Megan G reviews Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Sophie Bishop was clean when her best friend Mina was murdered before her eyes. She’d been clean for nine months, two weeks, and six days. Not that the police or her parents believe her, especially considering the evidence to the contrary found in her jacket pocket. Everybody thinks that Mina’s death was a drug deal gone wrong, but Sophie knows different. She knows Mina was murdered; what she doesn’t know is why. But now that she’s out of a stint in rehab that she didn’t need, she’s determined to find out.

Published back in 2014, Far From You was not originally marketed as an LGBTQ+ novel. The blurb on the back gives no explicit indication that Mina and Sophie shared any form of romantic attachment, other than a cryptic mention of a “secret” they share. Despite all this, Far From You does not read like a typical “gay plot twist” novel, because that is not the point. Mina and Sophie’s relationship is hinted throughout the book, and explicitly revealed about 40% of the way through. The point of the novel is Sophie trying to solve the murder of the girl she loved. There is no double plot twist where we find out who murdered Mina and that she and Sophie were lovers at the same time. All things considered, it could have been dealt with a lot worse.

Because of the inherent plot of the novel, I’m sure you won’t be surprised by the warning that this book deals with a dead lesbian. It also deals with a character who is a drug addict, having become addicted to pain killers during her recovery from a traumatic car accident, which left her permanently disabled. This second aspect of the novel, while dealt with in depth, does not mention that not all people who take this type of narcotics will become addicted to them (and the author, Tess Sharpe, is aware of this and has discussed it on her twitter). So, if this is a trigger point for you, I would recommend avoiding this novel. Tess Sharpe has also talked about the problematic aspects of the dead lesbian trope on her twitter (though I am having trouble finding the link to that thread right now). Hearing her talk about these issues is actually what encouraged me to give this book a try. Knowing the author is aware of the problematic aspects of her stories makes me more interested in reading them, as I know that any future writing will most likely avoid those same tropes.

A couple more warnings about this novel include some ableist language (mostly spoken by a disabled person about herself), and a lack of diversity in the characters. It is set in a small town, so the fact that nobody’s skin colour is described heavily implies complete whiteness. As well, there are no fat characters, or any character’s that live outside the gender binary. Again, this can be explained by the small-town setting, but still bears mentioning. There is also some explicit violence, and [major spoiler warning] talks of a sexual relationship between an underage girl and an adult. [end spoiler]

I’m a lover of all murder mystery, and that aspect of this novel did not disappoint. I love when I cannot guess who the murderer is, especially since, after all the murder mysteries I’ve read, I tend to suspect everybody. This time, I was caught off guard. The second plot twist was a little less shocking to me, as I felt [minor spoiler warning] that the character wasn’t as developed, and therefore the reveal made less of an impact. Still, Sharpe does a fantastic job of slowly unraveling the mystery, and keeping you guessing until the very last moment.

The characters are fantastic. Fleshed out and flawed. Sophie makes for an incredibly dynamic lead. I was happy that her disability is continuously dealt with throughout the book, instead of shoved under the rug or forgotten. She also makes for a fantastic witness in a murder mystery, considering how unreliable she is based on her drug problems. Of course, if that weren’t the case the police would have solved the mystery a lot sooner, but what would be the fun in that? Also, I find it very important to point out that Sophie explicitly calls herself bisexual, which surprised me for a book that wasn’t originally marketed as queer.

Overall, this book is fantastically written, and provides a host of dynamic (though, admittedly, homogenous) characters. It is emotional and will probably have you reaching for the tissues more than once, as it’s portrayal over the grief of losing someone you love (especially someone nobody knew you loved) is incredibly real. Head the warnings, but if you enjoy YA fiction, and murder mysteries, as well as well-developed bisexual characters (who also happen to be disabled!), then definitely give this book a try. I promise it will make you smile, even as it breaks your heart.

