Reviews

Some Girls Bind: A Genderqueer Journey to Self-Discovery

Some Girls BindTitle: Some Girls Bind
Author(s): Rory James
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Genderqueer
Published: February 1st 2019 by West 44 Books
LGBTQAI+:  Genderqueer (they/them) protagonist, gay side characters.
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Jamie knows that she isn’t like other girls. She has a secret. She binds her chest every day to feel more like herself. Jamie questions why she is drawn to this practice and why she is afraid of telling her friends, who have their own secrets. Could she really be genderqueer?

Rating: 4 stars

When I look in the mirror,
I don’t see a girl and
I don’t see a boy. I just see
my goofy glasses and Beatle-like hair.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the formatting of the ARC I read is horrible. There is a part where the same section repeats 4-5 times, and there are words that are either missing, or look more like keysmashes than actual words, and I have to try to figure out what it was supposed to be. I’m going to try my best not to let this affect my rating and opinion of the content itself.

I was a little skeptical when I saw that this book is written in a poetry-ish style (as in: no rhymes or real logic, but all the lines are really short for some reason), and I often wished that it had been written in prose instead – but despite that, this book felt really real. Seriously, some parts were as if they were taken straight from my internal monologue as an AFAB genderqueer/nonbinary person.

The whole book is really introspective, and there isn’t really a plot other than finding yourself, figuring out your identity, trying to figure out what others would think, etc. There are supportive parents, unsupportive parents, supportive friends, queer side characters, and going to poetry readings by queer poets. There was also a part about the dangers of unsafe binding, and how you might resort to it if you’re desperate but you really shouldn’t.

The main character also doesn’t have a love interest and kind of questions their romantic orientation, so if you’re looking for a queer book without romance, this might be your thing? They don’t consider being aro, though.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4 stars because other than the formatting issues I don’t really have anything negative to say about it. I personally found the main character really relatable and close to my own personal experience, and I can’t recall any parts that could have been offensive or hurtful – but others might think differently, so proceed with caution.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Afterlife: Foxes, Grief and the Meaning of Life [12 Days of Clink Street]

AfterlifeTitle: Afterlife (Goodreads | Amazon)
Author(s): Tracy Ogali
Series: 
Genre: Poetry, Fantasy?
Published: July 15th 2016 by Clink Street Publishing
I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

What do you do when your life falls apart? Who do you turn to for help? This is a story about how to come to terms with the tragedy of losing a loved one. Fox is lost, consumed by grief, unable to move on with his life. Until one day he has an epiphany, so strong that he decides to go on a quest around the world to search for the meaning of life. He meets all the wise creatures that provide him with their philosophy. But nothing works. He feels like a failure. Then, out of the blue, a voice speaks to him: a butterfly. She agrees to show him the way, and it is here, with her guidance, that fox begins to learn about nature, who he is and the true wisdom of life and death.

I understand, but you must still try.

Was that title ominous? Sorry about that. But no, really.

I was drawn to Afterlife immediately when I saw the fox on the cover, because… well, I may or may not have a weakness for foxes. Then I read the blurb, and I realised that this was a book about dealing with grief in a seemingly kid-friendly way, and I was really curious how that would work out.

In the end, Afterlife surprised me in several ways. I initially assumed that the illustrations would be bleak or colourless to go with the depression and grief, but all the pictures were unique, and most of them colourful. When I got to the end, I realised that the reason they had different unique art styles is that the illustrations were done by not one illustrator, but a group of art students. And let me tell you, they did a great job. The illustrations with the butterfly were especially amazing.

The stanzas were usually easy to follow, although I felt like the message sometimes got a little too abstract for children maybe, and the rhymes were sometimes a little… odd. Nevertheless, the story was meaningful, and it was interesting to see the Fox’s journey and what the different animals thought about the meaning of life and death. I also loved how it was shown that it’s okay to grieve but you must eventually move on and heal.

I am also somehow the first person to rate and review this on Goodreads, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.

**

I thank Clink Street Publishing & Faye from Authoright for inviting me to be a part of this event. I received a copy of the above book for free in exchange for an honest review.

