Danika reviews Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

This has been a much-anticipated read for me! Back in 2016, I saw a tumblr post by Barbara Dee’s daughter talking about the upcoming release of her mom’s book, Star-Crossed: a middle-grade book with a bisexual girl as the main character. The first middle-grade novel with a girl who likes girls as the main character! And with an adorable cover! I was sold, but it was still months before it came out.

Unfortunately, the next time I heard about this title (other than the endless reblogs on tumblr) was when I read Barbara Dee’s post, Please Don’t Talk About Your Book. (Which got me so upset that I wrote Let’s Talk About STAR-CROSSED: Why We Need Bisexual Kids’ Books, Backlash or Not at Book Riot.)

Needless to say, I was pretty eager to read this story myself! I was pretty biased going into it, I’ll admit, but I felt that it lived up to the hype. This is a very sweet story that balances Shakespeare references with the dizzying experience of middle school crushes. The characters and middle school politics felt realistic and well-rounded. Even the “mean girl” isn’t dismissed as one-dimensional.

This story revolves around the 8th grade production of Romeo and Juliet, and there is lots of discussion about the play and Shakespeare. Each chapter starts with a related quotation from the play. I was impressed with the discussion that takes place with the material–the play is not only explained, but also critiqued and complimented by the kids performing it. I think it shows what you can gain from really diving into a story looking at in depth. It begins to be relateable and personally valuable.

As for the representation in the story, the word “bisexual” isn’t actually used, but it’s explicit that she acknowledges that she can get crushes on boys and girls. Mattie worries what people will think if they find out that she has a crush on a girl, but there’s very little homophobia on the page. (More detail and spoilers in following paragraph.)

[Spoilers] The only homophobia on the page is one kid saying “That’s gay” about something and the teacher and his classmate (the popular girl who’s been kind of a jerk otherwise) both immediately say that wasn’t okay and that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of. Mattie comes out to her sister, teacher, and friends without ant of them really batting an eyelash. She doesn’t come out to her parents by the end of the book, but doesn’t seem worried about it. She asks Gemma (her crush) out on a date, and she accepts! [End spoilers]

This was a light, fun read, and I’m so happy it’s out in the world now. This would be life-changing for kids questioning their sexuality/romantic identity! It is fluffy enough that I don’t expect I’ll reread it or that it will stick with me in a huge way as an adult reader, but it’s well-written, entertaining, and much-needed.

Danika reviews Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Jessie is a ballet dancer who pours her life into controlling her body. It must be kept slim, contained, and each muscle must be acting perfectly according to the assigned movements. Despite going home from classes having danced until her feet bled, Jessie feels her chances of becoming a professional ballerina are slipping away.

Dawn has lost control of her body. She keeps slipping into “fugues”–chunks of time where she loses conscious thought and retains no memories from. She feels an overwhelming pull towards the animalistic, her body keening for wildness. Her life, fragmented and antagonistic towards her BodyBeautifulTM mother and bitter stepfather, can’t continue this way for long. Something has to break.

Dawn and Jessie were once best friends, but they haven’t seen each other in about a decade. Their parents used to be just as close, but once relationships between the girls and between the pairs of parents crossed boundaries, the families moved apart and cut contact. When desperation on Dawn’s part gets her to reach out, the two start clumsily rebuilding a relationship together. Meanwhile, Jessie finds herself lost in a new, overwhelming, raw style of dance, and Dawn keeps returning to a bear in a cage in the woods.

Usually I wouldn’t give this much summary in a review. But I’m finding it hard to gather my own feelings about the story. I was completely immersed in it while I was reading it, and it definitely has a wild, passionate appeal to it. Both girls seem on the edge of losing control, and neither seem to know whether that would be a bad thing. Dawn’s descents into her fugues are accompanied by fragmented, poetic writing, communicating her changing thought processes. This really worked for me, and I couldn’t help rooting for Dawn even as she lashed out at everyone around her and jumped out her bedroom window to run into the woods.

