Gayle Forman takes on a whole lot of issues, including homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, skinheads, and serial killers, in her fraught, funny, complex tale of two tweens in 1980s Venice Beach. Title characters Frankie & Bug are dealing with quite a lot, as are the adults in their lives, but form a strong bond as they share experiences and work through their differences, discovering in the process that there are worlds they didn't know existed.
"'You keep saying 'queer,'" Frankie said. 'Isn't that a bad thing?'
"'In some circles, I suppose, but I mean it as a term of love for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals.' Flo tossed the quickest look at Frankie before adding, 'You know, all us folk...'
"At the us folk, Bug's breath caught. Did Flo know? Would Frankie be upset? She glanced over. Frankie didn't look upset. He had a funny little half smile on his lips. His eyes were open and shining.
"'Is that what I am?' he asked in a quavering voice.
"'It's not what you are, it's who you are. And that's up to you. But I know plenty like you who call themselves transsexual.'
"'Transsexual,' Frankie repeated. 'So there is a word for it.'
"'Oh, honey, there's a word for everything on God's green earth. And if there isn't, we can just make one up.'"