YA Review: Check Please! By Ngozi Ukazu

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TitleCheck Please! Volume One by Ngozi Ukazu

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: Vlogger, figure skater, and expert baker Eric “Bitty” Bittle begins college at Samwell University to compete on their hockey team. This volume explores his freshman and sophomore year as he becomes comfortable with who he is on and off the ice. 

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Bitty, the protagonist, is a gay college student who navigates coming out, making friends with his predominantly straight teammates, and (without spoiling anything) falling in love with another queer student. Although most of his friends and fellow hockey players are not queer, he doesn’t seem to face any discrimination or homophobia. It’s such a wholesome and optimistic take on queer identity, and I think stories as hopeful as this are just as important as LGBT YA books that explore tougher subjects.

What I loved: Literally everything about this. I just… loved this book so much and can’t wait until volume two comes out this fall. Like sometimes I feel like YA novels about college students should be branded as new adult books but I don’t even care with this one. It was so good that everyone needs to read it.

The relationships that develop between Bitty and his teammates is done so well. We follow the Samwell University hockey team throughout the course of two years and each member is so lovable and unique. And it’s adorable to see how Bitty transforms from an uncertain, nervous freshman into a sophomore who knows he belongs on the team and feels confident both during games and hanging out with his teammates. And while the story is on the whole optimistic, the deeper issues that some characters face (like implied alcoholism and depression) are portrayed tastefully.

And the art style fits the story so well! It’s vibrant and beautiful and everything that Bitty bakes looks so delicious, his hockey bros are so lucky. I feel like this was an ideal portrait of “bro culture” in the idea that straight and queer men can be friends without falling into close-minded stereotypes. Everything about this queer romance defies expectations but is done so in a way that makes the characters and story itself feel alive.

Recommended: Honestly, I would recommend this to anyone looking for a sweet, wholesome story. The only regret about reading this that I have is that I didn’t get to it sooner. If you want something cute and gay, you need Check, Please! in your life!

2019: A Bulleted List of Things That Happened So Far

Hey guys! Hope the first month of 2019 went well for you and that the second one has been filled with plenty of joyful moments. I haven’t done a personal post since last year so I thought I’d do a quick life update in the form of a bulleted list:

  • Got back into personal essay writing, which I haven’t done as much of since college. It’s been kind of fun and a little more artful of a way to capture memories and emotions than journaling (though I’ve also been trying to do that more as well)
  • Collaborated with HuffPost Personal on an essay about my experience living in women’s housing as a trans man. It was probably one of the toughest articles I’ve written in my freelancing career so far because I wanted it to not sound critical towards the LGBT or religious communities. The most rewarding outcome of writing the article so far has been connecting a little more with the queer Mormon community on Twitter!
  • Moved into new apartment that cut my commute time by an hour, which has done so much for my emotional stability in the mornings hoo boy
  • Worked on my three non-writing 2019 goals: practice loving kindness meditation, learn more German, and volunteer regularly
  • Became a mental health blogger for HealthyPlace’s LGBTQ column, which is exciting and also nerve-wracking. I’m a little anxious about providing good, uplifting information for such a vulnerable topic but am also excited to spread more awareness and empathy for queer people with mental illnesses
  • Rescued a dog from the animal shelter. She’s a chihuahua and her name is Yoda because of her big, floppy ears
  • My partner and I decided to break up, which has been hard but ultimately for the best. It has also been helpful having a dog for that reason because she’s provided a lot of comfort and made my apartment feel a lot less lonely with that happening
  • Attempted to make brownie waffles–it was a messy but also delicious experiment
  • Started attending church again and exploring spirituality since graduating from BYU–mixed feelings, but I’m hoping to find authenticity and some sort of peace as a religious queer person and this is probably a good first step
  • Began an extensive revision for my baking competition-themed queer YA romance–still hoping to start querying around spring-ish but we’ll see how it goes
  • Listened to a ton of McElroy-based podcasts, one of the most wholesome sources of pleasure in this world

Also, I’ve read a lot of enjoyable books this year so far, including:

  • I Am Malala
  • The Silver Linings Playbook
  • All The Light We Cannot See
  • The Astonishing Color of After
  • Heavy: An American Memoir
  • Last Night I Sang to the Monster
  • God: A Human History
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Tenth of December
  • Check, Please! Volume One
  • Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir
  • The Universe in a Single Atom
  • Still Alice
  • Four Seasons in Rome
  • My Lady Jane

Like 70% of these were listened to since my day job as a writer involves a lot of independent work time where popping in an audiobook makes things go by faster. And then the other 30% were read either during my commute to work or at home while snuggled up with Yoda while blizzards outdoors made traveling impossible. So far, my favorite is probably either Check, Please! or Tenth of December.

