Witches Under Modern Systems of Oppression: How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy

the cover of How to Succeed in Witchcraft

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At the top of the T.K. Anderson Magical Magnet School’s leaderboard is Shay Johnson. One of the most impressive and successful witches among her peers, this almost guarantees her the coveted Brockton Scholarship which would allow her to register to the university of her dreams—an education that her parents otherwise cannot afford. Her main obstacle is her years-long rival: Ana Alvarez. When both girls get recruited by their drama teacher and head of the scholarship committee, Mr. B, Shay wearily accepts the starring role to ensure her scholarship win, all while her professor’s behaviour becomes increasingly inappropriate and her rivalry with Ana slowly turns into something more.

If you’re looking to tap into some great YA fiction, I cannot recommend this book enough. Brophy managed to write a perfect balance of entertaining and witty banter, a narrative voice that is fun and easy to follow, as well as some deep, rich, and complex conversations about abuse, manipulation, racism, classism, and homophobia.

Shay is such an incredibly funny main character, and young readers who feel pressured to overachieve in academics will be able to instantly relate to her. Throughout my own reading experience, I felt as though I was an older sister watching her sibling go through all the same mistakes I made at her age. It was truly endearing, and I loved following her through all the highs and lows of her academic journey and her love story. Brophy wrote an extremely realistic main character and gave her the space she needs to recognize, understand, and learn from her mistakes. They always included a ton of nuance in their characters’ conversations, the conflicts weren’t immediately resolved and brushed over anticlimactically, and they built a very relatable cast with some fascinating dynamics.

The element of the story that I believe was the most successful was the way in which Brophy melded their magic system so seamlessly into our modern-day world. Fantasy authors have a tendency to do a lot of fantastical world-building that is set in some real-world human setting, while simultaneously ignoring the tragedies and realities of our history. This book feels very contemporary, in that the magic bleeds into our societies exactly as they have been built, including the systems of oppression that exist in our modern world. Brophy uses witching and magic not to “escape” humanity as we know it, but specifically to address issues of racism, of class disparity, of homophobia, of abuse of power. Shay’s storyline is, at its core, deeply influenced by the fact that she is a Black lesbian who comes from a lower-class family, and her struggles as an obsessive overachiever are rooted in the expectations that have been laid out for her future by the society in which she grew up. It gave the book some wonderful depth, without necessarily becoming overly complex or inaccessible to its intended young adult audience.

The entire plotline surrounding the play itself was phenomenal, because Brophy managed to weave so many societal critiques together. Their teacher presenting it as an “inclusive” and “diverse” musical, only for him to deeply misunderstand and misrepresent his students’ racial backgrounds and ethnicities during the casting process, was a very accurate portrayal of people co-opting specific terms and ideologies to make themselves seem good and progressive, without actually having to care about the issues at hand. The story as a whole empathizes with teens who don’t know how to stand up for themselves and who realize the system is working against them, but also gives them some specific tools for calling out bigotry and abuse, especially when it comes from people in positions of power.

And, of course, I adored the sapphic romance in this. I was rooting for Shay and Ana the entire time, and it was so entertaining to watch our main character be so foolishly oblivious, in a way that is extremely realistic for a young, teenage lesbian. The rivalry between them makes it very easy for readers to become invested in their relationship and I loved how Brophy developed their love story in a way that felt very messy—i.e.: realistic for their age—as well as absolutely adorable. I also appreciate that Brophy didn’t shy away from using the term “lesbian” multiple times throughout the story, as it still feels very rare for authors in mainstream publishing to allow their young main characters to specifically label themselves as such.

If you’re looking for an easy read that is at times fun and light, but that nonetheless packs a punch when it comes to exploring its themes and the ultimate message, this is the perfect read.

Representation: Black, biracial, lesbian main character; Cuban, bisexual love interest; Filipina side character

Content warnings: grooming and manipulation by a teacher, racism, homophobia

An Underrated Fantasy Western: The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

the cover of The Good Luck Girls

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I am actually going to talk about two books in this review, because while I thought the first book was fantastic, it was not until I finished the sequel that I fully realized exactly how good I thought these books were.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis follows a pair of sisters, Aster and Clementine, as well as a few of their friends as they escape what is known as a welcome house after Clementine accidentally kills a wealthy patron.  While the first book is a journey story and the second dives much deeper into the nitty-gritty of revolution, both books are very much fantasy Westerns set in a bleak world inspired by the United States, with heavy themes of justice, inequality, and survival in spite of it all.

Oh boy, did I not expect to love this series as much as I did. I almost didn’t read it at all because even though it is YA, I still feared it would be too bleak for me, the themes of sexual trauma too heavy and too real for me to be able to handle. Fortunately, I decided to give it a shot anyway, because this is a perfect example of why I keep reading YA. I loved all of the characters and their relationships, but more than that, I loved how seriously the book took each of them and their struggles, while also holding them accountable for the ways they hurt people because of it. I loved that it let them be flawed and make mistakes and still deserve love—still deserve better than what the world gives them. And I loved that it let them be angry.

I also appreciated that even though it was YA, it never felt like it was talking down to its readers. These books have a very clear perspective (as they should, and as pretty much every book does), but the author uses the story, rather than the narration, to get that perspective across, which, to me, felt more effective.  I don’t want to say too much, but what I will say is of all the YA I’ve read, I think this series engages the most maturely with revolution and oppression, with the hard choices it requires and the ways oppression pits people against each other when they should be on the same side. While it is certainly for and about teenagers, it doesn’t simplify or sugarcoat. It is harsh and it is hard and it is dark, but it is also a fight worth making.  For all of that, though, there is an optimism that remains, sometimes dimmer but always there.

I really wish more people would read these books because they are so damn good. They are exactly the kind of books I deserved to have in high school and am grateful current teenagers have now. I can’t wait to see what Charlotte Nicole Davis does next.

F/F Jamaican-Inspired YA Fantasy with Dragons: So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole

the cover of So Let Them Burn

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Any other Eragon girlies out there? Check out So Let Them Burn, a Jamaican-inspired F/F young adult fantasy that delivered from beginning to end! This moving and action-packed debut has made me a Kamilah Cole fangirl and I can’t wait for the second book in the duology!

This book switches between the POVs of two sisters Faron and Elara Vincent. Faron can channel the power of the gods, which made her the secret weapon of her country’s revolution against the dragon-riding Langley Empire. Faron is fiery, mischievous, and unwilling to play the part of wise and composed chosen-one. Elara is calm, diplomatic, and has felt like she’s been both living in her sister’s shadow while also being charged with “managing” Faron’s hot-headed emotions. At what was supposed to be an international peace summit, Elara ends up bonding with a Langley Empire dragon and the dragon’s other rider, Signey. Elara must then go to the dragon riding academy on enemy ground, both as a spy for her country and to try to figure out if there’s a way to reverse the bond so she can return home to sister. Among battles of gods and dragons, bubbling rage (against colonizers, the gods, the situation), and impossible choices, Elara and Signey find themselves falling for each other. Two badass dragon riders discovering enemy secrets, plotting revenge, and falling in love?! Yes please.

There are so many things that I love about this book. First off, I am a sucker for dragons. I appreciated the world building and how the dragons and bonded riders can all communicate with each other telepathically. They become their own unique family, in tune with each other’s emotions and thoughts. 

I also liked the focus on friend relationships. Especially in a moment when the romantasy genre is taking off, I appreciated how in this book, the friendships were treated as equally important relationships. The sapphic romance plot line was wonderful, but one of my favorite relationships in the book was the deeply honest and vulnerable friendship between Elara and her best friend, Reed. Reed has his own role to play in the book, as the son of the Langley Empire’s leader whose betrayal of his family in the war was key to shifting the tide and winning the revolution. Both Elara and Reed often feel misunderstood by the rest of their country—Elara as merely Faron’s sister and Reed as an outsider—but they see and support each other even when others don’t. Their relationship is refreshingly never romantic while being so important to both of them. 

Lastly, I loved how Cole normalizes queerness. There is great queer representation in this book, including lesbian, bisexual, and demisexual rep, but their queer identities were not the defining elements of the characters. I love how queerness was beautifully everywhere in this book while also not being the focus. Elara isn’t written as a GAY DRAGON RIDER, but rather just an incredible dragon rider—oh, and she happens to fall in love with a woman. 

I highly recommend you check this one out!  

Content Warnings: explicit language, depictions of PTSD (nightmares, unwanted memories/flashbacks, dissociation, anxiety, mistrust, hypervigilance, self-destructive behavior), explicit descriptions of war, blood, and corpses, grief (expressed in healthy and unhealthy ways), racism (challenged), minor character deaths, a near-fatal beating, and stolen body/mind autonomy.

A Rich Fantasy Novella: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

the cover of Empress of Salt and Fortune

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I don’t know why I put off The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo for so long despite all of the good reviews. Maybe it was the short length, novellas sometimes being an awkward pace. Or maybe it was the fact that all too often I mistake “high fantasy” for “too much exposition” with all of those battles and complex magic systems that just aren’t my cup of tea. Either way, it was my loss. This slim book is packed to the brim with court intrigue and politics of war, sure, but it does so by quietly unpacking the stories of characters traditionally kept to the sidelines. Nghi Vo’s work is always filled with such depth and lyrical writing, but this series in particular has quickly become one of my all-time favorites because of the way in which it insists on telling a different sort of fantasy story.

The book follows Cleric Chih from the Singing Hills abbey who is traveling with their talking hoopoe Almost Brilliant to record history, in this case the story of the recently deceased empress In-yo. Through a constellation of lost objects and the words of the empress’s former servant, Vo shows the outlines of a life in what it leaves behind. The story unfolds delicately through this collection of remnants. The book feels like a refutation of traditional history-making, Chih’s character almost fading into the background as they focus on listening and learning how to read the subtext. So much is left to interpretation, to tone, to understanding secret codes and double meanings. This is reflected, too, in the way the book refuses to overly-explain its setting, leaving the reader to tease apart the worldbuilding like a puzzle.

It’s a beautiful book that I’ve been recommending to everyone. With its short length you’ll only be giving up an hour or two, so I encourage you to give it a shot even if you aren’t typically a fan of high fantasy. With the fourth book just recently out (Mammoths at the Gate) and a fifth on its way in May (The Brides of High Hall), it’s nice timing to catch up on the books now. Each novella is meant to serve as a standalone entry point so you can’t go wrong with any of them—or really any of Vo’s works—but it’s worth starting with this one.

Trigger warnings: death, misogyny, war, suicide, murder

Sapphic Books by Black Authors Out in 2024

a collage of the book covers listed with the text Sapphic Books By Black Authors Out in 2024

It’s Black History Month, so I wanted to highlight some of the sapphic books out this year from Black authors! Quite a few came out in January, so you can buy those now, but this is also the perfect time to preorder the books coming out later this year.

I want to throw some quick disclaimers out there: I tried to double-check each of these for both sapphic content and that they are, in fact, by Black authors, but please let me know if I got anything wrong: reliable information about upcoming releases is always harder to find. If you’re an author of one of these books and would rather it wasn’t included in this list for any reason, let me know and I’ll remove it.

Also, let me know in the comments if I missed any sapphic books by Black authors out this year! I’m always looking for more. At this point, there isn’t a lot of information out there about books coming out in the back half of the year, so this list ends in June.

Scroll down for the publisher descriptions of all of these titles, or you can browse through them on Bookshop.org.

January:

Dead in Long Beach, California by Venita Blackburn (Queer Fiction)

the cover of Dead in Long Beach, California

Coral is the first person to discover her brother Jay’s dead body in the wake of his suicide. There’s no note, only a drably furnished bachelor pad in Long Beach, California, and a cell phone with a handful of numbers in it. Coral pockets the phone. And then she starts responding to texts as her dead brother.

