YA Review: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

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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

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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.

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: May 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.
  • I Knew Him by Abigail de Niverville: A school production of Hamlet leads to a small-town queer romance that would have made the Bard himself proud.

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

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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.
  • 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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  • 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.
  • 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: Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith

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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

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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.

YA Review: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

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TitleKings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens is “Judy Blume meets RuPaul’s Drag Race.” High school student Nima finds herself immersed in drag culture and both finds new love and lets go of old love while performing.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Nima is a lesbian who finds a community among drag kings in Bridgeton, New Jersey. This is one of the first gay YA books I’ve read that explores drag culture, and I felt like it was nicely done. As a trans person, I’ve kind of kept my distance from the drag community but this book helped me understand more about it. Whether you’re familiar with drag queens and kings yourself or you’re interested in learning more, I’d very much recommend this one–it is, however, important to recognize that it’s a portrayal of drag and not trans culture.

What I liked: Nima was such a likable character, and I think that’s one of the most important things for LGBT YA books. She’s a little shy and awkward at first, but once she discovers drag culture, she’s able to find her inner confidence and let go of feelings for a straight friend. It was fun to see her blossom into herself throughout the book and especially how being a drag king allowed her to accept herself as a lesbian. She’s able to ditch all of the negative labels those around her assign (like “dyke” or “faggot”) and discover her own inner beauty.

I’ve also noticed that while drag culture’s explored pretty often in adult LGBT fiction, it’s less common in queer YA. From an outsider’s perspective, this felt like an honest and fascinating portrayal of it. I’m not sure if the author herself is familiar with drag but either way, it’s clear she did her research. The drag queens and queens Nima meets brings out the best in her and offers her a queer-safe place for her to come to terms with who she is. It helped me understand how important drag is to the LGBT community as well as how separate it is from being trans (though a trans person can also be a drag king or queen, if they want).

“The only thing about bliss is that it’s sometimes accompanied by ignorance.”

Recommended: Nina’s was a vulnerable coming-of-age story. I’d recommend this for anyone who would like to understand the drag community more. Or if you’re a drag king or queen yourself, check this one out and let me know if it’s a fair portrayal! It was such a lovely book that I imagine it is.

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