Please welcome E.M. Ben Shaul to the blog today, to talk about the Orthodox Jewish representation in Flying Without a Net, which releases today! As many of you know, I happen to be Orthodox Jewish, so this book and post are of special interest to me, even though I’m kinda lousy about the prayer part. (Though I’m good about the food blessings! And I definitely got a “halachic prenup.” But I digress. You can add the book to your TBR and/or read the blurb here, and buy links are at the end of the post!)
Think about what you did first thing this morning. You probably got up, used the bathroom, got dressed, maybe grabbed something for breakfast. Perhaps you have a favorite coffee shop where you stopped to pick up your usual morning drink. Did you drive to work? Take public transportation? Or maybe you work from home in your pajamas and bunny slippers. Maybe you’re a student with an 8 AM class. (If so, you have my sympathy.)
For most people, their morning routine is completed without really putting much thought to it. But for Orthodox Jews, many of those regular morning tasks come with an extra level of thought, because they each have a blessing or prayer associated with them. When an Orthodox Jew opens their eyes in the morning, they say “Modeh Ani,” a short prayer thanking God for, basically, returning their soul to them so that they could wake up in the morning. Then they get up and go to the bathroom. There’s a blessing for that, too, in which we thank God for keeping the various systems of our bodies working. For men, when they get dressed, there’s a blessing associated with putting on the tallit katan, a four-cornered garment with ritual fringes.
Eating breakfast involves at least one and possibly as many as five (or six, if wine is part of the meal) blessings over the food. Each blessing takes less than 30 seconds to say, but there’s still an extra moment of thought that is necessary. But breakfast has to wait, anyway — first you have to say Shacharit, the morning prayer service. It is preferable to say the prayers with a minyan, a religious quorum, which Orthodox Jews interpret as ten males thirteen years old or above. So not only do you have to be in a proper mindset for prayer, you also have to build time into your schedule for about 45 minutes of prayer before you go to work.
When you stop for your usual cup of coffee, there’s another food-related blessing to say. Again you thank God for creating everything in the world, including your half-caff soy latte. You say so many food blessings in a day that your co-workers no longer worry that you’re talking to your mid-morning snack.
And that’s just the simple stuff.
What if something in the teachings of those ancient rabbis go against your modern lifestyle? What if your modern brain cannot reconcile the ancient beliefs and your modern sensibilities? For example, a lot of the religious traditions assume a male-dominated culture and lifestyle. In the twenty-first century, Modern Orthodox communities are working to balance the traditions established thousands of years ago with the more modern role that women play in day-to-day life. One example of this is the marriage contract. The traditional wedding contract was originally codified in the first century CE and has not changed significantly. By Jewish law, a man can divorce his wife, but there is no way to force him to give her a get, an official document of divorce. Without a get, a woman is considered an agunah, an anchored or chained woman, as she is still anchored or chained to her ex-husband, even if she has been granted a civil divorce. To give more power to the woman, in the 1990s the Orthodox rabbinate instituted the “halachic prenup,” a religiously and civilly valid contract that allows civil courts to punish the ex-husband financially until he grants his ex-wife a get.
In Flying Without a Net, Avi, an Orthodox Jew, is faced with a dilemma. He has recently come out to himself, and he is now starting to explore the idea of dating men and perhaps starting a relationship with another man. However, everything he has been taught by his religious upbringing tells him that acting on his attraction to men is amongst the biggest violations of Torah law possible. Yet his heart knows that he will never be happy following the community norm of marrying a woman. He struggles to find a path that allows him to be true to both his religious beliefs and his yearning for a relationship with Dani, an Israeli who is not religiously observant and who has been out to himself and to others since high school.
Dani cannot fully understand Avi’s struggle, having never been in his position, but he hopes that he and Avi will be able to find a way to be together while Avi stays true to his beliefs.
When faced with a contradiction between one’s religious beliefs and one’s modern reality, it can be very difficult to stay true to both. Many make the difficult choice to leave the religious life behind, knowing that for them it will be impossible to reconcile the two. Some make the opposite choice and retreat from the modern world. But others find a way to live in both worlds. It requires flexibility, and it’s important for everyone facing such a choice to discover where their flexibility ends and what is too important for them to compromise on. For each person this point is different, and therefore one person’s willingness to compromise may be anathema to someone else. So is there a way to blend the ancient and the modern? Everyone has to figure that out for themselves.
I’ve been doing a lot of hunting for cheap LGBTQ YA lately, as one of the easiest things for people in book world with some disposable income to do is donate. And if you don’t already have on hand to do so, here’s where you can stock up!
Store posted will be wherever I found it the cheapest.
Any Amazon links are affiliate for this site.
Books available under $7 via both BookOutlet and sites that help the author will be posted twice
One or two of these is actually hardcover, but “Hard Copies” looked sillier in the post title
One of the most frequent questions I get on Tumblr is about books with polyamorous relationships, and to the best of my knowledge, this is one of the first (and only) YA books to contain one. Well, to be clearer, the polyam part really comes together in the sequel, Inheritance, but you gotta start somewhere! Plus, this sci-fi’s got a bi MC, a diverse cast, and a premise even not-usually-sci-fi readers can latch on to!
Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.
Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.
Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened, where they are—or how they’ve been miraculously healed.
Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction—and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.
Sixteen-year-old Emmitt LaPoint has secretly been writing letters to his hockey idol, John LeClair, for years. So it’s probably only fitting that Emmitt’s small Vermont town seems desperate to make him the next LeClair. After all, Emmitt is about to lead his high school hockey team to the state championship, he has a near-perfect GPA, and he’s liked by almost everyone.
But even golden boys have problems, and Emmitt has more than his share. His father’s back in town to breathe down his neck. He’s happily dating his coach’s nephew, Dusty, but almost nobody knows he’s gay—and that secret is getting harder and harder to keep.
When Emmitt discovers Dusty is keeping secrets of his own, he’s forced to decide exactly what kind of golden boy he wants to be.
Johanna Parkhurst grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Vermont before relocating to the rocky mountains of Colorado. She spends her days helping teenagers learn to read and write and her evenings writing things she hopes they’ll like to read. She strives to share stories of young adults who are as determined, passionate, and complex as the ones she shares classrooms with.
Johanna holds degrees from Albertus Magnus College and Teachers College, Columbia University. She loves traveling, hiking, skiing, and yelling at the TV during football and hockey season.
For those of you who feel like you’ve already read every LGBTQIAP+ book in existence, not to worry – there’s plenty still to come! Every TBRainbow Alert will have a mix of five LGBTQIAP+ titles to make sure are on your radar, along with why I think they should be on your radar. If you missed the earlier alerts, you can check out those titles here. And now, because I can’t wait to get these books on your reading lists, check out some of what awaits in 2017!
Radio Silence (March 28)* Author: Alice Oseman Genre/Category: Contemporary YA Rainbow details: bi MC, major demi secondary Why put it on your radar?
Just gonna repost my entire GR review here: Okay I totally see why people are in love with this book – I definitely know people for whom reading this would feel like coming home, and I hope everyone for whom that’s true finds it. If you’re afraid to be yourself, to show your weird; if finding a friend with whom you really click is so rare for you that you feel legit terror at the idea of losing it; if you’re still working out your sexuality (or lack thereof); if you’re a fan of Welcome to Night Vale… Anyway, read it. (Plus, on-page bi MC and also the first YA in which I’ve ever seen the word demisexual.)
*This is the US release date. It originally released in the UK in 2016.
Finding Your Feet (January 16) Author: Cass Lennox Genre/Category: Contemporary Romance Rainbow details: ace female/trans male Why put it on your radar? I haven’t read any of the books in this series yet, but they’re so full of underrepresented characters, I’m just hoping to love them all, and hoping lots of people who haven’t been able to find themselves in books yet can find themselves in these!
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (June 20) Author: Mackenzi Lee Genre/Category: Historical YA Rainbow details: Bi MC and LI Why put it on your radar? This book is so. Much. Fun. If you follow Mackenzi Lee on Twitter (or have at least seen her #BygoneBadassBroads series) you know how awesomely fun she can make history, and how she makes characters from eras you might think stodgy come to life.
Queens of Geek(March 14) Author: Jen Wilde Genre/Category: Contemporary YA Rainbow details: Bi MC, lesbian LI Why put it on your radar? This is a super freaking cute fandom book with two best friends narrating, providing one f/f romance and one cishet romance. It’s also got lovely autism rep, and is full of encouraging messages. This one particularly stuck out to me as being a good choice for reluctant readers.
Dreadnought (January 24) Author: April Daniels Genre/Category: Sci-Fi YA Rainbow details: Trans MC Why put it on your radar?
TRANS SUPERHERO BOOK. We good here? Yeah, I thought so.
Today on the site, please welcome Erin Finnegan, author of Luchador, an m/m Contemporary NA about a guy named Gabriel who becomes enthralled with the lucha libre, which releases today. (Buy links at the end of the post! And you can read the blurb and add it to your TBR here.) To learn more about the lucha libre, read on!
Grab a seat for the Sunday evening lucha libre matches at Arena México and you get a great show: Cheap and abundant Victoria beer flows; laser lights blaze; heavy metal blasts at ear-splitting levels; and bikini-clad ring girls ignite the testosterone-fueled weekly wrestling event.
