Niki Bhatia says, Pink is Pink and Blue is Blue: YA Literature argues that Love is Love, and it shouldn’t Matter Who

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Venue: OUT.com

Through YA literature, authors Miranda Kenneally and Steve Brezenoff promote that love is genderless. Regardless, male, female, gay, straight, or lesbian…the emotions we feel when we love someone are the same. Gender doesn’t matter.

I’ve always been the first to say, “I don’t have a problem with gay people. Lesbian people. Whoever you want to be with, it doesn’t bother me”. Well this last quarter at UCLA, I read Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff and I learned that it doesn’t bother me when someone is gay, or lesbian, or straight, or whatever…but it does bother me when I don’t know. As a product of society, I’m uncomfortable when I don’t know what someone “is”. Day by day, society makes strides towards acceptance of the LGBT world. However, it’s just that. Why do we have to categorize people based on sexual preference? Why do we need to know?

Brezenoff and Miranda Kenneally, author of Stealing Parker, both use the power of their literature to prove that a relationship is a relationship, and when you love someone, you love them, despite society’s desire to label and distinguish by gender and sexuality.

In Brooklyn Burning the protagonist, Kid, is never identified by gender or sexuality, and neither is “Scout”—Kid’s summer love. Nevertheless, it is obvious that prior to meeting Scout, Kid had engaged in intimate relationships with both sexes. Last summer, there was Felix. He was a drug addicted, rockstar, and he broke Kid’s heart when summer ended. There is also Konny. Konny is Kid’s best girl-friend, but they too, have shared a few “more-than-just-friend” moments together. As a reader it was aggravating, I wanted to know. Is Kid a guy, or a girl? Which way does Kid swing? However, I wasn’t alone. Other auxiliary characters in the text reflect my frustration. Kid battles the stares from others, while walking next to Konny. People wondering what their relationship was, and Dad for example says, “I’ve got the only kid I know who doesn’t know whether to be straight or gay or a girl or a boy or what” (Brezenoff 121). Dad desperately wanted to give kid a label. It didn’t matter what Kid “was”, but he wanted to know that Kid was “something”.

Kid was well aware of Dad’s opinion, “I made Dad uncomfortable, virgin or not . . . maybe it would have helped if I brought someone home so my parents would be able to put me in a box, a check mark on the census form” (Brezenoff 58).

Kid is a heartbroken and homeless sixteen-year-old teenager. A character that is deserted by parents because they don’t know what their kid “is”.  Nevertheless, as the story unfolds, Kid’s relationship with mom is rekindled. She learns to accept Kid—guy, girl, gay, or, straight. More significantly, Mom learns that this information doesn’t actually matter. When her child is hurting from heartbreak, or trying to control the butterflies from falling in love, those feelings are the same feelings she felt at one point. The turning point for Kid comes when mom is finally back, and when Kid and Scout take their relationship public and comfortably display it to the eyes of strangers. Worried eyes were now just meaningless stares. No one mattered, and it didn’t matter if anyone knew; as Kid realized, “We’re in love . . .You can’t hurt us” (Brezenoff 194).

In juxtaposition to Brooklyn Burning, I also read Stealing Parker, which is a completely different novel is terms of addressing gender. The protagonist, Parker, is a teenage girl that paints her nails bubble-gum pink and kisses boys just to prove to others that she likes, boys. On the first page, Parker states the “problem”. Her mom is a lesbian that ditched her family and divorced Parker’s dad, so she could runaway with her “friend”. Later, the reader finds out that Drew, Parker’s best guy-friend is in love with the same guy that Parker is falling in love with.

Without losing its complexity, this text clearly places each of its characters into a category. Parker tries to divorce the feelings that she has for her mom, like her mom divorced her dad, because she doesn’t want people to label her as, “A lesbian, a sinner,” (Kenneally 14) like they have done to her mom. The way the narrator clearly defines everyone, works as a reflection of society. I, for example, was more comfortable reading because I knew what everyone “was”. Even Parker was troubled by Drew, when she didn’t know if he was gay or not. He was her best friend, she would love him regardless, but she wanted to know.

In the end, Mom and Parker revive the mother-daughter relationship that they once shared. Parker realizes that her mom is still the mom she has always loved, with hugs that, “feel like the warmest blanket on the coldest night” (Kenneally 230). Additionally, as Parker is beginning to grow up and experience a new kind of love herself, she apologizes, “I’m sorry . . . for how I’ve acted . . . For judging you. For not thinking about your feelings” (Kenneally 208). Parker realizes that Mom was never trying to hurt her; it was just the way she felt towards someone. Parker learns that despite anyone’s ridicule, “I can do whatever I want” (Kenneally 242). She can love her mom, just like anyone else loves their mom and she can fall in love with Will, just like her mom fell in love with Theresa.

In each of these texts, the protagonist learns that he or she cannot escape society and its power to judge and discriminate. Nevertheless, he or she can do, as Susan Stryker declares in her essay, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein”; “though I cannot escape its power, I can move through its medium” (Stryker). Gender is something one is, “assigned at birth,” (Stryker) but unfortunately, it is also something that allows society to construct gender binaries as the “norm”. The characters in these novels learn that they might not gain everyone’s acceptance, but if they can accept themselves for whomever they choose to be, they will be just fine. Looking through a dictionary of twenty-eight different definitions of love, I did not once see a definition that defined love by gender. Like I realized through the work of Brezenoff and Kenneally, society finds comfort in categorizing people by gender and sexuality. It is easier to label, but it isn’t necessary. Love is genderless.

