Susan reviews My Solo Exchange Diary Volume 2 by Nagata Kabi

My Solo Exchange Diary Volume 2

My Solo Exchange Diary Volume 2 is another set of autobiographical essays about Nagata Kabi’s life and depression. Where Volume 1 followed her attempts at independence and romantic intimacy while unpicking her relationship with her family, whereas volume 2 finds Nagata Kabi enjoying friendship and emotional intimacy, while her mental health takes a nosedive.

Just like with the first volume, My Solo Exchange Diary can be a rough read. Nagata Kabi is frank about her mental health and the setbacks she suffered – being equally unable to cope with living alone and living with her family, drinking, and voluntary hospitalisation – and that is often harrowing! Sometimes funny, but definitely hard sometimes. Her cartoony style still doesn’t soften any of the blows, and sometimes make it worse, but her art is clean and striking, so it works! (And just on a purely over-analysing level: I love that the cover is finally her reaching out to herself and talking, because I feel like that drawing alone represents so much growth in her attitude to herself and her own pain.)

I think what really struck me for the first time as I read this is that because of the format – a collected edition of visual essays that were originally serialised monthly – it’s actually really tense to read, because you don’t have the same reassurance that the creator must have been fine because they finished the book as you would in a more standard autobiography. It accounts for the significant shifts in tone and subject between the chapters, and the way that she is much more enthusiastic and loving about her family than she was in the first volume, even as she talks about the pain they have caused and still cause her. It makes sense, because My Solo Exchange Diary is very much about the ways that Nagata Kabi’s family hurt her, but still rallied around when she needed them, but it was a little surprising to read.

The depiction of her struggle with independence and her stay in hospital felt very relatable to me, especially in her reactions to being stuck in the hospital without being able to articulate her fear and despair at the idea of having to stay there for months on end. It doesn’t feel advisory or demonstrative, it’s not a “here is what staying in hospital for mental health reasons is like,” it’s just what it was like for her, and the ways in which it helped her and scared her.

Unsurprisingly, My Solo Exchange Diary is still hard and harrowing to read, but it feels more hopeful than the previous volume. Nagata Kabi specifically talks about her support network that cares for her, and there is an epilogue where she recognises that packaging her life in neat little chunks for an audience is maybe not the best choice for her right now, which I’m honestly in favour of because I’d rather she focus on her recovery. Seeing her asking how her future self was doing at the end of some of the chapters broke my heart a little, but gave me hope that she was going to be okay. … Especially because she FINALLY got the hug that she’s been waiting for, and I nearly cried for her.

[Caution warning: alcoholism, depression, hospitalisation, self-harm, suicide attempt]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Marthese reviews If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan“Fine, so my nipples don’t want this to happen, either”
Another sapphic modern classic down! If You Could Be Mine tells the story of Sahar. Sahar lives in Iran and is in love with Nasrin, who is more than her best friend–but being public about it will get them both killed. Nasrin gets betrothed to Reza and Sahar is trying to find a way for her and Sahar to be together.

Once, she goes to her cousin’s Ali’s party. Ali is her cool, rich cousin who is very gay and seems to manage an underground–not so hidden–empire of queer safe spaces and illegal contraband. During the party she meets Parveen, who she befriends, and from Ali she learns that Parveen is transexual (that’s what’s written in the book–I would just say trans). She starts seeing a way for her to be legally with Nasrin–but can she do it? Can she become a man when she very much feels like a woman?

Sahar is a cis lesbian, not a trans straight man. This story felt very real however. I knew someone whose parents were originally from Iran, and they would have rather she transitioned than be with a girl as a girl, even though they were not in Iran anymore. Small things, like the mention that divorce is legal, the contraband, the dress-code and curfew and how people are in private vs in public sets a realistic picture for this story.

