From the Shelf
Queering the Cultural Narrative
Like Grace Perry, author of The 2000s Made Me Gay (reviewed below), I too am a gay millennial endlessly interested in queer cultural touchstones. We grew up in a time when LGBTQ+ representation in media was emerging but still far from perfect. In many of her essays, she traces the significance of visible representation, such as The L Word, but in other pieces, a heteronormative film like Moulin Rouge lends her enough room to queer it.
To queer something was an idea that surfaced time and again in my postmodern literature course discussions in the mid- to late 2000s. Basically, it means to seize a (straight) narrative that leaves itself just open enough to interpretation, and to insert a queer identity into that gap as a means of reevaluating the piece. And that is exactly what Nghi Vo does to The Great Gatsby in her first full-length novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful, centering a queer Vietnamese adoptee as Daisy Buchanan's childhood friend. Read our review below!
In today's newsletter, we feature books that celebrate queer pop cultural figures, like stand-up comic Gina Yashere (Cack-Handed), and a pantheon of other high-visibility icons in Jack Guinness's Queer Bible. We also have several books that queer the family unit, like Krys Malcolm Belc's "poetic and moving" memoir of transmasculine, nonbinary parenthood, The Natural Mother of the Child, and Torrey Peter's "unforgettable" novel about trans women and motherhood, Detransition, Baby.
Year after year, LGBTQ+ representation continues to grow, and it is dazzling to greet each new example. Below are but a few. My hope is that these will inspire readers to seek out those who came before, as well as anticipate the many that have yet to come, in a long legacy of queerness shared from generation to generation. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Casey McQuiston
Humor, romance and a touch of the supernatural make Casey McQuiston's sapphic novel a sure bet to win the hearts of readers.
by Jennifer Dugan
A lesbian track star and a closeted bisexual beauty queen fall for one another in this salty and sweet YA romance.
by Nghi Vo
Nghi Vo resuscitates The Great Gatsby, brilliantly replacing the Midwest narrator with a wealthy transracial Vietnamese adoptee who's also queer.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
09/16/2021 - 6:00PMEVENT Postponed THE GARDEN DISTRICT BOOK SHOP HOSTS KENT BABB TO CELEBRATE HIS NEW RELEASE, ACROSS THE RIVER: LIFE, DEATH, AND FOOTBALL IN AN AMERICAN CITY The Garden District Book Shop is thrilled to host an evening celebrating the recent release of award-winning sportswriter Kent Babb’s, Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City. What is sure to be a classic work of sports journalism, Across the River is an investigation into the...
'The Precarious Work of Queer Archiving'
Atlas Obscura explored "the precious, precarious work of queer archiving in the Pacific Northwest."
Mental Floss shared "11 facts about Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret."
CrimeReads compiled "a list of books that are not quite noir (but also not not noir)."
Russia Beyond screened the "10 best screen adaptations of Russian classics."
The Guardian explored "how Tove Jansson's love of nature shaped the world of the Moomins."
The Writer's Life
Krys Malcolm Belc: Transitions in Nonbinary Parenting
|photo: Mark Likosky|
Krys Malcolm Belc's writing has appeared in Granta, the Rumpus and Black Warrior Review, among others. His memoir, The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood (reviewed below), explores questions raised by his experience as a transmasculine gestational parent. Belc has an MFA in Creative Writing from Northern Michigan University and lives in Philadelphia with his partner and three children, where he works as an educator.
There are so many threads in The Natural Mother of the Child; how do you talk about the book?
I think of it as a memoir-in-essays and I definitely ascribe the adjective "image-text" to it, because there's a lot of image work in it that isn't necessarily all traditional photo essay. That's what it is.
What it's about, that's a different question. I think a lot about the psychologist Alexandra Sacks who talks about the birth of a mother, how when you give birth, you're giving birth to a new version of yourself. In Natural Mother of the Child, I am thinking of that, about the impact of giving birth, specifically on someone who doesn't fit into the umbrella of motherhood, whose experiences are outside of traditional experiences of motherhood and mothering. It's an engagement with ideas about motherhood and gender... and myself.
Oh, yes. And that birth of a parent is both so universal and also so unique.
