YA Review: Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

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TitleDeposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: After Nate’s best friend Cam attacks him, he’s called to court to deliver a statement that would convict Cam. But their relationship had never been easy or simple, and Nate’s emotional conflict sends him spiraling to his limits.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Nate is a cisgender queer guy whose relationship with Cam is messy. But so many things in life are, including those that matter most. As the two boys fall apart, their friendship unravels as they get to the heart of what happened between them. There are no easy answers as to why Nate ended up in the hospital and Cam in court, but Nate tries to analyze his questions anyways and find some sense of closure.

Deposing Nathan deals heavily with themes of domestic abuse between Nate and his aunt. If that subject matter could potentially be triggering to you, I’d recommend researching the book a little further before reading it. It can be intense at times.

What I liked: Deposing Nathan is one of those books that takes you in a very different direction than you expect. One of the heaviest themes in this book is what makes a decision right or wrong. Nate knows that if he testifies against Cam, his best friend will serve a long jail sentence. The two boys are the only people who know the truth about what happened, and this burden weighs on Nate because he desperately wants to do good. But people don’t often fit into well-defined categories of “good” and “bad,” which heightens Nate’s problems all the more.

I also loved how well the author portrays Nate’s faith crisis. People whose religious beliefs and queer identity are equally important to them often have a hard time getting the two halves of who they are to coexist. Throughout Deposing Nathan, Nate grapples with his beliefs – his spiritual beliefs, his beliefs about his moral conscience, and his beliefs concerning his family. Challenging these beliefs is one of the hardest things for Nate to do but only through self-discovery is he able to reach peace.

“If you think you need to earn enough points on someone’s rubric for them to accept you, then either you’re wrong to assume they won’t love you for who you are, or they never loved you in the first place.”

Recommended: If you’re looking for a book that will just emotionally destroy you, here it is. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

MG Guest Post: Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

For today’s post, I am excited to feature a guest blog from Lisa Bunker, the author of the LGBT middle grade book Zenobia July (published on May 21st), as part of the “Hear My Roar” Blog Tour. Thank you so much for sharing your advice for young, LGBT readers as well as more about your book!

After the death of her last surviving birth parent, Zen has moved to live with her cool lesbian aunties in Portland Maine, and takes the opportunity to live and attend school as the girl she has always known herself to be. She’s living in stealth, so when someone posts hateful memes on the school website, she has to decide whether to offer her advanced cyber-skills in pursuit of the hacker, despite the risk of premature outing increased attention may bring.

Zenobia July has several characters in it who identify outside the traditional gender binary. What advice would you give to young readers in a similar situation?

Dear Young Human,

If you’ve started to feel that the traditional binaries are too simple to explain the you-ness of you, cool! Welcome to the Rainbow Family! And, may I step in for a second as your temporary Auntie of choice and offer some thoughts?

First and most importantly, in case no one else has said it to you yet (or even if they have): no matter what word(s) you end up using to describe yourself, you are a beautiful human, worthy to love and be loved, exactly as you are. No footnotes, no conditions, no provisos. That’s for always.  

Secondly, please, if you possibly can, take your time. Identity is as much a journey as a destination, and exploration and experimentation are definitely part of that journey. Some versions of self you try won’t work out, at least not completely. Don’t worry about it! Breathe! Rest when you need to! It’s all part of the process.

That said, when you do feel sure of next steps, I encourage you to take them as soon as you can. I got through my own transition by neither forcing myself when I didn’t feel ready or holding back when I did. It worked out real-world fine.

One more thing about time: if someone in your life is struggling with understanding who you are, try to give them time too. First reactions don’t have to be final reactions, and if they love you, most humans will try to learn and re-connect. Keep yourself as safe as you can while they’re doing their work, and don’t give up on them too soon.

Third point: you are so not alone. I know it feels that way sometimes, but please, try to remember, there are literally millions of other people like you. They can be hard to find, and you won’t connect in a useful way with every single one you meet, but there are still plenty enough that you should always be able find the connection you need. Friend groups, community spaces (real world and online), family of choice…these are the ways the Rainbow Folk support and uplift each other.

And finally: no single identity-marker defines a human. Of course your gender and orientation are crucial facets of your total being, but they are only facets, and you have so many more: your loving heart, your quirky mind, your particular body, your talents and strengths, your blind spots, your knowledge, your humor, the experience of your life until now. All these and more make you who you are, a precious irreplaceable soul, unique and beautiful.

Hang in there, dear! It truly does get better!

Love,

Auntie Lisa

Lisa Bunker lives and writes in Exeter, NH. Zenobia July is her second book; her first, Felix Yz, about a boy fused with alien, came out in 2017. In 2018 she was elected to represent her town in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She is married and has two grown children. Her geekeries include chess, piano, gender, storycraft, and language. You can learn more about her work at lisabunker.net.

