Reviews

I Wish You All The Best: The Story of a Nonbinary Teen

I Wish You All the BestTitle: I Wish You All The Best
Author(s): Mason Deaver
Series: 
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 336
Published:
May 14th 2019 by Push
LGBTQAI+: bisexual nonbinary teen protagonist, bisexual dark-skinned (unspecified) cis male love interest, nonbinary side character, nonbinary author

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.

4.5 stars

[ source: pre-ordered with my own money ]

I Wish You All The Best is the story of a nonbinary teen with anxiety who gets kicked out of home by their parents after coming out. The coming out scene is in the first chapter, so the book starts with a pretty big punch. Ben moves in with their sister and brother-in-law, who are both supportive, and they make new friends and continue making their art at school. Oh, yes, and there is a boy.

I loved Nathan, he was funny and bright and supportive, and I also liked the two girl side characters, although they didn’t feature as much. I also loved that Ben has a nonbinary long-distance friend (who is older than them, although I’m not sure by how much) who has helped them as both a best friend and a kind of “mentor”.

Ben goes to a therapist and takes anxiety medication, and while they are unsure about it at first, it’s ultimately presented as a positive thing, so that was nice.

Still, this is another one of those queer books that I expected to be fluffy based on the cover and title, and it’s… not really? It has a happy ending and a cute romance, but it also has shitty parents, anxiety, panic attacks, conflict with the sibling, and I feel like there was more of that than the fluff.

Ben comes out to Nathan really, really late in the story. Of course, you as the reader logically know that Nathan won’t react badly, but it’s strange to see them grow closer and have a crush and everything while Nathan doesn’t know such a defining thing about them, and keeps unintentionally misgendering them. It is understandable based on Ben’s bad experiences, but it still surprised me.

I also wished there was some more about what being nonbinary means for Ben. It was nice that it wasn’t the only focus and they had other interests, but there was more about the negative consequences of coming out than the positive, affirming sides of being nonbinary, which I really missed. I loved the small scenes like Ben choosing to have their sister paint their nails, and I would have loved more.

tldr; This is a really good and important debut (!) book about a nonbinary teen, and it has a happy ending with a supportive circle. However, it’s not as fluffy as I expected, and it fell a little short of my expectations in other ways too. That’s just me, though.

content warnings: asshole parents, being kicked out, stressful coming out situation, anxiety, panic attacks, misgendering (both intentional, and due to not being out)

EXTRA WARNING: There is a scene where Ben goes to a party and they are pressured into drinking even though they really don’t want to, one of the guy’s is being loud and I think actually slaps their butt, and then they have a panic attack, so yeah, it was a lot.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Gender Queer: The Memoir Teen-Me Needed

Gender Queer: A MemoirTitle: Gender Queer: A Memoir
Author(s): Maia Kobabe
Series: 
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Graphic Novel
Pages: 240
Published: 
May 28th 2019 by Lion Forge
LGBTQAI+: memoir by a genderqueer bi/asexual author

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

5 hundred stars

While reading this graphic novel, my most common thought was “holy shit”, usually paired with “that’s me!”. It was like the author reached into my brain to pluck out my thoughts, memories and experiences, and turned them into drawings. Only, of course, e was doing the same with eir own memories – which happened to be hauntingly similar to mine. I firmly believe that if I had read this book before I was 18, I would have found my identity much sooner.

120Gender Queer is a memoir that tells a story of a person growing up questioning both eir sexuality and gender. It addresses many issues that are described in the blurb, such as coming out to friends and family, feeling ignorant around your peers who seem to have more experience than you, relationships and being ready to be in them, listening to David Bowie, wanting to have life experiences as research for fanfiction, feelings about menstruation, having children, and much else.

Maia tells the story of eir childhood with beautiful illustrations, and honest even about the uncomfortable truths. Like most teens, Maia also used to be ignorant about some issues that e now knows better about, such as the dangers of using ace bandages. The only thing I would have appreciated more critical thinking on is the erotic gay shipping that is often used to fetishize gay men. There are several scenes where Maia and eir friends write fanfiction, including about real people, and mention several popular gay ships – and again, I don’t judge em and eir friends for these, but I still would have appreciated a couple of sentences about this shipping can be toxic as well as validating.

