Mars reviews We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour cover

Not to be dramatic, but we need to start this review with a common understanding stated outright: this novel is beautiful. The prose, the imagery, the point. All of it, beautiful.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour front and back cover spread

I found this short novel by completely ignoring the adage about books and their covers, and I am so glad for it. The gorgeous cover illustration depicts a girl standing on her dorm bed, arm raised, covering her eyes from an unseen sun as she stares out over a dark shore. Snow falls around her.

She faces away from us and her world is a stark contrast of pink surveying an empty blue landscape and a black sky. As she stands among her messy belongings in rumpled pajamas, everything about this girl seems lonely. What is she looking for? If we think about the usual mental association of college as a community space where privacy might well not exist, the juxtaposition is even more jarring. In this context, what does it mean that this girl stands staring out at one of the loneliest sights one can know: the empty horizon?

This cover is the perfect illustration for the story of Marin, a college freshman who is briefly entertaining Mabel, a beloved and estranged figure from a life that she used to know. From Marin’s perspective, we cover the three days over her winter break that she shares with Mabel in what sounds like the emptiest, loneliest dorm ever, and which she calls “home”. Without revealing too much, Marin is haunted by the ghost of her grandfather’s passing, and all the weight that carries for a traumatized girl who is struggling to understand who she is against the broken foundation of who she thought she was.

We were innocent enough to think that our lives were what we thought they were, that if we placed all of the facts about ourselves together they’d form an image that made sense – that looked like us when we looked in the mirror, that looked like our living rooms and our kitchens and the people who raised us – instead of revealing all the things we didn’t know (128).

We follow her flashbacks and dissociations to piece together the mystery of what has torn this girl apart and, crucially, how she can come back together again. What does it mean to go through a tragedy that destroys you? What does it mean when you are changed deeply and immutably, but still need to go on living your life like everything is normal?

In this coming-of-age novel, LaCour heartachingly captures the paradox of such an experience; one in which a unique loneliness begets an almost overwhelming internal expansiveness. While the main character Marin’s queerness is not centered in this story, it is a real and present facet of her; and if you are like me, Marin’s relatability will make you itch to give this little starfish a hug.

A side note on the illustration: while this beautiful book jacket was done by Adams Carvalho, I was originally attracted to it because I was reminded of the unique style of queer author and illustrator Tillie Walden, whose webcomic “On a Sunbeam” touched my soul, and about which I will need to dedicate a future review.

Danika reviews P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

PS I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy cover

My first introduction to P.S. I Miss You was Jen Petro-Roy’s Entertainment Weekly article, where she talks about how her book didn’t get a tour through schools, because all but one school considered it “too mature.” That’s a shame, because this middle grade book has a lot to offer. It’s an epistolary novel, told in letters from Evie to her older sister, Cilla. Cilla is 16 when she gets pregnant, and her parents have shipped her off to live with her aunt in the country until she has the baby, gives the baby up for adoption, and goes to a Catholic boarding school. Evie can’t understand why her sister would sin, or why her parents would react so badly, or why Cilla won’t write back, and she processes all of these feelings through the letters.

I’m not sure it was the intention, but I was getting stressed out reading this book. As the novel progressed, I got more nervous about why Cilla wasn’t writing back. I seriously considered skipping to the end, but settled for tearing through it instead, even reading it while walking home. Aside from my anxiety about Cilla, though, I was also invested in Evie. She is adrift, trying to figure out how her life has changed so dramatically. She oscillates between being confused, frustrated, and angry. Meanwhile, she’s starting to get closer to the new girl in school, June. June is pretty and funny… and also an atheist.

As her friendship with June develops, Evie questions her own religious beliefs. When she presses June to explain why she’s an atheist, June puts the ball back in her court. Evie begins to wonder–if being Catholic meant her parents sending Cilla away, is it really a good thing? We see her questioning through the lens of the letters, which introduces a bit of a buffer. Evie thinks there’s something different about her friendship with June–but nevermind, no, forget she wrote that last letter.

The juxtaposition between Cilla and Evie worked really well: Evie is terrified to tell her parents about her growing suspicion that she may be gay, because she’s sure they’ll send her away, just like they did when Cilla “sinned.” She begins to reconsider if she really agrees with what she’s been told sin is. Her parents are deeply flawed people, and seeing that is painful. They are human, and they’ve made mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that Evie has to follow in their footsteps.

P.S. I Miss You is a heartfelt story about developing into your own person. I can see how it’s considered controversial, because it’s all about questioning what you’ve been taught to believe unwaveringly. It validates that your feelings–even if you are only 12 or 16–are just as valid, and you deserve to have the space to explore your own possibilities. I’d recommend this for middle graders and adults alike.

Link Round Up: June 22 – July 4

This is the Lesbrary bi-weekly feature where we take a look at all the lesbian and bi women book news and reviews happening on the rest of the internet!

