Bite-sized reviews of the LGBTQ books I’ve read in the past week. All titles are linked to their Goodreads page.
Between November 11th and 17th, I read:
Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing by Briana McDonald (2020)
Audience: middle grade
Queer rep: The MC is sapphic/questioning; a secondary character is trans
Thoughts: Twelve-year-old Pepper wants nothing more than to be an amazing detective and live up to her late mother’s legacy. But when her sleuthing costs her the friendship of the girl she has a crush on (after Pepper uncovers a middle school gossip ring), she starts to wonder if it’s worth it. But when her Great Aunt Florence passes away, Pepper is convinced she was the victim of foul play. And Rule Fourteen is Trust Your Gut. Pepper digs into the case despite her father’s protests, and before long shocking family secrets start coming to light. This might be a case too big for the rules…but can Pepper solve it without them? This was excellent. The mystery itself is nicely layered, with all the hidden clues, red herrings, and big reveals an amateur detective could every want, and Pepper is a delightful character. She throws herself into everything whole-heartedly and her enthusiasm is contagious. I really liked her friendship with Jacob and her rivalry with her cousin Andrew is also well done. And thumbs up to Jacob’s gender and Pepper’s questioning being matter-of-fact parts of the story and not the source of drama.
Coffee by Matthew J. Metzger (2019)
Queer rep: The MC is trans and queer, the LI is gay; secondary characters include a trans man and a lesbian and the MC’s dad is in a polyamorous triad
Thoughts: This is the sequel to Tea, which I read back in September (I hadn’t realized it had been so long!) so spoilers ahead for book one. The perspective shifts in this book, from John to Chris, and it was overall a lighter read with less angst. It’s three years since John and Chris met and their relationship has never been stronger. In fact, with Chris’s stepfather leaving him a house and a ring in his will, it seems like the perfect time to make it all official. But when Chris happily tells his mother he’s getting married, she reacts more than poorly, telling him (despite all evidence to the contrary) that it’s only a matter of time before John leaves – that Chris’s disabilities will prove too much for him to cope with. Chris is shocked and hurt and isn’t sure if they can reconcile in time for the wedding, or even if he wants to. But John is beside him every step of the way, and no matter what happens with his mother, Chris knows he’s making the right decision in marrying John. I think I actually liked this more than Tea, maybe because of the familiarity with the characters, maybe because it was lower angst; it’s a quiet, fairly slice-of-life story full of strong relationships, not just the one between Chris and John but also with their various friends and families and John’s rugby teammates, and I enjoyed it a lot.
Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim (2020)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: One POV character is bi/pan, a secondary character is ace, multiple queer secondary and minor characters
Thoughts: I really like Sim’s Timekeeper trilogy, so I was looking forward to this without even reading the blurb. (I had it in my head this was sci-fi – the danger of the word “stars” – and had no idea it was a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo). Amaya was sold to a debtor ship as a child and has almost earned her way free when a moment of soft-heartedness causes her to rescue a drowning stranger. The stranger claims to be rich and promises Amaya wealth, a new life, and a way to get revenge on the man who ruined her family and cost Amaya her childhood and the life she could have had. This is chock-full of twists and turns, deceptions, secret identities, and vengeance (and, it being 2020, I feel like I should include a warning that there is a plague too!). It kept me turning the pages, but in the end I thought it was solid but not outstanding, and I’m on the fence about picking up the sequel when it comes out.
Heed the Hollow by Malcom Tariq (2019)
Queer rep: The author is queer
Thoughts: Tariq writes about blackness and queerness and the American South, and the intersections of all of those things. It’s lyrical and striking and painful and honest. I still haven’t studied up on poetry terminology in order to actually give an informed review of any of the poetry I read! I liked this a lot but am utterly incapable of expressing why.
Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (2020)
Genre: fantasy/graphic novel
Audience: middle grade
Queer rep: The MC is sapphic, as is a secondary character; a secondary character uses they/them pronouns
Thoughts: Beetle is a 12-year-old goblin learning goblin magic from her gran, but she’s more interested in sorcery than the potions and poultices she’s supposed to be learning. She avoids her homeschool lessons by hanging out at the mall with her best friend, Blob Ghost, who is cursed to haunt it and is unable to leave. When Beetle’s former best friend, Kat, comes back to town for a sorcery apprenticeship with her Aunt Hollowbone, Beetle is torn between jealousy (Kat is cool, popular, and great at magic) and a desire to rekindle their friendship. But when Aunt Hollowbone buys up the mall and plans to destroy it, Beetle has to figure out how to get Blob Ghost out of there…with or without Kat’s help. This is a really fun story and the art is so vibrant, with a really good use of color. Aunt Hollowbone’s villainy is perhaps a little over the top, but the rest of the characters are more nuanced. Very enjoyable.
Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit by Lilliam Rivera (2020)
Audience: middle grade
Queer rep: The MC is sapphic, as is a secondary character
Thoughts: This original novel is based on/inspired by the Goldie Vance comic series and it includes two mini-comics. Goldie works as a valet at the Crossed Palms Resort Hotel in Florida, but as much as she likes cars and driving (as fast as possible), her ambition is to be a detective. She’s appointed herself assistant to hotel detective Walt Tooey and is always looking to impress enough to make it official. When the resort hosts a movie filming, tensions are running high – and then an expensive, diamond-encrusted costume piece goes missing…and the circumstantial evidence points at Goldie’s mom! With the help of her friends and some good old-fashioned detective work, Goldie has to prove her mom’s innocence and uncover the real thief. I enjoyed this and plan to read the next novel, which I think is due out in January, but it didn’t quite have all the charm of the graphic novels. I think part of that might be because this did a lot of setup to make it accessible to people who haven’t read the comics and aren’t familiar with the characters, which made the beginning feel slow to those of us who didn’t need all the intro. But overall this is a fun mystery with a dynamic main character, and the mini-comics were a nice bonus.
Skating Through by Jennifer Cosgrave (2018)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is gay, the LI is bi
Thoughts: Ben Lewis is a high school senior and the captain of the hockey team, and he’s looking forward to his senior season and moving on to college…where he might finally be able to come out as gay. Ben doesn’t think he can be out and keep playing hockey, and he doesn’t think being out is worth losing hockey. But when he strikes up a friendship with his long-term crush, he wonders if maybe he can have both hockey and a boyfriend. This is a solid but not spectacular story. I liked Ben’s best friend Ryan a lot, and they had the kind of supportive but snarky relationship I like reading about, but the overall plot is predictable and fairly pedestrian. I did like the shout-out to the You Can Play Project in the author’s note (which works to support LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches, and fans), although I think it could’ve been featured in the actual story too!
Continental Divide by Alex Myers (2019)
Queer rep: The MC is trans; multiple queer minor characters
Thoughts: It’s 1991 and Ron has just come out as transgender. His parents kick him out and withdraw financial support for his education, and Harvard won’t redo Ron’s financial aid until he’s been living independently of his parents for a year. With nothing tying him to the East Coast, Ron decides to “go West, young man” – out to Wyoming, where no one knows he’s trans and where he can prove to the world (and himself) that he has what it takes to live as a man. Working on a dude ranch gives Ron the introduction to the masculine world he’s been longing for, and space to figure out where he belongs and what kind of man he wants to be. I liked this a lot. Ron is a relatable character, and everything is described so vividly that I have the urge to run away to the West and work on a ranch (despite being afraid of horses!). There are some scenes with intense transphobia, but this is not a tragic story at all. I wish I could meet some of the characters in real life, because despite being fictional they did a lot to restore my faith in humanity. In sum: highly recommended.