Bite-sized reviews of the LGBTQ books I’ve read in the past week. All titles are linked to their Goodreads page.
Between March 17th and 23rd, I read:
Space Battle Lunchtime, Vol. 3 by Natalie Riess (2020)
Genre: sci-fi/graphic novel
Audience: all ages
Queer rep: The MC is sapphic and has a girlfriend
Thoughts: This is possibly the cutest series on the planet; I read volumes 1 and 2 way back in 2018 and was delighted to learn there’s now a third volume! Peony is a human chef who got involved in the galactic cooking show Space Battle Lunchtime. Now that the show’s over, she’s back on Earth with her (alien) girlfriend Neptunia, preparing for a major catering gig for a space empress. Then she learns her old rival Melonhead is also catering at the event…and Neptunia is keeping secrets about her past…and there’s an attempt on the empress’s life, with the caterers as the prime suspects! Peony has to figure out what really happened–fast. This has a great balance of lighthearted and serious moments, and balances the sweetness of Peony (and her pastries) with the menace and mayhem of the cutthroat world of intergalactic catering. I’d definitely recommend reading the first two volumes first, but for those who have, this is a delightful epilogue.
Storm the Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells (2020)
Audience: young adult
Queer rep: The MC is bi, f/f relationship, multiple queer secondary and minor characters
Thoughts: This is the concluding volume of the Shatter the Sky duology. I didn’t like this quite as much as the first volume; the first book started slowly, but then really picked up and caught and sustained my interest. This one stayed pretty slow throughout. A second POV was added and the way it switched between the two storylines (of Maren and Sev) kept me from getting invested in either of them. I wanted to love this (LGBTQ + dragons = the key to my heart) but unfortunately I was disappointed.
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat (2020)
Queer rep: The MC is bi
Thoughts: Our unnamed narrator is a Palestinian-American struggling to meld her cultures and understand herself. The narration moves around in time and place, giving us glimpses into her life in New York, Lebanon, Palestine; as a teen, as a DJ, as an aspiring writer; as a resident of a treatment facility as she tries to understand her self-destructive patterns. It’s a bit meandering at times, and the jumps in time and place aren’t always clearly marked, but there is some very strong writing that carries it along. The bulk of the story takes place in the treatment facility and focuses on the narrator’s destructive relationship patterns (as soon as a relationship is established, she becomes drawn to someone unobtainable, with crushes quickly turning into obsessions), which stem from her fraught relationship with her mother–who dismissed the MC’s queerness by telling her “you exist too much”. There are parts I wish had gotten more time instead, but overall this is a worthwhile (if somewhat bleak) read.
Hella by David Gerrold (2020)
Queer rep: multiple trans and queer characters
Thoughts: I have so many problems with this. First, at the plot level, the book switches tracks halfway through. For the first 200 pages or so, it’s almost like a travelogue, with the MC, neurodivergent Kyle, going outside the protective walls the colony has established and taking up the role of intern on one of the frequent ecological surveys into the wilds of Hella. Then the next colony ship arrives in geostationary orbit and the plot abruptly switches to (very predictable) political machinations for the remaining 200 pages. So there’s the first thumbs down. Next, I have a lot of problems with the way queerness is portrayed. Kyle, it turns out, was assigned female at birth. When his older half-brother transitioned, a very young Kyle did as well, mainly because he wanted to be like Jamie and also because he wanted to pee standing up. Gender changes are almost magically accessible, thorough, and straightforward; when Jamie transitions, it’s a simple matter of their mother “arranging for Jamie to start growing a penis”. Their mother, by the way, was assigned male at birth and transitioned in order to carry and birth children, which is considered old-fashioned on a colony where most babies are gestated in artificial wombs. So there’s a great focus in the narrative on physical changes and body parts, and absolutely no examination of internal sense of self. All these changes are basically done on a whim. In fact, when Kyle gets a boyfriend, he asks if he should “change back”, if the boyfriend would like him better as a girl. I was also extremely disturbed by that whole relationship, as Kyle is about 13 and the boyfriend is 18. That is extremely not okay! And finally, despite having a society with magical gender transition and many same-sex relationships, there’s still aphobia. When Kyle expresses disinterest in sex early in the book, Jamie tells him he’ll be interested when he’s older, adding “you’re weird, but not THAT weird!” as everyone around them laughs. Kyle’s neurodivergence is also not written in a great way and, surprise, is “cured” at the end. This is a hearty DO NOT RECOMMEND.
~Bonus book: Love, Z by Jessie Sima (2018) is a picture book with a genderless (robot) protagonist and a subtly sapphic (human) secondary character