Blog Tour Review: Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

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Title: Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Babe Vogel is happy to disappear into her work as a barista after a rough break-up with her ex-girlfriend. But when a cute artist named Levi starts frequenting her coffee shop, she might just have to break her rule to never date the customers.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: For those who call bi people who date the opposite sex “faking it” in some way, I’d like to point them to this YA contemporary romance. Babe is an openly bi girl who recently broke up with a girl and falls in love with a boy. Just because she’s interested in a guy, though, doesn’t make this any less of a queer YA novel. If anything, I think it shows just how nuanced the LGBT community is and how important it is for everyone’s voices to be heard–especially when bi erasure is so common no matter who they decide to date.

What I liked: Like most meet cute books, this one was adorable from start to finish. Even though Babe’s going through a rough break-up and trying to keep herself from falling in love, she spends just as much time discovering more about herself and growing as a result. She becomes more comfortable with her sexuality and herself in general, and she finds ways to have confidence whether she’s in a relationship or not. I think it’s important to show that kind of personal growth in YA romance books to show that partners can make our lives happier, but they should never be how you define your self worth.

Levi and Babe also had excellent chemistry. I’ve heard before that the sign of a good love story is that the characters learn from each other and become better people. In this case, it’s true. Babe learns to trust in the people around her again and take risks when it comes to opening up. And Levi starts to discover what his purpose is in the world as an artist and a human being. It’s a healthy and sweet relationship, and the discussions about sexuality and unconditional love make it even more vulnerable.

I think it’s important to mention that while on the whole this is a light read, there are a few difficult subject in this book as well. Alcohol and drugs are mentioned a few times, and it’s implied that Babe’s ex and her old friends were manipulative (if not abusive). If those are triggering topics for you, check out a few more reviews before opening this book up but know that even in the darker scenes, the story does end happily.

Recommended: This was a cute read that felt very much like a romantic comedy. And the best YA romance book to start spring with–it’s unique, sweet, and (most importantly) super duper queer. Plus, who doesn’t love a meet cute that turns into a coffee shop romance?

Note: I’m happy to have participated in the blog tour for Small Town Hearts! To check out more stops on this tour, visit Xpresso Book Tours’ website.

YA Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

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TitleThe Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: This #OwnVoices book follows seventeen-year-old Evan Panos, the son of Greek immigrants who he knows couldn’t understand or condone him being gay. But when Evan has his first kiss at summer camp and finally finds someone who loves him for who he is, he runs the risk of coming out whether he likes it or not.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Dangerous Art of Blending In follows Evan, a cis gay teenager, as he falls in love with his best friend Henry and comes out to his parents. His family comes from Greece and strictly follow Orthodox Christianity, with his parents reacting to his sexual orientation in different ways. While his dad is hesitant, he makes it clear how much he loves his son and tries to support him. His mom, on the other hand, seems to struggle with an undiagnosed mental illness and is both physically and emotionally abusive after he comes out and throughout his life because he has a strong feminine side.

If domestic abuse is triggering to you, you may want to read a few more reviews before deciding whether or not this queer YA book is for you. While the depictions of abuse are pretty intense and difficult to read, they aren’t graphic, and Evan (without spoiling anything) is also eventually able to escape the situation.

What I liked: Evan’s voice was so authentic and bold that it really drove the heart of this story. Part of this is because the author himself is gay and a child of Greek immigrants. The reason that Evan’s story felt so real was that in the endnote, Aurelis explained how so much of it had been based on his own experiences. I think that this book is a reminder that sometimes “write what you know” can lead to unique and much needed voices coming through in LGBTQ YA, especially when it’s done thoughtfully.

I also thought that Evan’s relationship with his dad, while definitely not perfect, was beautiful. It was clear that Evan’s dad came from a very different culture from his own and was raised seeing LGBT people in a negative light. But despite how he struggled to understand his son, he genuinely tried to. It didn’t excuse how long it took for him to get Evan out of the abusive situation with his mom. But it offered a little hope that Evan would someday find the support that he deserved in and outside of his community.

You may notice at this point that, while this book is a gay romance, I haven’t mentioned that element yet. That’s because I didn’t really like the relationship between Evan and Henry. It felt sort of imbalanced, with Evan putting all of his self-worth and confidence into how Henry saw him. While I think that’s understandable, given how little acceptance Evan had felt for being gay, I didn’t like that it wasn’t addressed. And at times, Henry seemed to be aware of that one-sidedness and used it against Evan (especially when kissing and being intimate). Maybe I’m just overanalyzing it too much, but I think that even though it was trying to be a cute gay romance book, it ended up feeling a little forced and maybe unhealthy.

Quote: “Maybe I’m not so ugly after all. Maybe no one is really ugly, and maybe no one has the right to call someone that or tell them that they are.”

Recommended: While reading this book, I fell in love with the sweetness of Evan’s personality and his story. This queer romance is a pretty light read– I think I finished it in around three sittings – but it’s a brave portrayal of what it’s like to authentically love others and yourself despite the pressure to stay guarded.

YA Review: Earth to Charlie by Justin Olson

TitleEarth to Charlie by Justin Olson

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Charlie believes that his mother was abducted by aliens, and he wants them to take him, too. But when he meets Seth, he starts to question whether Earth is really worth leaving behind.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Earth to Charlie isn’t a queer romance but more of a friendship between two boys who are figuring out a lot about themselves and the world around them. It does, however, feature LGBT themes and main characters.

In some ways, I think stories like that are just as important as the love stories. We need more books that show queer teens that healthy friendships are just as valid as romantic relationships. And ones that have close, intimate friendships between guys that don’t necessarily lead to romance. There are many different kinds of love, and sometimes platonic love is undervalued in LGBT YA fiction.

What I loved: One of the underlying themes in this story was learning to have compassion for yourself and others, as well as the struggles that each person faces. It was reminiscent of the saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a hard battle.”

I think that is such a powerful thought and very needed in queer YA books. Charlie was such a sweet protagonist, and I loved reading about his friendships with his somewhat reclusive neighbor Geoffrey and his classmate Seth. It was one of those books that makes you want to look for the good in people you meet every day and try to get to know them better.

The story itself was beautifully written and had a way of addressing deep issues in a soft, poetic way. It’s implied, for example, that Charlie’s mom suffered from mental illness throughout her life. These allusions are done in a respectful way that doesn’t feel weighted with stigma or overly heavy themes. It’s thoughtful, but also full of hope and authenticity in a way that makes Earth to Charlie feel really genuine.

Recommended: This is one of those books where every character feels like they have a rich backstory and are deserving of love. It’s a wholesome, sweet and sometimes sad story. Earth to Charlie is a perfect story for those looking for a coming-of-age YA about finding friends who make you feel less lonely in this wonderful, strange world.

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

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.

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?