Rebecca reviews Driving Lessons by Annameekee Hesik

Annameekee Hesik’s 2014 Driving Lessons is a cute and quick but also meaningful read. The novel follows teenager Abbey Brooks as she attempts to navigate her sophomore year at Gila High. Abbey’s journey is relatable, funny, and touching as she tries to get her driver’s license, survive high school, navigate the basketball court, come out to her mom, juggle friendship drama and relationship troubles as she tries to find a girlfriend. This book is a sequel and continues with characters who have already been introduced in a previous novel. I had no idea that this book was a sequel until I was already well into reading it. However, Hesik does a good job of ensuring that new readers can easily understand the characters’ history and this book can be read as a standalone.

Abbey is an extremely relatable character. But her actions can sometimes be frustrating. She is unfailing loyal to her unreliable and self-centred straight best friend, Kate, and she also has a penchant for keeping too many secrets. However, her reactions seem true to her character. The first-person narration is definitely faithful to that of a teenage girl. Abbey’s journey to fulfil her to-do list is a bumpy one filled with twists, turns, and several love interests. Things go disastrously wrong before they work out in time for a cute and happy ending which feels natural.

Although this book is definitely a Young Adult novel, its themes are applicable to readers of all ages and sexualities. Hesik examines the typical aspects associated with teenage life like sex, secret relationships, friendship troubles, and bullying. However, Hesik touches on other issues like dealing with the previous death of a parent (Abbey’s father died in a car accident and this ties in nicely with her reluctance to drive) as well as neglectful and homophobic parents. There are homophobic slurs as Abbey is bullied by classmate Nicky. However, their interactions take a surprising but organic turn (not quite what you may be thinking) as the book progresses. It is also refreshing that the characters are almost exclusively female and there is an abundance of lesbian characters with a few bisexual characters sprinkled in. However, the treatment of bisexual characters could have been handled better.

Abbey’s friends are a major part of the novel. They include ‘veteran’ you-know-who girls (cutesy code for lesbians which is somewhat endearing only because it is used so sparingly) like Tai, Mia, and Garrett (who is actually bisexual). These girls are well-written and seem very real as they support Abbey but they can also be secretive and self-serving. Abbey’s friendship with Kate is particularly relatable and the slow deterioration of their friendship is well-done. One of Abbey’s love interests, Devin, is deaf and her presence adds a nice touch of diversity to the novel. However, I would have liked to see some more characters of colour.

One of my favourite parts of this book is Abbey’s sweet and genuine relationship with her mom. Abbey’s mom is supportive while still being a very realistic parent. While Abbey’s eventual coming out is somewhat disastrous, her mom’s reaction is wonderful and it is great to read a novel where the protagonist’s mother is so openly understanding of not only her daughter’s identity but is also accommodating to her friends.

However, while many of the characters are well-crafted and memorable, there are too many of them. Therefore, there are too many side-plots that sometimes end abruptly or lack resolution. Kate’s drama with her partying and boyfriends overstays its welcome and Abbey’s mother’s return to dating are just two instances of too many plotlines in an already full book.

Annameekee Hesik’s Driving Lessons is a great and quick read. There is a lot going on in terms of plot and characters but, for the most part, Hesik handles the action well. I enjoyed this book and I look forward to more of Abbey’s adventures. If you’re looking for an easy but still meaningful read which features an almost exclusively female and lesbian cast of characters and a sweet and happy ending, you should definitely check out Driving Lessons.

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. She is an avid but sadly not very prolific reader and writer.

Danika reviews Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

This is a story that I still miss days after reading it. I was completely absorbed in the story, and I read most of it in one day. Jordan’s double life (disguised as a boy to join an all male capella group), the arts academy environment, and the world of a capella was all fascinating. Add to that Jordan’s struggle to fit into an elite private school on a scholarship while her family struggles to make rent, as well as an ever-more-vicious rivalry with another a capella group, and I was hooked.

I also found it interesting to read a crossdressing narrative that addresses the queer subtext. There is a long history of crossdressing in queer narratives, but usually the queer possibilities are swept under the rug as much as possible. This is a modern crossdressing story that faces them head on. Jordan isn’t trans or genderqueer, but the story acknowledges the existence of trans people, which is the first I’ve seen in this genre. Jordan borrows tips from trans websites and feels guilty about using them. When people begin to find out about her other life, they initially think that she is trans and are accepting about it, but she explains that she is cisgender.

The way crossdressing narratives usually flirt with queerness but ultimately sidestep it is by having a woman fall in love with the woman-in-disguise. The woman thinks she’s a man, so it’s not queer! Once her disguise is discarded, that romance evaporates. Meanwhile, the woman in disguise falls for a guy, but he only falls back once the disguise comes off. [mild spoilers] In some ways, Noteworthy plays into this: a girl kisses Jordan while she is Julian, and she falls for a straight guy while in disguise. The difference is that Jordan realizes through this experience that she’s bisexual. She names herself as bisexual. Unfortunately, the girl she kisses is straight, so there’s no significant F/F romance, but there’s no mistaking that Jordan is bi. [end spoilers]

The only thing that fell flat for me was that some of the members of the Sharpshooters blended together—only a few felt like fleshed out characters. (I did really love Nihal and Jordan’s relationship with him, though.) The author is obviously very familiar with a capella, so some of the details of the arrangements went over my head, but that wasn’t distracting. This was an absorbing, nuanced, and utterly enjoyable read.

Danika reviews Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

There’s a certain kind of book that I find really hard to read. It’s when it has this tone–this disaffected, aimless melancholy. Radio Silence definitely has that underlying sadness, and combined with it being a 400 page book, this wasn’t the quickest read for me, but it was definitely worth it.

Radio Silence is a YA novel about Frances, who has concentrated all of her energy and attention on two things in life: getting into Cambridge, and being a fan of Universe City. Universe City is a podcast with a striking similarity to Welcome To Night Vale. When she finds out that the creator of Universe City is someone she knows, the two immediately bond over their shared interests.

I loved the focus on friendships as important, life-changing relationships. As Frances and Aled grow closer, she makes sure to clarify that “You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl. I just wanted to say—we don’t.” That doesn’t stop them from having an intense relationship, though. They connect in a way that they haven’t with other people, and they can help and hurt each other just as much as if they were in a romantic relationship.

As I said, there is a bleak atmosphere through most of the novel. Frances has built her life around her academic career, and hasn’t stopped to consider whether she actually wants what she’s been working towards. Aled is in a smiliar spot, except that he has been pressured into it by his abusive mother. (Extremely emotionally abusive–trigger warning for abuse and pet death.)

There are a lot of different relationships at play here: Aled’s estranged sister (who yelled at Frances when she tried to kiss her and then disappeared), Aled’s mother, and also his friend Daniel.

I’m not sure how to talk about this book without spoiling it, because the ending is really what made it for me. It was worth pushing through the sadness to that bit of light at the end. It shows that there is an escape from that dread that seems all-consuming. It might not mean stepping out into beams of sunlight, but there are stars in the darkness.

There is, of course, a lot of great representation as well. Frances is biracial and bisexual, and there are also gay and demisexual characters.

If you like Welcome To Night Vale, love/hate tumblr, or have a complicated relationship with universities as institutions, definitely check this one out.

Tierney reviews Future Leaders of Nowhere by Emily O’Beirne


Finn takes a break from high school in Melbourne to attend a camp for high-achieving students who are “future leaders.” There she is elected to lead her classmates as they compete against teams from other schools, and she meets a fellow young leader who intrigues her: serious, driven Willa. With their teams, they work to do well at the camp’s month-long competition (and, while they’re at it, outwit one of the other leaders, Drew, referred to alternately as “douche,” “turd boy,” and “idiot kid”). As the game progresses, Finn and Willa get to know each other better despite their rivalry – and begin to fall for one another, navigating their feelings on top of the competition’s complexities and struggles in their personal lives

​.​The first half of the Future Leaders of Nowhere is told from Finn’s perspective, and the second half from Willa’s: together their perspectives weave not only a delightful romance, but also a compelling narrative of young adults on an emotional journey to find themselves and their place in the world. Though the outer framework of the game is a slightly convoluted plot element, it does the trick in terms of providing external conflict and helping get Finn and Willa together, and its machinations don’t detract too much from the character arcs. Finn and Willa are both engaging, endearing characters – as a reader, you root for them to end up with one another, but you also root for their individual character development, and for the external storyline (winning the game!).

Representation matters – and O’Beirne does a deft job composing a diverse cast of characters​,​without heavy-handedness. Willa is confidently a lesbian, and Finn is unapologetically and unquestioningly bisexual. Willa is also multiracial (her mother is Indian and her father is white), and many of the secondary characters are people of color as well – O’Beirne’s descriptions of her characters are natural and flow into the story without giving pause, though these details are for the most part relatively minor and don’t unpack much of the characters’ identities as people of color in Australia.

