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kissingkate

I have had this book on my shelf for so many years that I actually couldn’t say with any certainty whether I read it or not. I felt like I had, but I couldn’t remember anything about it. So, since I was going to see Lauren Myracle at Leakycon in a couple weeks, I decided to pick it back up and determine that for certain. Kissing Kate is definitely a quick read, under 200 pages, but I feel like it does have quite a bit to offer. I was intrigued by the first page, which seems to drop us in the middle of the typical lesbian teen book plot: Lissa has recently kissed her best friend, Kate, and now they aren’t talking anymore. But Myracle skips all of the build-up to that point and takes us straight into the aftermath, which I appreciated. It feels much more to the point this way, and not like we’re actually missing out on anything, with just enough being revealed through flashbacks.

This isn’t an action-packed novel; it is mostly about Lissa struggling to find herself. And it’s not just coming out. Kate and Lissa have been “Kate-and-Lissa” for so long that she flounders without her best friend. Throughout the book, Lissa begins to open herself up to finding new friends and new things to be excited about, while still dealing with the tension with Kate. It’s not a love story, either, but more of a snapshot of a pivotal moment in Lissa’s life. I loved the added details that made the characters seem more three-dimensional, like the main character’s unconventional family, formed of her uncle, sister, and herself. They don’t fit together perfectly, and Lissa still feels the absence of her parents (who died when she was eight), but they obviously care deeply about each other and make it work. Lissa’s new friends and her employer all have distinct personalities and voices, and they nudge her towards expanding her view on the world. There’s also a whole subplot on lucid dreams that actually was the point when I remembered reading this as a teenager: I found the concept and details so fascinating that I attempted to use what was described in the books to lucid dream myself, so it was obviously a memorable detail.

Kissing Kate maybe isn’t a life-shattering book, but it is a strong book in the lesbian teen genre. I liked that it wasn’t just about coming out, but also about not being so dependent on one other person for your sense of self. And it’s also not a love story, which is different from a lot of lesbian YA. Plus, it gets bonus points for mentioning the possibility that Lissa may be bi. I think this would be a great book to read as a newly out teenager, or just as a quick, satisfying read for anyone.

ladyknight

Anyone looking for a good lesbian love story that takes place in the medieval period should definitely try Lady Knight by L-J Baker. It has a perfect blend of romance, battles, and intriguing characters.

The story opens with Riannon, an open female knight who is rejected by almost everyone who learns her true identity. She is honorable and chivalrous, but people only see her as a misfit. She is saved from a mortal wounding by her cousin, the queen’s sister Aveline, and is now under her services. Aveline is plotting a holy war, and selfishly tries to become a leader of the highest religious order.

Eleanor is a beautiful and wealthy widow, who catches the eye of many a man. But she has had enough of arranged marriages and wants to keep her freedom. When she first meets Riannon, the two have an immediate attraction to each other, and finally they become lovers. But can two medieval women really end up together?

The story is set in a fantasy world with magical healing abilities and charmed swords. Other than that, Baker paints a very real medieval world. The cultures and countries, though made up, strongly resonate with our world. The dialogue between the characters is interesting, as they speak the way a medieval person might have. The customs and the religion are invented so well they are almost real; what with the prayers they utter, and the offerings they make to their gods and goddesses.

I loved the way Riannon and Eleanor’s love for each other was portrayed. They clearly respected each other, and both did a lot of soul searching about their love for each other and what it meant for them. The love scenes were sweet and tender, and their love was so palpable it radiated right out of the book.

Besides the romance, there are some action sequences: battles and duels which Riannon must overcome. There are other hurdles as well, such as Aveline and her sister each using the two women for their own selfish purposes, misogynist men, an impending war, and the ghosts of Riannon and Eleanor’s own pasts.

I love how I came to know both Riannon and Eleanor. All throughout the book, bits and pieces of their backgrounds come to light, and by the end the pieces are woven into a history about each woman. This added more to their already well fleshed out personalities. It also made the book richer in detail.

Lady Knight is a gripping read, as well as heart-warming in places. I’ve read this book five or six times and have never gotten tired of it. For a lesbian/medieval romance, it was everything I had hoped for. Though it may not appeal to some, for others this gem of a novel will make great reading.