**

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Saturday 1st December

A Thousand Worlds

Marie’s Book Boutique

Pen & Paper

Sunday 2nd December

Heavenly Good Books

Jazzy Book Reviews

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Monday 3rd December

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Tea Party Princess

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Yet Another Blogging Mummy

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The Little Contemporary Corner

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Wrong Side of Forty

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Dystopic

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Reviews

Letters and Space Adventures: Dear Earthling

Dear Earthling: Cosmic CorrespondentTitle: Dear Earthling
Author(s): Pen Avey
Series: 
Genre: Middle Grade, sci-fi
Published: December 3th 2018 by Common Deer Press
LGBTQAI+: —
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dethbert Jones is your average ten-year-old – only he lives on the planet Crank with his pet chicken-snail and his robot best friend Andi Social. When he and Andi join the Space Cadets, a Scouts-like organization, they are totally smooshed at the prospect of going to Space Camp where they’ll learn to pilot a real shuttlecraft and disintegrate weapons of mass destruction. Blamtastic!

To earn his cosmic correspondent badge, Dethbert begins writing to an earthling – and boy, does he have a lot to write about! Between questions about Earth food, culture, and activities, Dethbert recounts his experiences attempting to avoid his horrible little sister, impress his animal-obsessed crush, and fly a space shuttle. Misadventures – from hairy ankles to crash landings – abound, but Dethbert’s curiosity and enthusiasm can’t be crushed, not by anything in this galaxy, anyway!

Rating: 4 stars

Dear Earthling was an adorable middle-grade sci-fi story with fun illustrations. It’s about a kid who is a Space Cadet, which is basically a Boy’s Scout in space. The chapters are all fairly short, as they are letters the main character writes to his human penpal.

The planet where Dethbert lives, Crank, is sort of like Earth in a parallel universe. Most of their things have names that are horrible puns on Earth names, like “bored games”, “Duesday”, “When?sday” and so forth. I admit that the puns got a little too much for me eventually and I groaned at many of them, but I’m sure kids would appreciate them more.

Dethbert is a good who gets into trouble and fights with his friends sometimes, but he also has a big heart, and many eccentric friends and family members. Overall, I found this a really endearing sci-fi story that is perfect for preteens.

One thing that made me pause was the mention of one kid’s parent being a missionary who was nearly eaten by “cannibalistic savages” that he tried to convert. That story has pretty negative connotations, and I feel like it was really unnecessary to include it, since it’s not even a big plot point or anything.

~ Alexa

Reblogs

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans IdentitiesTitle: A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities
Author(s): J.R. Zuckerberg, Mady G
Series: 
Genre: Nonfiction, Graphic Novel
Published: April 23rd 2019 by Limerence Press
LGBTQAI+: The focus is on transgender and nonbinary people, with a section on asexuality, and explanation of sexual and romantic orientations in general.
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In this quick and easy guide to queer and trans identities, cartoonists Mady G and JR Zuckerberg guide you through the basics of the LGBT+ world! Covering essential topics like sexuality, gender identity, coming out, and navigating relationships, this guide explains the spectrum of human experience through informative comics, interviews, worksheets, and imaginative examples. A great starting point for anyone curious about queer and trans life, and helpful for those already on their own journeys!

Isn’t that cover amazing and beautiful? Yes, it is!

This graphic novel, as the title says, is all about explaining queer identity. It sort of focuses on transgender and nonbinary people, but it has more general sections on gender identity vs romantic/sexual orientation, a section on coming out, discussions of self-love, and even a section on red flags in relationships.

I didn’t expect to learn anything new from this booklet, and yet it made me realise that social dysphoria exists (up until now, I only knew about physical dysphoria) and that I definitely have been experiencing it.

You see so much gatekeeping nowadays that I am wary about most guides like this, but I found this one refreshingly inclusive, with recognising that not every trans person experiences dysphoria, talking about how nonbinary people might experience transness differently from binary trans people, and an entire section on asexuality. Also, both the intro and the outtro talk about the importance of inclusivity, and “making our quilt bigger” if someone doesn’t fit under it.

Other perks of this book include accessible language, fun illustrations with snails, a section at the end where you can write a letter to your past or future self, and more.

That being said, I do have two complaints.

