How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity


A girl thought to be a boy steals her sister's skirt, while a boy thought to be a girl refuses to wear a cornflower blue dress. One boy's love of a soldier leads to the death of a stranger. The present takes a bittersweet journey into the past when a man revisits the summer school where he had "an accidental romance." And a forgotten mother writes a poignant letter to the teenage daughter she hasn't seen for fourteen years.

Poised between the past and the future are the stories ...

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How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity

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A girl thought to be a boy steals her sister's skirt, while a boy thought to be a girl refuses to wear a cornflower blue dress. One boy's love of a soldier leads to the death of a stranger. The present takes a bittersweet journey into the past when a man revisits the summer school where he had "an accidental romance." And a forgotten mother writes a poignant letter to the teenage daughter she hasn't seen for fourteen years.

Poised between the past and the future are the stories of now. In nontraditional narratives, short stories, and brief graphics, tales of anticipation and regret, eagerness and confusion present distinctively modern views of love, sexuality, and gender identification. Together, they reflect the vibrant possibilities available for young people learning to love others—and themselves—in today's multifaceted and quickly changing world.

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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Heather Christensen
An array of gay, lesbian, and transgender characters explore the common theme of identity in this provocative collection of short stories. Each of the twelve renowned authors presents a unique perspective—from a six-year-old girl who knows she is really a boy in Trev by Jacqueline Woodson to a young voyeuristic stable boy in Margo Lanagan's reworking of the well-known poem "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes. Ron Koertege's metaphorical story, My Life as a Dog is a poignant tale of coming out, whereas William Sleator depicts a dangerous affair in Fingernail, the story of a young Thai. Two stories are in graphic novel format—Eric Shanower's Happily Ever After, in which two young men come face to face with a genie and discover the pain of wish fulfillment, and Ariel Schrag's comical San Francisco Dyke March. Gregory Maguire skillfully navigates two periods in his story of an Iranian American man remembering a life-changing first love affair. In this story and two others, the main characters are not teens but adults reflecting back on their youth. In fact, most of the protagonists in this collection are older teens and detailed sexual scenes are not uncommon. Reviewer: Heather Christensen
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
This collection of twelve stories focusing on gay, lesbian, and transgender characters defies boundaries between young adult and adult literature. The authors, many award-winning, experiment with a variety of genres to explore sexual identity. In graphic mode, a selection depicts two gay teens (one reluctant) whose problems are confused and then untangled by a genie from a bottle. "First Time" examines, in two voices, the seduction of one girl by another. Most cleverly written is a narrative variation on Alfred Noyes's poem "The Highwayman," in which a young stable boy is brutally and painfully raped by a passing soldier; he loves it and longs for more (causing havoc with his obsession). Another writer has Lep, a young man in Bangkok, picked up by a cruising Frenchman who makes love to him and twice almost kills him—Lep decides it was worth the risk because he learned English and now has a better job. Especially poignant are the bittersweet emotions of a devoted gay father who accidentally encounters his glamorous former lover. While Cart celebrates the progress that allows sexual identities once suppressed in children's literature to be presented as "ordinary," not all these lives can be so described. Some teens will find themselves reflected in the stories; others will construct what meanings they can. It might be well to make clear to young readers that just as understanding and recognition of diverse sexual identities is desirable; rape, exploitation, and brutal sexual violence can never be tolerated or condoned as ordinary. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—This collection's refreshing perspective—that gay, lesbian, and transgendered lives simply are, as Cart states in the introduction, "as wonderfully various, diverse, and gloriously complex as any other lives,"—distinguishes it. Twelve acclaimed authors contribute stories ranging from sweet and nostalgic to lyrical and desperate, capturing the blissful/painful process of self-discovery. Highlights include Margo Lanagan's retelling of "The Highwayman" from a voyeuristic stable boy's point of view and Gregory Maguire's story told from different points in time, in which an 18-year-old Iranian-American boy discovers the impact a summer of accidental love can have on his entire life. The formats and settings of the stories are as varied as the characters. Graphic novelist Ariel Schrag's "San Francisco Dyke March" gives funny tourist observations, and in "Happily Ever After," Eric Shanower illustrates how love, not genies, fixes troubled relationships. William Sleator's compelling Thai character finds a dangerous love. Francesca Lia Block, David Levithan, and Emma Donoghue customize the epistolary story. Julie Anne Peters skillfully voices two teen girls' trepidation and ecstasy during their first sexual encounter. Ron Koertge's "My Life as a Dog" is an ingenious metaphor for coming out, and in "Trev" Jacqueline Woodson gently allows Trev to accept his gender identity. This collection, with some detailed sexual descriptions, is sure to find its intended teen audience.—Amy J. Chow, The Brearley School, New York City
Kirkus Reviews
Twelve renowned authors, some of whom contributed to the classic YA collection Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence, use diverse points of view, settings and characters to bring readers stories of sexual and gender identity. Standouts in this collection include Eric Shanower's "Happily Ever After," a graphic-format story of two boys granted wishes that go horribly wrong, and Francesca Lia Block's "My Virtual World," in which social networking enables two troubled teens to form a bond of friendship. Three stories include transgender characters, further expanding this subgenre. In another two, nationality and language barriers serve as a vehicle for a meaningful exploration of sexuality. This collection focuses on older teen and 20-something characters, with even one character in her 40s, meaning that most are solid in their sexuality and gender identification and are exploring what it means to be part of a family, form different kinds of loving relationships and exist as they've accepted themselves. Provocative, quality content. (Short stories. 14 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061154980
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 350
  • Sales rank: 781,832
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, Michael Cart is a columnist and reviewer for Booklist magazine. He is also the author or editor of nineteen books, including the gay coming-of-age novel My Father's Scar and—with Christine Jenkins—The Heart Has Its Reasons, a critical history of young adult literature with gay/lesbian/queer content. His anthologies include Love and Sex: Ten Stories of Truth and Necessary Noise: Stories about Our Families as They Really Are.

In 2008 he was the first recipient of the YALSA/Greenwood Publishing Group Service to Young Adults Achievement Award, and in 2000 he received the Grolier Foundation Award for his contribution to the stimulation and guidance of reading by young people. Mr. Cart lives in Columbus, Indiana.

Francesca Lia Block, winner of the prestigious Margaret A. Edwards Award, is the author of many acclaimed and bestselling books, including Weetzie Bat; the book collections Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books and Roses and Bones: Myths, Tales, and Secrets; the illustrated novella House of Dolls; the vampire romance novel Pretty Dead; and the gothic werewolf novel The Frenzy. Her work is published around the world.

David Levithan is the critically acclaimed author of eight books for teens, many of which have appeared on ALA's Best Books for Young Adults list, including Boy Meets Boy, for which he won a Lambda Literary Award.

Julie Anne Peters lives in Lakewood, Colorado.

Jennifer Finney Boylan is the author of more than a dozen books, including a bestselling memoir, a collection of short stories entitled Remind Me to Murder You Later, and three novels for adults. Her novel Getting In won the Alex Award from the American Library Association in 1998 for an adult novel with special appeal to young adult readers. Since 1988 she has been a professor of English at Colby College.

Jenny Boylan lives at the end of a dirt road in Maine with a Sasquatch, a wind elemental, two weredogs, and a leprechaun.

Emma Donoghue is the author of seven novels, including the New York Times bestselling Room. Born in Ireland, she now lives in Canada.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 29, 2010

    Loved all but one

    All the stories were amazing but the longest story (the one where the man goes back to his old school) kept me constantly confused! it was a good story but it seemed jumbled at times and harder to read than the others.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2012


    Another incredible compilation by Michael Cart!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2009

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    Posted November 24, 2011

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    Posted September 23, 2011

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