[Also check out Anna and Spencer's reviews of this book!]

childofdoors

This book was a wild read from start to finish. It has been a while since I read some truly weird speculative fiction like this. That’s about as specific as I can be about the genre of this book. It was part horror, part paranormal, part science fiction, part fantasy, and possibly meant to be somewhat allegorical. It reminded me a lot of Philip K. Dick, or Cordwainer Smith: the kind of science fiction that is infuriatingly philosophical in a way that is impossible to reason out a real meaning and actually learn anything from it. That is because, of course, these are the types of stories that are meant to draw out feelings and not thoughts. Despite how confusing the narrative was, it did draw me into an emotional connection with the characters. One of those emotions was fear. As I mentioned, there are some elements of horror in this book. There is plenty of gore and death and body horror, so if you don’t like those, you might want to skip this book. If you grew up on creepypasta, X-Files, and horror manga (like I did), Child of Doors may be right up your alley.

The events are told from the point of view of Arc Litchfield, a lesbian who is described as having dark skin and is at one point ambiguously described as “exotic” by another character, leading me to believe she is a woman of color. Aside from that, Arc’s appearance is never elaborated upon, except to say that she is out of shape. So the hero of the story (and she is a hero, in a very traditional sense of the word. It becomes quite clear early on that there is something very special about Arc that no one else in her world seems to have.) a fat lesbian of color, provides representation for demographics who do not often see themselves in this sort of traditional spec fic setting. Every other character is a woman as well, with the exception that proves the rule being the bad guy.

The antagonist, for lack of a better word, is a tall man in a suit, faceless, but with its head cocked to one side as if scrutinizing its potential victims. This is a creature of the type so common in ghost stories and horror media that it is instantly familiar and yet, at least in my opinion, still very scary. This book got me wondering what it is about faceless monsters that drills so deep into our subconscious and makes us so uneasy? I didn’t come up with an answer, but I certainly appreciate the stylistic choice the author made to use the “faceless man” monster in Child of Doors to such good effect.

The problem I run into reviewing this kind of story is that any criticisms I have might just be a case of me “not getting it.” For example, the pacing is uneven and jarring. This might be the author’s method of getting the reader into the mindset of the main character, who experiences blackouts and lost time repeatedly throughout the narrative. I certainly felt myself feeling the effects of confusion and desperation as her terrifying circumstances wore on Arc throughout the story. The narrative was hard to follow, and was left with so many questions and loose ends that I wished were explained better. Perhaps this too was on purpose, for it emphasizes the uncertainty of life and the complexity of the world and of our own minds. It seemed like Arc understood more about what was happening to her than the reader could be expected to glean from the narrative. Maybe her deepest thoughts and feelings of acceptance for her fate and role were her own private business, and the reader, an outsider, can only accept the character’s decisions based on their respect for her agency as a survivor and a hero.

In summary, this book is everything I have been looking for in speculative fiction! A book in my favorite genre with a protagonist who is not a white, straight male? Yes please. It’s definitely the kind of book you have to read at least twice to understand it. I plan to pick it up again soon just so I can enjoy it again, and maybe the second time around I will gain more insight into what exactly happened. Even then, if it’s still unclear, what really matters to me is the beautiful story, the words, the interections, the brief vignettes of normalcy that end up ripped apart by terror and chaos. It’s these elements that make the story resonate in an impressionistic way and feed your mind and your heart. That’s what I love about speculative fiction, and it’s why I fell instantly in love with this shining example of the genre.

girlwiththetreasurechest

Dani Fenton’s life was on the right course. In her younger years, she strayed and got into trouble. But she was able to right the ship. And she helped inspire those around her to get their lives together. Dani runs a business and she employs many young men that other companies wouldn’t hire. And she helps negotiate deals between rival gangs as a side gig. Dani is smart, confident, charismatic, and in control. She has a loyal group of “soldiers” who will help her no matter what.

But there is one thing that threatens Dani and that is Dani herself. Actually, it’s Dani when Susanna, an old flame, reenters the picture. For some reason, Dani can’t control herself or stop herself when it comes to Susanna. Will she throw everything away to be with Susanna?