            

I’m breaking with my usual alphabetical format to share the first article I’ve written that’s been published outside of the Lesbrary and Book Riot! It’s The 38 Best Queer YA Novels, posted at Vulture. I’m happy with how turned out. Let me know what you think!

Just Love: Queer Book Reviews posted Canadian Queer Lit Recs on Canada Day.

Lambda Literary posted New in July: Robert Karjel, Michael Arcenaux, JY Yang, and Casey Legler.

Women and Words updated their New Releases & Coming Up page.

Her Body and Other Parties Carmen Maria Machado cover   Hurriance Child by Kheryn Callender cover         

“Dream Casting: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness” was posted at Syfy Wire.

“Books You Need To Read During Pride Month, According To LGBT Authors” was posted at Buzzfeed.

“Her Body and Other Parties Is in Development As a Black Mirror-esque Anthology Series” was posted at Vulture.

“We Need More Queer Stories Where Nobody Suffers” was posted at Electric Lit.

“21 Novels With Lesbian Characters That You Need To Read, According To People On Reddit” was posted at Bustle.

The Black Bear Inside Me by Robin Becker was reviewed at Lambda Literary.

Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn was reviewed by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

Wild Mares: My Lesbian Back-to-The-Land Life by Dianna Hunter was reviewed at SFGN.

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata was reviewed at Comics Verse.

This post, and all posts at the Lesbrary, have the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even  more links, check out the Lesbrary’s twitter! We’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

Thank you to the Lesbrary’s Patreon supporters! Special thanks to Jacqui Plummer, Ivy Quinn, Muirgen258, FromTheDustyBookshelf, Kayla Fuentes, Mark, Sarah Neilson, Martha Hansen, Daniela Gonzalez De Anda, Lindsy Lowrance, Amy Hanson, Bee Older, Ellen Zemlin, and Casey Stepaniuk.

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Mary Springer reviews In Development by Rachel Spangler

In Development by Rachel Spangler cover

Cobie has been in nice, safe romance films for too long. She wants to challenge herself with by acting in the lead role of Vale, but studios won’t take her because she lacks an edgy public persona that will sell the character to audiences. Lila is a pop star who is taking the world by storm and building an empire, but she has run out of new things to excite and shock the public. They join together in a fauxmance to help both their careers. However, things get complicated when they grow close and old demons of the past rise up.

This was a fantastic read! It has two of my favorite tropes in romance, which is the fake relationship and the Hollywood setting. Both are done well and the author clearly had fun using them to their full extent.

The story is told from both Cobie’s and Lila’s point of views, which really helped add to the romance and also helped me understand where both of them were coming from in disagreements. One of my pet peeves in romance is when there’s a big misunderstanding that seems to come out of nowhere with no established character flaw to motivate it. Both Cobie and Lila are flawed and have wounds from the past that are established early on and contribute to problems in their relationship. Every time they had a fight, I felt I understood where each of them was coming from, which helped keep me engaged.

The other characters were just as fun and interesting. Lila has two close friends that also work for her, Felipe and Malik, who are in a relationship. Cobie has her sister Emma and best friend Talia. There are also Lila’s and Cobie’s managers, Mimi and Stan, who get them together for the fauxmance in the first place. All of them really helped flesh out the book beyond Cobie and Lila, but didn’t distract from the romance.

Speaking of which, the romance was done really well. Cobie and Lila feel the heat between them but deny it because they need this fauxmance to work for their careers, and also because of past experiences that they haven’t dealt with yet. I could fully believe these two were attracted to each other and falling for one another. The sex scenes were also pretty great. Throughout the whole story, I was always engaged and excited to see what was coming next.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the believability of their careers and how those careers were interwoven with the plot. The story really shows you how important acting and singing are to Cobie and Lila respectively and how those parts of their lives affect them and this romance.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone who wants to read a great romance between two women.

Rebecca reviews Gold by E.J. Noyes

Gold by E.J. Noyes cover

E.J. Noyes’ Gold is a sports-centred novel with a great and relatable protagonist and a very steamy and sweet romance.

Our protagonist is Aspen Archer, a former Olympic skier whose career ended after a disastrous injury. With her body and spirit broken, Aspen hides out at ski resorts, coaching tourists and avoiding her problems. While coaching at a ski resort in Australia, she meets the beautiful Cate Tierney. Cate is a physical therapist, has a teenage daughter and is recovering from a painful relationship. There’s an instant and intense attraction between Aspen and Cate. However, both women have lots of emotional baggage. Can they be more than just a vacation fling? Can Aspen take control of her life to have the future that she longs for?

The aptly-named Aspen is a wonderfully written character. I felt for her as she struggled through panic attacks and chronic pain. I rooted for her when she finally took charge of her life and rediscovered herself. While I do like Cate, I didn’t fully warm up to her because I couldn’t connect with her and I felt like I didn’t know her.