As far as characters, I liked Ali, because while he could be quite crass and pushy, he was also caring. I liked Parveen too, and I’m glad Sahar made a friend. Most times I did not like Nasrin, but I understood her even though it felt quite unfair. Their roles of adventures and conservative were switched, at least in certain things, mid-way through the book while Sahar starts getting into Ali’s world–her world. The daring Nasrin follows conventions and the quite Sahar, breaks them.

I felt that the writing was too simplistic in the beginning. However, than I got hooked to the story and didn’t analyze it later on.

While the ending isn’t a ‘happily ever after’, there is some kind of closure and the connection between the characters will undeniably always be there. At least there’s not the kill-the-gays trope! Through their actions, the different queer characters were trying to avoid just that. It’s not safe to be yourself everywhere and while sometimes there is the option of leaving–leaving means abandoning your family, your culture and your place. It was heartbreaking but there is hope.

I’d recommend this book to anyone that likes realistic fiction and different cultures. You’d definitely need to account for angst.

Mary Springer reviews Backwards to Oregon by Jae

Backwards to Oregon by Jae

This book was every trope and every plot device I ever wanted all rolled into one. This is one of those books that you put down and it stays with you for days afterward. I immediately purchased the sequel and the short story collection that is in this same series.

Nora works in a brothel to survive and provide for her child, Amy. One day her friend that brothel’s madam, Tess, has her take a special customer, Luke. He won’t touch her though, won’t do anything with her, and there’s something strange about him. A few days later she meets him again when he saves Amy from the anger of the man running the stables. He offers her marriage and a journey on the Oregon trail–a chance at a better life not only for herself but also for Amy.

Luke has disguised herself as a man since she was 12 not only in order to survive but in order to have the life she would not otherwise be able to have. When she meets Nora and Amy, she can’t help but offer them a chance at a better life–an arrangement that will also help her better conceal her identity in the close proximity to other people in their wagon train.

Luke and Nora agree that this will marriage will be a business agreement and there doesn’t need to be anything else to it. However, when dangerous challenges befall them on the Oregon trail, they can’t help but grow close and sparks fly.

The characters really made this story come alive. In some romances it can be hard to imagine the characters outside their relationship, but here I could easily see Luke and Nora with their own stories. There was also a good amount of side characters that felt equally real and interesting to the main characters, which I always appreciate. Tess was really interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading one of her stories in the short story collection. Other families on the Oregon trail were also really engaging. There was Nora’s friend Bernice who helped her learn how to be a pioneer woman and her husband who becomes a good friend of Luke’s. There was Emmeline, who’s husband is abusive.

This is also a serious slow-burn romance, and it’s done so achingly well. Both Luke and Nora have baggage and issues that need to be worked before they can begin to open up to each other. They take their sweet time with it, but it’s so satisfying in the end. This also made it much more believable and engaging as their relationship progressed.

Another thing I really appreciated was how clearly well researched this was. The setting and historical time period really felt like it came alive.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes stories about hidden identities, westerns, or just a good old slow-burn romance.

Danika reviews Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak

Girl Town by Carolyn NowakWhat a weird and wonderful book. This a collection of comic short stories, which differ in characters and style, but have a similar vibe of women’s complicated relationships with each other, and a general sense of unease and yearning. With beginning lines like “I have lived with Ashley and Jolene since we all got kicked out of astronaut school for being too good-looking to be sent to space,” Girl Town wastes no time in introducing you to a world that’s one step out of sync with our own, while still seeming eerily familiar.

The first story follows two neighboring houses of women who are sparring with each. One house has a bacchanalia where they ritually burn the main character’s sock dog, while she looks on, enthralled. It includes the line “Her nipples rattled against the windowsill with an odious rhythm.” Have mentioned how unapologetically strange this book is?

My favourite story is the second: “Radishes.” It follows two girls at an outdoor market. They try on clothes and explore the stalls, but while Kelly prances around the stalls, delighting in spinning around in dresses and cuddling with a tiger, Beth hangs back slightly, perpetually embarrassed. She makes fun of herself for her armpit fat, her chin, and her clumsiness. The two of them stumble on a stall with fruit and vegetables with magical properties. When Kelly accidentally duplicates herself, she wants to take her doppelganger home to mess with her parents. When Beth follows suit, she accepts a hug from her other self and begins to sob, apologizing to her.

