Liebster Book Award 2019

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Hey guys! I’m honored to be nominated by Meeghan Reads for the Liebster Book Awards. Check out Meeghan’s blog for book reviews, baking and travel posts, and overall wholesome content.

What are you currently reading, and are you enjoying it? Right now, I’m reading Again, But Better and it’s a fun read. It makes me want to learn more about the new adult genre, which seems to really be picking up speed in the publishing world. I’ve also been slowly making my way through Anna Karenina for the past few months.

Who is your all-time favorite character? Ooh, tough. I think I’ll stick to my answer from the last time I was chosen for this award: Alyosha Karamazov, Samwise Gamgee, and Horatio.

In terms of YA, Patrick from Perks of Being a Wallflower, Prince Sebastian from The Prince and the Dressmaker, and Bitty from Check Please! are up there.

What are your thoughts on love triangles? Eh. It’s not my favorite. I’d much rather read a deep and well-written romance between two characters than have a third character thrown in there to make things complicated.

What is your fave book to re-read? I’m always down for a good re-read of Hamlet every now and again. Also, I’ve been meaning to re-read The Song of Achilles because that’s by far the best historical fiction book I’ve ever read.

What was the last book you DNF’ed? Hmm, let me think. I think it was Bad at Money by Gaby Dunn. I was looking for more of a financial advice book, so I was a little disappointed that it seemed to be more of a memoir.

Who is your fave fictional animal? Piglet. Probably because I watched Piglet’s Big Movie so much as a kid. Also Aslan because I also watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a lot growing up.

How many books are on your TBR? Oof, too many. Right now, the big ones are Red, White and Royal Blue, Circe, and A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Which book has been on your shelf the longest (read or unread)? I’ve had Walden on my shelf since I was a freshman in college and still haven’t finished it… someday, Thoreau, but not today.

What is your favorite book to movie adaptation? Technically a mini-series but the Good Omens adaptation exceeded my already high expectations and I’m already wanting to re-watch it. Man, it made me miss Terry Pratchett’s work though.

Which character would you swap lives with? Honestly, I just want to be a hobbit. Give me food and cheer and song any day above hoarded gold. And, you know, maybe an adventure if a group of dwarves are in need of a burglar to reclaim their home.

What do you do when you’re in a reading slump? When I can’t find time to read print books, I also listen to audiobooks at work. Helps me keep my life a little more balanced.

I nominate Breakeven Books, A Gingerly Review, Bookshelf Fantasies, Bookish Heights, and Pages Below the Vaulted Skies.

Questions:

1)Which book have you re-read the most often?

2) What was the first book you ever fell in love with?

3) Which book do you think is either extremely underrated or overrated?

4) What’s your favorite book quote?

5) If you could meet any author (living or dead), who would it be and why?

6) What book are you looking forward to reading most next year?

7) If your life had a book title, what would it be?

8) Which book has left the strongest impression on you?

9) Which fictional character do you identify with the most?

10) Which book is next on your to-do-list?

11) What are your current reading goals?

12 LGBT YA Books with Transgender Protagonists

As an #OwnVoices trans YA writer, I get asked for recommendations of YA books about transgender characters. Over the past few years, I’ve been happy to see a significant increase of transgender characters in YA literature. And not only are these characters often protagonists, but they’re more likely than ever to have been written by trans or non-binary authors.

Read on to discover twelve transgender YA fiction books featuring trans/non-binary main characters. I have highlighted books written by transgender or non-binary authors with an asterisk (*).

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo * : Amanda Harvey moves in with her father after transitioning to female to start fresh at a new school. But when she meets Grant, all of her plans to lay low and avoid falling in love go out the window.

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Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin: Riley Cavanaugh is a genderfluid teenager who blogs about their identity to release some of the pressure of having a conservative congressman father. When their blog goes viral, Riley must make a decision to live authentically in a community that doesn’t always understand deviations from the norm.

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When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore: Sam and Miel are inseparable friends–roses grow from Miel’s wrists, and Sam hangs moons that he painted in the forest. But when the Bonner sisters threaten to take Miel’s roses for themselves, Sam must protect her while risking the exposure of his most personal secrets.

This is one of my favorite transgender YA books featuring a FTM character because the portrayal is so unique and well-written (maybe in part because the author’s husband is trans). I have a soft spot for magical realism YA so if you do as well, this is an excellent choice.

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang: Young Prince Sebastian has a secret: at night, he transforms into a Parisian fashion icon named Lady Crystallia. When he hires the seamstress Frances tot help him explore his gender expression and identity, what follows is a sweet and unconventional love story.

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Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills: Not everyone accepts Gabe’s identity as a transgender man, especially not his family. But as a radio DJ for the community radio channel “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children,” he’s able to find a safe outlet for him and others who don’t fit in neat boxes.

