A New Take On the 20-Something F*ckup Novel: All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

All This Could Be Different cover

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

I have heard only great things about this book since it came out in 2022, but I somehow didn’t actually pick it up until my queer book club chose it for this month’s pick. I vaguely remembered downloading an ARC on my ereader, so I opened that up and jumped in. I was immediately struck by two surprises: 1) I wasn’t really enjoying the book, though I had been expecting to love it, and 2) I had started this book already. I was eight percent of the way through—which is not a lot, but it means at some point I started and abandoned it. Aside from the unease of reading through highlights I couldn’t remember making, I was also beginning to have a sinking feeling that this was not going to live up to the glowing reviews I’d heard.

Sneha is not an easy main character to like in the beginning of the story. She’s freshly graduated from her program and starting a new job in a new city: Milwaukee. She doesn’t have any real connections here, and she struggles to find her footing. Her property manager lives downstairs and erupts in anger if she makes the slightest noise. Her job is demanding and unpredictable. She hooks up with women without looking for anything lasting. And throughout it, she simmers with self-loathing that periodically boils over into cruelty and judgement.

Sneha is a queer woman of colour who has a lot of internalized racism, sexism, and homophobia. She thinks hateful things about other women, people of colour, and queer people. She’s angry and judgmental, but she’s also passive. She feels constrained by being an immigrant, especially because her father was deported. She worries that any misstep will result in failure—not just her own, but also failure to live up to her parents’ dreams.

“What nobody told me when I was a very young person was that obedience, fearful toeing of every line, chasing every kind of safety, would not save you.”

At this point in the story, I was having trouble with it. It was interesting enough to keep going, but I began to think that maybe I’ve grown beyond identifying with 20-something fuckup literary fiction—a genre I loved when I was younger. I might have even DNFed it, if it weren’t for my book club. But then…it got me. Somewhere along the way, I realized I’d gotten invested in Sneha and the network of relationships she formed.

There’s such a payoff in Sneha’s character growth—not that she becomes a perfect person, but that she becomes more accepting of herself and others. And that payoff feels so powerful because she was such a mess in the beginning. So I can’t fault the book for that, and I will say it’s worth sticking with through those beginning chapters, when she is being insensitive and even cruel.

If you’re a fan of messy found family dynamics, I definitely recommend this one. All the characters are complex and flawed, but they come together to support each other. Tig is definitely the standout character of the novel: a charismatic Black nonbinary philosopher who imagines a better world and both accepts Sneha and holds her accountable.

“This is my tragedy and my great good fortune, to be the recipient of this bond, to be kept alive under its crushing warmth and weight, to be given it so freely, so much more than I have ever deserved.”

The small section of the book that takes place in India adds a lot of depth to the story, I think. Even Sneha’s mother is a complex character—maybe more so than Sneha originally gives her credit for.

I was also surprised to see how the story is structured: while most of the book takes place over a small time span, there are a few chapters that go over several years. I think some readers will find that jarring, but I appreciated seeing the bittersweet aftermath of this formative time in these characters’ lives.

I definitely recommend this as a book club book, because there is so much to pull out and discuss, from issues of classism and appropriation to it being set during the recession to Sneha’s character arc to Sneha’s relationship with Marina and a lot more. It’s definitely one I think I would appreciate even more on rereading.

A Southern Gothic Coming of Age: Something Kindred by Ciera Burch

Something Kindred by Ciera Burch cover

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

When I picked this up, I was expecting a horror novel. And that makes sense, because it does have a lot of ghosts in it. But the ghosts are more a part of the setting than the plot; while they’re literally present in the town, their significance in the story is on the metaphorical side. I think “Gothic” is more fitting as a genre categorization.

We’re following Jericka, who has been bouncing from place to place her whole life as her mom kept uprooting the two of them. Now, she’s spending the summer helping to take care of her grandmother as she dies of cancer. What makes this a lot more complicated is that Gram walked out on Jericka’s mother and uncle when they were children — leaving them alone with their abusive father.

One thing I appreciated about Jericka is that she doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. When she meets her Gram, she asks her directly why she left her kids and why she reached out when she got sick. This is not one of those books where you wish the characters would just talk to each other — if anything, there are times when it would benefit Jericka to stop and think about what she’s going to say for a minute before lashing out.

This is a quick read, and the writing can feel a little… sparse at times. Like Jericka, the author gets directly to the point in a way that can feel abrupt. But the strength of this story is in its characterization and relationships. The three generations of women in that house all have complicated relationships to each other—Jericka soon finds out some secrets about her own childhood that are hard to grapple with. There are no easy answers here. Jericka begins to build a relationship with her grandmother even knowing that there is no way for Gram to make up for the damage she’s done to her children. She also starts to see her father and his wife, who she’s only communicated with through the occasional phone call and birthday card.

Then there’s Jericka’s complicated romantic life. She has a boyfriend back home, James, and their relationship is… comfortable. She loves him, but she doesn’t know if she wants to try to continue their relationship long distance when they go to university. Meanwhile, she’s falling for a girl in Clearwater: Kat. Kat is the only one who talks about the ghosts in town. She’s not popular, but she has a fiercely loyal best friend who will defend her at all costs. She talks a mile a minute and makes a terrible iced hot chocolate. I appreciated that Kat was multifaceted and flawed, not just a perfect love interest. Jericka has been out as bisexual for years, so her struggle choosing between James and Kat has more to do with her fears about the future than any worry about what it means for her identity.

I suppose I should actually talk about the ghosts, but it doesn’t surprise me that it took me this long to get to them. The characters and their complex relationships — especially family relationships — are the stars here. The ghosts, usually called echoes, are the manifestation of a central tension in Jericka’s story: the choice between putting down roots and always being on the run. The people in Coldwater seem unable to leave this town, but Jericka is tired of constantly moving. The echoes are the ghosts of the women who died when the old schoolhouse burned down, and they implore residents to never leave.

Of course, this is also a story about grief and loss. Jericka is building a relationship with her grandmother knowing that soon Gram will be dead. Jericka decides that although this is extremely painful, and although she can’t forgive Gram for what she did, she doesn’t want to continue the family tradition of silence and disconnection. She’d rather reach out even with all of that history between them.

I wouldn’t recommend this for readers looking for a terrifying horror read, but if you are a fan of family sagas and coming of age stories set against a gothic backdrop—with a few creepy scenes—I think you’ll enjoy this one.

A Lesbian Road Trip Romcom About Death: Here We Go Again by Alison Cochrun

Here We Go Again cover

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

I read Alison Cochrun’s previous book, Kiss Her Once for Me, and liked it, but I was not expecting to love this one quite as much as I did. Some of that is for reasons that will translate to many other readers, and some of my enjoyment comes from it combining my own random interests. Either way, I highly recommend this one, even if you have no experience teaching high school English and aren’t also contemplating getting assessed for ADHD.

Just as high school is such a pivotal time of life despite being only four years, my three years teaching and learning to teach had a permanent impact on me. I may not have been a high school English teacher for long, but I think some part of me always will be—and it’s still my back-up career. During those years, it completely consumed me. I would lay awake at night trying to figure out how to be a better teacher. My practicums were the most stressful times of my life. So it won’t come as a shock that I deeply related to this story about three high school English teachers. Unsurprisingly, Cochrun used to be a high school English teacher herself. (It’s also dedicated to teachers: “For all the queer educators out there. You save lives simply by showing up. Thank you. And for every queer teenager who became a little too attached to their English teacher. I see you. I love you.”)

Logan and Rosemary are rival English teachers at the same high school, but once, they were best friends. Then one kiss ruined their relationship, and now they can’t stand each other. It doesn’t help that they are classic Type A (Rosemary) and Type B (Logan) teachers, each judging the other for their opposing styles. How did they end up in the same profession? When they were teens, the only person who saw and accepted these two struggling queer and neurodivergent teachers was Joe, their Mexican American, openly gay English teacher. In their conservative small town, Joe was a life-saving presence for them, and they both followed in his footsteps.

Joe isn’t teaching anymore, though. He’s only 64, but years battling pancreatic cancer has ended with him being recommended hospice care. Both Rosemary and Logan have been helping take care of him, but he has a deathbed request that will be a lot more challenging to fulfill. He wants to die in his cabin in Maine, and he wants Logan and Rosemary to drive him there. Together.