It is almost like an experience of transition. It was like a pre-transition transition event for me. There's hormones, and your body changes, and people have a different view of you, and you have to think about the meaning of gender in your life. Everybody sort of goes through those things [when pregnant]. For me, it made me realize, I did this one transition, and now I feel prepared to do this other transition that I had been thinking about for my entire adult life.
There's a universality to it, and I was very interested in giving a different version of what it means to interrogate gender while you're having a baby.
I felt like much of your experience as a parent also drove home the idea that there is really no "one-size-fits-all" way of parenting.
Most of the experiences of parenting that I have are just like many other parents, especially other white middle-class parents: wondering why my kids ask for so many snacks, or why it's so hard to find shoes that won't fall apart, what our decisions about school say about me and my values. That's the majority of my engagement with parenting, and then there's other stuff that feels uniquely queer.
I think the idea that as a parent you have very different experiences parenting different children is something people are often uncomfortable engaging with. But I feel that I have a very different experience parenting my one gestational child [than my other two children], and I think that that is okay, and it's not bad, and there's nothing wrong with it. And there's a lot of ripe material in queer families about different ways that kids came into your life.
I think that I am drawn to writing about things that I haven't quite figured out, necessarily. So a lot of the engagement in Natural Mother of the Child is around this question of why I am so obsessed with this one parenting relationship that I have [with my gestational child] when I am actively and daily parenting three people.
It's interesting that you write about things you're still grappling with. This doesn't feel like a collection of essays that say, "here's the answer, here's what I figured out," it's more like, "here are my questions."
I worried about whether anyone would want to publish [the book] because of that. It doesn't have a narrative arc, and I'm certain that I could have made it look more normal, but I don't know that I could have ironed out the ideas into something that's like, "Here's all the information that I've consumed and all of the experiences that I've had and here's my take on them."
There's gesturing towards some ideas of having to accept that transition means that you lose some things and gain other things, or presenting the way that I present now means I lost some things and gained some things. If there's any one takeaway, it's that every twist has both positives and negatives, but that's not like, here's the answer! Here's how my experience of being a non-binary parent might help you!
It's not really about that, so it's interesting seeing my book placed in conversation with other books that are more "real" parenting books, that help people be parents, because that's not what this is. If you're trying to figure out how to accept the fact that imperfect people who don't have the answers can be parents, I'm happy to be in that canon of literature (which is mostly fiction). But as far as what it offers in terms of people looking for an answer to a question, I don't know that that's possible.
I do think there's something that a transmasculine experience brings, particularly to these eternally circling questions about family. A lot of transmasculine people who haven't done their research will wonder, "Should I transition, or should I have a baby first?" And it's not actually a decision you need to make. Maybe some people want to have a clear answer, but that's not really how it works. And I think that there is a false narrative of the availability of fertility options for people who transition. Knowing that some things can come later, and you don't have to do things in a certain order, is very liberating.
You mentioned that your book doesn't really have a narrative arc, but sits as individual pieces, some of which were previously published. How did you work to combine existing writing with new writing for this book?
They're all different formal engagements with the same ideas [around parenting and motherhood]. I kept changing the order, and then adding and subtracting pieces. I ended up with this big posterboard, and I wrote down all the themes I could think of: motherhood, embodiment, transition, legal documents, science. And I was taking all of the sections and figuring out which one went where. That gave me a lot more freedom in revising essays that had previously published, to bring up ideas that I knew would be explored later in the same text.
I found arranging it to be a very different process from writing the individual pieces, with its own really exciting artistic energy. And I do think when I first read it front to back, I feel like the last essay is very much pulling threads from other parts.
Many of the essays are written in direct address, often to your partner, Anna. How did you come to that style?
I write to her a lot. I think that I do my best writing when it is in direct address, and often things that aren't started that way end up that way. The direct address also shifts to other people throughout the book. I think it is an act of great intimacy to write to someone, but then Anna's also lumped in with all these other cis people who don't get it, in a way, or people I'm trying to explain stuff to. My relationship with her is a through-line in my life: we met when I was very young and was there for a lot of the bad parts, and has dealt with being with someone who's very indecisive and sees the good and bad in everything to the point where it takes a decade to make a decision. Part of it is I feel like I am more open and intimate when I'm writing to her. And also there is this disconnect between us because she's very cis. I think that impulse to both be close to someone but also that there is this distance is where the direct address finds its happy home. It's this dual thing of love and separation; that's why people write letters in the first place.
