MG Guest Post: Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

For today’s post, I am excited to feature a guest blog from Lisa Bunker, the author of the LGBT middle grade book Zenobia July (published on May 21st), as part of the “Hear My Roar” Blog Tour. Thank you so much for sharing your advice for young, LGBT readers as well as more about your book!

After the death of her last surviving birth parent, Zen has moved to live with her cool lesbian aunties in Portland Maine, and takes the opportunity to live and attend school as the girl she has always known herself to be. She’s living in stealth, so when someone posts hateful memes on the school website, she has to decide whether to offer her advanced cyber-skills in pursuit of the hacker, despite the risk of premature outing increased attention may bring.

Zenobia July has several characters in it who identify outside the traditional gender binary. What advice would you give to young readers in a similar situation?

Dear Young Human,

If you’ve started to feel that the traditional binaries are too simple to explain the you-ness of you, cool! Welcome to the Rainbow Family! And, may I step in for a second as your temporary Auntie of choice and offer some thoughts?

First and most importantly, in case no one else has said it to you yet (or even if they have): no matter what word(s) you end up using to describe yourself, you are a beautiful human, worthy to love and be loved, exactly as you are. No footnotes, no conditions, no provisos. That’s for always.  

Secondly, please, if you possibly can, take your time. Identity is as much a journey as a destination, and exploration and experimentation are definitely part of that journey. Some versions of self you try won’t work out, at least not completely. Don’t worry about it! Breathe! Rest when you need to! It’s all part of the process.

That said, when you do feel sure of next steps, I encourage you to take them as soon as you can. I got through my own transition by neither forcing myself when I didn’t feel ready or holding back when I did. It worked out real-world fine.

One more thing about time: if someone in your life is struggling with understanding who you are, try to give them time too. First reactions don’t have to be final reactions, and if they love you, most humans will try to learn and re-connect. Keep yourself as safe as you can while they’re doing their work, and don’t give up on them too soon.

Third point: you are so not alone. I know it feels that way sometimes, but please, try to remember, there are literally millions of other people like you. They can be hard to find, and you won’t connect in a useful way with every single one you meet, but there are still plenty enough that you should always be able find the connection you need. Friend groups, community spaces (real world and online), family of choice…these are the ways the Rainbow Folk support and uplift each other.

And finally: no single identity-marker defines a human. Of course your gender and orientation are crucial facets of your total being, but they are only facets, and you have so many more: your loving heart, your quirky mind, your particular body, your talents and strengths, your blind spots, your knowledge, your humor, the experience of your life until now. All these and more make you who you are, a precious irreplaceable soul, unique and beautiful.

Hang in there, dear! It truly does get better!

Love,

Auntie Lisa

Lisa Bunker lives and writes in Exeter, NH. Zenobia July is her second book; her first, Felix Yz, about a boy fused with alien, came out in 2017. In 2018 she was elected to represent her town in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She is married and has two grown children. Her geekeries include chess, piano, gender, storycraft, and language. You can learn more about her work at lisabunker.net.

The “Hear My Roar” Blog Tour is spreading the word about three brave and inspiring middle grade books being published this year! You can see previous stops in the tour and follow future posts below:

ZENOBIA JULY

WEEK ONE

May 20 – Reed Family Reads – Creative Instagram Picture

May 21 – Tucker the Reader – Review

May 22 – Four Violet Reviews – Craft + Creative Instagram Picture

May 23 – The Quirky Booknerd – Review

WEEK TWO

May 27 – LGBT YA Catalog – Author Guest Post

May 28 – Here’s to Happy Endings – Review + Moodboard

May 29 – The Nerdy Girl Express – Review

May 30 – thebookishfiiasco – Instagram Picture

MY CORNER OF THE RING

WEEK THREE

June 3 – Iwanicki Mom & Daughter Adventures in Teaching – Moodboard

June 4 – Bridget and the Books – Review + Why it’s important for girls to have books on girl power

June 5 – Babybibliophile – Creative Instagram Picture

June 6 – The Book Blondie – Playlist Recommendations + Creative Instagram Picture

WEEK FOUR

June 10 – That Reader Girl – Moodboard

June 11 – Eastern Sunset Reads – Listicle: Other books with Strong Females that come out swinging

