Linas Alsenas has spent – OK, spends – way too much time singing show tunes to himself in the mirror. He has written several books for children and young adults, including GAY AMERICA, MRS. CLAUS TAKES A VACATION,PEANUT and THE PRINCESS OF 8TH STREET. His latest book, BEYOND CLUELESS, is a young-adult novel about teens in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, that is very much like Linas’s hometown. Today Linas lives in London with his husband and works as an editor at a children’s book publisher.
Title: Beyond Clueless
Author: Linas Alsenas
Publication: August 18th 2015
I... liked this book. Very much. Beyond Clueless is how I feel high school really is. I have read sooo many books where there are these nasty popular people who beat kids up and, yea, I know that this does happen, but this book feels more like what a normal high school life is. Or at least how MY high school life was. But then again, social dynamics are dictated by common behaviors seen in everyday life. So this book might not be how your high school is. But it is pretty close to mine. Just go read the book. It's so great.
If I have to choose one word to describe this book it would be: Diversity.
Marty is a great character. She has her moments where I don't like her way of thinking but overall, she was very easy to connect with. For some reason I feel like Marty should have been a guy. I have no idea why. Sometimes I just found myself reading as if she was a guy and then she would say something that was obviously female and I was like ooooops... Oh.. and TWIX. I was eating one. Read the book to get the reference, haha!
I have never seen Glee but I seriously imagine that this is Glee in book form. It is so funny at times and the entire theater theme is great. I remember the theater people from when I was in school and they were such awesome people. I, unfortunately, had no acting bone in my body so I was stuck in chorus. They weren't afraid to be themselves!
One thing I did notice about this book is the main character is a freshman in high school but she seems older, along with other characters as well. Maybe maturity levels have changed since I was in high school? I'm not sure but I didn't feel like Marty was a freshman.
This book is pretty relatable for anyone, really. When Jimmy came out to Marty I was laughing because Marty was like DUH. I have experienced that a few times in my life. I have had a few good friends come out to me and I was just like... okay? and? I've known that. Moving on.... And because of situations like this I sometimes feel like people coming out actually WANT it to be a big deal. I see things saying the gay community doesn't want to be singled out yet they expect something when they "come out". So what? You're you. I am glad you are who you are but you could be a Narwhal for all I care and you would still be my friend.
Honestly, with the entire sexuality theme in this book it really has me thinking about so much. I wanted to say something, not entirely related to this book but still relevant. One of the characters comes out as gay and he starts hanging out with different people. That is all find and dandy. My problem is that people feel the need to be like "Hi, my name is Bob and I'm gay." Like, uhh, hi? I truly don't care if you are gay. And I am not saying that in a mean way. You are who you are. By saying stuff like that it's almost like YOU WANT people to put you into a category. I don't go up to people and say "Hi, I'm Jenn and I am bisexual." Stop using your sexuality, and for that matter skin color, to place yourself into a category. You are a person. We are all people. It is find to be proud of who you are. Everyone should be proud of who they are. But don't use being gay to define you. It doesn't define you. It is a part of you. YOU DEFINE YOU. This book isn't exactly meant to be so heavy but it did get me thinking about a lot of things. Maybe it will make other readers open up their minds as well.
In the end. My final thought on this book is, be yourself. If you feel like you can't be yourself around your family or friends then its THEM who are wrong. Not you. It is never wrong to be yourself. EVER.
Overall, I gave the book 4.5/5 stars.
1) What was the inspiration behind Beyond Clueless?
I can’t really answer that question without talking about the ending, so, SPOILER ALERT! Reader, skip to the next question if you haven’t read the book. But I wrote the first chapter of Beyond Clueless many years ago, when I was just starting out in book publishing, in New York. I started with a vague idea for a book, that it would be about a girl's impossible crush on a gay male friend, with a twist at the end in which she realizes that she had been wrong about his sexual orientation the whole time. You might say it was meant to be a wish fulfilment story for my girl friends from college, who would complain to me, "All the good ones are gay!" I wanted them to be able to get a good one, too – at least once. There are a lot of stories about boyfriends who would become gay friends, but I didn’t know of any books about gay friends who would become boyfriends.
2) Do you think the Young Adult book community needs more diverse books?(race, sexuality, etc.)
Yes! Definitely! The more perspectives we can have in books, the more books as a whole will represent and be better able to connect with book readers. And diversity shouldn’t be limited to the books themselves; the book community, too, needs diversity, from publishers to librarians to reviewers to – most important – readers. Books should be inclusive, open for everyone’s participation. And you can’t just be told that you belong; you have to see it for yourself.
3) Did you plan on becoming and author?
As a teen, I really wanted to become a children’s books illustrator rather than an author. At the time, I thought that the most interesting, relevant art was happening in children’s books rather than in galleries, and I wanted to be part of that. But I had a lot of such interests, and it was nothing I was deadly certain about. I just knew I wanted to do something creative and, well, not boring! Looking back it seems like a pretty straightforward progression, from studying art history in college to learning about editorial work at an interior design magazine – to becoming a children’s books editor. Then, working at the publisher, I felt that I could create books like those I was editing. But, really, it was all just drifting towards a vague goal, taking advantage of whatever relevant opportunities arose. The novel was a task I set for myself, and, after a very long road, I managed to finish it and was lucky enough to get it published. I’ve written several books, but I still feel weird calling myself an “author”. I just … tell stories! Everyone tells stories all the time; it’s just part of being human.
4) If you had to pitch Beyond Clueless to a potential reader what would you say?
Do you like the TV show “Glee”? Do you like the movie Clueless? Do you like chatty teen novels? If you said yes to those things, then you will probably enjoy this book. It’s a really funny, easy read about a girl’s various dramas as she makes new friends at an all girls’ Catholic high school, tries not to lose her best friend to his new group of gay friends at another school, and tries to make a new boyfriend out of a fellow cast member in the school musical. Fear not, the book has been scientifically engineered to keep you fully entertained.
5) Are you currently working on any new books?
Yes! I’m pretty much always “working” on something, so it’s really just a question of whether I can get my act together enough to wrap it up. But I’m halfway through a novel about modern royalty that seems promising, and I have a few picture-book ideas bouncing around, so I have my work cut out for me these days.
6) Did you do any extracurricular activities in high school?
Like the kids in Beyond Clueless, I was very involved in theater in high school. I was part of a group that would perform one-act plays at competitions, and I loved it. I also did a lot of art, illustrating for the newspaper and the yearbook.
7) What bit of advice would you give teenagers today?
That’s such a tough question, because I’d like to think I’d give very different advice to different teens! But one piece of advice I would give to someone like my teen self would be to do whatever you can to get good grades. I know, it’s such a boring, annoying piece of advice, but it’s true, for two main reasons. One, good grades usually correspond with learning things, and if you develop of love of learning, that makes life so much easier in the long run. The second reason is that even if grades don’t mean that you’re learning things – and they will definitely seem arbitrary at times! – they can be your ticket to many other things, better things. Make good grades a priority – not for your parents, not for your teachers, but for yourself. But education gives you so many options in life, or at least it has for me, opening doors that I never thought I could get to, or doors that I never even knew existed. (You can also read a letter I wrote to my teen self here.)