Kathryn Hoss Recommends Lesbian Beach Reads

Every summer my entire obnoxious/lovable extended family rents a beach house in the Carolinas for a week, and every summer I end up scouring Goodreads, Amazon, and the Lesbrary for “lesbian beach reads.” Usually, that phrase yields zero-to-few results.

I’m here to change that.

funhomemusical   unbearable lightness portia de rossi   PriceofSalt   FriedGreenTomatoes   the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final

Looking for a juicy tell-all for the drive down?
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is one of my all-time favorites. The graphic memoir explores Bechdel’s fraught relationship with her closeted gay, perfectionist father and his unexpected suicide. Despite the subject matter, Bechdel’s tone is more thoughtful than ruminating, probing for the truth in a situation with many sides. As someone who was a baby butch at one time, it was a breath of fresh air to see myself reflected in child- and college-Alison. This read can be accomplished in a few hours.
Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi is another quick read, but it is not light. The memoir recounts de Rossi’s lengthy struggle with bulimia and anorexia, her journey from rock bottom, when her organs nearly shut down, to a very nice life with Ellen Degeneres and their horses. I will say it brought back eating-disordered feelings from adolescence that I didn’t know I still had– de Rossi’s devastating internal monologues can be triggering– but it’s an important story and an engrossing read.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith might be the perfect road-trip story, straddling the line between pulp novel and classic literature. You’ve probably already seen the 2015 movie, Carol, but I’m gonna say the book is worth reading too. Highsmith’s prose tends to maunder in details that I thought not at all necessary to plot or characterization, but I found it interesting on an anthropological level to see Therese and Carol’s relationship unfold in 1952. Elements of the story are lifted straight out of Highsmith and her friends’ lives, adding to the realism. For the romance crowd, if you like the “Oh no, there’s only one bed and we have to share it!” trope, you’re gonna love this.

Looking for something profound so that when your relatives ask what you’re reading, you don’t have to feel ashamed?
I actually haven’t finished Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg, only because the prose lends itself to be read slow as molasses. There is definitely a lot in this book that would not be considered politically correct. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, “Is this a White Savior narrative?” The romance is also only one thread in a rich tapestry of family and food. But Fried Green Tomatoes feeds my soul because it depicts a lesbian-headed family living in the south, in the 20s and 30s, and no one ever says a word about them being different or wrong. I actually tried fried green tomatoes (the food) the other day. Spoiler alert: They were delicious.

I was going to do a separate YA section, but then I was like, nah. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth is Literature. Set in small-town Montana in a fully-fleshed out fictional city, The Miseducation is so hyperreal, I kept thinking, “This has to be autobiographical, right? No way someone could make up that much detail.” And yet, danforth did. Right down to watching the girl you like skid her flip flop a little too far away and lunge to pick it up with her toes. A bittersweet story of parental mortality, thwarted teenage love, and coming of age, I couldn’t bring myself to read this one on the beach because it made me feel like my heart was in my throat.

secondmangocover   LoveDevoursbySarahDiemer   ClimbingtheDatePalm-200x300   BrandedAnn   olive conspiracy

Looking for adventure, romance, and fantasy all rolled into one beautiful escapist mess?

Not gonna lie– this is what I consider a Certified Lesbian Beach Read. Sitting ankle-deep in the surf with wind sand-blasting my face and the sun encroaching ever-closer to my beergarita, I’m not exactly looking to think too hard. I want to see some salty pirate pansexuals, some transcendentally beautiful trans mermaids, and some lesbian ladies in full 16th-century attire making out on a tropical island.

First off, I can recommend Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration by Sarah Diemer. You can download “The Witch Sea” for free on Amazon separately, but my favorite story in this collection is “Seek.” I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say this: Mysterious sea woman. Girl-knight seeking to win the hand of a beautiful princess. Sultry enchantress. Intrigue! Also check out The Monstrous Sea by Sarah and Jennifer Diemer for its trans girl YA mermaid story, “True if By Sea.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Second Mango by our own Shira Glassman for its lesbian princess, her woman-knight BFF, her bisexual long-lost love, and the tropical, vaguely Floridian setting in which they frolic.