June 12 – DJ Reads Books – Reflection + Instagram Picture

June 13 – Between the Shelves – Playlist

GIRL WHO SAILED THE STARS

WEEK FIVE

June 17 – 4dogsandanurse – Review + Playlist

June 18 – Two Points of Interest – Review

June 19 – Always in the Middle – Review

June 20 – Bookish Friends and Feline Fancies – Creative Instagram Picture

WEEK SIX

June 24 – trissinalovesbooks – Review + Creative Instagram Picture + Inspired by the Book: Piano Music

June 25 – Cozybooknook – Creative Instagram Picture

June 26 – Drop and Give Me Nerdy – Creative Instagram Picture

June 27 – DoodleMom’s Homeschooling Life – Review + Listicle

Middle Grade Review: Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

Image result for Summer of a Thousand Pies cover

TitleSummer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Twelve-year-old Cady has never met her Aunt Shell but is sent to her countryside home for the summer. But can she, Aunt Shell, and her aunt’s partner Suzanne save their struggling pie shop from bankruptcy?

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Summer of a Thousand Pies features a lesbian couple, Aunt Shell and Suzanne, who care for Cady after Child Protective Services relocates her from her dad. For the most part, the aunts don’t face any backlash from their community as a same-sex couple raising a child. Their sexual orientation is less a conflict in the story as it is something that makes their characters feel more nuanced and human.

What I liked: When I saw the cover for Summer of a Thousand Pies, I thought I’d be settling into a fun and lighthearted middle grade contemporary. I was wrong. This is a beautiful, important book, but it doesn’t deal with easy themes. Cady’s mother has died and her grief-stricken father descends into alcoholism to the point where she has to live with her Aunt Shell. Her aunt’s pie shop is run with equal amounts of passion and joy, but it isn’t easy to thrive as a small bakery. And Cady’s new friend Jay, whose parents are undocumented and works at Aunt Shell’s bakery, depends on the pie shop staying open to keep from going homeless.

But that doesn’t mean that this book is free of uplifting moments. Thanks to her aunts and her new friends, Cady’s is able to let down her guard and trust the people she loves the most for the first time in her life. Through baking and immersing herself in life with Aunt Shell, Cady is able to heal from the loss of her mother and her father’s mental health issues. Summer of a Thousand Pies is an example of how middle grade can delve into just as real and heartbreaking issues as YA, as well as queer representation, in a way that’s appropriate and helpful for its young readers.

Recommended: This is hands-down one of the best and (no pun intended) sweetest LGBT middle grade books I’ve read. I’d recommend it to elementary and middle school students in particular but also teachers who are looking for a way to introduce LGBT characters to their students in a compassionate and normalizing light

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

YA Review: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

Image result for Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

Title: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Lexi can tell how and when a person will die just by touching them. Although she can’t save anyone from their untimely ends, Lexi risks her own life to avenge her newfound friend Jane’s death.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: I think being specific about the LGBTQ issues in Missing, Presumed Dead would spoil the plot but will say that this book features a queer romance. Both characters are cisgender, though one of them may or may not be a ghost. For as many straight paranormal romances as there are in the world, you’d think there’d be more LGBT ones, but this is one of the few queer paranormal YA books I can think of.

What I liked: The premise of Lexi’s powers alone are unique as they are compelling. I found the concept of being able to view another person’s fate is fascinating–and because she knows she can’t save Jane, she devotes herself to bringing justice to her death. Because we know from the start that there’s nothing she can do to prevent Jane from dying, there is a bit of a heartbreaking tinge to the overall compelling mystery. But that doesn’t stop Lexi’s race to find out what happened and help Jane’s spirit find peace any less gripping.

Pacing and intrigue are both important for mysteries, and both were equally strong here. Even though it’s a fast-paced book and (for me, at least) doesn’t take long to finish, it’s hard to put down. I ‘m not usually one for YA horror but found myself rooting for Lexi and hoping that even if Jane isn’t avenged that she at least reaches some sense of closure. Plenty of YA mysteries have a weak ending in comparison to their premise, but the finish in Missing, Presumed Dead is a satisfying conclusion with a unique take on the paranormal romance trope.

