Friday, August 6, 2010

The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

The Bermudez Triangle

Maureen Johnson

SUMMARY: Nina Bermudez, Avery Dekker, and Melanie Forrest have been an inseparable trio known as the Bermudez Triangle for years. Now, the summer before their senior year of high school they will be spending a significant amount of time apart for the first time. While Nina goes off to Stanford for a ten-week summer program, Avery and Mel stay at home in upstate New York and begin jobs waitressing at P.J. Mortimer’s Fine Food and Drinks Emporium. Within those ten-weeks, some big events happen in the separate lives of the Triangle. Nina falls for the sweet eco-activist Steve but must also face the fact that he lives in Oregon and so she likely won’t see him after the summer until they hopefully both end up at Stanford the next fall. Meanwhile, Mel has finally had a real kiss—with Avery. When the trio is reunited, relationships will change and the next year will be full of confusion, revelations, and division. Can the Bermudez Triangle survive?

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I’ve been planning to read Maureen Johnson for a while. Actually, I feel slightly ashamed that I haven’t been reading her since she first started publishing. But being an English lit major for four years limited my recreational reading time. So I’m still playing catch up on awesome YA fiction.

Anyway, I’ve finally started reading Maureen Johnson and I’m definitely not going to stop anytime soon! The Bermudez Triangle was a great, fun, and unique read. The characters are all individuals with three-dimensional personalities and emotional lives. Also, it does something I really appreciate; it tells the ‘after’ story. What do I mean by that vague phrase? Well, in many movies and books, the story builds up to an important event; the heroine falls in love or gets her first kiss. But here, Johnson places these big moments at the beginning of the narrative and then spends the majority of the novel exploring what happens afterwards. The story expands on life after that first kiss and the struggles of making summer love work in the real world. Also, she allows the relationships to be messy and imperfect, which I also greatly appreciate.

The Bermudez Triangle also does a wonderful job portraying the complexities of teen sexuality and romantic relationships. The novel’s characters are diverse and the narrative spends equal time on the straight, gay, and questioning characters. Johnson treats each girl’s journey through love, heartbreak, and recovery with balanced details and obvious sympathy. I loved reading a novel where sexual identity plays a role but does not become a single identifier of a character’s role or personality. Also, Johnson works to explore the universal difficulties in maintaining friendships and balancing relationships with friends and lovers. Johnson’s story is a pretty successful attempt to show the lives of three young women with honesty and respect. I felt emotionally invested from the first few pages and thoroughly enjoyed the entire reading experience. Also, Johnson writes with great humor and elegance and so her writing, like all good writing, is a pleasure to read.

4 ½ / 5 STARS

Now, I can’t close this post without noting the controversy that has surrounded this book in recent years. Although I had been planning to pick up at least one of Maureen Johnson’s books this summer, I picked this book first because I heard about the censorship issues it faced in 2007. I first heard about the Bartlesville, Oklahoma challenge to this book via catching up on John and Hank Green’s Brotherhood 2.0/Vlogbrothers videos. On a side note, they’re hilarious and awesome and everyone should watch them; I’m proud to say I am a belated but now devoted Nerdfighter! Anyway, back to The Bermudez Triangle challenge. In April 2007, the Bartlesville school district decided to pull The Bermudez Triangle from the shelves of the Mid-High school library. The objections seem to be primarily that the book “has no moral fiber” and promotes immoral actions, such as homosexuality. It should be also noted that the book contains essentially nothing sexual beyond kissing between girls or between boys and girls. Maureen Johnson recounted the saga that followed in detail here on her blog so I won’t go into all the details—better to hear from the witty author/blogger herself! But if you don’t already know the story and you care about teenagers, books, and our first amendment rights, please go and check it out; you can trace the story through her archives beginning in April 2007. The conclusion to the so-called ‘Battle of Bartlesville’ was that the book was allowed to stay in the library but only on a reserve shelf where it could be checked out for school use with a parent’s permission. So, as Johnson wrote on her blog, the ending was sort of success (in that the book is still on the shelves) but in more significant ways it was almost worst than a full banning. I mean, because this fun and touching novel contains a romantic relationship between two girls, it has been relegated to a separate shelf. What kind of message does that send to a confused and nervous young woman or man who is thinking about her or his sexuality? How would that make even an openly gay teen feel? Situations like this are the reason that I am perhaps very sensitive and a little hard-line about censorship.

In conclusion, if you haven’t read The Bermudez Triangle or any of Maureen Johnson’s other YA fiction, you should remedy that as soon as possible! I for one am glad that I did!

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