Finally, Branded Ann by Merry Shannon was a recent standout, well-plotted with a careful balance of romance and adventure. This is the lesbian Pirates of the Caribbean– a search for lost treasure, threats of mutiny, mayyyyybe some kind of supernatural being?? I also came away feeling like I learned something about 16th century piracy, all while enjoying sizzling hot sexual tension. My only gripe is the character description. I felt like had no idea what most of the characters looked like, except the two main characters, who were described in frequent and florid detail. Still, this was all I ever wanted, all I ever needed in a pirate romance novel. (This one comes with a trigger warning for sexual assault mentions.)

What are your favorite LBT beach reads? Let me know on the Goodreads list! (https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/100656.Lesbian_Beach_Reads)

Kathryn Hoss is an aspiring author and singer-songwriter from Ohio. She can be found at kathrynhoss.tumblr.com.

Kit reviews The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.

Every review I’ve read of Cameron Post starts with that line. Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be any other way. It’s a flash of the voice you’re going to know better than your own by the end of 300 pages, and her sadness and guilt and agile, bright humour becomes yours for a little while.

The night Cameron’s parents died, she had also been kissing Irene Klauson. And Irene Klauson had kissed her back. Eleven years old, it’s the summer of 1989, and Cameron is certain that the knock on her friend’s door means she’s been found out—about the stealing, the kissing, all of it—and that this might mean something terrible. Cameron’s first emotion when she finds out her parents have died is one of relief. Cameron never forgives herself for that, but she still likes girls. She still likes girls even after well-intentioned Aunt Ruth moves in from Florida to be her guardian, bringing her born-again evangelical ways with her. Anyone with a basic idea of plot knows what has to happen next.

The book can then divided roughly into two parts: Before Ruth Finds Out and After Ruth Finds Out. The first is a careful, but never slow, picture of the end of Cameron’s childhood and into her adolescence. It shows how she tries to get along with her hopelessly well-meaning, often resentful aunt. We share her love of swimming; watch the gorgeous friendship she develops with Lindsey, who appoints herself Cameron’s Lesbian Guardian Angel. We watch Cameron run with friends in the ruin of old hospitals, and watch countless films as a way to see how people on screen react to grief, and life in general, because she feels as if she has no idea how to be. We watch her fall desperately, often hilariously in love with Coley Taylor, and how that, in the end, gets Cameron found out. But that is not the whole story. That is just what is sketched in the blurb, in the book trailers. The real story happens After.

After Ruth finds out, Cameron gets sent (using her own college fund) to an evangelical camp. God’s Promise.

After Promise, Cameron finds that no one is quite what they seem, and that its easy to lose yourself when everybody tells you that is the right and godly thing to do.

This section of the book goes into stranger places than what came before. Watching Cameron adjust to life in Promise, it’s unsettling—as a “liberated” outsider, and queer person, who knows that these sort of camps are reprehensible and damaging and wrong—to see how…not evil everyone is. This is clumsy, I know. But it would have been easy to write a caricature of these people, this life. Danforth does not. She refuses to condescend in that way, and it makes for challenging reading as you find you can’t help but care for everyone even as many seem to kill, like Ruth, with good intentions. The students are just people—though some, like two-year veteran Jane who keeps a store of home-grown pot in her prosthetic leg, are more vividly drawn then others. Reverend Rick, the founder of Promise who has no head for business and a gift for the guitar, seems to genuinely care about the wellbeing of his “charges”. Many  seem to want to be ‘cured’, and don’t seem brainwashed in the least (and yet, and yet, and yet!). Danforth’s writing does not help, here. It is smooth and nonjudgmental, even as, in the end, terrible things do start to happen, and Cameron makes an important choice.

This was a beautiful, unsettling read for me. There were many parts of The Miseducation of Cameron Post that, due to my own upbringing and sensibility, I could not understand, ranging from life in a Montana farming community to Cameron’s relationship with God. This book was, however, slice of life fiction in the best possible sense. If I didn’t understand, then Cameron (mostly) did, and it was a strange, often hilarious time, being in her life for a little while. This story is both passionate and compassionate, with some of the best first person narration Ive ever read. I know that with re-reading, I can get even more out of Cameron’s life.
In the end, I would recommend it for any child who has felt alone, and any adult who has been a child.

[The Miseducation of Cameron Post has also been reviewed at the Lesbrary by Anna M. and Danika.]

