Ashley Reviews Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo


In high school, Fat Angie has never been addressed by just her first name. The “Fat” title has become a part of her, and as she repeats freshman year, it seems like she will never escape the critiques on her appearance. It is not just her classmates who name Angie resident fat girl of their conservative Ohio town, however – her mother and adopted older brother contribute to the constant commentary. When KC Romance comes to town, Angie assumes she will quickly assimilate into the social scene of high school and join in the bullying – but KC decides to break the mold and become Angie’s friend.

There is more to Angie than meets the eye, and the reader soon learns that she is battling more than the assault on her image. Angie’s older sister, who seems to have been her only friend before KC, abruptly joined the military after high school and is now a prisoner of war in Iraq. Angie’s sister’s story is frequently featured on the news, casting an unwanted light on the family as they attempt to deal with their grief. Angie’s obsession with her sister’s fate shadows all of her actions – at times, overwhelming her with despair and, but other times, compelling her to live for her sister’s sake.

KC is also a seriously complex character. Although her genuine interest in befriending Angie made me like her, I found myself wanting her to be a better friend as their relationship developed. The truth is that KC is just as troubled as Angie, and has just as much difficulty navigating their relationship as it fluctuates between friendship, awkward non-friendship, and more-than-friendship. It is frustrating to watch the girls go back and forth, but it also reveals the key issue at play: that neither girl has really known how to have a true friend, never mind a girlfriend.

Author e. E. Charlton-Trujillo’s representation of KC and Angie’s relationship exemplifies how interactions between new friends are often fraught with tension; my favorite way that this was depicted was through frequent pauses in the girls’ dialogue, where the reader is forced to experience the awkwardness.

Charlton-Trujillo certainly packs a lot of complicated situations into this novel (which may have helped it to win the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award in 2014). While critics have called it a stereotypical “issue” book, I tend to disagree. I think the intersection of Angie’s sister’s situation with Angie’s self-image issues and questioning of her sexuality is handled well and believably intertwined.

[trigger warning] I will mention that there are times when self-harm and attempts at suicide are handled less well. [spoiler, highlight to read] For example, at the climax of the novel, Angie runs to KC’s house to find her in the midst of an act of self-harm. This was really jarring and seemed to be excessive at the time; as I continued reading, I felt like KC’s situation was not explained or resolved in a way that justified the image being included. [end spoiler]

Overall, I would characterize Fat Angie as hard-hitting, but with just enough highs and hope to balance out the story. It’s worth the read, even if it will make you cringe as you try to find the words to help Angie and KC finally get together.

*It is also worth noting that Charlton-Trujillo’s book tour for Fat Angie consisted of her facilitating workshops for at-risk youth, empowering them in order to further the mission of the novel. Check out more about that here.

Ashley reviews Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters


Forgive me if I am entirely naïve, but before reading this book, I did not give much thought to the fact that Oregon was once cruel and unwelcoming to its lesbian and gay residents. In 1989, however, Triinu is living in a town set on passing Ballot Measure 9, and it seems like more residents are for the anti-gay law than against it.

Even before Triinu officially comes out as “the only goth dyke in the Grass Seed Capital,” her principal and classmates target her as a lesbian, taunting her and making high school virtually unbearable. Luckily, Triinu decides to own her status as an outcast, rebranding herself as a goth and hoping to be just weird enough to scare the bullies away.

Parts of this novel were definitely reminiscent of The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Triinu feels similarly isolated in her hometown, and it is the friends she makes on her road to acceptance that help her to come to terms with her identity. There are so many complicated aspects of Triinu’s background – she is Estonian, religious, goth and queer, and therefore on the fringes of nearly all rural Oregon’s social groups. In true high school form, however, Triinu befriends people from a multitude of backgrounds throughout the novel. These diverse outcasts who float in and out of Triinu’s life deeply affect her views of herself and the world, and help her to know herself better by the end.

I thought that the portrayal of Triinu’s first love (and, ultimately, first heartbreak) was especially well written; while the relationship was deeply flawed and often one-sided, I thought it captured the complexities of falling in love while still trying to come to terms with your own identity. In many ways, the eventual break-up is a catalyst for Triinu to realize she deserves real love, and the impetus for her to seek it with renewed energy.

Another relationship that I thought was unique and special was that of Triinu and her parents. It was refreshing for me to read about a teenager who genuinely enjoyed spending time with her deeply intellectual and quirky parents, and the love and trust between the family was clear. When Triinu gets herself in a variety of tough situations, her parents are always willing to believe in their daughter and to stand up for her, even if they do not fully understand her choices.

