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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(source)


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!

LGBTQ YA Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

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Title: The Art of Being Normal

Author: Lisa Williamson

Rating: 4/5

Two sentence summary: Fourteen-year-old David Piper is hiding a secret: even though she was born male, she would give anything to be a normal girl like her sister. When her school’s new student Leo Denton stands up for her in a fight, she finds that “normal” is much more messy and complicated than she thought.


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 Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: I thought that this novel did a great job handling heavy themes with grace and respect. Often, trans YA books deal only with gender identity and the consequences of coming out. That is a strong element of The Art of Being Normal, but Leo and David’s stories also deal with poverty, childhood neglect, absent parents, and bullying. I liked how the novel didn’t gravitate around gender because it made David’s trans identity seem less isolated. She’s not just this stock character who has nothing going for her besides her gender identity. She’s connected to Leo, her friends and family, and others in her life in a way that adds dimension to her personality. Her gender identity is important, but it’s not her defining feature. I think it’s important to broaden trans YA from “trans coming out stories” to “trans characters having rich, complex experiences” and this book does so very well.

The Art of Being Normal is written in a dual POV, with chapters switching off between David and Leo. I’m not always in love with this format because it can be difficult to make the two voices separate. In this book, though, it’s effective. Both Leo and David have distinct, well-developed voices and their POVs add important elements to the novel. If the story were told from just one POV, it wouldn’t feel as compelling.

Quote: “Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. ‘Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.’”

Recommended: This is a book I’d recommend for people who want more insight into the trans experience if they’re not as familiar with the LGBTQ community. It’s a great “beginner” book for delving into trans YA. It’s insightful and offers a strong window into David’s story without bogging the text down with too many definitions. I love that it normalizes the trans experience while still voicing unique experiences that teens may face while coming out. Balanced, a little bittersweet, but ultimately a beautiful read.

Next: The Weekend Bucket List by Mia Kerick

YA Review: Release by Patrick Ness

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Title: Release

Author: Patrick Ness

Rating: 4.5/5

Two sentence summary: Adam Thorn, seventeen-year-old son to a family of preachers, is reeling in the wake of a fractured relationship with his ex-lover and fears that his conservative parents will find out about his sexuality. Release follows Adam over the the course of a day as he faces his past and jumps into a confrontation that may either shatter his heart or finally mend it.


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Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: I always love me some Patrick Ness, and this was no exception. Release is an accurate title for this book. Adam knows that the strong emotions he carries about his situation weigh him down—growing up with his parents’ conditional love, escaping sexual assault from his supervisor, and working through heartbreak have left him with deep wounds. It’s difficult for him to love others, even himself, because affection shown to him has often been warped and always temporary. But this day we follow Adam on sparks something from within—as he lets go of those who have hurt him, he opens himself to feeling all of the pain he’d been blocking at once. And yet, despite this, he is free. His is a bittersweet story, with hope that this day will lead to better ones for Adam.

The stream-of-consciousness narrative of this book was also enjoyable and, I think, a really good way to tell it. Ness was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to write this story, and it has a similarly psychological, internalized feel. Because this book follows Adam from morning until nighttime, we as readers glimpse his thoughts in a way that’s a little more unstructured than most third-person narratives. It heightens the rawness of emotions in a way that fosters deep empathy for Adam and his flawed, conflicted heart.

Quote: “They’re your parents. They’re meant to love you because. Never in spite.”

Recommended: Some books are just beautiful, and Release is one of those. If you want to savor the words, characters, and emotions, this is a hard-hitting yet satisfying read. It is hurtful and healing in a way that only Patrick Ness’s books could be.

Next week: Risen by Cole Gibsen

YA Review: Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

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Title: Highly Illogical Behavior

Author: John Corey Whaley

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Sixteen-year old Solomon developed agoraphobia after experiencing panic attacks every time he left the house, so eventually he just stopped leaving. His former high school peer Lisa befriends him to cure his anxiety and slowly learns that relationships involve more than just “fixing” people.

What I loved: Most of all, I loved the characters. The more you get into this book, the more these characters’ depths unfold. They’re more than just stock-character high school students, and they can’t really be pinned down to any of their labels. This is especially important in that (without spoiling anything), one of the characters identifies as gay. While their coming out is a strong focus of the story, Whaley doesn’t give the character any of the internalized guilt or non-accepting peers often found in YA novels.

Those stories are important to be told, too, but they are told often. This character’s journey was a lot more nuanced. They feared coming out because they feared changing family dynamics and also hesitated because they never thought their sexual orientation was important to share. But they learn that their identity does matter. Their sexual orientation matters. Their relationships matter. They inherently matter and, though they don’t often believe it, they belong.

There are some dark and painful-to-read parts in this book, I’m not gonna sugar coat it, but the author balances those moments well with plenty of humor and truly happy moments. Overall, a quirky, heartwarming book on how a friendship can change both people for the better.

Quote: “We’re just floating in space trying to figure out what it means to be human.”