With Future Leaders of Nowhere, O’Beirne has crafted another excellent young adult novel, replicating many of the strengths of her previous novel, Here’s the Thing (which was published in November 2016, and which I reviewed for the Lesbrary in December): both novels boast appealing characters, a queer relationship that draws the reader in (and a thoughtful – if perhaps occasionally overly intricate – storyline that revolves around more than the relationship), and relatable emotional journeys. Future Leaders of Nowhere is well worth the read if you are into captivating queer YA – make sure to pick it up before the upcoming publication of its sequel, All the Ways to Here.

Danika reviews Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

This. Was. Adorable. I was between rating this 4 stars or 5, but I couldn’t think of anything that I would change about it to improve it, so I guess that makes it an automatic 5 stars!

Queens of Geek follows two point of view characters, Charlie and Taylor, as well as their friend Jamie. All three are going to Supacon, a big fandom convention. Charlie is a Chinese-Australian actress who is at Supacon both for the fun of it and to promote her movie. She’s also bisexual! Unfortunately, she is still living in the shadows of her ex-boyfriend and co-star, whom the fans would love if she got back together with (even though he’s a real jerk). Taylor is fat, geeky, anxious, and has Asperger’s. She’s excited to experience the fandom that she loves in real life, but she’s also overwhelmed by all of the elements of the con that can increase her anxiety. Luckily, Jamie is there to make everything seem less terrifying. He’s supportive, kind, and funny–and Taylor doesn’t want to endanger their friendship by acknowledging her feelings for him.

That’s a lot of summary, but it’s because there’s so much here that I love! I’ve only gone to a few conventions so far, but I absolutely love the ones that I have been to. The energy has been amazing and sometimes overwhelming. The idea of reading a whole book set at a con was exciting! And Queens of Geek lives up to that, really capturing the frenetic energy of a convention. It also reads like a love letter to fandom (while still acknowledging some of its faults). There are so many geeky references, too! And Taylor posts on Tumblr throughout the book!

As the cover would suggest, this is also about the two love stories of Taylor and Charlie. Although I picked this book up for the f/f romance, I was charmed by Taylor’s friends-to-lovers plot line with Jamie. They have a good friendship, built on trust and support. They also have some solid banter. Of course, I was just as invested in Charlie’s romance! In fact, given her experience with her awful ex, I was desperately hoping that she got a healthy, drama-free love story. Of course, it’s not much of a story with no drama at all, but I still was very happy with where it lead. Charlie meets a fellow Youtube star, and it turns out they are both fans of each other! Their flirtation is adorable, and it’s great to read a book that includes a romance between two women of colour.

Another thing that I appreciated in Queens of Geek is that there is no contrived obstacles to the romances. Typically, I find, a romance has a standard plot: couple gets together -> couple splits up because it’s not the end of the book yet, so the author had to invent a reason to break them up -> couple gets back together at the end of the book. Usually this contrivance is something that a simple conversation between the two would have fixed. Instead, the obstacles that Taylor/Jamie and Charlie/Alyssa face makes sense to their characters. Taylor is reluctant to add another change to this tumultuous time in her life while dealing with all of the anxiety that this change invites. Charlie is dealing with a very public break up and is reluctant to have another relationship in the public eye, while Alyssa’s last relationship was with someone who refused to acknowledge their relationship in public for the entire time they were dating (more than a year). Those are all legitimate positions to hold, and ones that conflict. It makes sense that it takes them some time in the book to work those out.

Did I mention that I read this book in one day? I don’t usually do that, and I wasn’t intending to, but I just kept getting drawn back into the story. I also found myself laughing aloud several times while reading. The banter between both couples works really well, and when there’s a fandom joke thrown in as well, I can’t resist.

Besides all of the diverse elements (did I mention that it actually uses the word “bisexual”?) and geeky fun, there’s also a well-paced plot, compelling romances, and memorable and fully-realized characters. This was such a fun, heartwarming read. Just lovely.

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.

Sponsored Review: Danika reviews The Buddha of Lightning Peak by Yudron Wangmo

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Within a few chapters of starting The Buddha of Lightning Peak, I thought I understood where the story was going: Plucky teenager takes on corporation to save the environment! Having been environmentally-focused as a teenager, this was a plot that would have been just fine by me. By the midway point of the book, however, it was obvious this wouldn’t be the Disney Channel version of that narrative.

