The following article appeared in the June 7, 2015 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal.
Just Read It | Ann Bausum
“Just Read It” is a regular feature in which the State Journal seeks recommendations from authors, literary enthusiasts and experts, focused on the contributor’s particular genre of expertise.
Ann Bausum writes about history for young people and adults from her home in southern Wisconsin. Her most recent work, Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, is the latest of many titles she’s written that explore social justice history. In the course of researching Stonewall, Bausum found herself straying from archives and nonfiction into the worlds of literature, music, and film. All genres offered insights and inspiration to her work.
Taking a break from her usual diet of nonfiction, Bausum recommends three novels for young adults with protagonists from the LGBTQ community. Her suggestions coincide with a month that holds particular significance in gay rights history because of the Stonewall riots that took place in New York City in late June, 1969. In addition to the month’s commemorative gay pride parades, organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA) commemorate June as GLBT Book Month.
Ann Bausum will read from and sign copies of her book Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights at 7 p.m. Thursday (June 11,2015) along with Bridget Birdsall, author of Double Exposure, at Barnes & Noble West Towne, 7433 Mineral Point Road.
1. Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013). I so enjoyed Tim Federle’s narration of the Stonewall audiobook that I went off in search of his own works. Am I ever glad I did! Better Nate that Ever introduces us to the irrepressibly likable Nate Foster, a small-town kid who draws the attention of more bullies than friends. Fortunately ever-loyal Libby supports Nate’s dream of making it big on Broadway. She helps launch him on a covert trip to New York, timed to catch open auditions for E.T.: The Broadway Musical. Calamities, adventures, and opportunities unfold as fast as the punch lines.
I inhaled this book in audiobook form, narrated to such great effect by the author that the production earned honor recognition from the ALA’s Odyssey Awards. If you fall in love with Nate, like I did, you’ll be glad there’s a sequel: Five, Six, Seven, Nate! It’s a showstopper, too.
2. Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall (Sky Pony Press, 2014). Wisconsin’s own Bridget Birdsall takes teen readers into the world of basketball, friendship, and transgender identity. After a particularly horrifying incident of bullying, Alyx, who was born intersex with ambiguous genitalia, relocates with her mom from California to Milwaukee, leaving behind an identity as a boy and taking on the female persona that she’s always wanted. But can her secret hold while she transitions, with the help of hormones and surgery, into an undeniably female body?
Her love of basketball gives her a natural introduction to the social structure of Cudahy High, but it also ups the ante on her identity secret. Birdsall drew me in with her humanizing portrayal of Alyx and left me pulling not just for a victory at the state championships in Madison, but for the outcome Alyx yearns for in life.
3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013). Can Harry and Craig break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss? Their attempt threads together flashbacks to their own romance, now ended, with accompanying glimpses at the lives of their contemporaries. Issues of bullying, homophobic violence and gender identity are seamlessly woven into stories about new romance, coming out, and even the contemplation of suicide. The novel weaves seamlessly together themes that permeate the lives of LGBTQ youth, their allies, and their antagonists.
An interpretative chorus of ghostly voices—men who died too young because of AIDS—enriches the emotional impact while we await the outcome of what could be the world’s longest kiss. My connection to this story lingered long after I’d closed the book’s covers—one of my favorite measures of a good read.