So that, in a nutshell, is 2019 so far. A little exciting, a little challenging, but ultimately a fulfilling start to the year. What about you? How’s your 2019 gone during the first two months?

YA Review: The Music of What Happens

TitleThe Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: In 1980s Arizona, Max and Jordan bond over food trucks and family secrets. This gay YA romance follows the two over the course of their summer as they decide whether unconditional love is worth the vulnerability.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Music of What Happens features a queer romance between two cis men, one of whom is biracial. It also features discussion about femininity in gay culture as well as sexual abuse. If either of those might be trigging for you, you may want to read several different reviews before deciding whether this one’s for you. Because this novel takes place in the 1980s, the discrimination and internalized homophobia that Max and Jordan face as queer men is considerably high.

What I liked: One of the most interesting discussions in this book is “feminine” vs “masculine” gay men and how those perceived as feminine or “twink-y” can be alienated by straight as well as other gay men. Although I’ve read novels with feminine gay characters before, I haven’t seen that portrayed so openly in a YA book but it felt very needed. Konigsberg discusses in his end note how he as a gay man has struggled with this pressure, which might feel cathartic for queer readers and enlightening for straight ones.

As far as Max and Jordan go, this is one of the more authentic relationships I’ve read in a YA romance. Their relationship developed so naturally without feeling too contrived or simplistic, and their characters really complemented each other. They connect on such a deep and vulnerable level that, even though the novel explores some tough topics, it felt like an ultimately beautiful story.

Also, though I don’t feel as qualified to comment on this, I thought that the sexual abuse subplot was handled respectfully. It was also powerful in that it involved discussions of homophobia and racism in rape culture that transcended the 1980s setting and still feel relevant today.

And on a side note, look how beautiful the cover art is! What is with all of these amazing YA covers lately? Like whoever’s hiring artists in the publishing industry lately, they’re doing something so right.

Recommended: I’ve noticed other reviewers compare this one to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe and, while I see the similarities, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Both take place in the 1980s and discuss Hispanic culture, but I think their stories are different enough that both tell a valuable story. If you’re a fan of Aristotle and Dante, you might enjoy this one and if not, read both! They’re each beautifully written!

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

YA Review: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

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TitleThe Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: After Rukhsana’s conservative Muslim parents catch her kissing her girlfriend, they send her to Bangladesh to immerse her in tradition. By reading her grandmother’s old diary, Rukhsana is able to discover important truths about herself and her culture.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali follows a cis lesbian protagonist who is forced into an arranged marriage after her parents discover that she’s fallen in love with a woman. Although it explores the pain and discrimination Rukhsana faces from her culture, it does not portray her family or Bangladeshi people as evil or outdated. Instead, most characters are portrayed as good, kind people who are genuinely trying to do the right thing but have different ideas about what that is.

This #OwnVoices novel was written by an author from Bangladeshi descent who writes about Muslim teens caught between two cultures. Although Sabina Khan herself doesn’t identify as LGBTQ, she mentioned on Twitter that she was inspired to write this novel after her daughter came out.

What I loved: Despite how heavy this book’s themes are, it’s also surprisingly hopeful. Even though Rukhasana’s flown far away from home into an arranged marriage with someone she could never feel attracted to, she finds people who love her for who she is and keep her going. Her uncle and grandma try to convince her unaccepting parents that Rukhsana’s queer identity isn’t as condemning as they think. Irfan, her arranged husband-to-be, validates her anguish and empathizes with her as a gay man. And while her parents put her through a lot of trauma, their love and concern for their daughter make their characters more nuanced than they seem.