Dee is a black lesbian teenager with a lot on her plate. Her brother is in jail, her grandmother is abusive, and the place that she feels most at peace is scheduled to be bulldozed. Dee is determined to save Lightning Peak, but no one else seems to care–not even the environmental groups that would usually be the leading the fight. She doesn’t always feel like the different parts in her life meld, but she will have to draw on her family, her friends in the Gay-Straight Alliance, and the connections she’s made through a Buddhist meditation group in order to fight back. Even if that means risking her life.

As you might be able to tell, there’s a lot going on in The Buddha On Lightning Peak. On one level it can be read as a young adult environmental thriller about an activist taking on a suspiciously powerful mining company, but that ignores both the scope of the plot and the other aspects of Dee’s life. She’s also becoming serious about pursuing Buddhism as a life path and trying to incorporate that into her identity (there aren’t a lot of other black Buddhists that she knows, nevermind black Buddhist lesbian teenagers). She’s feuding with her ex, attempting to maintain a relationship with her incarcerated brother, and struggling to maintain her friendships at the same time. There is a huge cast of side characters in this book as well. Though I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the amount of names (a personal flaw of mine), I did appreciate how many side characters became well-developed over the course of the novel.

Dee is an engaging protagonist, but she’s not perfect. She is impatient and often angry, even when dealing with her closest friends. While continuing to fight a seemingly unwinnable battle to save Lightning Peak, Dee also begins, possibly unconsciously, to come to terms with her own more generalized anger. She draws on the lessons she’s learned from her Buddhist mentor in order to have more empathy and understanding for the people around her, and see things more broadly.

This definitely became more complex and had higher stakes than I was expecting. Dee becomes involved in something much bigger than she anticipated, and soon seems to be regularly putting her life at risk for her goals, which definitely kept me flipping pages.

This isn’t a perfect book, however. The major problem I had with it was the use of slang, which often felt dated and awkward to me (“Kicking it at a party”, “check it”, etc). The book is from Dee’s point of view, so it’s not just her dialogue that uses slang, but the entire narration. Even when it didn’t seem dated, seeing words like shoulda, mighta, or ’em in the narration would often throw me out of the story.  There is a lot to do with race and racism covered in this story as well, which I can’t speak to in terms of representation: I’m white, and the book is not own voices. I’d be interested to read a review by a black reader, especially a queer black reader.

I also am not Buddhist, so I also don’t have a lot of context for its representation here, but the author is a Buddhist practitioner. I got the impression that at the core of this series of books was to the representation of Buddhism, but although it was a major part of the story, it didn’t feel pedantic or preaching to me.

Despite my issues with the narration, I really enjoyed both the well-rounded characters and the nerve-wracking plot of this. Not only was there a lot of action, but events kept surprising me (mostly because everything seemed to keep going wrong). If you want a more intense take on the “plucky teen takes on evil corporation” plot, with added Buddhist subplot, I’d recommend giving this one a try.

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.

Tierney reviews Here’s the Thing by Emily O’Beirne

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When Zel’s family moves back to Australia from the United States, she has to find her bearings in Sydney, while also making sense of the relationship she left behind: as Zel narrates the process of settling in and making friends at her new school, she also uses flashbacks to tell the story of meeting and falling for Prim in New York. It’s a sweet young adult novel – the story focuses thoughtfully on adolescent relationships, and as the present unfolds and the past is slowly revealed, you eagerly start to fit together the pieces that make up the puzzle that is Zel’s life.

Here’s the Thing is a thoroughly enjoyable read – Zel is a well fleshed-out character, and her first-person narrative (and copious endearing parenthetical asides) really draw the reader in. It’s refreshing to read a YA novel with a lesbian protagonist whose story doesn’t revolve exclusively around coming out or finding one true love. Coming out is an important step, and a process that never really ends (Zel even talks about coming out to people and clocking their reaction), but it’s great to see a YA character who is gay right off the bat, and for whom romance is just one aspect of the story (though there is certainly romance in Zel’s life – an excellent slow burn romance with one of her new friends, built up in just the right way that has the reader wholeheartedly rooting for them).