Perhaps my favorite parts of this novel are the times when Triinu reflects on her religious beliefs and the greater meaning of the world. As a queer Catholic who has been reluctant to give up her religious identity, it was very reassuring to me that Triinu is not doubtful of God’s love for her, and that her rationalization of her sexuality is always consistent with her idea of how the world works. Triinu’s philosophical musings were some of the most beautifully written and poetic parts of the book, and I really enjoyed following her on her journey.

Ashley’s Most-Anticipated Queer YA Books of 2015

Happy 2015, Lesbrary readers! Malinda Lo recently discovered that 2014 was a groundbreaking year for LGBT YA in the publishing world, and the list below is just a small glimpse into the greatness that is to come this year. Here are some of the books I’m most looking forward to reading (and perhaps reviewing!) in 2015:

flywheelThe Flywheel by Erin Gough (February): My first thought upon reading the description of The Flywheel was that it sounds like a lesbian Sarah Dessen book, a prospect which really speaks to my younger self. At age seventeen, Delilah has been left with the task of running the family business (a café called The Flywheel) after her father takes off overseas.  After her crush on a straight girl ends in embarrassment at school, Delilah decides she cannot reveal how she feels about Rosa, the beautiful girl who dances at a tapas bar across from the café. Delilah’s best friend, Charlie, is the only one who knows her true feelings for Rosa, but he becomes distracted by the prospect of dating an older woman, leading to some seriously complicated business.nototherwisespecified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (March): Etta, a bisexual African-American girl from small-town Nebraska, is sick of conforming to labels that don’t quite fit her. In her eating disorder rehab group, Etta meets Bianca and suddenly feels like she belongs – despite the fact that the girls are seemingly very different. (Bianca is white, straight, and Christian.) Etta starts to think that maybe this is where she fits in after all, but her serious concerns about Bianca’s health and recovery lead her to question whether Bianca can be her savior after all.

NoneoftheAboveNone of the Above by IW Gregorio (April): Let me just start by saying that IW Gregorio is one of my new idols. Her website bio describes her as “Mother. Surgeon. YA Author.” and, as if that wasn’t awesome enough, she is also a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. At the beginning of the novel, everything seems to be falling into place for Kristin. She has a full scholarship to college, a boyfriend that she loves, and the glory of being homecoming queen. When she decides she is ready to have sex, Kristin discovers that something is not right – and she soon learns that she is intersex. When her secret is leaked to the entire school, Kristin has to learn to come to terms with her identity. Gregorio describes the book as “Middlesex meets Mean Girls” – making me even more eager to get my hands on a copy.

Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul (October): As someone who was very pre-occupied with the “where is the line between friends and more-than-friends” question in my early lesbian days, I am very intrigued to see what happens in this book. Categorized as a contemporary psychological thriller, the novel revolves around two girls, Mattie and Jolene. Mattie decides to take back the life that Jolene stole from her (including her previous boyfriend and friends), but that draws her into an obsessive relationship with Jolene that lies somewhere between friendship and love.

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (November): Robin Talley’s second novel follows a Gretchen, a lesbian girl and Toni, a genderqueer person, as they try to stay in a relationship while juggling the transition to college and Toni’s changing gender identity. Last year, when I read Rainbow Rowell’s novel Fangirl, I remember thinking that it was unique for a novel categorized as YA to document the shift from high school to college. I am excited to read Talley’s take on the transition, especially after reading great reviews of her first novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves.

What LGBT YA novels are you most looking forward to reading in 2015? And while you’re pre-ordering all of the titles above, why not tell We Need Diverse Books that you’re resolving to read queer YA this year?


Ashley reviews Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan


Sara Farizan’s second novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, is a genuinely sweet story of high school queerness. It can definitely be categorized as a “quick read” – but perhaps that is just because once I started reading, I never wanted to put it down.

The story revolves around Leila, an Iranian American teenager attending a small private high school in Massachusetts. Leila has been with the same group of classmates for as long as she can remember, so when a new girl named Saskia arrives with some international flair and a whole lot of personality, Leila can’t help but be attracted to her.

Leila discovered her attraction to women at summer camp, but she is definitely not ready to share this fact with anyone at home. When Saskia seems to be interested in her as more than just a friend, Leila is thrilled, but extremely nervous about what could happen if her classmates and her traditional Persian family discovered her secret. What follows is an absorbing story of Leila’s pursuit of love and acceptance, where she learns more about herself and her peers than she could have ever predicted.