The “Hear My Roar” Blog Tour is spreading the word about three brave and inspiring middle grade books being published this year! You can see previous stops in the tour and follow future posts below:

ZENOBIA JULY

WEEK ONE

May 20 – Reed Family Reads – Creative Instagram Picture

May 21 – Tucker the Reader – Review

May 22 – Four Violet Reviews – Craft + Creative Instagram Picture

May 23 – The Quirky Booknerd – Review

WEEK TWO

May 27 – LGBT YA Catalog – Author Guest Post

May 28 – Here’s to Happy Endings – Review + Moodboard

May 29 – The Nerdy Girl Express – Review

May 30 – thebookishfiiasco – Instagram Picture

MY CORNER OF THE RING

WEEK THREE

June 3 – Iwanicki Mom & Daughter Adventures in Teaching – Moodboard

June 4 – Bridget and the Books – Review + Why it’s important for girls to have books on girl power

June 5 – Babybibliophile – Creative Instagram Picture

June 6 – The Book Blondie – Playlist Recommendations + Creative Instagram Picture

WEEK FOUR

June 10 – That Reader Girl – Moodboard

June 11 – Eastern Sunset Reads – Listicle: Other books with Strong Females that come out swinging

June 12 – DJ Reads Books – Reflection + Instagram Picture

June 13 – Between the Shelves – Playlist

GIRL WHO SAILED THE STARS

WEEK FIVE

June 17 – 4dogsandanurse – Review + Playlist

June 18 – Two Points of Interest – Review

June 19 – Always in the Middle – Review

June 20 – Bookish Friends and Feline Fancies – Creative Instagram Picture

WEEK SIX

June 24 – trissinalovesbooks – Review + Creative Instagram Picture + Inspired by the Book: Piano Music

June 25 – Cozybooknook – Creative Instagram Picture

June 26 – Drop and Give Me Nerdy – Creative Instagram Picture

June 27 – DoodleMom’s Homeschooling Life – Review + Listicle

Middle Grade Review: Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

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TitleSummer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Twelve-year-old Cady has never met her Aunt Shell but is sent to her countryside home for the summer. But can she, Aunt Shell, and her aunt’s partner Suzanne save their struggling pie shop from bankruptcy?

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Summer of a Thousand Pies features a lesbian couple, Aunt Shell and Suzanne, who care for Cady after Child Protective Services relocates her from her dad. For the most part, the aunts don’t face any backlash from their community as a same-sex couple raising a child. Their sexual orientation is less a conflict in the story as it is something that makes their characters feel more nuanced and human.

What I liked: When I saw the cover for Summer of a Thousand Pies, I thought I’d be settling into a fun and lighthearted middle grade contemporary. I was wrong. This is a beautiful, important book, but it doesn’t deal with easy themes. Cady’s mother has died and her grief-stricken father descends into alcoholism to the point where she has to live with her Aunt Shell. Her aunt’s pie shop is run with equal amounts of passion and joy, but it isn’t easy to thrive as a small bakery. And Cady’s new friend Jay, whose parents are undocumented and works at Aunt Shell’s bakery, depends on the pie shop staying open to keep from going homeless.

But that doesn’t mean that this book is free of uplifting moments. Thanks to her aunts and her new friends, Cady’s is able to let down her guard and trust the people she loves the most for the first time in her life. Through baking and immersing herself in life with Aunt Shell, Cady is able to heal from the loss of her mother and her father’s mental health issues. Summer of a Thousand Pies is an example of how middle grade can delve into just as real and heartbreaking issues as YA, as well as queer representation, in a way that’s appropriate and helpful for its young readers.

Recommended: This is hands-down one of the best and (no pun intended) sweetest LGBT middle grade books I’ve read. I’d recommend it to elementary and middle school students in particular but also teachers who are looking for a way to introduce LGBT characters to their students in a compassionate and normalizing light

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

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Title: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Lexi can tell how and when a person will die just by touching them. Although she can’t save anyone from their untimely ends, Lexi risks her own life to avenge her newfound friend Jane’s death.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: I think being specific about the LGBTQ issues in Missing, Presumed Dead would spoil the plot but will say that this book features a queer romance. Both characters are cisgender, though one of them may or may not be a ghost. For as many straight paranormal romances as there are in the world, you’d think there’d be more LGBT ones, but this is one of the few queer paranormal YA books I can think of.

What I liked: The premise of Lexi’s powers alone are unique as they are compelling. I found the concept of being able to view another person’s fate is fascinating–and because she knows she can’t save Jane, she devotes herself to bringing justice to her death. Because we know from the start that there’s nothing she can do to prevent Jane from dying, there is a bit of a heartbreaking tinge to the overall compelling mystery. But that doesn’t stop Lexi’s race to find out what happened and help Jane’s spirit find peace any less gripping.

