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.

Queer YA Review: Quiver by Julia Watts

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TitleQuiver by Julia Watts

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Libby, a teenager in rural Tennessee, is raised in a conservative Christian sect that views people as quivers in “God’s righteous army” and women as strictly homemakers. When she befriends a genderfluid teen named Zo, she struggles to reconcile her beliefs with her friend’s lifestyle and freedom.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This story features a genderfluid character named Zo who has two loving, pro-LGBTQ parents in a conservative, rural town. Quiver also discusses their sexual orientation and conflict between belonging in the lesbian community while feeling like something other than a cis woman. One of the secondary characters is also a POC trans girl.

What I loved: Quiver is told with a dual narrative between Libby and Zo, two teenagers who grow up in nearly opposite living environments. In this way, Quiver sends an overall message of compassion and understanding one’s upbringing, even if it’s not the same as your own. At times, I did feel like it leaned a little more sympathetic to Zo’s story than Libby’s and painted Christianity in a somewhat stereotypical light. But it also reflected the mindset of a lot of conservative religious groups and the difficulty groups on polarized social beliefs can have with befriending each other.

It feels like this book could be useful to help teens who grew up in strongly right- or left-leaning households understand people who don’t think in ways they’re used to. By having a narrator they can relate to and another with a possibly unfamiliar voice, it could expose them to other ways of thinking without pushing them far out of their comfort zone. Both Libby and Zo are incredibly sympathetic characters who help bridge anger and misconceptions their families have of each other, and I think that’s a beautiful message to send in such a politically fiery climate.

The only issue I had with this one is that I felt the writing style was a little stilted. Libby and Zo’s voices also weren’t as distinct as they could have been, so sometimes I’d forget that the chapter had changed and gotten confused about the narration. Because of that, I had a hard time really immersing myself in the story like I wanted to. But the concept itself is fascinating enough that becomes a compelling read, regardless.

Quote: “Sometimes I don’t even feel like I have a gender—that the body that contains my personality is no more significant than the jar that holds the peanut butter.”

Recommended: Quiver is one of those LGBTQ YA books that humanizes both left-wing and conservative right viewpoints in the idea that most people are just trying to do the right thing. If you want to cultivate empathy for a perspective different from your own, this could be a powerful read.

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

Queer YA Review: This is Kind of an Epic Love Story

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TitleThis is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Nathan, a seventeen-year-old romantic cynic, swears off love for good to prevent someone from breaking his heart like his mother’s. But when he reconnects with his childhood best friend Ollie, his promise to himself is tested in the best of ways.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This is a gay YA romance novel centering around two cis men. Neither of the main characters define their sexuality beyond the general “queer” label and express romantic attraction for men and women. This is Kind of an Epic Love Story also features two POC protagonists and a hard-of-hearing protagonist who uses sign language.

What I Loved: The childhood best friends-to-lovers trope may be done a lot in YA romance, but it never stops being cute. Especially in Nathan and Ollie’s case. One of the most important things about YA romance is that you can actually feel the chemistry between the love interests, and these two are one of the cutest gay couples in YA books that I’ve read. Nathan makes an awkward, but lovable pair to Ollie’s sweet, goodhearted nature. They’re not just boyfriends but also best friends, and I think the deep and meaningful friendship the characters start off with really drives heart into their story.

Also, I mentioned this briefly earlier, but I love how This is Kind of an Epic Love Story doesn’t define itself as an “LGBTQ love story” but just a love story. Nate has fallen in love with men and women, and he doesn’t seem to identify with a specific sexual orientation. It’s portrayed more as caring deeply and connecting with another human being than something that defined who they are. I enjoyed that a lot. It really felt like a novel that celebrates love in its many forms.

Quote: “Maybe the way you love changes from person to person.”

Recommended: So many lovely LGBTQ YA books released in 2018! This is Kind of an Epic Love Story is perfect for those who love romantic comedies. Not a lot of gay romance books out there are just pure, wholesome happiness. But this book is, and if you’re looking for a reason to believe in love stories again, you’ll find it in Nathan and Ollie.

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

Queer YA Review: Power Surge by Sara Codair

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Title: Power Surge by Sara Codair

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: When Erin discovers that their hallucinations of mythical creatures are real, they must come to grips with their half-Elf identity and new boyfriend. But time is running out, and Erin has to put aside their concerns to fight against a demon-led armageddon.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Power Surge features a non-binary protagonist and discusses other queer identities as well. I can’t comment on the accuracy of Erin’s identity but can say that it was written by a non-binary writer. This is the second YA/NA novel I’ve read by a trans author and the first by a non-binary person, and the representation feels so well done (perhaps because it’s written by someone in the queer community).

What I loved: It’s exciting to see non-binary characters finally receive representation in YA literature, especially by an #ownvoices author! Erin’s character is more than just a LGBTQ stock figure, and while their identity is very much a part of who they are, it doesn’t define them nor their struggles. They’re also grappling with a new partner (and his abusive ex who won’t leave Erin alone) as well as the realization that, as someone with Elven blood, they belonged to a world that they thought was a product of mental illness.