I loved the plot and pacing of this book – it was accessible, quick, and much funnier than I expected it to be. Farizan also creates a fantastic cast of characters, developing the voices of various high schoolers to bring Leila’s story to life. Many of these characters are modeled on teenage archetypes – from the vampire techie who works backstage at the school play to the brilliant but hopelessly innocent faculty brat – but Farizan is skilled at manipulating their quirks in order to counter the stereotypes.

Leila (and the reader, by extension) really get to know the personalities behind the facades of those students who are on the fringes of the high school social scene. This sets up some great parallels between Leila’s hidden gayness and the other characters’ concealed true selves; Farizan’s story ultimately sends the message that we all have our secrets, that people are not always as they seem, and that sometimes you are rewarded when you decide to trust another person with your story.

In this way, Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel is as much about friendship as it is about crushes. In questioning what it means to truly be friends with someone, Farizan reveals how friends and allies often exist in unexpected places. One of my favorite examples is Leila’s adorable relationship with her English teacher, Ms. Taylor.

It was also really refreshing to see that Leila’s best friend is a guy. Although this was a complicated relationship at times, it was really nice to read a story that depicts a deep, sibling-like bond between a female and a male character that [spoiler alert] doesn’t end in romance. Even in the realm of queer YA novels, I’ve found that these bonds between male and female characters are sorely underrepresented.

Recently, I saw Farizan speak on the Tough Topics in YA Literature panel at the Boston Book Festival, where she explained that Leila was definitely more like she was as a teenager than the leading ladies of her debut novel, If You Could Be Mine. This became clear as I read Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel – Leila’s genuine voice and sarcastic humor read very naturally, and seem to reflect Farizan’s personality. I could not be more thankful that Farizan has decided to contribute her unique voice to young lesbian literature, and can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Ashley reviews The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson


The House You Pass on the Way is truly the epitome of a short and sweet book. In it, Jacqueline Woodson masterfully conjures a vivid picture of life in rural South Carolina, shedding light on the complexities of growing up as a mixed-race queer girl in barely 100 pages.

Evangeline, who dubs herself Staggerlee at age nine, is a protagonist that everyone will want to root for. Growing up with a white mother and black father in a predominately black town presents a unique set of challenges for her – Staggerlee is often considered to be stuck-up by her classmates, and is ostracized due to her shyness and perceived “white” snobbery.

Staggerlee also grapples with aspects of her identity beyond her race, and feels that she cannot share these particular struggles with her family. When her first friend makes her feel more than she anticipates, Staggerlee begins to wonder if she is a lesbian. Her confusion about her sexuality is not spoken aloud, for Staggerlee believes she must wait until she is sure about herself to tell anyone her secret.

All of this changes when Staggerlee’s adopted cousin, Trout, comes to visit. Trout and Staggerlee first bond over the fact that they both changed their names (Trout’s given name is Tyler), but soon realize they have much more in common than that. (I’ll refrain from writing any spoilers, but it is not too difficult to predict what other qualities the two characters may share…).

Trout not only provides a glimpse of a more open and accepting world outside of Sweet Gum, but she saves Staggerlee from her loneliness. She is the only person Staggerlee can truly confide in, and, despite the fact that they do not always agree, Trout and Staggerlee’s friendship highlights the importance of having someone to be honest with in times of confusion.

Though Woodson’s story is categorized as Young Adult, I would say that it is geared towards even younger readers. While its length and simplistic language made it a breeze to read, The House You Pass on the Way also exemplifies Woodson’s ability to heavy subject matter. She knows how to make tough topics accessible without diluting the seriousness of the issues, and perfectly portrays the difficulty of navigating your identity as an early teenager.

While Woodson’s plot is seemingly straightforward, her depiction of Staggerlee’s search for her true self raises questions that continue long after the story ends. Woodson’s depiction of race and sexuality confront what many adolescents face, as she details the complexity of being black and white and possibly lesbian in a way that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Ashley reviews Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger


I first read Hard Love in 8th grade, about ten years before I figured out I was a lesbian. Later, I decided my fascination with this novel should have been a clue that I was gay—the bashful curiosity that caused me to shut myself in my bedroom and tear through this book in just a few hours was probably a result of my literary crush on one of Ellen Wittlinger’s main characters, Marisol.

