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Frederick is the shy new boy and Xio is the bubbly chica who lends him a pen on the first day of class.

They become fast friends-but when Xio decides she wants to be more than friends, Frederick isn't so sure. He loves hanging out with Xio and her crew, but he doesn't like her that way.

Instead, he finds himself thinking more and more about Victor, the captain of the soccer team. Does that mean Frederick's gay? He can't be-he sees how everyone makes fun of Iggy, a boy all the other kids think is gay. Frederick has to deal with some tough choices: Even though he is curious about Iggy, he's just started fitting in at his new school, and he doesn't want to lose Xio, his best friend.

In So Hard to Say, Alex Sanchez, acclaimed author of the groundbreaking novel, Rainbow Boys, of which School Library Journal said, "It can open eyes and change lives," helps younger readers look at self-discovery, coming to terms with being gay, and acceptance of people who are different from us. He says, "The book comes in response to so many teachers, librarians, and students asking for a story like this."

Honors and Awards:

  • Lambda Literary Award 2004 WINNER!

  • Borders Bookstores "Original Voices: New and Emerging Writers" selection

  • Book-of-the-Month Club Featured Selection

  • New York Public Library 2005 "Book for the Teen Age"

  • Quill Award 2005 Nominee

  • Mi Zona Hispana selection

  • Voice of Youth Advocates Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2005 selection

  • Rhode Island Teen Book Award 2006 nominee

Read the praise (warning: reviews contain "spoilers"):

From Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA):
Frederick moves from Wisconsin to southern California where Xio, a sparkling and openhearted Mexican American girl, becomes his first friend--and in her mind, potential girlfriend. Told in alternating chapters by Xio and Frederick, the story follows these young people as they struggle through difficult times, but each has a strong moral upbringing, a sense of compassion, and supportive parents to help them. Sanchez provides a treasure of diversity in this book and deals with the needed acceptance of one's self and others: Xio says Iggy is nice, but the rumors and name-calling surround him. After Frederick starts playing soccer with Victor and the other boys after school, he questions his attraction to Victor. Too many questions fill his head. Why does he feel special when Victor includes him? Why does he frame Victor's picture and set it on his nightstand? Will he be treated the same as Iggy? Sanchez, author of the Rainbow Boys books, just keeps getting better at his art. This novel is a well structured, beautifully rendered story of two wonderful young people. Readers will come to love them. Sanchez creates a nice story about genuine teens who do not let each other or themselves down. At the beginning of the book, this review wondered how Sanchez could carry off in a middle school book his theme of a gay teen coming out in a homophobic atmosphere. He does so very well. --CJ Bott--5Q.4P.M.J


From The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:
Xio is an effervescent eighth-grader and Frederick is the sweet new boy in class, on whom she has a major crush. The two kids take turns narrating the events as Xio and Frederick grow closer, making Xio giddy with romantic excitement and Frederick increasingly anxious about his lack of physical attraction to Xio. In fact, Frederick is disturbed to find himself more excited about his growing friendship with the handsome Victor ("Please, God," Frederick thinks frantically, "don't let me be gay. I'm weird enough as it is"), and he's thrown unwillingly into serious examination of his sexuality. Sanchez effectively differentiates Xio's bubbly, garrulous narration and Frederick's tentative and uncertain voice, and the clear depictions help make the characters the driving force of this novel. There's some oversimplification...but the emotional core of the story remains solid and authentic. The inclusion of Xio's viewpoint means that readers identifying with Frederick encounter a model of survivable reaction from a friend, and they also get to see the kind of confusion and disappointment self-misrepresentation can cause in those whose lives they touch. Subplots such as...the atmosphere of the multi-ethnic, Latino-rich California community add dimension to the narrative. A lot of kids question their identity before the traditional YA bracket, and this accessible read will give them reassurance and food for thought. DS - Recommended


From Publisher's Weekly:
In chapters that alternate between Frederick, a new eighth-grader, and Maria Xiomara Iris Juarez Hidalgo ("Xio"), Sanchez's (Rainbow Boys) insightful novel explores the ambiguities of budding sexuality. When shy Frederick transfers to her California school, lively Xio immediately develops a crush on him. They quickly become friends, and he joins her clique, but when they end up in a closet together during a kissing game at a party, Frederick is disturbed that he imagines kissing popular, handsome Victor instead. Readers will find it easy to empathize with both protagonists as Frederick gradually comes to terms with being gay-and shares his secret with Xio. The largely Mexican student body at their school provides an authentic backdrop for the novel (Xio weaves Spanish into her narration, and the boys Frederick plays soccer with call Iggy, another gay student, a "Maricon"). While a subplot about Xio's father also possibly being gay seems extraneous, and her circle of girlfriends somewhat scripted (Las Sexy Seis: a beauty "with a Barbie doll figure," a brain, a saint, a jock and a jokester who recently moved away-plus Xio), for the most part this is a well-crafted novel. The author maps out spot-on issues for this age group, from name-calling ("Everyone knows calling somebody gay is just about the worst thing you can say to them," Xio thinks) to self-questioning (in one scene, Frederick types the word "gay" into his Internet browser) to worrying about what others think (Frederick asks his father if he thinks gay people are "bad"). These believable narrators face realistic and complicated problems-and demonstrate an inspiring model of acceptance. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.


From Children's Literature - Norah Piehl
Sanchez's previous novels have focused on older, high school-aged characters coming to terms with their sexuality. With this novel, Sanchez again focuses on a gay main character, but this time it is a younger boy just discovering his sexual orientation. Frederick is the new boy at school, adjusting to more than a few cultural changes after he moves from Wisconsin to a largely Hispanic middle school in Southern California. He has always had trouble making male friends, so he settles in easily with a group of girls calling themselves "the Sexy Six." One of their leaders, the high-spirited Maria Xiomara (her friends call her Xio), falls hard for Frederick's "kick-butt blue eyes," and soon pursues him romantically, determined to have a boyfriend now that she is thirteen. Frederick himself values Xio's friendship but finds himself more attracted to his soccer-playing buddy Victor. In a decidedly gay-unfriendly environment, can Frederick admit his own feelings and come out to the girl who desires him herself? Frederick's sexual orientation will not be a surprise to most readers, although a revelation about Xio's absent father is more unexpected—and largely unnecessary to the plot. Narrated in alternate chapters by Frederick and Xio, the novel's plot unfolds easily and realistically, as both characters arrive at their revelations independently. 2004, Simon & Schuster, Ages 9 to 13.


From School Library Journal:
Gr 6-9-Thirteen-year-old Latina chocoholic-chatterbox Xio can't keep her eyes off blond-haired, steel-eyed Frederick, the intriguing transfer student just in from Wisconsin. At first, the soft-spoken newcomer, unsure of his new Southern California junior high and maybe his own sexuality, doesn't know what to make of her pursuits. Slowly and surely, Xio charms her way into his life and soon absorbs him into her group of fabulous girlfriends whom she dubs the "Sexies." Content with this new niche, and his position on a pick-up soccer team, Frederick gradually becomes aware of Xio's real agenda: to make him her first boyfriend. All the while he finds he can't keep his eyes off Victor, his soccer buddy. Frederick's sexual confusion escalates, as do his dodging techniques when it comes to Xio's advances. However, when she gets him in a closet with her and at last gives him a smooch, things boil up to crises. Adventurous, multifaceted, funny, and unpredictably insightful, Sanchez's novel drops melodramatic pretense and gels well-rounded characterizations with the universal excitement of first love. The action is described through chapters that alternate between Frederick and Xio's points of view, and both voices ring true. The author deftly presents portraits of a boy teetering on the brink of reinvention who must grapple against his own fears that he might be gay and the girl-a high-spirited character whom readers definitely won't forget-who wants him.-Hillias J. Martin, New York Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.


From Kirkus Reviews:
Frederick, 13, is the new kid; Xio is an astrology-obsessed, spirited, Hispanic girl in his new class. She and her friends adopt Frederick-mostly because Xio thinks he's really cute. Frederick, despite his asthma, starts playing soccer with the Hispanic boys, the counterparts of Xio and her girlfriends. Xio wants to date Frederick, but he's not sure he feels the same way; he's not sure he likes girls that way. He's never thought about it before, but the more time he spends with Victor, the leader of the soccer boys, the more Frederick realizes that he might feel about boys the way most boys feel about girls. The truth comes out privately and, after a rough patch, all remain friends. Sanchez, whose first two titles were for YA, writes for a younger audience quite convincingly. Xio and Frederick alternate chapters to tell their story and their voices are distinct and believable. As with his previous efforts, the prose style is serviceable and coincidence helps tie things up neatly, but many young teens, gay and straight, will see themselves and their friends in these characters. (Fiction. 10-14)


Reading Group Guide / Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  • How would the story be different if it was only told from Xio's point of view?   Frederick's point of view?

  • Has someone ever disappointed you or did something with you but then all of a sudden stopped?

  • One day in the hall, Frederick sees his soccer friends calling Iggy "gay." Frederick stays there silent afraid to say anything. (pg. 40-41) What if Frederick had the courage to say something? How would his relationship with his soccer friends change or not change? How would Iggy react? Would Frederick's speaking up change the story?

  • How was Frederick's and Xio's date like a typical first date? Why are people like this on a first date?

  • Throughout the novel, Frederick kept wondering how a person knows if he is really "gay" or not. How was the fifteen seconds in the closet with Xio a turning point for Frederick?

  • How did spending the night at Victor's house another turning point for Frederick? How did this change his thoughts and life?

  • How was Frederick's confession to Xio that he might be gay a relief for him and her?

  • A turning point in the story happened at Iggy's house when he and Frederick kissed. Why do you think Iggy allowed Frederick to kiss him even though Frederick ignored him at school? Why is Iggy tolerate of Frederick's half friendship?

  • Why does Frederick finally get the courage to stand up for Iggy in front of Victor and his friends?

  • How does Xio's relationship with Frederick prepare her in dealing with finding out that her father is a homosexual?

  • Xio talks about people in relation to what astrology sign they are. Discussion of the stars and astrology.   Is astrology really scientific? 

    Discuss where the places mentioned in the story are located in North America. Compare and contrast the weather of each city.

  • Xio has a difficult time dealing with her parents' divorce which led to her father moving to San Francisco. Depending on how many students' parents are divorced, students could interview each other to find out what life is like with or without divorced parents. Then this could lead to a discussion of the differences and how to be tolerant of each other if a student is having a bad day because of a family situation.

  • First, hold a discussion of the stereotypes of homosexuals. Pick out examples from the story. Second, discuss how Frederick and Xio are having the same feelings and worries about another person like or not liking them. It just so happens that Frederick's worries are about like other boys. Third, discuss how the author is sympathetic to Frederick and Xio worries about liking another person and the feelings of a first romance. Fourth, brainstorm ways that students can help teach tolerance of homosexuals and others. Think of things that your school can do to teach tolerance and respond to hate crimes.

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