of the Center for Children's Books:
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Rising Star—Julie Anne Peters
Perhaps best known for her groundbreaking YA novels featuring GLBTQ characters, Julie Anne Peters creates powerful stories about how outsiders connect with others in unexpected ways. She breathes new life into familiar school story and coming-of-age plots not only by challenging thematic boundaries, but also through compelling, nuanced characters whose marginal status does not preclude fellowship and alliance. Surprising yet satisfying plot resolutions are complemented by rich, complex characterizations; Peters' fearless commitment to the oppressed, whether geeky or gay, is well served by her appreciation of the intricacies of personality and camaraderie.
Peters' middle-grade fiction skillfully straddles the line between hardship and hilarity, as social outsiders find empowerment through satisfying companionships. In How Do You Spell Geek?, best friends Ann and Kimberly are competing for a slot in the National Spelling Bee, when Ann is assigned to mentor geeky new student, Lurlene. While Kimberly warns Ann that any voluntary association with the clueless Lurlene is social suicide, Ann quickly realizes that Lurlene's a lot of fun to be around; Lurlene not only laughs infectiously at Ann's jokes, but also turns out to be a gifted speller. Their relationship affirms collaboration over competition, as Lurlene supports Ann's bid for the Bee slot with a banter-infused empathy that does not exclude Kimberly. In Revenge of the Snob Squad , a quartet of seemingly disparate misfits--Jenny is overweight, Prairie has a prosthetic leg, Max is large and sullen, and Lydia is an incorrigible whiner--are drawn together through their shared desire to seek revenge on the sixth grade popular elite. After appropriating bully-ish strategies for their own ends, including loading squirt guns with condiments to shoot at the snobs and festooning their houses with toilet paper, the girls eventually realize after each scheme backfires that they are only hurting themselves by sinking to their tormentors' level. What eventually emerges from their association is a solid bond of friendship that is developed further in sequels Romance of the Snob Squad and A Snitch in the Snob Squad .
In her fiction for older readers, Peters affirms difference while at the same time highlighting unusual possibilities for communion among outsiders. Define “Normal” is not just the story of an unlikely friendship, but a reversal of the usual expectations about who mentors whom; while overachiever Antonia initially seems more well adjusted than goth girl Jazz, in reality it is Jazz who is mentoring Antonia through an increasingly untenable home life. In Keeping You a Secret , student body president Holland breaks out of her dutiful high school routine—including lackluster sex with perfect boyfriend Seth—to embrace a relationship with out-and-proud lesbian Cece. Though Holland's coming out process goes horribly awry due to Cece's unexpected desire for secrecy, Holland also gains a new ally in her stepsister and finally takes an old friend into her confidence. In Luna , Regan is the sole witness of her brother Liam's nighttime transformation into Luna—Liam is transgendered, and thus feels trapped by his male body and longs to escape it by living as a woman. While Regan resents the complex navigations and machinations she must perform in order to protect Liam's secret, she also fiercely loves her brother and, indeed, recognizes him as her sister, supporting his plan to undergo hormone therapy and surgery once he turns eighteen. Regan is also able to convince Liam's lifelong friend Ally to maintain a relationship with Liam after Liam becomes Luna. In Far From Xanadu , small-town butch lesbian Mike's naïve and ill-fated crush on sexy straight girl Xanadu is tempered by the strong bonds of family and community; Mike's complex, yet ultimately supportive relationship with her brother and Jamie, the other gay kid in town, create a cushion that sustains Mike through Xanadu's betrayal, while enabling her to maintain the tough, chivalric exterior that hides her vulnerability. Finally, in Peters' latest novel, Between Mom and Jo , sixteen-year-old Nick is devastated by the breakup of his moms and would prefer to live with his non-biological parent, Jo. When it is assumed that Nick will live with his biological mother and her new partner, Kerri, Nick reacts sullenly and violently—however, in a surprising final twist, it is Kerri who ultimately helps Nick's mother to understand that Nick is better off living with Jo.
Though Peters does not gloss over the damage caused by bullying, ostracism, violence, and homophobia, she also recognizes that status outside the mainstream need not prevent nurturing relationships; indeed, oppression might be the impetus to form stronger bonds. In thus highlighting connection over isolation, Peters' characters offer hopeful possibilities for alliances among outsiders and insiders alike. While Peters does not minimize her characters' pain, she nevertheless tempers suffering with solidarity, skillfully portraying how supportive communities are forged in the face of discrimination and intolerance.
—Loretta M. Gaffney, Reviewer
Between Mom and Jo . Tingley/Little, 2006. (BCCB 6/06)
Define “Normal”. Little, 2000. (BCCB 3/00)
Far From Xanadu . Tingley/Little, 2005. (BCCB 6/05)
How Do You Spell Geek? Little, 1996. (BCCB 10/96)
Keeping You a Secret . Tingley/Little, 2003. (BCCB 6/03)
Luna: A Novel. Tingley/Little, 2004. (BCCB 5/04)
Revenge of the Snob Squad . Little, 1998. (BCCB 9/98)
Romance of the Snob Squad . Little, 1999. (BCCB 3/99)
A Snitch in the Snob Squad . Tingley/Little, 2001. (BCCB 3/01)