John (or Gio, as he dubs himself) is a bit of a loner, navigating his parents’ divorce through his newly founded zine, Bananafish. As Gio explores more of the indie zine culture, he discovers Marisol’s zine, Escape Velocity. Impressed with both her writing and her openness about her identity, Gio vows to seek out Marisol, hoping to gain some inspiration. Marisol agrees to teach him the ways of zine-making, and soon their relationship evolves into a true friendship, for which neither character is totally prepared.

I’ve always been fascinated by the ambiguous line between friendship and romance. This book takes that ambiguity and brings it into focus, as Gio and Marisol try to figure out how to be friends when there are some questionably more-than-friendly feelings involved.

Marisol is an amazing character. She is witty, sarcastic, super intelligent and incredibly confident. She knows more about herself than most adults do, and is constantly trying to understand her identity better. Her introspective side manifests itself in Escape Velocity, in which she validates her identity by naming it in a very Audre Lorde-like manner (“Marisol Guzman, Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school-gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love”).

But even Marisol doesn’t have it all figured out. As she advises Gio on his writing and his life, her attitude suggests that she sees the world in black and white—she honestly believes there is one right way to approach a situation. For this reason, she is caught off-guard when her friendship with Gio gets more complicated than expected.

I have much less patience for Gio than for Marisol. I always want him to grow more courageous as the story progresses, but when he decides to do something drastic, it is often without any consideration for the consequences. However, I do prefer Gio as a narrator: in Wittlinger’s companion book, Love and Lies: Marisol’s Story, I found that having insight into her point of view took away from her allure.

The primary flaw of Hard Love is its narrow-mindedness; it excludes any identity other than gay or straight. (For example, asexuality is deemed “a defect.”) Similarly, the novel relies on stereotypes of lesbians that made me a bit uncomfortable during my latest reading. I hate to think that the depictions of lesbians I saw in Hard Love defined what the term meant for me as a supposedly straight teenager.

At the same time, readers should remember that Hard Love was published in 1999, many years before the Malinda Lo and David Levithan age of LGBTQ YA. Only recently has the genre expanded to include such varied stories of queer youth. As such, Wittlinger was certainly a frontrunner in creating space for lesbian characters in mainstream YA literature—in fact, Hard Love won the Lambda Literary Award for YA fiction in 2000.

Though it is arguably less progressive than more recently published books, I still highly recommend Hard Love. Marisol and Gio’s struggle to define friendship will always be relevant, whether you are a teenager just trying to make it through high school or a twenty-something who wishes she had recognized the feelings this book conjured so many years ago.

Ashley reviews Girls I’ve Run Away With by Rhiannon Argo


Rhiannon Argo’s Girls I’ve Run Away With has been on my “To Read” list since Autostraddle mentioned it in their “Read a F*cking Book” column last October. After diving into the world of sixteen-year-old skater girl Lo, I can easily see why it was recommended so highly.

Argo’s novel was a stark contrast to some of my most recent reads about femme-y young lesbians growing up in relatively accepting social circles. Lo’s world is not kind to queer people (an unfortunate reality for so many LGBTQ teenagers), and sometimes reminded me of Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

I will try to refrain from spoilers, but suffice it to say that this book’s title could never contain all of the adventures (good and bad) that occur when Lo decides to run away with her high school sort-of girlfriend, Savvy. One of Lo’s best qualities is that she has guts, but not without restraint, which makes the reader trust her even when she is in a crazy situation. Lo’s rebellious nature is a method of survival, and even if she makes a questionable decision, you have to admire her for the types of risks she takes.

Some of my favorite parts of the novel are when Lo grapples with whether to follow Savvy, the reckless dreamer, or to face the harsh reality of her family situation. Argo excels at capturing Lo’s adoration of Savvy, allowing her to be totally enamored with the girl without forgetting her rough-around-the-edges, fierce core. Lo is a fighter first, but is also vulnerable as a young lesbian in love, and that combination is what makes her so compelling as a character.

Argo also does a good job of showing how class intersects with sexuality, and how it can complicate a teenager’s decision to leave a bad situation. Financial security repeatedly competes with Lo’s need to run away, both with Savvy and in general. When she eventually gets to her breaking point and vows to leave a hostile place, Lo is forced to choose between two evils – living with people who don’t accept her or having no home at all.

Girls I’ve Run Away With confronts these realities head-on, as she details the rollercoaster of Lo’s search for stability. I found myself emotionally tired after reading about one of Lo’s hardships, only to be comforted a few chapters later by her renewed sense of hope. Though the heaviness can be hard to swallow, it is balanced by moments of happiness and joy, and overall, is definitely worth sticking with. I’m excited to hear that Argo is already working on a sequel and look forward to seeing where Lo runs to next.