Because the two of them can hardly be in the same room together, the idea of being in the same car for almost a week seems impossible, but they can’t ignore Joe’s pleas for them to make up and help go out the way he wants to. Besides, Rosemary has—unbelievably—just been laid off and doesn’t have a guaranteed job to go back to after the summer, so she needs something to keep her anxious brain occupied. So, she makes a giant binder of travel plans and convinces Logan to get on board, and off they set: a dying man, two mortal enemies, and a dog, all crammed in a van together.

I love a road trip story, and just as you’d expect, being in a confined space together forces Logan and Rosemary to communicate. There has been a lot of miscommunication between the two of them over the years, including Logan believing that Rosemary is a tight-laced, high-achieving, heterosexual neurotypical person with everything under control. In reality, they’re both neurodivergent lesbians, and Rosemary manages her anxiety with a desperate need to try to be in control, with a plan for everything.

The two of them haven’t been friend since they were 14, but neither of them moved on in the nearly two decades since. Rosemary keeps so busy with teaching that it allows no time in her life for dating, while Logan keeps her relationships to casual hookups only.

Logan planned to graduate and travel the world, having big adventures. But when her mother left her dad, she was determined not to do the same thing, so she’s been living with him ever since. This road trip is the first time she’s really left their small town.

As they travel, the two of them continue to butt heads, but they also reluctantly reconnect as adults—and finally address what actually happened the day they kissed. Logan’s instincts to run away from conflict mean that it’s not so easy to repair their relationship, though, especially when Logan refuses to grapple with Joe’s imminent death.

In the acknowledgements, Cochrun calls this a romcom about death, and that is accurate. I appreciated that it doesn’t have a particularly romantic view of death. Rosemary and Logan have to change Joe’s diapers as he howls at the indignity. Death is not a quiet, noble affair. It’s prolonged and painful—both for the person dying and their loved ones. There is a little bit of “Tuesdays with Morrie shit,” as Joe refers to it, but it’s not cloying.

(Spoilers, highlight to read) I also thought the first sex scene—Rosemary’s first time having sex—was especially well done. They both go very slowly, with clear consent at all times. It’s sweet, and since I’ve had some sex scenes completely turn me off of the book recently, I was glad to see it treated with such care.(End of spoilers)

A lesbian road trip romance + ruminating on death + both characters having ADHD + all the main characters being high school English teachers made this a home run for me, but you don’t have to have my exact configuration of interests to enjoy this friends to almost lovers to enemies to lovers romance. And yes, I cried.

Official content warnings: This book contains references to an off-page death of a parent due to overdose, and it includes the on-page death of a parental figure.

A Bisexual Disaster Romantasy: Hunt on Dark Waters (Crimson Sails #1) by Katee Robert

Hunt on Dark Waters cover

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

I have been slow to jump on board the romantasy bandwagon, partly because I am particular when it comes to romances, and partly because the subgenre has been pretty cis and straight. When I heard that Tiktok favourite Katee Robert had a new fantasy pirate romance with a bisexual woman main character, it seemed like the perfect place to start. Although I ended up with some complaints, I’ll admit that I do see the appeal of this subgenre, and I plan to pick up the sequel.

Evelyn is a witch in a situationship with the vampire Lizzie. She knows it’s a bad idea, because Lizzie is heartless and extremely powerful…but the sex is good. And it’s a nice distraction from her grief over her grandmother. When things go south with their arrangement, she decides to take a parting gift in the form of some jewels, hopping through a portal to escape Lizzie. That’s when she meets Bowen, the captain of a Cŵn Annwn ship, who tells her she has a choice: join the crew or be killed. Evelyn agrees for now, but is looking for an escape route. Meanwhile, the taciturn, “paladin” Bowen and snarky pickpocket Evelyn can’t ignore the heat between them.

So yes, this is primarily an M/F romance, and predictably, I was most interested in the beginning chapters with Lizzie. Still, I had fun reading this. It’s exactly what I would expect from a romantasy book: some fantasy adventure and worldbuilding, but with a focus on the relationship—and plenty of steamy sex scenes. I also think this is the first time I’ve seen a romance heroine described as having a soft stomach, large thighs, and small breasts. And she knows she’s hot. So that’s fun.

