Rachel reviews Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen

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You know a novel is well-written if you find yourself sucked into the story, feeling every single emotion the characters are feeling, and either moving you to tears or making you smile without realizing. Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen, a YA lesbian romance, is precisely that kind of book, and what makes it even more impressive is it is Quindlen’s first lesbian novel, and she packed it with so many of the real feelings and real agonies that lesbians first coming out to themselves often face.

In the spring of 2012, seventeen-year-old Hannah Eaden is in her final months of high school, working to pass her exams and choose the right college. She has a strong network of friends, including her best friend, Baker Hadley. The girls know each other so well and do pretty much everything together. Along with Hannah’s sister and three male friends, the group, known as “Six-Pack”, is inseparable. But Hannah begins to realize her love for Baker is more than the love of a friend, and Baker too, seems to be feeling the same way. They try to deny their feelings, but one night during spring break changes everything. Brought up by their school, community, and religion to believe their feelings are sinful and unnatural, Hannah and Baker retreat inside themselves, trying to make their love for each other go away and learn to live a “normal” life. But these feelings will not be quelled, leading to an extremely emotional yet enlightening journey towards acceptance.

Her Name in the Sky is one of the best novels I’ve read that covers the day-by-day thoughts and experiences of a teenage girl dealing with learning her sexuality. Hannah is a highly relatable character, with her doubt, her pleas to God to “make it go away”, and suffering both happiness and guilt from her love for Baker. Her story reflects that of millions of other lesbians who first react negatively upon realizing their sexuality and the terror of their entire lives being uprooted by the knowledge. As my first reaction to my own sexuality was shame and horror, many of the things she thought or said resonated with me. As a result, the novel reached much deeper than any of the others I’ve read. Still, I believe anyone can get immersed in this book whether they had similar experiences or not. Quindlen is honest and to-the-point in her story.

The setting of the novel was another very interesting aspect. Hannah lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and attends a devout Catholic school. Quindlen’s descriptions of Mardi Gras celebrations, Easter Mass, action-packed vacations and proms give a very good idea of the community Hannah and Baker live in, their standing in school and social circles, their friends and relationships, pretty much their entire world.

Quindlen also was great with showing people’s varying reactions to homosexuality, some being kind and others outright violent. One of Hannah’s teachers, Ms. Carpenter, is one of my favorite characters in the book. She is compassionate and easy-going, yet will not shy away from letting someone know they are being cruel and are potentially hurting another person. Out of all the characters, she is one of the most sympathetic and open-minded.

Her Name in the Sky is a masterpiece. However, people looking for a light-hearted story might want to save this novel for another time. It’s deeply intense and emotionally exhausting. But these raw and genuine feelings are what make this book so wonderful.

Rachel reviews Alice & Jean by Lily Hammond

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Alice & Jean by Lily Hammond is a sensitive and beautiful historical romance novel centering on two women in love.

It’s 1946 in New Zealand, in the aftermath of World War II. Alice Holden is a mother of two young children, widowed by the devastating war, and struggling to make ends meet. Jean Reardon, a former farmhand with a reputation for her independent nature, delivers fresh milk to Alice’s home every morning. The two immediately connect, and seeing each other is the highlight of both their days. While Jean recognizes her feelings right away, Alice has never imagined that two women can fall in love and at first is confused with what her society has taught her about marriage.

As Alice begins to accept her love for Jean, and her son and daughter see their mother’s lover as a welcome addition to the family, her status as a widow puts her in a vulnerable position on two sides. Her cold, overbearing mother tries to bully Alice into moving in with her, and Jim Dempsey, son of a respected farmer, wants to marry Alice for the respect and money he’ll get from his mother-in-law, not caring that Alice wants nothing to do with him. Since both Alice’s mother and Jim are well-off in town, refusing them makes life much harder, even dangerous, for the two lovers. Others already suspect Jean’s sexuality and warn Alice against befriending her, causing more problems that each woman must tackle in order to live in peace.

The love story in Alice & Jean gives a vivid look into the women’s tender feelings for each other, yet also addresses real issues such as women’s roles and sexuality. Both women find their ways of life under scrutiny by family and neighbors; Alice for refusing Jim’s proposal, and Jean for wearing trousers instead of dresses and loving women instead of men. I was impressed with how the author balanced out moments of love between Jean and Alice with the stringent attitudes around them. I also liked how she portrayed the supporting characters. Some were completely accepting of Alice and Jean’s relationship, some were supportive but uncomfortable with the idea, and others didn’t accept them at all. Like any town or city, there were people who had different ideas about what was moral and right, and Lily Hammond showed how most of her characters were able to get past their disagreements and help each other in times of need. Only a few very unlikeable characters like Jim Dempsey and Alice’s mother, Geraldine Thomas, were the exceptions.

