of physical contact and hyperaware of boundaries. I am touch-averse myself and I was initially so, SO worried about how this particular symptom would be handled in a romance novel. Most things I've read don't even depict touch aversion as a symptom. When they do, they paint touch aversion as an obstacle for the averse person to overcome (as opposed to a boundary for their partner to respect). Others depict romance as a cure for all things mental illness. 

I originally found Defying Convention in a list of no-cure narratives about protagonists with disabilities. Danny's anxiety is addressed but not "cured" by his romance with AJ. AJ is also absolutely FANTASTIC about keeping an eye on Danny, making sure they schedule breaks for him without insulting his ego, restraining their touchy-feely nature and only touching consensually, and just...!!!! Basically, it's the kind of escapist, wish-fulfillment romance I really wanted to read this week, because it's so sweet, and they are both so caring, and JUST CUTENESS EVERYWHERE OMG.

The One Thing, Though...

The only thing that jumped out at me as a red flag was this: After Danny has a panic attack, he apologizes to AJ for being sweaty and gross. AJ says that they still like Danny..."especially" when he's like this. That was a HUGE RED FLAG for me, because it seemed to fetishize mental illness. 

Image result for red flag

It's OK for a romantic partner to say, "I'm here for you no matter what" or even "I like being able to take care of you." That is nurturing and supportive. Not fetishistic. Saying "your illness/vulnerability/weakness/lowest point is what makes you more attractive to me" is basically the mental illness version of that One Direction song where the boy sings that the girl's lack of self-confidence is "what makes you beautiful." That's when the story stops being about the person dealing with mental illness...and becomes about the partner's desire to be a White Knight. 

Fortunately, the problematics of this are lampshaded by Danny. He wonders whether AJ is really attracted *to him,* or whether his vulnerability is attractive. This comment by AJ may have been meant to increase Danny's confidence at a low moment, but actually had the opposite effect. So...if you're dating someone with a mental illness, you know, don't do that. 

Later, the book demonstrates that AJ cares for Danny deeply and does not really fetishize his anxiety or want to be a savior figure. In fact, they're later turned on by a confident, commanding Danny.

Nerds Who Have Sex

AJ jokes that they're defying all kinds of conventions, including being two geeks boinking a lot. Silly comments aside, Defying Convention is a love letter to geek culture, fandom, and pop culture. This treatment ranges from humorous -- Danny admitting that 90's scifi was key to his sexual awakening -- to serious, when AJ and Danny discuss how they found a place among nerds and geeks when they felt like they didn't belong anywhere else. 

There's only one sex scene which I would call explicit, but this is erotic romance. Erotic romance focuses more on the characters' feelings and relationship, with sex primarily used as a way to create emotional intimacy rather than a tool to titillate the reader. The steamier scenes are great overall. 

Trans, Bi, and Racial Diversity, Hooray!

In addition to the depiction of anxiety, Defying Convention is an #ownvoices romance about two trans characters. Danny is a trans man, and AJ is nonbinary and uses "they/them" pronouns. The author is nonbinary as well. Defying Convention also showed some diversity among transgender people in terms of what steps different people may take physically in order to better suit their authentic selves. 

Image result for bisexual transgender flag
Trans flag!

AJ identifies as bisexual and Danny appears to as well, which was nice to see. Bisexuals have historically struggled with erasure, and the latest misconception floating around is that it's transphobic. People assume "bi" means "only two" and that those "only two" are just "men and women." The "bi" in "bisexual" refers to two kinds of sexual attraction: same and different-gender attraction. This is why bisexual is considered an umbrella term for other multisexual identities. This is also why you'll see many people abbreviate it as bi+. 

Image result for bisexual flag
Bi flag!

Ultimately, you should call people what they want to be called, whether that's bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or something else. But the idea that bisexual is inherently transphobic can be erasive to nonbinary and transgender bisexuals. Defying Convention was positive bisexual representation that included a nonbinary bisexual. YAY. Benefits of supporting #ownvoices and indie publishing!

In addition, AJ is Sri Lankan-American. They talk a bit about their family and heritage. In particular, AJ mentions how their racial identity seemed to clash with the more visible, "typical" white nonbinary person. It's not a huge part of the book, but AJ is specified as a person of color from the beginning.  

