Danika reviews Heavy Vinyl, Volume 1 by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva

The cover of Heavy Vinyl volume one

What a fun, quick read! Chris is a teenager who has just started working at the local record store. (It’s the 90s.) All her coworkers seem impossibly cool, and she immediately starts crushing on one of them. As the cover would suggest, though, it’s not just music that this group of girls is passionate about. Chris finds herself getting initiated into a network of teen girl vigilante gangs.

A panel from Heavy Vinyl, showing two women talking in a boxing ring

It’s a little bit Empire Records, a little bit Josie and the Pussycats (the movie), with bonus vigilante, mystery-solving teen girl gang and a queer main character. This is set in the 90s, but other than working at a record store and making 90s music references, I didn’t notice that. It’s pretty idyllic: there’s no homophobia shown, and the multiple queer characters are not remarked on.

The strength and weakness of this is how cute it is. You wouldn’t think that a story about a vigilante gang would be so fluffy, but it is! It’s more Scooby Doo than anything else. They rail against the patriarchy more by defending ~girly music than with any real violence. The romance is mostly blushing and flirting–no kissing on the page, nevermind anything else–but it is stated outright, not subtextual.

The overarching plot got a little goofy for me (and invites the Josie and the Pussycats comparison), but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! I will definitely be picking up the next volume when it comes out, but I do hope that it gets a little meatier at that point.

Susan reviews Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Reiss

Space Battle Lunchtime is a two-volume graphic novel by Natalie Reiss, about Peony, a baker who accidentally ends up being an emergency replacement for a cooking show… In space?! Cue sabotage, drama, rival shows with distinctly more cannibalism, and trying to work space ovens.

This is super charming and funny. Peony is both competent and confident in her baking skills, and I loved getting to see her do well even though she was in completely unfamiliar territory. I was so invested in her doing well, which meant that the first couple of issues where she was floundering while surrounded people who just assumed she knew what was going on were very frustrating for me. I know, I know, it’s a trope, but it’s a trope that I hate. But “winning over the cast and crew so they help you” is also a trope and I was so happy to see it here, especially because of the way that the relationships build. Peony is so nice and so confident and just wants to beat everyone fair and square, yay! The way that her relationship with Neptunia comes together works perfectly with that – there’s awkwardness and rivalry and Peony putting her foot down to make sure they can work together, but also sweetness and daring rescues and both of them being supportive of each other and each other’s feelings!

The art is really, really cute and bright and colourful, and the designs of all of the aliens are distinctive and interesting. I especially love the way the Natalie Reiss contrasts appearances and personalities (such as the cute magical girl fox, who is sure a character), and the way that it introduces background details that further the plot and the world building, I thought that was really clever and well-handled. (… I’m sure it’s fine that Cannibal Coliseum, the rival cooking show where contestants literally cook and eat each other, keeps showing up in the background. That’s probably not relevant.)

But of course, what is a cooking comic if there isn’t rampant sabotage, and the ways that the sabotage is revealed is really cool. The reactions especially are great and fun, and the way that Peony and Neptunia deal with the end of the story is great. It was cool and believable and I enjoyed it. … Although I got to the epilogue stories and was suddenly REALLY CONCERNED for the side characters! My only real complaint is that the first volume ends on a massive cliffhanger, so it is worth getting both volumes together if you’re going to get them!

I really genuinely enjoyed this. It’s cute, it’s funny, and seeing Peony rising to her challenges is great. If you like cooking shows, bright and happy graphic novels, and/or ridiculous space drama, this is absolutely your thing.

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

Cara reviews Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

Under the Lights is a great light lesbian romance that’s about growing up and finding friends in unlikely places. There’s no deep trauma or life-or-death stakes here, and while there’s some light angst and the characters have real problems, the narrative never dwells on them too long or loses sight of the truth that the characters are pretty fortunate.

The story is told from the point of view of two coprotagonists, Josh Chester and Vanessa Park, both of whom are teenaged actors and minor celebrities in Hollywood. While they have a lot more money than most teenagers and some problems only celebrities do, the core conflicts are all about them figuring out what they want, notwithstanding what their parents want for them. It’s definitely YA and the sequel to a previous book of Adler’s, Daylight Falls, that features many of the same characters but different protagonists. You don’t need to have read it to read Under the Lights. (I still haven’t.)

The biggest reason I can see someone might not like this book is Josh Chester, so I’ll address him first. Josh is kind of a jerk. He intends to offend, for instance referring to Vanessa as “K-drama” for most of the book, insults everyone, and acts callous as hell. He tries to be unlikable, and I can see how some readers might find his voice to be such a turnoff that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy Vanessa’s. He’s funny, though, and his jerkiness more superficial than heartfelt. He doesn’t hurt people, and the girls he has no-strings-attached one-night stands with are every bit as interested in no-strings-attached sex with Josh Chester as he is in sex with them. I’m willing to forgive rudeness when it’s not coupled with malice, so Josh and his arc work for me.