The secondary characters are interesting and well-written. I really like Cate’s daughter, Gemma and Aspen’s student, Stacey. However, I wish Aspen’s relationships with both teens were more developed because they could have been much more meaningful and memorable than they were. Additionally, other characters like Aspen’s hilarious sister Hayley sometimes disappeared from the narrative unnaturally.

I like that the book examines issues like Aspen’s former addiction to painkillers and how it hurt her life and family. However, the book does drag a little. I wish that the plot had been more exciting and slightly less predictable. But, Noyes creates such great characters that I remained invested in them.

The romance between Aspen and Cate is well-written. There’s believable conflict, some sweet moments and enough super steamy scenes to get your pulse racing. Seriously…you may not want to read this book in public!

Although I couldn’t fully connect with Cate and I wish some aspects of the plot were better developed, Gold is a good read with great characters and a sweet romance. If you’re looking for a sports-themed book with a lovely happy ever after, give this one a try!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

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Danika reviews As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

Melanie Gillman is one of my favourite artists (tied with Megan Rose Gedris, who did the Lesbrary banner!), so of course I had to buy a physical copy of As the Crow Flies as soon as it was available. I had been following along with the webcomic, but reading it in a physical version, in one sitting, was a whole different experience.

I cannot express to you how beautiful these illustrations are.

Gillman uses coloured pencils in their illustrations, and I am floored by the intense detail and time put into every page. As the Crow Flies takes place at a feminist Christian summer camp, and the details of the wilderness that they’re hiking through transport you there. Putting aside the pure aesthetic value, I also loved the story and characters. Charlie is a queer brown kid who was hoping to regain her closeness with God (not necessarily the Christian conception) during this trip. Instead, she’s found out that the camp is almost entirely white (there’s an indigenous camp counselor and Charlie, and then every other person there is white). She doesn’t feel welcome, and there seems to be no way to get out of this now that she’s hiking through the woods with them.

Luckily, the finds companionship with another camper, Sydney. Sydney also feels like an outsider at camp, and later we find out that’s because she’s trans. Sydney gets the distinct impression that if the camp leader knew that, she wouldn’t be welcome at this white feminist-y retreat. Sydney and Charlie get closer by commiserating and joking, and they plot to interrupt the camp plans.

I also appreciated that the other campers start to get a little more depth later in the story. Originally, it seems like everyone fits in and belongs except for Charlie (and then Sydney). As Charlie gets more comfortable, we start to see that a lot of that is a front, and all the kids have their own insecurities and issues.

Honestly, I only have one problem with this book: it’s only volume one, and I want the second one right now. (I also wish that it indicated more obviously that this is one half of the story, because even though I knew intellectually that it wouldn’t be wrapped up in this volume, I was still surprised that I didn’t get a neat ending.) I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

Danika reviews Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Hurriance Child by Kheryn Callender cover

Hurricane Girl is unlike anything I’ve read before. I have been basking in this new wave of queer middle grade books, because that used to be unheard of. Now, it’s become its own little subgenre (though obviously we could use a lot more!) This book comes from a completely different angle than George or Star-Crossed or Drum Roll, Please do, however. The queer middle grade I’ve read up to this point has been pretty light. They’ve been reassuring in their depiction of queer life: there may be some pushback, but overall being queer is safe and accepted in these narratives. Hurricane Child is not light or gentle, and it’s not afraid to complex–even overwhelming.

Caroline is twelve years old, and one year and three months ago, her mother left her and her father. Caroline desperately wants to reunite with her, but she doesn’t know where she is. It doesn’t help that she is constantly harassed at school, both by her peers and her teacher. Until a new girl shows up who seems to offer up a new world of possibilities.

This story takes place on Water Island in the Caribbean. While Caroline is first realizing that she’s having romantic feelings for a girl, the only reference point she has is two white lesbian tourists she sees in a shop. Kalinda–her crush–quickly renounces them (within earshot) as disgusting and sinful. Hatred of queer people is visible in this narrative. But there’s more going on here than just Caroline’s missing mother and her feelings for a girl. She also sees spirits, which means she sometimes sees and speaks to people whom I wasn’t sure were physically present. Her dad is hiding his own secrets. And her mother’s storyline concludes in a messy, unexpected place.

There are a lot balls in the air here, and I wasn’t completely sure how I felt by the conclusion. It feels realistic and difficult, but also has a dreamlike element. This isn’t a book I would necessarily give so readily to a young queer kid, because it does contain multiple scenes of hatred of queer people, but I also think this would be the perfect book for the right kid. I’m glad it exists, and I’m excited to see how this little subgenre grows in the years to come.

Quinn Jean reviews Taking Flight by Siera Maley

[This review contains spoilers and a brief mention in paragraph four of homophobic abuse and alcoholism in the novel.]