This is Veronica Fearon’s debut novel and she doesn’t pull any punches. It takes place in present day London and Fearon shows the gritty side of the city and of love. Right from the start, the reader is thrown into a world that many won’t have first-hand experience with. Gangs in London are frightening. There’s always a sense when reading that something can go very wrong with just one misstep.

Dani is an original character. She’s able to teach and control her soldiers by showing them respect and teaching them respect. Dani really understands the young men she interacts with and she knows how to handle them.

But Dani isn’t a perfect character. Her big flaw is her obsession with Susanna. At first I thought Dani would be able to control her obsession, but I soon learned just how far Dani is willing to go. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

While I love flawed characters, Dani’s actions made me uncomfortable on many occasions. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the story. I did, even though it made me uncomfortable. And it made me think.

This isn’t your typical lesbian romance story. If a reader is looking for a carefree novel about two women who love each other, I wouldn’t suggest this one. But if a reader likes character driven stories about love, including the destructive side of love, this might be perfect for you.

I will warn you, there is some violence that might be upsetting. However, the violence is part of the story and part of Dani’s world. It took me some time to adjust to the slang used in conversations. Once I grew accustomed to it, I stopped noticing it and it became natural.

Overall, this is a powerful debut novel and a great start to the series.

howstillmylove

I was looking for a fluffy contemporary romance when I picked up How Still My Love, and with a few caveats, I think it delivered.

The novel follows Beth, a woman who’s thrown herself into work at her successful graphic design studio after the end of a disastrous (and abusive) relationship several years past. Her best friends set her up on a blind date with Toni, a local schoolteacher, and the romance blooms from there. Through a few time skips – some more successful than others – we follow Beth and Toni through a delightful honeymoon period, buying their dream house together, and then smack into the wall of the overarching conflict. Toni desperately wants a baby and Beth can’t articulate just how terrified that makes her. A roller-coaster of miscommunication and misunderstandings follows –including the use of a classic, if a bit cliché Big Misunderstanding – until finally, several years later, Beth and Toni earn their happy ending.

I will admit, I struggled a lot with the first third of this book. Beth’s whacky-but-loveable friends come off as, well, pushy and kind of terrible. Our first introduction to Laurel, her best friend, involves her carelessly injuring Beth in a way that invokes the specter of Beth’s physically abusive ex-girlfriend, with the implication that, tee-hee, this happens all the time. Her company is so tight-knit that everyone shows up to pressure Beth to go on this blind date she’s really quite opposed to. I eventually warmed up moderately to Laurel and her husband, but they had to combat an awful first impression.

Toni, on the other hand, is lovely once she’s introduced. She seems to be nice, attracted to Beth, and a generally sweet and sensible person. Honestly, for that first chunk of the book, I would have rather been in Toni’s head, not Beth’s. Beth falls head-over-heels in lust with Toni at their first meeting, and head-over-heels in love with her after three days. And during that time period, there’s a great deal of tell, not show, language. Everything Toni does is ‘sexy.’ Her hair twirling, her dimple, the never-identified nail color on her toes. Toni is also written with instant mind-reading powers – she reads Beth like an open book, which juxtaposes oddly with their later communication problems.

Thankfully, after some significant time skips – three weeks, six months for a single chapter, three years later – the novel smooths out. Toni’s significant flaws fill her out as a character, and we see Beth grow up a lot over the intervening time. Without going into any more detail, I will say that Beth and Toni are a brilliant demonstration of the importance of couple’s counseling. Still, I did feel like they deserved their happy ending, and I was glad to see them find it.

Overall, How Still My Love is a decent contemporary lesbian romance. If you don’t mind fairly simple prose and a dash of misunderstandings and family-related angst in your fluffy romance, you’ll probably enjoy it.

polymorph

I debated whether or not to review this book at the Lesbrary. It’s definitely not a lesbian book, but it is queer, and since I have a policy of reviewing every book I read that could be posted here, I decided to go ahead. I found Polymorph in a crowded used bookstore while travelling, and picked it up because the idea of a person who changes their body completely at will was fascinating to me, especially since the back cover promised to play with gender. And the other factor was that this is by Scott Westerfeld! I’m pretty familiar with Westerfeld’s books, working in the kids’ section of a bookstore, but I’d never heard of this one. He usually writes teen books, that in my experience are entertaining, but fairly forgettable. It turns out that this is his first novel, written in 1997, and it diverges hugely from his now established genre. It’s adult sci fi, and it’s challenging and sexual and queer. Look at that front cover blurb! Poppy Z. Brite (known for her queer horror books)! And the back cover shows a blurb by Melissa Scott, author of one of the most well-known lesbian sci fi books, Trouble and her Friends! This is not the sort of company Westerfeld’s books share now.