I would expect Jessie’s story to pale in comparison to Dawn’s… were-bear story? But I actually ended up just as morbidly fascinated with her world of dance. She is brutally disciplined, and when she starts dancing a more interpretive style, you can feel the intensity of base, physical emotion pour off the page. I was wrapped up in both of their emotional journeys, but I had no idea where they were going to go. This is a story about, as the author note explains, being a girl in a girl’s body. It’s about the intensity of societal pressure on teen girls’ bodies. How do you tidily wrap that up?

You don’t, I suppose. I don’t know what to think of the ending, exactly. [vague spoilers] There is confirmation of the complex, queer, but not entirely defined relationship between Dawn and Jessie, but it’s unclear whether they will have any relationship in the future, or what will happen in either of their lives. [end spoilers]

This made for an intense reading experience, and I really enjoyed the use of language to convey their differing perspectives. If you’re interesting in reading about a book inspired by a Mary Oliver quote and the scrutiny placed on teen girls’ bodies, I would highly recommend this.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

Danika reviews Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

This. Was. Adorable. I was between rating this 4 stars or 5, but I couldn’t think of anything that I would change about it to improve it, so I guess that makes it an automatic 5 stars!

Queens of Geek follows two point of view characters, Charlie and Taylor, as well as their friend Jamie. All three are going to Supacon, a big fandom convention. Charlie is a Chinese-Australian actress who is at Supacon both for the fun of it and to promote her movie. She’s also bisexual! Unfortunately, she is still living in the shadows of her ex-boyfriend and co-star, whom the fans would love if she got back together with (even though he’s a real jerk). Taylor is fat, geeky, anxious, and has Asperger’s. She’s excited to experience the fandom that she loves in real life, but she’s also overwhelmed by all of the elements of the con that can increase her anxiety. Luckily, Jamie is there to make everything seem less terrifying. He’s supportive, kind, and funny–and Taylor doesn’t want to endanger their friendship by acknowledging her feelings for him.

That’s a lot of summary, but it’s because there’s so much here that I love! I’ve only gone to a few conventions so far, but I absolutely love the ones that I have been to. The energy has been amazing and sometimes overwhelming. The idea of reading a whole book set at a con was exciting! And Queens of Geek lives up to that, really capturing the frenetic energy of a convention. It also reads like a love letter to fandom (while still acknowledging some of its faults). There are so many geeky references, too! And Taylor posts on Tumblr throughout the book!

As the cover would suggest, this is also about the two love stories of Taylor and Charlie. Although I picked this book up for the f/f romance, I was charmed by Taylor’s friends-to-lovers plot line with Jamie. They have a good friendship, built on trust and support. They also have some solid banter. Of course, I was just as invested in Charlie’s romance! In fact, given her experience with her awful ex, I was desperately hoping that she got a healthy, drama-free love story. Of course, it’s not much of a story with no drama at all, but I still was very happy with where it lead. Charlie meets a fellow Youtube star, and it turns out they are both fans of each other! Their flirtation is adorable, and it’s great to read a book that includes a romance between two women of colour.

Another thing that I appreciated in Queens of Geek is that there is no contrived obstacles to the romances. Typically, I find, a romance has a standard plot: couple gets together -> couple splits up because it’s not the end of the book yet, so the author had to invent a reason to break them up -> couple gets back together at the end of the book. Usually this contrivance is something that a simple conversation between the two would have fixed. Instead, the obstacles that Taylor/Jamie and Charlie/Alyssa face makes sense to their characters. Taylor is reluctant to add another change to this tumultuous time in her life while dealing with all of the anxiety that this change invites. Charlie is dealing with a very public break up and is reluctant to have another relationship in the public eye, while Alyssa’s last relationship was with someone who refused to acknowledge their relationship in public for the entire time they were dating (more than a year). Those are all legitimate positions to hold, and ones that conflict. It makes sense that it takes them some time in the book to work those out.

Did I mention that I read this book in one day? I don’t usually do that, and I wasn’t intending to, but I just kept getting drawn back into the story. I also found myself laughing aloud several times while reading. The banter between both couples works really well, and when there’s a fandom joke thrown in as well, I can’t resist.

Besides all of the diverse elements (did I mention that it actually uses the word “bisexual”?) and geeky fun, there’s also a well-paced plot, compelling romances, and memorable and fully-realized characters. This was such a fun, heartwarming read. Just lovely.