Recommended: Who doesn’t love a good murder-mystery, even more so when it’s got queer rep? I would recommend Missing, Presumed Dead, especially for those who love ghosts, romances, and compelling ghostly romances.

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

YA Review: I Knew Him by Abigail de Niverville

Image result for i knew him abigail de niverville

Title: I Knew Him by Abigail de Niverville

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Julian’s main goals for his senior year are to graduate and avoid being outed for the rest of high school. But when he’s cast as Hamlet in his school play, he never expected to fall in love with his Horatio.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Generations of queer historians and literature fans have speculated that there’s homoerotic tension between Hamlet and Horatio from Shakespeare’s Danish tragedy. While I Knew Him isn’t a retelling per se, it does feature a blossoming romance between the actors who play these two characters in their high school production. Both characters are cisgender men who are just starting to figure out their queer identity. Julian’s storyline in particular grapples with coming out to himself, let alone others, as well as how to deal with biphobia.

What I liked: Ugh, NineStar Press has some of the best queer YA books out there. It’s a small publishing house, but it deserves more recognition than it gets. I think that because they seek out authors who are themselves LGBTQ, the issues explored in their books feel quite nuanced. If you’re looking for some nice #OwnVoices LGBT YA, I’d recommend checking them out for sure.

This is going to sound silly, but I mean it in the best way possible: I Knew Him kind of reminded me of a queer High School Musical but without the singing and even more lovable characters. I feel like if the Bard was still around, he’d be happy to see that a book reimagined his characters into such a wholesome love story. Julian and Sky’s budding relationship doesn’t feel rushed or forced, and for theater students, they have a lot of natural chemistry (insert joke about how art gays don’t understand science here).

What I enjoyed most about this book was its exploration of what it means to come out as bisexual. Coming out as anything on the LGBTQ spectrum takes courage, but bisexual people (and bi men in particular) often face harassment from the straight and queer communities alike. Julian is no stranger to this conflict and experiences biphobia from another gay character who sees anything between gay and straight as invalid. As a bisexual person myself, I appreciated how Julian stood by his identity despite how easy it would have been to internalize the conflict he feels and put himself into either a “gay” or “straight” box.

Recommended: If you’re a Shakespeare nerd like me who’s always looking for a good romance I’d recommend I Knew Him wholeheartedly. Even if you know nothing about Hamlet, though, Julian and Sky’s love story explores a ton of complex issues within the queer community while ultimately still remaining hopeful.

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

YA Review: Like a Love Story

TitleLike a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: In 1989, the AIDS crisis brings three teens together: Reza, Judy, and Art. Between love, loss, and meaningful friendship, they learn how the people we care about can bring out the best in us.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book follows Iranian-American Reza as he comes to terms with being gay and falls in love for the first time. Set in New York City during the late 80’s, the AIDS crisis is in full-swing. Most of the coverage surrounding gay men during this time were of them dying, which Reza is all too aware of. The only out person he knows is Art, who documents the AIDS crisis through photographs in a way that is tender and compassionate. As Reza starts to fall for Art, he has to confront his gay identity even though he knows it could destroy his relationship with his family, his culture, and his girlfriend Judy.

What I liked: This is going to sound kind of specific and silly, but I really like 80’s queer YA books for some reason. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Music of What Happens… the list goes on. It obviously wasn’t an easy time to be LGBTQ, and I think that this book portrays the painful side of it, but that decade still fascinates me. It seems like those years were a turning point moment for the LGBTQ rights movement, although they were certainly years of sorrow because of the AIDS crisis.

Like a Love Story had so much heart. As a reader, it was so easy to feel for Reza and how hard it was for him to reconcile his conflicting identities. Not only does he have to consider tough questions about his future but also how to tell his girlfriend Judy that he’s fallen in love with a man and cares about her very much, but never in a romantic way. It gave me a lot of compassion and respect for what previous generations of queer teens had to go through. It’s never been easy to be queer but even more so thirty years ago.

Recommended: I would recommend this to anyone who wants to understand more about the AIDS crisis from an intimate and humanizing level. Because we’ve come such a long way in the past few decades, we often forget just how challenging this time was for LGBTQ people. While Reza may be fictional, his story mirrors the reality of those who struggled to understand their gay identity in a time where so many people in their community were dying.

