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.

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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

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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.

Danika reviews The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

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I have to start this with my Goodreads status update from 5 pages in:

I literally cannot handle how much I like this book. I can’t get through a page without cackling or exclaiming. The art! The narration! The surreal worldbuilding! The f/f couple in the middle of it!!! The feminism! The cleverness! Like, I actually can’t handle it. I have to read it a couple pages at a time or I get overwhelmed. I don’t think this has ever happened??

I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddy from the first pages of a book. I was already hooked from the premise: a graphic novel retelling of the Arabian Nights featuring a woman who has fallen in love with her maid. Once I had it in my hands, I was stunned by the cover alone. It looks even more gorgeous in person, with the text in shining gold letters. And best of all, the two women reaching for each other: no attempt to disguise the queer content.

I’m a sucker for experiments in story telling, and I love how this book is structured. From the page layouts to the narration, the design and writing of this book perfectly fits its story, even when it deviates from the norm. A book that starts with a creation story of “In the beginning there was the world / And it was weird” is going to immediately jump in my estimation. I haven’t read the previous book, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, but this book stands on its own–while dropping enough hints that I want to pick up the earlier book to get an even richer understanding of this story.

The framing device here is that Cherry’s husband has made a bet with another man, Manfred, that he can’t seduce Cherry in 100 nights. In order to save Cherry from being forced into this arrangement, Hero (her lover and maid) tells Manfred stories over the course of these nights, with the promise that once he seduces Cherry, the stories will end. These stories are engaging in themselves, and resemble folk tales. They revolve around women, often sisters, and as those characters tell their own narratives, the nesting story structure grows.

Although there’s a timeless, folk lore feel to the story, there’s also some moments of great, clever humor thrown in, including the narrator cutting in for commentary, and Hero and Cherry using vocabulary I was not expecting! Mostly the humor is dry, feminist wit.

And, of course, there’s the romance. The unapologetic, unshakable love between Cherry and Hero. The moment that really made me trust this story was when it describes the two women getting into bed together and then cuts to after, with the narrator interjecting “No! Of course I’m not going to show what happened then! What kind of a book do you think this is?” It was setting up for a voyeuristic look into two women’s sex life, then makes a hard left and questions the reader’s expectations.

This a beautiful, epic love story that centres on two women. That fundamentally respects women and their love. This is a story that respects storytelling, that believes that stories can change the world.

This is the queer feminist mythology we deserve.

Danika reviews Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner

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Why did no one tell me about this book earlier?? Honestly, this should be much more well known. Ice Massacre is about Meela, and 18-year-old girl who has been trained to fight killer mermaids. She’s needed to defend her island, but she has qualms about being sent out to massacre the “sea demons”: she befriended one as a kid.

I was completely sucked in by this book. I can’t help but make Hunger Games comparisons: this is a story about teenagers at war, and it has some brutal violence. Each girl reacts to being in a war situation differently, some numbing themselves with drugs and others becoming vicious and unfeeling. Meela struggles to steel herself to the killing of mermaids–creatures who look eerily human–and it’s made worse by the fear that the next one she kills will be her childhood best friend.

In addition to the war with the mermaids, the girls turn on each other on the ship, splintering their ranks. The tension is high, and I ended up reading this book in a day, which is not a common occurrence for me.

The queer content of this book is understated, and it could easily be missed by someone who wasn’t looking for it, but it’s impossible to misinterpret by the end. If you’re someone who wants to get queer books in the hands of people who might not seek them out–or who aren’t able to openly read queer lit–this would make a great choice.

Ice Massacre also has a mostly indigenous cast of characters, but they are a fictional indigenous group. In the book, Eriana Kwai island seems to be an independent indigenous nation between BC and Alaska. The language is loosely based on Haida. I can’t speak to this representation, especially because the author did invent an indigenous group. I would be very interested to read a review from an indigenous reader, especially someone from the Pacific Northwest Coast.

With that caveat, I highly recommend Ice Massacre, as long as you can stomach some violence. Killer mermaids! It’s like Fox and the Hound, but with mermaids and lesbians! This deserves a much more prominent spot in queer YA and queer SFF.