179

But really, what really struck me was how much I related to these experiences. Some scenes, like realising other girls shave their legs and I don’t, not being able to describe what haircut you want and then hating it, having a conversation with a mother about having children, wearing pants to graduation, and even playing a boy character in drama class brought up memories that happened to me, occasionally ones that I haven’t thought of or related to my gender journey.

Overall, Gender Queer is a beautifully written and drawn, honest account of a genderqueer bi/asexual person’s life. It’s special to me because I related to it so much, but I think anyone can enjoy it, and many queer people regardless of identity can find relatable moments in it. (There were also a lot of aro-relatable moments, although I’m not sure if the author identifies as aromantic as well or not.)

  • “It was everyone else being silly, not me.”
  • “This seed put out many leaves, but I didn’t have the language to identify the plant.”
  • “Friendship is NINE THOUSAND TIMES better than romance!”
  • “I’d be constantly resenting my kid for taking up all my time. I’m way too selfish for parenting.”
  • “I wish I didn’t fear that my identity is too political for a classroom.”

59

~ Alexa

Reviews

Out of Salem: Nonbinary Zombies and Lesbian Werewolves

Out of SalemTitle: Out of Salem
Author(s): Hal Schrieve
Series: 
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBTQAI+
Pages: 432
Published: 
March 5th 2019 by Triangle Square
LGBTQAI+: Nonbinary and lesbian mains, multiple transgender and lesbian side characters
Other representation: Nonbinary author, Muslim main, non-white and Jewish side characters
I received an ARC through The Lesbrary in exchange for an honest review.
This review was originally published on The Lesbrary on February 10th.

When genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth wakes from death after a car crash that killed their parents and sisters, they have to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie. Always a talented witch, Z can now barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with Mrs. Dunnigan, an elderly witch, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered in an apparent werewolf attack, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to monsters, and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.

4.5 stars

When I saw that cover and read the blurb, I was ready for an epic queer urban fantasy adventure. I mean, doesn’t that just sound badass? Two fourteen-year-olds: a nonbinary witch zombie, and a Muslim lesbian werewolf. I have read many urban fantasy books where the supernatural creatures live in secret, so I was excited to see this book went in another direction, one I’m always eager to read more of: a world where supernatural creatures live among humans and are regulated by rules and laws. It’s always interesting to see how intertwining the two worlds changes them both.

Out of Salem is unique in that regard because instead of human, the default seems to be witches, with only a small percentage of the population being nonmagicals. Werewolves, zombies, selkies, shapeshifters and other creatures are minorities that have limited rights which vary in countries or time periods, just as with real life minorities. I loved all the little details, like the ways to become a zombie, the casual mention of prophecies, or shapeshifters being able to marry any gender in certain countries.

So, for the first part of the book, I was getting what I signed up for: a really well-built and interesting urban fantasy world in the ’90s that incorporates supernatural creatures into real-world history and culture. And I loved it. Then, it gradually got a little too real for comfort. It’s as if the book was asking the question, “hey, you know what’s scarier than zombies and werewolves? Reality!”. (A little like that Doctor Who episode with the spiders and the gun-loving white guy.) As I kept reading about horrible bullies, racist rallies, police brutality and windows being broken for the owner supporting minority groups, it was difficult not to think about how many people go through all this stuff daily. Z and Aysel having to sit in class while the teacher talked about how dangerous their kind is, and Z reading a book by a guy who thinks all zombies should be killed in horrifying ways reminded me of too many similar situations I went through for being a queer person.

There are many fantasy books that use supernatural creatures as metaphors for real-life oppressed groups, while using all white and allocishet casts. What made the metaphor in Out of Salem really work for me is that while Z, Aysel and the others are persecuted for their supernatural traits, they are also minorities in real life. Z is nonbinary, Aysel is a lesbian, and major side characters include an elderly lesbian, a Black Jewish teacher, and several transgender werewolves. While the main focus isn’t on these real-life traits, they are still mentioned: the older lesbian expresses joy that Aysel is able to come out so young, Aysel draws a parallel between being a “good werewolf” and her mother being a “good Muslim”, and it is made clear that Mr. Weber is risking a lot more as a Black Jewish person than one of his more privileged colleagues might.

All in all, I consider Out of Salem a wonderfully well-written book with great world-building and characters. I loved the little group that formed by the end, and how they gradually became closer to each other. I loved that Aysel and Z gravitated towards each other not only for both being monsters, but also both being queer. I loved Z explaining their identity, how both they and their friends were kind of awkward and unsure about terms, but not malicious by any means – the way you’d expect 14-year-olds in the ’90s to be when they have few queer adults to look up to or to learn from.

My only real complaint is that I found the ending too open, and since I saw no indication of this being a first book in a series, I was a little disappointed. I wasn’t sure how I expected all the plotlines to be wrapped up neatly, but this was still a let-down.

Concent warnings: misgendering and deadnaming (mostly due to Z being closeted, not intentional transphobia), death of family members, body horror (because zombies), police brutality, some gun violence, racist rallies, bullying, suicidal thoughts

~ Alexa

Reviews

A Little Familiar: Magical Queer Story with Witches

A Little Familiar (Familiar Spirits, #1)Title: A Little Familiar
Author(s): R. Cooper
Series: Familiar Spirits #1
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy
Pages: 91
Published: 
October 3rd 2015
LGBTQAI+: gay main character, genderfluid (?) love interest
On-page sex: yes

A powerful witch, Piotr Russell has resigned himself to loneliness, because ordinary humans can’t know what he is, and other witches are intimidated by his abilities. Generations of Russells have lived and died with only their familiars at their side. The presence of a friendly familiar is enough to keep even the loneliest witch sane, and yet Piotr deliberately hasn’t chosen one.

The rarest of rare jewels, Bartleby is a human familiar: a witch with no magic of his own, and a desire to find a strong witch to help and serve. In particular, he desires to help and serve Piotr, and everything in Piotr wants to let him. Bartleby was meant to be his familiar; Piotr knows it as surely as he knows when it will rain or when the apples in his garden will ripen. But what Piotr wants from Bartleby, all he’s ever wanted, is for Bartleby to love him, something he thinks is impossible.

Russells live and die unloved, and he won’t allow Bartleby to feel obligated to spend his life with him as his familiar if he could be happy in love with someone else. But Samhain is a time for change, when walls come down and borders grow thin, and Bartleby isn’t going to waste what might be his last chance to convince Piotr that they were meant to be. He might have no magic, but love is a power all its own.

5 stars

“All that, and they’d have to want me too. That seems like a lot to ask of anyone, Bartleby. That’s a job as well as a husband. Why take that on, for a great big boring grouchy bear?”

I wanted my first review of the year to be of a queer story that I really enjoyed, and preferably one that is self-published and/or lesser known. So, here we are.

A Little Familiar is a truly magical read, and I’m not only saying that because it’s about two queer witches. This was one of those books where I absolutely adored the writing style, and I felt like the descriptions really brought the story to life. I could almost taste the cinnamon, apple and pumpkins. It also had a couple of metaphors that I’m STILL squeeing over, because they are so accurate and descriptive, and yet I never would have thought of them.

  • His rage was the gentlest rage imaginable, the briefest, quietest maelstrom in a teacup.
  • His anger was fierce and soft, stinging like kitten’s claws.

There’s a lot of pining in this book, which was excruciating but beautiful to read. The story is from Piotr’s POV, and seeing him be absolutely smitten with Bartleby was amazing, mostly because I was also absolutely smitten with Bartleby.

Bartleby is exactly my type of character, in style, personality, the fact that he’s compared to a trickster spirit, and the fact that he’s genderfluid. Or, is he? It’s a little confusing, because here’s this quote that states he isn’t:

He wasn’t genderfluid, at least, not how Piotr understood the term, but then again perhaps he was. Bartleby was… Bartleby. He wore what he chose to wear and acted how he chose to act. He’d never requested to be addressed by another pronoun or name, he simply was, like a trickster deity of old, although one not interested in deception.

But honestly, Bartleby is so obviously nonbinary in the entire book, that I have a suspicion Piotr (whose POV the above quote is from) just doesn’t get that genderfluid people can exist without necessarily using different names or pronouns. I mean, seriously:

“I’m, um,” Bartleby said, and didn’t immediately finish his thought. He had slipped a barrette into his hair and his lips were sparkling with gloss. The Dorchester Grocery shirt and red coat were familiar, but he had on a wool skirt and indigo tights. “I’m this me, today.”