There's a moment when The Natural Mother of the Child shifts to the first direct address, and I feel like that's when my favorite ideas start picking up in the book. It starts in a moment when I was at Anna's parents' house for dinner, wondering why I was there. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous and Between the World and Me are both books where writers took direct address to express these deep ideas of love and confusion to someone. Those both do it in a way that I really understand and really spoke to me.
I think I am probably not done with this method of writing, because I get my best ideas this way. And when people ask who the book is for, who my intended audience is, my answer is Anna. --Kerry McHugh
by Kristen Arnett
With Teeth, Kristen Arnett's second novel (after her debut Mostly Dead Things), returns readers to central Florida for a frank, sometimes dark, often funny portrayal of queer parenthood and midlife as experienced by a lesbian mom with a faltering marriage and an unfathomable child.
Sammie turns her back for a moment, and her four-year-old son and namesake Samson happily walks off with a probable child abductor at a local park. She intervenes promptly, but his readiness to leave her for a stranger stays in her mind for years as she struggles with Samson's apathetic and occasionally cruel behavior. Whether he leaves a creepy doll in her bed, à la The Godfather, as a fourth grader, or gets in trouble at work for spitting in someone's drink as a teenager, she can count on him to have the "same indifferent look he always had" and to remain an enigma. Her charismatic, successful wife, Monika, provides financially but downplays Sammie's concerns about their son, and Sammie quietly resents doing the bulk of the domestic labor while "Monika got to be the dad-mom, the fun one...." As the years pass, Sammie faces the isolation of parenthood, the indignities of aging and the heartache of a failing marriage with her own awkward, often self-destructive, always totally understandable style.
Readers will cringe in sympathy as Sammie self-soothes using alcohol and other dubious means, often followed by public embarrassment. Arnett walks a fine line between humor and pathos, and With Teeth should resonate with any reader who has ever felt like a stranger in their own life. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: This dark, tender second novel from Kristen Arnett is a funny but unflinching take on marriage, parenting and midlife from a queer perspective.
by Torrey Peters
A powerful sense of empathy and a devilish wit fuel the exceptionally smart and funny first novel (after two novellas), Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters. Set amid the charming, and occasionally myopic, milieu of modern New York City, it disentangles a soapy love triangle with razor-sharp social commentary.
Reese has always longed to be a mother but has yet to become one--partially due to the limitations of her reproductive system, but mostly because society tends to sneer at trans women in general, and especially those who aspire to motherhood. In fact, it was largely social stigma that prompted Reese's ex-girlfriend to break up with her and detransition three years earlier. Ames had been Amy for about six years, taking hormone therapy that he thought had left him sterile. Until, that is, Ames's boss Katrina beckons him into her office to announce that the little affair they've been having has gotten her pregnant. Panicked about the prospect of parenthood, Ames calls the one person he's always relied on: Reese.
Neither Reese nor Katrina is initially thrilled by Ames's proposed queering of the family unit, and their rivalry and repartee work like magic to peel back preconceived notions of what motherhood means on an individual level. As a mixed-race child of Chinese and Jewish ancestry, Katrina, too, is painfully aware of how society enforces "the idea that not all motherhoods are legitimate." Peters displays an inspiring knack for highlighting common ground, typically buried under heaps of identity politics, as she allows her characters opportunity to relax their grip on what has hardened them, and reach for a softer future. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This superbly smart and funny novel transforms a soapy plot into an unforgettable and expansive exploration of family.
And Then the Gray Heaven
by RE Katz
This moving novella about a tragic death is a beautifully realistic portrayal of queer love, loss and memory.
