Review: A Little Bit Langston by Andrew Demcak

I’m a fan of Andrew Demcak — I reviewed his book Ghost Songs here a while back — and I was très très  excited about the release earlier this month of A Little Bit Langston, his new YA sci-fi novel.

A Little Bit Langston starts off in your head. No, YOUR head, the head of an LA teenager who has a learning disability and a demanding, self-absorbed mother and a bubbling volcano of feelings for his best friend. Or at least the book starts in the head of someone you love. James, the main character, is so engaging, so immediately present on the page, that I was willing to follow him right down the rabbit hole, no questions asked.

And it is quite a warren down there. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say if you’re a fan of alien technology, secret government agencies, and gifted young people who can probably kill you with their brains, you won’t be disappointed. Not to mention if you’re a fan of Langston Hughes, the Langston of the title. The author doesn’t use any excerpts of Hughes’ actual work; instead he paraphrases, or in some instances inserts original lines that are clearly intended to remind the reader of famous Hughes poems. But the spirit of the poet is there–in the multifaceted identities of the main characters, in the brave actions of young men who get beaten for being gay, in the expansively hopeful feeling of the story as a whole.

The plot fits into the classic “chosen one” style of tale. James appears at first to have trouble reading at school, but a bizarre talent quickly emerges when he begins to channel the writing of long-dead poet Montgomery Langston (Langston Hughes). At the same time, his electricity-related superpower shows itself. After a period of being persecuted at school, and some harrowing real-world complications involving his best friend/love interest, Paul, James finds himself at a special academy for gifted teens like himself. Which is when the alien + conspiracy questions really kick into gear. I’m glad the author set us up for a sequel, because the busy, scheme-filled underworld he created is way too big for just one book.

I love a YA story where the superpowers appear at adolescence, where they overwhelm the character and then through the arc of the story he masters them. That’s what growing up feels like: channeling electricity with no control, destroying all the lightbulbs in the house, knowing for a fact that no one can understand your side of the story. Even though James’ demanding mother claims she always knew he was special, we see James changing into his true self on the page, as his feelings for Paul blossom and he discovers who he really is. In this case that’s pretty literal; James gets a big surprise when he finds out who his father is. Good YA science fiction stuff.

The love story isn’t center stage here, and that’s a big strength of the book. There’s plenty already going on in this story, and not all YA stories or coming-out stories have to be love stories. Another significant strength is Demcak’s skillful, barely-there handling of race and ethnicity. Way too much science fiction is, historically, way too white. That’s started to shift in recent years, but slowly. In A Little Bit Langston, the love interest, Paul, is Filipino, while James is white. Hardly anything is ever said about that difference between them, but Paul never has that insert-diversity-here feeling as a character. He’s three-dimensional, with a complex family and history of his own, and his journey toward loving James feels very earned. When we meet Lumen, another student at the special school, James expresses curiosity about her Korean heritage, but when the two turn out to be half-siblings, no one misses a beat, because these characters live so easily in a multicultural world.

Don’t miss out on A Little Bit Langston. I will be holding my breath until the sequel comes out. Buy your copy here.

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Spindrift Gifts by Aidee Ladnier

Today is the release day of Spindrift Gifts by Aidee Ladnier! This is Book 2 in the series started with The Klockwerk Kraken. Aidee will be a guest blogger here on Dec 20. Here’s a teaser about the new story.

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When his memories begin endangering his happily-ever after on Celos, Jimenez is forced to choose between forgetting his lover Teo, or accepting the sometimes painful gifts of Spindrift.

Scars and a tattoo may be the only physical reminders from his years as a slave, but when Jimenez suffers a setback in his medical treatment, the only option is a therapy that will wipe away all his memories of the past including his time with Teo. Teo, torn between supporting his lover’s decisions and the good intentions of his family, sets out to teach Jimenez about Spindrift Gifts and how memories are celebrated on Celos even when they are painful. Can Teo and Jimenez weather the storm to find their happily-ever-after on Celos?unnamed

Spindrift Gifts Giveaway!

Aidee Ladnier’s new book Spindrift Gifts was released last week. And lucky readers, one of you is going home with your very own copy!

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post. I’ll pick a winner at random next Sunday, December 27. Which is just about the time you’ll be wishing you had a good holiday-themed read to get you through the rest of the weekend.

I’m about halfway through this wonderful story myself and I just had to share an excerpt. There’s still time to pick it up as a holiday treat for that special bartender or tentacle-fetish-having loved one on your list! Read on to be teased.

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Excerpt from Spindrift Gifts by Aidee Ladnier:

“Is it a memory box?”

Teo set it on the table with a clack. “Same principle. It’s our Spindrift gift for the rev. We each put a memory in one to add to the family collection. And then at the gala they all glow on the lighted tree.”

“Tree? Do you grow trees on Celos?”

Teo chuckled. “Not really. It’s a light-painted representation of a tree, like one of those from old Earth. It’s a family tree. Each branch holds the most important memories for the rev from that branch of the family.”

“A shared memory?” Jimenez ran a finger along the smooth top of the tiny cube. It blushed a delicate pink at his touch.

“No. It’s personal, a gift, a painful or a pleasant one. One you share because it hurts, and you smooth the edges by giving it away, or one of your favorites you want others to experience. But you give one from the past rev.”

Their conversation grew hushed. Teo attempted to lighten the mood. He grabbed the leftover paper from his package and folded it into the shape of a little boat.

“I’ve been trying to think of one that would be suitable for family viewing.” He wiggled his eyebrows.

Jimenez glared at him. “That’s not the all we’ve done this rev.”

He picked up the cube and activated it. Teo stared transfixed as Jimenez pulled it close to his mouth and breathed a puff of air over it, his fingers whitening at the tips as he remembered.

Teo wondered which memory put that serene smile on his lover’s face, smoothing the furrows lining his brow. Was it onboard his ship in the Nothing? Or maybe one with Teo on Switchpoint?

“What did you record? Can I see it?” He whispered, unwilling to break the spell of Jimenez’s memory.

Jimenez opened his eyes, and his fingers clutched the small cube. But he smiled at it like it held a secret.

“I’m not sure this is one to give away. Do you have extra cubes?”

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Buy Spindrift Gifts here: