In “Brave Face,” the author of acclaimed Young Adult novels “We Are the Ants” and “The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza,” offers a heart-rending, spare-no-detail memoir of his struggles growing up and coming out as he battled depression so severe he spent years cutting himself before attempting suicide in college.
Hutchinson offers a “content warning” before launching into this harrowing, honest, often darkly funny account using emails, journal entries and his other writing to reconstruct those painful years spent unlearning the “internalized homophobia” of the early 1990s. He grew up in Florida, with an older brother, his mother and stepfather. His closest friend in high school was a fellow drama nerd named Maddy. He describes in vivid detail a movie date at age 14 with a 16-year-old girl he was not at all attracted to: Kissing was “a moist game of Hungry Hungry Hippos that I desperately wanted to end.”
“I was a walking contradiction. I bought into the lies that movies and TV and books had force-fed me. I believed gay men were destined to die of AIDS, to die alone, to wind up the victims of hate crimes. I believed gay men were promiscuous, that they only cared about dancing, drinking, drugs … I believed it was impossible for a gay man to live a ‘normal’ life or find love.” When his older brother came out to him and tried to reach out to him, Shaun made the same assumptions about him. “I alone defied the stereotypes. Everyone else was a drug-addicted, sex-crazed, disease-harboring f–. And that included my brother.” With amazing candor he chronicles his self-loathing and his disastrous relationships with guys he couldn’t even stand to be around. Rather than finding solace in a Lambda United meeting in college, “it was depressing as hell. I didn’t see a future that was bright and hopeful. I saw a future where I’d have to crawl through broken glass naked with a smile on my face if I wanted to achieve anything.” Finally getting help for his depression was not a permanent fix; a chapter at the end chronicles the rocky road he still had to travel, the new routines he had to adopt to get to the point where he is now. He ends the book with helpful and inspiring advice to young readers who might be suffering as he did.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga; Balzer + Bray, 332 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
Jasmine Warga’s fine novel, written in free verse, is told through the eyes of a young Syrian girl, offering young readers a firsthand look at what it’s like to leave loved ones and everything that is familiar, not knowing if you will ever see them again. Jude lives a happy existence in a Syrian tourist mecca on the sea where her father owns a shop. She and her best friend Fatima love “old” American movies (“Miss Congeniality,” “Legally Blonde”), and both want to be movie stars. Jude’s older brother can’t seem to do anything to please his stern father particularly when he joins protests of the Assad regime. As the situation in Syria becomes increasingly grim, Jude and her pregnant mother leave the country to stay with relatives in Cincinnati. Jude knows some English and is warmly welcomed by her Syrian-born uncle and his American wife but her cousin Sarah, who is the same age, is very cool toward her. At school, Jude feels only truly at ease in the English as a Second Language Class but she leaps at the chance for an audition for the school play even though her Muslim classmate cautions her that her only chance is for a behind-the-scenes role in the stage crew.
Warga offers a compelling portrait of a girl dealing with every adolescent’s issues of maturing and finding one’s place in the world, with the extra challenges of feeling different from her peers and feeling torn between her mother’s wish for her to be true to her Syrian heritage and her desire to feel at home in her new surroundings.
Alan Gratz spared his young readers none of the grim details in his harrowing tale of a Syrian refugee in his 2017 book “Refugee” for this age group. Warga has chosen to set her novel at the beginning of the strife in Syria, offering an engaging story in the voice of a brave girl fighting a quiet battle to make a new home, on her own terms.
Moon! Earth’s Best Friend by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Stevie Lewis; Henry Holt ($17.99)
A smiling Moon tells her own story, and her close relationship with her BFF Planet Earth, with a folksy humor that both informs and entertains in this marvelous picture book by the author of many science books for kids (along with fine middle-grade novel “The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl”). Children will soak up the factual information about the moon and tides, gravity, eclipses, the phases of the moon from Moon’s engaging monologue: “BFFs help each other out. I keep Earth from being too wobbly… I don’t disappear during the day. I’m always here for Earth. You just can’t see me.” Stevie Lewis depicts the BFFs as orbs with giant smiling faces.