Jules's partner B died after falling off a ladder, and B's family barred Jules from saying good-bye. Gutted, Jules bonds with their dishwasher, skims the pool, eats exactly 20 gas station sandwiches, cry-naps and crawls under the porch. Then Theo Adan arrives--the neighbor's sister's kid, who is Jules's age but a complete stranger. "I've got you," they tell Jules, who is "stupid grateful" for them--especially after receiving two-thirds of B's ashes. With Theo, Jules embarks on a road trip to visit places where B worked on museum dioramas--Chicago, New York, Gainesville, Fla.--on the way to an admirably unconventional burial.
RE Katz's debut is a passionate, turbulent story about healing. They acutely impart the pain of loss (Jules presses cremains to their body "like an ice pack") and the necessity of support ("I realize for the millionth time that I also have a body"). Through Jules's confiding voice, Katz touches on life in a foster system, the exhausting effort of fitting, the uplifting relief of people who understand eccentricity, and the wondrous and grotesque aspects of artmaking. Katz's characters are bewitching: B, a "supernova of a person oozing idea noise"; the iconic Mr. Nguyen, who allegedly helped fake the moon landing; Fran, who once lived "in exile" with B and created a day disco with them and Mr. Nguyen. And Then the Gray Heaven is a vital ode to the haven of queer love and chosen family. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: Grief, loss and queer found family are the focus in this stirring novella brimming with personality and piercing prose.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Chosen and the Beautiful
by Nghi Vo
Everyone and every place remain assuredly familiar here--Nick, Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Jordan, East Egg, West Egg, and so forth. But Nghi Vo's first novel (after novellas including The Empress of Salt and Fortune) alchemizes F. Scott Fitzgerald's venerable classic The Great Gatsby into the sensational The Chosen and the Beautiful, in which supporting character Jordan Baker assumes narrative control.
Yes, she's still Daisy's friend since childhood; yes, she plays golf competitively; yes, she gets involved with Nick Carraway. Vo's Jordan, however, is also a northern Vietnamese (called Tonkin back in the early 1900s) adoptee with a Manhattan Park Avenue address; her adoptive family's wealth allows her societal access--up to a point--despite her obvious, worn-on-the-face foreign origins. She moves through exclusive venues, tony establishments, posh parties, privileged homes, but society's entitled gatekeepers aren't quite willing to welcome fully the rescued orphan as one of their own.
Fitzgerald's obsession with class and status looms throughout, further amplified by Vo's complicating additions of ethnicity and sexual orientation: not only is Jordan clearly other, she's also queer. As if to counterbalance the intensity, Vo's ingenious embellishments and supernatural diversions are many: paper cut-out doppelgängers, dragons that come to life, "demoniacs"--better than Prohibition-banned alcohol--that turn the imagined real.
Classic literature remade is hardly new. Vo's resuscitation of Gatsby suggests comparisons with Jean Rhys's celebrated Wide Sargasso Sea, which gave voice to the first Mrs. Rochester, the proverbial "madwoman in the attic" from Jane Eyre; rather than adapted homage, The Chosen and the Beautiful (like Rhys's novel) brilliantly elevates less-central characters, adding depth and gravitas to women underdeveloped, overlooked. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Nghi Vo resuscitates The Great Gatsby, brilliantly replacing the Midwest narrator with a wealthy transracial Vietnamese adoptee who's also queer.
One Last Stop
by Casey McQuiston
Casey McQuiston follows her wildly popular debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, with another slightly off-kilter and entirely absorbing romantic comedy, One Last Stop. McQuiston's voice crackles with wit and youth as she adroitly depicts the chaotic joy and struggle of her early-20s characters. The book opens as 23-year-old August moves to New York City for school and a fresh start, away from her mother's obsessive decades-long search for August's missing uncle.
Despite a humorously wacky group of roommates, August's new reality also comes with the less-enjoyable aspects of being a young adult, including a ho-hum job working at a diner and a pervasive "what am I doing with my life" feeling. One Last Stop takes a light supernatural turn when August finds out, after several months of commuting together, that her new friend Jane, a strikingly attractive young butch woman, is trapped on the subway--and has been for decades. The romance that blossoms between 1970s' Jane and 2020s' August is layered, sweet and passionate, but it's an unexpected connection they have that might just free them both.