The plot and pacing were laid out well, and though there were a few slow scenes, I got absorbed in Jean and Alice’s story and there was a good mixture of relaxing scenes and tense buildups that drew the suspense right in and had me reading in long sittings. There were even a couple unexpected reveals I didn’t see coming. The only thing about the story I wished was better told was Jean’s past. As much of the conflict centers around Alice’s family, I got a better idea of how she grew up and what her parents were like. While there were a couple mentions of Jean’s family they were never introduced in the book, and though Jean’s already a well constructed character, I would have liked to see her family portrayed equally to Alice’s.

Other than that one issue, I really commend Lily Hammond for making Alice & Jean so entertaining and suspenseful, and of course, I highly recommend it to readers.

Rachel reviews Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

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British novelist Sarah Waters is known for her historical novels, some of which take place in Victorian England and/or have lesbian protagonists. Her debut novel, Tipping the Velvet, first published in 1998, is viewed as a lesbian classic by many readers.

The story opens in Whitstable England, 1888, with eighteen-year-old Nancy Astley, who helps her family run their oyster business. Restless and wanting new experiences, she attends a theater one evening and gets her first glimpse of Kitty Butler, a performer who dresses as a man for her act. After becoming friends, Nancy grows strong romantic feelings and eventually joins Kitty’s act, taking the stage name “Nan King” and earning countless admirers. She is thrilled when she and Kitty admit their love for each other and begin a relationship, although Kitty insists on keeping it a secret. After an unexpected betrayal, Nancy leaves Kitty and takes to the streets, resorting to prostitution and masquerading as a boy to make ends meet. She is determined to forget her past, becoming reclusive because of it. Over the years she comes across countless people who shape her decisions. While a lot of the changes she experiences are difficult, others offer Nancy hope of turning her life around and falling in love again.

Sarah Waters’ writing is extremely rich in substance as she describes Nancy’s world, the people she meets, and the hidden lives of homosexuals. Scenery and surroundings are so well-detailed there was never any doubt where Nancy was or what was around her. The writing style seemed authentic for the time period, making Tipping the Velvet appear to have been published in the 1880s instead of a century later.

The novel’s characters each had their own differing views and personalities; it’s obvious that Waters put a great amount of effort into creating them all. Nancy herself was a bright young woman who did make some poor decisions, but also had a strong will to keep going. Her impulsive, vocal character both clashed and complimented with Kitty, who was a quiet thinker.

Two other people in the novel stand out for me the most, and they’re both polar opposites. Diana Lethaby was wealthy and well-connected, taking Nancy in at one point in exchange for a sexual relationship. But though she provided Nancy with nice clothes and an elegant home, Diana was really possessive and treated her lover like property. I despised her character and shared Nancy’s shock at her actions.

The other character is Florence Banner, a charity worker Nancy later befriends. She was easily one of the most complex characters in the book. Her personality shifted between cheery and grim, and sometimes she worked so hard helping others she didn’t think much about her own feelings. I was intrigued by her and wondered about her family and what kinds of experiences she had. As the story progressed and I learned more about her, it was much easier to sympathize with Florence and see the true, gentle-hearted person she really was.

Tipping the Velvet was an interesting take on sexuality in Victorian London. All through the book, Nancy meets a whole underground of gays and lesbians, which adds to her story because, although homosexuality was seen as a crime and perversion, there were still countless men and women who were trying to live their lives yet also acknowledge their feelings. Very little is really known about this world as it was almost never spoken of. But Waters makes strong parallels between then and now. Like today, there were bars and social circles where gays and lesbians found their refuge, and literature they read in secret, like Sappho’s poems.

Tipping the Velvet is a wonderful story for lesbian literature, although some readers may be uncomfortable with the erotica tone. I found it to be a masterpiece and look forward to reading Sarah Waters’ other books.

Rachel reviews The Beast at the Door by Althea Blue

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A new lesbian novel has just been released, The Beast at the Door by Althea Blue. It is a historical romance with a few elements from Beauty and the Beast, as well as a good feminist theme.