“Diana’s Electric Tongue” follows Diana, burnt from a breakup, who finds comfort in a robot boyfriend. “The Big Burning House” is a portion of a podcast about a movie no one has seen since it was aired a few times in the 90s. The hosts speculate excitedly, as they prepare to watch a recently-found copy of the tape. “Please Sleep Over” follows two women (a couple) house sitting at one’s parents’ house. We see glimpses of their stay, but the scene that sticks out to me is them lying together in bed as one says “My parents are good. They’re really good parents. They will always support my choices.” [Panel of silence] “I just wish they didn’t think I was so stupid,” she continues, beginning to cry. Her girlfriend replies with anger, “Shut up. Parents can go to hell. My parents are ‘good’ too. They can go to hell. No one knows what you’re capable of.”

Girl Town is a surreal and affecting read. I felt off-kilter while reading it, with the odd worlds and only brief glimpses into these lives, but the emotions rang true. I read this book because my coworker put it in my hands and said “I just read this and I think you’re really like it.” Not only am I glad to have had it put in my hands, I’m also flattered to be associated with a queer weirdo feelings comic like this one.

Danika reviews Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha cover

This is a book that I will be processing for a long time. It is beyond almost anything I’ve read before. I’m not proud to say that I have very little knowledge around ableism and disability activism, which is part of why I picked up Care Work (The other being that Bodymap, Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book of poetry, is one of the best books I’ve ever read.) This work is about disability justice: disability activism that centres queer and trans black, indigenous, and people of colour. It encourages leadership by the most impacted, people who are experts in ableism and the other interlocking oppressions that they live with every day, and who have spent years fighting a system that works against them. Disability justice sees ableism as intertwined with colonialism, capitalism, heteropatriarchy and all of the others ways that bodies are policed and evaluated.

I am having trouble writing this review, because there is so much here to think about. I will muddle through and share some highlights, but I definitely recommend picking this up for yourself.

Care Work is a collection of essays, and it’s packed full of ideas, ranging from theory, history, memoir, advice and tips, and more–that I have to stop frequently to digest it. Here are just a few ideas that really stopped me in my tracks and made me think:

  • Piepzna-Samarasinha refers often to her “bodymind,” which seem to relate the mind as part of the body, an integrated whole–it reminded me of The Body Is Not an Apology, which discusses how policing of the body is a commonality of many types of oppression, including ableism against neurodivergent people.
  • The concept of “crip doulas” to guide disabled people into the community and share resources and tips for navigating the system. This is such a powerful idea, and I see the echo of it in queer communities, where many people would have loved to have a queer elder to provide wisdom in navigating their new identities. This is a beautiful vision of a future where interdependence is celebrated, and community is guaranteed.
  • Care Work talks about Octavia Butler’s books as disability justice narrative, which really made me think about that story in a new light.
  • I love the idea of “prefigurative politics:” acting as if the revolution has already happened. . Spending more time building than attacking, and focusing on power and not powerlessness. I think this is a powerful idea in activism, to not spend all of our time and energy criticizing a terrible system, and instead using some of those resources to build our own networks.
  • I was intrigued by the way that parents are talked about in this text, as not being directly targeted by ableism, but being restricted by much of the same system. Disability justice includes accessibility not just for neurodivergent and disabled people, but also for parents (by making sure that child care is provided).
  • A quotation by Qwo-Li Driskill, which says that one way ableism works is that disabled people “are not even present within the imaginations of a supposedly radical future,” really stuck with me.
  • Care Work does not present a monolith of ideas or opinions. Although these are all essays by Piepzna-Samarasinha, she pulls in works and ideas from other disability justice activists, and details differences in opinions. For instance, she advocates for strong personal networks of care while also recognizing the difficulties in maintaining them, and mentions a friend of hers who explains not wanting to rely on a personal network because she doesn’t want to have to be well-liked in order to use the washroom.

