YA Review: Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

Image result for deposing nathan

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.

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

Image result for Summer of a Thousand Pies cover

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

Image result for Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

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

Image result for i knew him abigail de niverville

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: Like a Love Story

TitleLike a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: In 1989, the AIDS crisis brings three teens together: Reza, Judy, and Art. Between love, loss, and meaningful friendship, they learn how the people we care about can bring out the best in us.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book follows Iranian-American Reza as he comes to terms with being gay and falls in love for the first time. Set in New York City during the late 80’s, the AIDS crisis is in full-swing. Most of the coverage surrounding gay men during this time were of them dying, which Reza is all too aware of. The only out person he knows is Art, who documents the AIDS crisis through photographs in a way that is tender and compassionate. As Reza starts to fall for Art, he has to confront his gay identity even though he knows it could destroy his relationship with his family, his culture, and his girlfriend Judy.

What I liked: This is going to sound kind of specific and silly, but I really like 80’s queer YA books for some reason. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Music of What Happens… the list goes on. It obviously wasn’t an easy time to be LGBTQ, and I think that this book portrays the painful side of it, but that decade still fascinates me. It seems like those years were a turning point moment for the LGBTQ rights movement, although they were certainly years of sorrow because of the AIDS crisis.

Like a Love Story had so much heart. As a reader, it was so easy to feel for Reza and how hard it was for him to reconcile his conflicting identities. Not only does he have to consider tough questions about his future but also how to tell his girlfriend Judy that he’s fallen in love with a man and cares about her very much, but never in a romantic way. It gave me a lot of compassion and respect for what previous generations of queer teens had to go through. It’s never been easy to be queer but even more so thirty years ago.

Recommended: I would recommend this to anyone who wants to understand more about the AIDS crisis from an intimate and humanizing level. Because we’ve come such a long way in the past few decades, we often forget just how challenging this time was for LGBTQ people. While Reza may be fictional, his story mirrors the reality of those who struggled to understand their gay identity in a time where so many people in their community were dying.

YA Review: Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith

Image result for something like gravity

TitleSomething Like Gravity by Amber Smith

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary:  Chris and Maia meet after a car accident, so it makes sense that their relationship begins with a rocky start. But as Maia grieves her late sister and Chris deals with a traumatic assault from the year before, the healing process brings them together.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Chris is a trans man who falls in love with a straight, cisgender woman. While many books about trans characters focus on the coming out process, Chris is portrayed as comfortable in his own skin and already taking steps toward the transitioning process.

As far as content warnings go, Chris spends part of the novel processing an assault that happened a year prior to the novel. It is in the past, but the emotions that Chris feels towards the attack can be intense at times. If you think this could be triggering for you to read, I’d recommend checking out a few more reviews before reading it.

What I liked: Finally, a FTM main character that doesn’t spend the whole novel ruminating about their self-hatred! I feel like that’s a theme especially in AFAB (assigned female at birth) trans YA novels and have no idea why. It’s definitely not healthy for cis or trans readers. Chris was a lot more comfortable with himself. I think that’s important to portray and gives a lot more nuance to the typical stories written about trans characters.

Also, I liked that Chris’s entire story didn’t revolve around him being trans. It is a huge part of his identity, but he’s also interested in getting to know Maia and helping her come to terms with the loss of her sister. Sometimes, a trans character’s gender identity overpowers YA books to the point where there’s no other plot points or characterization. This book does explore how many trans people feel and what it’s like to be attacked for choosing authenticity. This book is not an easy read because Chris and Maia are both going through hard things, but their relationship gives them a person to talk and empathize with as they go through the healing process.

Recommended: I think that this could be an especially helpful book for teens who aren’t as familiar with the trans community who want to understand and have more compassion for them. For trans teens, I might recommend an #OwnVoices YA book for a more authentic depiction but overall, it’s sweet and humanizes both the grieving process and what it’s like to be transgender.

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

YA Review: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Image result for i wish you all the best mason deaver

Title: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When Ben de Backer comes out as non-binary, they move in with their sister Hannah to escape their parents’ rejection. This #ownvoices queer romance follows Ben as they begin senior year with a fresh start and fall in love with their charismatic-yet-sweet classmate Nathan.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: I Wish You All the Best features a queer romance between a non-binary person and a cisgender man. After Ben is rejected by their parents for coming out, they struggle with anxiety issues as they come to terms with their identity and begin transitioning. As a binary trans person, I thought that this was excellent representation and think that this is thanks to the author themselves being non-binary.

What I liked: Holy cow. I haven’t read a YA book in such a long time that was so sweet, tragic, and beautiful all at once. Ben’s narrative voice is equally sweet and profound in a way that’s a little reminiscent of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Even though they’ve gone through so much because of their gender identity, they’re still able to find beauty in live through the love of those who do accept and understand them. It included both the joys and the challenges of being non-binary–I think a lot of LGBT YA novels just focus on the challenges but the hopeful parts are just as essential for enby teens to read about.

The way I Wish You All The Best handled mental illness was also well-done. A lot of Ben’s mental health issues stem from the way that others treat them because of their identity and, while Nathan helps them in many ways, their relationship doesn’t automatically make these issues go away. They’re going to therapy, they’re seeking treatment for their anxiety disorder, and they’re not 100% reliant on Nathan for emotional stability. I think that’s an important thing for a YA book to express: love can transform us in so many ways but ultimately, it’s still important to find other supports and professional treatment to overcome mental illness.

Also, the cover art is stunning. I saw a fellow Goodreads reviewer say, and I quote, “The Mona Lisa was found trembling in the Louvre Museum because of this cover.” Honestly, it’s so lovely that it’s kind of an understatement. If you’re worried that the book won’t live up to the cover art, don’t be–both are equally wonderful.

Recommended: I can’t recommend a queer YA book published this year harder than I do this one! Not only are you embarking on one of the most well-written LGBT romances out there but, by reading this book, you’re supporting an #OwnVoices non-binary writer. Definitely one of the best trans YA books out there.

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