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I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver * : Ben de Backer’s parents kicked them out after they come out as non-binary, so they move in with their sister Hannah. This LGBT romance book follows Ben as they meet their classmate Nathan and learn what it means to be loved unconditionally.

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson: Fourteen-year-old David’s biggest secret? Although she was born male, she wishes she was born a girl like her sister. When her school’s aggressive new student Leo stands up for her in a fight, she’s challenged to determine whether anyone is normal, really, and if that’s even a goal worth pursuing.

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Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart: Lily Jo is a thirteen-year-old girl who’s struggling to transition in a home where one parent is accepting and the other refuses to acknowledge his daughter’s identity. But when Lily meets Duncan, a new neighbor who struggles with bipolar disorder, both of their lives change for the better through their unconventional friendship.

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Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin: Discovering that your gender identity doesn’t align with your body can be a journey equally full of beauty and challenges. This non-fiction YA book follows the stories of transgender youth as they come to terms with their identities.

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I am J by Cris Beam: J always felt different from the moment he was born, but he wasn’t able to give it a name until he was a teenager: transgender. This is one of the best-known books about a trans guy, and I think it’s a useful read for both those within and outside of the queer community.

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What We Left Behind by Robin Talley: Toni and Gretchen fell in love the moment that they met in high school and, when they’re accepted to different universities, they thought that their relationship could survive the long distance. But when Toni’s shifting gender identity puts a strain on their relationship, they discover how love can change over time in unexpected ways.

* = written by a transgender or non-binary author

YA Review: The Last 8 by Laura Pohl

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TitleThe Last 8 by Laura Pohl

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Clover Martinez is among the few surviving after a deadly alien invasion that destroyed human civilization in a matter of days. But when she finds other survivors through an unexpected radio message, she tries to convince them to fight back instead of hide.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Clover is a bisexual, aromantic woman of color who teams up with several other survivors (including a few other queer characters) to save the human race from extinction. The Last 8 is an #OwnVoices novel, with the author sharing the same sexual orientation of Clover. I think it’s always important to have #OwnVoices queer YA but especially for lesser known identities like the aromantic community.

What I loved: One of the best parts of The Last 8 is the writing style. I think that with intense genres like sci-fi and horror, the writing voice can really make the book. In this case, it keeps the plot moving at an engaging pace. I found myself both rooting and worried for the characters and the unbelievable situations that they found themselves in. Plus, since Clover is aromantic, there wasn’t an annoying love triangle to weigh the story down.

Plus, Clover herself is a fascinating protagonist. Sometimes with dystopian YA, the main character is bland enough that it’s hard to see why they survived the apocalypse in the first place. Not so here. Clover is a competent and strong person, and she offers a fresh perspective in a genre usually market by cisgender, heterosexual characters.

Recommended: The Last 8 reminded me a little of The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey, which is one of the few YA horror books that I enjoy. To me, this suggests that this is an excellent choice for both hardcore horror fans as well as those who are just looking for a unique queer YA book.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

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TitleKiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Mads never understood why people loved kissing so much. Until her eight kiss, which calls into question all she understood in her conservative upbringing.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: In case you couldn’t guess from that blurb, Mads is a cisgender lesbian who discovers and grapples with her identity as a teenager. Between hormones and internalized shame from her family and Catholic high school, Mads faces a lot of pressure to bury her sexuality. Mads is intuitive and skilled at self-introspective, and what she uncovers about herself and her family leads to powerful conversations about identity.

Homophobia in general, both internalized and external, is a major theme in Kiss Number 8. Although the title sounds more like a romantic comedy, this is an introspective story that doesn’t always offer easy choices for our protagonist Mads.

What I liked: This book reminded me a bit of a queer, contemporary take on The Scarlet Letter. Although I didn’t go to Catholic school like Mads, I did attend high school in a conservative community who mostly belonged to the same religious background. Not many students came out as openly LGBT, and those who did often faced social consequences.

Kiss Number 8 accurately portrays what it’s like to be outed as gay when you’re young and still figuring yourself out in a place where it’s not safe to do so. As soon as word gets out that she kissed another girl, gossip spreads through her high school and kicks her out of a social group she’d belonged to for her whole life. It can be devastating as a religious queer person to feel alienated from a community that defines how you understand the world and yourself, and that fear and uncertainty is portrayed excellently here.

Recommended: I’ve sung my praises towards queer graphic novels many times on this blog, and this book is an excellent example of the genre. If you’re interested in a story with family secrets, religious crises, and high school drama, Kiss Number 8 is worth checking out.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: Birthday by Meredith Russo

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TitleBirthday by Meredith Russo

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Morgan and Eric are two teenagers who were born on the same day. That makes them bonded for life, even if their journeys take them in very different (yet connected) directions.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Morgan is a transgender girl whose identity develops over the course of the novel. We’re able to see these characters once a year (on their birthdays) and so we watch her as she discovers that her inherent femininity won’t just go away. But because she realizes these truths in her conservative community, it takes her some time to find a place in the world where she belongs.