YA Review: Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith

Image result for something like gravity

TitleSomething Like Gravity by Amber Smith

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary:  Chris and Maia meet after a car accident, so it makes sense that their relationship begins with a rocky start. But as Maia grieves her late sister and Chris deals with a traumatic assault from the year before, the healing process brings them together.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Chris is a trans man who falls in love with a straight, cisgender woman. While many books about trans characters focus on the coming out process, Chris is portrayed as comfortable in his own skin and already taking steps toward the transitioning process.

As far as content warnings go, Chris spends part of the novel processing an assault that happened a year prior to the novel. It is in the past, but the emotions that Chris feels towards the attack can be intense at times. If you think this could be triggering for you to read, I’d recommend checking out a few more reviews before reading it.

What I liked: Finally, a FTM main character that doesn’t spend the whole novel ruminating about their self-hatred! I feel like that’s a theme especially in AFAB (assigned female at birth) trans YA novels and have no idea why. It’s definitely not healthy for cis or trans readers. Chris was a lot more comfortable with himself. I think that’s important to portray and gives a lot more nuance to the typical stories written about trans characters.

Also, I liked that Chris’s entire story didn’t revolve around him being trans. It is a huge part of his identity, but he’s also interested in getting to know Maia and helping her come to terms with the loss of her sister. Sometimes, a trans character’s gender identity overpowers YA books to the point where there’s no other plot points or characterization. This book does explore how many trans people feel and what it’s like to be attacked for choosing authenticity. This book is not an easy read because Chris and Maia are both going through hard things, but their relationship gives them a person to talk and empathize with as they go through the healing process.

Recommended: I think that this could be an especially helpful book for teens who aren’t as familiar with the trans community who want to understand and have more compassion for them. For trans teens, I might recommend an #OwnVoices YA book for a more authentic depiction but overall, it’s sweet and humanizes both the grieving process and what it’s like to be transgender.

Note: I received an ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Image result for i wish you all the best mason deaver

Title: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When Ben de Backer comes out as non-binary, they move in with their sister Hannah to escape their parents’ rejection. This #ownvoices queer romance follows Ben as they begin senior year with a fresh start and fall in love with their charismatic-yet-sweet classmate Nathan.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: I Wish You All the Best features a queer romance between a non-binary person and a cisgender man. After Ben is rejected by their parents for coming out, they struggle with anxiety issues as they come to terms with their identity and begin transitioning. As a binary trans person, I thought that this was excellent representation and think that this is thanks to the author themselves being non-binary.

What I liked: Holy cow. I haven’t read a YA book in such a long time that was so sweet, tragic, and beautiful all at once. Ben’s narrative voice is equally sweet and profound in a way that’s a little reminiscent of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Even though they’ve gone through so much because of their gender identity, they’re still able to find beauty in live through the love of those who do accept and understand them. It included both the joys and the challenges of being non-binary–I think a lot of LGBT YA novels just focus on the challenges but the hopeful parts are just as essential for enby teens to read about.

The way I Wish You All The Best handled mental illness was also well-done. A lot of Ben’s mental health issues stem from the way that others treat them because of their identity and, while Nathan helps them in many ways, their relationship doesn’t automatically make these issues go away. They’re going to therapy, they’re seeking treatment for their anxiety disorder, and they’re not 100% reliant on Nathan for emotional stability. I think that’s an important thing for a YA book to express: love can transform us in so many ways but ultimately, it’s still important to find other supports and professional treatment to overcome mental illness.

Also, the cover art is stunning. I saw a fellow Goodreads reviewer say, and I quote, “The Mona Lisa was found trembling in the Louvre Museum because of this cover.” Honestly, it’s so lovely that it’s kind of an understatement. If you’re worried that the book won’t live up to the cover art, don’t be–both are equally wonderful.

Recommended: I can’t recommend a queer YA book published this year harder than I do this one! Not only are you embarking on one of the most well-written LGBT romances out there but, by reading this book, you’re supporting an #OwnVoices non-binary writer. Definitely one of the best trans YA books out there.

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