Pacing and intrigue are both important for mysteries, and both were equally strong here. Even though it’s a fast-paced book and (for me, at least) doesn’t take long to finish, it’s hard to put down. I ‘m not usually one for YA horror but found myself rooting for Lexi and hoping that even if Jane isn’t avenged that she at least reaches some sense of closure. Plenty of YA mysteries have a weak ending in comparison to their premise, but the finish in Missing, Presumed Dead is a satisfying conclusion with a unique take on the paranormal romance trope.

Recommended: Who doesn’t love a good murder-mystery, even more so when it’s got queer rep? I would recommend Missing, Presumed Dead, especially for those who love ghosts, romances, and compelling ghostly romances.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: I Knew Him by Abigail de Niverville

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Title: I Knew Him by Abigail de Niverville

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Julian’s main goals for his senior year are to graduate and avoid being outed for the rest of high school. But when he’s cast as Hamlet in his school play, he never expected to fall in love with his Horatio.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Generations of queer historians and literature fans have speculated that there’s homoerotic tension between Hamlet and Horatio from Shakespeare’s Danish tragedy. While I Knew Him isn’t a retelling per se, it does feature a blossoming romance between the actors who play these two characters in their high school production. Both characters are cisgender men who are just starting to figure out their queer identity. Julian’s storyline in particular grapples with coming out to himself, let alone others, as well as how to deal with biphobia.

What I liked: Ugh, NineStar Press has some of the best queer YA books out there. It’s a small publishing house, but it deserves more recognition than it gets. I think that because they seek out authors who are themselves LGBTQ, the issues explored in their books feel quite nuanced. If you’re looking for some nice #OwnVoices LGBT YA, I’d recommend checking them out for sure.

This is going to sound silly, but I mean it in the best way possible: I Knew Him kind of reminded me of a queer High School Musical but without the singing and even more lovable characters. I feel like if the Bard was still around, he’d be happy to see that a book reimagined his characters into such a wholesome love story. Julian and Sky’s budding relationship doesn’t feel rushed or forced, and for theater students, they have a lot of natural chemistry (insert joke about how art gays don’t understand science here).

What I enjoyed most about this book was its exploration of what it means to come out as bisexual. Coming out as anything on the LGBTQ spectrum takes courage, but bisexual people (and bi men in particular) often face harassment from the straight and queer communities alike. Julian is no stranger to this conflict and experiences biphobia from another gay character who sees anything between gay and straight as invalid. As a bisexual person myself, I appreciated how Julian stood by his identity despite how easy it would have been to internalize the conflict he feels and put himself into either a “gay” or “straight” box.

Recommended: If you’re a Shakespeare nerd like me who’s always looking for a good romance I’d recommend I Knew Him wholeheartedly. Even if you know nothing about Hamlet, though, Julian and Sky’s love story explores a ton of complex issues within the queer community while ultimately still remaining hopeful.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

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

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TitleKings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

Rating: 4/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Tour Review: Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

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Title: Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Babe Vogel is happy to disappear into her work as a barista after a rough break-up with her ex-girlfriend. But when a cute artist named Levi starts frequenting her coffee shop, she might just have to break her rule to never date the customers.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: For those who call bi people who date the opposite sex “faking it” in some way, I’d like to point them to this YA contemporary romance. Babe is an openly bi girl who recently broke up with a girl and falls in love with a boy. Just because she’s interested in a guy, though, doesn’t make this any less of a queer YA novel. If anything, I think it shows just how nuanced the LGBT community is and how important it is for everyone’s voices to be heard–especially when bi erasure is so common no matter who they decide to date.

What I liked: Like most meet cute books, this one was adorable from start to finish. Even though Babe’s going through a rough break-up and trying to keep herself from falling in love, she spends just as much time discovering more about herself and growing as a result. She becomes more comfortable with her sexuality and herself in general, and she finds ways to have confidence whether she’s in a relationship or not. I think it’s important to show that kind of personal growth in YA romance books to show that partners can make our lives happier, but they should never be how you define your self worth.

Levi and Babe also had excellent chemistry. I’ve heard before that the sign of a good love story is that the characters learn from each other and become better people. In this case, it’s true. Babe learns to trust in the people around her again and take risks when it comes to opening up. And Levi starts to discover what his purpose is in the world as an artist and a human being. It’s a healthy and sweet relationship, and the discussions about sexuality and unconditional love make it even more vulnerable.

I think it’s important to mention that while on the whole this is a light read, there are a few difficult subject in this book as well. Alcohol and drugs are mentioned a few times, and it’s implied that Babe’s ex and her old friends were manipulative (if not abusive). If those are triggering topics for you, check out a few more reviews before opening this book up but know that even in the darker scenes, the story does end happily.

Recommended: This was a cute read that felt very much like a romantic comedy. And the best YA romance book to start spring with–it’s unique, sweet, and (most importantly) super duper queer. Plus, who doesn’t love a meet cute that turns into a coffee shop romance?

Note: I’m happy to have participated in the blog tour for Small Town Hearts! To check out more stops on this tour, visit Xpresso Book Tours’ website.