When I walk into a space of writers (which–if you are paying close enough attention–is really every space), I tell them: write down your story. Your stories. Get it down…even if you feel like others are telling similar tales.
I remind myself this as well. My memories are still climbing their way out after being pushed down. But I am working on digging them out. As we all need to do, sometimes.
June, 1993. Claire is dumped in rural Indianola, Texas, to spend vacation taking care of mean, sickly Grammy. Indianola seems unremarkable, but Claire quickly realizes there’s something not right in this tiny town . . . Memories change. Lizards whisper riddles under the pecan trees. People disappear. And worst of all, a red-lightning storm from beyond our world may wipe the town off the map, if Claire and her maybe-girlfriend Julie can’t stop it. Surprising, brilliant, and full of all the 90’s references your Alanis Morissette-loving heart could want, Forget This Ever Happened is a sci-fi thriller at its finest, featuring an OwnVoices Queer romance and dark, dazzling world-building.
Everything old becomes cool again, and the 1990s are definitely no exception. While I definitely appreciate choker necklaces, mixtapes, and scrunchies, I’m even more excited to have YA books set in the ’90s that give me all the nostalgia from a bygone era. Whether you deem YA books set in the 1990s “historical” or not, there is undoubtedly a sentimental for many older YA readers.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
Hours before her parents’ death in a car crash, Cameron Post kissed a girl. She’s forced to move in with her conservative aunt and grandmother in Montana, where blending in with this strict religious family is the key for survival. But when a beautiful cowgirl named Coley moves to town, feelings that Cam had pushed down start to emerge once more. Cam’s aunt sends her to conversion therapy to try to “fix” her niece, and Cam faces the struggle of what her religious community tells her and the truth that she knows deep down.
Fireworks by Katie Cotugno
The popularity of boybands and girlbands is one of the defining features of the 1990s. When a producer holds auditions for a new music group, Dana tags along with her best friend Olivia, ready to cheer her on for her audition and sing backup. When Dana is discovered along with Olivia, they both join the group and start training to be pop stars even though fame was the last thing on Dana’s mind. But there’s only room at the top for one girl.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
In 1998 Brooklyn, Quadir and Jarrell’s best friend, Steph, is murdered, but they aren’t about to let Steph’s music remain unknown and forgotten. Teaming up with Steph’s younger sister Jasmine, they hatch a plan to promote Steph’s music under the name the Architect and pretend he’s still alive. Before long, the Architect’s demo tape makes its way to a rap label, and the pressure to keep their secret grows for Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine. With everything riding on Steph’s fame, the trio is forced to reckon with Steph’s loss and learn that they knew less about his life than they thought.
The Mall by Megan McCafferty
Cassie is looking forward to spending the summer of 1991 working at the Parkway Center Mall before she heads off to college in NYC in the fall with her boyfriend. Everything is part of The Plan. But The Plan is thrown away when Cassie comes down with a bout of mono that leaves her in the hospital for weeks. Soon she loses her job, her boyfriend, and her home life starts to disintegrate. Throughout it all though, Cassie finds unexpected friendships, love, and discovers that sometimes it’s okay when everything doesn’t go according to plan.
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
In 1992 L.A., Ashley is finishing up her senior year of high school and looking forward to sunny days and a typical summer. But in April, four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a Black man, Rodney King, half to death, and violent protests erupt all over L.A. Even as the city burns, Ashley tries to continue life as usual at her elite private high school, but she’s no longer just a pretty, rich girl; she’s one of the Black Kids now.
SkunkGirl by Sheba Karim
High school is tough enough, but when you’re the younger sister of a supernerd and the only Pakistani American girl in your mostly white class, it’s just a little bit harder, especially for Nina Khan. Nina’s parents encourage her to stay true to her Muslim values, and Nina wants nothing more than to keep them happy, but when Asher moves to Nina’s town from Italy, Nina becomes preoccupied with getting Asher’s attention and mustering up the courage to ask out the new Italian boy—regardless of what her parents might think.
Rani Patel In Full Effect by Sonia Patel
Rani Patel lives with her Gujarati immigrant parents in a remote Hawaiian town, where Rani is isolated by her peers because of her strict culture. After Rani catches her dad cheating on her mom, she shaves her head and embraces her dream of starting a rap career. She’s helped along by the much-older Mark, who introduces her to an underground hip hop group—and other dangerous things she’s never done.
Rebel Girls by Elizabeth Keenan
Athena’s love of punk rock and her staunch feminist viewpoints don’t exactly help her fit in with the rest of her peers at her conservative Catholic high school, St. Ann’s. When a malicious rumor that Helen, Athena’s popular and pro-life sister, had an abortion over the summer, Helen risks getting expelled from St. Ann’s. It’s up to Athena and her sister to convince the rest of the school and the administration that it shouldn’t matter what Helen did or did not do—even if it risks Athena and her rebel girls getting expelled.
Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett
After her first semester in college, Emily expected to find friends and belonging, but unfortunately she found none of that. But the Kingdom, an exclusive campus group, finds her and offers Emily everything she wanted from her college experience, including friends and a missional internship in Italy. But the trip is much more than Emily ever bargained for when her disciplining partner turns up dead. Emily realizes that the Kingdom is not what she thought it was at all. It’s much more sinister and dangerous than she ever could have imagined.