Needless to say, I was very curious picking up this book. And as I started it, I was immediately hooked. Our main character, often (but not always) known as Lee, calls themselves a “polymorph”, because they can change their body at will, though not without a huge amount of effort. Lee spends most of their time trying on different faces and hitting the clubs, studying anatomy texts and club goers to perfect striking, distinct bodies. Around this depiction of Lee everyday life, Westerfeld builds up an interesting view of the near future. In fact, because this is written in 90s, the future it depicts would be about now. It has a cyberpunk feel, with technology and the internet constantly a presence in the background of the novel (reminding me of Cory Doctorow’s books). I loved Westerfeld’s depiction of the future, which felt much more thought-out than his Uglies series. It’s a little bit odd, because most of it still seems possible for the near future, but it also has a 90s feel to it, a slightly dated future world.

But the aspect that drew me to Polymorph and captured my attention so thoroughly at the beginning of the book was the queer nature of being a polymorph. Queer in both the gender/sexuality sense, and also in the theory sense. Lee has no sense of permanent identity. They are just as comfortable in a “male” body as a “female” one, and also changes race throughout the book, noting how this aspect changes how they are treated. In a way, it’s a critique of racism, but the casualness of putting on another race made me hesitant to see how it would be handled throughout the novel. (Small spoiler: it’s not really addressed, but Lee was born Dominican and grew up as this identity until they began to change their body, in their teens.) Lee also mentions sleeping with men and women, gay and straight in the past. In fact, near the beginning of the book, Lee goes to a lesbian bar that they regularly frequent.

As I’ve mentioned, this was really promising for the beginning of the novel. Unfortunately, though the premise of the book is extremely queer, Westerfeld doesn’t seem to be able to follow through on it. You may have already noticed the binaries in Lee listing their lovers as men or women, gay or straight. Although bisexuality is mentioned once (the club has a “bi-night”), that sort of binary still seems to be the established norm. And though Lee is this person with no connection to a certain body, sex, or gender, there’s still quite a lot of transphobia mentioned. Lee sees “transvestites” in the street and notes that they are all “really” men. It’s also interesting that there is a scene, where Lee is changing their body from one with a vagina to one with a penis (which Lee does every time they want to change gendered bodies, though it’s apparently the most difficult thing to change), and pronouns change from she to he as soon as Lee forms a penis.

[Spoilers follow]

The scene that really solidified Westerfeld’s inability to realize this queer premise, though, is when Lee encounters another polymorph. This take place at the lesbian club, and Lee doesn’t realize that the other person is a polymorph at first. They begin to full around, and eventually Lee realizes, because Lee notices that this person has an essential essence different from themselves, which is that this person was born male. Because apparently even polymorphs, who have no “home” body and switch genitals, gendered characteristics, etc, constantly, still are really either men or women. And then Lee discovers that this person has come into a lesbian club with a penis, and it is appalled, because “this is not a place for pricks“. In fact, Westerfeld somehow manages to write a book about someone who changes gendered bodies at will without acknowledging the existence of trans people. And this is in addition to some questionable depictions of race. There is a Japanese, deaf character in the book, but there’s also a scene of Lee pitying him for being deaf, though Sam is extremely wealthy and seems pretty satisfied with his life.