Taking Flight is a young adult coming-of-age novel by Siera Maley where lesbian LA-born and bred high school senior Lauren gets in trouble for skipping school and is sent to live with a middle-aged Christian youth worker David and his family in rural Georgia. When she arrives Lauren discovers she’ll be sharing a bedroom with David’s daughter Cameron, a very beautiful church-going cheerleader, and you can probably guess how Lauren feels about that.

There are a lot of things to like about Taking Flight, not least of all the tender love story at its core. The lead character has been sure of her sexuality and comfortable with it from a young age which is a pleasant contrast to many formulaic WLW YA books where the protagonist has a sudden lightbulb moment after meeting a bold new person who pushes them out of their comfort zone. Taking Flight doesn’t particularly play in to tired stereotypes about the southern USA either. And Maley doesn’t waste time doing too much boring set-up before throwing Lauren into the far more interesting fish-out-of-water premise of the novel, instead filling in gaps later as need be.

There are a lot of plot holes though, some big and some small, and Lauren as a character isn’t particularly three-dimensional, instead seeming to serve as a bland narrator that the reader can substitute themselves with. For a lot of readers this might be ideal, it just would’ve been nice for Lauren to have more hobbies, interests, quirks and motivations of her own to go with those of the other major characters, even if she had found those once she arrived in Georgia. Also Lauren’s entire family history doesn’t quite make sense; both her parents’ long Hollywood marriage after meeting as teenagers and the press’ complete disinterest in the child of an A-list actress are implausible in the twenty-first century.

To its credit the novel realistically depicts people’s varied responses to different characters coming out throughout the story, with many characters being accepting if not always enamoured of homosexuality, while one character’s aggressive reaction is one of the only potentially distressing scenes in the book. Additionally the complex feelings Lauren has towards her father due to his functional alcoholism are also handled sensitively. Ultimately the  central love story where two very different people from contrasting worlds give each other the space to express themselves and offer open-hearted support for each other’s innermost feelings and dreams is undoubtedly the most beautifully realised part of the novel and certainly what makes it worth reading.

Taking Flight gives the impression that the author wanted to offer readers a teenage gay love story that unfolded slowly, and was built on kindness and respect, and had an uplifting (excuse the pun) ending. While there are some weak spots, for the most part Maley succeeds with soaring colours (couldn’t help myself).

Guest Lesbrarian Jess H. reviews Birds of a Feather by Jackie Calhoun

Birds of a Feather by Jackie Calhoun is one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read.  And no, I haven’t read The Well of Loneliness.  It is hard for me to think of a single moment of joy in Calhoun’s contemporary romance (published 1999).  I use the term “romance” loosely, because romance seems to be as absent as joy is.

In the story, we follow Joan McKenzie, a divorcee nearing fifty whose first relationship with a woman has ended.  She lives in Wisconsin, works two jobs to make ends meet, and enjoys birdwatching and spending time with her dog Yeller in her off hours.  While she’d like to find love again, she feels conflicted about which woman she wants to pursue and the type of relationship she would like to have.  She is intrigued by enigmatic, bisexual Linda. Sturdy, sporty Liz is a friend of Linda’s who also captures Joan’s attention. And then there is her longtime best friend Diane, who is in a committed relationship with Tania, but for whom Joan has undeniable feelings.

Overall Joan’s life feels stagnant and purposeless, which I initially assumed was intentional on Calhoun’s part.  However, there is no character arc to be found here. Joan remains in precisely the same directionless, unfulfilled place when the novel ends as she was at its beginning.  The extreme stagnancy of Joan’s life translates onto the page and makes for a suffocating, almost hopeless, read. It doesn’t help that Calhoun devotes lots of page time to mundane details such as what people ate, the specific make and model of their vehicles, etc.  It’s a short novel, but I didn’t find it to be a particularly quick read and I had no trouble setting it aside to read other things. The level of dramatic tension is not high.

One of the reasons I was not drawn into the book was because I did not find Joan to be a particularly relatable (or, at times, even likable) character.  I didn’t fully understand the motivations for her actions, and she could be snippy with her friends and downright selfish in her romantic pursuits. I was rooting for her to find happiness, but I didn’t find her to be a particularly engaging character and following her life was a claustrophobic experience at times.

As you can probably tell, I would not recommend Birds of a Feather.  The writing is grammatically sound and the book is readable (I did make it through to the end).  What it is not, however, is enjoyable. Worst of all, it offers what I found to be a dim, gray, bleak portrait of lesbian life.  Readers seeking positive portrayals of sapphic women and relationships should definitely look elsewhere.

(2 stars)

Jess H. is a late blooming Gen Xer who came out in her 30s.  She enjoys reading lesbian literature to further explore her identity, works as a consultant in the IT field, and keeps such a low profile online that she can’t readily be found on social media.