A Belated Bi Awakening: Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli

the cover of Imogen, Obviously

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Imogen Scott has endless experience as a straight queer ally. Her friends are pan and bi, her sister is out, and she never misses a Pride Alliance meeting. While visiting her best friend Lili at college, who has her own little queer community, Imogen takes “supportive” a step further. She pretends to be Lili’s ex-girlfriend and bi. The longer she wears the label, the more she wonders if it fits… especially when she’s in the company of Lili’s new friend, Tessa. Can Imogen keep her story straight, or is she finally starting to see who’s staring at her in the mirror?

This recent streak of bi/sapphic YA books (One Last Stop, Perfect on Paper, and now this) has left me slain. It’s all too much. I am FEELING too much. Be still, thy bi heart.

In all seriousness, this is the exact story little baby bi me needed back in high school, and I’m so glad it’s on shelves for adolescent readers now. There’s SO MUCH to discuss: the themes of self-identity, friendship, and coming-of-age so perfectly layered to make Imogen so obviously (I had to) exactly who she is. Imogen’s “bunny” brain is a realistic mental chaos of self-doubt and queer questioning. Everyone assumes straight is the default, when really, it should be bi until proven otherwise. Most people aren’t given the chance to question their sexuality, to explore who they are, instead establishing themselves in a pre-determined box. I’ve been there, and Imogen’s constant questioning and confusion make her emotions all the more real. She questions if queerness looks a certain way, or if we’re supposed to have our queer awakenings by a certain time, or if we’re supposed to be certain, but how could we with the constant DISCOURSE over everything? Imogen’s voice leaps off the page, making her easy to like; a character you want to follow to the end. Lili is everything as a best friend (and queer mentor), while Gretchen so perfectly straddles the line between well-meaning and toxic. We’ve all had that friend we realized (almost too little, too late) wasn’t looking out for our best interests, the one in the back of your head spinning every worst fear until it became a play-it-on repeat thought. Though she could have felt too extreme, we see why Imogen hears Gretchen out, why Imogen gives her a second chance, allowing her to become the cranked-up monster of self-doubt in Imogen’s head. Also, The Owl House, One Last Stop, and Sailor Moon mentions were everything.

This had an awkward start for me, namely because of all the names and identities we’re given in the first few chapters. It felt like Imogen’s younger, queer sister was less of a character and more of a plot piece (both to prove that Imogen was surrounded by self-aware queers and to show what queerness looked like in Imogen’s eyes). She doesn’t have some cute scenes with Imogen until the end, and by that point, I wanted more.

Recommended for fans of Perfect on Paper and One Last Stop.

The Vibes

❤️ Young Adult
❤️ Queer Cast
❤️ Bisexual FMC
❤️ College/Coming-of-Age
❤️ Identity
❤️ Romance & Friendship

💬 Quotes

❝ The only way to let someone into your reality is to retell it. ❞

❝ One girl can’t topple your entire sexuality, right? ❞

❝ All these moments, scattered and separate. All these disconnected dots. ❞

❝ Then she buries her face in the crook of my neck, and every breath she breathes feels like a love letter. ❞

❝ How I felt. Dizzy, off- balance, unsteady. Like my bones were too big for my body. Like I couldn’t zip myself closed. Like I’d colored outside my own outline, stepped out of frame, made myself three- dimensional. ❞

Ally Blumenfeld reviews Learning to Kiss Girls by Elizabeth Andre

Writing a short story is kind of a tall order. Thirty pages into a full-length novel, it’s safe to say a reader’s interest has either been piqued or squelched. For first-time writer Elizabeth Andre, thirty pages was all she wrote (pun intended).Learning to Kiss Girls is an unexpected pleasure. Its cover art features the body of a young girl dressed in pink and clutching school books, punctuated by the title and byline in a font from the same family line as Curlz MT, which didn’t exactly gear me up for the next YA masterpiece. But YA this is, and a pink cover certainly attracts the type of audience that would benefit from engaging in this short but sweet text.

If you’re a bit older than the “young adult” crowd (I mean, I’m not exactly raring to drop the “young” title just yet) don’t despair. Andre’s narrator, the fourteen-year-old Helen Blumenstein, speaks from a place that’s not yet wise but not quite green. Her language feels natural, unlike so many other “teen” voices that sound more like parents trying out Facebook. It’s not clear if Helen is speaking to us from her later years as she pulls us along through a few days in her teenage life, and even if she isn’t, I’d still believe her. With lines like, “I didn’t want anyone to know that someone as cool as me might be embarrassed by some nudie picture,” it’s hard not to get brought back to fourteen, to all the stupid things we said when we were self-consciously honest teenagers. Andre has an impressive command of language, a thorough knowledge of Helen’s world, and a refreshing understanding of a young might-be-queer mind that does not feel forced.