The story begins in England in the late 1800s with Patience, a spirited noblewoman. She is the youngest of four siblings and the only daughter left unmarried. Patience has had a regimented life she cannot stand, so when her parents tell her they’ve arranged for her to marry a nobleman she finds repulsive, she runs away from home that very night. But Patience soon realizes how exhausting (and dangerous) her life can be always on the run. By chance she finds a house deep in the woods and sees a strange creature occasionally roaring out the door and window. While her first instinct is to stay away, hunger and chill finally draws Patience to sneak into the house. She meets a young woman named Ada who lives here with the beast, and after much pleading, Ada allows Patience to stay in the house. But the conditions include staying away from parts of the house and never interacting with the creature guarding the place. Ada herself is kind and intelligent, but there are clearly things she’s hiding about herself and the house. The girls become friends and later on there’s a deep love that completes them. But outsiders stumbling in are always a real threat to their secrets.

The Beast at the Door is a relatively short read (208 pages) and while I liked a lot of the story, I had the feeling that more subplots and characters could have been added in to make it fuller. Patience and Ada live in a time where women were restricted by rules and marriages, but they both defied the expectations forced on them. Both were avid readers and always came to their own opinions about the things they learned. While Ada’s father had understood about letting his daughter read, Patience’s family decided what was appropriate for her. Her brother Mason was the one that secretly lent her the books she really wanted and helped shape her into the bright, forward-thinking woman she is in the story. Ada especially is resourceful in tight places and with Patience’s assistance they’re quite a team. Althea Blue was wonderful with her portrayal of these two women and their love story is beautiful. It’s not the central plotline for Patience and Ada but clearly their love for each other strengthens them.

However, there were very few character interactions in The Beast at the Door. Most of it was between the two women at the house, and I think the story would have been more engaging had there been other regular characters with their own stories. The pacing of the book seemed to go too fast, and that further gave the impression more subplots would have helped. There were also questions raised early on about a couple characters that were never answered. I thought I would learn what was happening with them but at the end nothing had been revealed. That and the epilogue didn’t feel like strong resolutions to me. Then again, I don’t know if Althea Blue is planning to write a sequel to this book, so perhaps these questions will be addressed later.

Even though I can’t recommend it, The Beast at the Door is still a good story and will draw in readers, especially those who love books centering on history and women’s rights.

Rachel reviews Country Girl, City Girl by Lisa Jahn-Clough

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Over the years, lesbian novels have become readily available for people of all ages, including teenagers and young adults. Because each age group varies, the subject of homosexuality is handled in different ways for the targeted audience. One book I’d suggest to girls in their teens just realizing their sexuality would be Country Girl, City Girl by Lisa Jahn-Clough.

Thirteen-year-old Phoebe Sharp lives with her father and brother on their farm in Maine. It is the beginning of summer, and Phoebe’s vision of a quiet break from school is ruined when her father announces that Melita Forester, the daughter of a family friend, is coming to stay with them while her mother receives treatment at a clinic. Melita arrives from New York City with a hard attitude, instantly irritating Phoebe. After an initial period of distrust the girls find themselves confiding in each other, and despite their personality clashes they become friends just like their mothers had. Phoebe grows deeply fond of Melita, and feels the first stirrings of attraction. She begins to realize that she may be in love with her best friend, but it’s not clear to her if Melita feels the same way.

This novel by Lisa Jahn-Clough accurately depicts the budding sexuality of a young girl. All through the book Phoebe’s feelings for Melita become more and more apparent until she finally must acknowledge it to herself. One of the most interesting aspects of the book was that although Phoebe knew she loved Melita, she never once had a coming out moment to herself. She was in love and that was all that mattered. The only negative feelings she had toward her lesbianism was her fear of ruining her friendship with Melita. In fact throughout the entire novel the words “homosexual”, “lesbian”, and “gay” are never used once. I found that brilliant on the author’s part. She was able to convey Phoebe’s growing love for another female without putting a label on it.

Jahn-Clough also gives insight into both Melita and Phoebe’s lives. The novel begins at the Sharp’s farm, and later on in New York City. Both girls struggle to fit in at each other’s respective homes, and each have the feeling of being the “outsider” at some point. In time, Melita learns that Phoebe has no memory of her late mother, while Phoebe hears Melita’s stories of moving place to place, never being able to settle down and make friends. They are willing to help each other through tough times, their bond becoming stronger and stronger as they do.

