Wyatt is fifteen, and nobody in his homophobic small town of Lincolnville, Oregon, knows that he’s gay. Then he discovers a secret from actual history: Abraham Lincoln was in love with another guy! Since everyone loves Lincoln, Wyatt’s sure that if the world knew about it, they would treat gay people differently and it would solve everything about his life. So Wyatt outs Lincoln online, triggering a media firestorm and conservative backlash that threaten to destroy everything he cares about.
Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill (Kindle, Audible, Book Depository) is GREAT, and had me hooked right from the start. The book was out on audio when I got around to reading it, and that was an absolute pleasure to experience. The narrator is brilliant, and the storyline had me fully reacting the whole way through. I don’t think I have reacted to a book so much before —passionately talking back amidst the characters’ conversation, sometimes catching myself about to shout out an interruption, often breathing out huge frustrated sighs.
It’s worth noting that I don’t read books if they’re unnecessarily or shamelessly antagonistic. I will stop reading a book at any point, no matter how charming the characters or premise may be, if I am made to listen to violent homophobia or nonsensical, idiotic rudeness that, yes is realistic, but is not at all what I open my heart to when I’m reading. I have no patience or tolerance for it. But Lee Wind crafted some kind of magic in this, his incredible timeless breathtaking debut, and made it so there was just enough to spark an instinctive response, a sense of righteous anger, without allowing the darkness to tip right over.
When Wyatt comes out to his parents, it’s goood. There’s the briefest moment of uncertainty, a flicker of emotion where my eyebrows literally shot up, which I don’t think has EVER happened. But, one breath later, you realize it’s all okay. I loved Wyatt’s courage, his conviction, his perspective, Martin’s patience. There’s a cute scene where Martin tells Wyatt all his clever comebacks to the homophobic comments people make —a supremely special and encouraging scene that I wish we saw in books and films more often!
I loved that Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill talks frankly about the social justice issues of the past, and the way they’re still today’s issues. The characters question each other, and they question themselves. Always with such sincerity. It’s so important in the fight for, and the ongoing conversation of, equality and true justice, that we allow ourselves and our heroes to be imperfect. —When Rhonda and Martin talk with Wyatt’s family about Martin Luther King, it’s the kind of conversation I have with my friends and family. That’s the kind of awareness that matters, and is helpful if you allow it to seep into the rest of your life.
There’s a wonderful interview at the end of the audiobook, where Lee Wind says a bunch of lovely things that make me like him even more. When asked about his hopes for the book, Lee Wind quotes Anne Lammott, whose books have rescued me from the depths of complete and utter loss of direction. The line says “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” and it perfectly encapsulates what this book is. I hope Lee Wind is a thousand times proud to have his book shining on bookshelves all over the world. I’m so proud to know I have one to share.
Content warnings: There’s tons and tons of homophobic language, bullying, really hateful speech and even a white republican uprising against the idea of Lincoln being gay that feels all to real. I didn’t find it too harsh to withstand, though. I think the author balanced it carefully. But it IS intense, and realistic, and horrible. Also, Martin is quite… concerned with dust mites, and he carries a plastic bed cover with him to protect himself; A routine that Wyatt describes as weird several times.
Bonus Content! (confetti emoji!)
I enjoyed and was so engulfed by the wonder of this book that I made a Pinterest board for it, complete with ‘The Gay Agenda’ notepads and ‘Super Gay’ t-shirts and street art of superheroes kissing:
Here’s the Twitter thread where I share all of my bright joy after finishing the book:
If you liked Queer As a Five-Dollar Bill…
I extremely recommend Harry Styles’ iconic effervescent breathlessly queer music video for ‘Lights Up‘ –and pretty much everything he’s been doing for the last few years.
The Freeform show Good Trouble, does an incredible job at giving us youthful energy and modern romance intertwined with dynamic discussion, reaction, dissection and responses to a range of social justice, diversity and inclusivity issues.