Helen is at once innocent and precocious. Her family approaches queerness matter-of-factly if not cluelessly, especially when her gay cousin and his “friend” come to visit and Helen is instructed to take them to the Art Institute, because “they’ll like that.” While never becoming caricature, hers is a Jewish family living in Chicago, complete with plastic-coated dining chairs and plenty of kvetching. Her family is not the issue when it comes to accepting her burgeoning queer identity. Quite realistically, for those of us with benignly uneducated, blissfully ambivalent, or only mildly homophobic families, her issue is that she doesn’t really know if she’s gay yet. She feels weird things for a cute girl in the museum, but she kissed a boy last week. She watches porn and wishes there weren’t so many shadowy regions, but her best friend Anna has a crush on her. It seems coming out for Helen would probably not be a very dramatic, seismic shift kind of ordeal. Helen is no drama queen; she seems to take these seesaw feelings in stride, never really lamenting nor lashing out against them. But things are always hyper-meaningful when you’re a fourteen-year-old girl, aren’t they?

This story left me eager to know what Helen’s life will be like post-first-girl-kiss. Andre’s writing style tends toward bluntness rather than floweriness, so Learning to Kiss Girls felt just the right length. But the ending seemed abrupt, and devoid of at least a modicum of emotion on Helen’s part. Somehow, this doesn’t detract from the honesty, simplicity, and thoughtfulness with which this story was crafted. For Andre’s very first work, this self-published story absolutely holds its own. I would love to see her publish a collection of short stories — perhaps with some edits to this one’s curtailed resolution.

Despite its cartoony cover and sudden drop at the end, Learning to Kiss Girls has depth and heart. I know many young readers will connect with Helen, if not wish to stay with her longer. And for those of us whose ages are better coughed into sleeves, this lovely and well-wrought story will certainly bring you back to adrenaline-coursing adolescence, warts — and kisses — and all.

ally reviews The Tolernce Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality by Suzanna Danuta Walters


I hate to admit it: Iʼm sort of a newbie in the LGBT politics/theory section of the second- hand book store. I am always seeking out new works of fiction and poetry from queer authors or with queer themes; as a queer writer myself I see it as my duty. But Iʼm realizing Iʼve been somewhat of a snob. Why read about queer politics when — hello! — Iʼm already queer! What more education do I need? Iʼm as liberal and accepting as they come and ah — thereʼs the rub. Acceptance isnʼt good enough. In Suzanna Danuta Waltersʼs The Tolerance Trap, I was taken on a journey through the personal, popular, and political. And the first thing I learned? Tolerance is not acceptance is not inclusion is not integration. All right, let me break it down.

In this four part powerhouse of a book, Walters moves us through some pretty deeply- ingrained facets of queer identity and history, including coming out, the “born that way” debate, and same-sex marriage. Sprinkled in between are issues of religion, problematic queer stories in popular culture, and the occasional foray into a personal tale, which — donʼt take my word for it, Iʼm new in this arena — strikes me as unique (albeit certainly welcome!) in a work of non-fiction such as this. Reading The Tolerance Trap is like having a conversation with a friend over coffee, except that friend is a professor and thereʼs a laptop next to that coffee upon which you can try to transcribe almost every word that comes out of her mouth. Seriously, Iʼve never annotated so much in my life. Get ready.

With each idea, story, or example, I was invited to delve into my own queer history, my own (surprisingly bland/incorrect) perception of “how far weʼve come.” Who hasnʼt cheered as another state joins the same-sex marriage roster? Who hasnʼt watched The Kids Are All Right and appreciated seeing a lesbian married couple on the big screen? Who didnʼt get a little teary watching gay soldiers openly embrace their partners? Who hasnʼt indubitably argued for the “born this way” logic, eschewing the idea that gayness can ever be a choice? Who wasnʼt touched by at least one “It Gets Better” video? Surprise! These are not the victories we are told we must think they are. With erudition, humor, and poignancy, Walters and The Tolerance Trap makes us reconsider our reactions to all of these and more.

Walters argues that we have become complacent. She says weʼve shifted from “Weʼre here, weʼre queer, get used to it!” to “Weʼre here, weʼre not really queer but vaguely gayish, be nice to us.” Why is gay marriage our big ticket to a “postgay” society/culture? By trying to prove that weʼre “just like everyone else,” we are only perpetuating heterosexuality as the norm, or whatʼs worse, the gold standard. Walters calls for a radical integration instead, wherein our queerness is not only seen as (different yet) normal, but further challenges the heterosexual, patriarchal narrative: instead of assimilating into the dominant culture we must challenge it to confront its homophobia. She argues that our collective queer identity must remain entangled with feminism. Even as we all march off to the wedding chapel, we must not strive to fit in the mold of Mother, Dad, and 2.5 children. Let us continue fighting for our rights while not letting go of what makes us bold, brave, and unique. We simply must challenge the norm, or we will forever just be “tolerated,” like a weird aunt at a dinner party.