I especially loved the emotion in this book and how easy it was to empathize with many of the characters. Muslim or Bangladeshi culture isn’t portrayed as evil (though it does explore the cruelty queer Bangladeshi people face) but a very different viewpoint from what Rukhsana’s liberal friends or partner understand. The novel vividly portrays her frustration with not only having to push against her culture’s restrictive view on homosexuality but also how boxed in she feels by both her LGBT and Bangladeshi identity. There aren’t a ton of LGBT YA books out there that portray characters straddling between religious and queer identities in a positive light, but I felt like this book did so in a fair and humanizing way.

The main reason I didn’t rate this book any higher is because I felt that the writing was a little confusing at times, but that’s more of a technical issue than anything. It doesn’t take away from the story but is noticeable enough that I didn’t feel comfortable giving a 4.5 or 5.

Quote: “You have no idea how hard it is to constantly feel like you have to represent your entire culture.”

Recommended: Novels about queer teens who have unaccepting parents are fairly common, but this is one of the more important YA books to read with that theme. I felt like this was an especially complex and empathetic take. There are so many diverse books with LGBTQ protagonists coming out (no pun intended) this year and each one has such a meaningful story to share.

The Most Anticipated LGBT YA Books of 2019

Happy holidays and wishing you all a winter break with books to read that both entertain you and provide you with invaluable new insights. This next year is shaping up to be full of new YA novels with plenty of much-needed diversity inclusion in everything from YA contemporary to dystopian sci-fi retellings. Use this list of highly anticipated LGBTQ YA releases in 2019 to find the perfect books to ring in the new year.

I’m going to try my best to update this list throughout the year as new YA books are announced. If I’m missing anything, let me know and I’ll add your YA book recommendations for 2019 to the list!

Last updated: February 2019

January

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  • The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg: This gay YA romance follows Max and Jordan over the course of their summer as they decide whether unconditional love is worth the vulnerability.
  • The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan: When Rukhsana’s conservative Muslim parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, she must fight against a forced arranged marriage after her parents send her to Bangladesh.
  • Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehring: Described as a queer-positive Ocean’s 11, this YA thriller features a bisexual heiress, a dangerous drag queen burglary ring, and a mystery much larger-scale than anyone anticipated.
  • Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon: After Sophie donates her kidney to her best friend and crush Peter, she must exchange unrequited love for unconditional once he comes out to her as bisexual and in love with a mutual male friend.
  • Cinders by Mette Batch: This lesbian YA book is a queer retelling of Cinderella featuring aspiring musicians, online dating, and overcoming bullying with compassion.
  • The Birds, The Bees, and You and Me by Olivia Hinebaugh: Seventeen-year-old Lacey takes it in her own hands to reform her school’s outdated abstience-only sex-ed curriculum, but she quickly learns that she may have taken on more than she can handle.

February

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  • The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson: Death has never frightened Dino, whose parents run a funeral home, until his best friend July dies and comes back somewhere in between this life and the next.
  • Bloom by Kevin Panetta & Savanna Ganucheau: The summer after his high school graduation, Ari bonds with Hector over baking bread and their blossoming romance.
  • The Moon Within by Aida Salazar: Celi Rivera faces a year of change as she falls in love for the first time, tries to understand her best friend’s genderfluid identity, and participates in a cultural ceremony to celebrate her first period.
  • To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holy Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer: After Bett and Avery’s single dads fall in love and send them to sleepaway camp as a get-to-know-you activity, the two girls bond over the wildest summer adventure of their lives.
  • Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto: This LGBT fantasy book tells the story of war orphan Veronyka, who disguises herself as male to become a legendary Phoenix Rider.
  • Immoral Code by Lillian Clark: This YA heist book features aro/ace representation and a digital hacking scheme of the century that four teens commit to combat the pressure of paying for skyrocketing college tuition prices.
  • Some Girls Bind by Rory James: High school student Jamie realizes that their chest dysphoria isn’t just insecurity and struggles to come out as genderqueer to their friends and family.
  • What Makes You Beautiful by Bridget Liang: Closeted Logan Osbourne falls for her classmate Kyle while coming to terms with her identity as a transgender woman.
  • Prom Kings by Tony Correia: When Charlie joins his local queer prom committee, he comes up with a plan to woo and “prompose” to the cute new guy.
  • The Afterward by E.K. Johnson: This ambitious queer epic fantasy follows the apprentice knight Kalanthe Ironheart as she runs away with the rogue Olsa Rhetsdaughter and forge their newfound indepndence in the uncertain stone of their realm’s future.
  • We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia: On the night of her graduation from a dystopian school for girls, Dani escapes an arranged marriage to risk a plunge into starcrossed and forbidden love.
  • Augur of Shadows (Destined Series #1) by Jacob Rundle: After suddenly losing his father, seventeen-year-old Henri’s grief is interrupted by strange dreams that lead him to a battle against otherworldly forces threatening to destroy the world.

