As a late-blooming, sexually-confused senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Audrey Beth Stein was looking for love, but she never expected it to arrive via email, from someone she first knew only as firstname.lastname@example.org…
It was 1996, a time when the Indigo Girls had just performed their first explicitly gay songs, Ellen DeGeneres was preparing to come out on national television, and eHarmony.com and JDate did not yet exist. A time when being queer was a little bit easier than admitting you’d met someone through the internet.
Using layers of introspection and insight reminiscent of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep and Wendy Swallow’s Breaking Apart woven into a largely present-tense narrative, this coming-of-age memoir combines the page-turning exuberance of falling in love for the first time, the disorienting clarity of loss, and the triumph of letting go of the training wheels.
This isn’t like anything we’ve ever featured on yaReads before. Map isn’t a work of fiction; it’s an actual account of Audrey’s life experiences. Because of that, I feel that talking about her in a way I would normally discuss a fictional character’s motivations and actions is inappropriate – she’s a real person with real feelings who bravely decided to share her story with the world. But this is a review, so I’ll comment on those things that are appropriately open for comment and discussion.
Map reads a lot like fiction. So much so, in fact, that unless you noted the word ‘memoir’ on the cover, it could easily be mistaken as so. This is a credit to Audrey, as it is so often the case that biographies, or true and factual stories are often dry, written without the engaging dialogue and internal monologue that we all love so much about young adult fiction. It deals with Audrey’s sexual self-discovery and her journey into the world of bisexuality with class, poise, and honesty. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that her process of coming out (to herself and those around her) was all smooth sailing, it was refreshing to hear a coming out tale that wasn’t completely and totally heart breaking.
Map is so much more than just a tale of coming out, though. It’s a story of first love, first heartbreak and loss, growth and personal development. I was especially interested in the online relationship that developed between Catrina and Audrey. Audrey’s account detailed a different kind of falling in love to what we’re used to reading about. With online relationships, it’s less about the physical, and more about the emotional – her take on these issues is refreshing, and a joy to read in an era where so much is placed on physical sexuality.
This is an easy one to read, folks, and I’m sure most of you out there could knock it over in no time. So if you’re looking for a left of center read about a young girl’s journey through sexuality, then I’d say Map is a must read for you. If you’re looking for a queer read that wont totally crush your spirit and burn your soul, then I’d say Map is for you. If you’re looking for something full of action and suspense, perhaps steer clear of this one. This one is more about the mind and the heart than the actual goings on of the plot.
This one has the yaReads stamp of approval.
Teaser Quote: A few years later, when I haven’t been drawn to men in a while, I’ll start using the word queer to describe myself. I’ll choose queer because queer will fit me better than bisexual or lesbian, because queer places less emphasis on sex and more on overall identity, because it carries a connotation of confidence and empowerment, because there is space for fluidity inside, because it encompasses a larger community, because it wont be such a scary, radical word to me anymore, because it is one bold and easy syllable.
My mom can be confusing without even trying. If I tell her I have to something because everyone is doing it, she says, just be yourself. She says people respect that. But what if you send fan mail to romance writers? And get teary-eyes at chick flicks? What if you still get spooked during thunderstorms? These are not things that you want to share with others. Being yourself might make people reject you. People you desperately care about. Being yourself only works if you’re basically cool. Which I’m not.
There’s another problem with mom’s advice. How can you be yourself if you don’t know who that is?
David is pretty sure he’s gay. At least he knows that much about himself. He thinks about guys in sexual ways and he can’t help but perve on his team mates in the showers after practice. But David doesn’t think he should be thinking these things, so he snaps a rubber band around his wrist to snap at every time he has an ‘inappropriate’ thought about a guy.
But then Sean, the guys he’s been crushing on, sort of outs himself to David. Although its clear that Sean has no intention of outing himself to anyone else, David does pretty much anything Sean wants him to – even when its clear that Sean is not going to reciprocate.
