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.

Brief Endgame Reflections

Note: Endgame spoilers ahead! Do not read if you don’t want to know!

As a guy on the low side of 5’3’’ who regularly loses arm wrestling competitions, I didn’t expect to relate to Thor as much as I did in Avengers: Endgame. I’d always been more of a Loki fan. His struggle to belong as a half-frost giant resonated with how I’d felt as a young LGBT Mormon.

But while Thor’s storyline was mostly played for laughs in Endgame, I felt like I understood him in some ways. When I graduated from college, I left university with some unresolved struggles with anxiety and depression. I didn’t have a job lined up right away like some of my friends, I lived with my parents for a few months while job searching, and I struggled to deal with some of my inner demons. If someone were to ask me about my worthiness as a person, I don’t know whether I would have laughed or cried.

So on one hand, it was pretty hilarious that the God of Thunder spent five years after Infinity War playing Fortnite and eating pizza. But behind the humor, I actually thought it was an honest depiction of mental health struggles. Depression can transform people into shells of who they used to be and make them feel like they’ll never find joy in life again. It can make you too miserable to leave the house for days at a time. It can make you wracked with guilt until your self-esteem is absolutely annihilated.

There were a few solid weeks in August where I couldn’t bring myself to get off of the couch. Video games and reading helped me take my mind off things, but it didn’t stop the constant anxious thoughts from coming. I didn’t drink beer kegs like Thor, but I definitely emptied enough Diet Dr. Pepper cans to fill a room.

When I was a freshman in high school, the first Avengers film inspired me. It made me feel like even if you don’t feel like you belong in the world, you can find people who understand you and make the world a better place. For that reason, I actually teared up a little when Thor’s hammer Mjolnir returns to him and, astonished, he yells out, “I’m still worthy!”

Because I know what it’s like to think you’ve lost your inner goodness. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. And even though I laughed at plenty of the movie’s comedic scenes, I meant it with every part of myself when I cheered for Thor.

These days, I’m in a much better place. I have a job and co-workers that make me feel fulfilled. I’ve got a place (and a puppy) of my own. And while I have low days every once in a while, my life is full of joy.

For those who struggle with depression and feel like they’re unworthy of love or happiness in life, I want you to know that you’re a better person than you think and that you owe it to yourself to get help . Whether that’s telling someone, going to counseling, or taking steps to improve your mental health one day at a time, don’t hesitate to seek out treatment because you “don’t need or deserve” it. There’s nothing you can do that can take away your inherent worthiness of love and support.

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.

Life Update: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Guided Meditations

Hey friends! Now that it’s March, I thought it would be a good time to do another personal post. Overall, things have been pretty alright! Work is busy but fulfilling, I’ve enjoyed co-authoring the LGBT mental health column at HealthyPlace, and my dog Yoda’s been smiling a lot more on her walks now that the weather’s a little brighter.

But at the same time, my anxiety’s been flaring up a bit and making life less enjoyable than usual. As a result, I’ve been devoting the past few weeks to doing a deep dive on both relieving anxiety and how to cultivate a happy, fulfilling life. Here are a few habits I’ve been trying to pick up from my research in an attempt to replace stress with contentedness:

  • Meditation. So far, this has somehow been one of the most successful calming techniques. Right now, I’m doing five to ten minute recordings but am trying to work my way up to thirty minutes.
  • Exercising more often–taking care of Yoda has helped because I need to take her on a walk every day. Otherwise, I’ve been trying to get into running and strength training lately.
  • Cutting out caffeine. In theory. I have noticed that when I drink less caffeine, I’m less jittery but have yet to go cold turkey for more than a day.
  • Volunteering and trying to focus more on others. Right now I’ve been writing messages for Letters Against Depression, which is a non-profit that sends letters of hope to people battling with mental illnesses. If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity you can do from home or could use a little support for whatever you’re going through, I’d totally recommend checking out their website.
  • Connecting more with others. Most of the books and articles I’ve read on happiness center around cultivating meaningful relationships. Since I’m pretty shy and just moved to a new city, this has been tough lately but I’ve been trying to get to know my co-workers a little more and hang around writing/book events

So far, things seem like they’re doing better. I’ve been feeling a little more at peace when I get home from work and have been getting more done now that my anxiety’s manageable again. And on the evenings where things feel stressful, there’s always melatonin.

