Genre: YA, romance, lgbt
Mephisto Waltz, named for the waltzes by composer Franz Liszt is about seduction and madness, according to Miranda Rothschild’s piano teacher. The story begins with the suicide of Miranda’s twin brother, Mark. The surviving Rothschilds, unable to live any longer in the house where they knew, loved, and lost Mark, decides to move to San Avila, Texas, a warm gulf shore town with apparently almost nonstop stormy weather. In San Avila, Miranda becomes fast friends with her private school’s preeminent social butterfly, Summer. Summer introduces her to a pretty openly gay girl named Clara and shamelessly flirty devoted sidekicks Chad and Jason. Soon we learn that Jason has a crush on Miranda and Clara hates to eat, particularly when her manipulative ex-boyfriend David and his impressionable lackey Amber are about.
Following her brother’s suicide, which Miranda believes to have been the inevitable result of her twin’s inability to control his emotions, Miranda subsists on a strict diet of temperance and, like Clara, not a lot of food. When her piano instructor assigns her Mephisto Waltz, a tumultuous emotional piece, Miranda bangs gracelessly on the piano. It is with “temperance” that she struggles to learn the piece, sorts through her feelings for Clara, grieves for her brother, rejects Jason, and copes with her parents’ religious ideas regarding same-sex relationships.
The central focus of the novel is Miranda’s relationship with Clara. A whole lot of bad weather and not eating occurs while they sort through it, but they don’t take too long to get together. Unfortunately for the girls, they don’t get much time together before Clara’s meddling ex and Miranda’s religious parents succeed in messing everything up. We follow Miranda as she is unceremoniously shipped off to Prodigal Ministries reparative therapy camp up north with a draconian rule system, mostly friendly residents, a mysterious ghost story, and instructions from her parents to “try and get better” (read: not be gay). Prodigal Ministries, like San Avila, is fraught with bad weather and Miranda struggles to maintain her physical and emotional health as she endures reparative therapy and some more not eating.
I came across this book when one of my Twitter followers alerted me to a one-time-only opportunity: her book was FREE on Amazon for a day. I almost never pass up a free book. Now it’s $4.99 unless you have Amazon Prime, in which case you can use Amazon as a library and check it out for free with your kindle. For now, it’s only available on Kindle, but the good news is, Kindle books can now be read online and apps can be acquired for free on almost all smart phones, so you don’t actually need to buy anything except the book, which is worth every penny.
Mephisto Waltz contains all of the unpolished charms of a first book but it is not lacking in depth. Specht, according to her blog is classically educated and it shows. She’s also a huge fan of bad weather. I mean, I don’t know that because I haven’t asked her yet, but I think it goes without saying. The characters all have their own well-developed personalities, even if their vernaculars are perhaps a bit too adult and similar to one another. The romance is written in perfect YA style, with a lot of frustrating waiting for them to be able to get away from parents and friends to have a minute together, a lot of hand-holding, a little kissing, and no sex. It was well-done and I found myself with a terrible crush on Clara about halfway through. Particularly enjoyable, however, was Miranda’s maddening temperance, which only eventually gets addressed. While Miranda maintains calm and control, readers will find themselves wishing they could jump into the book and throttle a lot of the characters, or at least grab Miranda by the shoulders and shake her until she realizes it’s time to get angry, dammit.
There’s a bargain we strike as writers when we attempt to write stuff we intend to sell someday: we have to write for ourselves for it to be any good, but we can’t scare away too many of the readers. As a result, when it comes to things like LGBT issues, most writers pull their punches. Times are changing, of course, and some YA literature does feature queer characters, but they’re generally gender-conforming and keep a safe distance from the main characters. After all, readers want to imagine themselves as the main characters and a lot of straight people don’t want to. As Andrea Askowitz said to Autostraddle about selling her book, My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy:
The challenge queer memoir faces, which I experienced directly, is that not everybody is open to reading queer memoir. I was standing at the Miami Book Fair, one of the biggest fairs in the country, next to a pile of my books for sale. I didn’t say I was the author, just kept pointing to the book and saying, “That book is hilarious.” I can’t tell you how many people picked it up and then said, “Oh, no thanks, I’m not a lesbian.”
The best thing about publishing independently, either with Amazon or otherwise, is that you don’t have to pull your punches, and Specht didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a YA book. While I found myself wanting to tear through Miranda’s temperance and look at Clara’s boobs (for heaven’s sake at least once!), we never see any of the characters having sex or being overtly sexual. But the book didn’t have to include sex to be challenging. There were lesbian, gay, and transgender characters being what they were without apology. They took center stage and dealt with the very real trials of being LGBT youth, including self-loathing, guilt, fear, and social stigmatization of the rather more serious type that LGBT youth endure compared to, say, Bella Swan dating a guy that everyone thinks is like, totally weird. So, read this book. It’s refreshingly different. Or at least buy it for your little gay cousin.