Monday, May 24, 2010

The Full Spectrum for Nonfiction Monday

Levithan, David, and Billy Merrell, eds. The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Lambda Literary Award (Children's/Young Adult, 2006)
ALA Rainbow List (Young Adult Nonfiction, 2008)

"This book would have been very different if it had been compiled fifteen years ago, when I [David Levithan] was in high school It would have been different ten years ago, or even five years ago. I have faith that in five years, times will have changed enough to alter our snapshot here. And in ten years. And in fifteen years. This is a remarkable time to be young and queer in America. There is progress, and there is backlash. There is love, and there is hate. There is hope, and there is despair. Things are changing fast, and they're not changing fast enough. ... But change is going to come. Maybe in five years. Maybe in ten. Maybe longer. Maybe sooner.

One way to effect change is to share truths. To tell our stories. To make our hears and minds heard."
Notes to the Reader

So David Levithan and Billy Merrell began collecting pieces written by queer youth under the age of 23. All the pieces are non-fiction (with some name changes). All of them represent the author's unique perspective on the queer youth experience. Together the submissions create a vast array of colors and light, The Full Spectrum.

The pieces in this anthology tackle a myriad of topics: coming out, religion, first love, unaccepting parents/peers, religion, supportive parents/peers, the Boy Scouts, the military, religion(!); in a variety of settings: high school, New Your City, college, junior high, Egypt. They are written by young people who fall under the umbrella term "queer," but identify as gay, bi, trans, lesbian, gender-variant, and more. Some of the pieces are positive and affirming, some speak of overcoming unbearable hardship and hate, some end as hopeless as they began. All of them are important and valid, just like the young people who wrote them.

As a collection, The Full Spectrum is ambitious. It strives to present a multitude of experiences and identities, and it does. The mix of guys and girls, trans or not, is great. The mix of topics is also expansive, and given how much religion is mentioned, the mix of opinions on it is also widely variant. Also the mix of poetry, prose, letters, and diary entries was great. I never felt bogged down in too much angsty poetry or journal writing; all was in balance. This mix of writing styles will, hopefully, make this book accessible and attractive to readers of all stripes.

My main problem was with the editing. Some of these pieces are beautiful bits of polished writing.* Some of them are not. I imagine this has a lot to do with the state they were in when they were submitted. Many of these pieces were written by young people about the most traumatic periods of their lives! Everything is in their writing and everything is raw. Everything. It is completely understandable that some of them lack polish. These pieces could have used the guidance of a good editor, and it is a shame that they didn't get it. That said, these stories are compelling, each and every one. If I, an almost-30-year-old, engaged, queer woman had such a strong reaction to this book, I cannot even begin to imagine how much solace and revelation this book could provide for someone still going through the experiences described there in. I saw myself in these stories. I saw my friends. Everyone deserves to be able to see themselves in stories like these too (even kids in New Jersey).

Book source: I bought it at a signing with some of the contributors when it first came out.
Full disclosure: One of my favorite people in the world has a poem in this book (it's awesome). There is also a piece by one of my least favorite people (not so great). Not only do these two biased opinions cancel each other out, but I also skipped both pieces when re-reading The Full Spectrum for this review.

*Jovencio d la Paz, I have the HUGEST literary crush on you. Please decide to spend the rest of your life writing stories so heartbreakingly beautiful that they make me cry!

1 comment:

Scope Notes said...

Nice review - thanks for taking part!