Bite-sized reviews of the LGBTQ books I’ve read in the past week. All titles are linked to their Goodreads page.
Between December 4th and 10th, I read:
Earth to Charlie by Justin Olson (2019)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is questioning and his best friend is gay
Thoughts: I had kind of mixed feelings about this one. The story centers around Charlie, who has been obsessed with UFOs ever since his mother disappeared after telling him aliens were coming to get her; she also told Charlie they would be back for him. Charlie is still waiting for them, and his obsession has made him an outcast at school. When a new kid moves to town – someone who doesn’t know Charlie’s history or the story of his mother – Charlie has a chance to have a friend for the first time. Can Seth keep Charlie here on Earth? I liked the idea of the story, but I found it a little bland in execution. I wasn’t that invested in Charlie’s dilemmas.
Please Read This Leaflet Carefully by Karen Havelin (2019)
Queer rep: The MC is bisexual, a few secondary/minor characters are queer
Thoughts: This is another one where I liked the idea more than the execution. It tells the story of a young woman living with severe endometriosis and chronic pain, but it’s told in reverse chronological order. We start in the present, when she’s an immigrant to the U.S., divorced with a young child, and then move progressively further back in time, dropping in on various important events in her life; the reverse chronology is a little chilling because at points she’s very optimistic about the next stage of her life, but having already seen that stage we know her optimism is misplaced. On the other hand, the reverse chronology also made things feel repetitive and a little boring, like I already knew what the outcome was going to be, so was this section actually worthwhile? I did like the topic, but I wonder if I would’ve liked the book more if it were told in a more standard way.
Ho’onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale, illustrated by Mika Song (2019)
Genre: picture book/nonfiction
Queer rep: Ho’onani is gender nonconforming/third gender; her hula teacher is transgender
Thoughts: This is an interesting picture book, based on a true story of a young Hawaiian who doesn’t feel like a wahine (girl) or a kane (boy). Ho’onani is in the middle and happy to be there – until there’s going to be a school performance of a traditional kane hula chant. Ho’onani wants to participate, but all the other kids in it are boys. Is there a place for Ho’onani? There is also a short 25-minute documentary about Ho’onani and getting ready for the hula performance, with lots of details about traditional Hawaiian culture, called A Place in the Middle, which is available to view at APlaceInTheMiddle.org. I highly recommend watching!
Lord of the Last Heartbeat by May Peterson (2019)
Queer rep: One POV character is gay and seems to be intersex; the other POV character is also gay
Thoughts: I liked this one a lot. It’s set in a richly detailed fantasy world that bears a resemblance to an alternate Renaissance Italy, plus supernatural elements. Mio is a singer whose voice can literally enchant, and he’s been drawn into his mother’s political schemes; her own powers let her control people once Mio’s music gives her a hook. Mio, increasingly guilt-ridden and unable to extricate himself from her plots, begs a supernatural stranger to stop him. Rhodry takes Mio back to his estate to get him away from his family; but Rhodry’s estate is cursed, and Mio may be in even more danger there, unless the two can combine their magics to unravel the curse. I really liked the writing in this one and the way all the plotlines layered together and built on each other; the curse and the family drama end up intertwined, and nothing has an easy solution. The developing relationship between Rhodry and Mio is really well done, and the secondary characters are well-developed too. This 100% works as a standalone, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment in the series.
Deposing Nathan by Zach Smedley (2019)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC and most important secondary character are bi
Thoughts: This was a rollercoaster. Nathan is giving a deposition after his (former) best friend stabbed him. Nathan insists the fight that culminated in the stabbing was as much his fault as Cameron’s, and he winds the story all the way back to the previous August, when the two met for the first time. Piece by piece we get closer to the crime, and the closer we get the more secrets come to light, until everything we thought we knew on page one has gotten completely turned around and warped. I think I was holding my breath half the time I was reading this. It is definitely a page turner, but it’s also difficult to read in the sense that there is a lot of very heavy, very grim content. It’s certainly one that sticks with you after the final page.
Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan (2019)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is bi, her best friend is lesbian, and a few minor/secondary characters are queer
Thoughts: This didn’t work for me. The cover is excellent and the blurbs promised a “hilarious” and “laugh-out-loud” read. I didn’t find it funny at all. The main character, Elouise aka Lou, is self-centered and makes extremely poor decisions while being a jerk to everyone around her. Lou is obsessed with a fellow amusement park employee, Nick, never mind that Nick already has a girlfriend. Lou somehow thinks she can get Nick and Jessa to break up by pretending to date her best friend, Seeley, with the harebrained idea that she can become closer friends with Nick if she’s dating someone else and thus not a “threat”. The entire thing is incredibly dysfunctional and not in a fun way.
Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard (2019)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The three POV characters and a secondary character are gay
Thoughts: This was really good and also really depressing. It’s set in a rural Australian town and focuses on three 16-year-olds: Charlie, a rock guitarist who isn’t as tough as he wants people to think (and who just got outed to the entire town in the worst way possible); Zeke, a nerdy over-achiever who isn’t macho enough for his Italian family; and Hammer, an Australian-rules football jock with dreams of going pro and the ego to match. All of them are struggling with acknowledging their sexuality, and all of them feel invisible in a small town where everyone is expected to fit the status quo. The writing is really immersive and powerful and it’s easy to tell this is an OwnVoices novel. It’s also really, really Australian and I wish there had been a glossary in the back haha. Most of it I could understand from the context but there was some slang I never quite figured out, although that really didn’t take away from the book at all for me; it made it feel even more anchored in its setting.