Reading Care Work required me to sit with some discomfort, because it helped me to face my own ableism and try to confront that. It reminded me in how many careless, thoughtless ways I prioritize abled people and fail to consider people whose bodyminds differ from my own. When I came across a mention of the “ugly laws” and looked into them, I was appalled that I had never heard of them, which from the mid-1700s to the 1970s across the United States and other cities and countries around the world made illegal “any person, who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or deformed in any way, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, to expose himself to public view.” This such an obvious and horrific injustice–to dictate which bodies are allowed to be seen in public life–that it is a profound statement to me of how much I have to learn when I didn’t know this basic, crucial piece of history. I am angry at myself for not learning this, but I am also angry that this was never taught to me in my education.

Another takeaway I have from this book is how much disability justice is fighting a world that would be better for every single person. Piepzna-Samarasinha’s love letter to femmes made me think about how everyone should live in a world where we can feel safe and valued no matter what. It made me think of Elana Dykewomon’s quotation:

Almost every womon I have ever met has a secret belief that she is just on the edge of madness, that there is some deep, crazy part within her, that she must be on guard constantly against ‘losing control’ — of her temper, of her appetite, of her sexuality, of her feelings, of her ambition, of her secret fantasies, of her mind.

It made me think of how that fear is driven by the way we treat the “mad” or “crazy.” About how Piepzna-Samarasinha refers to the “not(yet)-disabled.” I think about all the disabled and neurodivergent people who are being prevented from living their lives, through denial to care and inaccessibility and stigma. And also those people who don’t have a label for who they are, or who hide that idea even from themselves. And the people who are constantly afraid that they are “crazy” or not enough or too much, and that if they are found out they won’t be loved or valued or supported. Disability justice doesn’t have to benefit abled people to be worth supporting, of course, but I am inspired by this movement that is fighting tooth and nail to try to inch towards the future we all should be aspiring to, and am infuriated by the system that counters them at every turn.

In case it isn’t already obvious, this is a powerful, brilliant book. I can imagine it would be life-changing for so many people, and even if it isn’t directly applicable to your own experience, I highly recommend giving it a try and absorbing what you can. I’m grateful that Care Work exists, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

Danika reviews Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear

Stone Mad by Karen Memory cover

This was an odd read for me. I finished the first book and enjoyed the characters and the world, but (partly because I was listening to the audiobook), I had trouble following the plot. This is the reason I don’t typically watch action movies or read action-adventures. Still, I liked it enough that I immediately picked up the sequel, and at the beginning, I was sure I would like it more than Karen Memory. First of all, Victorian spiritualists are my jam. I love hearing stories about the rise of spiritualism and the elaborate cons carried out, mostly by women. After all, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for single women to make their own money. As Karen says (I may be paraphrasing, but this is what I remember), “Men own most things, especially white men. If they didn’t want us to cheat, they should have made the game fair.”

Another fun element was the addition of the fact that although spiritualists may or may not be legit in this universe, it’s common knowledge that creatures like Tommyknockers, sasquatches, and jackalopes exist. I had already been delighted by the mention of splintercats in the first book. But what I was most focused on was Karen and Priya. This is post-HEA, and they are trying to figure out how to be with each other when they’re not just running on adrenaline, being pulled from one death-defying adventure to the next. They clash, and it becomes obvious that they have different opinions on things like rushing headlong into danger when catching a whiff of injustice. They have to adapt to each other and compromise. It was uncomfortable, and it was absolutely true to the real, messy business of being in a relationship with someone. As Stone Mad states, it not being perfect is how you know you aren’t being conned.