 

Danika reviews How To Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Even before this book came out, I have been hearing 100% positive things about it. Lots of people whose opinions I respect have sung its praises, and with bi & lesbian YA readers, it’s widely accepted as a favourite. But despite these glowing reviews, I was reluctant to pick it up. Why? Honestly? Because I didn’t like the cover. It looked so bland! I know that’s a silly reason, but that’s why it took so long to reach the top of my TBR stack. And in fact, it’s probably only because I read it on my phone instead of picking up the physical copy that I even made the leap then. I’m happy to say that I was utterly mistaken in putting it off, and everyone else was completely in the right. I loved this book.

This book deftly deals with grief and unhealthy/abusive family dynamics. Grace’s father died when she was young, and since then, her mother hasn’t acted much like a mom. Maggie has been dragging Grace from one boyfriend’s house to another, and Grace is used to following her into bars and pulling her out of dangerous situations. She feels like it is her responsibility to watch after Maggie.

This is a horrible situation to be in as a teenager, and Grace is obviously suppressing a lot of anger and pain. She never knows what she’s coming home to. She’s constantly scared that Maggie has gone out drinking or ended up with a questionable guy. Trying to grow up quickly and hold it together for the both of them means something has to give. I appreciated was Grace as a character because she has deep friendships and cares about people, but she also lashes out in ways that are very believable. She wants to reach out, even as she feels that making connections is meaningless, that she is trapped in this situation. It makes her a complex but relatable character.

The relationships between characters are nuanced: Grace’s best friend and his mother are a solid source of support for her, but Luca’s mother and Maggie have a strained relationship that causes Grace to try to cover up for Maggie. In the meantime, Luca and his mom have taken in Eva (Grace’s love interest), who has recently lost her mother. Maggie takes Eva under her wing, causing Grace to agonize over whether she should tell Eva the whole truth about Maggie.

That’s a lot going on, and it’s only scratching the surface. Maggie and Grace are living with Maggie’s new boyfriend, who happens to be the father of Grace’s ex-boyfriend, meaning she’s stuck in the same house as the guy who publicly posted their suggestive text conversations after they broke up. Grace desperately wants to pursue a career as a pianist–her passion–but is afraid to leave Maggie alone, and the deadline for her life-altering audition is rapidly approaching.

The heart of the story, though, is between Maggie, Grace, and Eva. Grace cherishes the relationship she forms with Eva, where she feels like she can be herself, while resenting Eva for having a more positive relationship with Maggie than she does. The push-and-pull between Grace and all the people in her life leaves her in a situation that feels unwinnable. It’s heartbreaking to see how Maggie lets Grace down, over and over. Particularly because it’s so believable. Maggie is not a cartoonish villain, but she’s a terrible mother who puts her own child in danger and doesn’t even notice.

In case it isn’t obvious, I highly recommend this. I thought it was masterfully handled, and I was completely invested in Grace and Eva–individually and as a couple. My only complaint was that I thought Grace’s ex-boyfriend, Jay, got off the hook too easily for what he did. But overall, the treatment of abuse and grief layered with a bisexual (yes, using the word bisexual) love story and accompanied with a thoughtful examination of race and art (Eva is a black ballet dancer) all came together into a five star read for me, regardless of the cover.


Megan Casey reviews Swamp Girl by Iza Moreau 

There was a recent article in The Washington Post about young adult novels written from the queer perspective. The gist of the article was that these novels “have begun to feel mainstream.” I’m sure that this is true to some extent; that a queer point of view is becoming increasingly more accepted by today’s readers, especially if these books are being published by traditional publishers. For some queer readers, finding a romance or a fantasy or even a mystery novel with queer protagonists comes as “a happy surprise.”

This last phrase—a happy surprise—is probably the most important idea in the article. Queer teens—or teens who are questioning their sexuality—need these types of books desperately. And not just coming-out stories or romances that end in tragedy—but books where the main characters just happen to be gay and live lives that are as normal as possible in our current society. That’s why Iza Moreau’s first Lesbian YA novel is so refreshing and, yes, important.

First of all, the book is a boisterous adventure that features a cast of almost Dickensian characters. The protagonist, “Sixteen-year-old Trixie McQueen—called Sixteen by her friends—wends her questing way from an abandoned subway tunnel in New York City to the mangrove-wild expanse of the Florida Everglades, where she is threatened by poachers and saved by a group of odd swamp dwellers—some of whom spent hard time as circus acts. Much of the plot involves the attempt of Sixteen and her new friends to uproot the criminals and drive them back to where then came from.

One of the oddest of all the characters is a bangle-and-short-shorts-wearing Valley girl named Raven, who is visiting her estranged mother. Sixteen—who has always accepted her orientation as a lesbian—and Raven—who has not—immediately bump heads, and Sixteen’s attempt to straighten her out—while combating her increasing attraction for the girl—round out the plot.

The first-person point of view is—I doubt if this is accidental—reminiscent of Tom Sawyer or Huck Fin, who have their own adventures to relate and crooks to foil. And, with the help of Voodoo-savvy Burundi, alligator-wrestling Large Lurleen, ex-Marine Big Ned Briscoe, circus-geek Señor Skin, Dorie the philosophy professor, and her other new friends, she manages to do just that. And in doing so, she not only rids the Glades of unwanted vermin, but provides a good, clean adventure for lesbian and questioning teens to enjoy, put on their shelves, and take out again occasionally throughout their lives.

Moreau has announced on her website that she is putting the finishing touches on the first three books in a new lesbian teen mystery series that will give lesbian and questioning teens a Nancy Drew type of hero. It should be interesting because, as far as I know, it will be the first such series. Until then, though Swamp Girl is as thoroughly enjoyable an entertainment as you could want.

Note: I received a review copy of this book that was kindly provided by the publisher in e-book form through Lesbrary.

For over 250 Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group athttp://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries


Marthese reviews The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

”Is there such a thing as promiscuous love, or dies it only apply to sex?”


The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins is a 500+ page book, written almost entirely in poetry form. It was such an intense read! It leaves an impression; I couldn’t help not think about it when I was not reading it. I read this book thanks to RivetedLit 25 Reads of December. They do have free Queer YA books almost every week (although with the different identities within the Queer spectrum).

This book is dark, and fast to read. The poems are in different forms that read more like prose but shorter than if it were prose. They were my type of poetry so great. I have to take time though to process so it took me a while.

This books is about ‘Ariel’ who lives with her father. For the first time, they’re sort of settled somewhere instead of going round the country on an incessant road-trip. She’s friends with Monica and Syrah – her first friends since ever. She’s actually more than friends with Monica. There’s a connection there and Monica is ever-supportive and ever-patient. Ariel doesn’t know how to feel, she’s confused. But that confusion increases when Gabe, her father’s partner’s (Zelda!) nephew comes to Sonora. She likes both Monica and Gabe and has to figure out what to do.

More than that though, this book is about Ariel’s relationship with her father – who’s probably the most despicable character ever but whom she cannot help but love because he’s been the only constant in her life. He is so abusive though! A lot of trigger warning here! Including a rape attempt. And lots of violence all around.

Soon, her mother – it was kind of predicable who that was and how she found her- comes into her life again and tells Ariel that her father has been lying to her all her life. More confusion and identity crisis ensure.

I liked how abuse was shown, in the sense it’s very realistic. Gaslighting was mentioned by name and it was shown clearly how her father did it. The value of honesty is given a lot of importance. That was refreshing as it reduced the usual teenage drama found in books. Although there was a lot of drama, nothing major was about dishonesty – at least apart from her father’s lies. Maya was very honest and open even when writing about small things, which her father had withheld from her. Zelda, although we didn’t see a lot of her, was another nice character that supported Ariel, though a bit alcoholic, which goes to show that punches don’t need to fly when someone is drunk.

I also appreciated the Spanish but like why did there have to be a direct translation right after? Footnotes could have been used. The translations were a bit out of place.

Although Gabe seemed like a really nice person (when not blood-driven) I didn’t really like his connection to Ariel. It’s like ‘boy-next-door’ connection, or maybe just teenage lust. Monica was a really enjoyable character and Ariel, I was both worried and upset with. However, I know it’s wrong to feel upset since she was groomed from a young age and couldn’t see the abuse.

Apart from Ariel and Monica there was more queer women representation.