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Stealing Parker, Miranda Kenneally

Anything is worth it if it makes you feel good…

Right?

When Mom leaves Dad to be with Theresa, everyone besides Parker’s best friend, Drew, abandons her—even the church. Parker feels deserted, alone, and ashamed. Why would her mom leave her? And, why would God do this to her? She desperately wants to feel good again and thinks that if she can prove to her judgmental, small town, she is not the same sinning, softball-loving lesbian, like her mom, she will finally feel okay.

Parker was determined not to be defined by her mother’s actions, and as a result, decides to use her body to prove she’s a girl. A girly-girl that loves boys. She embraces “femininity,” drops twenty pounds, and trades her starting position on the girls’ softball team to be the stats-girl on the boys’ baseball team.

Parker feels alone, but if the warmth of a different boy’s arm every night, or the kisses from the high school baseball coach are able to fill that void, she’s willing to take it.

Like everyone in high school, Parker just wants to feel accepted.

However, what happens when this young girl realizes that everything she has tried to become is the opposite of who she is, and when everything that she has tried to erase is exactly what she has needed to feel whole?

…Sometimes, we just need our family.

Initially, I was a little hesitant to read Stealing Parker. Though I had read fairly good reviews, I was still skeptical that the plot line was going to be too predictable. Nevertheless, rather than predictable, a quote from the text adequately describes my experience…

“I peel back one layer to find a hundred denser layers full of secrets” (64).

Categorized as contemporary young adult fiction, this novel falls specifically into a few different genres styles, such as: drama, realistic fiction, and romance. Parker, a seventeen year-old girl, tells this story from the first person point-of-view. It is written similar to the style of a journal, which quickly immerses readers into the text, and creates a strong connection with Parker as the center of consciousness. As a reader, you are very in touch with Parker’s feelings and personally, I felt like I was enduring the emotional roller coaster along side her. At times, I felt just as ostracized. Parker is very blunt and straightforward when she announces the novel’s major conflicts. For example, on page one, “I gave up foam fingers, peanuts, and the Atlanta Braves when my mom announced she’s a lesbian” (1).

Although, Parker is straightforward in terms of expressing plot conflicts, Kenneally’s journalistic style is able to maintain reader interest by implementing a few different elements. Often, Parker jumps around in thought. She mentions something that the reader desires to know more about, and then stops, changes the subject, and moves on. Intermittently, prayers that Parker has made to God will appear, as well as thoughts that are not actually “written down.” Additionally, Parker has frequent flashbacks to the past and she remembers how she and life used to be before Mom left.

Each of these elements increases the suspense and heightens the reader’s anticipation for what is to come next. I applaud Kenneally in doing this. She has paid so much attention to detail. Even the chapter titles play a role in increasing reader anticipation. The chapter titles slowly count down to the narrator’s eighteenth birthday, starting fifty-two days prior to the day.  For example, chapter one appears like this…

 “the day I met brian hoffman

52 days until I turn 18”

At first, the importance of Parker’s birthday seems obvious. Brian Hoffman is the twenty-three year-old baseball coach and Parker is a seventeen year-old student. Nonetheless, when Parker finally reaches her long awaited eighteenth birthday, its significance isn’t exactly what the reader is expecting.

The number of social issues that this text introduces is intriguing and I think it serves as a great example for how literature evolves with cultural change. I say this particularly in regards to the book’s emphasis on queer relationships and raised questions of religion. This text acknowledges the ridicule that the queer population is subject to, but more specifically how that ridicule can have a devastating domino affect onto others. Furthermore, after Mom’s lesbian reveal, the church turns its back on Parker, and on Parker’s family. Members of the church are scared that Parker might turn out like her mom, “A lesbian. A sinner.” (13). Parents, “had to protect their daughters” (13), and so Parker was no longer allowed to hangout with her former best friend, Laura. It did not matter that Parker’s Dad answered no when she asked, “Does it actually say that in the bible? Thou shalt not become a lesbian?” (13). The church did not accept it, so neither could she. The immense pain that Parker felt unjustly tore her apart from her mother and displaced her identity in society.

Keanneally raises very controversial questions. Questions like, is it actually wrong to be lesbian? What defines a good Christian? Does the church always practice what the bible preaches? And is love no longer unconditional, but instead, shaped by society?

Even outside of the concerns of sexuality and religion, this book is very realistic to life. The setting, the characters, and the variety of problems that arise throughout the text, are all very believable. Whether the reader can relate to Parker right now, or, like me, can remember exactly how Parker feels, Stealing Parker can be enjoyed by women of all ages.

This text acknowledges that at points in our lives, we all might feel alone, sexual desires are natural, and at the end of the day it is okay to be different—because when you love someone, nothing else matters.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to others. It is a page-turner and though you finish it quickly, it leaves your mind wandering. My only criticism is that I wish it were a little bit longer. Some of the themes could have been elaborated on more and the closing was short. The resolution unravels just in the last ten pages and with so much built-up anticipation, I wanted it to last longer.