A small thing I appreciated was that this is a queernorm world: there doesn’t seem to be any discrimination against queer or trans people in this world. There are also several nonbinary side characters, including ones who use they/them pronouns and ones that use neo pronouns. Since this book takes place in a world where people come through portals from very different worlds and cultures, it makes sense that they’d all be different and come with their own understandings of gender and pronouns.

I will say that the writing style wasn’t this book’s strongest feature. It felt a little too simple, and the dialogue was clunky at times. I also quickly got tired of the main characters spending every page describing how hot the other one is.

The plot was serviceable: Bowen has been fiercely loyal to the Cŵn Annwn and is having to reconsider whether they’re actually the bad guys, which takes a lot of unlearning. He was taken in by them as a kid and has no memory of the time before that—which felt like it would play a bigger part in the plot, but doesn’t really. I wasn’t deeply invested in this world, but I also wasn’t bored with it.

Vague spoilers in this paragraph: as I mentioned, I found Lizzie to be the most interesting part of this book. She’s the protagonist of the sequel, so although she can seem villainous at times, the author is also careful to include some glimpses of her softer side—she might be a powerful, killer vampire, but she can’t be completely irredeemable. That makes her an intriguing figure, especially in the last section of the book. She’s both the big bad that Evelyn is running from and a character that needs to be sympathetic enough to star in her own story. The tension between these two roles was interesting to read.

Overall, this was a fun, sometimes silly read. I feel like it’s worth mentioning that this was my first Katee Robert book, and it has a much lower average rating than her other books, like the Dark Olympus series. Her fans mostly seem to find this one disappointing, so I’m not sure that I should recommend it as a starting point for her books. Still, although I had my issues with it, I am looking forward to reading Lizzie’s story in the sequel (which has a central F/F romance).

A Comforting Queer Cozy Fantasy Comic: The Baker and the Bard by Fern Haught

the cover of The Baker and the Bard

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

One of my favourite micro niches is queer cozy fantasy middle grade comics—which mostly just means I adore the Tea Dragon series by K. O’Neill. I have a print from that series on my wall. I have the box set. I have the card game! And since I read it, I’ve been looking for something else that is just as sweet, comforting, kind, and magical. When I heard about The Baker and the Bard, it rose to the top of my most-anticipated queer books of 2024. I’m happy to say that it lived up to those expectations.

Juniper and Hadley are friends in Larkspur: Juniper is a baker’s apprentice, while Hadley is trying to make it as a bard. When the bakery receives a very expensive rush order for galettes, the two of them set out to try to gather the rare mushrooms the recipe requires. Along the way, they discover that a nearby town has been dealing with something coming out of the woods and devouring their crops at night—a mystery Hadley is determined to solve.

I really don’t want to say much about the plot, because this is a short comic and would be easy to spoil. I’ll instead say that while they do go on a little adventure, it’s fairly low-stakes, just as I’d expect from a cozy fantasy. They make some new friends, including encountering fantasy creatures, which is a huge plus for me. I never really got past the Pokemon stage of wanting to collect and care for a variety of beautiful fantasy animals (though I never wanted them to fight).

Hadley is nonbinary, and there’s a little romance subplot between these two friends. It’s very cute.

If you like The Tea Dragon Society, cozy fantasy, or gentle and comforting comics, you have to pick this one up. I want a hundred more just like it.

The Song the World Needs: Thunder Song by Sasha taqwšəblu LaPointe

the cover of Thunder Song

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

This was one of my five star predictions for the year, and I’m happy to say it lived up to that expectation.

Thunder Song is a collection of essays about being a queer Indigenous women in the U.S. today. It begins with LaPointe talking about her 83-year-old great-grandmother calling the Seattle symphony to commission a symphony. They politely turned her down, and she called back every week to ask how her symphony was going until they finally agreed. The making of this orchestral work also became a documentary, The Healing Heart of Lushootseed.

