Words Like Weeds: Ring Around the Moon
Ring Around the Moon by Anya Weinstein, is the first installment of a series called Weeds Like Words. It follows thirteen year old Asher Denmont as he enters eighth grade. Asher is the quintessential follower, a good Christian, pious to a fault, yet terribly out of his element now. For puberty has caught up with him, and with it, the knowledge that he’s not like the other boys. So, Asher projects himself into a new crowd of rowdy friends led by the nasty Tucker, and attempts to rationalize his way out of the sure knowledge that he’s gay. But it doesn’t work. As the school year progresses, and as Asher becomes a solid part of his new crowd, learning to be as nasty as Tucker, and all the while growing ever more fond of him, he’s unaware that his affection and attention is about to backfire on him. In addition, he’s unaware that Kat Wilder, called Death Girl by some because of her Goth persona, is much more mature than he and has an insight into his imagined hell. As a result will she become an unexpected ally?
This story is much more than a simple high school tale. It drives home very important 21st century issues. Homophobia has become an epidemic in the
public schools. Being gay, or even being thought of as gay, brings with it ostracizing like never before. For a young boy growing up gay, without peers to turn to, with the perceived threat of God himself dooming a ‘good’ boy to Hell, with Christian parents teaching their children that gays choose to be gay, all of which is in Asher's world, who can he turn to? Unfortunately, suicide is an easy route out of this Catch-22. In fact, Asher toys with it ever so briefly.
There are many elements that make this story engrossing and fascinating. It’s a slice of life told by a young author who witnesses homophobic language casually thrown around every day in high school. It’s a tale fashioned from a real life drama. It contains a whole host of characters, each with their own past and hauntingly real present—due to the excellent way the author fleshes them out. It’s a lesson to those who think that terrible words, aimed wantonly at those perceived to be different, have no meaning; that shunning a peer because of prejudice and stereotypes takes precedence over empirical evidence or friendship.
Once inside Ring Around the Moon you will be moved, saddened, and ultimately enlightened. Perhaps you will even be motivated to help stop the open discrimination of gay people that is still publicly-sanctioned and even encouraged by some in this country. Lessons can be learned within the covers of this story. Important ones.
Imagine a modern-day 'The Outsiders' in which Socs and Greasers are replaced with Preps and Goths. Throw in a kinder, gentler 'Chocolate War.' Add a gay main character struggling with himself, much like in 'Entries From a Hot-Pink Notebook,' only make it darker and more psychological. Make all the characters as multifaceted as those in Victor Hugo's 'Les MisÃ©erables' and throw in some brilliant nature-oriented descriptions reminiscent of those in 'Tuck Everlasting.' Have it written by John Steinbeck, and there you have the first book in the sure-to-be-epic trilogy WORDS LIKE WEEDS.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of 'Ring Around the Moon' is that its author is only 16 years old - and wrote much of it when she was 14. S.E. Hinton and Anne Frank have taught us to expect a few teens to publish novels (or diaries) preaching tolerance, but neither reached Anya Weinstein's level of quality. This is a girl that must spend almost all her time reading, writing, and philosophizing; I don't know how else she could have written such brilliant material at such a young age.
'Ring Around the Moon' revolves around 13-year-old Asher Denmont, who has just moved to the fictional town of Green Haven, Illinois from Abilene, Texas. He is an endearing main character (though sometimes too naive to be realistic) who is highly religious in a Christian fundamentalist way. He unexpectedly falls in love with his next-door neighbor, Tucker, prompting a slew of painful questions about his sexuality. As the back of the book suggests, yes, he also attempts suicide.
While Asher grapples with his own prejudices against homosexuality, he finds himself in the midst of a greater issue - the prejudices at his middle school. The fierce rivalry between cliques there is coming to a head as a near-friendless loner named Lucas Farlot decides to resort to murder. (Okay, maybe it isn't a kinder, gentler 'Chocolate Wars.' But at least it doesn't revolve around a chocolate sale!) Weinstein seamlessly weaves together these two plots into an omnipresent theme about the importance of tolerance. Meanwhile, she throws in a wonderful parable about a girl named Magnolia, that offers a lot of insight into one of the deepest and most intriguing characters. I hope the next two books have a lot of Magnolia in them!!
The only complaint I have is the ending. RATM ends suddenly, at a cliffhanger. It's supposed to make you want to buy the next book - and believe me, it does!! - but it also makes you want to kill the author. Or it would, if killing her didn't mean that she'd never finish the series.