What I liked: I already had a lot of faith in this book before I started reading it because Meredith Russo is one of the best writers I’ve read in queer YA. Not only does she write unique characters whose stories are important to hear, but her prose itself is so beautiful. Although we only get to experience Morgan and Eric’s worlds for six birthday, she crafts lives and emotions for these characters that feel real. It’s vulnerable and authentic, and it’s not just a story about queer identity – it’s a story about what it means to accept yourself and others in a world that sometimes teaches the opposite.

As far as the novel’s format goes, I usually have extreme reactions to experimental novels like this: I’m either crazy for them or I hate it. In this case, I loved that we follow Morgan and Eric throughout their birthdays over the course of the novel. What I think Birthday makes clear overall is that so much can change in a year. It’s powerful to see Morgan and Eric change and become more authentic versions of themselves over time, as well as how they influence each other to face who they are inside.

“Maybe that’s what life is about: surviving what you can’t control and clinging to the good things the winds whip up.”

Recommended: Meredith Russo is one of my favorite queer YA writers. Her book If I Was Your Girl is my go-to recommendation for transgender fiction because she portrays the emotional complexity of being trans so well. I’d recommend Birthday for similar reasons. Both Morgan and Eric face real and meaningful challenges as they come to terms with who they are, and I think that the author does an excellent job at writing a story with equal parts humanity and heart.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

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TitleDeposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: After Nate’s best friend Cam attacks him, he’s called to court to deliver a statement that would convict Cam. But their relationship had never been easy or simple, and Nate’s emotional conflict sends him spiraling to his limits.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Nate is a cisgender queer guy whose relationship with Cam is messy. But so many things in life are, including those that matter most. As the two boys fall apart, their friendship unravels as they get to the heart of what happened between them. There are no easy answers as to why Nate ended up in the hospital and Cam in court, but Nate tries to analyze his questions anyways and find some sense of closure.

Deposing Nathan deals heavily with themes of domestic abuse between Nate and his aunt. If that subject matter could potentially be triggering to you, I’d recommend researching the book a little further before reading it. It can be intense at times.

What I liked: Deposing Nathan is one of those books that takes you in a very different direction than you expect. One of the heaviest themes in this book is what makes a decision right or wrong. Nate knows that if he testifies against Cam, his best friend will serve a long jail sentence. The two boys are the only people who know the truth about what happened, and this burden weighs on Nate because he desperately wants to do good. But people don’t often fit into well-defined categories of “good” and “bad,” which heightens Nate’s problems all the more.

I also loved how well the author portrays Nate’s faith crisis. People whose religious beliefs and queer identity are equally important to them often have a hard time getting the two halves of who they are to coexist. Throughout Deposing Nathan, Nate grapples with his beliefs – his spiritual beliefs, his beliefs about his moral conscience, and his beliefs concerning his family. Challenging these beliefs is one of the hardest things for Nate to do but only through self-discovery is he able to reach peace.

“If you think you need to earn enough points on someone’s rubric for them to accept you, then either you’re wrong to assume they won’t love you for who you are, or they never loved you in the first place.”

Recommended: If you’re looking for a book that will just emotionally destroy you, here it is. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

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TitleDestroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: This genre-bending queer YA begins with two friends: Solomon and Ash. As Solomon slips into a nightmare realm called the Darkside, he and Ash have to finally confront a traumatic childhood event that changed their lives forever.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Destroy All Monsters features a cisgender, gay protagonist. It also features themes of sexual assault, which is one of the major sources of trauma for Solomon and Ash. As the author (Sam J. Miller) is gay himself, this is also an #OwnVoices YA.

What I liked: Do you know what this reminded me of (in the best way possible)? Patrick Ness. It’s got the same darkly whimsical feel to it while using monsters to represent deep emotional turmoil. When I read “The Art of Starving” almost two years ago, I was struck by the author’s unconventional choice to discuss eating disorders through science fiction. Destroy All Monsters pushes the way we traditionally discuss serious issues like child abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder in what makes for a thought-provoking read.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the dual perspectives in this book. In my opinion, they have to be done carefully or else it’s hard to immerse the reader in either one. But in this case, both Solomon and Ash were able to establish distinct voices that added important things to the plot. I also felt like Solomon and Ash had an authentic connection as friends, which added even more emphasis to both the traumatic and healing parts of the book.

Recommended: I’d recommend this book for magical realism fans as well as anyone who’s interested in a fascinating psychological fantasy. But I would recommend looking into some of the heavier themes in the book if you think that any of them might trigger you.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.