Over the course of one week, Coral, the successful yet lonely author of a hit dystopian novel, Wildfire, becomes increasingly untethered from reality. Blindsided by grief and operating with reckless determination, she doubles –and triples–down on posing as her brother, risking not only her own sanity but her relationship with her precocious niece, Khadijah. As Coral’s swirl of lies slowly closes in on her, the quirky and mysterious alien world of Wildfire becomes enmeshed in her own reality, in the process pushing long-buried memories, traumas, and secrets dangerously into the present.

A form-shifting and soul-crunching chronicle of grief and crisis, Venita Blackburn’s debut novel, Dead in Long Beach, California, is a fleet-footed marvel of self-discovery and storytelling that explores the depths of humankind’s capacity for harm and healing. With the daring, often hilarious imagination that made her an acclaimed short-fiction innovator, Blackburn crafts a layered, page-turning reckoning with what it means to be alive, dead, and somewhere in between.

Broughtupsy by Christina Cooke (Lesbian Fiction)

the cover of Broughtupsy

At once cinematic yet intimate, Broughtupsy is an enthralling debut novel about a young Jamaican woman grappling with grief as she discovers her family, her home, is always just out of reach

Tired of not having a place to land, twenty-year-old Akúa flies from Canada to her native Jamaica to reconnect with her estranged sister Tamika. Their younger brother Bryson has recently passed from sickle cell anemia–the same disease that took their mother ten years prior–and Akúa carries his remains in a small wooden box with the hope of reassembling her family.

Over the span of two fateful weeks, Akúa and Tamika visit significant places from their childhood, but time spent with her sister only clarifies how different they are, and how years of living abroad have distanced Akúa from her home culture. “Am I Jamaican?” she asks herself again and again. Beneath these haunting doubts lie anger and resentment at being abandoned by her own blood. “Why didn’t you stay with me?” she wants to ask Tamika.

Wandering through Kingston with her brother’s ashes in tow, Akúa meets Jayda, a brash stripper who shows her a different side of the city. As the two grow closer, Akúa confronts the difficult reality of being gay in a deeply religious family, and what being a gay woman in Jamaica actually means.

By turns diasporic family saga, bildungsroman, and terse sexual awakening, Broughtupsy is a profoundly moving debut novel that asks: what do we truly owe our family, and what are we willing to do to savor the feeling of home?

Pomegranate by Helen Elaine Lee (Queer Woman Fiction) (Paperback Rerelease)

the cover of Pomegranate by Helen Elaine Lee

Ranita Atwater is “getting short.”

She is almost done with her four-year sentence for opiate possession at Oak Hills Correctional Center. Three years sober, she is determined to stay clean and regain custody of her two children. Ranita is regaining her freedom, but she’s leaving behind her lover Maxine, who has inspired her to imagine herself and the world differently.

My name is Ranita, and I’m an addict, she has said again and again at recovery meetings. But who else is she? Who might she choose to become? Now she must steer clear of the temptations that have pulled her down, while atoning for her missteps and facing old wounds. With a fierce, smart, and sometimes funny voice, Ranita reveals how rocky and winding the path to wellness is for a Black woman, even as she draws on family, memory, faith, and love in order to choose life.

Pomegranate is a complex portrayal of queer Black womanhood and marginalization in America from an author “working at the height of her powers” (Tayari Jones, New York Times bestselling). In lyrical and precise prose, Helen Elaine Lee paints a humane and unflinching portrait of the devastating effects of incarceration and addiction, and of one woman’s determination to tell her story.

Faebound by Saara El-Arifi (Sapphic Fantasy)

the cover of Faebound

Two elven sisters become imprisoned in the intoxicating world of the fae, where danger and love lie in wait. Faebound is the first book in an enchanting new trilogy from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Final Strife.

Yeeran was born on the battlefield, has lived on the battlefield, and one day, she knows, she’ll die on the battlefield.

As a warrior in the elven army, Yeeran has known nothing but violence her whole life. Her sister, Lettle, is trying to make a living as a diviner, seeking prophecies of a better future.

When a fatal mistake leads to Yeeran’s exile from the Elven Lands, both sisters are forced into the terrifying wilderness beyond their borders.There they encounter the impossible: the fae court. The fae haven’t been seen for a millennium. But now Yeeran and Lettle are thrust into their seductive world, torn among their loyalties to each other, their elven homeland, and their hearts.

Escaping Mr. Rochester by L.L. McKinney (Sapphic YA Jane Eyre Retelling)

the cover of Escaping Mr. Rochester

In this fresh reimagining of Charlotte Brontë‘s classic novel by acclaimed author L. L. McKinney, Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason must save each other from the horrifying machinations of Mr. Rochester in this intrigue-filled, empowering young adult romance.

Jane Eyre has no interest in a husband. Eager to make her own way in the world, she accepts the governess position at Thornfield Hall.

Though her new employer, Edward Rochester, has a charming air–not to mention a handsome face–Jane discovers that his smile can sharpen in an instant. Plagued by Edward’s mercurial mood and the strange wails that echo through the corridors, Jane grows suspicious of the secrets hidden within Thornfield Hall–unaware of the true horrors lurking above her very head.

On the topmost floor, Bertha Mason is trapped in more ways than one. After her whirlwind marriage to Edward turned into a nightmare, he locked her away as revenge for withholding her inheritance. Now his patience grows thin in the face of Bertha’s resilience and Jane’s persistent questions, and both young women are in more danger than they realize.

When their only chance at safety–and perhaps something more–is in each other’s arms, can they find and keep one another safe before Edward’s dark machinations close in around them?

So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole (Lesbian and Demisexual Fantasy)

the cover of So Let Them Burn

Whip-smart and immersive, this Jamaican-inspired fantasy follows a gods-blessed heroine who’s forced to choose between saving her sister or protecting her homeland–perfect for fans of Iron Widow and The Priory of the Orange Tree.

Faron Vincent can channel the power of the gods. Five years ago, she used her divine magic to liberate her island from its enemies, the dragon-riding Langley Empire. But now, at seventeen, Faron is all powered up with no wars to fight. She’s a legend to her people and a nuisance to her neighbors.