Perhaps more damning than the offensiveness of certain aspects in Polymorph is the plot. I was completely engrossed in Lee’s everyday life, but once it reached the actual plot of the book, I lost interest. Lee discovers another polymorph, but he’s a monster. (I say “he” because Bonito seems to prefer it, and Lee insists he’s a “man at heart”.) Lee tries to track him down, with  a new boyfriend and his hacking friend, and hopefully prevent him from doing something heinous and also meet more polymorphs. Bonito is such a flat, evil-for-the-sake-of-it character (though with a little contemplation for how he could have ended up that way) that I found any part of his story boring. I prefer my villains complex, even sympathetic. Although dramatic, it wasn’t particularly interesting, and I was particularly disappointed with it ending with Lee getting raped (in the most horrifying, consuming way possible).

I’m glad I read Polymorph, because the first 50 pages or so were worth it, but the rest was disappointing, mostly because I feel like Westerfeld has this great idea, but his own cissexist worldview didn’t allow him to fully imagine it.

MermaidinChelseaCreek

This book is a gift to the world. As I read it I imagined wrapping it up in pretty colored paper and giving it to someone I love, to imagine them discovering it for the first time. Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is everything I’ve ever wanted from a Young Adult, “Chosen One” fantasy novel. I began this book looking for a light, summery mermaid read, and found something worth so much more.

Our protagonist, the realistic, sometimes-bratty-but-ultimately-good-hearted Sophie, is the daughter of a working single mother. Her mother is tired, burnt-out, and neglectful. Sophie feels unloved.

This was my favorite part of the novel, although it may seem depressing. I’ve never read a fantasy story featuring a neglectful parent before. Harry Potter has a nasty aunt and uncle and the Disney movie Tangled has an abusive mother – who is not, in fact, an actual mother at all. But in children’s fiction there is a dearth of children who are genuinely unloved or neglected by their biological parents but do amazing things anyway. The world needs these stories. We have an overabundance of dead parents in prose, but there’s always this assumption that these dead parents would have loved their children. Harry’s mother’s love reaches beyond the grave. And that’s a beautiful story, but it’s a story that many children can’t relate to. Give them something they can relate to, and then give them hope. Neglected children, too, get to be the Chosen Ones.

Onwards: I loved the fantasy elements mixed with stark realism. Sophie lives in a grubby city which contains a polluted creek. This creek is not only unimpressive, but thoroughly revolting. And yet it is here where the mermaid lurks, waiting to inform Sophie of her destiny.

The mermaid, herself, is perfectly magical, but she, too, is of this world: She’s from Poland, speaks accented English, and, what’s more, has a very foul mouth. A mermaid with a pirate mouth.

Another important setting is “the dump,” where Sophie discovers that a place filled with discarded items and heaps of broken glass is, just like the mermaid, enchanted: “The whole place was a mixture of sparkle and grit, sort of magical in an ordinary way…”

Throughout the novel the ordinary is made beautiful, the mundane and magical intertwined until the two become indistinguishable from one another. Reflecting this theme is the prose: Michelle Tea writes beautifully, but sometimes conversationally. Her characters, too, speak not like characters in a book but like real people. They curse and have accents and say ‘like’ too many times. This theme – the ordinary is deeply, profoundly beautiful – is reinforced by every aspect of the book.

Also, I know a lot of people don’t like pigeons, but I love them. Michelle Tea, too, has been fortunate enough to realize their beauty, and she writes about them in her book, putting them on the magical pedestal they deserve.

I saw on Amazon that a reviewer said this book would “have difficulty finding an audience.” This book includes American immigrants from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Poland; a lesbian mentor in the form of Angel; a girl with a single-parent household; and more. Sounds like Tea’s reached out to a pretty wide audience to me.

Also, teeny tiny side note: This book has no romantic lead. For a YA book, that is very, very rare. Plenty of YA authors need to insert a romantic subplot before their novels can be published. I was relieved and refreshed to see Sophie too busy with magic to be kissing mediocre thirteen year-old boys (or girls).

I hold this book close to my heart, now. I hope you will, too.

KisstheGirl

Kiss the Girl is Melissa Brayden’s fourth book, after How Sweet It Is, and contains similar strands of enduring friendship and sweetness mixed with serious themes.

Brooklyn Campbell co-founded a small but successful advertising agency with her three lesbian best friends from college. She’s a fast-driving, energetic whirlwind who follows one rule: never get too involved. Jessica Lennox is a quintessential high-powered advertising executive who spends all her time thinking about work. The two women meet by chance and feel an immediate spark of attraction, then discover that their companies are rivals for a coveted account and will be forced to work on the same campaign until one is chosen.