The supporting characters in the story like the two leads have their own distinct personalities and struggles. One of these is Mr. Sharp, Phoebe’s gentle but strict father who is grieving over his wife’s death, and despite the years that have passed the pain is so deep that he can’t talk about her. This is frustrating for Phoebe, as she wants to learn more about her mother. One of the best characters is Gerelyn, Melita’s mother. A celebrated actress, Gerelyn juggles the responsibilities of working and raising her daughter alone. Though her intentions are good she has too often thrown herself into her acting and not spent enough time with Melita. Her hectic lifestyle and emotional exhaustion causes her to make some poor decisions. When Gerelyn is released from the clinic, she has to accept that her daughter is still hurt and resentful of her. But she is willing to acknowledge her own shortcomings in order to be a better mother.

Country Girl, City Girl handles lesbian love and friendship with great sensitivity as well as other important subject matters, making this one of the more touching books in LGBT fiction.

Rachel reviews The Witch of Stalingrad by Justine Saracen

 

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Justine Saracen has written many historical novels featuring homosexual and transsexual protagonists. The Witch of Stalingrad is a lesbian adventure/romance novel set in the last years of World War II.

It’s 1941, and the Russians are trying to push back the German soldiers from their country. Marina Raskova, a respected pilot, starts three different aviation units that include women. The most famous is the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, where the pilots dropped bombs on German positions on the Eastern Front every night. The Germans referred to these female pilots as Nachthexen, or “Night Witches”. Throughout the war, the night bombers remained an all-female unit, including the navigators and mechanics.

In the novel, Lilya Drachenko joins the night bombers to protect her homeland, going on countless missions and later transferring into a fighter regiment, becoming one of her country’s most revered pilots. Meanwhile, Alex Preston, an American photojournalist, is sent to photograph the night witches for her newspaper. Initially naïve about the pilots and the realities of war, she travels to Russia and meets Lilya, along with many others she soon comes to consider family. It is love at first sight for Alex and Lilya, but they both know they have to keep their feelings secret. Later, they are separated by their different obligations, and as the war draws closer to its climactic end, Lilya and Alex find themselves in all sorts of hardships with only their love for each other to keep them strong. If they survive the war, will they see each other again?

The Witch of Stalingrad is one of the best lesbian historical novels I’ve read. Justine Saracen obviously did her research into the events on the Eastern Front. Alex and Lilya’s adventures aren’t centered entirely on the night bombers, which Saracen more than excelled at portraying. The novel also includes the conditions of POW camps, citizens who were affected by Stalin’s purges that left thousands dead, and the camaraderie between strangers in terrifying situations. One example is when Alex met a group of medics who literally ran across a frozen river to the frontlines and carried any wounded they could save back with them for medical treatment. In the night bomber regiment, the pilots and navigators had to fly in poorly equipped U-2’s to their targets while their mechanics worked around the clock repairing planes and re-arming them. One of my favorite characters was Inna, Lilya’s loyal mechanic, who would always have the plane ready to fly on another mission just minutes after Lilya’s landing. It was humbling to read about how these men and women sacrificed so much for each other, and the ordeals they experienced were heart-breaking.

Another highlight of the novel is the historical figures Justine Saracen put into her story. Lilya’s character was actually based off of a real combat pilot, Lilya Litviak. Marina Raskova, Stalin, and Eisenhower also made appearances. This gave the story a more authentic feel.

This novel is more of an adventure than a love story, so throughout most of the book Lilya and Alex are in different places. When they are together though, the tenderness between them is real, and it’s clear they respect each other. Even though Lilya and Alex have different political views, they get past their disagreements. And both of them are willing to move mountains to protect each other.

One aspect of The Witch of Stalingrad that confused me was the narrative. In the beginning of the book, the story switches equally between Lilya and Alex; then suddenly the middle of the story is told only from Alex’s point of view, dropping Lilya’s. It was disappointing, because I would have liked to read Lilya’s stories in her perspective rather than hear second-hand. Lilya’s voice rejoins Alex’s in the last third of the novel, but I still found it strange that the narrative shifted the way they did. It was also hard to keep track of events because dates weren’t always clear.

But other than those reservations about The Witch of Stalingrad, I thought the story was fantastic. This novel isn’t only for fans of lesbian fiction, but anyone who has an interest in women’s roles during World War II.

 

Rachel reviews The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber

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LGBT people have existed from the beginning of humanity, although too many historical records prefer to omit this. As a result, many real stories of queer men and women have been lost. William Klaber’s novel, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, is a fictional take on the life of a real woman in the 1850s who wore men’s clothes, married another woman, and went by a male identity.  (It isn’t completely clear whether Lucy was a lesbian or transgender, but the novel depicts her as a woman.)