Beyond that, I read enough lesbian romance that I’m tired of the formulas, and what I found refreshing about this novel is that it doesn’t follow them. How many lesbian romances have a het male coprotagonist who shares equal time with his female counterpart? The whole story is a beautifully-executed bait-and-switch playing on the structure of romance and YA romance in particular. In another book, Josh and Vanessa’s early relationship would be belligerent sexual tension. Because I’m reviewing this book for the Lesbrary, I’ve spoiled that part for you already: Josh and Vanessa do not end up together. You’d know the same if you read the blurb and know that “feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship” means “gay.” None of the relationships in the book end up coming out the way the characters expect them to. I want more books like this.

Vanessa’s coming to terms with falling for a girl felt real to me. When she angsts, it’s less because of internalized homophobia and more because she loves acting and worries that being a double-minority in Hollywood will cost her her career and that it will give her parents another reason to dislike her. I’m long past the drama of coming out myself, but sadly I can still relate to feeling like a perpetual disappointment to one’s parents. Vanessa and her future girlfriend hurt each other some times with the all-too-accurate clumsiness of teenagers working out how relationships go.

The dialogue’s good enough to have made me laugh out loud several times when I was writing this review. I’d quote it here but outside of the context and the characters, it would lose its punch. The plot and development of the characters are well-structured and have interesting symmetry with some depth I didn’t notice on my first reading. Under the Lights is romance done well.

Danika reviews You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

you know me well

This book is a romp. Ever since I read Boy Meets Boy, I’ve been looking for a queer women’s equivalent: a cotton candy book that, despite any issues it addresses, fills you with a sense of hope, warmth, and happiness. This book seems to do the trick quite nicely, and it’s no surprise that it’s cowritten by David Levithan himself (though I now have to seek out Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads To You, because if it’s anything like this, it’s a must-read.)

You Know Me Well is told in alternating chapters. Mark is head-over-heels for his best friend, but despite the fact that they’ve been fooling around for years, he still can’t seem to get them in the “relationship” category. Meanwhile, Kate has fallen in love with a girl she’s never met, and is terrified at the chance of actually meeting this mystical, circus traveler, dream girl. They’re both in a topsy-turvy point in their lives when they bump into each other in a bar during Pride. They’ve seen each other at school before, but after this chance meeting, they become the other’s main source of support and guidance for this pivot point in their lives.

The book unfolds in only a week or so, but it’s a week that causes them both to reconsider their lives’ trajectory. They are finding themselves, deciding their priorities, considering whether they want to be whole new people. Having someone new–someone who understands and is also not invested in them staying the same–is hugely affirming for both of them. This is a story celebrating queer friendship, and that’s what is at the heart of it. That’s what makes me want to hug this book. In addition to the main characters, there are many queer minor characters (though, sadly they are [almost?] all white, and there’s not a lot of trans representation).

If you’ve been craving a fluffy read, this one will definitely hit the spot. I think it would be perfect to give to a teenager just coming out as gay or lesbian, because it so hopeful, and it celebrates the queer community. I’m really glad that this book is out there, and I hope that it finds its way into the hands of the people who could use it most.

Marthese reviews Dare Truth Or Promise by Paula Boock

daretruthorpromise

“It’s dynamite, Mo. It’s dynamite”

I have not read many classic queer literature, so when my friend lent me this book – no matter how many ebooks I have, nothing beats a paper book- I jumped on the bandwagon.

Dare Truth Or Promise is a classic romance that takes place in Dunedin, New Zealand between Louie and Willa. Willa just moved in to town. She and Louie meet at Burger Giant where they both work but soon they discover that Willa will also be going to the same school. The story is told from both of their perspectives.

From the moment that they meet, there is great camaraderie between the two protagonists and although they aren’t open with everyone, they aren’t scared. Until they are.

Louie is a theater geek who is very hardworking. Sometimes she puts words to a feeling by quoting literature. Willa is more reserved because of what happened to her in her past school probably. Willa is a no non-sense type of person while Louie is always jokes, but somehow they are both serious with their feelings and try to support each other in life, more mature than one would think for their age.

A scene that I found really great was in the beginning where Louie was performing in the comedy club. I think most of the performance can still be applied today. It is also I think where Willa seriously starts to have feelings for Louie.

Their first date (or second depending how you see it) was adorable. It was something very Willa and she shared it with Louie and they both had fun and did it again after. Their love started as a bit clueless, although they both seemed to know where it was heading just shy to act, however, I think it evolved into them being able to read each other so well.

This book, while short and really easy to ready, highlights a point that everyone going through maturity (and coming out but not only) has felt at least once: the difference that parents make. Jolene, Willa’s mother and Tony and Susi, Louie’s parents have different lifestyles and different ways of interacting with their children.

Another point which was important to the plot and gave it depth was the namesake of the book. Willa and Louie played Truth Dare or Promise between themselves. I thought of this a childish game but with decisions and actions being taken that are mature so in a way this game helped them bridge their past with their future.

The book has a great introduction, which I found funny and a great conclusion which reminded me of movie type closings. There is a light beginning with some angst in the middle and a hard but sweet ending- a happy ending! Although the book is not all lovey-dovey with some dark themes brushed upon, overall it’s pretty light-hearted with some frustration and fear thrown in.

This is probably the first book I read that is set in New Zealand. You will learn some fact and want to look up more. A handy glossary of terms is found in the beginning of the book. As well, the writing sometimes picked up small details mentioned previously and continued on them.

I would recommend this book for people that want to read something quick and fast flowing that is mostly light-hearted with some drama thrown in.