  1. The definition of bisexuality used here is “attraction to the same gender and other genders”. This is definitely better than insisting bi people can only be attracted to binary genders or only two genders, but not every bisexual person is attracted to the same gender (e.g. a woman only being attracted to women and nonbinary people can be bi), and the concept of “same gender” might not mean much to a lot of nonbinary people anyway.
  2. While there is an entire section asexuality, aromanticism is only mentioned in one sentence in the asexual section, and it’s even phrased in a way that implies that only asexual people can be aromantic. This is not true, and there is a bad tendency of only mentioning aromanticism as a “subset” of asexuality when they are different things and not necessarily go together. Since my copy was an ARC, I do hope that the publisher will consider and maybe change this.

Other than those two things, I was pleasantly surprised and content with this guide.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Prophetic Huntress and the Warrior Princess: Outrun the Wind

Outrun the WindTitle: Outrun the Wind
Author(s): Elizabeth Tammi
Series: 
Genre: Greek mythology, Fantasy
Published: November 27th 2018 by Flux
LGBTQAI+: bisexual female MC, lesbian MC, F/F ship
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on November 11th, 2018.

The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

Outrun the Wind has been on my list of most anticipated releases ever since I saw that magical cover, and learned that it is a Greek mythology love story between two complicated young women. I love reading stories based on Greek mythology, but most of the ones I’ve read recently were modern retellings, so I was glad to read a more classical one.

This book did not disappoint. Outrun the Wind pulled me in from the beginning with the writing style, the story and the characters. The warrior-turned-princess, and the huntress with the prophetic gifts. And, of course, the gods, who somehow managed to be even bigger jerks than I expected. I wasn’t familiar with Atalanta’s myth before, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this book at all – while it has elements from the canon myths, it also adds several new characters and fills Atalanta’s life with people.

I loved that this story was about two young women who were both hurt by men, but they managed to stay strong, get revenge, and heal together. Of course, nothing comes easily – their relationship develops gradually from animosity to love, so if you’re into that kind of thing, you might love this book.

One thing that was really strange to me is Artemis’s behaviour at the very beginning of the book, that Atalanta herself points out. You would think that a maiden goddess who renounced men and has a group of female warriors helping her would respect female warriors more and wouldn’t see them as subordinate to their male companions. I had minor issues with Apollo’s character as well, but those are more subjective (and possibly due to me still being under the effect of The Trials of Apollo) – however, this bit with Artemis just simply didn’t make much sense to me. I also would have loved to see more gods or Greek mythical figures maybe.

All in all, I thought this book was great for a debut novel, and while it could have used some more polishing, I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes Greek myths, or just fantasy with sapphic characters. (Also, I squeed when the title of the book was mentioned.)

tw: attempted sexual assault

~ Alexa

Reviews

Beauty and the Beast with Dragons: In The Vanishers’ Palace

In the Vanishers’ PalaceTitle: In the Vanishers’ Palace
Author(s): Aliette de Bodard
Series: 
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Published: October 16th 2018 by JABberwocky Literary Agency
LGBTQAI+: main F/F ship, nonbinary side characters
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

My rating: 4 stars

I had to read this entire book before I realised it’s written by the author of The Tea Master and the Detective, the Sherlock retelling I’ve been meaning to read.

In The Vanishers’ Palace is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is a scholar and the Beast is a spirit dragon that lives in a Palace impossible to understand. Also, they’re both women.

This was a brilliantly written novel with fantastically visual descriptions, although it made my head spin sometimes. The world and the culture whose mythology its based on was very unfamiliar and sometimes I felt like I was lacking some basic knowledge to really understand, but I still enjoyed becoming familiar.

My favourite part was that while – other than the names – this book is written entirely in English, it was obvious that it is translated from a language other than English. I found the references to the many pronouns the characters use very interesting: they all refer to each other as family members in some way, even strangers (which was a little at odds with the complicated, antagonistic relationships sometimes).

The book has two major nonbinary side characters, but that is not the only reason why it’s nonbinary-friendly. Nobody’s gender in this book is assumed by their appearance, and they are only referred to with gendered terms once they established it with the language they use for themselves.

I think in a way the story is secondary to the worldbuilding and characterisation in this book, so I can’t say much about the story. As for the characters, I loved the development they all go through, and the “Beast” having children to care for was something I didn’t expect (because clearly I didn’t read the full blurb before heading in – I’m sorry!).

I’m going to be honest, the “dark, unspeakable secrets” mentioned in the blurb were a little anticlimatic for me, but I’m sure Yên didn’t feel the same way.

All in all, I have very positive feelings about this book, even if the descriptions were a little difficult to wrap my head around sometimes.

~ Alexa

Reviews

If I Loved You Less: Queer Island Shenanigans

If I Loved You LessTitle: If I Loved You Less
Author(s): Tamsen Parker
Series: Classics Queered
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Retelling
Published: September 20th 2018
LGBTQAI+: queer wlw MC, unspecified wlw love interest, other wlw side characters
I received an ARC from the author through The Lesbrary in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on October 14th, 2018.

Matchmaking? Check. Surfing? Check. Falling in love? As if. 

Sunny, striking, and satisfied with her life in paradise, Theodosia Sullivan sees no need for marriage. She does, however, relish serving as matchmaker for everyone who crosses her path. As the manager of her family’s surf shop in Hanalei Bay, that includes locals and tourists alike.

One person she won’t be playing Cupid for is the equally happy bachelorette down the street. Baker Kini ʻŌpūnui has been the owner of Queen’s Sweet Shop since her parents passed away and her younger brother married Theo’s older sister and moved to Oahu. Kini’s ready smile, haupia shortbread, and lilikoi malasadas are staples of Hanalei’s main street.

However, Theo’s matchmaking machinations and social scheming soon become less charming—even hazardous—to everyone involved. And when she fails to heed Kini’s warnings about her meddling, she may be more successful than she ever intended. Theo has to face the prospect of Kini ending up with someone else, just as she realizes she’s loved Kini all along.

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma.

Rating: 4 stars (3.5 stars)

Theo Sullivan lives on an island like paradise with her slightly overprotective father, content with how things are. The community in Hanalei is tight-knit: everyone knows everyone, outsiders rarely stay for long, and nothing can really remain a secret. Personally, the island setting and its descriptions were my favourite part of the novel, as well as the descriptions of food and sweets. I could really feel the freedom and the sense of paradise, the lazy, slow way of life, that might seem boring to some, but it’s perfectly enough for Theo. And yet, this book really wasn’t what I expected based on the blurb.

First, let me talk about our protagonist, Theo. I loved that she defined herself as queer because her identity is complicated – she mostly likes women, but she’s not against maybe being with men, and she keeps a metaphorical little gate open for one man in particular, which is eventually explored in the book.

Despite this, I found Theo an incredibly unlikeable character at first. Her personality seemed to consist of butting into everyone else’s business, and trying to influence their lives in a very invasive way. Now, an unlikeable protagonist in itself is not a problem, but in a romance, it makes it pretty difficult to root for her. Since the blurb mentioned that Theo’s meddling will eventually get her in trouble, I was waiting for the inevitable character development. I also liked that her behaviour was continously called out, mostly by Kini but also sometimes by other characters. Although after a certain event Theo realises she messed up and genuinely tries to make up for it, I still caught her saying or doing things that made me cringe even towards the end. There was definitely some character development, but sometimes it felt like as soon as she took a step forward, she took at least a half back.

Still, what really surprised and even frustrated me wasn’t Theo’s character. It’s the fact that the whole “Theo realises she’s in love with someone just as that someone is about to get together with someone else” only happens towards the very end of the book, and it felt like it was solved really quickly. More than that, the last section of the book feels like a series of plot twists and revelations thrown together without time to really resolve any of them. When I finished the book, there were several plots with side characters that either came out of nowhere, or weren’t resolved properly, and just left me with many questions.

In the end, I enjoyed this book (or at least most of it, before the rushed ending) but not for the reasons I expected. I loved the interactions between the side characters, Theo’s friendships, her character development even if I felt it was lacking, the plot twists that surprised me (the one that made sense, at least), and the island scenery. But this wasn’t the book I expected based on the blurb, and what I expected to be the central conflict was pretty much one confession resolved in one chapter, so I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated.

~ Alexa

Reviews

A Princess in Theory: African Royals, Secret Pasts and Women in Science

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1)Title: A Princess in Theory
Author(s): Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #1
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Published: February 27th 2018 by  Avon
LGBTQAI+: lesbian side character

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.

The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

My rating: 4 stars

Recently I had the pleasure of reading an ARC of A Duke by Default, the second in the Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole. It was one of the best romance novels I’ve ever read, with my favourite dynamic and a Scottish swordmaker love interest. Naturally, I bought the first book to see where it all started. (Note: The books each focus on a different member of the same friend group, so they can be read standalone with minor spoilers/cameos from the previous books.)

I admit that I enjoyed A Duke by Default more, but I still loved A Princess in Theory. The main character, Naledi grew up as an orphan and wants to work on identifying and stopping diseases and epidemics. Her parents died when she was small, so she doesn’t know anything about her past – including that she’s engaged to the prince of an African country.

What I love about Alyssa Cole’s books is that they truly feel real, as in they deal with real-world issues that are familiar and recent. A Duke by Default deals with a refugee crisis, while A Princess in Theory deals with sexism in science fields, the importance of representation, the effects of colonisation and exploiting African countries, and more. I also loved how it’s pointed out several times that while white people tend to think Africa is underdeveloped, Thesolo is more civilised than the US in many ways. (It’s basically contemporary Wakanda.)

An unironic display of how, when it came to Africa, foreigners had no qualms about taking the pieces they wanted and rearranging them as they saw fit.

A Princess in Theory also had incredibly loveable side characters, like Likotsi, Thabiso’s assistant – I kind of wish she had her own book, but she’s a lesbian and all the books in this series so far are M/F, so I’m not sure. But seriously, can anyone ever do any better than “High—Hi . . . man“?

It was also very strange to read this after A Duke in Default, because the second book hints at Portia being a mess before that story, but it was very different to see that in action.

All in all, I liked this book and I can’t wait to read more of Alyssa Cole’s work.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Sadie: A Brutal Read About Abused Children

SadieTitle: Sadie
Author(s): Courtney Summers
Series: 
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult
Published: September 4th 2018 by St. Martin’s Press
LGBTQAI+: unspecified sapphic MC and mlm MC
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange from an honest review.

A missing girl on a journey of revenge and a Serial-like podcast following the clues she’s left behind.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

tw: pedophilia, child sexual abuse, drug addiction, murder

rating: 4 stars

You know a book is going to be heavy when it starts with a thirteen-year-old getting murdered, but that doesn’t even begin to describe Sadie.

I don’t expect it to bring her back. It won’t bring her back.
It’s not about finding peace. There will never be peace.

After her little sister, Mattie is murdered, all that keeps Sadie alive is the need to find Mattie’s killer and kill him herself. She knows who she’s looking for, but her search for him unearths more secrets than anyone planned for – not only about Sadie and her sister and the man, but other girls, other kids and other monsters as well.

Except it’s not in my head, it’s in my heart, and she’s the same woman who told me if you’re going to follow anything, it might as well be that.

Meanwhile, a man called West McCray follows Sadie’s route in his podcast The Girls, hoping to catch up to her. He interviews Sadie’s family, and everyone she met on the way.

This book is a truly mystery: with the alternating POVs between Sadie and the podcast, we see different sides to every character, hear different sides to every story. We truly learn that people can be biased narrators, and sometimes the stories conflict, or we find out later that something we learned earlier wasn’t true at all – either because somebody lied, or simply because somebody assumed wrong.

I don’t like to treat someone’s sexuality as a spoiler, so I’m not going to put a spoiler tag here, but it was nice to find out that while there isn’t much focus on it, neither of the main characters are straight. West mentions a husband at one point, while Sadie implies she can be interested in people regardless of gender.

Sadie was definitely a heavy read, but also I couldn’t put it down. The short chapters switching between the podcast and Sadie’s own POV really made it easy to just fly through it, and when I had to go out on an errand, I kept waiting to get back home so I could read more. It’s almost 400 pages, but it felt like 200 at most – although that might have been because of the podcast format.

And the ending – well, let me just say that West speaks for all of us in those last lines.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Secondhand Origin Stories: The Queer Superhero Team We Deserve

Secondhand Origin Stories (Second Sentinels Book 1)Title: Secondhand Origin Stories
Author(s): Lee Blauersouth
Series: Second Sentinels #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Superheroes
Published: March 15th 2018
LGBTQAI+: 1) nonbinary bisexual MC, xe/xyr pronouns, 2) asexual Deaf cis guy MC, 3) two sapphic girl MCs, one of them a dark-skinned Black girl
Other representation:
multiple Deaf/HoH side characters
I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Opal has been planning to go to Chicago and join the Midwest’s superhero team, the Sentinels, since she was a little kid. That dream took on a more urgent tone when her superpowered dad was unjustly arrested for protecting a neighbor from an abusive situation. Now, she wants to be a superhero not only to protect people, but to get a platform to tell the world about the injustices of the Altered Persons Bureau, the government agency for everything relating to superpowers.