Danika reviews The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ash Hardell

Note: This was published under the name “Ashley Mardell,” but the author has since changed her name to “Ash Hardell,” so that’s what I’m using here.

What a useful, thoughtfully considered book. The ABC’s of LGBT+ is an introduction to a long list of LGBTQIA+ identifiers and terminology. This covers a huge range of labels. I am someone who’s been in queer communities online (and offline) for about 10 years, and I feel like I’m pretty well-read in LGBTQIA+ topics, especially current use, but I encountered quite a few words I didn’t recognize, which was exciting!

My favourite thing about this book, though, is that it is almost entirely people representing their own identities. Hardell has gathered a huge amount of contributors, all writing about their own labels. On top of that, Hardell has gathered a lot of great, knowledgeable people representing different letters in the LGBTQIA+ acronym to edit and proofread the book. This makes for definitions that are obviously very well thought out, and tailored to be inclusive and allow for the many nuances that this conversation introduces. Hardell even includes a few discussions between different readers about the intricacies of some of the more thorny topics brought up–how these words might be used, or how they might be offensive.

If this sounds academic and dense, I’m completely misrepresenting it! Although I learned new words here, it’s also written to be very accessible to people who are new to learning queer terminology. It’s a lot of personal essays, and even the definitions attempt to be easy-to-read. There are also tons of colourful illustrations included, as well as photos of contributors.

I think this would be such an awesome book to have in school libraries, GSAs, public libraries—any place where people are questioning their identities! This could be hugely affirming for lots of people, especially since so many identities are accompanied by personal stories by people who share that identity. This way, people can not only find a label that might speak to them, they can also, at the same time, find representation of that label! And these essays are accompanied by links to those people’s videos, blogs, and various online endeavors, so anyone interested can find out more.

I did have some minor complaints. One is some minor typos and page formatting. The other is all the bit.ly links included in the footnotes. I love the idea! Seeing the videos and online lives of the people linked would be amazing! The problem is, even though they’re short links, it’s just not conducive to the experience of reading a book to put it down, pull out your laptop, and carefully type out the link as printed.

What might be a good solution is having a website that you can go to that has all the links, sorted as they appear in the book. So after reading Chapter 1, you can go the website and click through all the links and embedded videos that were mentioned in that chapter!

That’s just me getting excited about a way to make this book even better, though. It’s already an excellent text. I would highly recommend it for any school, library, or any other place where people might be questioning their sexual, romantic, or gender identities. I was impressed!

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Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker, illustrated by Julia Scheele

When I picked up Queer: A Graphic History, I was expecting a pretty short, easy read. Queer history! In a graphic format! I was surprised, then, to realize that this is not just queer history as in LGBTQ history, but queer as in queer theory, which is a whole different ball game.

I took queer theory in university years ago, and I had a complicated relationship with it (appropriately). Most of the time I felt like I was totally over my head, but I actually did okay in the course. I also found a lot of the ideas intellectually stimulating, but I felt like they had little use in the real world. I was especially annoyed at how little queer theory seemed to have to do with queer people. Especially when my teacher scoffed at people identifying as queer, because queer as defined in queer theory is not something you could ever achieve, at least not all of the time.

So this ended up being much better and more interesting than the book I thought I was picking up would have been. It served as a refresher for some of the concepts I’d been introduced to years ago, but it also brought up a lot of ideas I hadn’t heard about. Although sometimes it got a little intimidating, I think overall it did a great job in introducing a very dense, complex, sometimes incomprehensible subject.

I also found that a lot of the discussions at the heart of queer theory resonate with me a lot more than they did years ago. This book talked about the dangers of identity politics, and how many possibilities open up when we discuss queer/LGBTQ issues as things people do, instead of what people fundamentally are. This emphasis on actions, and on not limiting people in categories seemed a whole lot more literal and relevant as someone who recently had to change how I identify after experiencing sexual fluidity.

This is just an introduction to queer theory and queer studies, so a lot of things are just touched on (like asexuality and crip studies), but I think it managed to be pretty thorough for the restrictions. It also addresses some of the criticisms of queer theory, especially its failure to incorporate race and other intersectionality.