When she’s forced to attend an international peace summit, Faron expects that she will perform tricks like a trained pet and then go home. She doesn’t expect her older sister, Elara, forming an unprecedented bond with an enemy dragon–or the gods claiming the only way to break that bond is to kill her sister.

As Faron’s desperation to find another solution takes her down a dark path, and Elara discovers the shocking secrets at the heart of the Langley Empire, both must make difficult choices that will shape each other’s lives, as well as the fate of their world.

March:

The Poisons We Drink by Bethany Baptiste (Bisexual YA Fantasy) (March 5)

the cover of The Poisons We Drink

Love potions is a dangerous business. Brewing has painful, debilitating side effects, and getting caught means death or a prison sentence. But what Venus is most afraid of is the dark, sentient magic within her.

Then an enemy’s iron bullet kills her mother, Venus’s life implodes. Keeping her reckless little sister Janus safe is now her responsibility. When the powerful Grand Witcher, the ruthless head of her coven, offers Venus the chance to punish her mother’s killer, she has to pay a steep price for revenge. The cost? Brew poisonous potions to enslave D.C.’s most influential politicians.

As Venus crawls deeper into the corrupt underbelly of her city, the line between magic and power blurs, and it’s hard to tell who to trust…Herself included.

The Poisons We Drink is a potent YA debut about a world where love potions are weaponized against hate and prejudice, sisterhood is unbreakable, and self-love is life and death.

These Letters End in Tears by Musih Tedji Xaviere (Sapphic Fiction) (March 12)

the cover of These Letters End In Tears

Set in a country where being gay is punishable by law, These Letters End in Tears is the heart-wrenching forbidden love story of a Christian girl with a rebellious heart and a Muslim girl leading a double life.

Bessem notices Fatima for the first time on the soccer field–muscular and focused, she’s the only woman playing and seems completely at ease. When Fatima chases a rogue ball in her direction, Bessem freezes, mesmerized by the athlete’s charm and beauty. One playful wink from Fatima, and Bessem knows her life will never be the same.

In Cameroon, a country where same-sex relationships are punishable by law, the odds are stacked against Bessem and Fatima from the start. And when Fatima’s older brother, a staunch Muslim, finds out about their affair, he intervenes by physically assaulting them, an incident that precedes a police raid at the only gay bar in town. After spending days in jail, Fatima goes missing without a trace, and Bessem is left with only rumors of her whereabouts. Has Fatima been sentenced to an unknown prison? Has she been banished from her community, or married off, as some have suggested? Or something even more sinister?

Thirteen years later, Bessem is now a university professor leading a relatively quiet life, occasionally and secretly dating other women. However, she has never forgotten Fatima. After spotting a mutual friend for the first time in years–the last person who may have seen Fatima–Bessem embarks on a winding search for her lost love.

Those Beyond the Wall (The Space Between Worlds #2) by Micaiah Johnson (Sapphic Science Fiction) (March 12)

the cover of Those Beyond the Wall

Faced with a coming apocalypse, a woman must reckon with her past to solve a series of sudden and inexplicable deaths in a searing sci-fi thriller from the Compton Crook Award-winning author of The Space Between Worlds.

In Ashtown, a rough-and-tumble desert community, the Emperor rules with poisoned claws and an iron fist. He can’t show any sign of weakness, as the neighboring Wiley City has spent lifetimes beating down the people of Ashtown and would love nothing more than its downfall. There’s only one person in the desert the Emperor can fully trust–and her name is Scales.

Scales is the best at what she does: keeping everyone and everything in line. As a skilled mechanic–and an even more skilled fighter, when she needs to be–Scales is a respected member of the Emperor’s crew, who’s able to keep things running smoothly. But the fragile peace Scales helps to maintain is fractured when a woman is mangled and killed before her eyes. Even more incomprehensible: There doesn’t seem to be a murderer.

When more bodies start to turn up, both in Ashtown and in the wealthier, walled-off Wiley City, Scales is tasked with finding the cause–and putting an end to it by any means necessary. To protect the people she loves, she teams up with a frustratingly by-the-books partner from Ashtown and a brusque-but-brilliant scientist from the City, delving into both worlds to track down an invisible killer.

But the answers Scales finds are bigger than she ever could have imagined, leading her into the brutal heart beneath Wiley City’s pristine façade and dredging up secrets from her own past that she would rather keep hidden. If she wants to save the world from the earth-shattering truths she uncovers, she can no longer remain silent–even if speaking up costs her everything.

Where Sleeping Girls Lie by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Sapphic YA Horror) (March 19)

the cover of Where Sleeping Girls Lie

In Where Sleeping Girls Lie — a YA contemporary mystery by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, the New York Times-bestselling author of Ace of Spades  a girl new to boarding school discovers dark secrets and coverups after her roommate disappears.

It’s like I keep stumbling into a dark room, searching for the switch to make things bright again…

Sade Hussein is starting her third year of high school, this time at the prestigious Alfred Nobel Academy boarding school after being home-schooled all her life. Misfortune has been a constant companion all her life, but even Sade doesn’t expect her new roommate, Elizabeth, to disappear after Sade’s first night. Or for people to think she had something to do with it.

With rumors swirling around her, Sade catches the attention of the girls collectively known as the ‘Unholy Trinity’ and they bring her into their fold. Between learning more about them–especially Persephone, who Sade is inexplicably drawn to–and playing catchup in class, Sade already has so much on her plate. But when it seems people don’t care enough about what happened to Elizabeth to really investigate, it’s up to she and Elizabeth’s best friend to solve it.

And then a student is found dead.

As they keep trying to figure out what’s going on, Sade realizes there’s more to Alfred Nobel Academy and its students than she thought. Secrets lurk around every corner and beneath every surface…secrets that rival even her own.

Dead Girls Walking by Sami Ellis (Sapphic YA Horror) (March 26)

the cover of Dead Girls Walking

Sami Ellis’s Dead Girls Walking is a shocking, spine-chilling YA horror slasher about a girl searching for her dead mother’s body at the summer camp that was once her serial killer father’s home–perfect for fans of Friday the 13th and White Smoke.