March

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  • Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith: This YA contemporary romance follows a transgender boy named Chris who falls in love with his next-door neighbor Maia after a near-fatal car accident.
  • Squad by Mariah McCarthy: After Jenna has a falling out with her best friend Raejean, she single-handedly navigates her cheerleading squad performance, discovery of LARPing, and budding romance with trans boy James.
  • The Last 8 by Laura Pohl: This sci-fi YA follows a bisexual aromantic teen named Clover who, along with seven others, fights back against an alien apocalypse that decimated civilization six months earlier.
  • Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale: The summer after her senior year, Babe Vogel juggles hiding from her ex-girlfriend and falling in love with the artistic Levi Keller as a barista at the Busy Bean coffee shop.
  • Love & Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford: Sam Weyward has purposefully never fallen in love due to a family curse, but will he make it through one last summer crush without falling dangerously head-over-heels?
  • Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable: Catholic school student Amanda’s never understood the big deal about kissing until her number eight, which sends her into an emotional spiral as she falls in love with her best friend.
  • The Fever King by Victoria Lee: After an uncontrollable magical force kills his family and gives him technopathic powers, Noam joins an elite group studying the science behind this phenomenon while falling in love with the son of the minister of the dystopian Carolinia.
  • Once & Future by Amy Capetta: This anticipated indie YA retells the Arthurian legends with LGBT representation and a dystopian sci-fi setting.
  • You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman: After failing a Calculus quiz, Ariel does not expect to crush on his math tutor Amir, who he loves much more than struggling to secure his status as valedictorian.
  • Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo: After discovering a message from her late military sister, high school sophomore Angie travels across Ohio on an RV road trip to find peace and herself along the way.
  • The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum: This slow-burn YA romance follows Ryann Bird, whose dreams of becoming an astronaut leads her to Alexandria and her mother lost in space.
  • Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve: This LGBT fantasy novel follows genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z, who befriends an unregistered werewolf in an attempt to reverse their zombie infection.
  • The Sun and Moon Beneath the Stars by K. Parr: Fifteen-year-old maidservant Rasha teams up with Princess Adriana to rescue her brother from an evil sorcerer, stirring up powerful emotions that neither girl could have anticipated.

April

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  • The Meaning of Birds by Jaye Robin Brown: After her girlfriend Vivi passes away suddenly in the middle of their senior year, Jess learns through a new friend to channel her pain into creativity and healing.
  • The Hand, the Eye and the Heart by Zoë Marriott: Zhilan, who was assigned female at birth, saves their disabled father from a brutal battlefield death by taking his place as a male soldier.
  • Belly Up by Eva Darrows: After sixteen-year-old Serendipity hooks up at a party, she starts her junior year five-months-pregnant and head-over-heels for her new classmate Leaf.
  • Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan: This anticipated debut and LGBT romance follows a princess, a pirate, a girl in a hot dog costume, and a carousel operator as they find love at their summer amusement park job.
  • How Not to Ask a Boy to Prom by S.J. Goslee: Sixteen-year-old Nolan Grant has never had a boyfriend but, when he and bad-boy Bern decide to fake a relationship, he gets much more than he bargined for from a boyfriend.
  • A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson: This historical YA thriller follows Tomas and James as they discover how much they can sacrifice to come home in the midst of war.