The novel does have a few missteps. There are a few regrettable comments: for example, there is an odd interaction between Zel and her father in which he proclaims that she couldn’t have been asexual because they are Italian and they need to love. Zel also seems to live that special shiny kind of life found only in YA novels: she has moved across the globe twice, her mother works for a modeling agency, and her father makes costumes for the opera. Some of these details detract from, rather than add to, the relatable nature of Zel’s story – but these qualms are minor, and easily overcome.

The novel’s greatest strength is its focus on the characters’ relationships. The account of Zel’s relationship with Prim, in both the past and the present, is an excellent exposition of unreciprocated teenage love and teenage angst – their emotions and actions feel raw and real. At the heart of Zel’s story is the process of figuring out friendship and love, and the messiness that can come in trying to distinguish between the two – Zel’s journey is both universal and wholly her own.

Danika reviews Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner

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Why did no one tell me about this book earlier?? Honestly, this should be much more well known. Ice Massacre is about Meela, and 18-year-old girl who has been trained to fight killer mermaids. She’s needed to defend her island, but she has qualms about being sent out to massacre the “sea demons”: she befriended one as a kid.

I was completely sucked in by this book. I can’t help but make Hunger Games comparisons: this is a story about teenagers at war, and it has some brutal violence. Each girl reacts to being in a war situation differently, some numbing themselves with drugs and others becoming vicious and unfeeling. Meela struggles to steel herself to the killing of mermaids–creatures who look eerily human–and it’s made worse by the fear that the next one she kills will be her childhood best friend.

In addition to the war with the mermaids, the girls turn on each other on the ship, splintering their ranks. The tension is high, and I ended up reading this book in a day, which is not a common occurrence for me.

The queer content of this book is understated, and it could easily be missed by someone who wasn’t looking for it, but it’s impossible to misinterpret by the end. If you’re someone who wants to get queer books in the hands of people who might not seek them out–or who aren’t able to openly read queer lit–this would make a great choice.

Ice Massacre also has a mostly indigenous cast of characters, but they are a fictional indigenous group. In the book, Eriana Kwai island seems to be an independent indigenous nation between BC and Alaska. The language is loosely based on Haida. I can’t speak to this representation, especially because the author did invent an indigenous group. I would be very interested to read a review from an indigenous reader, especially someone from the Pacific Northwest Coast.

With that caveat, I highly recommend Ice Massacre, as long as you can stomach some violence. Killer mermaids! It’s like Fox and the Hound, but with mermaids and lesbians! This deserves a much more prominent spot in queer YA and queer SFF.

Danika reviews Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

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I haven’t fallen so head over heels for a book in years. Here’s the premise: a YA fantasy book where two princesses fall in love. I mean, there’s a lot more to it. There’s court politics and betrayal and suppressed magic and warring religious factions, but that’s the hook that got to me, and I suspect it’s what will convince a lot of people to pick it up.

This is a perfect read for Tamora Pierce fans, complete with loving attention paid to the horses in the story. This uses tropes that are common in fantasy books, but you just so rarely see play out with two girls as the main characters. The story is told from the two main characters’ perspectives, and initially Mare is unimpressed with Dennaleia, so we get to see that grudging-friendship-grows-into-something-more plot, which I love. Mare may be a princess in name, but she prefers riding breeches to dresses and digging for information in seedy pubs to attending balls. Dennaleia, on the other hand, has been training to be the perfect, proper princess (then queen) her entire life.

For all the fans of Frozen who wished Elsa got a girlfriend in the end, suppressed magic is a big part of the plot in Of Fire and Stars. Dennaleia struggles to keep her fire magic hidden in a kingdom that considers magic blasphemous, but when her emotions get out of hand, things begin to go up in smoke.

Basically, this is everything I ever wanted from Disney princesses, but with added depth and maturity. (Maturity as in there is brief sexual content and swearing.) Although this is a love story, it’s just as much about the two of them trying to find out the truth about the conflict (soon turned deadly) in their kingdom, especially when Dennaleia’s husband-to-be and the rest of the political powers don’t have any interest in the opinions of two teenage princesses.

This book warmed my heart. It’s not that this is fluffy or doesn’t have conflict, but it makes me unspeakably happy to know this story is out there for queer girls, and especially one that’s published by one of the big publishing companies, which hopefully means it will be on the shelves of enough bookstore to be discoverable. Have I mentioned that I love this book? 5 stars. I’ll definitely be buying myself a finished copy, giving it away as gifts, and peddling it to strangers.