Walters constantly reminds us of the underrepresentation/omission of lesbians in gay- related discussions, political debates, and entertainment, which I really appreciated. I do wish more time was spent on queer folks of color and non-American gays. Gladly, Walters does often remind us that many of the images we are blasted with in order to make us feel that we are somehow in a “postgay” era of rainbow joy are of affluent, white gay men, obviously not the reality (yet somehow we still buy into it–!). Each section of the book, in its depth as well as variety, proves Walters to be a sheer master at what she does. As an accomplished sociologist, she clearly has spent time diving into in various pools of knowledge, from science to religion to politics to culture. She never stretches out of her bounds, and never once loses us along the way. Enough canʼt be said about all the incredibly interesting, inciting ideas contained within these 300-or so pages, so please, discover it all yourself. I one hundred percent recommend The Tolerance Trap to anyone looking dip their toes or sink their teeth into some major game-changing queer theory. Walters will no doubt make you look at your own feelings, arguments, ideas, and instincts under a whole new (rainbow) light.

Ally Blumenfeld reviews The Most Beautiful Rot by Ocean Capewell


The Most Beautiful Rot is exactly what its title suggests: the story of four not-so-beautiful lives making the most out of what they are given, which, among addiction and disease, includes a literal rot – a giant compost pile in the backyard of a crumbling house in a poor urban neighborhood. Ocean Capewell is a gifted writer who weaves together four narratives into one compelling account of young, twenty-something, punkish, queerish, poorish life in the 2000s.

We first meet Tabitha, fresh out of high school and into the world of lesbian love.  She follows a girlfriend across the country, is promptly dumped, and finds a home – and family – in the form of three twenty-somethings living meager lives in a run-down house with less-than-adequate amenities.  Tabitha’s narrative is sweet, earnest, and full of love and possibility.  From there we are tossed into Xandria’s story, which, especially on the heels of Tabitha’s personal prose, feels sterile, bland, and almost forced.  At first I felt perhaps we should have stayed in Tabitha’s care, but after reading about Xandria’s resentment of Tabitha’s innocence, I realized it is a much more interesting choice if only because it made me think back on Tabitha and wonder if I did too. Next we find ourselves entangled in Jasmine’s compelling narrative, in which she is faced with a troubling diagnosis and finds herself with not much to fall back on. Jasmine’s voice is poetic and strong; it was into her world that I found myself feeling most pulled.  The author succeeds in finding four distinct voices here, while delving deeper into the themes of friendship, love, hopelessness, and personal meaning with each chapter.

The last character we meet is Lydia. She is the reality check The Most Beautiful Rot needed – reminding her roommates that young white girls leaving privileged homes to live in a poor neighborhood does not mean they are “fighting oppressive forces.” (no kidding!)  Lydia is truly the novel’s center of gravity.  She is the most realistic of the four girls; rightfully it is through her eyes that we see their innocence lost.  Her narrative concludes our time with these girls and our look into their young, messy, and sometimes tragic lives.  What impressed me most about The Most Beautiful Rot was its freedom.  The text moves swiftly, bubbles over, and quietly pools before babbling once again.  It never lingers too long, nor does it become overly sentimental.  Though there are a handful of clichés throughout, all told this book felt invigoratingly new.

The young women we come to meet have stories not often read or written. There is a sense that Capewell writes from a place she knows well, and her eagerness and honesty in sharing these girls’ lives with us makes it a refreshing read.  I would recommend this book to young queer women looking for more faces like theirs in YA lit (though I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as so).  Never quite fully dipping into after-school special mode, The Most Beautiful Rot does invite us to face a host of social issues, including sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, disease, racism, and classism.  There are characters of varying shapes, sizes, and sexual and gender identities.  But sometimes the goofy political correctness shocked me out of the narrative’s momentum, and while it did beg some suspension of disbelief at points, the heart of the novel was filled with truths to which it was hard not to connect. The Most Beautiful Rot is truly a contemporary piece, and in spite of its flaws, it is a triumph for the lonely young queer kid who hopes to carve their story into marble someday.


Ally Blumenfeld reviews A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf


(a.k.a. Why all queer ladies should read A Room of One’s Own)

“For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.”

So ventures Virginia Woolf about midway through her 1928 essay A Room of One’s Own. She is just finally catching up to herself in the early 20th century, after conducting an informal survey of women’s history in print, when she proclaims that women must know whence their literary roots have sprung and grown: “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn … for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” Each woman who writes blazes a trail for more women to immortalize their words in ink. Today, nearly a century after Virginia Woolf’s time, one would be hard-pressed to find an artistic medium upon which women have not made their mark.

