The Nitty Gritty: Charm & Strange

I read the best books without having any idea why I really picked them up. In this case, the copy of Charm & Strange that I have at the store has library markings on it. For some reason, that makes it much harder to sell. So I grabbed it out of a pile of books I’d brought out to my front yard for the East Atlanta Strut-in-Place. Figured I’d read while I waited for folks to roll up and peruse the tent.

Except then I really didn’t want to put it down. At all.

It’s a YA book. And it won the American Library Association award for debut authors. And, y’all, it’s riveting. But it’s dark. Like, real dark.

It made me remember how stark the lies of adolescence can be–and how damning: that we aren’t enough, that we are flawed, broken, shameful. That the world would be better off if we didn’t exist–but at the very least we shouldn’t let people get close. Because they’ll loathe what that they see–probably wouldn’t be able to stand it–so to protect them and us, we shut everyone out.

Maybe that wasn’t your adolescence. But it was mine. And I wished I’d had a book like this to let me know that I wasn’t the only person that felt this way.

At many points in the book, you really have no idea what’s going on, or why it’s happening. Which drives you into a fever pitch of reading so you can figure out what the actual hell is happening/has happened to this 17 year old kid. Why does he make the decisions he does? Why is he bent on his own social destruction, his intense isolation?

Here are some things you should know: You do eventually figure out the whole dark, painful, twisted story. Nothing is rosy in this book but I felt like someone had opened a window & let in a stream of light at the end. But you have to be willing to engage in the journey to get there.

It was definitely worth the read. And I loved that the author trusted her YA readers with some intense social issues–and gave them the task of shifting the lies we tell ourselves when we are in pain from the objective truths that others can more easily bear witness to.

If the whole review is a little cryptic, it’s because I’m trying to preserve the mystery for you. But as a final note: there are some topics in this novel that will be triggering for some folks. If you’re concerned that may be you, please read a review that includes trigger warnings before picking this one up.

The Nitty Gritty: A Review of There Goes Sunday School (Alexander C. Eberhart)

I had so many feels about this book, it’s hard to even get them into words. I love LGBTQ Young Adult novels. For real. They’re a gut-punch reminder of what it’s like to be young, falling in love, and figuring out your sexuality… while trying to navigate the impeding (and inevitable) doom of folks finding out you’re gay. Add into the mix that There Goes Sunday School is set in Atlanta… Totally swoon-worthy.

What I didn’t expect was for this YA novel to unearth so many feelings for me. I mean, I didn’t just relate to the protagonist… at one point I WAS the protagonist. Anti-gay upbringing? Check. Conservative Evangelical church? Check. Being told I was for sure gonna burn in hell? Check. But, perhaps especially when it’s rooted in pain, it turns out that representation is just as important at 43 as it is at 13. Watching my own story play out (with some significant plot deviations, of course) was cathartic.

Eberhart wrote believable characters with realistic responses to their surroundings and upbringings. He managed to create a tender novel that didn’t read as over-dramatized or simplistic. And he got in some wins for his characters that, for me at least, are incredibly important to see in print.

Being gay isn’t a tragedy. In fact, coming out and living into your truth is a victory. Even when it’s hard. Being who you are is worth risking everything for. And that’s a truth that everyone needs to hear more of.