Binge, by Tyler Oakley

I’ve admired Tyler Oakley ever since the first Trevor Live and then began following his tweets and YouTube. I became a genuine fan-girl (for lack of a better word) because of his strong voice in advocating for LGBTQ equality and social rights, especially pertaining to youths, as well as other social issues like health care, education, and suicide prevention.

A big deal to me: at one point, he @replied his opinion that he was “confused and disappointed” by something Liam from One Direction had tweeted. As an invested fan of theirs, he was genuinely heartbroken at the thought that one of his idols could be homophobic. I think it took a lot of courage for him to put his truth out there like that. Many fans of the band, even some of his own fans, were furious, attacking Tyler, on social media and on the road, verbally, physically and even went as far as death threats. His loyal followers stayed around but he also lost a lot. But he stood behind his belief.

In this very candid memoir, the story of his life begins at the very beginning; the readers find out that Tyler is not his real name, it’s Mathew. His style is straight and honest and I enjoyed how it felt as if he were speaking directly to me; as if, even though I was only one of many, I was part of some chosen group that gets to know all the secrets. He speaks very frankly about sex (his partners and desires), but not in graphic detail, his drinking/drug use, his bodily functions, which includes very honest and humbling confessions about eating disorders (there’s a lot of poop talk) and feelings of depression, shame and self-loathing.

The story goes through details about his childhood, pre-adolescent, adulthood, and to present day. He discusses, seriously, his self-image distortion, how he’s addicted to control, what it’s like growing up poor (discount lunches and hand-me-downs), his anxiety surrounding birthdays, holidays and families, his many jobs and how they shaped his personality, his broken home life, his father’s homophobia, his place in the political climate, and details of an abusive romantic relationship.

Mixed in are lighthearted, funny subjects such as his feelings about certain Disney princes (top 10), his dreams of Darren Criss (one of my favorites as well), pot brownies, his blurple glasses, psycho babble, why they called him the granny whisperer, and details of his many theater performances from elementary to high school (his favorite was The importance of being Ernest). His words are deliberate and frank as he explains how a choir teacher saved him, how he came upon YouTube and becoming an international sensation, and so much more. If you want to know EVERYTHING, you’ll have to read it to find out.

What I believe is his theme? Embrace the flaws, find balance in the chaos. His binges sometimes happened for good, sometimes not, but he certainly affirms that he doesn’t regret any of his experiences.

I found his strong work ethic impressive, especially given that he found that, even though he’s constantly among literally millions of people, he feels that his is a solitary profession. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the many facets of the man that is Tyler Oakley. Getting somewhat inside his mind on a more personal level, what do they say, I laughed, I cried? Yes, all of that. And I felt a lot of the same emotions as he did growing up and even in his adult life. I applaud his sincerity and openness. Ironically, he never thought he had anything important to say. In my honest opinion, a must read.

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Doing It, by Melvin Burgess

I imagine this book will almost always be challenged for its controversial content. But it will also always be read. The story uses alternating viewpoints, and even though it is often crude, it’s pretty entertaining and blatantly honest. The story revolves around three high school boys in different romantic involvements but they all have one thing in common, their desire to be “doing it”.  The language is explicit and frank, I guess to some it will be shocking, but it gave a voice to a topic not really discussed/ spoken about truthfully or straightforwardly. The main characters are Dino and his two best friends, Jonathan and Ben. Dino, who’s dating the best-looking girl in the school, cheats on her because he can’t get want he wants from her. Jonathon really wants to date Deborah, but she’s overweight and his superficial insecurity worries what the other guys will say. And Ben, well he’s living out what he thinks is a teenage fantasy with his hot drama teacher, but is in trouble when he realizes that he’s in over his head and can’t get out. We, as the readers, get to follow along with their sexual adventures. The story is told during one scholastic year and during this time, the boys think about, talk about, and just keep wishing they can have sex. It is graphic in many parts, but, in my opinion, rings completely true coming from the mouths and minds of teenage boys. There were many times when the narrative made me laugh. I enjoyed getting into the minds of these characters.

First Test, by Tamora Pierce

I’ve never been a fan of fantasy so I’m not really surprised that I couldn’t really get into this book. I’m not interested in the “magic” and supernatural aspects of this genre and was even less enthusiastic about the immortal characters (both good and evil). Not only that, but the battles, violence and detailed combat scenes had my mind wandering. I really had a hard time staying focused.

Despite all of that, I couldn’t help but love Keladry (Kel). She is strong, confidant and self assured. Actually she’s pretty brilliant all around, never quitting, using positive self talk and never feels she needs to indulge in self pity.

After planning to “fit in” with the boys and wear her usual clothes, she changes her mind and decides that she’ll dress like a girl “They may as well get used to it”, she reasons. She rejects the general stereotyping of women (delicately reared women), recalling her strong mother and admiring Alana, her idol, and all of her accomplishments.

Her greatest motivation is that she cannot tolerate bullies. Her strength is shown early standing up for the weak and combating injustice. Even though she does not possess any magical powers, she is goal oriented and quite competent, determined to achieve everything she chooses to do.

It is very easy to admire her. Clearly, she is singled out and treated unfairly, but it never makes her second guess what she knows she wants. She stands by her convictions. And her love for the animals, Peachblossom specially, who she also rescues, her friends and family is extremely endearing.

The feminism aspect was clear. And if the reader didn’t catch that while reading, it is spelled out by Lord Wyldon, who was her greatest nemesis. Questions of what she wants from life? How being a warrior will affect the ideals of what is considered womanhood. How her contrary, unconventional choices could hinder her future. And as it is in today’s society, like this fantasy, females are underestimated and underappreciated by most but a select few. The smart ones – they know better.