From this first essay, I was hooked. LaPointe weaved together the past and present, drawing on the stories of her family and community as well as the political movements of the moment, like Black Lives Matter. She discusses both traditional stories and pop culture. As the title suggests, music plays a big role in the collection, including her days as one of the only Indigenous people in the punk scene of Seattle: “Eventually this idea that I was a punk first and a Native person second became unbearable.”

I took so many notes while reading this that I don’t know where to start, because I want to tell you about all the essays. LaPointe talks about growing up being treated differently by white people than her siblings were, because she has lighter skin, despite the fact that they all grew up together. She talks about her struggles as a teenager, running away at thirteen, ending up in the psych ward, and then being emancipated at fifteen, living with six friends in an apartment together.

She also addresses the many ways colonization impacts Indigenous people today, from generational trauma to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: “[when] one of us goes missing, we don’t get the front page or the five o’clock news. We get red dresses… I want my niece to know she’s worth more than a dress waving in the breeze. I never want her to question that the whole world would stop if she ever went missing.”

One image that really stuck with me was LaPointe describing the tulip festival that takes place on her culture’s land, and how it is a “petal-made flag of settler colonial triumph, a reminder that we have lost something.” Once marsh, this land was changed by settlers to be more “productive,” making it unrecognizable for the people who have lived off of it for thousands of years. Once a year, tourists make the roads impassible, celebrating this display of non-native flowers.

Of course, this is the Lesbrary, so Thunder Song also touches on the author’s queer identity. LaPointe says, “The first time I ever heard the term Two Spirit I felt a sense of relief wash over me.” She discusses how Two Spirit people were often sacred in many Indigenous cultures, and how the “shame [she] learned to carry is the work of generations of colonization.” She also mentions being in a throuple at some point:

“My partner wanted to know, Are you polyamorous? Meaning, Do you require multiple partners at once? The answer is no. But I do need the freedom to embrace my queer heart, to accept and celebrate it and let it run wild through the relationship.”

There is so much more that I want to talk about, like LaPointe’s journey to decolonizing her diet, or her complicated relationship with her mother, or the story about The Little Mermaid jacket, or her feelings about questioning motherhood, or the experience of going through Covid-19 as a culture where disease was part of an attempted genocide against them.

These essays are compelling and thought-provoking. All I can say is you should read them yourself! While they touch on heavy, difficult topics, this is fundamentally a story about healing and survivance: “There is something to learn from indigenous ways of thinking that has to do with courage and resilience, because even in the face of attempted genocide, of erasure, we descendants are still here.”

This is LaPointe’s second book, and I’ll definitely be reading her memoir Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk next.

“All over the world, indigenous communities are fighting for their survival, the survival of their sacred lands, their languages, and stories. Communities are fighting for their land back, for the salmon to return, for a stop to the desecration of sacred sites. They are protecting tribal lands in South Africa. They are protecting Mauna Kea. They are water protectors and knowledge keepers, storytellers and healers. They are the song the world needs right now.”

Content warnings for missing and murdered Indigenous women, miscarriage, racism, rape, addiction, generational trauma, and abusive relationships.

The Joy of Demolishing Your Life: Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail by Ashley Herring Blake

the cover of Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

I read Delilah Green Doesn’t Care almost two years ago and loved it—especially the dynamic between Delilah and Astrid—so I couldn’t tell you why I took this long to read the next book in the series. I still find Astrid to be a fascinating character, the sex scenes were just as steamy, and I still really enjoy this group of characters… but it didn’t have quite the same magic for me this time around. There were elements I really enjoyed, but I felt some distance from the story.

We start this story with a meet-disaster between Astrid and Jordan. Astrid’s business is failing—which is even more stressful with her hyper-critical mother always looking over her shoulder—and this opportunity to renovate the Everwood Inn for the popular TV show Innside America could be her last chance to turn things around. Since she left her fiancé last year, she needs a win. Jordan is also in a tumultuous time in her life, trying to come back from a low point where she may have almost started a fire out of rage at her worksite. Whoops. Now she’s back in her hometown to help with the reno of her grandmother’s inn. Astrid and Jordan both need this to go well. But instead, their first encounter is Jordan accidentally running into Astrid, spilling coffee all over her very expensive white dress, and Astrid cursing her out in a cutting speech that could have come straight from her mother’s mouth. When they meet again at the inn and realize they’re working together, they immediately square off—which makes for great TV. But then that spark turns into a different kind of heat.