Recommended: Especially for Trekkies or sci-fi fans in general. They’ll especially enjoy the references in this one (and there are tons, my friends… it’s glorious). But this is also an honest and beautiful look at anxiety recovery.

Plenty of mental health YA books I’ve read don’t have happy moments. This one really pulls on all emotions: happiness, sorrow, panic, hope, love. The works. Whether you yourself struggle with anxiety or you want to understand what it’s like for those who do, this is a great and lighthearted book with surprising depth.

Next: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

YA Fiction Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Note: Back from the post-finals hiatus with a new review! This is a book I actually read in high school, one of the few LGBTQ books my high school library had. Though this was before I came to terms with much of my own gender identity or sexual orientation, I remember enjoying it a lot and thought it only right to share the beautiful writing of David Levithan.

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Title: Two Boys Kissing

Author: David Levithan

Rating: 4.5/5

Two sentence summary: Two seventeen year-old boys, Harry and Craig, set out to break the record for longest kiss in a 32-hour marathon—the story of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of LGBTQ men lost to AIDS in the former generation. While they tell this story and muse on their own lost lives, they also explore the lives of other teen boys coming out, establishing gender identity, and exploring long-term relationships.

What I loved: If everything was a satisfactory enough answer, I would say everything, but more explanation is probably needed. David Levithan’s writing style in Two Boys Kissing is both beautiful and lingering, perhaps because its voice is so unique. Using “we” as a narrator is difficult to pull off, but nobody could narrate this story quite so well as the chorus of AIDS victims. Their stories of love and devastating loss to illness paint so much history onto the voices of those in the present, both their joys and their own sadness. The experimental style pays off and really characterizes the book’s tone.

Although many characters are introduced within a short time, Levithan gives each of them a unique voice and story in a way that feels like it really grasps the queer community. Among Levithan’s characters are a trans man trying to navigate his sexuality, a teenager losing hope (and himself) on dating apps, and two boys who face both praise and discrimination to beat a Guinness World Record. Stories so different (especially when juxtaposed with such a unique narrator) make for a feeling of connection and that these stories, and the stories of all people, are more alike than different.

Quote: “Love is so painful, how could you ever wish it on anybody? And love is so essential, how could you ever stand in its way?”

Recommended: Yes. David Levithan is one of my staple for wonderful YA writers, especially when it comes to LGBTQ fiction. He never fails to disappoint when exploring the diverse relationships, emotions, and lives people lead in the queer community.

This novel is both sweet and sorrowful, and while mourning the past, it also leads to hope for the future. I’d recommend it to anyone from around young teen years and up.

Next week: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, who may have become one of my new queer YA staples as well

YA Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

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Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Author: John Green and David Levithan

Rating: 4/5

One sentence summary: When they meet at an unlikely crossroad, teens Will Grayson and Will Grayson begin a turning point in love and all the confusion that goes with it.

What I loved: Two of my favorite YA authors in one! This book is wonderful because both John Green and David Levithan are blessed with wonderfully distinct voices, and they compliment each other well here. The two Will Graysons are only similar in name: their voices, internal conflicts, and perspectives on life are so opposite.

On one hand, we’ve got a nerdy, music-obsessed Will Grayson who’s trying to figure himself out just as much as he’s trying to figure out his love life. Then on the other, there is a snarky and cynical Will Grayson who has only admitted he is gay to a boyfriend he’s never actually met (the somewhat sketchy joys of online dating), not his mother and definitely not his quirky (only) friend. Had these Graysons never wandered into the same bar by mere happenstance, they likely would have never crossed paths. But they did. And both of their lives shift in unexpected ways because of it.

This novel is about love. One Will Grayson is self-deprecating but earnest, trying to make sense of his first love and blossoming relationship that should be familiar to anyone who’s gone to high school. The other Will Grayson, after significant heartbreak, begins a new relationship with the very-much out Tiny Cooper, a mutual friend of Will Grayson #1 who is much more familiar with queer dating than Will Grayson #2. Ultimately both Graysons are trying to cope with confusion, commitment, and heartbreak: in other words, love. It’s a light, fun little novel, two-parts sarcastic and one part sincere.

Quote: “When things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again. It’s because a little piece gets lost – the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to. The whole shape has changed.”

Recommended? Yes! Recommended for, of course, fans of John Green as well as those who just want a lighthearted LGBTQ YA novel. There are so many sad, somber ones out there, which is alright… but the happiness in this one is very refreshing.

Next up:  Another David Levithan book (Two Boys Kissing)

YA Review: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Note: From here until the end of finals week (April 29th), I will only be posting on Tuesdays.

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Title: Openly Straight

Author: Bill Konigsberg

Rating: 3.5/5

One sentence summary: When sixteen year old Rafe transfers to a new boarding school, he decides to hide his sexuality to avoid becoming “the gay kid” like at his old school.