Ellen Hopkins writes beautifully and this book is partially inspired by real events!

This is a noteworthy book but you must have stomach for it. It’s dark because these things could happen to anyone and in plain sight.

Megan G reviews Grrrls on the Side by Carrie Pack

Tabitha doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere. Her ex-best friend is now her number one bully, and the only friend she has is only her friend because they smoke together and enjoy the same type of music. One night, her friend, Mike, invites her to a concert, where Tabitha is introduced to the Riot Grrrls. Soon, she finds herself with a new group of friends, an increased desire to smash the patriarchy, and some interesting new feelings for a fellow Riot Grrrl.

Before I jump into my (potentially muddled) thoughts about this book, I need to start with some Trigger Warnings for this book, because they are extensive: This book contains racism, homophobia, biphobia, fatphobia, and sexual assault. Another warning I feel is important to add is that these issues are not always dealt with in the best of ways.

Now that that is out of the way, let me start trying to unravel the range of emotions I felt while reading Grrrls on the Side.

As you can probably tell from the trigger warnings, this book deals with some heavy content. The problem is that it doesn’t often deal with it in an appropriate manner. Often, conflicts are resolved within a page or two, and the resolutions feel half-assed. Most of the time the conversations about issues like racism, homophobia, biphobia, fatphobia, and sexual assault, read more like after-school PSA specials than actual real-life conversations. It’s frustrating, because I feel like this book scratches the surface of something that could have been wonderful, but never allows its characters to go deep enough to truly get to that wonderful place.

I had a hard time being invested in the main relationship, as well. Here we have an unaware racist bisexual white girl, dating a biphobic black lesbian. Any time Jackie, Tabitha’s girlfriend, brings up issues she has with the Riot Grrrls regarding race, or issues she has with things Tabitha says that are racist, Tabitha either doesn’t accept her explanations, or tells her that she gets it while it’s obvious that she really doesn’t. [major spoiler] Tabitha only seems to fully understand the issues Jackie deals with due to the intersection of being a black lesbian after she has a conversation with a white woman, which is pretty problematic considering her girlfriend has been telling her the exact same things the entire book [end spoiler]. On the other hand, after a bout of irrational jealousy, Jackie blurts out some majorly biphobic sentiments. She immediately tries to retract them, and the issue is seemingly resolved, but it left an awful taste in my mouth. Things like that don’t just come out of your mouth when you’re angry unless you genuinely believe them. I had a really hard time rooting for these two, and in fact often wondered what they even see in each other that would make them stick through this clear lack of acceptance of integral parts of each other.

Something I feel very conflicted about is the way that the Riot Grrrls interactions are portrayed. Almost every single scene that involves more than two Riot Grrrls ends in a fight breaking out. One character, Marty, is unapologetically racist, and although she is called out on it, it’s always quickly swept under the rug. The fact that Venus, who is the usual subject of Marty’s racism, continues to stick around the Riot Grrrls despite this is pretty implausible. Racism aside, though, there is a strong amount of internalized misogyny in these patriarchy smashers. We have two instances of female relationships breaking apart because of a man (one of which I will discuss more in a moment), and I can only think of one scene in which two or more Riot Grrrls being together doesn’t end in a massive fight. These girls are meant to be friends, but that doesn’t come across through the text. In fact, more than once I found myself scratching my head and wondering why any of them even bother hanging out with each other, since they obviously dislike each other so much. I don’t know much about the original Riot Grrrls movement, but from my limited understanding, the point was to form a sisterhood. To join together against the patriarchy. I can’t even tell you a single thing that any of these girls have in common with each other. They are simply thrown together and fight.

That all being said, a part of me actually appreciated this. There seems to be a misunderstanding that being a feminist automatically assumes that you will put women’s desires first, or that your ideals will always match with your actions. The truth is that a lot feminists, even intersectional feminists, can be racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc. Hypocrisy can run wild, and that is brought out in this book. My only issue with this is that there is no contrasting portrayal of genuine female connection. I know that Jackie and Tabitha are supposed to exemplify this, but their obvious difference in world views (see above) kind of cancels out any healthy relationship they may have. The only character who seems to be kind and open with everybody is Cherie, the sole non-white and non-black character in the novel, but she is relegated to the role of sidekick and given, at most, one important scene in the book.