In conclusion, I definitely read Bartleby as nonbinary, and the representation really worked for me personally as a nonbinary person.

Please read this book and fall in love with Bartleby with me. (Piotr was also great, but let’s be honest, Bartleby stole the entire show for me.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

Dear Transphobes, Destiny Says You Suck: No Man Of Woman Born

No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales)Title: No Man Of Woman Born
Author(s): Ana Mardoll
Series: 
Number of stories: 7
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Published: July 10th 2018 by Acacia Moon Publishing
LGBTQAI+: nonbinary and binary transgender protagonists in every story(Note: I bought this book with my own money, and then downloaded it from NetGalley too because why not.)

Destiny sees what others don’t. 

A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny. 

From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

This collection of seven stories has been one of my most anticipated releases ever since I found out about it. It’s a collection written by a nonbinary author, for trans readers, “with cis audiences welcomed but not centered”. I was already in tears by the end of the author’s note at the beginning.

No Man of Woman Born plays around with gendered prophecies by using transgender and/or nonbinary protagonists. I loved seeing how the different prophecies are worded, and I loved guessing while reading what the solution to the particular prophecy would be – as well as the ways people can misinterpret it, as in the case of King’s Favor.

I also loved that the book includes content warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides as well.

Tangled Nets: 4/5 stars. Nonbinary protagonist, dragons, sacrifices. It wasn’t my favourite, but a nice warm-up.

King’s Favor: 4.5/5 stars. Nonbinary protagonist, witches, queens – and a very entertaining misinterpretation of the prophecy. Plus, a great side character, and an even better protagonist.

His Father’s Son: 5/5 stars. Trans guy protagonist on a revenge quest. I would have loved to see the villain’s face.

Daughter of Kings: 4/5 stars. Sapphic* trans girl protagonist with Arthurian sword-in-the-stone elements. (*There is no romance in the story, but it’s hinted that she likes girls.)

Early to Rise: 5/5 stars. Genderfluid, possibly aromantic Cinderella. This was one of my favourite stories, and the best curse-loophole. Also one of the only stories where the solution was completely different from what I expected.

No Man of Woman Born: 5/5 stars. One of the strongest stories – no wonder this one gave its name to the collection. Women, girls, nonbinary people and others who could be argued to fit the prophecy rally around to kill the evil king. Has a questioning protagonist, a parent who comes out in adulthood, and several trans or nonbinary side characters.

The Wish-Giver: 4/5 stars. Kind of simple compared to the others, but incredibly sweet, and overall a nice ending to the collection. Also, it has a female dragon, so kudos for that. (And some ironic commentary on binary colour-coding children.)

~ 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

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

Reviews

ARC Review: Baker Thief

Baker ThiefTitle: Baker Thief
Author(s): Claudie Arseneault
Series: first in series
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Published: June 26th 2018 by The Kraken Collective
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Aromantic bigender protagonist + biromantic demisexual protagonist, multiple queer side characters (e.g. agender, binary trans, aromantic, lesbian)
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.

Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls.

When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.

I don’t have the energy to deal with what the wrong presentation will do to my mind.

My rating: 4 stars

If I had to sum up my feelings in one sentence, it would be this: I loved most of it, except for one thing that really took me out of the story.

(Note: Claire and Claude are two names for the bigender protagonist who uses she and he pronouns, alternating. I wasn’t sure which one to stick with, so this review has both.)

There is a certain feeling of acceptance, understanding, safety and validation that (so far) seems unique to the works of indie queer authors. A sense of understanding that can only be found in a book with an aromantic bigender protagonist, a biromantic demisexual protagonist, these two being in a unique relationship fitting both of their needs, and a cast of nonbinary, aromantic, transgender and otherwise queer side characters (as well as some casual references to polyamory, and SIX CATS). The fact that there is a list of trigger warnings at the beginning with chapter numbers already suggested that I was about to read a book that really cared about its marginalised reader.

