We Are Totally Normal

The music in the car was so loud that my teeth vibrated.

We Are Totally Normal, Naomi Kanakia, Harper Collins 2020

God, I hope not. I picked this YA novel because it was on a queer reading list; I did not expect this showcase of casual alcoholism in teens with absent parents and severe cases of word-vomit (and also regular ones).

Main dude Nandan (I assume he’s a teen?) is lost in life and in the societal hierarchy of things, while pondering if he’s confused about his sexual identity or just wants to use it to become popular (yes).

Maybe it’s a clear sign that I’m too old but I really hope that teenagers going from hangover to hangover, performing oral sex at a first meetup and walking home alone at night is a normal thing. Nandan may be confused about what he wants (until he very suddenly isn’t anymore), he manages to showcase that in an entirely unappealing way.

This is what I get for trusting library recommendations?

Bolla

Having made the world, God began to regret his creation.

Bolla, Pajtim Statovci, Pantheon Books 2021

Delivered on its promise of being “Brokeback Mountain in Eastern Europe”. Except there’s no cowboys, and an even larger divide because of war going on, so throw in some Romeo & Juliet in there as well.

Arsim, Albanian, married falls for Milos (single, Serb) in nineties Kosovo. If that isn’t enough of a challenge, both his wife’s pregnancy and the regional war follow soon.

Bolla is a small story – less than two hundred pages – yet somehow manages to make this romance very intimate and a window to look through at the (developing) war. War is people, war is ideas but it’s also societies that just try to keep moving on, staying upright. But love needs more than ‘staying upright’ and Statovci shows it full of ache and longing. Neither characters make good/great decisions, but do they have any other options?

Not something you’d call a nice read, but definitely a good one.

Fyra ar till

87 min.

Ik zeg het maar alvast: deze film heeft nogal outdated en genante ideeën over homoseksualiteit en biseksualiteit. Ook geuit door homo’s.

En toch raad ik deze film niet af, en dat zegt iets over het aanbod van queer romances.

De relatie tussen de twee mannen is aandoenlijk, humoristisch, realistisch. Laat deze variatie op Romeo & Julia je op weg naar het happy end iets leren over Zweedese politiek. Vergelijk 2010 met nu en zwijmel mee met deze sukkels.

Oftewel; roeien, riemen, etc. Als je homoseksuele romantiek wilt die eens niet in dood of ziekte eindigt, doet Fyra ar till (Four More Years) het zo slecht nog niet.

Well, that’s pretty depressing

Sometimes it seems like your unconscious makes the decision for you. Or my Netflix-list just needs some sparkle. Either way, some recently watched films that aren’t particularly.. happy.

First of all, an Asian award-gatherer: the Taiwanese A Sun. In a family the younger son is a screw-up, the older son tries to pick up behind him, the father pulls away from every family member while the mother – pretty passively – despairs. How utter sadness can look beautiful in a solemn way.

Next there’s Jonas, or another edition to the Bury Your Gays trope. This French film could have been an adorable coming-of-age, slice of life story of a homosexual (or bisexual?) teen discovering his identity, but instead we get violence.

Okay, maybe something non-fiction? With The Edge of Democracy you soon wish it was fiction. How absolute power can destroy democracy while people dance in the streets because media and moguls told them that this is the right way. Brazil, I’m so sorry.

Well, at least this post is international: my last offer is Nigerian Prince. The set-up sounds a bit like a comedy: American teen is sent to Nigeria to become familiar with his origins while one of his cousins is a scam-artist that takes him under his wing.
But no. The lack of communication between the teen and his parents hurts; the reality of having to scam Americans and Europeans because there is no other way to make money if you’re not part of the corruption is depressing; the open ending might make you anger without anywhere to put it.

Pfew, I’m going back to The Bold Type now.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

“Oh dear,” Linus Baker said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune, Tor 2020

This was just the sweetness needed. It felt like a story that could be animated as part of another story. It’s an origin story, the entire plot a huge cliché (man goes through things, discovers that there are joys in life to be had), but it’s all done so nicely, without ever veering into the saccharine.

Also, there’s monsters.

I mean – children with abilities. Hidden away in an orphanage on an island at the end of the world and our protagonist has to make sure they are treated well. It’s what he does for a living (if you can call it living). This time he even has to keep an extra eye on the headmaster because he likes to colour outside the lines (gasp!).

TJ Klune makes it all fresh, funny and adorable because of their descriptions, characters and little jokes. You might see the ending coming closely after the beginning, but it’s such a nice ride.

Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies

Our relationship was over before it began.

I’ve read another memoir. Maybe it reads easier when you don’t know the person writing it, or the recent ones just were written entertainingly and well. I’m guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Michael Ausiello is an entertainment writer, and this story is about how his partner dies. With a title like this there’s little surprise to the ending of his story, but Ausiello manages to write it in such a way that you start to doubt that title – the man knows what works to keep your reader compelled, after all. So there’s chapters about the highs and lows of their relationship, the beginnings and (almost) break ups. He writes himself down while his partner is plucked from the heavens, even when he’s being quite terrible.

It’s a story very close to someone; and to recognise that these people are(/were) really alive makes it sometimes terribly uncomfortable. Should the reader be around of another round of bad news or self-doubt? Is it not too close, to follow someone’s mourning on this level?

Because Spoiler Alert is about love and loss and other four letter words, but also very much about Michael Ausiello.

Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies; a memoir of love, loss and other four letter words, Michael Ausiello, Atria Books 2017

She-Ra

65 x 24 min.

Yes, I know, I’m surprised as well. This animated TV-show definitely took me a while to warm up to, and during the first two season (there’s five of them) I wouldn’t even have considered writing a blog about it. Somewhere near the end of season two, and/or the start of season three, it grabbed me. It grabbed me good.

She-RaBefore starting this show, I knew little about the previous incarnations of it and therefore didn’t feel the need to complain about how She-Ra isn’t a full-grown woman this time, nor about the lack of butt and boob shots (in an animated show, yes I know). It also means that I didn’t have any connection to it, and had to invest some time and energy to feel the connection.

She-Ra is fantasy, people with magic, bad guys that want to take it, colourful stuff, talking horses, but also teenagers, queer love, building your own family and views on power and the (ab)use of it. Especially when watching several episodes in a row you might notice some repetition, but as someone who skipped a few (there’s a character I could barely handle) I can say that you can still follow the main plot without confusion.

It’s also fun and bright and there’s so much heart in it, even though the shows of it sometimes made me feel a bit outside of the target audience/too old. Oh, and the animation is nice, instead of that try-hard, ugly as possible “adult” animation we have to suffer all too often.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Netflix 2018

Rafiki

83 min.

Eindelijk. Rafiki heeft Rafiki omdat het het Swahili-woord voor ‘vriend’ is en homoseksuele koppels vaak als vrienden moeten leven om niet (geweldadig) uit de samenleving verwijderd te worden.

Rafiki film posterDus geen relatie tot de Lion King.

Deze film was voor verschillende festivals uitgekozen en ik kon bijna meer de frustratie herinneren van het te missen in Rotterdam dan wat het verhaal ook al weer was.

Het verhaal is simpel. Twee jonge mensen bevrienden elkaar en worden verliefd op elkaar, maar omdat het allebei vrouwen zijn, zijn er heel veel mensen die dit helemaal gruwelijk vinden.

Daarin ligt ook mijn enige frustratie: wanneer krijgen lesbiennes eens een luchtig niemandalletje (schrijf je dat zo?) van een film waarin het alleen om kalverliefde gaat? Als films met heteroseksuele romances net zo’n hoog percentage van geweld zou hebben, zou de politiek er waarschijnlijk vragen over stellen. Enfin.

Rafiki was het wachten waard door de twee hoofdrolspelers, en door de boodschap waar het mee eindigt.

Rafiki, Shortcut Films 2018

The Half of It

105 min.

And that’s how you do a coming-of-age, finding-your-way film for teenagers in a way that isn’t bubblegum colours, dubious voice-overs and an aggressive soundtrack.

half of it posterThat might make The Half of It dull for some people. Protagonist Ellie goes through life in the shadows and not in the Everyone Notices The Wallflower-way but really: in the background of everything. Her fellow pupils only notice her because of her essay writing skills, and one of them decides to use those skills for a more romantic endeavour. ‘Romantic’, as this is a teenage story and Cyrano de Bergerac-ing a relationship is never a good idea.

But that’s what happens, and Ellie is confronted with things that hang out with her in those self-chosen shadows. Do I make it sound too much like a horror film like this? I swear it isn’t!

Although looking at the poster.. that’s a bad poster.

Anyway, focus. The Half of It is a film for the children of immigrants, the half-orphans, those who have ever been confused with their identity, and those that didn’t view high school as the highest point of their life’s experience. It’s sweet in a cool way.

Worry it’s all too teenager for you? Watch Saving Face by the same director.

The Half of It, Netflix 2020

This Is How It Always Is

But first, Roo was born.

“This sounds like it’s going to hurt. I’m so excited!” Me, after almost two months of disappearing books.

There’s a lot of book clubs connected to this one, and the summary has definitely housewife-novel potential. A happy woman with a house full of boys only to realise – dum dum dum – that her youngest doesn’t want to be a boy. Maybe.

But instead you get what Ducks, Newburyport tried to be. The inner life of a frantic mum who tries and fails to keep all balls up in the air.
Because how do you take care of five children, your job and your husband even with ignoring your own needs and fears?

This Is How It Always Is sets you to thinking about gender and how we view it, how different societies look at the subject differently.

And it definitely shows what the life of a mother entails, how kids and their lives are on one’s mind all-the-time.

It left me staring into the distance after finishing it, considering everything.

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel, Flat Iron Books 2017