“This emotionally spicy collection will inspire identification, compassion and hope in readers queer or not.”
from Kirkus, Starred Review!
Booklist, Starred Review!
* The 40 contributions to this invaluable collection about personal identity have two things in common: all are nonfiction and all are by writers under the age of 23. Beyond that, diversity is the order of the day, and the result is a vivid demonstration of how extraordinarily broad the spectrum of sexual identity is among today’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. That said, some of the topics addressed in these essays and poems are familiar (the agony of coming out, the heartbreak of religious opprobrium). What is new and encouraging, however, is the fact that so many young people have felt free enough to share the truth about themselves in print and under their own names; as coeditor Levithan notes in his introduction, “One way to effect change is to share truths. To tell our stories.” Insightful, extraordinarily well written, and emotionally mature, the selections offer compelling, dramatic evidence that what is important is not what we are but who we are. —Michael Cart
School Library Journal
Using works submitted anonymously through the Web site the authors created in conjunction with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Levithan and Merrell have selected 40 essays, mini- autobiographies, poems, and photographs that chronicle the lives of 21st- century young people, ages 13 to 23. The handsomely dense package includes real-life stories about coming out, falling in and out of love, mistaken identities, families and friends, misplaced affection, confronting homophobia, and more. A female-to-male transsexual teen describes a first trip into the men’s restroom. A young man recalls his close relationship with a trash-talking, pot-smoking, horror-movie-loving burnout, illustrating the blurry lines that exist between romance and friendship. While nearly half of the installments tell the stories of young gay men, a sizable chunk is devoted to lesbians, and more than half a dozen pieces are about transgender youth. While many of the stories recall memories of isolation, others delve into a young person’s awareness and involvement in a queer community. As a whole, the collection is comprehensive, complex, and the perfect title to put into the hands of teens who approach the information desk asking for real stories about coming out and coming to terms with anything remotely GLBTQ. – Hillias J. Martin, New York Public Library
Queer identity and sexuality are boldly expressed in this provocative collection of poems, essays, and personal narratives by forty writers under the age of twenty-three. Their stories provide a fresh perspective on the nature of sexual identity and how it is shaped by political, cultural, and social institutions, including church, family, school, and government. The pieces are infused with a raw, emotional honesty, which is frequently humorous but at times heart-wrenching. With its focus on contemporary youth, this compilation offers a sharp contrast to earlier testimonies, such as those in Ann Heron’s seminal One Teenager in Ten: Testimony by Gay and Lesbian Youth (1983). The cultural shift from a traditional gay/lesbian identity to a queer identity can be seen in Gabe Bloomfield’s “A Gay Grammar,” which does not include “a helpless teenager…sexual repression…rape…[or] suicide.” The collection’s central message is political: “we’re not going away. We’re here for the fight.” This important anthology provides readers of all orientations with an intimate glimpse into the lives of an “up and coming queer generation” and — to paraphrase John Donovan — is well worth the trip. – Philip Charles Crawford
“…Dramatic evidence that what is important is not what we are but who we are.”
—Michael Cart, from School Library Journal, Starred Review!
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Forty people contributed to this collection, presenting the experiences of a new generation of young adults. The talent herein is as obvious as the pain, the sadness is as real as the relief, and the ugliness is as true as the beauty. The diversity in these stories seems amazing and logical as each person is unique from the others. Although a few entries get lost in ramblings and memories, the reader quickly realizes how it would be inappropriate to silence their voices yet again. Other stories are so skillfully crafted that the reader will become part of the experience and will wish that the story is one chapter in a full novel available now. This reviewer missed the interesting author biographies that one finds in other anthologies. The styles vary, with some stories told in straight narrative, and others in verse or letters. These last became favorites. “Queer: Five Letters” contains letters written to people whom Kat Wilson had known while growing up, including a fifth grade teacher, a chosen teenage role model, mother and father, the mother of a girl she tutored, and a family friend who died of AIDS. These brief letters weave together a survival story. Another person’s story is told in “The Most Important Letter of Our Life,” written by JoSelle Vanderhooft at twenty-three to her sixteen-year-old self, warning and encouraging her teen self not to give up. – C. J. Bott
What the Edge writer Chris Verleger thinks of The Full Spectrum:
With The Full Spectrum, editors David Levithan and Billy Merrell provide an open forum for GLBTQ teenagers and early twenty-somethings with an assortment of personal stories, essays, and poems. The works range in theme from self-acceptance and first-time experiences to the coming-out process and future obstacles, both personally and politically. The collection is refreshing, harrowing, glib and thought-provoking, a catalogue of first- person accounts told in a variety of formats including email exchanges, diary entries, and letters to loved ones, as well as traditional prose.
“We must continue to tell our stories in hopes that others are listening,” taken from Travis Stanton’s entry, “A Fairy’s Tale,” perhaps best describes what The Full Spectrum sets out to accomplish. Some of the entries sound almost child-like, whereas others are remarkably well-written, considering the age limit for inclusion was 23. Regardless, each story, poem, or rant makes for compelling reading, and the collection, as a whole, reminds the reader, and each of the authors, that while their stories are unique, they are not alone.
Nonetheless, loneliness and isolation are recurring themes throughout the collection. In “Crying Wolfe,” Jack Lienke tells the story of a high school acquaintance, Wolfe Reed, who shares his fondness for slasher flicks but acknowledges their friendship only in private. “Genuine connection, after all, isn’t suspenseful,” says Jack, attempting to help both the reader and himself better understand his relationship with Wolfe. “It’s isolation that creates tension.” Tyrell Pough, author of one of the shorter but arguably more disturbing entries, “Continuation of the Life,” shares details of abuse at the hand of his foster mother and the subsequent bullying he endures at three different group homes. In spite of his past experiences, Tyrell has a surprisingly positive outlook. “For those who are in the struggle,” he says, “hang in there and just believe.”
Given the obstacles these individuals have had to overcome, and at so young an age, each story still ends either on a high note or with the assumption that the worst is over. With titles as varied and self-explanatory as “When You’re a Gay Boy in America” (which explores a young man’s first encounter with internet dating), “A Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom” (portraying a sixteen- year-old’s struggle with gender identity), and “A Quietly Queer Revolution” (which chronicles a bisexual woman’s relationship with religion and her church), the outcome is always resoundingly positive and life-affirming. JoSelle Vanderhooft perhaps best conveys this sentiment with her entry, “The Most Important Letter of Our Life,” where she writes a letter, in present day, to herself as a teenager ten years ago. “I want to tell you every day of your life that sexual abuse, your father, the fact that you broke your toe on a chair once, whatever,” she proclaims, “has nothing to do with your sexual orientation.” JoSelle knows she can’t change the past and that her younger self is long gone, but it helps to serve as a reminder of the person she is now.
The Full Spectrum provides a wonderful outlet for GLBTQ youngsters, writers and readers alike. While the quality and content of some stories and entries is perhaps questionable, the editors are likely to generate a loyal following and continued interest in this writing genre.
Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher and essayist, coined the term “Worship of Silence,” referring to the sacred respect for restraint in speech until “thought has silently matured itself,…to hold one’s tongue till some meaning lie behind to set it wagging.” If Carlyle’s assertion that silence is the forge from which anything truly great is born, it seems fitting that one of this year’s most powerful anthologies for young adults comes from the pens of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning writers whose sexuality has often been relegated to quiet, shadowy corridors. And as Carlyle further suggests, it was only a matter of time before the silence came to a stop.
THE FULL SPECTRUM is a collection of essays and poems from GLBTQ writers ages 13-23. Compiled by David Levithan (BOY MEETS BOY) and Billy Merrell (TALKING IN THE DARK), these stories offer a keen insight into the minds of contemporary GLBTQ youth. You may think you know each story — the heartbreak of coming out, the angst of unrequited affection — but the power of the writing herein overrides any familiarity and allows even readers who’ve lived through similar circumstances to approach the material with new eyes and new hearts.
The young writers break new ground with thoughtful and (sometimes painfully) truthful assessments, not only of the world in which they live but of their own lives. They are not looking to point fingers. They are not asking for pity. They know that any silence, any hiding that has come before, is only a small part of who they were and are, and the voices they speak with now are to be reckoned with. It’s these new voices that will shepherd in a better understanding of their places in the world, now more disparate than desperate.
The most important message this collection delivers is: there’s no turning back. As long as there is fear, there can never be change. With this decisive anthology, we begin to see a chink in the armor, a crack in the wall, and there’s a sense that when this many writers can come forward to tell their stories, change can’t be far behind. THE FULL SPECTRUM entices, enlightens and envisions a future where the progeny of thoughtful silence is a resounding shout heard across the universe. While the book stands for many ideas and ideals, it offers no agenda, save one.
Hear us. -Brian Farrey
Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Love in the Present Tense, recommended The Full Spectrum in Today‘s round-up of Summer Reads by Best-Selling Authors.