I wish this had been around when I was first learning about queer theory and felt completely lost! This is a great introduction. If you’re at all interested in queer theory, especially if other texts have seemed intimidating, this is a great one to pick up! I think other queer theory texts will seem much more comprehensible once you’ve gotten the basics from Queer: A Graphic History.

If you like what we do here at the Lesbrary, support us on Patreon for $2 or more a month and be entered into monthly book giveaways!  Or buy us a coffee on ko-fi if you’re generous!

 

Sponsored Review: Danika reviews The Lady’s Bride by M. A. Jodat-Danbrani

The Lady’s Bride is a fantasy novella that follows an unnamed woman on her quest to challenge the Lady: a woman with incredible magical powers, who tore their world apart many years ago. If she can best the Lady, then she take on the Lady’s abilities and hopefully change the world for the better.

I found myself a little thrown when I started reading this story. For one thing, the language and slang the characters use is not the kind I usually read in fantasy. It makes sense, since the protagonist does talk about herself as a simple country girl, but it was surprising to read phrases like “horse puckey” in a fantasy setting. We’re also thrown into the story, and in addition to not knowing anything about the world that we’re encountering, we also know almost nothing about the main character. For the sake of ease, let’s call the main character A, to avoid calling her “the unnamed protagonist” the entire review.

A is on a journey to confront the Lady, but that’s about all we know about her in the beginning. Why she has gone on this quest, what her history is, or even what her personality is like is only slowly revealed in the first few chapters, making it hard to get a grasp on the opening scenes. Soon is becomes obvious, though, that A is sincere in her desire to change the world. She sees how damaged the society she lives in is, how much people damage each other and ignore each other’s pain, and she wants that to end.

In every encounter, A is determined to be kind and giving. She really wants to do the right thing, even if she’s not yet sure what that is. As the story unfolds, we learn about the problems that exist in her world–how the different peoples have turned against each other, including dragos (humanoid dragonlike people), orcs, the water people, and humans.

While A is certain of her goal to confront the Lady, the path to get there is more unclear. A seems to stumble forward, tripping into mini adventures along the way. But while this muddled journey continues, there is a more subtle change happening beneath the surface. A is also on a journey of morality, one that makes her question her own core beliefs. In the beginning of the story, I was wary about the ahistorical way A seemed to view the world, but as she encounters new people and situations, her understanding grows, and she begins to incorporate that into her worldview.

There’s a lot to like about this novella. I did get swept along in the quest storyline, and although A can seem naive and over-the-top sometimes, I did appreciate her desire to effect real change in the world and her anger at apathy. I also became intrigued by the world. I would like to see more about the dragos’ culture, and I’d love to see illustrations or fan art of the water peoples–they seemed to have such interesting designs.

[spoilers, trigger warning:] I did want to give a warning that there is a queer woman character who is killed for homophobic reasons–this is a side character, and there are a lot of other queer women characters in the book (in fact, f/f relationships almost seem to be the norm in most of the story), but I know some readers do want to avoid that trope, even if it’s a small part of the story. [end spoilers]

Overall, I really liked this novella! I feel like there was opportunity to expand on the world and character depth, but for the length, it did a good job in hooking me. If you’re a fantasy fan, it’s worth checking this one out!

One note: this book isn’t actually published yet! It’s part of the Kindle Scout program, which means for the next month or so, you can read and excerpt and nominate it if you want to see it published. Here’s the link!

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.

Danika reviews Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

sistermine

It’s hard to describe a book like Sister Mine. It would probably suffice to say it is just as surreal as the cover would suggest, but I’ll make an attempt anyways.

Makeda is a twin–originally conjoined twins–and is trying to strike out on her own. She and her sister have always been very close, but Makeda is sick of Abby’s controlling and overprotective attitude. It doesn’t help that while they are both mortal demigods, Abby has a magical gift with music, while Makeda is left with no mojo at all. She wants to make it on her own in the claypicken (human) world–but it’s not easy escaping from her supernatural family, when the unreal seems to follow her around.