Image result for sri lanka
source

Length

It's a novella, but it didn't feel too short or too long. I have a hard time paying attention to longer romances, and this felt like just the right length. And there's a lot of meat to it (pun totally intended). I mean, I managed to write a pretty long review about a novella. 

Basically, this is a really good book, with nerd stuff, cute and sweet stuff, sexy stuff, diversity stuff, and other fun stuff, AND it's indie, AND it's #ownvoices. You should read it. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Diverse Reads: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot (Audiobook)

This was, if not my first-ever audiobook, my first-ever Audible purchase! The narrator was fantastic in every way. She really nailed the emotions, inflection, and overall delivery, bringing characters to life in a way that resonated with me long after the book was finished. I may go out of my way to seek out more audiobooks by Quincy Tyler Bernstine regardless of content. 

Audiobook review

Let's start with that, then! This is a 5-star audiobook for sure.

From my friend who narrates audiobooks, I know there's a bias against female voices in the audiobook industry. The assumption is that they aren't as versatile and can't imitate male characters "believably." Quincy Tyler Bernstine had a mid-range voice and was perfectly able to perform all the male characters in A Wish After Midnight. I call B.S. on this double standard. Every voice had a particular way of speaking which felt natural to the character, no matter their gender.


Image result for quincy tyler bernstine
Quincy Tyler Bernstine. source

One of the main characters is Judah, an immigrant from Jamaica and Genna's love interest. Judah is something of a firebrand who doesn't identify as African "American" the way Genna does. When he is trying to fit in, his Jamaican accent is less pronounced. But when he's talking about his home country and ideals, his Jamaican accent becomes more heavy. This was a clever move on the part of the narrator, and if I recall, is actually signaled in the text. 

A Wish After Midnight: Plot and Setting

A while back, I posted about this when I was first starting to listen to it. Audible warned me that it contained "diverse content," which I thought was eyebrow-raising. At the time, I speculated that that warning was because A Wish After Midnight uses the n-word. It does, but I think Audible's warning goes beyond that and veers into racial prejudice. This seems particularly egregious because it's an #ownvoices work. Zetta Elliot is a Canadian author and a self-described black feminist who moved to Brooklyn and has lived in the US for 20 years. 

A Wish After Midnight depicts teens living in a poor part of Brooklyn. Genna is a shy and quiet girl who wants to use her school smarts to escape her neighborhood. She does have a bit of a chip on her shoulder as far as feeling superior to other kids, but she's also carrying the weight of her mother's expectations that she'll be the perfect child who will go to college, get rich, etc. She feels somewhat displaced from her heritage, and this question of identity is a major part of the book. For example, she feels unable to identify as Latina despite her Latino father and feels it would be inauthentic to claim her Native heritage. The first half focuses on her dreams, her home life, and her babysitting job.


A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

When she meets Judah, the new boy from Jamaica, she starts listening to his ideas: she's intrigued by the idea of finding out more about their heritage, she begins to grow locs and practice her boyfriend's Rastafarianism, she gains more self-confidence about her body, and she starts to feel like she has a place. 

After a fight with her mother, though, Genna storms out of the house and retreats to the garden: a place where she goes to feel at peace. Through a string of unfortunate events and a timely wish, she finds herself -- and Judah -- transported back to Civil War-era Brooklyn. There, Genna must learn how to survive as a young black woman in the 1860's, find Judah, and decide whether she wants to return to her own time or try to make a life where fate has placed her. 

So Genna's Pretty Cool

I liked Genna because she was sort of the nerdy, quiet girl, and that was me a lot of the time. People assumed I was boring because I didn't chat much. Introverted protagonists ftw!

She's also a great character in many other ways. While she's traditionally feminine and aware that she doesn't have much in the way of physical strength, she is willing to use the wits, muscles, weapons, and tools available to her to defend herself. At the same time, A Wish After Midnight touches on many of the challenges and compromises girls make when negotiating their interactions with the world. I thought this book handled gender issues with great insight and care. 

The Dudes

Masculinity is also a central theme of the novel. Genna's father, for instance, had issues of feeling inadequate after he was unable to provide for his family after he was injured. Her own boyfriend defines his masculinity by whether he is able to protect her. Genna and Judah have to work through some of the more toxic notions of masculinity in order to make their relationship work. 