Temple Baker knows that evil runs in her blood. Her father is the North Point Killer, an infamous serial killer known for how he marked each of his victims with a brand. He was convicted for murdering 20 people and was the talk of countless true crime blogs for years. Some say he was possessed by a demon. Some say that they never found all his victims. Some say that even though he’s now behind bars, people are still dying in the woods. Despite everything though, Temple never believed that her dad killed her mom. But when he confesses to that crime while on death row, she has no choice but to return to his old hunting grounds to try see if she can find a body and prove it.

Turns out, the farm that was once her father’s hunting grounds and her home has been turned into an overnight camp for queer, horror-obsessed girls. So Temple poses as a camp counselor to go digging in the woods. While she’s not used to hanging out with girls her own age and feels ambivalent at best about these true crime enthusiasts, she tries her best to fit in and keep her true identity hidden.

But when a girl turns up dead in the woods, she fears that one of her father’s “fans” might be mimicking his crimes. As Temple tries to uncover the truth and keep the campers safe, she comes to realize that there may be something stranger and more sinister at work–and that her father may not have been the only monster in these woods.

April:

Something Kindred by Ciera Burch (Bisexual YA Gothic) (April 2)

the cover of Something Kindred

Welcome to Coldwater. Come for the ghosts, stay for the drama.

Jericka Walker had planned to spend the summer before senior year soaking up the sun with her best friend on the Jersey Shore. Instead she finds herself in Coldwater, Maryland, a small town with a dark and complicated past where her estranged grandmother lives–someone she knows only two things about: her name and the fact that she left Jericka’s mother and uncle when they were children. But now Jericka’s grandmother is dying, and her mother has dragged Jericka along to say goodbye.

As Jericka attempts to form a connection with a woman she’s never known, and adjusts to life in a town where everything closes before dinner, she meets “ghost girl” Kat, a girl eager to leave Coldwater and more exciting than a person has any right to be. But Coldwater has a few unsettling secrets of its own. The more you try to leave, the stronger the town’s hold. As Jericka feels the chilling pull of her family’s past, she begins to question everything she thought she knew about her mother, her childhood, and the lines between the living and the dead.

May:

Thirsty by Jas Hammonds (Sapphic YA Contemporary) (May 14)

the cover of Thirsty by Jas Hammonds

It’s the summer before college and eighteen-year-old Blake Brenner and her girlfriend, Ella, have one goal: join the mysterious and exclusive Serena Society. The sorority promises status and lifelong connections to a network of powerful, trailblazing women of color. Ella’s acceptance is a sure thing–she’s the daughter of a Serena alum. Blake, however, has a lot more to prove.

As a former loner from a working-class background, Blake lacks Ella’s pedigree and confidence. Luckily, she finds courage at the bottom of a liquor bottle. When she drinks, she’s bold, funny, and unstoppable–and the Serenas love it. But as pledging intensifies, so does Blake’s drinking, until it’s seeping into every corner of her life. Ella assures Blake that she’s fine; partying hard is what it takes to make the cut . . .But success has never felt so much like drowning. With her future hanging in the balance and her past dragging her down, Blake must decide how far she’s willing to go to achieve her glittering dreams of success–and how much of herself she’s willing to lose in the process.

The 7-10 Split by Karmen Lee (F/F Romance) (May 21)

the cover of The 7-10 Split

This is how love rolls…

For teacher Ava Williams, some subjects are not up for debate. Like history–specifically, the one she has with Grace Jones, bowling pro and local celeb. Who is now, for no identifiable reason, teaching at the same small-town Georgia high school as Ava. Once upon a time, they were thick as thieves, best friends, rivals who pushed each other, and total bowling nerds. Then they shared a kiss, sweet and confusing…and after that, they split and nothing was ever the same.

Ava is pretty sure she has every reason to hate Grace. Especially when the school’s soggy potato of a principal announces–finally–that the students can have the bowling team Ava has been pushing for, for years…only to hand it to Grace.

Now they’re expected to be partners and lead their new bowling team to victory in six months. And with that, their rivalry is back. Fierce, ultracompetitive…and with an undeniable attraction that pushes, pulls and crashes together. It’s history. It’s chemistry. And it’s just a matter of time before it explodes…one way or the other.

Second Night Stand by Karelia Stetz-Waters and Fay Stetz-Waters (F/F Romance) (May 21)

the cover of Second Night Stand

Prima ballet dancer Lillian Jackson is all about control–on stage and in bed. Which is precisely why she keeps her hook-ups to one night, and one night only. No strings. No phone numbers. No scones in the morning. There’s no room for mistakes, especially now that her dance company’s survival depends entirely on winning a million-dollar cash prize in one of America’s biggest reality competitions. That is, until one night with a certain curvy, blue-haired siren changes everything . . .

As burlesque dancer “Blue Lenox,” Izzy Wells is the queen of on-stage seduction. Almost no one knows that she’s close to losing everything–her theater, her home, and her troupe–unless she wins this competition. Now she’s going toe-to-toe with a gorgeous ballerina in front of the world. The chemistry between them is hot, but even more distracting are the feelings they’re starting to develop. There’s no way Lillian can fit Izzy into her life, and Izzy knows better than to fall for someone who can’t put her first. But if they can make it through the show with their hearts and dreams intact, they just might win the biggest prize of all.

A Little Kissing Between Friends by Chencia C. Higgins (F/F Romance) (May 28)

the cover of A Little Kissing Between Friends

Music producer on the rise Cyn Tha Starr knows what she likes, from her sickening beats in the studio to the flirty femmes she fools around with. Her ever-rotating roster has never been a problem until her latest fling clashes with Jucee, her best friend and the most popular dancer at strip club Sanity.

It makes Cyn see Jucee in a different light. One with far fewer boundaries and a lot more kissing.