May

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  • I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver: This #ownvoices queer romance follows Ben as they come out as non-binary and fall in love with their charismatic-yet-sweet classmate Nathan.
  • Birthday by Meredith Russo: This story follows Morgan and Eric from their shared first birthday to their journey to find authenticity, belonging, and their lifelong connection.
  • Going Off-Script by Jen Wilde: Seventeen-year-old Bex must do everything in her power as a TV intern to keep higher-ups from destroying a beloved show’s lesbian representation.
  • Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist: Lexi’s gift to sense how and when someone will die is equal parts gift and curse, especially after the ghost of a woman whose death she fortells chooses her to enact a plot of revenge.
  • Castle of Lies by Kiersi Burkhart: After an army of elves invades her kingdom, Thalia’s plot to inherit the throne is interrupted when she must prevent an ancient magic from destroying her realm.
  • Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley: After being stabbed by his best friend, a young man must testify what really happened on that fateful night while coming to terms with his queer identity.
  • Hold My Hand by Michael Barakiva: This standalone companion to One Man Guy tell the story of two teenage boys as they learn to love through forgiveness, betrayal, and heartbreak.
  • We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra: When Jonathan and Adam are assigned as each other’s pen pals for a high school English assignment, they fall in love despite the pressures of bullying, homophobia, and familial conflict.
  • Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju: Pitched as Judy Blume meets RuPaul’s Drag Race, this queer debut romance follows Nima Kumara-Clark as the discovery of drag culture helps them come to terms with their shifting gender identity.
  • Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro: This YA release follows a young woman trying to find somewhere she belongs in the aftermath of family tragedy.
  • Switchback by Danika Stone: Ashton Hamid finds his RPG experience surprisingly useful when he and his best friend are trapped in the Candian Rockies after an October snowstorm.
  • Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi: Overachieving Sana Khan finds herself falling for her rival Rachel Recht while working together on a senior film project.
  • Last Bus to Everland by Sophie Cameron: Teenage misfit Brody Fair must choose between his family and Everland, the one place where he’s felt like he belonged.
  • Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins: This YA romance and companion novel to Royals stars Millie Quint as she falls in love with Flora, her boarding school roommate and a princess of Scotland.
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero O’Connell: This tale of first love follows Freddy Riley’s recent breakup with Laura Dean as she learns how interconnected “passionate” and “toxic” can be in relationships.
  • Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson:Critically-acclaimed queer YA author Shaun David Hutchinson opens up about his experiences with mental illness as a teenager that shaped him into who he is today.

June

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  • Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian: Set against the backdrop of the queer community 1980s New York, Iranian-American confronts the AIDS crisis with his best friends Judy and Art.
  • Brave Like Lily by Richard Denney: After his older sister was killed by a police officer, Mateo navigates his return to school while grieving her loss and finding a way he can fight against injustice.
  • Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson: This YA follows Haley and Martin’s meet-cute romance from first text to the chaotic, yet sweet disaster that is their relationship.

July

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  • Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller: Close friends Solomon and Ash, united by a shared traumatic event when they were twelve, are the only people who can save each other from their growing pain and darkness in this dark YA fantasy.
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power: This feminist take on Lord of the Flies centers on three best friends quarentined at their island boarding school who uncover a terrible truth about their surroundings.
  • Me Myself & Him by Christopher Tebbetts: After Chris breaks his nose and is shipped away to live with his dad, he’s confronted with a multitude of parallel universes that unlocks jealousy, existentialism, and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself.

August

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  • Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks: Best friends Deja and Josie make the most of their last season working at their town’s pumpkin patch in this YA graphic novel.
  • Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman: On the run from the FBI, a dangerous cult, and the media, seventeen-year-old Aidan stands off against a cyber-terrorist group that will stop at nothing to kill him.
  • The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert: After her estranged aunt Carlene moves into her family’s apartment, the way Birdie understands her family and the world around her is irreversibly changed.
  • The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta: This coming-of-age story follows a boy who comes to terms with his gay, mixed-race identity after discovering drag culture.
  • The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart by R. Zamora Linemark: With the queer literary hero Oscar Wilde as his guide, seventeen-year-old Ken navigates a year of firsts: first kiss, first love, and first heartbreak.

