Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stepping Back To Take A New Look

Alex Sanchez's 2004 novel, So Hard To Say, has been on store shelves for only seven years, but I wanted to pull the script from the decade's archives for just a moment. In so many ways, Sanchez's book already feels dated. His emphasis on the prehistoric use of Instant Messanger among his middle school characters, the complete lack of cell phone use/texting/sexting present throughout the 200+ pages, and the subtle hints towards fashion among teens in the early turn of the current century make the reader feel old.

However, the pure innocence of coming to terms with sexuality? That still rings true in the most powerful way. The two main characters, Xio (female) and Frederick, form a close relationship at a new school that quickly turns romantic for Xio and terrifying for Frederick. Because while Xio fantasizes about kissing Frederick before bed, the latter tries to push daydreams of the cute and muscular soccer player, Victor, from his mind. Xio's thirteen-year-old desire for male physical intimacy rears up inside of her, almost scaring the beautiful Latina teenager but mostly sending thrills up her fingertips. Across town, Frederick struggles to maintain his relationship with Xio while secretly wondering, "Why don't I like kissing Xio?" and "What would it be like to kiss a boy?" and, the most difficult, "Am I gay?"

The agency Sanchez gives his two main characters - Xio the power to forgive and forget issues from her past, and Frederick the power to say aloud his deepest fear - makes the reader beam with joy. Rarely do YA readers find such power in fictional characters. Certainly no Twilight readers feel compelled to exercise their freewill and personal talent.

It's interesting how a single book can feel so out of place and yet so current, similar to reading something like 1984 and realizing, "So much has changed," but also acknowledging, "Almost nothing is different." Sanchez has written a timeless novel for young adults.

In lieu of current struggles LGBT authors face with getting scripts published, as in the Brown and Smith case, it is refreshing to see some YA authors have made it. Their novels are available for teens - both queer and straight - to see what embracing individuality might look like.

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