Image result for male symbols

They are eventually able to acknowledge Judah's feelings of helplessness and emasculation -- particularly as perpetrated by whites -- as valid, without forcing Genna to compromise for him by pretending to be weak. Part of Judah's arc is acknowledging the privileges he has as a man and the way he sometimes holds Genna to a double standard, while part of Genna's growth is realizing that as a woman she is exempt from certain types of mistreatment that Judah experiences. 

Idk. I studied masculinist criticism in college, which is sorta-kinda an offshoot of feminist criticism which examines the depiction of masculinity in literature. So I guess it's something I just tend to pick up on, and I was intrigued by its treatment in A Wish After Midnight. Plus, even though Judah made me want to SCREAM with irritation occasionally, the romance between Genna and Judah is really positive and rewarding. One of my top 10 YA romances. 

Err...Genre? Ehh??

So, the summary, cover, and Amazon classification pitched this as a time-travel or portal fantasy. It also sounded like Genna and Judah were equally important viewpoint characters. 

This is not the case. A Wish After Midnight is told in first-person from Genna's POV, with Judah absent for a huge chunk of the book. I would also classify A Wish After Midnight as historical fiction. The time-travelling wish fountain is more of a plot device to get the teens from one era to another. Magic, technology, fantasy, or any other elements beyond realism are never explained and barely feature. If you're looking for a portal fantasy, this isn't it. However, it's great as historical fiction! The concept/setup reminded me of the 1988 novel The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen.


Image result for wikipedia fountain
Buckingham Fountain (Chicago) source

The main conflict is the growing tension between the free African Americans and the immigrant Irish in Brooklyn, eventually leading to the draft riots. Many teens may not know this history. We covered the draft riots when I was in high school, but we spent most of our time on the battles and politics. I have always loved history and was beyond excited to see a novel about the Civil War "home front" that wasn't Little Women. 

Slurs, issues, and other stuff

A Wish After Midnight deftly handles the leadup to the draft riots, exploring racial and economic tensions. I won't go into too much detail; it's all covered in the book. 

Coincidentally, I was reading The Star of the Sea right before A Wish After Midnight. The Star of the Sea is a historical novel about the Irish famine, poverty, the flight of many Irish to the United States, and the total failure of the US government to treat the refugees with respect or basic human decency. A Wish After Midnight takes place just 10-20 years after the book I'd just read was set, which was serendipitous. The two groups were very different but also had a lot in common, and both novels touched on this (though A Wish After Midnight goes more in depth).

Either way, with questions of refugees and current racial tensions in the US, both The Star of the Sea and A Wish After Midnight were eerily relevant historical novels. 



A Wish After Midnight does contain context-appropriate racial and ethnic slurs throughout, including the n-word and several offensive terms for Irish Americans and white minorities. It also contains some of your average swear words, though for someone with my mouth, these barely registered. Overall, this is a book for mature YA readers rather than younger kids -- whimsical as wishing on fountains may sound.

More diversity: Mental Illness, Family, and Body Type

While racial and ethnic identities are the focus of this book, some other themes are touched on as well. After Genna is traumatically injured, she experiences phantom pain from her injury even after it is healed. Genna aspires to be a psychiatrist who helps people with trauma and PTSD, so this issue ties into her established goals and personality. 

Genna also comes from an underrepresented type of family. Her grandmother used to live with them, her father is currently absent, and she has a single mom. She has both full and half-siblings, and they are a multiracial family. While some of her siblings seem to embrace this multiethnic heritage, such as her more conventionally pretty sister, Genna finds it confusing and struggles with accepting her body type. She is skinny and tall and believes her hair is ugly. It's only when she meets a boy who likes her, starts growing locs, and exploring more traditional ways of doing her hair and clothes that she starts feeling more confident in her body. 

It was also unique (and somewhat of a relief) to see a book where Christianity wasn't the main religion addressed. Judah is Rastafarian, and Genna adopts many of these practices as well. Initially she just does it to please her boyfriend, but over time it takes on more personal meaning for her. 

The Conclusion Was a Bit of a Downer (SPOILERS AHEAD)

The climactic scene takes place in the draft riots, where Genna eventually makes it back to the fountain in the chaos and wishes herself back home again. When she asks someone what date it is, they tell her it's...wait for it...SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2001. 

