LGBTQ YA Review: Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle

Image result for kissing kate lauren myracle

(Note: Hello friends! You may have noticed I’ve been a little MIA here for the past week. It’s a little more than coincidental that this break conceded with finals week, but I also have some news. As of today, I will be exclusively posting LGBTQ YA reviews on this website, along with writing advice and updates on my personal/professional writing adventures! So if you’ve been reading my posts and thinking “hmm, this is pretty gay but I wish it were even gayer,” your lucky day has come.)

Title: Kissing Kate

Author: Lauren Myracle

Rating: 3.5/5

Two sentence summary: After an accidental, drunken kiss, best friends Kate and Lissa refuse to acknowledge each other’s existence. But Kate can’t keep her conflicted feelings bottled up, and she must rely on new friends to retrace what happened at that party and come to terms with her own identity.

Quote: “You can remove a tattoo; it’s just difficult. And supposedly it’s pretty painful. Some things, on the other hand, can’t be undone.”


kissingkate

 Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: As someone who grew up loving Lauren Myracle’s ttyl series, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she’d written a queer YA novel early in her career. Like ttyl, Kissing Kate explores friendship and how who we connect with shapes who we are. Unlike some novels with a lesbian protagonist, Kate’s story isn’t dependent on a significant other or romantic subplot. Although she mourns what she had with Lissa and can’t quite let go of her unresolved feelings, she is a minor character and exists more in Kate’s conflicted memories. In the wake of her newly-broken relationship with Lissa, she explores who she is and what that means, eventually confronting her sexuality with tentative acceptance.

Acceptance meant very different things in the early 2000s when this book was written. Both Kate and Lissa have a strained relationship with their sexualities, with the latter rejecting it outright and the former still unable to shake the idea that being lesbian is “inferior” to heterosexuality. But I think that just highlights Kate’s bravery as she faces her identity for what it is and admits to herself that what she felt for Kate was more than friendship. Even though we’ve made so much progress in LGBTQ activism in the fifteen years since Kissing Kate was written, I think having stories where the protagonist works to accept their feelings as valid can be healing.

Recommended: This book was published back in 2003 and is one of the earliest healthy portrayals of LGBTQ relationships I’ve found in YA literature. The target demographic of contemporary YA fiction wasn’t likely alive when this book was published, but I think despite its more conservative portrayal of queer identities, Kissing Kate is still relevant. Whether you can relate to Kate’s unrequited, uncertain love or you want to see how much LGBTQ YA has changed in fifteen years, it’s a powerful story.

Next: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

YA Review: If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman

 

Related image

Title: If I Tell You

Author: Alicia Tuckerman

Release Date: March 1, 2018 (Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review)

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Closeted teenager Alex Summers doesn’t expect to find love in her rural Australian town but can’t help falling for Phoenix. As they navigate their budding romance in their close-minded community, they make choices that will irreversibly change them.

What I loved: As the recent release of Love, Simon suggests, it seems like the trend in LGBTQ YA media is moving from externalized homophobia to internalized conflict the protagonist faces while coming out. But If I Tell You handles homophobia in a way that’s still relevant in 2018. As a young lesbian, Alex fears that her loved ones won’t treat her kindly she comes out. This fear is confirmed when her friends and family treat the more openly queer Phoenix with disgust. Alex debates between coming out and remaining safe, but closeted for much of the novel, knowing that this is something she can’t take back.

Regardless of their family situation, I think a lot of queer readers can relate to the worry that those they care about won’t see them the same way after coming out. Coming out is a serious decision, especially if you’re not sure how your loved ones will react. Most of the time, relationships do change—for better or for worse. Alex’s story is one many LGBTQ teens experience when others reacts not as they hoped but as they expected. If a reader out there lives in a similarly homophobic community, this could help them feel heard and understood.

Quote: “I feel the anger deep inside of me as I begin to understand the notion—the idea of being proud of who you are in a world that tells you to be ashamed; brave enough to be seen when people wish you were invisible.”

Recommended: Yeah, this was a good, heavy novel. I will say that it includes a lot of LGBTQ YA stereotypes, including a specific stereotype I’m not always fond of (spoiler alert: “bury your gays”). It isn’t necessarily groundbreaking but still very heartfelt. If you’re triggered by homophobic slurs or verbal abuse, though, tread carefully with this one.

Next: Release by Patrick Ness

YA Review: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Image result for Juliet Takes a Breath

Title: Juliet Takes a Breath

Author: Gabby Rivera

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: After a disastrous coming out experience with her family, Juliet Palante leaves for Portland with only the works of her favorite feminist author for guidance. As she works to make a place where she belongs, she grapples with her identity as a Puerto Rican lesbian.

What I loved: When it comes to the balance between characters and plot in a story, I prefer books that really delve into who a character is and who they become. This book was very character-heavy and I loved it. It’s very much a coming-of-age story that captures how one queer woman of color establishes and grows confident in her identity. It’s so vulnerable and doesn’t give any easy answers to any of the questions Juliet explores about herself. If anything, the more she meets others in the queer community and opens herself to the complexity of the human experience, the more messy and uncertain and beautiful her story becomes.

My only complaint with this book is that it felt a little heavy with LGBTQ jargon sometimes. Which is fine if you’re pretty familiar with the community but can get repetitive, and I feel like it might be information overload for non-queer people. But all in all, solid prose, characters, and story.

Quote: “My love for you is deeper than anything that happened between us. My love for you is the sun, the sky, and the moon. It’s the air I breathe. It lives in everything I do. It’s better than good. It’s everlasting.”

Recommended: As a trans guy, I can’t speak for the experiences of queer women but enjoyed the how much this book grounds you in Juliet’s mind. If you’re looking for a raw, authentic coming-of-age story, you might just love this book.

Next: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo