One of the many important insights that readers can gain from reading Alex Gino’s Alice Austen Lived Here, is that LGBTQIAP+ people (acronym used in the text) are not new, even if they are able to live more openly in the present day. There have always been people with different gender identities and sexual orientations and it is about time that we start talking about their histories, too. In Alice Austen Lived Here, we are introduced to a talented and artistic individual who, for too long, was pushed into the closet by society.
This is not a work of nonfiction or historical fiction. Instead, we learn about Alice Austen’s life as the protagonist of the novel works on a project for their history class. Sam is a nonbinary middle school student, as is their best friend TJ, and when they learn that Staten Island is having a contest to decide which famous island representative will be memorialized with a statue, they decide to choose someone from the larger LGBTQIAP+ community to research. Alice Austen, a photographer, seems like the perfect choice, and as they research further they learn that Alice shares even more in common with them than they originally anticipated.
Alice Austen Lived Here is full of queer characters who serve as mentors and chosen family for Sam. While no book about queer history can be completely devoid of prejudice, that definitely isn’t the focus in this one. This book is a celebration of queer identity and that makes it a great book for every reader. While there have been real advances in this country for LGBTQIAP+ people, these last few years have made it very clear that we cannot become complacent. Books like Alice Austen Lived Here remind us of the beauty of the queer community– one that we must continue to elevate and preserve.
Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:
Identity 2: I know about my family history and culture and how I am connected to the collective history and culture of other people in my identity groups.
Identity 4: I feel good about my many identities and know they don’t make me better than people with other identities.
Diversity 10: I can explain how the way groups of people are treated today, and the way they have been treated in the past, shapes their group identity and culture.