Bite-sized reviews of the LGBTQ books I’ve read in the past week. All titles are linked to their Goodreads page.
Between February 3rd and 9th, I read:
Driftwood by Marie Brennan (2020)
Queer rep: The MC is bi; several nonbinary (nonhuman) characters, general cultural queerness
Thoughts: Driftwood is where worlds go to die. As they drift from the Edge in to the Shreds and ever on toward the Crush at the center, continents shrink to countries, then to cities, then to single neighborhoods…and then they disintegrate entirely. With worlds constantly arriving, departing, shifting and drifting, guides are a necessity, and Last is the most famous guide of all. An enigmatic individual, a one-blood from a long-dead world, Last has outlived his country, his culture, and his own life expectancy. Rumors abound: he’s immortal; he knows the secret of surviving the Crush; he’s the God of Driftwood. Then a new rumor appears: that he’s dead. Drifters gather at an impromptu memorial and share stories of Last and his impact on them and on Driftwood as a whole, all the while trying to answer two questions: Who is Last, really? And is he actually dead? I really like the story-within-a-story framework generally (as you might remember from my posts about A Conspiracy of Truths/A Choir of Lies and The Empress of Salt and Fortune/When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain) and Driftwood was no exception to that. Each chapter is its own full story, but they seamlessly weave together into a bigger, thought-provoking narrative. I enjoyed this a lot.
What Riley Wore by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Linda Davick (2019)
Genre: picture book
Queer rep: The MC is gender creative
Thoughts: This is a simple, brightly illustrated book about a week in the life (and wardrobe) of Riley. Riley loves picking just the right outfit for every occasion: for Universe Day at school, Riley wears outer space pajamas; needing some encouragement at the dentist, Riley goes for a superhero cape. From clothes suited for the playground to fancy outfits for a trip out with Otto and Oma, Riley knows just what to wear. I enjoyed the casual approach this took to decoupling clothes from gender, without ever giving Riley a pronoun or having anyone comment on gendered stereotypes (“x is for boys/girls”) although at the end it is brought up directly, with a playmate wondering if Riley is a boy or a girl. Riley knows that isn’t the important thing, though, and cheerfully says, “Today I’m a firefighter. And a dancer. And a monster hunter. And a pilot. And a dinosaur” and that’s that.
Gotta Catch Her by Kelly Haworth (2019)
Queer rep: The MC is lesbian and the LI is bi
Thoughts: Even though she isn’t the target audience, Ann enjoys the AR mobile game Ani-min Move as a break from her busy job. When a new game feature launches, Ann walks over to a nearby park with her dog Franny and finds a huge group of people of all ages playing – including a cute single mom, Rachael, who’s not just attractive but also friendly and helpful, showing Ann how to use the new raid feature in Ani-min. Ann is intrigued by Rachael, especially after learning she’s bi, but her work/life balance is massively unbalanced by a big auditing project, and with Rachael kept busy by her six-year-old, their budding relationship might not get the chance to evolve. I was really looking forward to this, as it seemed like a cute romance based around a fictionalized version of Pokémon Go, a game I will unabashedly admit I love playing. Ultimately, though, it fell flat for me. I just wasn’t invested in the characters. I hadn’t realized it when I picked this up, but I’d previously read another book by this author that also didn’t work for me, so I think I just don’t click with her style.
Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass (2020)
Audience: middle grade
Queer rep: The MC is nonbinary (experimenting with she/her and he/him pronouns), secondary trans character, secondary gay character
Thoughts: Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin is the reigning US Juvenile figure skating champion and is excited to be moving up to the Intermediate level. The change in level comes with a lot of other changes, too: a new free skate program, a new rink, a new choreographer…and a new costume. Ana’s always skated in pants, but her new program is princess-themed. The skirt feels all wrong, and the way everyone thinks about Ana when she wears it feels even worse, but why? What does it mean? When Ana meets a new skate student, Hayden, who happens to be transgender, her thoughts about her program and her gender grow more persistent, especially when Hayden mistakes Ana for a boy…and she doesn’t correct him. It’s hard to balance two identities, though, especially when neither one feels right. If she tells Hayden she’s not a boy, she might lose his friendship. And if she tells her coach she’s not a girl, she might lose everything she’s worked so hard for. Ah, my heart. Queer middle grade books are going to be the death of me. Each one I read hits me right in the emotions, doubly so because I know how life-changing it would have been for 12-year-old me to have had them and I’m so happy that they exist now for today’s 12-year-olds. This is such a great story. I love sports books and I am so impressed by how much I learned about figure skating without ever once feeling like I was being taught. Ana is such a wonderful, relatable character with plenty of flaws but a big heart.
Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang (2016)
Queer rep: The MC is trans; multiple trans and lesbian secondary characters
Thoughts: Mei, a Chinese-Canadian trans woman, is trying to cope with the grief of her cousin Sandy’s unexpected death. He leaves her his house, his truck, and his dog, Hazel, and Mei retreats to his now-empty house in a small town. She holes up there, avoiding both the locals and her friends back in the city, and in her isolation she uncovers some unexpected family secrets, brushes up against the town’s hidden LGBTQ history, and gets advice from some opinionated departed loved ones. This is a lovely quiet story of grief, longing and belonging, family and community, and identity.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider tipping me on Ko-Fi!