The way that sexual assault was handled here was, at best, sloppy. A sexual abuse survivor sits in a room, sobbing, while two other girls debate whether the word “rape” should be used for anything other than… well, rape. Later, Tabitha is groped and forcefully kissed by a man, touting lesbophobic sentiments, and when she confronts her then-girlfriend Kate, she is rebuffed. Kate, who earlier was so concerned with how using the word “rape” for any type of unwanted attention devalues it for rape survivors, nonchalantly tells Tabitha that the man is “harmless” and that he only did it to “get back at her” (he’s an ex-boyfriend). They break up, and the issue is dropped (with a brief mention that the school has transferred the boy out of Tabitha’s classes). Kate eventually apologizes in a supremely mediocre way, and Tabitha accepts, even though this makes no sense. Then, we are informed that Tabitha’s mean ex-best friend is dating her assailant. She is rude to Tabitha when she tells her about it, so Tabitha does not inform her of what kind of man she is dating. Because this is never mentioned again, it kind of comes across as Tabitha deciding that, since Heather is mean, she deserves to be with a man like that.

Again, though, part of me does appreciate the way Kate reacts to Tabitha’s confession of assault, if nothing else because it’s real. That does happen, even coming from the most outspoken feminists. I just wish that this reality had been treated less flippantly than it is.

One of the things I did appreciate was the inclusion of the zines throughout the text. They added a lot to the plot, and added an extra sense of nostalgia and realism to the book. It was also cool to hear from character’s other than Tabitha in such a deep, personal way.

Overall, I feel like this book wanted to be more than it was. It’s clear that Pack’s intent is in the right place, but the execution falls a little flat. I wish more of the story had focused on genuinely dealing with Jackie’s biphobia and Tabitha’s racism (which, again, is shocking and continuous), instead of throwing out PSA-style conversations about random issues every now and again. Even if they had not ended up together in the end (which, really, I think would have been better for both of them), I would have felt more satisfied if I’d seen actual growth from the girls in these issues than I did watching them get a pseudo-happy ever after. It should also be mentioned that trans issues are not broached once, and the book comes across as quite ciscentric. One could justify this by claiming that it’s natural for a book set in white suburbia in the 90’s, but coming from a book that is so clearly meant to be preaching about intersectional feminism, it feels like a glaring omission.

