Thursday, July 15, 2010

Saints of Augustine

I just finished a great YA novel that had much more to it than I'd expected.

Two boys, the summer before their senior year of high school, are both dealing with shit. Sam is coming out to himself, sort of. He's starting. (Plus there's this cute boy who seems like he's interested in Sam?!) Sam is also slowly suddenly starting to come out to other people. After IMing until 2 a.m. with the cute boy, he wonders, "Giving someone the idea that you aren't interested in being thought of as not gay is practically the same as telling them you might be gay, isn't it?" The novel is full of those blurred moments that are so a part of coming out, and that's the kind of thing that makes this novel ring as true as it does. Apparently while Sam was IMing with Justin, "That was what had happened. And it felt good."

Charlie is the other main character, formerly Sam's best friend until Sam realized he had a crush on Charlie and got so freaked out that he might do something to screw everything up that he abruptly ended their friendship without explanation. Then Charlie's mom got sick, and then was in the hospital, and then she died, and he's had a rough year. His dad is drinking again, and Charlie is smoking too much pot, even though his girlfriend says she doesn't want to date a pothead, and now the badass pot dealer is harassing him after saying "Don't worry about it, just pay me whenever."

Sam and Charlie end up resuming their friendship and talking everything over, but in that way that high school boys seem to talk things over. Like when Sam comes out to Charlie, the first person he actually says those words to, it goes like this:
"I'm gay," Sam said suddenly.

"No, you're not."

"What do you mean, no, I'm not?"

The response had just fallen out of Charlie's mouth. It seemed impossible that Sam was gay. He didn't talk gay. He didn't act gay.

They talk about stuff that neither of them have been able to talk about with anybody since they stopped being friends with each other, and they help each other figure some shit out. Sam notices that "The connection between [Charlie's] pot smoking and his dad's drinking had apparently never crossed his mind before." Sam is panicked about his mom realizing he's gay after she's already asked him point blank are you gay and he's lied to her. Charlie reminds him that he did lie, there's nothing he can do about that, but since his mom has now basically figured it out, "It's like she saw the preview for the movie, so she sort of knows what to expect." (Been there, done that.)

Then there's an awesome coming out scene, and Sam's mom tells him she's basically relieved to know, saying that it's going to take some getting used to and Sam will have to be patient with her, but that "I don't want you hiding some huge part of yourself from me. If you start doing it now, it'll just get easier and you'll never stop. We'll be strangers by the time you're twenty. I don't want that to happen. Understand?"

Smart mom. Good job.

And Sam calls Charlie's house after they talk it all through, and Charlie's dad answers. They talk a little, and Sam says,
"I'm sorry for your loss." Sam had no idea what was the right way to talk about someone who had died. But he thought he shouldn't shy away from it with Mr. Perrin. "She always seemed so happy with you and Charlie. She was a happy person, I mean. Anybody would be lucky to have such a good family." Okay, he told himself, shut up now.

But Mr. Perrin said, "You know what, Sam? I think you're right. She was happy. Sometimes I forget to be glad about that." There was a heavy sadness in his voice. But he sounded almost glad to be talking about his wife. "I wish she were here now, she'd love to hear your voice. She always said you and Charlie were the kind of friends who would know each other for a lifetime."

So it has its real moments, and its slightly cheesy moments, and moments that are real in their slight cheesiness. It's about growing up and figuring things out.

I also love that Sam and Charlie both have jobs that are a big part of their lives. Sam works in the food court at the mall, selling frozen yogurt, and he has to wear a special hat:
The hat. What a nightmare. It was a blue baseball cap with the top of a brown waffle cone sticking out high on one side, and the bottom, pointy end sticking out low on the other, so it looked like the cone had come down out of the sky and pierced Sam's skull at a diagonal. The cone was topped with a round, white polyester blob that was supposed to be frozen yogurt and a cherry that dangled like a tassel.

Of course, the first encounter with the cute boy happens while Sam is working, wearing his hat. Charlie works long days fixing up a house on the beach for a family in Pensacola, painting the inside and replacing the broken windows. It's a full novel with boys in it that I could know, boys with friends and crushes and complicated families and jobs and sports and real lives. I stayed up too late finishing it, even though I had to be at work with the second graders at eight the next morning. It doesn't have a happy ending, it has a realistic ending, but it's hopeful and genuine and I cared enough that I needed to know what was going to happen. A really satisfying novel, so worth reading.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sa'riondan, Andre', Pompey

I've been wondering, not for the first time, about how apostrophes ended up in so many African-American names. But teaching in my neighborhood this summer in Portland, I have a majority of African-American students for the first time ever, really; in New York I had just as many West Indian kids, and this Minnesota-raised white teacher was fascinated by how different the two groups are, in so many ways. Anyway, Google found me this explanation, which makes a lot of sense, actually, though I'm not sure it covers all the bases.

I also found this at Salon, which is generally fascinating and thoughtful and takes on some of the real issues that are raised, usually indirectly, when the subject of African-American names comes up. (Remember the righteous, relatively conservative, and firmly upper-class Bill Cosby going off a few years ago?)

I've also been wondering why so many classic Roman names have been used historically, which dates more to slave times. This is a thoughtful examination of many common names in a specific part of the country, Central Pennsylvania, but calls itself "central pennsylvania african american history for everyone" and seems to fulfill that nicely.

If you know of other material on this subject, I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Good sign

There is a "Please do not remove signs" sign written on cardboard, attached to a stake, and firmly planted in the median strip on Ainsworth near 30th. It is the only sign in the median for blocks in either direction.

Playing Monopoly, then playing pretend

I spent my Saturday with the neighbor kids so their mom could go to the hospital with grandma, who's having knee surgery. I'd promised Sierra we'd play Monopoly, so we did--at my lovely backyard table, in the sun! We dealt out most of the properties first, which moved the game along nicely. Sierra and Miles have an amazing new updated Monopoly set, where you have a debit card instead of paper money, and the bank is essentially a very small ATM type thing. Also, everything costs a lot more. In the thousands and millions. But it's still Monopoly. We played a whole game, and Miles, the little brother, won. (We made a couple of slightly unorthodox trades that were perhaps more favorable toward him. But. Yeah.) Then I worked on my garden (death to the holly tree stump and the holliettes!) while they climbed my hawthorne tree, and then they played this elaborate game in which they represented closely aligned but different tribes who were waging war on a third tribe. The best part was when Sierra said, "Okay, Miles, now we have to speak to them in a language we all understand," and he said, "No, I'm going to speak my own language." Oh, the older sibling/younger sibling dynamic. But yay for little kids playing make-believe outside. Yes, there's a potentially problematic tribal element, but it wasn't cowboys and Indians, and there was no war-whooping. And there also were not TV show characters involved. Overall, excellent stuff.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I want that shirt

Outside the New Seasons on Killingsworth, a guy in a wheelchair is panhandling. He's got a puppy on his lap and his shirt says "and blessed art thou among women."