Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Gets Better

It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living
Edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller

328 pages
Published by Dutton/Penguin

Publisher's description:
Growing up isn't easy. Many young people face daily tormenting and bullying, making them feel like they have nowhere to turn. This is especially true for LGBT kids and teens who often hide their sexuality for fear of bullying. Without other openly gay adults and mentors in their lives, they can't imagine what their future may hold. In many instances, gay and lesbian adolescents are taunted - even tortured - simply for being themselves.
After a number of tragic suicides by LGBT students who were bullied in school, syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage uploaded a video to YouTube with his partner Terry Miller to inspire hope for LGBT youth facing harassment. Speaking openly about the bullying they suffered as teenagers, and how they both went on to lead rewarding adult lives, their video launched the It Gets Better Project YouTube channel and initiated a worldwide phenomenon. With over 6,000 videos posted and over 20 million views in the first three months alone, the world has embraced the opportunity to provide personal, honest and heartfelt support for LGBT youth everywhere.
It Gets Better is a collection of expanded essays and new material from celebrities, everyday people and teens who have posted videos of encouragement, as well as new contributors who have yet to post videos to the site. While many of these teens couldn't see a positive future for themselves, we can. We can show LGBT youth the levels of happiness, potential and positivity their lives will reach if they can just get through their teen years. By sharing these stories, It Gets Better reminds teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone - and it WILL get better.

My comments:

Here's the video that started it all: What started as one youtube video has steamrolled into a movement with it's own website where the continually growing collection of inspirational videos will be maintained for years to come. In addition to watching videos, visitors can sign a pledge, read the blog, and follow it on twitter and facebook. As Savage stated in his keynote address at the ALA conference in June, the purpose of the book is to reach kids in school libraries and other places where the Internet may be filtered and blocked.

The collection of 100+ contained in the book is truly diverse, including contributions from gay, straight, bisexual and transgender people; from residents of rural areas, suburbs and large cities; from atheists and members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths; and from teenagers through senior citizens. Their experiences and perspectives are all unique, yet share many commonalities. For instance, even those who say that they weren't badly bullied still recall instances when they were called names or ostracized for being different. Many emphatically state that life gets better after high school, while a few bluntly state that life is still tough, but they have grown stronger.

While the common theme and basic message of the essays is repetitive, the differences in viewpoints and writing styles help to distinguish one essay from another. Most are written in a very straightforward manner, a few read like lyrical narrative fiction ("In The Early Morning Rain," p. 18), and a couple appear as comics (see "I Was a Teenage Lesbian," p. 79 and "Survival Tools, " p. 177). A few contributed by groups are presented as scripts (see "Coming Out of the Shtetl: Gay Orthodox Jews," p. 48). All are brief, the longest being about five pages.

I like the brief biographies at the conclusion of each essay that tell a little more about the author and what else they're up to. Resources at the end provide curriculum guidelines for teachers and point readers to helpful organizations including The Trevor Project, GLSEN and the ACLU.

I read the book a few entries at a time, marking the ones that I especially liked with scraps of paper. At first I thought I would limit myself to a top ten, but by the time I finished I had marked 25 favorites. While it's nice to see essays from celebrities and public figures like Suze Orman and Al Franken, the most moving contributions came from "regular" people. Food blogger Adam Roberts' contribution,"The Dinner Party," (p. 82) made me long for the warm family dinners that he now shares with his and his boyfriends' parents. Some, like "Hope Out of Tragedy" (p. 282) by Columbine High School (yes, that Columbine High School) graduate Matthew Anthony Houck, had me reaching for the kleenex. Whether teens read the essays in order, or skip around, there is little doubt that they will find messages that resonate with them.

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