Juleesa Jones makes great money dancing the early shift and spends most evenings with her son, her Sanity family or at Cyn’s house. Relationships are not high on the priority list–until she’s forced to admit that maybe friendship isn’t the only thing she wants from her bestie.

But hooking up with your ride-or-die is risky. Jucee isn’t just Cyn’s best friend–Jucee is her muse. When Cyn lays down her beats, it’s Jucee she imagines in the club throwing it back to every note. If they aren’t careful, this could crash and burn…but isn’t real love worth it?

June:

The Ballad of Jacquotte Delahaye by Briony Cameron (F/F Pirate Historical Fiction) (June 4)

the cover of The Ballad of Jacquotte Delahaye

This epic, dazzling tale based on true events illuminates a woman of color’s rise to power as one of the few purported female pirate captains to sail the Caribbean, and the forbidden love story that will shape the course of history.

In the tumultuous town of Yáquimo, Santo Domingo, Jacquotte Delahaye is an unknown but up-and-coming shipwright. Her dreams are bold but her ambitions are bound by the confines of her life with her self-seeking French father. When her way of life and the delicate balance of power in the town are threatened, she is forced to flee her home and become a woman on the run along with a motley crew of refugees, including a mysterious young woman named Teresa.

Jacquotte and her band become indentured servants to the infamous Blackhand, a ruthless pirate captain who rules his ship with an iron fist. As they struggle to survive his brutality, Jacquotte finds herself unable to resist Teresa despite their differences. When Blackhand hatches a dangerous scheme to steal a Portuguese shipment of jewels, Jacquotte must rely on her wits, resourcefulness, and friends to survive. But she discovers there is a grander, darker scheme of treachery at play, and she ultimately must decide what price she is willing to pay to secure a better future for them all.

An unforgettable tale told in three parts, The Ballad of Jacquotte Delahaye is a thrilling, buccaneering escapade filled with siege and battle, and is also a tender exploration of friendship, love, and the search for freedom and home.

Sleep Like Death by Kalynn Bayron (Bisexual YA Fantasy) (June 25)

the cover of Sleep Like Death

Cinderella is dead, but Snow White fights on . . .

New York Times bestselling author Kalynn Bayron makes her highly anticipated return to the realm of fairy tales with this thrilling twist on the classic story of Snow White.

Princess Eve was raised with one purpose: to destroy the Knight, an evil sorcerer who terrorizes Queens Bridge with his wicked magic. Her own unique magic–the ability to conjure weapons from nature–makes her a worthy adversary. Far too many of subjects of Queens Bridge have been devastated by the Knight’s trickery.

As she approaches her seventeenth birthday, Eve is ready to battle. But her mother, Queen Regina, has been acting bizarrely, talking to a strange mirror alone every night. Then a young man claiming to be the Knight’s messenger appears and shares a shocking truth about Eve’s past. Unsure of who to trust or what to do next, Eve must find the courage to do what she’s always done: fight. But will it be enough to save her family and her queendom?


You might also be interested in Reading Black Joy: 27 F/F Romances by Black Authors. You can also browse the Black Author tag for Lesbrary reviews of sapphic books by Black authors.

A Lesbian Poet Teen Finds Her Voice: Kween by Vichet Chum

the cover of Kween

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Kween is a character-centric book about Soma Kear, a Cambodian teen whose life in Lowell, MA has been deeply shaken. Soma’s Ba has been deported, her Ma is in Cambodia with him, her Bridezilla sister is in charge… and Soma just wants to make sense of things. With a viral TikTok video, an upcoming poetry contest, a loyal best friend, and a (hopefully!) new girlfriend, Soma just might be able to find her voice.

The queer content in this book is nice. Truly, “nice” is the best word for it. The relationship is comfortable and easy. Soma’s parents are supportive when she comes out; though they do worry she may experience challenges outside the home, these challenges do not occur on the page. This is a safe book for a lesbian protagonist to explore her identity and feelings.

However, when that holds true for all facets of the narrative, it becomes a problem. Soma is always safe to explore her feelings. That may sound like a positive, but for me, it felt indulgent and excessive and made for a deeply frustrating reading experience. Soma wants to find her voice… but she already has her voice. She’s already facing a parent-teacher meeting for an essay she wrote a bit too loudly. Her TikTok video goes viral in the first few chapters. Her poetry is encouraged and praised and everyone believes in her.

All of that could be positive, if Soma weren’t so acutely cruel. I have never hated a main character as much as I hate Soma, maybe because I was bullied in high school and Soma is a high school bully. She’s not trying to find her voice. She’s using it. When she’s not lashing out actively at others, she’s filling the first-person narrative with complaints about the sister who uprooted her own life to help her family, the best friend who does nothing but support and cheer for her, the lonely classmate who just wants a friend. All of this seems somehow excusable to the greater narrative. She rarely faces consequences, and when she does, it all comes wrapped up in words of encouragement, reassurance, and admiration.

Again, this could be great. I love the idea of a character allowed to be messy without being condemned, but that character needs to address if they cause hurt, and Soma does. The entire book, all she cares about is herself. Of course she makes an apologetic gesture at the end, but even then, it seems to come from a sense of her own grandeur, not actually caring about anyone else. Soma is a deeply flawed, deeply flat character experiencing a narrative of encouragement and indulgence.

From a narrative standpoint, this book is unbalanced. I said earlier that the queer content is nice, and that’s true. It also feels almost perfunctory. The book lacks a central focus—it wants that focus to be the poetry contest, but it’s not. The contest is the second-act climax and has no impact on the rest of the book other than being dismissed when Soma is done having feelings about it. And that’s honestly representative of the whole book.

A well-intentioned but deeply flawed reading experience, overall.

Haunted by the Past: She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran

the cover of she is a haunting

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Horror is a very broad genre, and, I am inclined to say, a particularly personal one, seeing as what scares one person may not scare another, or, on the other hand, it might scare them too much. I myself love a good haunted house, but psychological horror freaks me out in concept alone, to the point that I won’t touch a book when I see it labeled that way. Trang Thanh Tran’s She is a Haunting, I am pleased to report, is my favorite kind of horror, that particular style where it’s kind of about the ghosts, but it’s not really about the ghosts. Or rather, it is, but it’s about what the ghosts represent more than the don’t-look-behind-you scariness.

