Megan G reviews 18 Months by Samantha Boyette

lfriend Lana disappeared. She was found dead several months later. Now, Alissa’s current girlfriend Hannah Desarno has gone missing as well. Not only that, but Alissa keeps receiving mysterious notes; notes that make her think that perhaps Lana and Hannah’s disappearances have something to do with her.

I want to start off by saying that this book is incredibly trigger heavy. First and foremost, there is a dead lesbian in this book, and her death is central to the story. Homophobia is a big theme, and while the homophobia coming from external sources is addressed, the internalized homophobia isn’t. Going off of that, there are mentions of anti-gay camps, and [vague spoiler] Lana’s mother denies Lana’s sexuality after her death [end spoilers]. It’s very clear that Alissa’s mother has some form of eating disorder, and she often fatshames herself and Alissa. There are explicit mentions of sexual assault of a lesbian by a straight man, and a lesbian has several kisses forced on her, most of them by a straight man. A few cases of ableist language. [major spoilers] Someone is drugged several times throughout the book. Also, the only character who is explicitly non-white (at least, as far as I could tell) is not a very good guy. It’s implied that Hannah is black, but he’s the only character who is explicitly stated to be a person of colour [end spoilers].

If you can handle everything mentioned above, then I urge you to give this book a read. My original draw to it was that it was a murder mystery featuring a lesbian protagonist, and both aspects of the story delivered better than I could have imagined. Alissa and Hannah have an incredibly sweet relationship, and it’s clear throughout that Alissa would do anything to get Hannah back. The flashbacks to their relationship are some of the highlights in the book for me. Also, I want to give Boyette kudos for writing the first queer YA novel I’ve read where the protagonist has been in a relationship before. Don’t get me wrong, I love stories about first loves, but I also appreciate the acknowledgment that sometimes your first experiences aren’t with the person you end up with forever, and that’s okay, too.

Now, I don’t want to give away too much about the murder mystery aspect, because I believe it’s something you should read for yourself. All I will say is that I spent the entire book thinking that I knew exactly what was going on, and then when everything came together my jaw dropped. I’m somebody who has read far too many murder mystery novels, so getting my jaw to drop at a reveal is a pretty big accomplishment.  Especially considering that one of the main reasons I read the book as quickly as I did was because I wanted to see if my instincts on the who-done-it were correct (that, and I adored Alissa and Hannah’s relationship and wanted to know as much as possible about them).

Of course, it’s not a perfect book. There are several casual mentions of things that I wish they had gone into further. Alissa has multiple times where she wishes she could just be “normal” ie straight, and while I know there are people who feel this way, it always exhausts me to read about it; especially when nobody ever takes the time to tell her that she is normal. If you’re triggered by any of the things mentioned earlier, I would suggest you give this book a pass; a lot of it is dealt with rather explicitly, while some of the more serious things are sort of brushed under the rug. Still, 18 Months has got one of the most organic f/f love stories I’ve ever read, and one of the best plot twists I’ve read in years.

Danika reviews Murder Under the Bridge by Kate Jessica Raphael

murderunderthebridge

Murder Under the Bridge is a mystery novel set in Palestine. It follows two characters: Rania, a Palestinian policewoman, and Chloe, a white Jewish-American journalist doing activism in Palestine. Although Rania is the main character, we do see a lot from Chloe’s perspective, who is the lesbian character. The mystery at the center of the story is about a young foreign woman found dead near the border of Israel and Palestine. Rania, one of the few women in the department, is forced to work closer with Israeli police than is comfortable.

What I found fascinating about this book was the setting. I haven’t read any other book set in Palestine, and this one felt so immersive and well-researched. It begins with several maps and “a note about names”, and it ends with a glossary. Kate Jessica Raphael is, in her words, “a white Jewish American who spent around eighteen months in Palestine, with brief forays into Israel.” She also spent six weeks in an Israeli immigration prison because of her activism. Although the plot revolves around investigating the mystery, the tension is around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is never a moment of absolute safety or certainty for the Palestinian characters, and the threat of violence or imprisonment is always just around the corner.

In addition to the setting, Rania and Chloe are both very well established characters. They are complex and compelling, and I felt equally invested in both of their stories, so switching perspectives never felt jarring or unwanted. I do wish the side characters got more development, however. There is a large cast of characters that I found myself losing track of (which is likely my own fault–I’m terrible with names), and I felt like Rania’s husband especially was a character that appears often but does not seem to be a round, interesting character. I wanted to see more from him, and from their relationship. Chloe’s love interest was intriguing, but I also wanted to know more about her, and it felt like their relationship popped up fairly suddenly.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries, so I can’t speak with authority about how the mechanism of the mystery functioned, but it worked well for me. The chapters are short, so it always felt easy to race through, although I felt like the focus was more on the setting and characters than fast-paced action (which isn’t a complaint).

I think that this is a fantastic read for anyone interested in reading a well-researched novel set in Palestine, and it has definitely spurred me to want to pick up more, especially from a Palestinian author.