Other than that, here’s a few other things going on:

  • Finally got around to watching Yuri On Ice and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. Oh, man. If any of you guys ever want to talk about Yuri On Ice, I know I’m like… two years late to the party but guys it’s so wholesome
  • Signed up for my first writing organization–the League of Utah Writers! So far it seems really cool and a good way to meet other local writers
  • Found out that BYU’s doing a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and I am so pumped to see it on Friday! I’ve been waiting to see it performed live literally since I was fifteen and am like counting down the hours. Plus, apparently the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s doing Hamlet this year so overall 2019’s shaping up to be an amazing time
  • My essay “A Whole String of Failures,” which explores Vincent van Gogh’s struggle to find pain in beauty along with some personal experiences, is going to be published in issue two of name and none (a trans and non-binary literary magazine)! Van Gogh is one of my lifelong heroes, and I’m honored to have an essay about him published so close to his 166th birthday on the 30th.
  • Have been reading–some of my favorites this month have been The Little Book of Lykke, The Adventure Zone graphic novel, and Howl’s Moving Castle

What about you? How has your month been and, when things get stressful, what do you find helps? And have you read any good books lately?

Liebster Book Awards 2018

Hello friends and happy holidays! I was nominated by Meeghan Reads for the Liebster Book Awards 2018. Go check out her blog for book reviews, literary lists, and occasional baking tips and treats!

Rules

  • Answer the 11 questions you’ve been asked
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers
  • Ask your nominees 11 questions
  • Let them know you’ve nominated them!

Answers:

  • What are you currently reading, and are you enjoying it?

Right now, I’m reading Autoboyography by Christina Lauren and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I’m enjoying both very much so far!

  • Who is your all-time favourite character?

Hmm… one is too tough, so I’m gonna give you three YA favorites and three non-YA favorites:

YA:

  • Patrick (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
  • Sal (The Inexplicable Logic of My Life)
  • Connor O’Malley (A Monster Calls)

Non-YA:

  • Alyosha Karamazov (The Brothers Karamazov)
  • Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings)
  • Horatio (Hamlet)
  • What are your thoughts on love triangles?

To be honest, I’m not a big fan but I think that’s because they stress me out as a reader. The tension bugs me because no matter what happens, one of the characters is gonna be left lonely unless they die, which is also bad. And at the same time, I’m also not usually interested or invested in that tension. I just like my relationships more one-on-one in stories, I guess.

Also, I feel like they’re weirdly overdone when love triangles don’t happen all that often in real life.

  • What is your fave book to re-read?

Hamlet is one of my favorites to re-read, as is Good Omens. No matter how many times I read either, the story and the characters never get old. And I try to re-read A Christmas Carol every year around the holidays, too.

  • What was the last book you DNF’ed?

I think it was A Brief History of Time because I was trying to listen to it at work but the concepts were too complicated for me to absorb while writing. I’m sorry that I failed you, Stephen Hawking. Maybe on a less busy workday, I’ll give it another go.

  • What is your fave fictional animal?

Griffins. 99% because of Buckbeak (well, hippogriff, but it’s fine). 1% because of My Brother, My Brother, and Me.

  • How many books are on your TBR?

Too many. These are the books I currently own and have not read yet but really need to get on with already:

  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousefzai
  • Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
  • A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
  • Crux by Jean Guerrero
  • God: A Human History by Reza Aslan
  • My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand
  • Chasers of the Light: Poems from the Typewriter Series by Tyler Knott Gregson
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
  • Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

And that’s just the books I’ve already bought or borrowed from the library. That’s not even dipping my toes into the books I want to read. So many books, so little time.

  • Which book has been on your shelf the longest (read or unread)?

Read: Probably Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. As a preteen, I treasured those books. It’s a hilarious series but also so full of heart and genuinely fascinating characters. Even though I don’t write middle grade fantasy, Eoin Colfer’s still one of my heroes. One of my most prized possessions is a signed copy from when he visited my city library back in 2012.

(I don’t share many pre-transition photos but EOIN COLFER YOU GUYS. Fun fact: my dad had Eoin Colfer sign his book “To Squilliam” and he was like, “I’m not gonna get sued for this, am I?” Not much out there better than getting your childhood idol to sign books to Spongebob characters.)