Unfortunately, despite the elements I liked, I was totally thrown by the plot structure this time around. Instead of losing track of how they got from one adventure to the next, this novella starts with a dramatic encounter and winds down from there, with a mudslide thrown in at the end. I literally got to the narrator reading “The End” and looked at my phone in confusion. I thought I had somehow skipped half the book. This narrative addresses their relationship and completes that arc, but everything else in the beginning–the spiritualists and murder mystery and all the questions raised–weren’t addressed again. This literally felt like half of a novel to me, which is a shame, because I think if it had either been pared down to a short story (the first part of the book) or fleshed out into a whole novel, I would have really enjoyed it.

Tierney reviews One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

It is so exciting to experience the current burgeoning of middle LGBTQ fiction: it feels absolutely amazing (not to mention freeing) to have enough books out there to be able to pick and choose and categorize, and set aside what misses the mark in favor of reading the good stuff. Shannon Hitchcock’s One True Way is the good stuff.

After the death of her brother and her parents’ subsequent separation, Allie moves to North Carolina with her mom, hoping for a fresh start in the fall of 1977. Despite being the new girl at Daniel Boone Middle School, she quickly finds her footing, thanks to the kindness of Sam, the easygoing star basketball player who is friends with everyone. As an intrepid would-be reporter writing for the school newspaper, Allie is no stranger to asking tough questions–but she has to turn her gaze inward as her deepening relationship with Sam brings up questions she must ask herself–and Sam–and new feelings she has to navigate, while trying to figure out what kind of support they can get from the adults around them.

Coming out stories may be more oversaturated in fiction and pop culture geared toward adults and young adults, but a middle grade story like this (especially one that is so well-written, thoughtful, and tender) is nothing less than stunning–especially one starring a 12-year-old girl, set in the 1970s, and in North Carolina no less. This kind of historical fiction is sorely needed representation for today’s queer youth–and One True Way is all the more special for the representation it skillfully weaves in for its protagonist. Allie has a strong network of adult queer role models, from her Uncle Jeffrey, who is mentioned in passing, to Coach Murphy and Miss Holt, two teachers at her school who are quietly in a relationship with one another (and are friends with her mom). Hitchcock has built a world that reflects a possible reality–one that is neither maudlin nor saccharine, that showcases beautiful, unabashed queerness in many forms without shying away from depicting the existence of harsh realities (unaccepting family members, intolerant religious institutions, an inability be out for fear of losing one’s job…) for her queer characters.

Today’s queer youth deserve tender historical fiction about a girl and her new best friend realizing they have crushes on one another–with all the ensuing teenage angst, and a decent portrayal (without being gloomy or heavy-handed) of some of the serious aspects of being a queer middle schooler in the South in the 1970s. And even more than its portrayal of a queer love story, One True Way’s portrayal of queer community is a bold and important statement to share with queer and questioning middle schoolers. While I so wish I had had books like this growing up, I am so grateful that today’s kids have works like this to read (and have even more to choose from, depending on what tickles their fancy!): One True Way fills a much-needed niche, and beautifully so.

Danika reviews Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

If “lesbian steampunk Western” doesn’t already pique your interest, I’m not sure what else to say, but I’ll give it a try! Karen is a “seamstress” (a sex worker at bordello) in Rapid City, in the Pacific Northwest. She’s satisfied enough with her life–the girls at Hôtel Mon Cherie are a tight-knit group, and she’s saving up money to train horses–when, well, I’ll let the blurb do the talking: “Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap-a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.”

Although there is a murder mystery aspect to this, Karen Memory is much more of a fast-paced adventure, as Karen and her friends get tossed into increasingly more dangerous and daring situations. The steampunk element starts off pretty minor–it took me a long time to realize that the “sewing machine” was some sort of mechanical exoskeleton and not just a typical sewing machine–but by the end of the book, there are all sorts of wild steampunk elements that I don’t want to spoil for you.

My favourite part was the relationship between Karen and Priya. Priya is a recent Indian migrant, who was trapped in a human trafficking situation. She has escaped to the Hôtel Mon Cherie, and Karen immediately falls for her. This could fall under insta-love, I suppose, but I don’t really see the problem in being intensely attracted to someone at first and then building a relationship together, which is what happens here.

