Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dance on my Grave

Skip this post if you haven't finished the March pick yet....

I spent yesterday afternoon reading Dance on my Grave. I thought it was fantastic. It was funny, sad, honest, and awkward. I sometimes found Hal and Barry's banter so obtuse (the unknown to me Britishisms didn't help) that I would lose the thread of what they were even talking about, but that didn't detract from my interest in them. I feel like Chambers really captured that initial whirlwind-like feeling of dating (especially as a young adult) so well. This book feels so distinctive to me, so unlike almost anything I've ever read before.

Beyond really just loving the book and the unique characters, I don't have much to say. What I did find myself looking at as I read were little details about being a gay teen in a YA novel written in 1982. We all know that most gay teens ended up dead (or suffering some other awful fate) in YA written many years ago. For a great article summing up GLBTQ books for young adults, see Michael Cart's piece "What a Wonderful World: Notes on the Evolution of GLBTQ Literature for Young Adults." Some things that stood out to me: Barry has a slight lisp; Barry's mother tells Hal that he killed him--that she knows about his crimes against her son; Hal is stereotypically "arty"--his guidance counselor talks about him avoiding sports at school, writing "twitty" stuff for the literary magazine, etc. I'm sure there were other little details that made me nearly raise an eyebrow. If this book were written in 2008 and included little details like that (and, you know, one of the main characters had to die because he was gay), I wouldn't be having it. But, as it is, especially for a book published more than 25 years ago, I think Chambers created a very complex, honest relationship that didn't judge, moralize, or preach. It almost felt like the fact that Hal and Barry were gay was incidental. They were two boys caught up in a crazy, adventurous relationship, just happy to have found a kindred soul.

Now, my few questions. Do you think this book would appeal at all to modern teens? Did you, like me, feel there was something particularly unique about the book (tone, characters, setting, humor, etc)? What do you make of Barry (his larger than life mother, the fact that he slept with Kari, and so on)? I think there is probably a lot more to talk about, but I just wanted to post my initial reaction and get the ball rolling.


kristin said...

Just getting in my response before the end of the month-- :)

Amanda, I also felt that the gay and/or bi identities of the characters was incidental, perhaps even more so than you did. It was just such a beautifully fleshed out *story,* with such funny, wonderful scenes, such real characters, genuine emotions, etc., and the non-straight dynamics simply seemed natural to me. I think there *was* something particularly unique about the book, and having read one other Aidan Chambers novel that had a similar narrative tone, I'd say it's *Chambers' style* that's unique. I think he's a magnificent writer, and having read this I now want to read more. Amanda, if you liked this one I recommend Postcards from No-Man's Land, which is a gorgeous book with some similar themes. Can anyone else recommend good Chambers novels?

This was my favorite book so far of the ones we've read. :o)

Dawn said...

Wow! Wow wow wow. I had no idea what this book was about, I just dove in. I'm kind of glad about that because the whole thing unraveled like a wonderful surprise. DOMG was so ahead of its time! I can't believe I hadn't heard of it before. It just... goes there. It's so daring and funny and mysterious and sexy (if you don't let yourself get too entangled in trying to decipher the language and nearly miss it altogether). I agree that the sexuality was a fact and hardly controversial in any way. Well, yeah, someone died. But it didn't feel like punishment. You just had a feeling Barry was one of those personalities whose blaze of glory was imminent anyway. Actually, Barry died just after having hetero sex - is that brilliantly subversive, or am I overthinking it?

Anyway, what a relief to read this, because I hated This Is All (really? Had I mentioned?) and I was beginning to think I just might not be a Chambers person.

I am still thinking about more to say, and will probably add it to my 'gay teens done right' roster over on the other blog. I look forward to hearing more about what you all thought.