There is a lot going on in this book. While it starts off following Makeda’s attempts at getting an apartment and establishing a “normal” life for herself, it quickly slides back into Fantasy. She’s being followed (hunted?) by a haint, her sister is dating the magical embodiment of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, her mother is cursed into being a sea monster, her father is temporarily human and has Alzheimer’s, and there’s something unnatural about her apartment complex. Phew.

Although there’s a ton going on in terms of gods, mojo, and the Fantasy world-building, Toronto as a setting is given just as much detail and life, which includes addressing the casual racism that Makeda deals with in the claypicken world.

Nalo Hopkinson throws you into the deep end in terms of introducing characters and lore. I wasn’t always completely sure what was going on–especially with the revelations around Abby and Makeda’s birth–but I was always immersed and fascinated. I love her writing. Everything I’ve read by her has been surreal and sometimes overwhelming, but always satisfying.

The queer aspect to Sister Mine requires a little bit of explanation that may be considered spoilers. Basically, the gods and demigods in this world don’t have a lot of qualms about sex and romance, which means that basically they’re all polyamorous and pansexual–oh, and also have sex with family. So even though Makeda in her claypicken life doesn’t seem to have any romantic or sexual interest in women (and makes a gay joke at one point?), she does have sex and date god/demigod women. Including her twin sister. To be honest, it made sense while I was reading it, and it didn’t occur to me until afterwards that it might be controversial.

If you’re looking for a surreal, immersive read, this is definitely one I would recommend.

Danika reviews Everfair by Nisi Shawl

everfairIt’s rare for me to pick up a book and be surprised to see it has queer representation. That’s part of being so immersed in the LGBTQ book internet: I’ve usually heard about the representation before picking it up. I picked Everfair because I was intrigued by the premise: a steampunk alternate history of the Belgian Congo. I like steampunk, but I’m even more interested in steampunk that isn’t in a European context. I was happily surprised to see that in addition to that premise, this book also has several queer women main characters!

This is an incredible and complex story. I wouldn’t pick this up as a light or quick read: it definitely took me a while to get through. Each chapter switches perspectives, and there are tons of point of view characters (I actually lost count). This means that you get to see the story from so many angles: the well-meaning white supporters of Everfair, the existing king and queen of the region trying to regain control, the Chinese workers brought in by the Belgium king, mixed-race European Everfair inhabitants, etc.

The story spans decades, tackling politics, war, espionage, grief, love and betrayal. The alternate history of the Congo was fascinating, and although the steampunk element was more subtle than I was expecting, there was so much going on that I didn’t notice. There are a lot of nuanced political machinations taking place, including negotiations between the people who helped to found Everfair and the rulers of the area who preceded the existence of Everfair.

At least three of the points of view characters are queer women, along with more minor characters. I would argue that the relationship between two of them is at the core of the book. They definitely don’t have a simple, sweet romance. It’s complex and deeply flawed, but it’s also passionate, genuine, and loyal. I didn’t always like the characters (okay, one of the characters, but I won’t spoil it for you), but I always appreciated the layered, believable relationship they built between them, which spanned continents and many years.

This is an ambitious novel, tackling difficult and multi-faceted topics (including war, colonialism, and racism). It is thoughtful and unafraid to deal with uncomfortable conversations. I highly recommend this if you’re looking to dive into a book that is far-reaching and thought-provoking.

Sponsored Review: Danika reviews The Buddha of Lightning Peak by Yudron Wangmo

buddha-of-lightning-peak

Within a few chapters of starting The Buddha of Lightning Peak, I thought I understood where the story was going: Plucky teenager takes on corporation to save the environment! Having been environmentally-focused as a teenager, this was a plot that would have been just fine by me. By the midway point of the book, however, it was obvious this wouldn’t be the Disney Channel version of that narrative.

Dee is a black lesbian teenager with a lot on her plate. Her brother is in jail, her grandmother is abusive, and the place that she feels most at peace is scheduled to be bulldozed. Dee is determined to save Lightning Peak, but no one else seems to care–not even the environmental groups that would usually be the leading the fight. She doesn’t always feel like the different parts in her life meld, but she will have to draw on her family, her friends in the Gay-Straight Alliance, and the connections she’s made through a Buddhist meditation group in order to fight back. Even if that means risking her life.