But just after Opal’s high school graduation, a supervillain with a jet and unclear motives attacks the downtown home of the Sentinels, and when Opal arrives, she finds a family on the brink of breaking apart. She meets a boy who’s been developing secret (and illegal) brain-altering nanites right under the Sentinel’s noses, another teenage superhero-hopeful who looks suspiciously like a long-dead supervillain, and the completely un-superpowered daughter of the Sentinels’ leader. Can four teens on the fringes of the superhero world handle the corruption, danger, and family secrets they’ve unearthed?

rating: 4 stars

(Please check the specific sections for warnings, especially the nonbinary and Deaf sections.)

Secondhand Origin Stories is about the children of famous superheroes who want to help people as well – and as the title says, this is truly an origin story, where the “real” superhero fights only really happen towards the end. It is a very character-focused novel about both blood and adopted/found family, about growing up in the shadow of your famous parents, and even about the unrightful imprisonment of many Black people.

The characters and the plot: I loved the four main characters in this one, although their dynamic was sometimes a little strange. Jamie, Issac and Yael are friends and siblings who grew up together in the same family, while Opal comes into their world as an outsider. And yet, almost from the beginning they are ready to fight for each other and for the truth. Opal fights for her father who was wrongly imprisoned, and the other three fight with and for their superhero family and the secrets it hides. I loved Yael’s struggle with the identities of xyr birth parents, and I’m sure it will be an important plot point in the rest of the series as well.

This book was emotional, funny, with an all-queer main cast, and I think it handled issues and questions about family nicely. Once I really got into the plot, I ended up loving it. There is also one character that I would love to squee about but I can’t really do it without spoilers, so let me just say this: I LOVE MARTIN SO MUCH.

The nonbinary representation: … So why did I almost decide to abandon it less than halfway in? Because the beginning of the novel was close to torture as a nonbinary reader. One of the characters, Yael is nonbinary and uses xe/xyr pronouns in xyr own POV, but xe isn’t out to anyone other than Jamie and Issac at first, which leads to unintentional misgendering from xyr older family members – and, most importantly, constant misgendering from another POV character, Opal. It’s not really Opal’s fault because she doesn’t know better, but she assumes Yael’s gender (twice, both wrongly), and keeps referring to Yael as “she” in her internal narration. As a nonbinary person who passes as a cis girl, every little “she” by Opal was like another knife wound. It was horrible to read. I would like to say that the author is nonbinary, so I’m sure they have a reason for writing the book this way, but for me, it almost made me put it down. There is also a pretty ugly comment from a bigoted uncle later on.

The asexual representation: I don’t have much to say about Issac being asexual, mostly because it’s never mentioned outside the coming out scene. All I can say is that I /did/ like how the coming out scene was written, and I liked how Issac was defiant and prepared for the others to not think him queer enough, which is unfortunately a sad reality I face as an asexual person. I wish his identity was actually mentioned outside this one scene, but I realise you can only fit so much in one book, so I hope for more of this in the sequel.

The sapphic characters: Okay, so I’m not actually sure what the identities of the two girls are. I think Opal is a lesbian, but the word isn’t used for her. In her coming out scene, Jamie says something along the lines of “I’m not completely straight”, which might imply that she’s bi/pan and not exclusively attracted to girls, but it also might be downplaying it because she’s still questioning.

The Deaf main character: I would like to state that I am not Deaf, so I’m not going to make a judgment of the following, I’m just stating facts so potential readers can be prepared. One of the main characters loses their hearing early on, and trying to “fix” this is a big plot point for the rest of the book. In the end, this character seems to give up on “fixing” themself… for now. It is implied that they might try again in the far future. Also, there are many, many comments that talk about “fixing” and “being normal again”. (There are also positive aspects, especially later on, for example the siblings immediately making steps to learn ASL to make this character more comfortable.)

Overall, I loved this book, although I really wish that the beginning with Yael being closeted would have been handled differently, because it was really hurtful to read. Still, once the correct pronouns were used, I didn’t really have any other issues and just enjoyed the plot and the characters.

~ Alexa