Shira Glassman reviews How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake is the queer girl version of the classic trope of two lonely teens bonding over understanding each other’s parallel, if not similar, sadness. Having lost a lot of family within a relatively short span of years, there’s a part of me that became a Harry/Luna ‘shipper from the moment we saw them sharing loss in the kind of profound way neither does with the other kids, and that’s what I got from Grace and Eva in this book. Not that they’re mourning the same loss — Grace wishes for a sober, stable mother who cares about her as more than an extension of herself, and Eva’s reeling from her mother’s sudden death due to surgery complications.
But still, it’s the story of two young women, a pianist and a ballerina, whose shared emptiness creates a pull that draws them magnetically toward each other. They are healthy influences in each other’s lives, and it’s so good and affirming to see teen girls loving each other framed as “a healthy part.” In fact, Grace has had a super fucked up childhood and adolescence thanks to her mother, but her bisexuality is one of the few parts of her life that’s healthy and normal and hasn’t been ruined by the kind of parenting that drags the kid around from boyfriend’s house to boyfriend’s house until the new boyfriend catches you stealing again.
I will never get tired of this.
I’ll say it again: I’ll never get tired of this. I will never tire of framing a girl’s noticing of other girls “that way” as one of the ways to be a normal teen, as one of the ways to be a child, as one of the ways to be functioning as opposed to code language for someone being dysfunctional. Especially a bi character, because so many people have used that as a shortcut for how out of control we’ve let ourselves get.
Eva’s a lesbian and she’s awarded that innocence, too. We both need it, lesbians and bi girls alike.
Grace’s description of what it was like for her, as a bi girl who her ex-boyfriend “used to turn [her] into a puddle”, to crush on the friendly, alluring, straight lifeguard Natalie lined up exactly with what my straight-girl crushes were like at that age and–dammit–continue to be like. (Ladies, you are lovely.) It’s nice to be allowed to feel kinship with that moment, and be validated that yes, plenty of other girls who are still attracted to men can feel what we feel when that girl is with us, and that it’s okay to open up that path to all it has to offer. I also found an echo of my own past in Grace’s mom’s response in the past to when she came out. To respond to a declaration that someone likes girls with Well, sure, who doesn’t? is very, very familiar.
The main plot of the book isn’t just the romance, though, but Grace dealing with her mom, who’s the kind of person who steals from your piggybank to buy swag to throw you a birthday party with all her own favorite colors–on the wrong day. Given that I have the kind of mom who fled Irma two days before everyone else because she’s so careful and on-the-ball, this made for a fascinating read into a terrifying version of teen years when a minor is forced to parent her own parent. Blake does a wonderful job of showing the walls closing in, of the mindset that traps you into thinking that you can’t leave, you have to stay, because how else will she be safe? She needs you.
Except, no. That isn’t actually helping anyone. I was rooting for Grace the whole time and rest assured, the book delivers.
You can watch Grace teetering over the edge and pulling back over and over again in a kind of deftly unreliable narrator voice that reminds you that you’re listening to a teenage survivor who’s almost half brainwashed. She catches herself, for example, about to make assumptions about Eva based on her own mother and then hates that her mother is turning her into something “unfeeling and cold.”
I read it in one sitting with my cat lying on my chest–the prose and the chatty way the narrator talks to the reader carries you along in a swift current of plot and description. The characters and scenery are all pretty vivid and easy to picture. Also, I love this  book’s depiction of male-female platonic friendship, between Grace and her buddy Luca, with Luca’s adorable mom being the Adopted Mom foil for Grace’s own mother.
Emetophobia trigger on page 91 from walk-ons at a teenage party. Also, at one point the annoying teenage boy character (the ex-boyfriend from the puddle line) calls Eva “exotic” but it’s called out a few pages later and Eva is given a lot of space to discuss how it made her feel and why she doesn’t like it.
Shira Glassman is either a bisexual Jew or twelve tiny bisexual Jews in a trench coat; either way, she lives in north central Florida and plays violin when she’s not yelling “what are you EATING?!” at the cat. Her latest release is Knit One Girl Two, a fluffy romance between two Jewish girls bonding over fandom, making art, and dealing with the changes in their lives.

Danika reviews Riptide Summer by Lisa Freeman

When I finished Honey Girl, I was eager to dive into the sequel–mostly because I was absorbed by the setting (1972 Californian beach culture), but also because Riptide Summer promised to break the rule that “Girls don’t surf.”  I’m glad that I got see more of Nani and her life, but overall I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book. I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about this book that is different from the first book, just a few thoughts:

[Spoilers]

  • It’s not surprising that Nani’s relationship with Rox fell apart. I was rooting for them, but it was despite the obvious instability in their arrangement. It was disappointing, but not unrealistic, for them to so quickly turn on each other.
  • I felt like the characterization wasn’t as strong in this volume–Claire, for instance, is barely present, and I completely forgot her personality.
  • I did like that Nani started surfing, but it wasn’t until halfway through the book, and in secret. I would want to see more of her after the secret came out, and how she dealt with this new side of beach culture.
  • My favourite part of the whole book was Windy, the new love interest, and we barely get to see her at all! If there is another sequel that focuses on them and Nani’s new surf life, I would pick that up.
  • I wasn’t sure from the last book whether Nani was bi or gay, but despite wanting to kiss and date guys, she seems to decide that she’s a lesbian by the end, because she enjoys sex with women more. Unfortunately, this is also wrapped in a lot of biphobia: she tells Rox that she’s a lesbian, no matter what she says, and says she doesn’t want to be one of those funny kine girls who also date guys. The idea that someone can be attracted to more than one gender and that’s fine doesn’t really come up at all.