Initially, both women agree that any potential relationship between them is impossible considering the potential breach of professionalism it would entail. Brooklyn, who grew up in and aged out of the foster system, also battles confusion after she’s told that her birth mother wants to get in touch for the first time. Events conspire to throw Brooklyn and Jessica together several times, forcing them to realize that it might just be worthwhile to take a chance on a real relationship. Brayden supports their story with a full cast of supporting characters.

Overall, I recommend this book for fans of initially adversarial romantic relationships and corporate intrigue. Brooklyn’s reasons for not committing to Jessica felt valid, given her emotional background. A side plot with Jessica and a neighbor’s daughter ended up feeling a little unresolved, and I was left wanting to know more about the lives of Brooklyn’s friends. Maybe Brayden will write a book for each of them? I can only hope that’s true, given the “A Soho Loft Romance” tagline.

I received an advance copy of Kiss the Girl, which comes out this month, through Netgalley. For another tale featuring a corporate lesbian powerhouse, try The Blush Factor by Gun Brooke.

everythingleadstoyou

I heard a lot about this book before its release in May, so I made sure to place my hold on it as early as possible and eagerly anticipated its arrival. Having not read Hold Still or The Disenchantments, I was not sure what to expect from Nina LaCour – but I’m happy to say that Everything Leads to You definitely lived up to the hype.

Best friends Emi and Charlotte have just graduated high school in Los Angeles when the book begins. Toby, Emi’s older brother, who works in the movie industry, is going abroad for the summer and leaves the girls his apartment as a graduation present. His only stipulation is that something epic takes place there while he is away – not a massive party, but something even more amazing.

Toby has also secured summer jobs for the girls at the studio he works for (although it is clear that Emi has established herself as a talented set dresser already and is working her way up the production ladder). One morning, Charlotte is at an estate sale in search of props and set pieces, when she realizes she is at the home of Clyde Jones, a John Wayne-esque actor who has recently died. Star-struck, the two girls purchase some of Jones’ belongings for themselves, including a Patsy Cline record with a mysterious letter hidden inside. The contents of the letter lead them on a hunt for the recipient of Jones’ inheritance, exposing the personal life of an actor who avoided the spotlight outside of his film endeavors… and, ultimately, allowing them to fulfill Toby’s wish of having something great happen in his apartment.

Emi is an entirely lovable, hard working and passionate teenager with a sincere love of the movies and her role in making them.  She acts mature beyond her years in the job realm; while most people her age have a stereotypically mundane summer job, she is pursuing her dream career path. What is refreshing about Emi is that she takes the leap in accepting a job as a production designer, even when it seems more than a little bit beyond her experience. In this way, Emi is a wonderful role model for young female readers, forging her path in an industry that isn’t always seen as the friendliest to women.

While all of this is wonderful, I have to point out that I was more than a little skeptical of her ability to snag such a position right out of high school. Any reader will have to employ some serious suspension of disbelief as they watch Emi fall into situations that only the most privileged teenager could encounter.

Though her job is quite unrealistic, readers are drawn into the story because we believe Emi is a truly talented artist with a keen eye. The “collapse of the fantasy” concept often comes up in Emi’s narration, as she muses about how both the movies and the great mysteries of people’s lives become less enticing the more you learn about them. But even knowing that Emi’s job situation (and, in fact, the entire plot) plays out a bit too perfectly, we are still compelled to read with the same enthusiasm. The experience of reading LaCour’s story is similar to that of watching a movie – even though we know that both are fabrications of a person’s mind, even though we know that each paragraph and prop are intentionally placed – we still read and watch just as eagerly as if it were happening in real life.

Of course, Emi has some romantic situations throughout the novel, which I will try to keep mostly a secret so as not to ruin the mystery. In any event, Emi matter-of-factly talks about her sexuality from the very beginning, as she attempts to get over her ex-girlfriend, Morgan, who also works on the same set. The wonderful thing about having already established lesbian characters is that it allows the plot to be about more than just sexuality. In doing this, LaCour can write a young love story uncomplicated by the coming-out process, something that is still rare in YA fiction.

