Bite-sized reviews of the LGBTQ books I’ve read in the past week. All titles are linked to their Goodreads page.
Between June 17th and 23rd, I read:
Reverie by Ryan La Sala (2019)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is gay, multiple queer secondary characters, m/m and f/f relationships
Thoughts: Kane Montgomery was found half-dead in a river with no idea how he got there – and that’s not the only thing he can’t remember. There are huge gaps in his memory, and he has no recollection of the three people claiming to be his best friends, or of the Reveries the four of them once fought: daydreams and fantasies that come to life and draw in bystanders to play out the parts. As Kane starts to piece things together, a supposed ally turns out to be a deadly enemy, and soon Kane and the rest of The Others find themselves fighting to save not just themselves, but the world. This was really good! I have no idea why it took me so long to read, and I also have no idea where I got the idea that it was going to be on the fluffy side of things. Despite the potential for whimsy, the Reveries tend to be darker than not, and there’s a lot of introspection from Kane as he tries to remember who he is and what his goals are. This was nicely nuanced and it definitely kept me turning the pages.
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (2020)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is lesbian, f/f romance
Thoughts: When Nishat comes out to her parents, they tell her Muslim girls can’t be lesbians and proceed to act like she never came out at all. As part of England’s Bangladeshi immigrant community, Nishat’s family and culture are hugely important to her, and she doesn’t want to lose them. But she doesn’t want to hide who she is, either, something that gets even harder when a childhood friend transfers to her school. As Nishat reconnects with Flávia, she starts to fall for her. But a school business competition sees the girls both set up henna businesses. Not only are they now direct rivals, but Flávia’s choice to do henna deeply hurts Nishat, who has dealt with racism and cultural appropriation her whole life. Determined to cut Flávia out of her life (and win the business competition), Nishat instead finds them getting increasingly tangled. Can anything go right for her? This started really slowly for me, but the story grew on me and I’m glad I stuck with it. I really liked Nishat’s relationship with her sister; as much as Nishat struggles with her parents, she knows her sister supports her. There’s a really realistic balance throughout of positives and negatives; Nishat faces racism and xenophobia, but she also celebrates and takes strength from her culture. She faces homophobia, but also receives support from friends and schoolmates. It doesn’t shy away from hard topics, but also doesn’t beat you over the head with them, and it works its way around to a happy ending.
Just Like February by Deborah Batterman (2018)
Queer rep: The MC’s uncle is gay, a few secondary gay characters
Thoughts: Rachel adores her uncle Jake, a wanderer who sends her postcards and presents from around the world, and who provides all the love and support she needs while her parents are always fighting. But as Rachel grows into a teenager, the AIDS crisis is exploding…and Jake gets sick. This coming-of-age story is almost more about Rachel’s family than about her; it tells Rachel’s story through the lens of her relationships with her parents, her beloved grandmother, Jake, and her two best friends. A really beautifully written story. Thematically, it reminded me a lot of Tell the Wolves I’m Home, but it takes a different approach to the topic.
Camp by L.C. Rosen (2020)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is gay; virtually every character is queer, with specific identities including gay, lesbian, pansexual, asexual, nonbinary, and transgender
Thoughts: It’s sixteen-year-old Randy Kapplehoff’s fifth year at Camp Outland, a summer camp for LGBTQ+ teens, the place where he met his best friends, takes the stage in the camp musical, and revels in being himself without fear of homophobia. But this year, things are going to be different. Randy wants his crush, Hudson Aaronson-Lim, to fall for him. The problem? Hudson is “masc-for-masc” and Randy doesn’t fit the criteria. But “Del” does: Randy’s alter ego has spent the year buffing up and redoing his wardrobe, and his sacrifices are going to be worth is when Hudson falls for him. His plan seems to be working, but how much is Randy willing to change for love? And is it really love if Hudson doesn’t know who he really is? I really liked Rosen’s first YA novel, Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), so I’ve been looking forward to this one, and it didn’t disappoint. I really liked the way Randy’s friends gave him space to experiment with his transformation, while also giving him reality checks and expressing their own feelings about the way he was changing. The dynamics between Randy and Hudson, Randy and his friends, Hudson and his friends, and the intersections of all the different groups are all done very nicely, not to mention the mentorship of the counselors and how great it was to give the campers (and the readers!) role models of fulfilled, thriving queer adults.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, Faith Erin Hicks (2019)
Genre: fiction/graphic novel
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is bi; a few secondary/minor queer characters
Thoughts: Deja and Josiah have worked together at the best pumpkin patch in Nebraska every autumn throughout high school. They’re best friends from September 1st to Halloween, and they part ways for the rest of year. But this Halloween is different. This is their last season at the Pumpkin Patch: next autumn, they’ll be in college. It’s their last shift. Their last goodbye. Josiah is moping and Deja is determined to make this the best shift ever. Abandoning their posts at the Succotash Hut, they embark on a quest to see all the sights, eat all the snacks, and ensure they leave with no regrets. And along the way they might turn from seasonal to year-round friends. This is a very cute story. The art is a delight and really conveys what makes the Pumpkin Patch so wonderful in Deja and Josiah’s eyes. I could practically taste the caramel apples and smell the hay. Deja and Josiah are both great characters and their friendship and interactions are wonderful.
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (2019)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is bi/questioning and has two dads; several queer secondary characters
Thoughts: What a powerful story! Simone was born HIV-positive; she’s been on medication her whole life and her viral load is verging on undetectable. She’s in control of her health – but she can’t control the way the world is prejudiced against positive people. When word of her HIV spread, she had to change schools to escape the bullying, prejudice, and ignorance that surrounded her. Now she’s made new friends, she’s student director of the school production of Rent, and she’s even got a crush. But as she starts to get closer to Miles, an anonymous note shows up in her locker with a disturbing threat: “I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.” The way Simone deals with the notes and HIV stigma more broadly, in addition to navigating the usual teenage coming-of-age issues, is realistic and heartfelt.
Bone to Pick (2017) and Skin and Bone (2019) by TA Moore
Queer rep: The two MCs are gay, as is at least one secondary character
Thoughts: Cloister Witte and his K-9, Bourneville, specialize in search-and-rescue – an obsession of Cloister’s after his brother disappeared without a trace when they were both young. He keeps the ghosts of his past at bay by helping others avoid his same heartbreak. In these mysteries, Cloister is both aided and antagonized by FBI agent Javier Merlo, with whom he has a contentious past. Something I liked about these mysteries is that although both MCs are in law enforcement, law enforcement as a whole isn’t sanctified; police corruption is a big element of both major cases and they also touch on issues like the politics of prosecution and how wealth (or lack thereof) unbalances the scales of justice. The writing style has a kind of terseness to it that keeps the tension high as the mysteries unravel, but there’s also a focus on characterization and there’s clear character growth and development across the two books.