McQuiston makes the confusion and uncertainty of new adulthood exciting and often funny, while also paying respect to the queer activists who came before and the resilience of the queer community. One Last Stop is an exuberant but thoughtful romance sure to delight McQuiston's fans, and anyone who enjoys a good love story. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: Humor, romance and a touch of the supernatural make Casey McQuiston's sapphic novel a sure bet to win the hearts of readers.
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb
by Cat Sebastian
Sparks fly between an aristocrat and the highwayman he recruits for a plot against his father in The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, a delightful 18th-century romance from Cat Sebastian (Two Rogues Make a Right).
Percy, Lord Holland and his childhood friend Marian (who has recently become his stepmother) need leverage against his father. A certain book that he keeps on his person at all times and which belonged to Percy's mother is their best hope. Percy approaches Kit Webb, a legendary highwayman now retired to run a coffee shop, to hire him to hold up his father's carriage. Kit is unwilling to carry it out himself but agrees to teach Percy how to do the deed. As the two meet for lessons and to plan the crime, they discover an attraction that defies Kit's hatred for the aristocracy and crosses the boundaries of the worlds they live in.
As always, Sebastian's dialogue sparkles. The differences in Kit's and Percy's social standing are both recognized in the time that it takes for trust to build between them and settled in a way that makes their happy ending believable. The twists and turns of the robbery scheme are every bit as exciting as the romance, with even Kit and Percy themselves in suspense about the actions of some of their compatriots. Readers will be thoroughly charmed and eager to see more books set in this world. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: An aristocrat's son and a highwayman search for revenge and find love in a romance full of thrills and adventure.
Biography & Memoir
Cack-Handed: A Memoir
by Gina Yashere
Cack-Handed is comedian Gina Yashere's entertaining memoir celebrating the adventures and improbable journey that led to her successful international stand-up comedy and TV career. Yashere--British correspondent on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and co-creator of Bob ♥ Abishola--catapulted into the American comedy scene in 2008, with a vibrant onstage presence and irreverent style.
Yashere's formative years were defined by her Nigerian mother's fiercely protective parenting and interpretation of everything fun as a threat to her five children's career prospects. Many years on, Yashere deploys memories of her mother's extreme strictness in her stand-up routines to brilliant comic effect, peeling away any resentment she felt as a child to reveal the love behind such a demanding maternal presence.
She suffered as a teenager at the hands of an abominably behaved stepfather and rebelled against her mother's rigid rules, culminating in a suicide attempt. After a strong academic performance in school, Yashere became the first female engineer at the elevator company Otis. She explored her sexuality and let off steam in London's thriving nightclub scene. Drawn to acting, Yashere took a detour from engineering to pursue her dream of performing comedy on stage in England, the U.S. and beyond. The term "cack-handed," meaning awkward and clumsy, also represents the author's embrace of an unconventional career and free-spirited lifestyle.
British racism, more genteel than the American kind, featured prominently in Yashere's early comedy career, and she exposes the blatant absurdity of all forms of discrimination. Enhanced by Yashere's splendid storytelling and generous wit, Cack-Handed honors the emotionally resilient, cosmopolitan, proud Black lesbian identity Yashere confidently claims as her own. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Discover: A Nigerian-British comedian with a commanding American presence generously shares her path to stand-up comedy and television fame.
The 2000s Made Me Gay: Essays on Pop Culture
by Grace Perry
Grace Perry's debut essay collection skillfully balances memoir and pop culture ruminations to illustrate how music, TV shows and movies helped and hindered her budding queer identity. Perry, a frequent contributor to the Onion, celebrates and challenges Disney Channel movies, Mean Girls, Moulin Rouge!, MTV's The Real World and Road Rules Challenge, The L Word, The O.C., Glee, Taylor Swift, Lindsay Lohan and more. Pop culture, she writes, has "glommed onto my psyche, it's shaped my view of myself, my reality, my body, my sexuality."
The dozen essays in The 2000s Made Me Gay are smart, thought-provoking, funny and deep-diving. "Harry Potter and the Half-Assed Gay Character" examines J.K. Rowling's problematic outing of Albus Dumbledore as gay. Rowling announced this at a live q&a three months after the final book was published, but this detail never appears in any of her Potter novels. The chapter "Cherry ChapStick" details the havoc created when the song "I Kissed a Girl" was released. For the first time, the author's peers were openly discussing lesbianism. Unfortunately, Perry writes, "I was so disconnected from my body and my own wants that I couldn't even come out to myself." In another chapter, Perry looks at how TV and movies always link losing one's virginity to falling in love. "If I could huff 'I Love You' sex out of a paper bag, I would," she writes. "But love is not integral to good sex."