The world that Erin discovers, too, makes Power Surge a fascinating read. It’s just the right mixture of fairytale and the author’s own creativity to make it feel familiar in some ways but still stand out. What tied me most to the novel were how believable its characters felt despite a fantastical setting. And while the book has dark moments, it also has its share of hope, plus enough loose ends to hint at a sequel.

Recommended: In some ways, this book reminded me of The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare (but with its own voice)–which is very much a good thing! If you’re looking for a queer paranormal YA novel or an unique take on the urban fantasy genre, check this one out!

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

YA Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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Title: History is All You Left Me

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When Griffin’s best friend and ex-boyfriend Theo dies in a drowning accident, the only person who understands is Theo’s current boyfriend, Jackson. But between his grief and obsessive compulsive episodes, Griffin is stuck processing Theo’s loss in a history of painful memories and broken “what-ifs.”

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What I loved: Notice how that quote by Nicola Yoon on the cover says, “Will make you cry, think, and then cry some more?” That about describes the emotional waves that this book put me through. History is All You Left Me creates a great balance of thought and raw emotion. Not only does it depict Griffin’s grief following an unexpected tragedy but also how memories and relationships shape us into who we are—in good and bad ways. The pain is striking in a familiar way for those who have fallen in love with someone they eventually had to let go of.

When a relationship ends for any reason, part of yourself dies with that just as another part starts growing, and this novel tracks Griffin’s full growth as a human being from his first kiss to his resolution to love Theo, but let him go. The novel also features a complex depiction of OCD that goes beyond the “cleaning” and “organizing” compulsions in a way that more matched my own experiences with it. Not only did this make Griffin a more complex character, but it gave depth to a mental illness that is often cliched in pop culture.

Quote: “People are complicated puzzles, always trying to piece together a complete picture, but sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we’re left unfinished. Sometimes that’s for the best. Some pieces can’t be forced into a puzzle, or at least they shouldn’t be, because they won’t make sense.”

Recommended: This is a little heavy of a read, so I would recommend this novel if you’re in a good mental “headspace.” It’s a beautiful and meaningful book, but one that could take time to process without letting it weigh you down. But as with every Adam Silvera novel I’ve read so far, perfect if you want a complex, thought-provoking queer YA book!

Next: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

LGBTQ YA Review: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

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Title: As the Crow Flies

Author: Melanie Gillman

Rating: 4/5

Two sentence summary: Queer, black, and questioning her faith, Charlie can’t help but feel isolated at her predominantly-white Christian summer camp. When she befriends Sydney, another camper whose differences set her apart, the two are determined to change their camp leaders’ mindsets even if they have to cause a commotion.


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What I loved: This book is a careful critique on white feminism and how much of the female experience it excludes. Although Charlie’s leaders talk about the camp’s history as an “matriarchal” outpost for nineteenth-century women, they use racially-exclusive language and gloss uncomfortably over how those women were primarily served by former slaves. Several closeted queer campers and campers of color keep silent in fear of becoming outcasts, particularly a camper who knows that if the leaders found out that she was trans, they wouldn’t have let her come. The disconnect between the leaders’ brand of feminism and the campers’ marked discomfort builds with every campfire sermon. It complicates Charlie’s search for God, who she can’t seem to find in the way that her leaders hope.

The art style in itself is breathtaking, with beautiful landscapes rendered in colored pencils in a way that, to me, captured the divine better than any of the camp leader’s sermons on God. I think that’s a little of what As the Crow Flies expresses—that the way to find God is to search for Him (or Them) yourself. Charlie associates bird’s feathers with God because she found one while in prayer and, during her spiritual search, she  finds bird’s feathers as she continues to look for and define God for herself. The connection between nature, which is accessible to every person, and God is gracefully expressed through the artistic medium.

My one complaint is that the ending felt unfinished but, after doing a little research, I found out that this is just volume one in a series about Charlie’s experience at summer camp. That could have been made a little more apparent but hey, maybe it was. It’s finals week here, and the unique fatigue that finals week brings does things to your mind. But either way, I am both surprised and delighted to hear that Charlie’s story will continue in subsequent volumes!

Recommended: This was a thoughtful read on who, exactly, feminism stands for and how “white, cis feminism” marginalizes more women than it uplifts. As a queer Christian, I also found Charlie’s struggle to connect with a God she doesn’t fully comprehend powerful. I’d probably recommend this one for younger teens just based on Charlie and the campers’ ages influencing their concerns, but older teens and adults may find the questions raised on inter-sectional feminism and mainstream Christianity poignant.

Next: Ship It by Britta Lundlin

LGBTQ YA Review: The Weekend Bucket List (+ Q&A with Mia Kerick!)

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Title: The Weekend Bucket List

Author: Mia Kerick

Release date: April 19th, 2018 (Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review)

Rating: 3.5/5

Two sentence summary: Close friends Cady LaBrie and Cooper Murphy have forty-eight hours to complete a end-of-high-school bucket list before graduation. With conflicting feelings and enigmatic Eli thrown into the mix, both Cady and Cooper must straddle the fine line between friendship and romance.

