Twitter, Job Searching, and Other Mini Life Updates

Hello, friends! When I posted that The Inexplicable Logic of My Life review yesterday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t posted a personal update in a while. So much has changed since graduating college in August that I think writing everything would devolve into a mess of rambles and exclamation points, so here are a few things going on right now in a neat bullet list form:

  • I got a Twitter—this time for real! It’s @andyjwinder, if you’re interested. Twitter is something I tried a few times in the past but I’ve heard it’s great for networking in the YA publishing world and memes, so I’m giving it another go. I’m still trying to get the hang of it but would love to connect with more awesome, literary (or meme-y) people!
  • All of the time I used to spend studying is now devoted to applying and interviewing for jobs. I never thought I’d find something more exciting and anxiety-provoking than walking to the testing center during finals week, but here we are. I just keep telling myself “this is why I got my bachelor in English, this is what I’ve been training for, it’ll be alright” and so on. And then I cry a little, just on the inside. But so far, so good and I’m feeling pretty optimistic!
  • During my last semester of college, I took a break from long-term creative writing projects to finish my senior thesis but am getting back into the swing of things and working on a new novel draft! It’s still very rough but it’s YA and features (among other things) baking competitions, a character named Rose who is a lot less delicate than her namesake, and a nice queer romance. Going for that “wholesome and uplifting” feel to counterbalance all the sad (but still beautiful) queer YA out there.
  • Last year at Pride, I wanted more than anything to have someone to share my life with and wondered if I was broken because I’d never had a partner or even a first kiss before. And this past week, I got to attend Provo Pride with my boyfriend. It’s funny how different life can become in a year. I feel lucky to know and spend time with someone as silly, thoughtful, and sweet as he is and happy that we found each other.
  • And, best for last, I finally found the music that really sparks my drive while writing fiction, and it’s folk music. On a related note, I have been listening to way too much Hozier lately.

That’s a little bit about what my life’s looking at right now. Hectic, sometimes a little less clear-cut than my life in university used to be, but overall bright!

LGBTQ YA Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Title: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When unexpected events throw seventeen-year-old Sal and his best friend Samantha’s lives into tragedy, they rely on Sal’s adoptive gay father to confront their grief. As they finish their senior year of high school together, they find that even in times of great loss, the people you love can help you find faith in the future.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life deals with themes of fatherhood and the influence parents have on who you become. Sal never knew his biological father and, as grief brings out his impulsive temper, worries that he’ll take after whoever he was instead of his adoptive father. Other characters also comment about his adoptive father’s sexuality and Mexican heritage in ways that causes Sal, a white, straight teenage boy, wonder whether the father who raised him or his biological parents determine his identity. This book doesn’t give any easy answers but shows that, above all, family is who you love and loves you in return.

What I loved: One of my favorite queer YA books as a teenager was Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by the same author (which I should get around to reviewing as well) because of its beautiful descriptions. This book does not disappoint. The language Sáenz uses for his imagery and dialogue is almost like reading poetry in prose form. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life also It’s one of those books that proves YA can be just as well-written and thought provoking as literary fiction.

I also loved that this book’s priority is capturing Sal and Sam’s friendship without trying to force anything romantic from developing. Their relationship is so strong and well-developed that working in anything more than platonic love would feel forced, in this situation. And it’s a lovely portrayal of a healthy friendship between two people of the opposite gender that feels a little lacking in YA fiction sometimes. Plus, if you’re looking for romance, you do get some of that from Sal’s father as he reconciles with his ex-boyfriend so this book really does have it all.

Quote: “All your life I’ve tried to protect you from all the shit in the world, from all the bad things. But I can’t protect you from this… All I have is a shoulder. And that will have to do. When you were a little boy, I used to carry you. I miss those days sometimes. But those days are over. I can walk beside you, Salvie—but I can’t carry you.”

Recommended: If you love stories that make you think, smile, and cry all in one, I’d recommend The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. Because the book features a straight protagonist but has strong LGBTQ themes, I think this book could also help non-LGBTQ teens relate to and understand queer issues a little more than they did before.

Next: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

YA Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

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Title: We Are Okay

Author: Nina LaCour

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Grief-stricken and alone, Marin plans to spend her winter break at her college in New York instead of her hometown in California. But when loved ones from her past come to visit, she is forced to face what happened between her and her best friend Mabel last summer.

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What I loved: There are so many unhappy LGBTQ YA books out there that you’d think there’d be nothing special about another sad, queer story. We Are Okay, however, manages to paint a fresh and distinct portrait of discovering yourself in the wake of grief. I especially loved how normalized the queer subplot was in this book. Although it was a key part of Marin’s identity and her past, she wasn’t reduced to her queerness nor was it portrayed as a “shock value” reveal. It’s much more about Marin confronting the loss of someone important in her life than it is coping with her sexuality. And I think that’s really beautiful that we’re getting to a point where a character can be queer without the story revolving around that.

Quote: “It’s a dark place, not knowing. It’s difficult to surrender to.  But I guess it’s where we live most of the time. I guess it’s where we all live, so maybe it doesn’t have to be so lonely. Maybe I can settle into it, make a home inside uncertainty.”