The most interesting part of this book for me was Astrid, who I was also intrigued by in the first book of the series. She is a case study in upholding expectations, designing her whole life to be the kind of person her mother wants her to be. Even after she walks away from the prospective of a perfect-on-paper (and awful in real life) marriage, she just turns her attention into trying to have a perfect career in interior design, without ever considering whether this is even something she wants to be doing.

I feel a kind of sociological fascination in this because it’s so different from my own experiences. I’m the kind of person who’s much more likely to reflexively refuse to do something when I’ve been told to, even when it makes sense and would benefit me, versus reflexively going along with what I’ve been told. I always like getting the chance to be in the head of someone who thinks differently than I do, and I appreciated seeing Astrid’s hard-won journey to living for herself instead of her mother.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, for some reason I just couldn’t get into this book like I did Delilah Green. It also had a couple of tropes that irritate me, even though they’re very minor. (Spoilers, highlight to read.) The first one is when a woman says “I haven’t orgasmed from sex before” and their partner immediately says they will make them orgasm. I could go on a whole rant about this, but I’ll just say that you’re placing way too much pressure on your partner to orgasm just to make you happy, which is more likely to backfire. The other minor trope I bristled against was Jordan mourning her relationship for so long and then suddenly realizing that actually that relationship was terrible the whole time and it was good that it ended. I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I see it more than I’d like in romance novels. I don’t know that I’ve read any romances where a previous relationship actually was good unless that previous partner died. In real life, relationships end for all kinds of valid reasons that aren’t “this was always bad and never should have happened”! (End of spoilers.)

Those are minor points I probably wouldn’t have thought of for more than a few seconds if I had otherwise been absorbed in the story, though. I can’t say what it is that didn’t work for me here, so I’m going to chalk it up to being a problem with me, not the book. I’m still going to read book three, because it follows my favourite character of the friend group. Hopefully, I’ll like it as much as I did Delilah Green!

You Need to Read Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

the cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

I’m embarrassed to admit I only just read this for the first time. I’ve read every other Malinda Lo book. I’ve had a copy since it first came out—in fact, I’ve owned two copies, because I also spent $100 on a signed hardcover (it was for charity, in my defense). In 2018, I read All Out, which contained a short story by Malinda Lo that would later be adapted into this book, and I said, “I’m eager to get my hands on the novel version“! I have no good reason for waiting three years to finally pick this up, but I’m happy to say that I loved it just as much as I knew I would.

If you somehow missed this bestselling, award-winning YA novel, it’s the story of a Chinese American lesbian teenager growing up in 1950s San Francisco. When she discovers the existence of a male impersonator performing at the Telegraph Club, she can’t resist the temptation, especially when a classmate says she has been there before and offers to accompany her. What follows is a bittersweet first love and coming out story that weaves in the political and social realities of the time period.

This is such an atmospheric, absorbing story. Lo does a great job of situating us in 1950s San Francisco Chinatown, and the inclusion of timeline pages show how Lily’s story plays out against bigger political events as well as her family’s history. Lily and her classmates do duck-and-cover drills in preparation of a nuclear attack. Her father is questioned for treating a supposedly communist patient. Her aunt works on technology that brings the U.S. one step closer to landing on the moon.

I couldn’t help feeling for Lily. She’s a very sympathetic main character, initially being pushed towards a prescribed path by her family and best friend. When she discovers the Telegraph Club—as well as a lesbian pulp fiction book, which she reads furtively in a corner of the drug store, she eventually is forced to choose between the future laid out for her and risking it all for a life of her own design.

Lily is some ways is naive: she starts the novel not knowing about the existence of queer people, and she questions throughout how you know that you’re in love. On the other hand, she also faces constant prejudice. As she discovers her own sexuality, she knows her family and community would judge her harshly for it. At the Telegraph Club, she’s the only Asian person—and often the only person of colour—there, and she’s tokenized by the other white queer patrons.