Quote: “If I had to label the look in Cady’s eyes, I’d call it ‘morning has broken’—like something truly amazing was dawning on her.”


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 Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: We don’t get a lot of YA books that are focused on friendship, especially LGBTQ YA. The Weekend Bucket List reclaims platonic love as meaningful in itself, not a consolation prize for when romance doesn’t quite work out. Sometimes friendship is just as intimate and sacred as romantic love, and I think what Cady and Cooper have is something to be cherished. Regardless of how the two reconcile feelings of attraction, their caring relationship for each other is in itself a beautiful end game.

You know another thing we don’t get a ton of? Bisexual characters who have a healthy relationship with their sexuality. It’s 2018 and people still act like you can either be gay or straight! Bi representation is a great way to combat this erasure, and The Weekend Bucket List’s Cooper is excellent progress. Although he’s previously defined himself as attracted to men, he doesn’t limit himself to a specific label. When he develops feelings for Cady, he lets himself feel them just as much as he does for the handsome newcomer Eli. I’ve heard that if people were more open with themselves, most would identify not as gay or straight but someplace in-between. Cooper exemplifies this fluidity and, because of it, feels complex and real.

Even though this book takes place over the weekend, it felt like a slow and sweet transition from shy and uncertain teenage years to the fearlessness of adulthood. I loved making the journey with Cooper and Cady and sorting through their valid, yet complicated feelings. As we’re nearing towards the end of spring, this is a perfect novel for kicking off graduation season and the summer that’s just on the horizon.

Recommended: For anyone who’s tired of YA writers ignoring the importance of platonic love, this will be a refreshing read. Plus, an openly bi character who isn’t forced to repress either side of his sexuality!

Next: Tomorrow Will Be Different by Sarah McBride


Q&A with the Author, Mia Kerick


Mia Kerick is an LGBTQ YA and New Adult romance writer whose books have won the Best YA Lesbian Rainbow Award, the Jack Eadon Award, an Indie Fab Award, and the Royal Dragonfly Award for Cultural Diversity (among other accolades). When she’s not writing, she enjoys editing Natural Honor Society essays, reviewing dance bios and English papers, and volunteering with the Human Rights Campaign. You can find book trailers, playlists, news, and upcoming events on her website.

1) You have written award-winning LGBTQ YA and New Adult books in your career. What inspired you to write queer fiction?

This is an excellent question, especially since I don’t identify as LGBTQ. There are a few reasons why I ended up writing queer fiction, but marital equality is one of the big ones. Full disclosure: I primarily write LGBTQ YA and New Adult romance. (The Weekend Bucket List is a step into general fiction, but still a love story of sorts.) I have always been someone who leans on my romantic partner, and after I got married to the person of my choice, it started to really bother me that some people could not do the same.

Keep in mind that I was married over 20 years ago—before there was marital equality in the United States. It just seemed so unfair and wrong that two committed people in a love relationship, who depended on each other for emotional and physical comfort, financial  support, and who even shared families and homes, could not be legally wed. And so I was drawn to write stories that showed how the love of LGBTQ people is as powerful and real and worthy of respect as the love of heterosexual people. I have expanded my fiction to include stories of transgender teens, questioning teens, and the concept of complex friendship. Watch for My Crunchy Life (June 2018), All Boy (October 2018), and The Princess of Baker Street (winter 2019), which all deal with experiences of transgender teens.

2) The Weekend Bucket List is about two high school seniors who go on one last adventure before graduation while coming to terms with romantic tension. What inspired you to write this story of friends-turned- possibly-something- more?

The line between friendship and romantic love is truly quite fine. Cady and Cooper, best friends forever, have realized they are attracted to each other. The two teens understand that if they pursue romance and it doesn’t work out, they risk the comfort and normalcy of their friendship. Questions regarding Cooper’s sexuality further complicate this situation. I was originally inspired to create a love story out of complex friendship, but as I wrote, it became clear to me that friendship is also a kind of love. Friendship is valuable and worthwhile and can be very passionate. It’s worthy of tears when you lose it and jubilation when you’re lucky enough to hold onto it. It can be the ultimate prize.

3) The past few years have been phenomenal in terms of LGBTQ YA novels. Do you have any favorite queer YA novels or authors?

This question is easy. I LOVE Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. It combined platonic and romantic passion in such a beautiful way. I couldn’t put it down.

4) What advice would you give to young LGBTQ writers who want to write YA fiction?

I struggle with following the rules when I’m being creative. And there are plenty of rules for authors. My advice to young writers—break the rules. I do best when I let myself go as I write. When I wrote The Red Sheet, which won some literary awards, I told myself—“NO RULES, MIA! Write what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, what makes you mad, what makes you feel better. Hold nothing back!” It turned out very well. I did the same thing with the humor in The Weekend Bucket List.

So back to my advice: Tone it up, instead of down. Put your unique way of seeing things and saying things into your story. Set your teen characters free and see what they do! And don’t forget to have fun. (Then edit your backside off.)

The Weekend Bucket List is all about love, friendship, and a certain something in-between. If you want a LGBTQ YA novel that’s entirely unique, you can order it here!