That would have almost been enough for me, but Baker Thief had more. It had great sibling relationships – some of which pleasantly surprised me! I knew from the blurb that Claude/Claire had a twin, but I didn’t know that Adéle also had multiple siblings, one of whom is central to the plot and an amazing character as well. Baker Thief also had lots of puns (some French, some English), adorable bakery product drawings as dividers, beautiful descriptions that really made the city feel alive, so many badass (queer) women in leadership positions, and a team of outcast police officers working together. It also had an intriguing plot with terrifying secrets. About twenty pages into this book, I made an update on Goodreads that said “so far, this book feels like a hug”, and I meant it.

… Which is why the one exception to this rule felt like a slap in the face. While there was a warning for accidental misgendering in chapter 14, it didn’t quite prepare me. In this chapter, a new teenage character is introduced, and both Adéle and Claire initially refer to nem as “she/her” and “girl” initially. Once they are told the correct pronouns, they both use those without a problem, but there were two reasons why this felt wrong and unnecessary to me.

1) It’s true that if you accidentally misgender someone, the best thing to do /out loud/ is to quickly apologise and move on with the correct pronouns instead of making a fuss. But if I accidentally misgender someone, I am horrified. Thanks to their POV, we are essentially inside both Adéle’s and Claire’s heads, reading their thoughts and feelings – and there isn’t even a moment of guilt or “oh oops” from either of them when they realise their mistake. No acknowledgment that they fucked up, not even from Claire, who is also bigender and should be aware of how the wrong pronoun can hurt.

2) In the very same scene, there is another character whose gender or pronouns Adéle doesn’t know, so she defaults to using “they” pronouns and neutral language in the narration. Earlier, when a nonbinary character (Nsia) is introduced, they are also described in neutral terms until they state their pronouns. So why didn’t the teenage character, Celosia get the same treatment? Overall, this just didn’t seem to fit into the worldbuilding, and that was exactly why it took me out of the story. Despite no hurtful content later on, this one chapter in a book with more than four hundred pages was enough to burst my bubble of safety, and I felt like I was on my guard for the rest of the book.

On to more positive things: I really appreciated the variety in pronouns used by nonbinary characters (one character uses they/them, one uses ol/ols, one uses ne/nir – Claude alternates between she and he), and it meant a lot to me that Claude explicitly did not drink alcohol and this was accepted and respected by all his friends. I LOVED the way fatness (both Claude’s fatness, and Adéle’s sister putting on weight) was portrayed as a positive thing. I also loved that one of the side characters was originally labelled “the Spinster” by her enemies as an insult to her lack of family or marriage, but she turned it around and turned the nickname into something positive. I loved the bilingualism of the whole thing, and the occasional subtle reminder that the characters were really speaking French even though the book is written in English.

Adéle’s and Claude’s relationship is central to the book, and it’s certainly a complicated one. It’s a relationship where Adéle has romantic feelings for Claude almost from the very beginning, while Claude has sexual attraction early on. Later, Adéle develops sexual attraction as well (she’s demisexual), but Claude still isn’t and will never be romantically interested in her. This was something that they needed to discuss, but I liked how they both were determined to work out a relationship that would fit both of them. (I also liked how they joked around about the shape of this relationship, but that’s spoilers.)

As you can see, overall I loved this book. The fact that I still rated it 4 stars goes to show how much one bad representation of your identity can really ruin a book. Nevertheless, I’d still recommend Baker Thief to everyone because it’s an amazing book with great, affirming messages for all queer people, especially aromantic people.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Lost Boy, Found Boy

36697937Lost Boy, Found Boy by Jenn Polish

Genre: Retelling, LGBTQAI+, Science Fiction
Release date: March 19th 2018 by NineStar Press
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Transgender male MC, nonbinary LI, sapphic side characters.
Sex on page: No

In a futuristic world, Neverland is a holomatrix, Hook is a cyborg, and Tinker Bell is an automated computer interface. 

Peter is desperate to save his lover from a military draft that, unbeknownst to him, Mir volunteered for because they are desperate to be able to fly. So, naturally, Peter programs an entire island—Neverland—as a refuge where Mir can fly without having to fight in a war. 

But he doesn’t locate Mir right away; instead, he fights for control of the island with automated interface Tinker Bell, and in his attempts to find Mir, others arrive on the island. But Peter’s single-minded focus on Mir generates repercussions for everyone.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

But this wasn’t a kiss like any other; because by the time they both needed to breathe, by the time Peter’s hands were completely wound in Mir’s hair and Mir’s hands were thoroughly occupied with holding Peter at the hips, they both realized that they’d taken flight.