At one point, Lily mentions feeling split in two, like only the “good Chinese girl” is allowed through the door at her family’s house, while the queer half of her has to stay outside. This was such a powerful way to express being multiply marginalized, so rarely finding a space or community where you can be your entire authentic self. It’s heartbreaking, since Lily can’t walk away from either side of her identity.

The relationship between Kath and Lily felt realistic to first love: they’re both hesitant at first, even after it’s pretty obvious they’re both queer. They don’t know how to find the words to ask if the other person feels the same way about them. When they can’t contain their feelings anymore, it’s the kind of intense, overwhelming connection (both romantically and sexually) that you’d expect of a teen first love, but complicated by being mixed up with coming out.

Their relationship, while central to the narrative, isn’t the dynamic that stood out to me the most, though. There’s more complication and layers to Lily’s relationship with Shirley, her childhood best friend that she’s beginning to grow apart from. The two of them struggling to understand who they are to each other now, and whether they can still be friends at this point.

I appreciated the inclusion of several chapters from other points of view in previous years, including from her mother, father, and aunt. We get to see a broader look at the events that led up to Lily’s current life, including how her parents got together, how their plans to return to China were derailed, and Lily’s childhood growing up with her best friend. These chapters make the story feel bigger, almost like a family saga, even though the vast majority of the chapters are focused on Lily. They also make these side characters feel more well-rounded, which is crucial to how we interpret the ending.

(Spoilers in this paragraph) I’ve read a few different queer YA stories where teens are sent off to other family members to separate them from their partner/crush, and it’s always a traumatic experience for them. (For example, The Stars and the Darkness Between Them.) It makes sense that this is what Lily’s family would do to her, especially given the time period, but I appreciated Lo’s choice to skip over this part of her life. It allows us to end on a hopeful note, with Kath and Lily reuniting and Lily having more independence. (End of spoilers)

Maybe I put this aside for long because the hype was intense. Last Night at the Telegraph club has won some of the biggest awards YA books are eligible for, and it’s by far Lo’s most popular book—both in terms of readership and ratings. Any fears that this would fail to live up to this reception were misplaced, though: I honestly can’t think of any real flaws in this story. It is such a rich narrative that kept me immersed from beginning to end. This is a five star read and a new favourite. Whether or not you usually pick up historical fiction or YA, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Content warnings: homophobia, racism, miscarriage, underage drinking

250 of My Favorite Sapphic Books

I’ve updated the Lesbrary Recommendations List! This is the page where I keep a consolidated list of every sapphic book I’ve read and enjoyed, organized by genre. I’ve been reading sapphic books for quite a while now, so the list has grown to roughly 250 books! Most of them are also linked to my review, so you can see my full thoughts on the book. Check it out to get a ton of sapphic book recs!

a collage of sapphic book covers and the text "Sapphic Books Recommendations (Bi & Lesbian Faves)"

Sapphic Books by Black Authors Out in 2024

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

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

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

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

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

January:

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

the cover of Dead in Long Beach, California

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

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

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

Broughtupsy by Christina Cooke (Lesbian Fiction)

the cover of Broughtupsy

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

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

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

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

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

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

the cover of Pomegranate by Helen Elaine Lee

Ranita Atwater is “getting short.”

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

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

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

Faebound by Saara El-Arifi (Sapphic Fantasy)

the cover of Faebound

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

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

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

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

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

the cover of Escaping Mr. Rochester

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

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

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

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

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

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

the cover of So Let Them Burn

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

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

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

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

March:

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

the cover of The Poisons We Drink

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

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

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

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

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

the cover of These Letters End In Tears

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

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

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

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

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

the cover of Those Beyond the Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

the cover of Where Sleeping Girls Lie

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

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

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

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

And then a student is found dead.

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

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

the cover of Dead Girls Walking

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

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

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

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

April:

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

the cover of Something Kindred

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

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

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

May:

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

the cover of Thirsty by Jas Hammonds

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

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

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

the cover of The 7-10 Split

This is how love rolls…

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

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

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

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

the cover of Second Night Stand

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

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

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

the cover of A Little Kissing Between Friends

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

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

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

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

June:

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

the cover of The Ballad of Jacquotte Delahaye

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

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

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

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

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

the cover of Sleep Like Death

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

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

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

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


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