There is a diversity of side characters, including trans characters and black, indigenous, and Asian characters. They are, for the most part, well-rounded, but they are often described in ways typical of the time period. [Highlight for the particular language/slurs included:] The trans character is described as  having a “pecker under her dress,” but that it was “God’s cruel joke”, and she’s “as much a girl as any of them.” The indigenous character is described as a “red Indian” many time. The N word is included, though not said by the protagonist. There are more, similar descriptions used, but this gives you an idea. I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of that, and I’d like to read some reviews by trans, black, and indigenous reviewers to see what they think of it. I can see how it would be a response to the typical Western, by having a diverse cast, but still staying true to the time period, but I’m not sure you need to include slurs or racist descriptions to do that.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and I thought the narrator did a fantastic job. I really got a sense of Karen’s voice. On the other hand, I have trouble following action-packed plots at the best of times, and by listening to the audiobook, I definitely dropped the thread a few times. I think I enjoyed it more by listening to it, but I probably would have understood what was happening better if I had read it. I’m sure this would be a fantastic read for fans of Westerns or steampunk books, especially if you wish they were a little less straight and white, but it wasn’t the perfect genre match for me. I prefer stories that concentrate on characters, and although I got a sense of Karen’s voice, I didn’t get to know her as a character as well as I would like.

Despite those notes, I did like it enough to immediately pick up the other book in the series, and it looks like I’m going to like Stone Mad even more: Victorian spiritualists are my jam.

Danika reviews This is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

I’m grateful that we are finally starting to get YA (New Adult?) books like this. Queer YA in the last few years has really grown, including having more queer people of colour represented (although there is still much more needed). This Is What It Feels Like is so different from the kind of queer YA that was coming out just 5 or so years ago. It follows three teenage girls who have just graduated from high school. A few years ago, they were inseparable, and they played in a band together. Then, Hanna’s alcoholism landed her in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. Meanwhile, Dia’s boyfriend, who she was just starting to get close with, was killed in a car accident. Weeks after the funeral, Dia finds out she’s pregnant and decides to keep the baby. Hanna and Dia walk away from each other, and Jules sides with Dia. Now, their city is holding a music competition that includes a $15,000 prize, and they just might have a chance to win it–but it means getting the band back together.

Who doesn’t love a “getting the band back together” book, especially when it’s literal? Dia, Jules, and Hanna are all complex people, and the conflicts they have with each other are nuanced and understandable. Dia told Hanna that she couldn’t be around her baby because she couldn’t be trusted–but the real reason they drifted apart was because Dia was terrified to lose anyone else after Elliot died, and it’s the same reason she isn’t dating the boy she’s in love with. Hanna has been sober for over 400 days after going through rehab, but she’s lonely and feels like she can never be good enough for her parents. And Jules is caught in the middle, while she’s also trying to figure out a new relationship while carrying around the damage from her last one.

The three of them have a lot to work through, but I was relieved to see that they do talk about their problems. They air their grievances in a reasonable time frame–this isn’t one of those “Why don’t they just talk??” books where the only conflict is miscommunication. The problem is that they have a lot to work through, and it takes time, and more than just one conversation. They have to keep bumping up against these ghosts from the past and processing it again. I loved the realism of their relationships with each other, which are flawed and difficult, but also are the grounding forces in their lives.

This also has a great f/f romance (and a good m/f romance with Dia, to be fair). Jules meets her new coworker, Autumn and immediately has an all-consuming crush on her. If you’re allergic to instalove, you might not like that, but I think you’ll come around if you stick with it. Autumn has never been attracted to a girl before, so she’s working through that a little bit, but mostly they have an adorable beginning to their relationship. Unfortunately, Jules is working through her own issues: her last relationship was not great, and she’s a little too fixated on trying to have the perfect relationship with grand, romantic gestures instead of concentrating on what’s in front of her. Although they fall for each other quickly, they have to work at their relationship. (I have to share this cute line: “All she could see and feel and think was this girl and maybe she wasn’t really in love yet, but oh, maybe she was.”)