Perry is a self-aware, original thinker with an off-center sense of humor and keen appreciation of pop culture. Her essays will make readers laugh and think. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Grace Perry's smart, thought-provoking and funny essays on how 2000s pop culture affected her budding queer identity will make readers laugh and think.
Essays & Criticism
The Queer Bible: Essays
by Jack Guinness, editor
For centuries, LGBTQ+ histories have been hidden or forcibly erased. To help spotlight inspiring queer figures who have shaped the world, model and activist Jack Guinness created The Queer Bible, a fascinating, enlightening and beautifully illustrated love letter to the queer community. "This is the book I wish I'd read when I was growing up," writes Guinness. "To know where you're going, you need to know where you've come from."
Guinness sought out his own personal LGBTQ+ heroes to write essays about the people who inspired them. Among the two dozen essays, Elton John writes about his friendship with Divine ("I was just as ravenous for my addictions as he was for his") and Graham Norton writes about Armistead Maupin ("a writer who is as engaging, entertaining and inspiring as his work"). These essays often bare the souls of the writer as much as the subject. Guinness's chapter on RuPaul reveals Ru inspired him to create The Queer Bible website and book. "Ru rightfully remains a poster child for misfits and generation queer," he writes. "Ultimately Ru's work is about ripping off the illusions we cloak ourselves in." Other essay subjects include Quentin Crisp, Harvey Fierstein, Susan Sontag, Pedro Almodóvar, David Bowie, the films Paris Is Burning and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and the TV show Queer Eye.
More than just superficial profiles of queer pioneers and heroes, these essays are a clarion call to the gay community to overcome shame and passivity and forge a stronger future. The Queer Bible is essential reading and history. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: This beautifully illustrated and illuminating collection of essays by notable LGBTQ+ members on their own heroes is essential reading.
Parenting & Family
The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood
by Krys Malcolm Belc
The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood explores topics of gender identity and parenthood in a poetic and moving memoir-in-essays. As Krys Malcolm Belc explores the intimate and mundane details of pregnancy and parenthood, he reflects on his role as a transmasculine gestational parent who carried, birthed and breastfed one of his three children. In so doing, he moves from the universal to the unique and back again: what it is to be sleep-deprived and exhausted with two very young children at home; the experience of a neighbor whispering, "I think the man is pregnant"; how it feels to grow increasingly large with the weight of a child--"becoming more woman where a woman was never supposed to be."
The Natural Mother of the Child takes its name from a line on one of the many legal forms that Belc and his partner, Anna, have had to complete over the course of creating their family, which are peppered throughout the text of Belc's memoir, along with family photographs. Every aspect of The Natural Mother of the Child, including this documentation, is heavy with emotion on its own. Combined, they result in a powerful and heartfelt reflection on the birth of a child and the birth of a parent; the way Belc's experience of a "masculine pregnancy" ultimately clarified his own understanding of his gender identity and an examination of family, both inside and outside the confines of a family home. The Natural Mother of the Child is a gift to readers interested in concepts of family, gender and identity--and how the three are inextricably linked. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A memoir-in-essays explores gender, family, parenthood and identity from the perspective of a transmasculine gestational parent.
Children's & Young Adult
Some Girls Do
by Jennifer Dugan
Two young women from very different backgrounds fall for each other in this heartfelt and thoughtful YA contemporary romance.
Track champion Morgan is forced to transfer high schools mid-senior year for violating her Catholic private school's code of conduct. She vows she'll be a "new me... out and proud," but doesn't anticipate falling for Ruby, a closeted bisexual classmate who very nearly hits Morgan with her car on the first day of school. Ruby competes in beauty pageants to please her controlling mother, but Ruby's true passion is fixing cars, including "my soul, my lifeline: my baby-blue 1970 Ford Torino." Ruby maintains a tough exterior and initially antagonizes Morgan, worried that being seen as queer will impact her pageant career: "crowning a queer beauty queen will never be in the cards." Morgan, however, has no intention of being closeted again. The couple must decide if their feelings for one another are worth the risk.