September

  • We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar: A coming-of-age set during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, this YA release follows Michael as he falls in love with Gabriel, the first boy who actually see him.
  • Ziggy, Stardust, and Me by James Brandon: During 1973, the year in which homosexuality was de-classified as a mental illness, two boys fall in love.
  • Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett: Simone Garcia-Hampton has never let her born HIV-positive diagnosis define her, but she must navigate hope, excitement, and fear when she falls in love for the first time.
  • Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell: This YA paranormal romance will be the sequel to Carry On and continue the adventure (and love story) of wizards Simon and Baz.
  • How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters: When an openly queer teen is assigned a personal essay about who he is, he embarks on a journey to better understand the labels people have given him.

October

  • Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor: A queer mechanic teams up with her lifelong enemies to save not only her ailing village but the world in this YA debut.
  • The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco: In a world ruled the goddesses of day and night, twins separated at birth fulfill their destiny to reunite their divided land.

N/A (For Now)

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  • Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry: A retelling of the tragic Greek myth with LGBT characters follows a gay Texas teen fighting to find her girlfriend again after both are sent to conversion therapy centers.
  • A Boy Like Her by Carrie Mac: Charlie starts at their new school determined to identify as neither male nor female despite pressure to conform with binary norms.
  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo: Set in historical San Francisco, this diverse YA explores the complicated relationship between the Chinese-American and LGBTQ communities during the 1950s.
  • Only Mostly Devastated by S. Gonzalas: Pitched as Clueless with LGBT themes, this 2019 release tells the story of a boy navigating a family crisis and the aftermath of a summer romance.
  • I Knew Him by Abigail de Diverville: A school production of Hamlet leads to a small-town queer romance that would have made the Bard himself proud.
  • Check Please! Volume Two by Ngozi Ukazu: Blogger, figure skater, and expert baker Eric “Bitty” Bittle continues college at Samwell University to compete on their hockey team

What are your most anticipated YA novels of 2019? Any upcoming LGBT books make the list?

YA Review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

TitleLeah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: This sequel to Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda focus on sarcastic, Slytherin, and senioritis sufferer Leah Burke. In between drumming for a girl band and writing Harry Potter fanfics, Leah looks inside herself for the courage to come out as bisexual.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book features a bisexual protagonist (cis female) and a few queer minor characters. Leah comes from an accepting family and has several gay friends but struggles to come out as bi. It’s a fairly nuanced plot in that Leah doesn’t face as much discrimination from those around her but still needs to work through internalized homophobia and insecurity before she’s comfortable enough to come out.

What I loved: Out of all of Becky Albertalli’s novels, I think Leah is my new favorite protagonist. Her sarcastic attitude is endearing and as a former fanfic writer, I found her passion for Harry Potter shipping fits hilarious. But she’s more than just a witty character–she’s also sensitive in the way she treats others and herself. She’s concerned about privilege and looks after marginalized people around her. And even though she’s fully accepting of her queer friends and knows her mother would still love her if she came out, it takes a long time for her to find the courage. She’s such a fun and well-rounded character, and I enjoyed every minute I spent in her headspace as a reader.

Plus the romance plot is so cute! Without giving anything away, part of the reason she’s able to come out is the confidence she develops from falling in love with a close friend. I appreciated that unlike some queer romances, Leah on the Offbeat took its time to establish a relationship that took several months plus years of unrequited love to develop. It felt realistic for a romance between Leah and her girlfriend to happen, especially since the two accept that they’re queer for the first time throughout the novel. Overall, a fun and lighthearted book steeped with strong characters and a sweet love story.

Quote: “Imagine going about your day knowing someone’s carrying you in their mind. That has to be the best part of being in love- the feeling of having a home in some else’s brain.”

Recommended: I especially recommend this book to bi readers looking for a snarky but also relatable character, as well as fans of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. You might be able to pick up the plot without having read Simon Vs, but you’ll understand the characters and complexity of the story a lot more if you finish it first. Plus, both are lovely books with plenty of good queer representation so you can’t go wrong with either!