I am gratified to find a YA book with a teen mom where it isn’t the main focus of the book. My sister and my mother both had their first kids young, at 19 and 20 (which isn’t as young as Dia was). They also both went to an excellent school for pregnant teens, so that’s been something I’ve been acutely aware of since I was young. It is a very difficult and challenging thing to do, but it’s nice to see a depiction of a teen mom who is balancing raising her kid with school and being herself. Like Dia, my sister lived at home when my niece was young, and we all helped out. I liked seeing Dia able to be a young mom who still was pursuing her dreams and planning for her future.

I highly recommend this to anyone. I appreciated how layered and complex the relationships all are here, and I felt like I really got to know Hanna, Jules, and Dia. There’s also, of course, the thread of music running through, which is what they are all passionate about, so there’s another entry point into this story. Also, there’s an adorable toddler who is a fan of a dog named Waffles, so what more could you want? Of course, this whole review is for naught, because you should all be picking it up based on that gorgeous cover alone.

Megan G reviews Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Leila knows she’ll never be what her parents want her to be. She doesn’t want to be a doctor (she isn’t even good at science), she has little interest in sports, and she has no plans to marry a Persian man. In fact, she doesn’t plan on marrying a man at all. These all things she figures she can deal with in the future, but when she befriends the beautiful new girl, Saskia, she realizes that keeping at least her sexuality from her parents may be more complicated than she thought.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is not your typical coming out story. For one, Leila, the protagonist, already knows that she’s a lesbian when the story begins. It’s kind of refreshing to get to skip the self-discovery process, since it means that there is no frustrating compulsive heterosexuality to deal with. Leila doesn’t feel the need to experiment with dating men – she already knows it won’t go well. Even though I know it’s something that many lesbians experience, every now and then it’s nice to see one who doesn’t.

This is a character-focused story. The plot takes a backseat to Leila and her feelings, thoughts, and worries. She drives the story, and while her decisions can be frustrating at times, they’re also very realistic and lead to an impressive amount of character growth. By the last page, Leila is not the same girl we met on page one in the best way possible.

There is a bit of internalized homophobia, though it’s mostly shown in how Leila reacts to a group of girls she assumes are also lesbians, as well as a gay classmate. At first, she is not kind to them, and seems hellbent on the fact that, even if she comes out, she’ll never be like those lesbians. Watching her get to know these girls and realize that there is nothing wrong with being like them is one of the most satisfying bits of character development.

The romance aspect of this story is not at all what I expected. This initially annoyed me, but by the end I was more than happy about it. Out of respect for spoilers, however, I will say no more.

Another aspect of the story I greatly enjoyed was the focus on Leila and her family. Her genuine anxiety over what her sexuality will mean for their close relationship is painful to read in its realism. But we also get to see her grow in her friendship with her sister, someone she initially views as competition for her parents affection. [Major spoilers] I also loved the reaction that her parents had to Leila’s coming out. Many people might not, as they do not immediately accept her, but it’s very clear that they are trying and working toward full acceptance. As nice as it is to read stories where families accept their queer children without pause, it’s also enjoyable to read about parents who may not be happy about it at first but put in the effort to understand and love their child. Especially since I think this is a more common experience than is spoken about [End spoilers].

The only thing that lowered my enjoyment of this story was that at times the plot seemed to go in unnecessary directions, where it spent too long for such a short novel. One such directions also happens right at the end, which is disappointing. As well, the portrayal of one character felt steeped in internalized misogyny. This is mostly counteracted by the fact that all the other female characters in the story are well-developed, three-dimensional women who are allowed to make mistakes and grow from them. It is still frustrating to find even one character that falls into sexist stereotypes, though.

Overall, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is a solid, quick, feel-good story that will definitely put a smile on your face.