Unread: Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Someday…

  • What is your fave book to movie adaptation?

Probably Perks of Being a Wallflower, even though I actually saw the movie before I read the book. Such a powerful story and such a good soundtrack.

Also the Lord of the Rings trilogy because, c’mon. It’s Lord of the Rings. And the Harry Potter adaptations may not have been perfect, but they are like the movie version of comfort food.

  • Which character would you swap lives with?

Sometimes I wouldn’t mind swapping with Aziraphale from Good Omens, minus the whole “stop the apocalypse from happening” thing since that sounds stressful. Reading to my heart’s content with a mug of cocoa, making a secondhand bookshop my own personal library, eating sushi with Crowley while Queen’s Greatest Hits plays in the background… doesn’t sound like a bad life.

  • What do you do when you’re in a reading slump?

When I don’t have time to read, I listen to a lot of audiobooks while commuting or doing work projects where I don’t need to talk to people. It can be a good way to get more books in when life gets busy.

Tagging Lovely AudiobooksRed Rocket PandaSophie’s CornerThe Bibliophagist, and Acquadimore Books.

Questions:

1)Which book have you re-read the most often?

2) What was the first book you ever fell in love with?

3) Which book do you think is either extremely underrated or overrated?

4) What’s your favorite book quote?

5) If you could meet any author (living or dead), who would it be and why?

6) What book are you looking forward to reading most next year?

7) If your life had a book title, what would it be?

8) Which book has left the strongest impression on you?

9) Which fictional character do you identify with the most?

10) Which book is next on your to-do-list?

11) What are your reading goals for 2019?

YA Review: Symptoms of Being Human

Image result for symptoms of being human

TitleSymptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When snarky, yet sensitive Riley Cavanaugh starts at a new school, the last thing they want is for people to find out they’re genderfluid. When their anonymous gender identity blog goes viral, however, they worry that their identity is too large a part of themselves to keep secret.

BeFunky-collage-3

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This novel features a genderfluid protagonist named Riley who comes out, first to their therapist and ultimately their friends and family. The author makes a pretty bold narrative choice in that he doesn’t reveal Riley’s birth sex. While some may find this confusing or annoying, I think it emphasized that their birth sex shouldn’t change how you see or define them. Symptoms of Being Human also has several trans minor characters and discusses sexual assault, suicide, and bullying through a queer lens.

What I loved: Riley’s is a powerful story, one that has the potential to help people feel comfortable with who they are and others understand people who identify differently from them. It delves pretty deep into non-binary identity, which is informative without weighing down the text or interrupting the story. It feel like an authentic story about how being a closeted genderfluid teen feels, especially when that identity’s at odds with their community’s values. Even though this book is written by a cisgender author, it felt well-researched, in part because the author consulted non-binary and trans people while writing this story.

Riley themself is a compelling narrator, with a voice that’s equal parts sarcastic and vulnerable. And they grow so much over the course of three hundred pages! Seeing them gain wisdom and courage about who they are and how they can stand for others like them is beautiful and truly inspiring. They begin Symptoms of Being Human closeted and suicidal and, while they go through some truly heartbreaking circumstances, they gain so much strength and compassion for themself and people in general.

The only reason I didn’t give this book a 5/5 was because one scene was so disturbing to me that I skipped a section and would hesitate before re-reading the book again, but that really is a personal rather than quality issue. And if anything, it speaks to the novel’s emotional strength and the relevancy of the topics it portrays. That being said, though, if you’re triggered by sexual assault scenes, it’s worth researching the book’s content before you read it.

Also, this is random, but I listened to the audiobook for this one and found it really cool that they chose a transgender voice actor! In my opinion, it added to the authenticity with which they narrated Riley’s story.

Quote: “As for wondering if it’s okay to be who you are – that’s not a symptom of mental illness. That’s a symptom of being a person.”

Recommended: This was such a powerful read. I don’t think that there’s a person I wouldn’t recommend this to unless its subject matter triggers them. But I’d especially recommend it to two groups of people. First, non-binary people who want to feel a little less alone and a little more comfortable with who they are. And second, cisgender readers who want to understand the diversity of the gender spectrum more, as well as the harassment trans and non-binary people face.