Then David gets brave and tells Kick – the girl he’s kind of been seeing. She doesn’t flip out, like he thought he would, but she doesn’t keep the information to herself, like she said she would. Then Sean’s parents ban him from seeing David, and everything goes a little haywire.
Eventually, David grows a pair and takes a stand against Sean’s manipulative, selfish behaviour. He fixes things with Kick, and his other friends, too. While the ending is kind of nice, I wouldn’t go so far to say that this is a feel good novel. Sean – whom I absolutely loathe, by the way – doesn’t really grow at all and appears to learn no lessons whatsoever. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I’m not of the opinion that the characters need to grow morally in a story to make it good. I’m just saying that Sean was the same frustrating ass at both the beginning and the end of the novel.
By the end, I was convinced that Sean’s simply one of those people that’s going to live a long, lonely and frustrating life. Being gay is something that he’ll never be comfortable with and he’ll continue to manipulate people like David forever. Something deep inside me says I should feel sorry for him, but I disliked him so much that I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.
David, however, is a much more likable character. Although he’s a bit of a pushover for most of the novel, and his naivety and inability to see his relationship with Sean for what it is, is kind of annoying, he grew a pair just at the right place in the story and he restored all my faith in him once more. Like with so many other novels I’ve read lately, I thanked my lucky stars that the novel was narrated through David’s point of view, and not Sean’s. Had it been the other way around, I may not have been able to finish.
I just have one question, for anyone that might have read this novel. Why oh why did David sleep with Kick? I mean, it fits the story I suppose, but I just don’t understand. He didn’t want to. He didn’t even have to. She knew he was gay. WHYYYYYYYY? I was angry with David for following through on this… I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on this scene.
The story flows well, and it’s pretty easy to read. I reckon lots of you out there might like this one.
Sixteen-year-old Jacob Smithson has a temper. He’s picked on because he likes boys, and fighting gets him kicked out of public school. As a last resort, his parents place him in St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Boarding School for Boys. At his first mass at St. Thomas he sees Avery Dendritch, a senior who serves as altar boy during the service. When they meet, the attraction between them is hard to deny. The two become fast friends, and as the school year progresses, their friendship deepens until Jacob feels he’s found a place where he belongs. But the other students gossip about their growing relationship. Avery can ignore them; Jacob can’t. As the rumors and slurs start up again, can he curb his temper, or will his fighting get him expelled from St. Thomas, too?
I can’t make up my mind whether or not I liked this book. I read it a few days ago and I’ve been weighing up the pros and cons ever since. I think it’s probably safest to say that I’m sitting on the fence with this one. If you want to know my reasons, continue reading.
Con: Although Without Sin is narrated by two characters (something which I normally love), I couldn’t bring myself to feel any kind of attachment to either Jacob or Avery. Their “voices” were too similar for any real distinction to be made. They both seemed kind of shallow and I felt like they fell in “love” too fast. For me, their relationship was based on physical attraction only, and this is something I can never relate to.
Pro: This novel wasn’t censored in any way. So many young adult novels portray teen characters as all too innocent, something which I feel is a misrepresentation of many youth today. Without Sin does not do this, and it explores teenage sexual desires well. I felt this aspect of this novel was truthful and dealt with appropriately.
Con: Although I was impressed by the lack of censorship, the issue of sex seemed to be all it was about. There was very little plot, except one huge build up to the point where the two boys finally have sex. Because of this, it didn’t hold my attention that well and I found I had to force myself to keep reading.
Pro: I liked the ending. While I’m not going to tell you what it is, I found the ending to be quite realistic. It’s refreshing to find a novel where everything isn’t wrapped up in a fairy tale ending. Readers are given closure, but it’s not all happily ever after, if you know what I mean. Snaps to J Tomas for pulling this off so well.
Every time I think I make up my mind about this one, it changes right back again. So I’m not going to provide a summary opinion. You’ll just have to read it and decide for yourself this time.