Recommended: This is a quick read so I’d recommend it for a weekend where you want to just spend a few hours in Marin’s head as she makes peace with her past. I like how this book features LGBTQ characters without making the plot revolve around their identities, so if you want a book with characters, We Are Okay is a good choice.

Next: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

LGBTQ MG Review: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

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Title: One True Way

Author: Shannon Hitchcock

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: It’s 1977, and twelve year old Allie and her grieving family move to the South following the death of her brother Eric. When Allie meets the smart and courageous Sam on her first day at Daniel Boone Middle School, she begins to question her faith and her sexuality in her conservative small town.

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What I loved: This book is a charming story that I think many LGBTQ people, regardless of age or era they grew up in, can relate to. Because Allie’s just beginning her journey to understanding her sexual orientation, she is filled with questions about what it means to follow your heart, even if other people don’t like you for it. Throughout the novel, she struggles to balance her need to belong with her need for understanding in a small town that doesn’t have any easy answers for her. It’s hopeful in a way that doesn’t gloss over the tough parts about being queer and emphasizes the importance of finding a way to live authentically with yourself.

Although her and Sam’s journey is tough, she finds support and comfort from people she can trust, like her church minister and her teacher Miss Holt, who is implied to be partners with the female school coach. While I don’t like to pare stories down to a single “take-away” message, I think it’s important to remind young queer kids that they don’t have to figure everything out alone. Figuring things out is a lot easier with someone to confide in who won’t push you to do what isn’t right for you. Whether that’s a friend, a parent, or another person who you trust, building a support system based on people who love you unconditionally is an essential part of being queer that One True Way touches on well.

Quote: ” ‘Why do you look so serious?’ Sam asked.
I reached into my back pocket and handed her the gold yarn friendship bracelet. ‘I made it out of school colors for you. Phoebe showed me how.’
Sam slipped it onto her wrist. ‘See? A perfect fit.’
I reached out and touched her arm just above the bracelet. ‘Do you like Phoebe more than me?’ 
‘I like all my friends.’
But that wasn’t what I was asking.
Sam turned and stared directly into my eyes. ‘I don’t like anybody as much as you.’
My heart hammered so hard I could barely breathe.”

Recommended: The past few years have been wonderful for LGBTQ inclusion in middle grade fiction. I still remember when it was incredibly controversial when J.K. Rowling revealed that Albus Dumbledore is gay, so having in-story queer characters is refreshing. One True Way is a sweet story about crushes and first loves that I think, despite its historical setting, matches what a lot of LGBTQ kids still experience today. This is a perfect book for both kids who are just starting to have their own first crushes or who appreciate a good love story, despite the odds placed against it.

Next: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

LGBTQ YA Review: Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle

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

Title: Kissing Kate

Author: Lauren Myracle

Rating: 3.5/5

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

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


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 Photos via Unsplash

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

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

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

Next: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

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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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!

One Lovely Blog Award

Hey guys! I was nominated by Book Lover Blogs for the One Lovely Blog Award. Thanks so, so much! Check out her blog for book reviews and beautiful pictures, both are lovely.

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RULES:
  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Share seven facts about yourself
  3. Nominate other bloggers and inform them of the nomination

SEVEN FACTS ABOUT ME:

1. I’m the oldest of five children and have four little sisters. They make me feel like the luckiest person in the world—I don’t know what I’d do without my crazy, wonderful family. Here’s all of us at my grandma’s for Easter!

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2. As a freelance writer, one of my favorite things to do while working is listening to podcasts. It reminds me of when I was young and my dad would listen to talk shows while working, and it makes time pass faster. Some of my favorites are Modern Love, The Moth Radio Hour, Beautiful/Anonymous, On Being, and Philosophize This.

3. One of my guilty pleasures is watching cooking reality TV shows, especially The Great British Bake Off. They’re just so kind to each other and they try so hard. I love that show so much.

4. When I was a teenager, one of my favorite YA books was It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. It was such a raw portrait of depression, and it helped me a lot while navigating the depression and anxiety in my own life. I appreciated its humor and its honesty, and I remember how much it hurt when I learned that the author had taken his life. It made me wish that he had realized how much catharsis and hope his book had given others and also inspired me to write YA fiction as a means of helping queer teens feel less alone.

5. I may or may not be a closet Trekkie (and a very open twenty-one pilots fan). Live long and prosper, friends, and stay alive!

6. I’m a bit of a chocolate snob, which is both a vice and a virtue. My favorites are Ritter Sport, Chocolove, and those chocolate oranges you can get at Christmas time. I also really like Kit-Kats, which is kinda basic but ah, well.

7. Even though I know that they’re not accurate, I like personality tests. They help my simple mind understand a little more about myself and find areas to improve upon in my life. I know they’re not scientifically accurate, but they make me happy—and that’s important, too, on some level. In case you’re wondering, I’m an INFJ Enneagram type 6 wing 5 and, according to the Big 5 test, could probably stand to be less neurotic.


MY NOMINEES:
  1. Pages Below the Vaulted Sky
  2. Malanie Loves Fiction
  3. Bookish Connoisseur
  4. Forty Two Thoughts
  5. Des’ Random Thoughts

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: If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman

 

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Title: If I Tell You

Author: Alicia Tuckerman

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

Rating: 3.5/5

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Release by Patrick Ness