I am in a life season where there isn't much time for reading. I've got a stack of books growing on my shelf that people have given me - must-reads that I hope someday to attack with gusto. I look longingly at that shelf, going so far as to pet the books and tell them I love them even if there's not a lot of time for them right now.
Books are magic. I truly believe it, and don't care who knows it. My favorite form of book magic is young adult fiction ... truly some of the best authors are writing books for young people. These are books that help teens and almost-teens realize (for maybe the first time) that they aren't alone. These are books that open up still-forming brains to all the possibilities the world has for them. YA authors are heroes. And damn good at their jobs, too.
My favorite YA author? Well, I'm totally biased because I know him, but it's Chase Night.
People. PEOPLE. Everyone MUST GO OUT RIGHT NOW AND GET CHICKEN.
In truth, if you know me in person, and even remotely like to read, you will probably be given this book for Christmas. That is how much I love it. I cried like three times. And whatever, I'm a crier, but still. THREE. EFFING. TIMES.
Okay, so I've read the book twice now, and it's been out for long enough that I should have told you abut it sooner, I know. Bad blogger! But I haven't known how to write about it. It's too beautiful. Too perfect. I don't want to say the wrong thing and have you not like it because I said something wrong. It's too precious for me to potentially ruin for you. So when Chase wrote an essay about Chicken recently, and it explained everything perfectly? I knew I basically had to just copy the whole thing and share it with you here.
DON'T WORRY, I DIDN'T DO THAT.
I am, however, sharing the best bit, and then linking to the full article so you can read it yourself. And then? GO BUY CHICKEN!!!!
Okay, maybe I shared most of it. Read the rest of the article here. Then GO BUY CHICKEN!!!!
Chicken is the story of a boy who falls in love with another boy. It’s about other stuff too—unpleasable parents and weird religion and the politics of fried chicken—but mostly it’s about love. First love. The first time you want someone so much it makes you sick. The first time their hand lingers on your shoulder a little longer than it should. The first time they make you laugh so hard you forget to be afraid.
Those strike me as very universal feelings, things to which anyone of any orientation ought to be able to relate. But very early in the writing process, I shared a draft of a chapter in a college workshop class. My professor was enthusiastic, and the majority of my classmates were positive or politely silent, but one student returned their copy with the following note:
“Straight people won’t like this.”
Whoa. I had prepared myself for moral outrage, but this blunt honesty caught me off guard. For days, I was angry, but now, looking back, I can see this comment was my story’s saving grace.
See, up until then I’d been trying to write a window into a brick wall. I wanted to show people who’d never been queer teenagers in the evangelical South what it was like to be a queer teenager in the evangelical South. But those five little words made me realize that as ridiculous as it was for that classmate to believe they could speak for all straight people, it was even more ridiculous for me to believe I could lead a person to a window and make them see.
After that, I stopped planning and started listening. I stopped trying to write the story I thought straight people needed to hear and started writing the story my protagonist wanted to tell. And while that story contains all the things I mentioned—parents and religion and fried chicken—it’s mostly about falling in love. And if straight people don’t like that, it’s really not my concern.
Because the thing is, if you’re heterosexual, then every bookstore and cineplex you walk into is an infinite hall of mirrors. You could live a thousand years and never finish reading every single book and watching every single move about people like you. But if you’re not heterosexual, then those same buildings are made almost entirely of windows. You could roam the halls forever, pressing your forehead against the glass, straining for a glimpse of someone like yourself who isn’t just there to be sassy or get murdered. You might find enough to tide you over for a year or two.
So in the end, I wrote Chicken to be a mirror. I wrote Chicken to show queer teenagers in the evangelical South that they are brave and beautiful and their love for each other is real and joyful. I wrote this book for them and for the adults that used to be them. I wrote this book to say, “I see you and you deserve to be the heroes of romantic star-crossed stories.”