As you might be able to tell, there’s a lot going on in The Buddha On Lightning Peak. On one level it can be read as a young adult environmental thriller about an activist taking on a suspiciously powerful mining company, but that ignores both the scope of the plot and the other aspects of Dee’s life. She’s also becoming serious about pursuing Buddhism as a life path and trying to incorporate that into her identity (there aren’t a lot of other black Buddhists that she knows, nevermind black Buddhist lesbian teenagers). She’s feuding with her ex, attempting to maintain a relationship with her incarcerated brother, and struggling to maintain her friendships at the same time. There is a huge cast of side characters in this book as well. Though I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the amount of names (a personal flaw of mine), I did appreciate how many side characters became well-developed over the course of the novel.

Dee is an engaging protagonist, but she’s not perfect. She is impatient and often angry, even when dealing with her closest friends. While continuing to fight a seemingly unwinnable battle to save Lightning Peak, Dee also begins, possibly unconsciously, to come to terms with her own more generalized anger. She draws on the lessons she’s learned from her Buddhist mentor in order to have more empathy and understanding for the people around her, and see things more broadly.

This definitely became more complex and had higher stakes than I was expecting. Dee becomes involved in something much bigger than she anticipated, and soon seems to be regularly putting her life at risk for her goals, which definitely kept me flipping pages.

This isn’t a perfect book, however. The major problem I had with it was the use of slang, which often felt dated and awkward to me (“Kicking it at a party”, “check it”, etc). The book is from Dee’s point of view, so it’s not just her dialogue that uses slang, but the entire narration. Even when it didn’t seem dated, seeing words like shoulda, mighta, or ’em in the narration would often throw me out of the story.  There is a lot to do with race and racism covered in this story as well, which I can’t speak to in terms of representation: I’m white, and the book is not own voices. I’d be interested to read a review by a black reader, especially a queer black reader.

I also am not Buddhist, so I also don’t have a lot of context for its representation here, but the author is a Buddhist practitioner. I got the impression that at the core of this series of books was to the representation of Buddhism, but although it was a major part of the story, it didn’t feel pedantic or preaching to me.

Despite my issues with the narration, I really enjoyed both the well-rounded characters and the nerve-wracking plot of this. Not only was there a lot of action, but events kept surprising me (mostly because everything seemed to keep going wrong). If you want a more intense take on the “plucky teen takes on evil corporation” plot, with added Buddhist subplot, I’d recommend giving this one a try.

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.

Danika reviews Goldie Vance Vol. 1 by Hope Larson (Author) and Brittney Williams (illustrator)

goldie-vance-volume-1

Aahh, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book with surprise queer content. It’s such a great surprise.

Goldie Vance is an all-ages comic that has been described as Lumberjanes meets Nancy Drew, which I think is a pretty solid assessment. It also gave me hints of Veronia Mars, but that may just be because I haven’t been exposed to many girl detective characters. Goldie works at a hotel with her father, but she also attempts to act as a detective on the side.

For some reason, I kept being surprised that the main character of this is a teenager. I shouldn’t have been: she acts as a valet, so she’s clearly old enough to drive. I think it’s because teenagers are usually drawn in comics as if they were twenty-somethings, so I assumed that this teenager was a preteen.

I really love the art in this volume. The colours are vibrant, and the character designs are distinctive and engaging, and the cast is diverse. The plot lost me a for a little while, just because I was expecting it to be aimed at a younger audience and wasn’t thinking about it having any sort of political aspect.

But, of course, what stuck with me was the queer content. This is an all-ages comic with a girl who likes girls at the centre of it! She meets Diane and is immediately enamored with this girl rocking the James Dean look. It’s not subtextual. It’s not treated any differently than any other romance in the text. But I’m so unused to queer characters in a book for young people that I could hardly believe what I was reading. Was I wearing queer goggles? Was I projecting?

I’m so glad that with comics like this and Lumberjanes, and with shows like Steven Universe, we’re getting queer representation in kids’ media, too. It’s so important, both for queer kids and for making society in general more accepting. This is a really fun comic, and it would make a great gift for fans of Lumberjanes and similar comics.