The following is a review I wrote up for Lauren Myracle's book, Luv Ya Bunches. It's part of a series entitled "Where Are the Gay Parents in YA?" hosted on http://krisasselin.blogspot.com/. Look there for more info and some excellent books in the field!
From Lauren Myracle regarding her first installment of the "Flower Power" series:
“A child having same-sex parents is not offensive, in my mind, and shouldn’t be ‘cleaned up.’… Over 200,000 kids in America are raised by same-sex parents, just like Milla. It’s not an issue to clean up or hide away… In my opinion, it’s not an ‘issue’ at all. The issue, as I see it, is that kids benefit hugely from seeing themselves reflected positively in the books they read. It’s an extremely empowering and validating experience.”
After trolling through the internet, searching for a good YA book with gay parents, this quote struck me. In October of 2009, Scholastic threatened to ban her tween novel, Luv Ya Bunches, from its book fairs. Its complaints? Language (instances of "geez," "crap," and "[oh my] God"). . . and Camilla's parents. Camilla, one of the four protagonists, has two moms, Mom Abigail and Mom Joyce. So, I sought to find out just what kind of objectionable portrayal Myracle had wrought in this novel.
When the book arrived at the Post Office in a package from Amazon - (unrelated, but) along with The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt and Marisol - my jaw dropped. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but 335 pages of flower power was not it.
"Oh, Gosh," I thought to myself (lest Scholastic censor this review for language). I was willing to commit to 150 pages of goofy tween drama, but 300+? Ay. All the same, I curled up on the sofa and opened to the first orange, swirly-curly flowery page. Some four hours later, I turned to the last orange, swirly-curly flowery page. As is Myracle's trademark, the writing not so much compels as gale-force-wind whirls you through it. Much of the novel is IM, or takes place on the "Flower Box" chat platform that Yasaman, one of the four, creates. This internet narrative, as well as the school scenes, were initially baffling to me.
I teach high school English on a Pueblo reservation in New Mexico; my housemate teaches fifth grade. Though many of our students are avid texters, the virtual reality seemed utterly alien to reservation life. The privilege - Katie-Rose with her new yellow camera, the liberty of classroom instruction with the Potato Olympics, all four girls with their bedroom PCs - was odd and read as unrealistic. All the same, I kept reading. And despite the trite facade of these girls' lives, I found there were very real issues at work.
The best quality of the book, however, was that these real-world problems NEVER demand whole-hearted attention. To a critic, this could be criticized as trivializing these themes. I think, however, Myracle does a lovely job of normalizing. In fact, this is normalization at its best. As her above quote reflects, she is clearly seeking to empower her readers. Instead of puffs from publishers or professional reviewers, she has quotes posted on her website from tween readers.
A look at the four flower girls:
Yasaman comes from a very traditional Turkish family. She wears a hijab and fears her kindergarten-age sister Nigar will be teased. At the same time, Yasaman is a computer whiz and has designed the very cool BlahBlahSomethingSomething.com. Never fear, as the fabulous four come together, it is renamed luvyabunches.com. (check it out!)
Katie-Rose is half Chinese, half Anglo. She is the videoing whiz, has a quick quirky wit, and is widely regarded as an eccentric nerd.
Violet is the African American new girl. Her family moved to California so they could be close to her mother, who is in a mental institution.
And Camilla, who at the beginning of the novel is wildly popular, but can't decide whether she likes her queen bee compadres. She also has two moms.
With a cast like this, the text could easily be bogged down by the melodrama and hurt of prejudice based on: race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and mental illness. But for these girls, while their differences aren't ignored, the main conflict is finding Camilla's Tally the Turtle and thwarting the mean queen bee Modessa. Myracle chooses, rather than having her protagonists struggle against larger issues of homophobia or racism, affirm acceptance by having their differences lead to a far stronger result. Separate, they are all lorded over by Modessa and Quin. Together, they are - at least by 5th-grade standards - UNSTOPPABLE.
As you can see, this book is a highly offensive piece of smut.
A closer look on how artfully Myracle handles Camilla's two mothers. Mostly, the references are a kid's to a parent. Mom will pick her up, give her advice in the car, Mom Abigail and Mom Joyce gave her her beloved Guatemalan bobble-head wooden turtle, Tally. Her friends ask casually about her moms in the some way someone would ask a question of any parents.
There are only two instances of the book where Milla reflects on her lesbian moms. The first is on page 55, when Milla is experiencing inner turmoil about her summer friendship with Katie-Rose (the "weirdo") and her school identity as a Mean Girl. She thinks, "Sometimes Milla feels different from the other girls at school because of having two moms. Sometimes MIlla feels different from her two moms because of being. . . well, just a plain old normal girl, the sort who would rather be the same as everyone else than different." The first sentence is one of occasional alienation, but the next idea is admiration of her mothers. Here are strong women who aren't afraid to be themselves!
The second is on page 255 when Milla and Mom Joyce are driving to school in her convertible:
"Getting caught in rainstorms and having to put the top up are two of the many reasons Mom Abigail teases Mom Joyce about owning a convertible. Mom Joyce counters that Mom Abigail is a soccer mom in her bright red minivan, which isn't true, because Milla doesn't play soccer. She takes dance.
But Mom Abigail says pff to mom Joyce's soccer mom comments, reminding Mom Joyce that a minivan is exactly what she needs for her catering business. 'Anyway, I love my bright red minivan,' Mom Abigail says breezily. 'It reminds me of cherries.'
Her moms are so different - and yet they fit together perfectly.
Just like people can be different and still be friends, Milla thinks. They can be different and still. . . click."
Luv Ya Bunches is not a Newberry Honor Book. It does not transcend issues or shift paradigms in artful prose. What it does, however, is capture beautifully the nature of what friendship and love should look like in America today. It's a fast, easy read that has aesthetic and narrative appeal to kids both younger and older than our fictional heroines. For girls (and boys, given context) struggling with difference, it's ideal. It is a book that teaches us to not make assumptions (about a person or the caliber of a book by its cover). It also teaches us, through Milla's moms, that differences make us stronger.