LaCour’s up-front writing of Emi’s sexual orientation is just one example of how she casually incorporates diversity into the novel. Further on in the story, one character meets Emi’s parents and discovers that she is mixed-race, a fact that he had never really considered, and that she didn’t deem it necessary to mention. While I love that this was a surprise (I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I did not originally pictured Emi as anything other than white), I do wish LaCour had unpacked Emi’s identities a bit more. Older readers may be more equipped to recognize the implications of Emi’s privilege on her nonchalance regarding her race/sexuality (both of her parents are professors, so she grew up in both a financially stable and intellectually progressive household), but younger readers may not entirely get the subtlety.

Overall, I would highly recommend this incredibly sweet and super intriguing story to a variety of readers. Not only did I love the combination of romance and mystery, but I was really captivated by the descriptions of Emi’s design work, and I will be sure to pay extra attention to the set and props when I watch a film in the future.

 

Writing a short story is kind of a tall order. Thirty pages into a full-length novel, it’s safe to say a reader’s interest has either been piqued or squelched. For first-time writer Elizabeth Andre, thirty pages was all she wrote (pun intended).Learning to Kiss Girls is an unexpected pleasure. Its cover art features the body of a young girl dressed in pink and clutching school books, punctuated by the title and byline in a font from the same family line as Curlz MT, which didn’t exactly gear me up for the next YA masterpiece. But YA this is, and a pink cover certainly attracts the type of audience that would benefit from engaging in this short but sweet text.

If you’re a bit older than the “young adult” crowd (I mean, I’m not exactly raring to drop the “young” title just yet) don’t despair. Andre’s narrator, the fourteen-year-old Helen Blumenstein, speaks from a place that’s not yet wise but not quite green. Her language feels natural, unlike so many other “teen” voices that sound more like parents trying out Facebook. It’s not clear if Helen is speaking to us from her later years as she pulls us along through a few days in her teenage life, and even if she isn’t, I’d still believe her. With lines like, “I didn’t want anyone to know that someone as cool as me might be embarrassed by some nudie picture,” it’s hard not to get brought back to fourteen, to all the stupid things we said when we were self-consciously honest teenagers. Andre has an impressive command of language, a thorough knowledge of Helen’s world, and a refreshing understanding of a young might-be-queer mind that does not feel forced.

Helen is at once innocent and precocious. Her family approaches queerness matter-of-factly if not cluelessly, especially when her gay cousin and his “friend” come to visit and Helen is instructed to take them to the Art Institute, because “they’ll like that.” While never becoming caricature, hers is a Jewish family living in Chicago, complete with plastic-coated dining chairs and plenty of kvetching. Her family is not the issue when it comes to accepting her burgeoning queer identity. Quite realistically, for those of us with benignly uneducated, blissfully ambivalent, or only mildly homophobic families, her issue is that she doesn’t really know if she’s gay yet. She feels weird things for a cute girl in the museum, but she kissed a boy last week. She watches porn and wishes there weren’t so many shadowy regions, but her best friend Anna has a crush on her. It seems coming out for Helen would probably not be a very dramatic, seismic shift kind of ordeal. Helen is no drama queen; she seems to take these seesaw feelings in stride, never really lamenting nor lashing out against them. But things are always hyper-meaningful when you’re a fourteen-year-old girl, aren’t they?

This story left me eager to know what Helen’s life will be like post-first-girl-kiss. Andre’s writing style tends toward bluntness rather than floweriness, so Learning to Kiss Girls felt just the right length. But the ending seemed abrupt, and devoid of at least a modicum of emotion on Helen’s part. Somehow, this doesn’t detract from the honesty, simplicity, and thoughtfulness with which this story was crafted. For Andre’s very first work, this self-published story absolutely holds its own. I would love to see her publish a collection of short stories — perhaps with some edits to this one’s curtailed resolution.

Despite its cartoony cover and sudden drop at the end, Learning to Kiss Girls has depth and heart. I know many young readers will connect with Helen, if not wish to stay with her longer. And for those of us whose ages are better coughed into sleeves, this lovely and well-wrought story will certainly bring you back to adrenaline-coursing adolescence, warts — and kisses — and all.

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