Author Guest Post: The Whispers By Greg Howard

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Hey, everyone! Today I’m super excited to participate in the blog tour for The Whispers by Greg Howard, a moving LGBT middle grade debut released on January 15th and available in stores and online. Check out the book teaser below, then read a guest post by the author on queer representation in middle grade fiction.

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Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again. 

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

The Whispers is a middle grade novel that features a queer protagonist. What influenced you to write LGBTQ middle grade and what are some of the positives or challenges of writing in this genre? Do you have any LGBTQ middle grade book recommendations?

Like Riley, the main character in The Whispers, I grew up a queer kid in the rural deep South. When I was Riley’s age, I never saw myself in books, television, or movies and that was very lonely and isolating. I sometimes thought I was the only little boy in the world who liked other boys instead of girls. While this story was first and foremost inspired by my mother, I also wanted to write it for all the queer kids still living out there in areas where they feel they must hide who they really are. I want them to feel seen, represented, and understand that they matter. If I can just reach a handful of those kids with Riley’s message of hope, then I will be thrilled.

The biggest challenge when writing for this age group however, is getting a book past the gatekeepers and into the hands of the kids who need it the most. Fortunately, librarians are some of the most progressive thinkers I’ve met.

While LGBTQ kids are still massively underrepresented in middle grade fiction in comparison to young adult, a few of my favorites are The Best Man by Richard Peck, George by Alex Gino, and Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle.

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Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

Thanks so much for your insights on LGBT middle grade fiction and for sharing more about your inspiration for Riley’s character! The Whispers is a middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

If you want to catch up on the tour’s stops so far, check out the blog posts below!

January 14 – Novel Novice – Creative Instagram Picture + Spotlight 

January 15 – Pages Unbound – Author Q&A

January 16 – Bookish Connoisseur – Creative Instagram Picture

January 17 – Velarisreads – Review

January 18 – The Desert Bibliophile – Playlist

January 21 – Bookish Bug – Review + Creative Instagram Picture

January 22 – A Bronx Latina Reads – Review

January 23 – Buttons Book Reviews – Author Q&A 

January 24 – The Hermit Librarian – Review + Book Aesthetic

YA Review: Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

TitleLet’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Being true to herself is difficult for Alice when her girlfriend leaves her after coming out as asexual. But when she meets “library worker in shining armor” Takumi over the summer, can she risk falling in love again if it means finally being understood?

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book features a panromantic asexual woman who, after breaking up with her girlfriend, develops a “squish” (asexual crush) on a male coworker. I liked how well Alice explained a lot of asexual terminology (like asexuality vs romanticism) without feeling weighed down with jargon.

Let’s Talk About Love also features a queer POC protagonist written by an #OwnVoices author, which is always good to see in YA.

What I loved: What I enjoyed most about this book is how lovable the characters are, especially Alice! Whether she was squealing about cute animals or standing up to her lawyer parents to pursue her dream, I found her character really endearing. Plus, the way she explains the difference between aesthetic, romantic, and sexual attraction was so enlightening as a non-ace reader and I imagine it would feel relatable for those who are.

Plus, the romance between Alice and Takumi was equal parts sweet and realistic. Although they both feel genuine care for each other, Let’s Talk About Love doesn’t shy away from showing the challenges of relationships between ace and non-ace people. Alice struggles to come out to Takumi because she worries he’ll leave her. And even though being honest gives her relief, Takumi does have a hard time understanding what her asexuality means for their relationship. But there’s also plenty of adorable, fluffy moments between the two to balance out the more serious stuff.

The only complaint I had is that I feel like this book should be shelved as new adult, not YA, since Alice is a college student. Recently I’ve come across a lot of discussions on Twitter about how when we write adult protagonists in YA, we’re isolating the target teen audience. It’s important to put books with adult protagonists in the right category to make sure YA reaches the readers who need it most. Plus, new adult is such a fledgling category and could use more well-written novels.

Quote: “You can’t let one or two bad experiences stop you from being happy.”

Recommended: If you’re looking for a sweet coming of age romance with plenty of queer representation, this book is a great choice! Also, on a side note, I just realizes that both of the books I’ve read about asexuality (this and Tash Hearts Tolstoy) have a female protagonist. Let me know if you’ve heard of any books with an asexual male or non binary protagonist! I think those perspectives would be both fascinating and important to see in YA.