The story opens when Lucy, abandoned by her husband, leaves her young daughter in the care of her family, hoping to eventually find a job and a place for the two of them to live. Lucy knows that men have a far easier time finding work, so she cuts her hair and dresses in men’s clothes. This book follows her first twenty years as Joseph Lobdell, from the time she taught a dancing school to meeting and marrying her wife, Marie Perry. An epilogue reveals what became of Lucy, Marie, and Lucy’s daughter Helen after the year 1876.

William Klaber really respects Lucy Lobdell, and it shows in his novel. He makes Lucy so real and believable with the way he describes her thoughts and conflicting emotions, and the details of her surroundings also give her story the feel of a real memoir. The historic aspects of Lucy’s time, such as the outfits the people wore and the laws they followed, are incredibly accurate. Clearly a lot of research was done to make the story authentic.

While Lucy’s story is fascinating, many times it can be very hard to read about the ignorance she faced. The ideas of a woman wearing men’s clothes, posing as a man, and loving another woman were seen as perversions and crimes, leading to imprisonment or lifetime lockups in asylums. In the novel, Lucy does encounter misogynistic people, and their narrow-minded comments and taunts are infuriating. Many of the characters in the story who discover Lucy’s secret react badly, from shunning to outright violence and imprisonment. It is distressing and heart-breaking to read of all the atrocities Lucy is put through, knowing that back then the prejudice was thought to be justified. Her ultimate fate is also very sad; she wanted to live her life in peace, but people’s hatred and ignorance refused to allow it.

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell is a heavy, often depressing, story, but this is also the account of a queer person’s life, a life that had for a long time been forgotten.

Rachel reviews Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller

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First published in 1969 under the title A Place for Us, Patience & Sarah is a lovely classic lesbian novel by Isabel Miller. Like Nancy Garden’s Annie on my Mind, this book is one of the first and few books of the time to have lesbian female protagonists in love, and to have a happy ending. It is still popular today and one of the most beloved LGBT novels.

Taking place in Connecticut in 1816, the story follows the viewpoints of Patience White and Sarah Dowling. Patience is in her late twenties, which at that time labeled her as a spinster. She lives with her brother Edward, his wife Martha, and her little nieces and nephews. She not only helps Martha care for the children, Patience is a wonderful painter, which she would love to do for a living. Sarah Dowling is the second-oldest in a house full of sisters. Being strongest, her father picks her to help him do the “men’s” work. A hard worker and itching to buy her own land, Sarah one day goes to the White’s home to deliver wood, and she meets Patience. The two feel an instant connection as they share a meal together and look at Patience’s pictures. It’s love at first sight, and when Sarah reveals her plans to go to Genesee, New York, and start a farm, Patience asks to come too.

After sharing their first kiss, the two women are happily in love. However, their families find out about their love, and react badly. Initially worried about her reputation, Patience refuses to go with Sarah, and Sarah sets off, heartbroken and alone. En route to Genesee and disguised as a boy, she meets Parson Peel, a knowledgeable man in books and learning. After learning to read, Sarah returns to her community and reconciles with Patience. Finally accepting her feelings for Sarah, Patience travels with her lover to hopefully find a good life together.

Patience & Sarah is a simple read, but Isabel Miller conveys so much in her story: from what the characters are thinking and feeling to brief but beautifully written details of the scenery and other observations. The characters of Patience and Sarah balance each other out well, though there are personality clashes between them sometimes. At first, the idea of them deciding to move to New York together after only a second meeting seemed too quick and impulsive to me, but as the women’s story moved along, I was nonetheless still rooting for them.

The novel had a good cast of characters with their own personalities. Some of the more sympathetic and likeable ones were Sarah’s sister Rachel, and Parson Peel. The Parson especially was entertaining, with his acceptance of differences and his endless supply of facts from the books he read. He taught Sarah more than just letters; he showed her possibilities she hadn’t known existed.

The love story between the two women blooms as they travel and build their own farm. They endure some trials as well as their own worries and doubts, but both Patience and Sarah really are in love, and believe that as long as they have each other, they can get through anything. Their unyielding bond is admirable.

Isabel Miller based Patience & Sarah on two real historical women. Painter Mary Ann Willson and her companion Miss Brundidge settled together in Greene County, New York around 1820. Miller even dedicated her book to them, which I found very touching.

All in all, Patience & Sarah is a wonderful historical lesbian romance that warms the heart. Anyone who is interested in LGBT literature be they gay or straight, should take the time to read this amazing novel.