Everything Grows by Aimee Herman
Eleanor’s bully James died by suicide, causing a ripple effect in Eleanor’s life. When Eleanor’s teacher assigns a project for students to write a letter to someone who could never receive it to get their feelings out, Eleanor chooses James—the guy who bullied her, taunted her, spit on her, and even threw frog guts at her once. As Eleanor writes to James, she begins to understand herself better…and James, too.
I am looking forward to reading poems I haven’t written yet. I hope you join me. There is also an open mic!
This is a great monthly reading series that used to be housed at KGB bar in NYC. Due to the pandemic KGB and so many other venues that have supported and encouraged poetry over the years is really struggling. Below is a link to donate (if you are able):
Thank you to Kendra Allen and The Boiler for choosing my poetic essay for runner-up for The Boiler Prize. The Boiler is a great, online journal that celebrates creative work that “turns up the heat, whistles, and stands up to pressure.”
A little about this poem. I keep going back to a moment in a classroom with a teacher who told me to move on from writing about the body. Clearly I must have other things to write about, no? What I tell my students is that sometimes we have to keep writing about the same thing until it feels like it has said all it needs to say. We never tell people to stop writing about love. I mean, aren’t there enough love poems to last us another few centuries? Love takes on all sorts of shapes, smells, attitudes, textures, after-tastes. There is no ONE WAY of love.
So here is my body. It is over forty years old and I barely know it. I know I have mistreated it. I know I forget to ask it what it needs, wants. I have difficulty forgiving it. That is to say, I have difficulty forgiving myself. My body and I are strangers, therefore, the writing of it continues. By writing about my body, I am learning it as it is forgiving me.
There are stories inside my body I am afraid of. They are impolite and not exactly appropriate as conversational interludes. Sometimes I think about cutting up the years off my body, but I’ve got enough potholes, and even what haunts me makes me me. No?
So as my therapist has been suggesting and encouraging me: let go of metaphors and just say it. But I’ve still got retraining to do.
For instance, I am sad most days. This pandemic has given me an excuse to play hide n-go seek with myself. Wait. That looks like a metaphor. Let me try again. This pandemic has given me an excuse to be alone, to isolate. Most days, I wait for the clock to tell me the day is over.
I digress. If you are still reading, what I am trying to say is: there is no story inside the body that doesn’t deserve a voice, a notebook to scream into, a place to exhale all its blood and shiver. I am still forming. I am still deciding who I am. I am still removing myself from this body, sometimes. I am still learning how to survive being in it.
The marvelous co-editor/co-director of Three Rooms Press, Kat Georges, will be hosting a discussion and reading in celebration of queer love and sex in literature today. I’m looking forward to joining other great Three Rooms Press writers, Meagan Brothers, Alvin Orloff, Aaron Hamburger, and Julia Watts.
You don’t even need to leave your home! Make some popcorn or dip your largest spoon into a container of peanut butter (my favorite snack!) and celebrate love love love and books books books with me!
The discussion will explore: How love in literature has become more inclusive during recent decades; How each author addresses love in their writing and opens doors to acceptance of love without boundaries; Why literature can provide inspiration in times of loneliness and heartbreak; Different levels of love: from friendship to red-hot lust.
Recently, I have been writing one sentence a day (often more) toward, into, from behind, from within my body. It is a way through.
When we are taught how to read, we begin with simplicity. The vocabulary of others. Oftentimes, the language of us, our innards, our guts are overshadowed and forgotten.
I am reaching toward the alphabetics of my innards. It is painful. It is queer. It is changing my mind about things. It is political. It is overdramatic and gutsy. It fidgets and fondles. But it is time.
There are three generations in a room. The room is white. The people are white. The food is white. The first generation has rippled skin, says the third generation.
What is wrong with rippled skin? says the second generation.
It’s gross, says the third.
The second generation has rippled (wrinkled) skin and tattooed skin. The second generation has undeclared skin and skin that has been re-declared. The second generation has skin that they try to tear apart on a daily basis and skin they try to tend to. It is a daily struggle.
Why do you have so many scars, asks the third generation to the second.
Because I have lived, the second replies. But what they do not add is that each scar is from a different war within the body and mind. Some truths are not able to be told until. Until. When?
The first generation watches the third generation play. They do not play with imagination and paper. Their play is made up of wires and screens.
I can only concentrate on one thing at a time, says the second generation to the third. Can we unplug, at least while we eat breakfast? At least while we complete our sentences?
The third generation does not know what this means.
The second generation understands all about the ripples, the thinning of pockets and hair, the fear of government as rights are removed or excluded. They do not have extra food in their pantry. They cannot afford to throw that meat away.
The third generation wears t-shirts advertising liberalism and feminism and gay rights and trans rights and human rights and Black lives mattering, but when you ask them a question: What does dissent mean? They ask Google.
Cotton and flags have become the new voice of the movement.
The second generation listens to the stories reiterated by the first generation. They need to remember so that no one forgets.
The third generation wants to play with other third generations while the second and first watches.
This is youth, the first generation says. They can request what they want and the second generation will give it to them.
There will be a time, though, says the first generation, that they, too will run out. And we will be gone. And they will have the ripples and empty pockets they never thought would come to them. The outlets will be stuffed by the dissenters, and they will have no way to understand the answers. They will not know how to approach paper, because all they know are screens. The first generation will be just a page in their photo albums, if they ever get around to making one. The second generation will be lost somewhere in the woods, hoping to escape all the wires. And the third generation will become someone else’s first, ignored for lack of relevance, ignored for too many ripples, ignored for not enough incentives in their pockets.