That’s not to say this book isn’t scary, of course. I personally do not tend to get scared while reading books, so I am not the best judge, but I thought the book did a good job creating a creepy atmosphere and some really unsettling images (all those bugs *shudder*). The scariest thing in this book, though, is not the ghosts themselves but the very real horrors of colonialism, as well as the impacts of it that linger through to today. While this book is aimed at teenagers, it does not shy away from those atrocities, but nor does it dwell on them, exactly.

Beyond those horrors, however, this is also the story of Jade, a closeted seventeen-year-old wrestling with a complicated family dynamic and her relationship to Vietnam as a Vietnamese American who is visiting the country for the first time. As a protagonist, I adored Jade. I thought she felt very authentically seventeen, which is to say that while she was occasionally frustrating, she was trying her best. 

I also thought all of the relationships in the book were well-drawn. Her romance with “bad girl” Florence was endearing, and their interactions made me giggle a few times. The more complex dynamics with the parents worked equally well for me, and in fact I found her mom to be a standout character for me by the end.

Regarding the ending, I will say there were one or two elements that felt on the edge of overly dramatic, but I thought the book did enough well that I didn’t really mind. Emotions were running high, after all, and real life can be overly dramatic too. Regardless, I felt the book ended on a high and, frankly, down-to-earth note that left me satisfied.

I look forward to more horror from Trang Thanh Tran, and reading more horror in general this year, because this book reminded me that it is a genre I enjoy when it is done in the particular way I most vibe with, as this one was. If you are looking for a creepy haunted house that’s grounded in both the past and the present and the ways they affect each other, I highly recommend She is a Haunting.

Understanding the Japanese Internment Camps: Displacement by Kiku Hughes

the cover of Displacement

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“And keep drawing, too. Draw what you see, what happens here. It’s important. They can scare us, but they can’t make us forget.”

In this simply illustrated yet poignant graphic novel, Kiku Hughes reimagines herself as a teenager who is pulled back in time to witness and experience the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during World War II. There, she not only discovers the truths of what life was like within these camps but also follows her late grandmother’s own experiences having her life turned upside down as her and her family are villainized and forcibly relocated by the American government. Kiku must live alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese American citizens, as she finds out about the atrocities they had to suffer and the civil liberties they had been denied, all while somehow cultivating community and learning to survive.

Touching on important themes of cultural history and generational trauma, Hughes meshes these topics seamlessly into a fascinating plot and an extremely endearing and relatable main character. Kiku reflects a lot, during her journey, on the way that marginalized people are treated within the U.S.—during the past and in modern time—but also on the way that her family’s history and experiences had such a great effect on her own life.

Throughout the story, she feels powerless because of the lack of information she has regarding her grandmother’s past and her community’s history, which makes it difficult to help those around her. She can’t tell them what is about to happen to them; she doesn’t know what the living conditions are like in the different internment camps they are sent to; she can’t warn them about the specific atrocities that await them. She is forced to undergo this displacement alongside everyone else, and her ignorance not only makes her scared but also makes her feel quite guilty for not being able to contribute more aid or comfort to those around her.

She is also confronted with this difficult-to-place, bittersweet feeling of being disconnected from her family’s culture but also acknowledging that her own habits and traditions have been so deeply impacted by it. All these moments of introspection felt like a personal call out to me and made Kiku the kind of main character to whom a lot of readers will be able to relate.

Because of my own relationship to my family’s culture and history, reading this graphic novel was an extremely personal and emotional experience. On one hand, I think a lot of people will be able to connect with this story; on the other hand, I think a lot of other people will have the opportunity to learn something new through it.

I also loved the subtle sapphic romance arc that was included. It didn’t overpower the main message of the novel, but it was a nice, comforting surprise in an otherwise heavy read. I saw it as a beautiful testament to the joy and love we humans are capable of finding, even in moments of great duress.

The illustrations were beautiful, the art style was simple but extremely effective, the characters felt very fleshed out—which is sometimes hard to do in a graphic novel, working within a limited number of panels. All the artistic choices perfectly matched the tone of the story, which is a testament to Hughes’ true talent as a creator.

Representation: sapphic, Japanese American main character

Content warnings: racism, racial slurs, colourism, sexism, hate crimes, cancer, death, grief depiction, confinement, imprisonment, war themes (World War II and Japanese internment camps)

A Steamy Lesbian Historical Romance in France: An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adriana Herrera

the cover of An Island Princess Starts a Scandal

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“A person could live a lifetime in six weeks, Your Grace. Entire lives have been changed in less.”

Picture this: it’s summer, your sunscreen is applied, and you’ve taken the day off to spend solo on the beach. You’ve already taken a dip in the ocean. You lay out your towel and get all your fun drinks and snacks ready, and you pull out An Island Princess Starts a Scandal: a steamy F/F romance set in 1889 Paris. Bliss. That’s how I read this title, and it was the perfect setting for this romp of a romance read.

I’m not usually a big romance reader, especially historical romance, but this changed my mind about what a historical romance novel could be. It has such a fun premise. Manuela is a lesbian engaged to a wealthy man, but she has a summer of freedom in Paris with her two best friends before she gets married. She plans to spend this time exploring the sapphic side of Paris in one last debaucherous adventure.

There, she meets Cora, a wealthy businesswoman giving off Anne Lister vibes. Basically the only thing of value to Manuela’s name as a single woman is a small parcel of land she inherited, and Cora needs it to complete a lucrative railway project. Manuela agrees to sell it on one condition: Cora needs to be her guide to the lesbian nightlife of Paris. Oh, and did I mention they already met once before at a queer sex club?

This made for a perfect beach read. I always love seeing the gay side of Paris in the late 1800s/early 1900s, especially the art and literary side. Manuela is a painter, so we see a bit of that: Manuela sees examples of women who have managed to make a living doing their art, something she thought was impossible.