YA Review: The Meaning of Birds by Jaye Robin Brown

Image result for the meaning of birds jaye robin brown

TitleThe Meaning of Birds by Jaye Robin Brown

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Vivi was the only person who understood Jess enough to make love blossom out of her anger and loneliness. But when Vivi passes away suddenly during their senior year, Jess must learn how to channel her loss into something beautiful.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book features a romantic relationship between two cis lesbian women. Because it’s mentioned in the main synopsis and not a spoiler, though, I will say that one of the women dies unexpectedly. It does follow the “bury your gays” narrative but is nuanced and meaningful enough that I don’t think it deserves the negative connotations of that trope.

The Meaning of Birds also mentions trans issues and features an aromatic minor character.

What I loved: First of all, even though this doesn’t have to do with the story itself, the cover illustration is gorgeous. If my rating was based on the cover alone, it would have easily gotten a 5/5. It’s a wholesome, pastel aesthetic that drew me to the book before I even knew what it was about. Based on other comments I’ve seen, other readers found the cover very visually appealing, too.

And the book reflects that beauty as well as the beauty of sorrow and healing from the sudden loss of a partner. When I began reading the book, I worried that this would just be another story where a gay character dies to show how hard being LGBTQ is. But it was more than that. Jess was a living, feeling character and her grief seemed so real. Coming to terms with Vivi’s death and all she left behind is a messy, difficult path, but it’s one that I feel would be cathartic for anyone who’s had to let go of someone they loved.

The main reason that I didn’t give it four or five stars, however, was because it had a few comments that I felt were unintentionally transphobic. Discussing how a trans woman was born male in a less-than-accepting way and talking about “gold star gays” prevented me from giving it a higher rating. Again, I don’t think this was on purpose exactly, but it was still prominent enough that it felt worth mentioning.

Quote: “My grief is part of me.”

Recommended: I’d recommend The Meaning of Birds for anyone who wants to read a raw and healing coming of age. If you’re looking for more of a sweet and uplifting queer love story, you might want to save this one for when you’re ready to read something more tragic (though still ultimately uplifting).

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

YA Review: Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

TitleHonestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: This sequel to Openly Straight follows Ben Carver during what should be the best year of his life: he’s captain of the baseball team, he won a prestegious scholarship, and he cut things off with his maybe-crush Rafe. But when his rekindled feelings for Rafe interfere with his straight identity, he must confront what it means to be authentic.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book features a protagonist who identifies as straight but falls in love with a gay cis man (Rafe). He feels that he’s physically attracted to women with Rafe being the only exception. It’s unclear whether Rafe really is the only exception or whether he’s in the process of understanding his sexual orientation.

Honestly Ben also has a side character who comes out as genderfluid and another character who’s implied to be asexual.

What I loved: Throughout the book, Ben explores what masculinity is and what it means to be a man. The crux of his internal conflict comes through his attraction to Rafe, but he also feels pressure from his position as the baseball team captain and the son of a conservative farmer. I liked how Ben’s ideology of what a man is shifts in a way that’s gradual but also helps him incorporate masculinity in a healthier way that seems natural for his character. And I thought it was important to note how ben calls out others who express toxic masculinity as Ben’s definition of manhood changes.

Also, the side plot about Ben and Rafe’s friend who comes out as genderfluid was an unexpected but also beautiful development! I almost wished that Bill Konigsberg had written an entire companion novel about them just because they seemed like such an interesting character. In general, it seems like so many more YA books feature genderfluid and non-binary characters and I love seeing greater diversity in queer representation.

Quote: “Anyway, my whole thing is, whatever path I’m on, I’m on. I’m not going to avoid it because it’s harder for the world, or even harder for me. I’m like, I gotta be me, you know?”

Recommended: I thought this was a sweet and wholesome follow-up to Openly Straight. To be honest, I actually enjoyed Honestly Ben a little more. But I would recommend that you read Openly Straight first because understanding the relationship between Ben and Rafe is important context for the sequel.