Yeah. They get back just in time for 9/11. I was like, "WHAT? AFTER ALL THE SHIT THEY JUST WENT THROUGH? DON'T THEY DESERVE TO BE HAPPY??? JFC!"

Another message in the ending seemed to be that black and white people can't get along in America and that things won't ever get any better. Hence why they decide to leave, and hence why Genna gets back just in time for things in America to get a whole lot worse (proving the book's point). However, this seems to be troubled by Genna's reunion with her mother and her renewal of her ties to her present-day life. Does she decide there's no hope for America because she's resigned to being stuck in the past, or because she doesn't believe people can move forward in her own time? I'm interested to know whether the author would consider this a separatist book, and also whether the sequel affects this reading of the ending. I'm also interested in hearing from any African American readers or reviewers. What did you think of the portrayal of race here?

Other stuff (spoilers over)


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00016]
I really need to know what happens.

Basically, this book takes a lot of emotional stamina to finish, especially if you've got it on audio. I would also like to add: trigger warnings for racial slurs, racial violence, and parent-child and spouse-spouse domestic violence. These things are way easier to read on the page -- where I can see what's coming and skim if need be -- than to listen to on audio with no warning or control over my pace. 

It's an absorbing read BUT THAT ENDING. ARGH. It was VERY sequel-teasing. Luckily, there seems to be a sequel out there!

Rating

I'm giving this 4/5 stars just because I was annoyed by the lack of explanation in regards to the fantasy/science fiction/"speculative fiction" elements. It was just like, this thing exists, OK bye and we'll never mention it again! Perhaps we'll hear more about it in the sequel?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Reviews, Reviewed: Old and New Thoughts



Looking back on the hot mess that was 2016, I also find myself looking back on books I read and reviewed. I often find that my opinion of a book evolves. This is certainly true for some of the books which I have reviewed here. A few of those have been...

Mister Monday by Garth Nix (MG fantasy/portal fantasy)

This one of the trippiest, most imaginative series I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Also, it's by a non-American author (Australian) so yay. I want to recap it because I'd like to go more in-depth about how disability is treated. Mister Monday doesn't fall into a lot of the cliched disability tropes fantasy often resorts to.

Copy of Keys To the Kingdom.JPGIn fact, the main character is picked as the Chosen One because of his disability. He's chosen literally because an asthma attack was going to kill him that day. This is a subversion of the "disabled characters are more expendable because their deaths make more 'sense'" trope. Instead of dying like he's "supposed" to, he becomes the Chosen One. Hell yes.

The magic Key he receives lets him breathe without difficulty. However, before all this, Arthur didn't want to be dependent on his inhaler. Now that he has a magical aid, he's still reluctant to rely on it for the same reason -- even though it does bring him relief. The Key does not magically cure his asthma. Given the prevalence of magic cures for disability in fantasy, this is lovely. 

The magic has negative side effects, and if his body becomes too magic-saturated, he'll never be able to go back to his old human life. He'd rather be himself with debilitating asthma than a superpowered immortal. So Arthur tries to use as little magic as possible even though it relieves his symptoms.

There's also a crapton of religious, mythological, pop culture, and f/sf references worked in throughout the series, and it's wonderful. Also, the ending of Lord Sunday is the most epic mindfuck I've ever read.

Mind Games by Kiersten White (YA science fiction/thriller)

Related imageI don't have as much to say about this one. Mainly, I complained about how the evil corporation didn't appear to take care of its assets. They let Fia go around while suicidal and a danger to herself and others and just sort of say, "meh." While their actions were nonsensical from a mental healthcare standpoint, upon reflection, I think the reader is meant to infer that the corporation is deliberately withholding proper care from both Fia and Annie. This keeps them more dependent on the corporation and more obligated to each other. Annie is seriously worried about Fia's mental health, while Fia seems a bit prejudiced about Annie's abilities as a blind person. 

This still isn't my favorite book in the world, but it's a thrilling thriller, and I became way more interested in it after learning that it's #ownvoices in regards to mental illness.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly (YA contemporary)

This is another book dealing with disability, this one with neurodivergence and a protagonist on the autism spectrum. Its main character is diagnosed with Asperger's, anxiety, and ADHD. Many people have multiple diagnoses, so this is a pretty realistic portrayal. 