Danika reviews Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

of fire and stars

I haven’t fallen so head over heels for a book in years. Here’s the premise: a YA fantasy book where two princesses fall in love. I mean, there’s a lot more to it. There’s court politics and betrayal and suppressed magic and warring religious factions, but that’s the hook that got to me, and I suspect it’s what will convince a lot of people to pick it up.

This is a perfect read for Tamora Pierce fans, complete with loving attention paid to the horses in the story. This uses tropes that are common in fantasy books, but you just so rarely see play out with two girls as the main characters. The story is told from the two main characters’ perspectives, and initially Mare is unimpressed with Dennaleia, so we get to see that grudging-friendship-grows-into-something-more plot, which I love. Mare may be a princess in name, but she prefers riding breeches to dresses and digging for information in seedy pubs to attending balls. Dennaleia, on the other hand, has been training to be the perfect, proper princess (then queen) her entire life.

For all the fans of Frozen who wished Elsa got a girlfriend in the end, suppressed magic is a big part of the plot in Of Fire and Stars. Dennaleia struggles to keep her fire magic hidden in a kingdom that considers magic blasphemous, but when her emotions get out of hand, things begin to go up in smoke.

Basically, this is everything I ever wanted from Disney princesses, but with added depth and maturity. (Maturity as in there is brief sexual content and swearing.) Although this is a love story, it’s just as much about the two of them trying to find out the truth about the conflict (soon turned deadly) in their kingdom, especially when Dennaleia’s husband-to-be and the rest of the political powers don’t have any interest in the opinions of two teenage princesses.

This book warmed my heart. It’s not that this is fluffy or doesn’t have conflict, but it makes me unspeakably happy to know this story is out there for queer girls, and especially one that’s published by one of the big publishing companies, which hopefully means it will be on the shelves of enough bookstore to be discoverable. Have I mentioned that I love this book? 5 stars. I’ll definitely be buying myself a finished copy, giving it away as gifts, and peddling it to strangers.

Danika reviews Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

juliettakesabreathI don’t usually buy new releases. I acquire so many books that I tend to stick to used books and the library for new acquisitions. But when the review for Juliet Takes a Breath began to pour in, I couldn’t resist! I bought it brand new and moved it to the corner of my dresser, ready to be the next book I picked up. And then it sat there for about six months.

In that time, I heard more and more of the book blogs and vlogs I follow mention Juliet, almost always positively. But somewhere along the line the hype began to have the opposite effect. What if I was one of the few that didn’t like it? And then how would I even talk about it? I wanted to like it so much that I was afraid to actually read it in case it disappointed me. It wasn’t until booktube started the #diverseathon that I decided to finally take the leap and pick it. (“Finally!” My partner said. “I  feel like I’ve been hearing about that book every day for our entire relationship!”)

As usual, my nervousness was completely unfounded. I can see why so many people fell in love with this book, and I can only agree. It may not be for everyone–its focus on feminist politics and how they intersect with race and other factors will feel unfamiliar to some readers–but I thought it did a fantastic job with that focus.

This is a coming of age story about Juliet, who’s just had her eyes opened to feminist ideals by a book titled Raging Flower: Empowering your Pussy by Empowering your Mind. She’s so blown away by this book that she writes a letter to the author and lands an internship with her. She hops on a plane and arrives in the alien world of Portland, Oregon: a very different place from the Bronx.

There are lots of things going on in this book, but what stuck with me is its recognition that people are complicated and flawed. You can have some things figured out and get other completely, devastatingly wrong. And it’s up to us to decide which people are worth sticking with despite their fuck-ups and which people are toxic for us despite the things they get right. I think that’s such an important and affirming thing to see in a book about social justice.

This also really captures the feeling of diving into feminism and social justice and just getting hit with waves of information that are counter to what you’ve been taught to believe, and the overwhelming process of trying to sift through all of these ideas and find what makes sense to you, what you’re not able to wrap your head around yet, and what’s actually hate wrapped up in the right vocabulary. There’s a lot of theory and discussion in this book, and that makes sense for what it’s addressing.

I loved this book, and I can’t wait for Gabby Rivera’s next one.