Casey reviews The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

The first sentence of emily m. danforth’s much-talked about debut young adult novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is one of those opening lines you’ll never forget, like Jane Austen’s brilliant opening to Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”  Danforth begins her novel with this equally dazzling and stunning statement: “The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.”  The rest of the novel, to my delight, absolutely lived up to the promising beginning.  Cameron’s teenage tale is both a coming-out and a coming-of-age story, but it’s also more than that.  It’s a story about a teenager, who happens to be a lesbian, dealing with the death of her parents, the infiltration of her smarmy yet well-meaning Christian fundamentalist Aunt into her life, the disintegration of her earlier bond with her grandmother, and, of course, the realization of her sexuality.  Significantly, the novel also deals with (spoiler alert!) Cameron’s experience in a gay conversion camp.  Props to danforth for including a disabled lesbian—who hides pot in her prosthetic leg, the coolest drug-hiding spot ever!—and a two-spirited teenager—who explains to the white kids what exactly his identity is—in the part of the novel that deals with the camp.

I couldn’t help being brought back to my own teenage and high school years while I was reading about Cameron trying to sift her way through life; danforth has a definite talent for evoking the specificity of Cameron’s late 80s/early 90s adolescence and for expressing the simultaneously reckless and terrified feeling of being a teenager—particularly in a rural place.  I also couldn’t help but love Cameron.  In many ways, she’s the kind of queer teenager I wish I could have been, if I’d been less clueless, more brave, and funnier.  Plus, Cameron dates a ton of girls!  As Danika pointed out in her review, it’s rare that an LGBTQ young adult novel treats relationships as anything less than the defining point of the main character’s life, so it’s really refreshing to see Cameron’s queerness celebrated, not because she finds her ‘one true love’ at the ripe old age of 16, but because it’s simply part of the amazing person that she is.  I cannot wait to read what danforth writes next, and her upcoming projects sound just as awesome as this novel (she talks about what she’s working on with another amazing queer YA author Malinda Lo here).

 Cameron Post has been in some ways controversial, because it’s been marketed as a young adult novel and the book deals with some pretty heavy stuff, especially what happens at the gay conversion camp her aunt sends her to.  The novel, by the way, deals with this topic compassionately and intelligently: danforth depicts the ex-gay leader of this camp in an honest, but difficult, way.  Yes, these camps are misguided, disgusting, and dangerous, but danforth refuses to let us make the individual director into a monster and forces us to look at the larger social contexts at work.  To get back to my original point: some librarians and booksellers are wondering if this book should be sold/catalogued in young adult sections.   In addition to the ex-gay camp, the book contains underage drinking, swearing, pot smoking, and queer sex!  Heaven forbid teenagers should read about what teenagers actually do!  I don’t really have time for these arguments.  This is a beautifully written, exciting, important novel; anyone with it in their hands should be doing all they can to get it into the hands of readers, especially queer teenagers—especially, queer teenagers whose parents wouldn’t want them reading it.  If you’re reading this, you should not waste any time getting your hands on it soon too.

Danika reviews The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

If you follow other les/bi/etc book sites, or have been skimming the link round ups at the Lesbrary, you may have already heard of The Miseducation of Cameron Post. In fact, you may have already heard about it from a mainstream source, because Cam Post is published by a large publishing company (HarperCollins), and it’s been getting reviews all over, including in large newspapers. And that’s exciting, because there are not a lot of lesbian teen books, and it’s the demographic that is probably most in need of books that represent themselves. Not only is this a lesbian teen book that is getting publicity and therefore has a chance of making it into the hands of people who need it the most, it has been getting good reviews. Very good reviews, in fact. Needless to say, I have been really excited to get the chance to read and review it myself.

Cam Post is a big book, especially for teen lit–it’s pushing 500 pages–but I ended the book desperately wishing it was longer. Most of the book is paced pretty slowly, meandering through Cameron Post’s adolescence. It’s less of a coming out story and more of a bildungsroman: a coming-of-age story. Cameron struggles to come to terms with her parents death as well as her sexuality, while being raised by her conservative, religious aunt in a small town in Montana in the early 90s. The strength of Cam Post lies mostly in its protagonist, Cam, a film buff who decorates her childhood dollhouse with small, stolen tokens–weaving miniature gum wrapper rugs and wallpapering with used stamps–while drinking and exploring an abandoned hospital with the guys. Quirky enough to be interesting, but not so much to seem unbelievable, you can’t help but cheer Cam on.

Part of the appeal of Cam is emily m. danforth’s writing. She has a talent for establishing scenes, including all these tiny details that make the book come alive. Cam’s whole world is fleshed out to seem utterly believable–even characters that only appear for a few pages seem well-rounded and interesting. danforth establishes Miles City especially well.