Image result for harmonic feedback
I still have very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I want to go and rate it more positively because it's #ownvoices in regards to ADHD. I winced at how anti-medication the book is, but it's different when an author is drawing from their own lived experiences. Also, most things related to ADHD that I've seen have been about boys. A lot of people think of ADHD and ADD as a boy's thing. I know girls tend to be underdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and many women often don't get an accurate diagnosis until well into adulthood. Reading Harmonic Feedback could actually help someone.

On the other hand, it's SO BIPHOBIC, and the rape-as-backstory is handled with all the grace and thoughtfulness of Donald Trump tweeting from the toilet at 3am. Naomi's bisexuality is portrayed as part of her attention-seeking nature, as Justin tells her she's just a straight girl kissing other girls for attention. Worse, he says that Naomi doesn't trigger his "gaydar." This enforces the biphobic, erasive stereotype that bisexuals are "not gay enough" and need to "pick."

Even worse, he says that she's not the first straight girl ever to kiss another girl for shock value. This erases the experiences of not just Naomi but of all bi girls. Including some girls who might be reading this book. The stereotype is that bisexual girls are just straight girls experimenting. (While bi men are supposedly secretly gay. And nonbinary bisexuals are erased due to the misconception that "bisexual" is transphobic, when bisexual simply means two types of attraction -- same and different gender, not attraction along a strict man/woman binary.)

When Naomi apologizes to Drea for kissing her and says she doesn't like her that way, the book seems to affirm all of Justin's biphobic prejudices -- even erasing the possibility that Naomi is bisexual. While a girl with ADHD might have a positive experience with this book, a bisexual, queer, or questioning girl might read Harmonic Feedback and get a deeply hurtful biphobic message.

Also, Justin is a recovering addict. When Drea and he are talking about whether they want to have sex, he tells her that when he was on drugs, he had a lot of sex that he can't remember or can barely remember. He doesn't know who it happened with, what happened, or anything other than that he wanted more drugs. 

Rather than acknowledging that Jesus H. Christ, having sex with a drug-impaired underage 15-year-old boy -- who can't give informed consent or even REMEMBER his encounters -- IS RAPE, LIKE, MULTIPLE RAPES OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME -- Justin hastens to assure Drea that he "got checked" for STDs and "is clean." And...that's the extent of their conversation. Worse, he acts like he's ashamed of himself for not remembering or caring about the sex because all he cared about was drugs. The rapes -- PLURAL -- are portrayed as his fault and as an inevitable consequence of teen drug use. 

Every teen who's ever been raped while drunk or because they did drugs -- and that's a fair number of people -- and thinks that they should feel guilty for being raped, or that guys can't be raped, or that they're now untouchable by romantic partners because they got an STD from rape, or that being on something means you can consent, ALSO gets a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad message from Harmonic Feedback. 

"Two stars" is my rating for "didn't actively despise but still would not recommend." Upon reflection, I think that might have to be my updated rating for this book. The gorgeous writing is bewitching, and the portrayal of disability is fantastic, but it fails too hard in other areas to just ignore.

South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf (YA contemporary romance)

Though I gave this one five stars, I originally critiqued it for its mildly biphobic portrayal of the main romantic rival. Chelsea Hannigan is a grade-A mean girl, and she's bi, and she does fall into a lot of bisexual stereotypes such as being promiscuous and not willing to date a girl because it would look bad. 

Image result for south of sunshineOn reflection, I don't think this was as harsh a portrayal of bisexuality as I originally thought. First of all, the end of the book clearly shows that Chelsea lies about or downplays her bisexuality because her family and friends are LGBT+phobic and it's not safe for her to be out. This is valid. It's also a conflict faced by the main character. Kaycee originally scoffs at Chelsea for denying that she liked Bren, pretending that Bren came on to her. 

But later, Kaycee pulls the same move herself when she tries to excuse kissing Bren as "experimenting." Both the lesbian and the bisexual characters have the same problem of how "out" they can safely be in a small Tennessee town. Things end happily for Kaycee; not so much for Chelsea. That also, I think, dodges the common stereotype that bisexuals somehow have it easier than lesbians when it comes to coming out.

Well, those are my reviews...reviewed. Sorry if this seems redundant, but I think it's nice to revisit books and see how one's opinion changes. I'll be updating the Reviews page with links to this post as well.