Morgan and Ruby are flawed yet sympathetic characters with strong personalities who clash at first, making for an entertaining enemies-to-lovers romance. Jennifer Dugan (Hotdog Girl) uses the young women's romance also to touch on class commentary: both girls are white, but Morgan's family is comfortably upper-middle class, while Ruby and her mother live in a trailer park and are accustomed to feeling "less than" because of their socioeconomic status. Dugan thoughtfully depicts two disparate teenage experiences, reminding readers that there is no right or wrong way to be queer. As Morgan and Ruby inspire each other to accept themselves, Dugan urges young LGBTQ+ readers "to embrace it. To be proud." --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer
Discover: A lesbian track star and a closeted bisexual beauty queen fall for one another in this salty and sweet YA romance.
The (Un)Popular Vote
by Jasper Sanchez
Jasper Sanchez's dynamic #OwnVoices debut, The (Un)Popular Vote, conveys the raw energy and tenderness of protagonist Mark Adams and his passionate, political-minded queer friends as they embark on the student government campaign trail.
Mark, a West Wing fanatic and trans high school senior, hadn't planned on running for student government. Early in the year, an acquaintance became the target of threats and homophobic slurs at their satirically named Utopia High School; the school responded by victim-blaming. Sick of waiting around for things to get better for himself and other marginalized peers, Mark decides to throw his hat in the ring. But Mark's campaign and livelihood face a very real threat: no one knows he's trans. After starting at a new school to protect his congressman father's high-profile reputation, Mark is forced to mask his trans identity so his dad can maintain a squeaky-clean heteronormative facade.
Sanchez deftly portrays the tension and irony between Mark's attempt to alter his new school's vox populi while also having to silence his inner voice and hide his truth to win his absent father's approval. The author gracefully navigates Mark's perception of how to be a white trans man running for political office: initially Mark postures himself as a "true statesman" to his constituents, with slick talk and perfectly styled hair while maintaining a hypervigilance around his physical form. Eventually, though, Mark begins to "rewrite the script of what masculinity is supposed to look like." Sanchez balances the characters' quick-witted banter and mature political savvy with Mark's well-developed character arc, expertly portraying political drama, toxic masculinity and activism all in a character holding fiercely to his queer identity. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms
Discover: When he runs for student body president, a trans teenager must compromise his identity to protect his father's image in this politically savvy celebration of young passion and queerness.
The Passing Playbook
by Isaac Fitzsimons
Isaac Fitzsimons's heartfelt debut, The Passing Playbook, focuses on Spencer, a Black transmasculine teen hoping to live stealth at his new school.
Sophomore Spencer lands a spot on the all-boys' soccer team but, instead of celebrating, he is distracted by hypervigilance around passing as cisgender male: he waits to use the boys' bathroom until it's empty, he's self-conscious about being physically smaller than other boys his age and he keeps his official documents private. When he swiftly develops a crush on a white cis teammate who is staunchly religious, Spencer's fear of being outed and his teammate's beliefs make it pretty difficult to further their relationship. These differences, though, also provide common ground. Both boys, it turns out, are hiding vital pieces of their identity from their respective families: Spencer tries to keep the team a secret from his parents, who fear that being on an all-boys' team would result in bullying like at his last school; he feels that "his parents might support his transition, but they would never truly see him as a boy." Meanwhile, his crush hides his own sexuality for fear it will harm his family's reputation in their religious community.
Fitzsimons provides a sports-centered theme that also includes the intersectionality of Spencer's identities: queer male, sibling to a neurodiverse younger brother and one of two Black teammates. The conversational third-person narration gives readers an unobstructed view into Spencer's world, both in what he shows to the world and what he chooses to keep private. Fitzsimons's protagonist is easy to love, and he writes with ease and finesse when navigating Spencer's connected identities. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms
Discover: This engrossing debut stars an earnest Black queer transmasculine teenager trying to find a home among his new soccer team.