It’s about half way through the book that the main tension of the book appears, and it only really comes to head near the end of the book. When I began to get near the end of Cam Post, I kept wondering how it was going to be wrapped up. And it isn’t, really. But in retrospect, I realized that the end really did fit the arc of the book. But I definitely would have been happy to have more, hundreds of pages more. I think it is unlikely that danforth would write a sequel, but I look forward to her future books either way.

Two small side notes: one is that I enjoyed that Cam Post was not just focused on one relationship. Cameron (minor spoiler) has several relationships throughout the novel, and they are not treated–as lesbian relationships in teen books often are–as if they are the defining relationship of her life. Each is significant, but Cam Post is about her as a person, not as half of a couple.

The other note is that I was pondering the meaning of the title when walking to work (I’ve actually been reading Cam Post while walking the last couple days, unable to put it down, but I got to a pedestrian-heavy spot), and I thought about how universal that “miseducation” is for queer people. We almost all have to first learn a version of the world that doesn’t include us, or that portrays us incorrectly, and then we have to relearn ourselves. The Miseducation of Cameron Post shows a more extreme/literal version of this, but I think it touches on something that speaks to most queer people.

The short version of this is that I adored The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I spent the day counting down when I could read it, reading it while I walked to and from work and on my breaks. I would definitely put it in the hands of any les/bi/etc teen, and I would also recommend it for anyone looking for… well, for a good book! It’s compelling, interesting, and frankly beautiful.

Anna M. reviewed The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

Emily Danforth’s debut young adult novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, got several positive reviews in the mainstream media (I heard about it from NPR, but it also got a coveted starred review from Kirkus). Miles City, Montana native Cameron Post is twelve when her parents are killed in a tragic accident near Quake Lake. Because she had just kissed her best friend Irene (and liked it), Cameron feels a certain amount of responsibility for their deaths, as well as relief that they will never find out. She withdraws into a world of video rentals and creative activity centered around decorating an old dollhouse with scraps and pocketed mementos. In high school, she strikes an uneasy balance with her grandmother and conservative Christian aunt while pursuing her own small-town rebellions. . . and the friendship and attention of the beautiful Coley Taylor. When the sexual tension between Cameron and Coley comes to a head, Cameron ends up at God’s Promise, a conversion camp for gay teens. There, despite the restrictive environment, she begins to address her feelings about the loss of her parents and come to some kind of peace with herself.

There’s a lot in this snyopsis that I’m leaving out: the importance of Quake Lake to Cameron and her family; Cameron’s boy/friend; her first fling and lesbian know-it-all friend Lindsey; little details about the town and the landscape of Montana; Cameron’s friends at God’s Promise, including Jane Fonda and her prosthetic leg; the early 90s references; the process of the conversion therapy . . . the book is not easily summarized, which is one of its strengths. It’s a complex narrative that weighs in at around 500 pages and apparently could have been much longer (great interview, scroll down for a mention of a “lesbrarian”). Danforth deftly weaves the threads of setting and plot together in such a way that the book’s length feels justified–a slow burn–rather than oppressive.

The story is set in the author’s home town, and Danforth calls the work an “autobiographical novel.” It’s clear from the detail that her Miles City is grounded in the real Montana, even as she adapts it to suit the needs of Cameron’s story. The chronological setting of the book is also intriguing. It opens in 1989 and follows Cameron through her first few years of high school. This mirrors my own experience almost exactly; I graduated from high school in 1995. The internet looms large due to its absence–if only it were a few years later, the reader thinks, Cameron could see the larger community of people that awaits her outside the boundaries of her world. Lindsey provides a glimpse of that wider world, from her liberal Seattle enclave, but wider acceptance will have to wait until Cameron comes to terms with herself and finds her own place.

It’s interesting that Miseducation was blurbed by Sarah Waters; the scope of Danforth’s work sometimes recalls the narrative sweep I loved about Tipping the Velvet, although the settings have very little in common. They are both lesbian coming-of-age stories, and Cameron and Nan are similarly out of their depth as they make their way through an unsympathetic and sometimes hostile world. Danforth leaves the ending somewhat open–Cameron has done some of the work she needs to do, especially where her parents’ deaths are concerned–but the book left me with a “what happens next?” complaint. I would like to spend more time with Cameron as she continues to grow up, and I wonder what’s next for Danforth.