Eryn – Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
What it is: a sweet and funny YA novel about a gay teen with a crush on another closeted boy he’s been emailing anonymously. The book explores the ups and downs of Simon’s social life in his suburban Atlanta high school as he comes out to his friends and family, rehearses for the school musical, and tries to figure out which of his classmates is his email partner, Blue.
Why you should read it: God, where was this book when I was a closeted queer theater kid growing up in metro Atlanta? It’s all the best of a great YA romance–breezy writing, accurately painful high school awkwardness, teen characters whose personalities and relationships are complex and real, and a sweet and fluttery love story on top. But it’s also a book that deals with the realities of closeting and coming out in a way that isn’t too overwrought, and tells a same-sex love story that doesn’t fetishize gayness. What’s more, it’s a book that portrays the South and metro Atlanta exactly the way it is–complicated. I know that town, I know that school, I know each and every one of the students and teachers there. I know Junkman’s Daughter and Perimeter Mall and the dark night of the soul when you find you have to choose between Chick-fil-A Oreo milkshakes and lining the Cathy family’s homophobic pockets. Honestly, I can’t remember a book that gave me such an uncanny feeling that I was reading about something that happened to me. I shared a lot with Simon in high school–a liberal family I still didn’t feel comfortable coming out to, a maniacal obsession with Harry Potter, an iPod dependency in times of distress, a discovery of queer love stories for the first time in fanfiction. Reading Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, that specific realism sometimes gave me the same shaky, anxious feeling I had the first time I told someone I was bi. It also made me grin my face off. Recommended for anyone who likes a quick YA read; highly recommended for anyone who’s been a queer teen in the South.
Alex – Raising Hope (on Netflix)
What it is: A sweet, funny little sit-com about a poor family in a nowhere town dealing with a new baby (and a hundred other weird problems). It was created by the minds behind My Name Is Earl and ran for four seasons, but now lives on Netflix. It’s a classic story: boy meets girl, girl bangs boy in his van, girl turns out to be a serial killer and gets the electric chair, but not before giving birth to boy’s baby. Single dad Jimmy suddenly has to deal with a baby, even though he still lives with his parents…who still live with his grandmother…who has dementia. It’s three generations of arrested development under one roof.
Why you should watch it: The best way I can sell this show, and possibly the most succinct way it can be described, is by calling it a live-action Bob’s Burgers. This is another feel-good show about a family of weird characters who can’t really get ahead in life but who are set apart by their big hearts and ability to stick together through thick and thin. They’re poor, they’re kind of dumb, and they make bad life choices, but you can’t help but love them. The show is hilarious, particularly parents Burt and Virginia and Grandma, but even when the jokes don’t really land, they’re still endearing enough that you won’t mind. One quick warning: there is a large subplot with some pretty tiresome unrequited love / friendzone angst early on, but get through the first season and it becomes a lot more bearable. The rest is worth it. If you’re looking for another background Netflix show, or something light and fun to check out between episodes of Criminal Minds or Game of Thrones, you could do a whole lot worse than Raising Hope.
Jake – Southern Bastards
What it is: A comic series by two Jasons: Jason Aaron from Jasper, Alabama and Jason Latour from Charlotte, North Carolina. They’re from the South. They love the South. They hate the South. The comic tells the story of a number of residents in the fictional Craw County, Alabama, a town run by despotic football coach and BBQ proprietor Coach Boss. When former high school football star Earl Tubb comes back into town to bury his father, he creates a spark that lights the powderkeg of simmering tensions and resentments as the residents of Craw County start to make their many, many grievances with each other known, sometimes using blunt weaponry.
Why you should read it: Most comics are wildly imaginative, telling stories about superpowered demigods, epic space wars, or everyday people thrust into absurd situations. This comic is completely grounded in its setting of a dark Alabama town, and while the cast of characters can tend towards the colorful side of things, it is always clear that the comic’s creators are drawing from real experience. Far from shying away from the implied politics, the Jasons manage to embrace controversy, showing a surprisingly nuanced take on the South. These ethos can best be understood by looking at the cover Latour drew in light of the conversation surrounding the Confederate Flag being flown over government buildings. In his image, a mangy mutt tears into the stars and bars [Confederate Battle Flag, apologies all], with the message “Death to the flag, long live the South!”