This was a lovely queer retelling of Peter Pan where Peter is trans, the main love interest is nonbinary (with they/them pronouns), “Wendy” and Tinker Bell are both sapphic, and “Captain Hook” is another one of their friends.

I loved the little intermissions (Tinker Bell’s “thoughts”) and the concept of Neverland as a virtual reality island. I also loved how so many parts of the original story, like Tinker Bell’s chiming or James’s hook was translated into this new world.

This story is less than 100 pages, and while some parts fell a little flat, I ended up loving it by the end. It also ends with one m/m/nb and one f/f relationship, which made my heart really happy.

Note: There are two comments in the early chapters where strangers misgender Peter based on his appearance, but thankfully this doesn’t happen later. There is also one sentence where I got a little confused, but I think he/him pronouns were used for Mir because it doesn’t make sense if the sentence was referring to someone else? I’m inclined to believe this was a typo/one-time mistake though because Mir’s pronouns are otherwise respected everywhere else.

The author is also nonbinary using they/them pronouns, so this is #ownvoices for nonbinary rep.

My rating: 🧚🧚🧚🧚🧚/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Lifeline Signal

33623041Falling isn’t always the last thing you do. Sometimes it’s the first thing.

Can you believe I’m actually the first one of my friends to actually add a review to this? What is everyone else doing with their lives?

The Lifeline Signal is a perfect sequel to Chameleon Moon. Just like the first book, it is incredibly character-focused: there are beautiful, unique, diverse characters everywhere in every sense of the word. This is almost an entirely new set of characters (while some of them appeared or were mentioned in Chameleon Moon, none of them were in the focus there) and yet everyone is connected, and everything has a place.

In The Lifeline Signal, something interesting is happening every moment – although much of these happenings are actually conversations, messages and pieces of information being revealed. With all these characters and storylines, you need to pay attention to get what’s happening, but it’s all the more satisfying when everything comes together.

This book takes place entirely outside Parole so you might miss or worry about some old friends left behind there, but I can almost guarantee that you will love the new cast – both the three teenage protagonists in the center of it all, and the adults (or at least slightly older people) supporting them. I certainly did. And, hey – some of these old friends do appear, and you might even find out more about them…

That being said, I am incredibly glad I chose to read every available short story before heading into this book*, because there were still occasional moments of “wait, how do these two know each other again?” or “okay, so which of the five messages currently in play is this one?”. Also, this might just be a personal annoyance, but having several characters spend the whole book worrying over something you, the reader already know is solved can get frustrating.

Despite the occasional confusion, I absolutely adored this book, and I really mean it when I say that the lines all coming together is incredibly satisfying once you figure out which goes where. Of course, there are still more than enough open questions for the sequel (whatever’s Regan doing, for example – but also, what on earth was that comment about Ash’s bones?) – and many reunions to look forward to. (Some with less patience than others. *squints at my faves*)

–Hey, look at that, I actually managed to write a semi-coherent review that wasn’t just screaming about how much I adore everyone! Especially the people Regan is dating. That particular polycule is my absolute favourite, and not only because of Regan (he’s just the central point for easy reference).

Representation:
★ nonbinary (xie/xir pronouns!), Tsalagi Native American, Arnold-Chiari Malformation main
★ bisexual, Indian American main
★ aroace, Vietnamese American, autistic main
★ Tons of other POC (including the families of the protagonists), a hijabi woman, other LGBTQAI+ characters (nonbinary, binary transgender, mlm, wlw, ace…), chronically ill and disabled characters, POLYAMORY, and probably other stuff I missed honestly.
★ The book is also #ownvoices for several aspects.

(Also, not really representation, but: cyborgs! fauns! lizard men! people with wings! I love this world.)

*Four short stories (Runtime, Always Be You, Happy REGARDS and The Library Ghost) are free on the author’s Gumroad. If you read those, you’ll have a pretty good idea of who everyone is. If you also manage to read You’re Not Going That Way (99 cents), you’re pretty much ready for the sequel. But I do recommend the whole Life Within Parole Volume 1 if you can afford it.

My rating: ★★★★★💖

~ Alexa 🐉