Yet while reading Woolf’s account of women’s suppressed and all-around miserable lives in the centuries before hers, I couldn’t help but think of all the women who still cannot enjoy the freedom of writing 140-character tweets let alone manifestos, histories, criticisms, novels, poems, or journals and have a chance to define our world. I can’t help but think of the voiceless in our own community: the silenced queer women who, 86 years after Virginia Woolf and her Orlando, are not free to even consider embracing their identity let alone write about and therefore proclaim it to the rest of us. According to Woolf, it is our charge as women to first light the way so we may pass the torch; to lend our voices if we are able so others may create the masterpieces of our time. And that is why every queer woman should read A Room of One’s Own.

Here are a few topics/reasons/persuasive tools!

  1. Don’t be afraid of Virginia Woolf. This 114-page speech-turned-essay reads like a narrative, and a thrilling one at that. Woolf guides us with care through ideas large and daunting, and while the text hardly feels that way, the ideas surely resonate (and would no matter your particular experience with feminism, in my opinion). There is enough space here to challenge her ideas, but you will not want to pull yourself away. A Room of One’s Own will have you note taking, annotating, and by the end – poet or not – inspired to write.
  2. Androgyny. The “Androgynous Mind” is a super interesting concept, and one that’s been often debated for perpetuating gender binaries. Woolf suggests that writers must have an androgynous mind – both male and female – in order to create a work of truth. I think Woolf means that an androgynous mind is one that is not preoccupied with the concepts of “male” or “female” and not held back by the social conventions expected of either. An androgynous writer is free to explore the human condition from the standpoint of a human, devoid of what might make him/her a him or her. Woolf has said of masculinity and femininity: “The time has not yet come when we can say for certain which is the man and which the woman, after both have boarded the taxi of human personality.” In my opinion, we still haven’t. And according to Woolf, a great writer will not strive to find these differences either.
  3. Women who “like” women. Another fascinating topic Woolf brings forth is female relationships in literature. She ventures that she cannot think of any two women in the course of her reading that were friends, or enjoyed a relationship more complex than jealousy. Is this not true of both lit and life? We’re conditioned to view other women as competition, and we’re told this is an innate behavior stemming from our days discovering fires and banging in caves. Well, if it was necessity then, it certainly isn’t now. And by Woolf boldly stating, “The truth is, I like women. I like their unconventionality. I like their subtlety. I like their anonymity,” she is calling for not just an acceptance of women as friends, but an acceptance of all the complexities, depth, and love that exist in female relationships of all kinds. PREACH, Virginia.
  4. Judith Shakespeare. My favorite component of A Room of One’s Own – which, I’ll remind you, is very much steeped in prose – is the story of William Shakespeare’s imagined (but oh so real) sister, Judith. Woolf takes us on a journey with the fictitious Judith, as an exercise in understanding what life was like for women in the past, and why they didn’t/couldn’t write. Judith Shakespeare has a passion for writing but is prohibited by her father from all creative pursuits. When forced to wed against her will, she runs away to London where, turned away from the theatre that so readily embraced her brother, she commits suicide. What is most stirring and poignant about this short but meaningful supposition into the Elizabethan woman’s life is Woolf’s triumphant proclamation that Shakespeare’s Sister exists inside all of us. “She lives in you and me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed … She lives; for great poets do not die.”
  5. What is our own room? Woolf has also been criticized of classism in A Room of One’s Own by asserting that £500 and the titular “room of one’s own” are necessary for a woman to write. Again, I must beg to differ. Woolf is too self-aware to claim that without these luxuries a woman can’t/shouldn’t write. “Why did men drink wine and women water?” she asks, before taking us through a history of women’s societal and literary silencing, the crux being that women are not and have not ever been free – except in circumstances beyond their control – to enjoy the privileges of steady, self-made income and privacy. Even Jane Austen had to hide her manuscripts, which she wrote in her family’s sitting room. Woolf closes the essay by saying that for women “to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.” I contend that this room of one’s own is metaphorical, meaning mostly that women must have, as Woolf puts it, “the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”

As queer women, we must be aware of where our story began. In 1928, at the time of this publication, British author Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian-themed The Well of Loneliness was being decried as a ‘danger to the nation.’ Over the next century, queer literature has been consistently banned or contested, from Allen Ginsberg to Amy Sonnie. In response, we must read and honor all the words of our lesbian, bisexual, female-identifying, and queer sisters. Then, we must write our own.

The last few pages of A Room of One’s Own will have you absolutely soaring. This is a book that should be in every woman’s personal library as it is a fabulous introduction to our girl Virginia, a sweeping journey through centuries of women’s history and literature, and a call to arms for us women – all of Shakespeare’s sisters – to tell our story.