Rachel reviews If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

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Young Adult author Sara Farizan adds a fresh and necessary story with her debut novel If You Could Be Mine. In Iran, female teenager Sahar has known from a young age that she wants to marry her best friend, Nasrin. But although her feelings are reciprocated, the two cannot marry because they are both girls. In their country, homosexuality is considered a crime, and death can be one of the many punishments. For a while, Sahar and Nasrin carry on their secret romance. And then Nasrin’s parents reveal that they have plans for their daughter to be married to a successful doctor. The girls are devastated, and Sahar tries frantically to find a way to stop the wedding. She learns that, although homosexuality is abhorred in Iran, being transgender is viewed as a correctable mistake, and the government allows sex reassignment surgery. Sahar isn’t transgender, but she wants to have a chance with Nasrin, so she seriously considers the surgery. She meets and befriends many transsexuals, some happy in their new bodies and some not. But she must ask herself if her decision is really the right path for her, and what kind of choices she should make.

If You Could Be Mine is a moving book, with complex characters and scenes; some wrenching, some beautiful. Sara Farizan provided an interesting glimpse of what it may be like to be gay or transsexual in Iran. There was an ever-present sense of fear and urgency that many homosexual Iranians must go through every day. There were a few things about the culture I hadn’t known before reading this book, so that made it an even more interesting read.

Like Farizan’s second novel Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel, this story has fascinating and memorable characters. Sahar is an interesting and conflicted protagonist. There were moments where I felt she was jumping into decisions too fast and naively, but given that she really had no prior experiences with homosexual and transsexual people, it was understandable. One of my favorite characters in If You Could Be Mine was Parveen, a male-to-female transsexual. She spoke seriously to Sahar about what changing her gender would entail, and if Sahar was doing it for the right reasons. She remained a supportive friend throughout the novel, and was open and honest about her experiences so she could help Sahar make the right decision. Parveen really deserves a novel of her own, she’s so well-developed and intriguing.

Sahar’s journey to be true to herself is emotional and thought-provoking. She must decide whether Nasrin would love her if she became a man, and if not, how to move on with her life. There were other subplots weaved with the main one: Sahar’s father coping with the loss of his wife, her gay cousin Ali making some humorous appearances, and the motives of Nasrin’s parents for their daughter’s upcoming wedding.

If You Could Be Mine is not a light read; it deals with heavy subject matters. There are no easy answers to the character’s predicaments. But the idea and plot are interesting additions to YA literature. This novel, especially with its amazing characters, will easily be remembered by readers.

Rachel reviewed The Locket and the Flintlock by Rebecca S. Buck

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From Bold Strokes Books comes an unusual story of love amidst pre-Victorian England. The Locket and the Flintlock by Rebecca S. Buck starts in 1812 when Lucia Foxe, daughter of a wealthy British aristocrat, and her family are robbed by a band of thieves called Highwaymen. The thieves steal Lucia’s treasured locket and leave, but Lucia, bound and determined to get her locket back, secretly leaves home and pursues the outlaws. She soon meets their female leader, Len Hawkins, who on the surface seems vastly different from Lucia, but in reality shares a lot of common ground. The two, much to their surprise, become friends after a while, and later those feelings turn into undeniable love. But can gentlewoman Lucia and outlaw Len make a life together in a time when homosexuality was abhorred?

The Locket and the Flintlock  covers interesting topics, such as the social constraints women were faced with in the early 1800s, and how the poor barely had enough wages to live on and so many turned to a life of crime. The author did a good job highlighting these points, and the scenes where Len challenged Lucia on what society deemed “proper” rang true.

However, there were some things about the book that didn’t sit right with me. Lucia, never having been in a lesbian relationship before and unfamiliar with homosexuality, seemed to accept her feelings for Len too quickly. It felt to me that, a woman in Lucia’s time and society would have been more hesitant, afraid of being gay and done some serious soul-searching about it. But Lucia never really addressed this to herself, which I found surprising and unrealistic for the plotline.

At times, the two women’s stories were really absorbing and tense, but at others the book reiterated some of the same points which slowed the plot down. One unexpected twist felt a bit too convenient for Lucia and Len. And there were other moments in the novel that felt a little far-fetched for the characters, detracting from the story.

Though The Locket and the Flintlock wasn’t really my cup of tea, I applaud Rebecca S. Buck for all her research into the historical details of 1812 England and the last days of the highwaymen. The subject of a female highwayman isn’t touched on much, so it was refreshing to see that aspect of history acknowledged. Readers who love historical fiction, particularly in England, and women’s history should give The Locket and the Flintlock a try and see if it’s something they like.