[End spoilers]

This series felt a little fractured, actually, like they were originally supposed to be one story and then were separated into two volumes. Riptide Summer didn’t seem to have its own arc; it just followed along where Honey Girl left off. I wish this had been condensed in some way, whether that was making Honey Girl and Riptide Summer one book, or skipping over a lot of Riptide Summer and getting more into the surfing plot line and the romance with Windy.

Danika reviews Sovereign (Dreadnought #2) by April Daniels

This is my favourite superhero story I’ve ever read. I really enjoyed Dreadnought, the first book in the series, so I was equally excited and hesitant to start the sequel. To be honest, I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the first one. Dreadnought was great in a lot of ways, but it did have some rough-around-the-edges elements, and I wasn’t sure it could maintain a whole series. I was glad to be proven wrong–in fact, I ended up enjoying Sovereign even more. (Mild spoilers for the first book from here on.)

Dreadnought dealt heavily with transmisogyny and Danny’s abusive home life. Those elements are still present in Sovereign, but not to the same extent. She’s not living with her family now and is trying to be emancipated. She’s built a support system. Instead, she’s dealing with the fallout of what she’s been through. What happens when you take an abused teenager, give her superpowers, and then reward her for beating people up? I love the way this series explores the crunchy, interesting questions of what being a superhero would actually be like, including the internal politics of the superhero community, the power imbalance between superpowered humans and everyone else, and the complex relationship between superheros and police. The background struggles are a little more subtle, which drew me in and made me think more about the invisible underpinnings of other superhero stories.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this volume also has a F/F romance! Danielle is a lesbian, and her love interest is a bisexual amputee Latina vigilante. I was rooting for them in the first book, so I was definitely happy to have my ship sail. I love their dynamic. They both respect each other as people and as superheros, and they challenge each other to be better. (In terms of representation, there’s also a genderqueer side character who has they/them pronouns!)

This is all, of course, not beginning to mention the actual plot of the book. I’m not well-read in superhero stories (comics or prose), but I was surprised by how captivated I was by the superhero vs supervillain plots of both books. These are gruesome, brutal fights that drag Danny through the mud and to the brink of endurance. Sovereign also includes torture. This story does not shrink away from the level of violence that is both inflicted and endured. I found the overarching plot fascinating, and I’m really hoping that there are more sequels to come, because I’m confident that this world and this writer can support them.

Danika reviews Dreadnought by April Daniels

If “trans lesbian superhero YA” makes you think “queer escapist romp,” you would have the same idea as I did going into Dreadnought. And although I don’t regret picking it up based on that, I got the “escapist romp” inference entirely wrong. This is a book that deals directly with intense transphobia (especially transmisogyny) and abuse. To give you an idea, here’s a line from the first few pages (trigger warning for suicide)The dirty little secret about growing up as a boy is if you’re not any good at it, they will torture you daily until you have the good graces to kill yourself.

Danny has enough on her plate just trying to survive her abusive household while being a closeted trans teenage girl. She has ducked behind the mall to secretly paint her toenails–her only avenue of self-expression–when blue lasers explode around her: Oh. Great. A superhero fight. Just friggin’ wonderful. It turns out to be Dreadnought, the world’s most powerful superhero, locked in combat against an unknown enemy. The fight turns deadly, and Danny pulls a wounded Dreadnought to safety–but it’s too late, and Dreadnought passes his abilities on to Danny just before he dies. Danny gains access to the “lattice” behind reality. She immediately uses this to shape her body into her ideal version of herself, but this also means that she has super strength, can fly, and can influence reality in ways she’s not fully aware of.

Being a superhero doesn’t mean that she escapes the problems she had before, though. Although she relishes being in a body that other people recognize as her gender, being a cape comes with risks–and the superhero community has its own transmisogynistic assholes. This isn’t escapist utopian fun: it’s battling bigotry armed with superpowers. And although initially she feels like no one can hold her back, she quickly finds out that her father’s vitriol can still get under her skin (even though bullets can’t).

