As we start in on a new year, I always like looking back on some of the books that really made an impression last year. I made a video of my top 18 books of 2018, but I thought I would highlight the Lesbrary-related books specifically in a post. (Don’t worry, most of those other books in the video are still queer, just not with a sapphic main character.) Most of these books have already been reviewed at the Lesbrary, so I’ve included links to the original reviews if you want more info! These are mostly excerpts from those reviews. They happen to be mostly YA and middle grade books, which isn’t a knock against any other genres, just that they were the kind of books I read the most last year. Without further ado:
Melanie Gillman is one of my favourite artists. I am floored by the the intense detail and time put into every page, done completely in coloured pencils. This story follows Charlie, a queer brown kid feeling very out of place at a white feminist spiritual backpacking trip. Luckily, she finds connection with Sydney, who is trans, and feels that she would not be welcome on this trip if she weren’t closeted. Honestly, my only problem with this is that it’s only volume one, and it stop somewhat abruptly. I can’t wait for the next volume to come out for I can get back to this story! Check out the Lesbrary review for some excerpts of panels from the story.
Melly is 13, and the day before she was dropped off at Camp Rockaway, her parents told her they were getting divorced. She’s had no time to process this before she’s tossed into this new environment for 2 weeks, and even her best friend being there doesn’t seem to help, especially when Olivia is too busy hanging out with her crush to remember her. Melly may be a drum player, but she has trouble finding her own voice. One way or another, these two weeks will change that.
Olivia may not have been there for Melly as much as she wanted, but Melly wasn’t communicating with Olivia. Her parents may not have been fair to her to tell her just before she left, but maybe she wasn’t being fair to them, either. Melly needs to find herself and get in touch with her own emotions, but that doesn’t mean abandoning her empathy. Relationships–of all kinds–are complicated. Communication is difficult. And Drum Roll, Please doesn’t try to simplify it. We can be sympathetic from one angle and cruel from another. There aren’t easy answers.
I somehow forgot to do a Lesbrary review of this one, which is a shame, because I really liked it! This isn’t entirely a queer collection, but there are about 5 stories with sapphic main characters. I loved the different takes on witches, from fairy tale-ish witches to more modern witches, and I liked how the women in the stories drew power from the cultural conception of witches, which have been used against women in history. Here are my pitches for the sapphic stories:
“Starsong” by Tehlor Kay Mejia: Luna’s mother is afraid that she’l follow the same path her tia Jasmin did, but Luna has found peace and power in the magic that the stars provide for her. When someone tries to start a debate with her on Instagram about science vs magic, she isn’t going to give them the time of day… until she realizes the commentor is a cute girl.
“The Heart In Her Hands” by Tess Sharpe: A common trope of tumblr stories is the soulmate mark: the first words you hear from your soulmate appear on your skin beforehand, so you know when you’ve met them. “The Heart In Her Hands” turns this romantic idea on its head with a protagonist who resents being told her fate, especially when she’s already found the love of her life.
“The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley: When a witch was killed in the woods by an angry mob, she cast a curse. That curse has continued in the town for many generations, temporarily placated by a statue in her honor. Wendy finds herself helplessly drawn to her ancestor’s statue on a stormy Halloween night, with no idea what will happen when she faces it.
“The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord: Three sisters (one bi, one gay, one straight), all with different abilities (sensing emotions through touch, magic with plants, and magic with cooking). Deals with the aftermath of an emotionally abusive (M/F) relationship.
“Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May: 13 girls are sentenced to a work camp for being accused of witches. They are meant to starve, disappear, or break in the woods. Instead, they might just find the power they’ve been accused of. Trigger warning for rape and victim-blaming.
This is about a YA novel about Mara, who has always been very close to her twin, Owen. So when Mara’s best friend, Hannah, accuses Owen of rape, Mara is horrified. She seems to split, believing both of their conflicting stories simultaneously. And as she tries to sort through it, her own unaddressed trauma bubbles to the surface.
This is a premise that I would not trust most authors with, but I knew that Ashley Herring Blake could carry it. Girl Made of Stars faces rape culture head on. It had my stomach in knots, but I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I finished it one day–partly because Blake’s writing is captivating, partly because I was so invested in these characters that I wanted to know what happened to them, and partly to be able to walk away from this sickening situation. This was another 5 star read for me, and I will definitely be picking up anything Ashley Herring Blake writes in the future.
All Out is a much-needed book, because it locates queer people (teens in particular) through time. It is optimistic historical fiction: It imagines not only queer teens in the past, but how they might have found happiness there. It rejects the idea that queer people don’t have a history–or that if they do, it is fundamentally tragic.
There are a lot of different time periods (~1200s-1999) and cultures involved, although I would have liked to see more stories set outside of North America and Europe. The story that really stood out to me was Malinda Lo’s, and luckily for me, it’s being made into a novel! Although that’s my favourite, I really enjoyed all of them–I didn’t feel like there were any really weak stories in this collection.
This book deftly deals with grief and unhealthy/abusive family dynamics. Grace’s father died when she was young, and since then, her mother hasn’t acted much like a mom. Grace feels like it is her responsibility to watch after Maggie. Again, this is a novel that has such nuanced, complex relationships. Grace’s best friend, Luca, and his mom have just taken in Eva (Grace’s love interest), who has recently lost her mother.
Maggie takes Eva under her wing, causing Grace to agonize over whether she should tell Eva the whole truth about Maggie. I thought it was masterfully handled, and I was completely invested in Grace and Eva–individually and as a couple. But overall, the treatment of abuse and grief layered with a bisexual (yes, using the word bisexual) love story and accompanied with a thoughtful examination of race and art (Eva is a black ballet dancer) all came together into a five star read for me
All-ages queer lady-type comics are probably my favourite thing to read. My favourite thing to watch is reality baking shows. This comic is an all-ages queer women comic about a competitive cooking show… in space. What could be better?? When I finished volume 1, I thought “Sure, it seems pretty obvious it’s queer, but is it technically subtext?” Which would be okay! I still would have liked it! But volume 2 instantly makes it very clear that it’s queer. This is so cute and fun. The romance is sweet, the plot is full of hijinks and over-the-top action (“Cannibal Coliseum, where chefs compete to cook… each other.”) I mean, really, if “all-ages queer women comic about a competitive cooking show in space” doesn’t convince you, what else can I say?
Evelyn Hugo is an aging Hollywood starlet who has chosen a relatively unknown journalist to write her life story. Evelyn is such a fascinating character. She’s someone that I imagine people would describe as “unlikable.” Personally, I loved her. She is such a flawed, complex character. She’s also bisexual–she’s very deliberate that Monique gets this label right–and the great love of her life is not one of her seven husbands. She has a tumultuous, heartbreaking love affair with another actress. I felt so much for Evelyn, and it made me really think about what it was like for queer women in the 1950s. Evelyn was privileged in many ways: rich, famous, white-passing–but she was also trapped. She couldn’t publicly acknowledge the love of her life without losing everything else she had built. The most authentic part of her was the one she felt she had to keep hidden. This a beautifully written and fascinating story about one of my favourite characters I’ve encountered in a long time.
Those are my favourite sapphic books I read in 2018! Below is my video with my full top 18 books, if you’re curious. I think only one of them in neither by nor about queer people. Let me know what your favourite reads of 2018 are, and I’ll add them to my TBR mountain!