It isn’t the first place people would look for an LGBTQ crowd in Mexico City—and they’d be wrong, especially if an exótico is on the fight card.
In the macho world of traditional lucha libre, exótico luchadores are flamboyant, gay, and out.
They have also become heroes of sorts in Mexico City’s LGBTQ community, to the extent that they have been credited with helping to advance Mexico’s equal rights movement. (While portions of the conservative country still fight marriage equality battles, the federal district of Mexico City approved marriage for all in 2010, five years before the US Supreme Court paved the way for nationwide marriage equality.)
The exóticos represent something not commonly found in professional sports, even “performance sports” such as lucha libre—an arena where gay athletes perform openly with their straight peers. As exótico luchadores like Cassandro and Pimpinela Escarlata gained fame on the lucha libre circuit, empresas found themselves with a new legion of dedicated, rainbow flag-waving fans.
Exóticos are the flamboyant and brutal drag queens of lucha libre, dressed in bedazzled leotards, skirts, and glittery makeup instead of luchador’s traditional tights and mask. They flirt with the refs, bump and grind to dancehall music, and are as likely to attack an opponent with a kiss as with a flying scizzors kick to the neck.
And this is where their story gets complicated, and why I was drawn to this world as the central conflict in my new book, Luchador. Because in lucha libre, gay is welcome to play—but it is often played for laughs.
It isn’t a simple matter of the costumes or makeup. Exóticos are the vamps of the ring, and they play to a crowd that is at once imploring them to attack their opponents or the referees with besos (kisses), while at the same time taunting them with homophobic slurs.
Máximo Sexy, one of the few exóticos who identifies as straight, has said that he decided to wrestle as a gay character for the money. His signature move is the kiss, meant to distract his competitor, and the skirted singlet he wears in the ring is often topped by a t-shirt that says, “KISS ME”. The moment he enters the arena, fans cheer, “¡Beso! ¡Beso! ¡Beso!”
Other exóticos like Cassandro—gay men who wrestle as campy characters—call their stage personas liberating and inspirational.
This is the issue for Luchador protagonist Gabriel Romero, a rising young star in Mexico City’s professional lucha circuit who is committed to being open about his sexuality both in and outside of the ring without trapping himself in a role that he does not identify with. Respectful of lucha’s traditions, he is also wary of the stereotypes it promotes.
The counterpoint to Gabriel is his mentor, Miguel, a successful exótico nearing the end of his career, who views his colorful ring character of La Rosa as a valuable outlet. He also believes that embracing lucha’s traditions have helped him get ahead as both a wrestler and a businessman.
Exóticos in lucha libre date back to the 1940s, when luchadores dressed as dandies handed flowers to female fans and preened as they entered the ring. Today, exóticos are far more sexualized—and athletic.
Do not mistake these luchadores for clowns. Their approach may be camp. Their secret weapon may be the beso planted on a supposedly unsuspecting opponent or referee. But they’re also skilled wrestlers who take down opponents with lucha libre’s signature acrobatic moves: flying scizzor kicks, spinning tornillos, and planchas.
Last winter, I had a chance to watch Cassandro wrestle at Lucha Va Voom, a Los Angeles-based burlesque-meets-lucha show. Lucha Va Voom should not be mistaken for the lucha libre of Arena México or Arena Coliseo. It is abbreviated, and even more showey than the lucha of the Sunday afternoon shows broadcast across Mexico and the US.
Cassandro demonstrated the skills that have earned him championship belts: high kicks, spins, and a swan dive from a balcony that—it was later reported—resulted in a cracked rib.
Though their technical skills can be overshadowed by their characters and costumes, exóticos fight with the same strength and finesse as other top luchadores.
As Miguel tells Gabriel, exóticos’ costumes may be loud, but their actions in the ring speak louder than any Lycra or glitter.
“We give people hope. … We’re not just entertainment. We give people something to rally for, and against. Lucha’s been a part of politics and our social order, always has been,” he said. “Do you know how many men have come up to me after a match and thanked me? How many kids have said we’ve given them courage to come out? We may not be your picture of the perfect postmodern gay or whatever your generation calls it, but we paved the road for you with our glitter and makeup.”
Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and winemaker who lives in the foothills outside Los Angeles. A lifelong sports fan and occasional sports writer, she has had to dive out of the way of flying luchadores at matches in both the US and Mexico. Luchador was recently named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016. Erin’s debut novel, Sotto Voce, received a PW starred review and a Foreword Reviews Indiefab Silver Book of the Year Award.
Connect with author Erin Finnegan at Erin-Finnegan.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/ErinGoFinnegan and on Twitter at @eringofinnegan.