What I loved: Coming out stories are a dime a dozen in YA fiction, but rarely do you see “coming out again” stories. Konigsberg explores an interesting angle here because Rafe’s reasons for hiding his sexual orientation are unique and, for some LGBTQ people, even relatable. Nobody bullied him at school. He had friends who accepted him for him. His parents supported him so much that his mother ran the local PFLAG branch.

But he was tired of people taking his sexuality and making it his whole story. Ever since he came out, he’d given interviews and spoken at local high schools about LGBTQ acceptance. Everyone at his school knew his sexual orientation, and even though nobody discriminated against him, he felt uncomfortable. Because so many people reduced him to his sexuality, he no longer felt normal.

This feeling is understandable, and it likely is for others who come from accepting backgrounds. Konigsberg, however, doesn’t encourage teens in Rafe’s situation to follow his lead. Hiding who you are, if you replace yourself with a lie, can come with unforeseen consequences.

Rafe struggles to suppress his feelings while weaving stories of nonexistent girlfriends, writes to express emotions he doesn’t fully understand, and gets to know another student, Ben, who also represses his sexuality for harder reasons. Unlike Rafe, he hates his sexual orientation so much more deeply. Rafe wants to tell Ben he doesn’t have to be ashamed, but how can he say that when Rafe himself has gone back into the closet?

What Rafe ultimately comes to terms with is labeling: he eventually understands that he doesn’t have to be the gay kid just because he’s out. What other people see doesn’t matter as much as what he does to help them. Throughout the novel, Rafe struggles to help others in ways only he can without revealing his sexuality, a balance that wobbles so much he can’t help but crash. But when he does, he gets back up and achieves a new balance between an open sexual orientation and a multi-dimensional personality.

Quote: “You can be anything you want, but when you go against who you are inside, it doesn’t feel good.”

Recommended? Yes! This was a lot more lighthearted than some of the LGBTQ YA books I’ve read so far, and for that reason, I’d recommend it to younger teens and up.

Next up:  Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

LGBTQ YA: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Note: When I initially started reviewing books, I had assumed that I would never read a perfect 5/5 book. The Miseducation of Cameron Post proved me wrong.

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Title: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Author: Emily M. Danforth

Rating: 5/5

One sentence summary: After coming to terms with her sexual orientation while living with her conservative relatives, Cameron Post is sent to a gay conversion therapy center in rural Montana.

What I loved: This book centers around two major milestones in Cameron’s life: first, her realization and path to self-acceptance of her sexual orientation, and then her time coping at a gay conversion therapy center for about a year. Both are important stories to here and, from what I can tell, both relatable and real.

Cameron discovers she is lesbian when she’s twelve years old, as she and her friend Irene kiss in a barn. Soon after, her parents die in a car crash. Because Cameron was raised in a heavily religious environment, she believes that her sexuality caused the car crash as a punishment from God. Queer teens who have been raised in a religious environment might relate to this misplaced guilt, though perhaps not in an overwhelming loss like Cameron. The first quarter of the novel is about her guilt process as she explores her faith and eventually finds peace with her sexual orientation.

But even though Cameron herself no longer feels like her sexuality is wrong, she still lives in a repressive place. Her issues are not over just because she feels no more internal pain, and once her conservative Aunt Ruth learns Cameron’s openly gay, she sends her to a gay conversion private school.

Having to deal with these two pains (first coming to terms with yourself, and then living in a hostile environment) is a feeling many queer teenagers can relate to, and I think the way Danforth handles it is important for teens in this situation to read. Personally, I’ve never been to a gay conversion therapy center, nor do I know anyone who has, so I can’t attest to the accuracy. Danforth herself grew up in Miles City, Montana (the setting of this book) and used some of her experiences to create this book’s environment, which creates a very realistic and fair depiction.

Nobody in this book is a “bad guy,” not Aunt Ruth, not the people at the conversion therapy center, not Cameron. That is the best part of this novel. Cameron, while our protagonist, doesn’t always make morally positive decisions. Aunt Ruth shows genuine concern for Cameron, even if a bit misguided. Even those who run the gay conversion center believe they’re doing the right thing, regardless of whether we as readers agree with them.

Sometimes in LGBTQ YA, it’s easy for authors to paint an “us vs. them” mentality with those who do or don’t support LGBTQ rights, but life isn’t that simple. Generally people aren’t trying to hurt others. We’re all going through life with unique perspectives, trying to understand others as well as ourselves. This book is wonderful because even though it could easily have made Cameron innocent and flawless, and it could have made those who don’t understand her cruel beyond understanding, it doesn’t. It makes them human. I feel like that is important for anyone to read and understand.

Quote: “Maybe I still haven’t become me. I don’t know how you tell for sure when you finally have.”

Recommended? Yes! Very much so. Everything about this book is well-done: the writing, the characters, the story itself. Like other recommends, I might advise this more for older teens (15-up) because this book does contain some mature themes (sex, self-harm, conversion therapy).

Next up:  Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg