Gina de Vries

"this prayer," or, Why I Love Lynda Barry

Filed By Gina de Vries | January 27, 2008 11:25 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Entertainment, Living, Living, Living
Tags: blowing your mind on the great subject, gay youth, growing up, LGBT families, lgbt youth, lynda barry, Maybonne, nerdy queer girls, ocean avenue, ocean/merced/ingleside, queer youth, san francisco natives, st. emydius, subversive angel librarians

I've been cleaning and re-organizing my room all weekend. While going through my pile of Things to Put Up On My Walls, I found a somewhat tattered photocopy of this amazing and heartbreaking Lynda Barry comic. Dispel any rumors you've heard about me being tough, hardcore, and/or punkrock -- Maybonne's angst about god, her queer uncles, and her grandmother's rage had me crying in thirty seconds flat.

You know how some books just blow open your entire world, teach you how to think in ways you never even thought were possible? Lynda Barry did that for me when I was 10.

I found her book Come Over, Come Over in the Young Adult section of the very tiny and very broke Ingleside Library in San Francisco in 1993. I was in the fifth grade. To this day, I have no idea how Barry's books got put into the YA section of an otherwise dusty and unimpressive library in a mostly-residential, pretty working-class, quiet-and-small-but-kinda-rough-around-the-edges neighborhood.

I'm no Lynda Barry Expert, but I've read most of her books. If I was asked to describe her work, I'd say that it's about puberty, adolescence, sexuality, abuse, families being broken and sometimes coming back together to varying degrees of success, drugs, music, and the pain, beauty, loveliness, and awkwardness of being a teenage girl. I'm of the opinion that every kid, everywhere (and especially every girl kid and every kid raised as a girl), should be given a copy of Come Over, Come Over when they turn 10, because the fierceness and excellence of that book blew my world open in fifth grade -- but I'm probably in the minority on that one.

The thing is, the YA section at the Ingleside Library was not known for it's subversive teen literature. It mostly consisted of weird reference books from the 70's about things like toxicology and puberty (I read a lot of the puberty books), an illustrated book of Blue Laws (also read that), novels from the almost hilariously anti-feminist Girl Talk series (read one), The Babysitters' Club series (read them in the second grade, got bored with them), Goosebumps (read them in fourth grade, got bored with them), Christopher Pike thrillers (read one, which could have been titled "If You Are a Teenage Boy and Cheat on Your Girlfriend with a Loose Woman, the Loose Woman Will Stalk You and Try to Cut You"), and a YA series that I'm pretty sure was called "The Hot Line" and was all about the dramas, intrigue, and PG-13-rated sexcapades of seven teenagers who staffed a crisis line. Come Over, Come Over was not The Babysitters' Club or "The Hot Line" -- or even the excellently geeky and subversive but pretty much "age-appropriate" Anastasia Krupnik series (which I still love).

I spent hundreds of hours avoiding my classmates at the Ingleside Library, leafing through the old and usually trashy novels and magazines, rooting out whatever gems I could find. Barry was the absolute best gem I found. The Ingleside Library has since moved to a presumably more posh and better-lit location on what passes for the Ingleside's "main drag," Ocean Avenue -- but in 1993, it was on Ashton Avenue, wedged between a barbershop and a storefront that changed names and hands every few months. It was a block away from St. Emydius, the Catholic school that I attended grades 3-8 that has since closed its doors. As far as hiding places from school go, the library was awesome. None of the school bullies were liable to come in to make fun of my glasses or my smarts or my politics, because none of them actually wanted to set foot in a library.

I'm fairly convinced that Come Over, Come Over (and later, It's So Magic, and The Good Times Are Killing Me) were put on that shelf by a saintly librarian who wanted to provide some comfort to the nerdy kids who came there to avoid sports practice and being taunted by their peers. Fifteen years later, I'm thankful to Lynda Barry for, as Marlys says, "blowing [my] mind." I'm thankful to whatever forces sent that Subversive Angel Librarian to plant her there for me, my friend Giselle, and every other nerdy queer girl who browsed those shelves.

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Where would queer youth be without libraries?

I remember searching through the shelves looking for something to explain me there. Lots of books about STD's and not much else, although I did read Ellen's My point and I do have one at that age for that reason, I know, I know....

In the end, I found the internet. Oh, the internet.

*sigh* I feel so old.

You read Ellen's book? *groans*

Goosebumps? Baby Sitters Club? *moans*

I got Hardy Boys as a kid. The first non-fiction books I found on being gay were 2 counties away in a university library.