This is a catharsis fantasy. Danielle fights the bad guys both in her cape identity and in her everyday life, and it makes her victories even more triumphant. This is about pushing through unimaginable pain and conquering it, surviving, maybe even emerging stronger.

I really enjoyed this and am looking forward to the next book, but I do want to emphasize that this should come with some major trigger warnings. Danielle deals with suicidal thoughts. There is a ton of transmisogyny, including slurs. Her father is extremely verbally and emotionally abusive, and the poisonous words he uses are on the page. There were also a few notes I wasn’t sure about: the origin of superheros/villains in this book is Hitler’s Ubermensch, including a villain called Kristallnacht. Would like to hear Jewish reviewers’ thoughts on that. There was also a moment of ableism near the end (vague spoilers), where Danielle shows disgust towards someone (one of the villains) without arms and leaves them face-down on the ground. (On a more minor note, some of the dialogue did seem stilted to me, but it might be because I just don’t want to believe that people would say such heinous things, and I believe the author did mention that some of it is word-for-word what was said to her, so that’s likely just me as a reader.)

I still would recommend this book, but don’t expect a fluffy read! Also, Danny does mention that she’s a lesbian, but there isn’t a romance in this volume (though there is a ship I hope will sail in the next one!), and her sexual identity plays a pretty minor role beside her superhero and trans identities.

Tierney reviews How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Grace dreams of moving to New York for college and studying music–but she’s worried that her mom, Maggie, needs her​ stability too much for her to leave their life in small-town Maine: for as long as she can remember, since the death of her father when she was little, her mom has made impulsive decisions, and it’s been up to Grace to clean up the mess. This summer is no different–until Grace meets Eva, and begins to realize as they fall for each other that it’s OK for her to be happy.

How to Make a Wish is an absolutely gorgeous (and heart-wrenching, in all the best ways) depiction of young, queer love, teenage friendship, and the trials and tribulations of coming of age, experiencing loss, and making difficult decisions. The novel doesn’t hit a single wrong note: every step of the way it is beautifully-written and deeply touching.

Grace’s relationship with her mother should seem familiar to anyone who has been on the receiving end of parentification: your heart aches every time Grace is forced to act like the adult in her relationship with Maggie, every time she lets Maggie’s offenses slide, and you cheer when she finds her voice and is able to stand up for herself, even as you see how painful it is for her. It’s a tragically authentic depiction of the dynamics of a screwed-up parent-child relationship, and Grace’s journey feels moving and truthful.

Authentic relationships are one of the novel’s strengths–both the difficult relationships (like the one Grace has with Maggie) and the deep, genuine ones. Grace’s relationship with her best friend Luca is one of the latter. He is a steady, comforting presence in a life full of so much unknown and unexpected. Their relationship has its ups and downs -but in both its low moments and its high moments, it feels so right and so true. Luca’s family is the solid familial presence that her own mother cannot be for her – Luca’s mother, Emmy, especially, is such an excellent example of the kind of loving, encouraging adult teenagers need in their lives.

And finally, the love story: How to Make a Wish showcases so much more than just a love story – but it’s the love story that leaves you with bated breath as it unfolds, in anticipation of every stunningly poignant moment.  Grace and Eva’s burgeoning relationship helps anchor Grace’s life, and the novel. As with so much in the story, their relationship just rings so true–whether they are eating peanut butter together on the beach, pushing each other away as they clumsily try to deal with their pasts and hang-ups, or kissing in a tree after being chased by a dog.

Grace’s bisexuality is an important part of her story, and her identity is a grounding element of the novel. She refers to past boyfriends–and also to her first crush, a pool lifeguard named Natalie: she is unapologetically herself, and Luca’s unquestioning support for her is heartening. The solid foundation of her identity makes the development of her relationship with Eva all the sweeter, her own self-knowledge a lovely constant in all the upheaval of her family life, and all the unknowns of her future.

How to Make a Wish is a breathtakingly, heart-achingly beautiful YA novel–Grace’s story resonates on so many levels, and Herring Blake deftly covers so much emotional ground. This is a novel that both leaves you breathless as you whip from one emotion to the next and soothes your soul–don’t miss out.