That setting combined with the premise had me hooked from the beginning, and the dynamic between Manuela and Cora kept me reading. Manuela is reckless, indulgent, and clever, while Cora is more tightly wound and ambitious. They clash, but they’re also instantly obsessed with each other. Both are leveraging their power over each other before the land deal goes through for good, and they’re both pretending they’re fine with this being a purely physical, limited time fling.

I can’t leave off that this is perhaps the steamiest romance novel I’ve ever read. There are a lot of sex scenes, everything is described, and everything is described in detail.

I did sometimes get hung up on the writing style, because there are a ton of sentence fragments. They’re a stylistic choice, and I’m not saying it’s wrong to write that way, but they’re frequent. I did sometimes snag on that and get distracted from the story.

This is part of a trilogy of romance novels, each following one of three friends as their love stories play out simultaneously during this summer. I liked seeing glimpses into those stories, and though the other two are straight romances, I still might pick them up, since I had so much fun with this one. This is the second book in the series, technically, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by starting here.

If you’re looking for an immersive and sexy romance to escape with for a while, I highly recommend this one.

Censorship, Expression, and Signaling in Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club

the cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

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Malinda Lo’s novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club (2021) has won multiple awards and has been reviewed multiple times at the Lesbrary already, so let’s start this review somewhere different: Last Night at the Telegraph Club has been banned and/or challenged at least 34 times in 14 states. Having done a bit of research and writing about these book challenges, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the people who submit complaints to school boards and file police reports with law enforcement very rarely actually read the books that they are attempting to ban. In the post linked above, Lo provides evidence of just how easy it is to file FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests that reveal all sorts of information about the people who want to ban books that they feel do not fit a certain narrative profile.

This is why you won’t see me write much about YA here—I spend way too much time writing about these issues elsewhere. However, I wanted to write about Last Night at the Telegraph Club because, simply, I hadn’t read it yet. 2023 was not a good year, so why not end it with a book on my TBR pile that I knew would be good? And it certainly was.

One element of YA that is important to watch out for is how it serves two primary sets of readers. The first set is the group of readers whose identities most closely align with the characters and/or the subject matter. For example, in the case of Last Night, adolescents who are Asian American, immigrants, and/or part of the LGBTQ+ community are in this first set of readers (along with potentially any other adolescent from a marginalized community). When we talk about who books are for, this is the set of readers to whom we are usually referring. If I can recognize myself in some facet of Lily’s character, Last Night speaks to me and my experiences. I might, for example, be reminded of the thrill of realizing something important about myself when Lily begins to interact with Kath, or I might recognize the danger that I feel through Lily’s constant need to keep large parts of her life a secret. In other words, the reader’s experience is reflected back to them in the pages of the novel.

The second group of readers is, simply put, everyone else—and this is where we run into trouble. Why should my child, who is nothing like the characters in these books, be subjected to these books? That’s the question that I’ve heard posed so often, either in those exact words or otherwise. Their children, they argue, shouldn’t have to be confronted with what it means to call an Asian American person a term that is meant to describe objects rather than people. Their children shouldn’t be exposed to a point of view that challenges the way the “typical” white person behaves, as they are when Lily is asked if she can speak English or is repeatedly called a “China doll.” Their children, most especially, shouldn’t see “immoral” behavior go unpunished. 

Except these sorts of issues are precisely what adolescents should be reading about because, for many, novels like Last Night provide a window into an experience that isn’t their own. The parents who seek to ban books only want their children reading books that mirror a certain set of experiences, while marginalized adolescents have to look through windows into lives that don’t mirror their own. In truth, all adolescents should read both sorts of books. All adolescents need the books they read to function as windows and mirrors so that they can learn about themselves and about others. (Note: The credit for the windows/mirrors metaphor goes to Rudine Sims Bishop, who advocated for diversity in children’s literature, particularly for Black readers and authors. Here is a great resource for more on this concept.)

Again, I really enjoyed Last Night, and I wanted to say just a bit more about two things that I found particularly delightful: the discussions of butch/femme and signaling. Does anyone remember Genesis from The Real World: Boston? The first time that I ever heard the term “lipstick lesbian” was from her. A couple of years later, I learned more about the concept of “butch” from Jack Halberstam. In 2024, we know that these terms are slippery and have limited utility—perhaps they don’t even have any utility for current adolescents at all. However, for many of us who left adolescence behind long ago, femme and butch were part of the limited ways that we had to describe queerness at something resembling a mainstream level.

Lo uses the historical setting of San Francisco during the Red Scare to explore the femme/butch binary in a way that helps younger readers understand the ways in which previous generations explored queerness, sexual orientation, and gender expression. Again, even if the femme/butch binary doesn’t serve adolescents today, the historical context does because, as we know, where we came from directly influences where we are and where we are going. And, of course, who among us hasn’t at some point felt the same awkwardness and excitement that Lily feels as she is figuring all of these things out over the course of the novel?

This past fall, I taught an undergraduate seminar on young adult literature; in one of the books that we read, several characters provide nonverbal cues to signal their sexuality. The discussion that we had in class about signaling was one of my favorite discussions that we had all semester. I wish I had time to recount more of that discussion; for now, though, just imagine Last Night as a way to juxtapose mid-20th century signaling from what it looks like today. After all, all one has to do today is slap on a pride flag, get an undercut, or quote Steven Universe or The Owl House, and the people who need to know—well, they know. Compare those contemporary signals with the ways in which Lo describes the way her characters dress and wear their hair as well as the way she describes Lily’s reverence as she encounters outward expressions of queerness. 

If you haven’t read Last Night at the Telegraph Club yet, don’t wait any longer! If you have read it already, perhaps it’s time to give it a second read.

Content warning: homophobia, racial slurs, racism

Liv (she/her) is a trans woman, a professor of English, and a reluctant Southerner. Described (charitably) as passionate and strong-willed, she loves to talk (and talk) about popular culture, queer theory, utopias, time travel, and any other topic that she has magpied over the years. You can find her on storygraph and letterboxd @livvalentine.