Thanks mainly to gay-friendly media outlets, progressive Sex Ed. teachers, and GSA's (Gay/Straight Alliances) in schools, more and more gay kids are feeling comfortable enough to come out at a younger and younger age. There is still homophobia - especially in schools - but now there are places to hide from it, people to talk to about it, and organizations to assure gay teens that they are not, in fact, evil. Best of all, there is a new wave of GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) books directed at teens to help them deal with any discrimination they might face, and make them proud of who they are.
'Ring Around the Moon' is not one of these books. Yeah, gay kids might like it because hey, who doesn't love reading about themselves? But mainly it serves a different - but no less important - purpose: a book written by a straight kid for straight kids trying to show them what homophobia does to closeted gay teens. With the first book ending on an attempted suicide (I can only hope that Asher gets it together in the next couple of books), this is not at all a message of hope to conflicted closet-cases. But if you're looking for a trilogy that whacks the religious right upside the head and yells, "See what you're doing, ya buncha morons?!?!?!" you've come to the right place!
One thing that struck me when I was reading this book was that it was like no YA novel I'd ever read before. For one thing, it's about 8th graders, and YA novelists NEVER write about 8th graders. They love to skip over them and write about either 6th-7th graders or high schoolers. I think they like to pretend 8th grade doesn't exist. And when they DO write about 8th graders, they make them act and talk like they're younger than they really are. Anya Weinstein actually has them swearing, and fighting, and referencing sex. Hey, adults: THIS IS WHAT 8TH GRADE IS ACTUALLY LIKE!!!! Finally, someone writes about kids the way they REALLY are. Also, 'Ring Around the Moon' was written sort of like a 19th century book - especially that first description of Lucas. It reminds me of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' and it actually is kind of the muckraker novel of the 21st century. It has a theme and dang it, it's not at all shy in telling you what it is!!!
I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 because it ends on a HUGE cliffhanger with like a million plotlines dangling. I can already tell that this trilogy is basically one storyline extended over three books rather than three separate stories, so 'Ring Around the Moon' is kind of like 1/3rd of a really long novel. But man, is it a GOOD 1/3rd! If Anya keeps this pace up, she may just have a classic on her hands. Let's just hope teachers are bold enough to assign 'Words Like Weeds' to middle-school kids... the ones that really need to hear this message.
There's a new voice in GLBT teen fiction. And when I say "new," I mean NEW. When she first began work on "Ring Around the Moon," the first book in the "Words Like Weeds" trilogy, Anya Weinstein was only a year older than her 13-year-old protagonists. "Words Like Weeds" chronicles two parallel struggles, both of which take place among the teens of Green Haven, an isolated rural town in America's heartland.
One is the struggle of Asher Denmont, the child of homophobic Christian fundamentalist parents, who must overcome both his family's and his own prejudices to come to terms with his budding homosexuality. The other is the story of a long-lived war between middle school cliques which is quickly escalating. Lucas Farlot, an oft picked-on loser, plots revenge on those who have hurt him, even as his girlfriend Kat desperately tries to keep him from acting on his hatred.
Mark A. Roeder, author of the bestselling "Gay Youth Chronicles," hails Ring Around the Moon as "the most superb writing I've seen in a long time." Indeed, 16-year-old Weinstein writes with skill and wisdom beyond her years. "Ring Around the Moon," although unable to stand alone as a novel, is an extraordinarily promising start to what is sure to be a dynamite series. Her descriptions of Green Haven and its teen inhabitants bring the story vividly to life. Each character is so complex and multi-faceted that you'd swear they were real people, and their reactions to the differences between them move the story along beautifully. The characters end up buried in questions about prejudice and tolerance, violence and peace.
From a generation mired with depression, drug abuse, sex, and anxiety, a voice cries out in the din, begging for someone to hear, begging for someone to understand. The voice is Anya Weinstein's. The words are heartrendingly honest. The message is one we all must hear. Much like her character Kat Wilder, Weinstein sits somewhat apart from her peers, watching them, hearing their pain. She insightfully captures their struggles, saying for them what they are too distraught to say themselves. Like Kat, Weinstein fully intends to save the world. And like so many that have come before her, she uses language as her weapon against hate. She arms herself with words, screaming to be heard.
The question is: will anybody listen?