Ashley reviews Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour


I heard a lot about this book before its release in May, so I made sure to place my hold on it as early as possible and eagerly anticipated its arrival. Having not read Hold Still or The Disenchantments, I was not sure what to expect from Nina LaCour – but I’m happy to say that Everything Leads to You definitely lived up to the hype.

Best friends Emi and Charlotte have just graduated high school in Los Angeles when the book begins. Toby, Emi’s older brother, who works in the movie industry, is going abroad for the summer and leaves the girls his apartment as a graduation present. His only stipulation is that something epic takes place there while he is away – not a massive party, but something even more amazing.

Toby has also secured summer jobs for the girls at the studio he works for (although it is clear that Emi has established herself as a talented set dresser already and is working her way up the production ladder). One morning, Charlotte is at an estate sale in search of props and set pieces, when she realizes she is at the home of Clyde Jones, a John Wayne-esque actor who has recently died. Star-struck, the two girls purchase some of Jones’ belongings for themselves, including a Patsy Cline record with a mysterious letter hidden inside. The contents of the letter lead them on a hunt for the recipient of Jones’ inheritance, exposing the personal life of an actor who avoided the spotlight outside of his film endeavors… and, ultimately, allowing them to fulfill Toby’s wish of having something great happen in his apartment.

Emi is an entirely lovable, hard working and passionate teenager with a sincere love of the movies and her role in making them.  She acts mature beyond her years in the job realm; while most people her age have a stereotypically mundane summer job, she is pursuing her dream career path. What is refreshing about Emi is that she takes the leap in accepting a job as a production designer, even when it seems more than a little bit beyond her experience. In this way, Emi is a wonderful role model for young female readers, forging her path in an industry that isn’t always seen as the friendliest to women.

While all of this is wonderful, I have to point out that I was more than a little skeptical of her ability to snag such a position right out of high school. Any reader will have to employ some serious suspension of disbelief as they watch Emi fall into situations that only the most privileged teenager could encounter.

Though her job is quite unrealistic, readers are drawn into the story because we believe Emi is a truly talented artist with a keen eye. The “collapse of the fantasy” concept often comes up in Emi’s narration, as she muses about how both the movies and the great mysteries of people’s lives become less enticing the more you learn about them. But even knowing that Emi’s job situation (and, in fact, the entire plot) plays out a bit too perfectly, we are still compelled to read with the same enthusiasm. The experience of reading LaCour’s story is similar to that of watching a movie – even though we know that both are fabrications of a person’s mind, even though we know that each paragraph and prop are intentionally placed – we still read and watch just as eagerly as if it were happening in real life.

Of course, Emi has some romantic situations throughout the novel, which I will try to keep mostly a secret so as not to ruin the mystery. In any event, Emi matter-of-factly talks about her sexuality from the very beginning, as she attempts to get over her ex-girlfriend, Morgan, who also works on the same set. The wonderful thing about having already established lesbian characters is that it allows the plot to be about more than just sexuality. In doing this, LaCour can write a young love story uncomplicated by the coming-out process, something that is still rare in YA fiction.

LaCour’s up-front writing of Emi’s sexual orientation is just one example of how she casually incorporates diversity into the novel. Further on in the story, one character meets Emi’s parents and discovers that she is mixed-race, a fact that he had never really considered, and that she didn’t deem it necessary to mention. While I love that this was a surprise (I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I did not originally pictured Emi as anything other than white), I do wish LaCour had unpacked Emi’s identities a bit more. Older readers may be more equipped to recognize the implications of Emi’s privilege on her nonchalance regarding her race/sexuality (both of her parents are professors, so she grew up in both a financially stable and intellectually progressive household), but younger readers may not entirely get the subtlety.

Overall, I would highly recommend this incredibly sweet and super intriguing story to a variety of readers. Not only did I love the combination of romance and mystery, but I was really captivated by the descriptions of Emi’s design work, and I will be sure to pay extra attention to the set and props when I watch a film in the future.


Ashley reviews Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira


In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably tell you that Love Letters to the Dead is not exactly a lesbian book – the main character, Laurel, is definitely interested in boys. But despite its casting of a straight protagonist, Love Letters is a beautiful example of how to write a pair of lady-loving secondary characters, something that is not often done so seamlessly in YA fiction.

On the first day of English class, Laurel is asked to write a letter to someone who has died. She chooses Kurt Cobain, mainly because her recently deceased sister, May, loved him. Laurel never hands in this assignment, but continues to write to Kurt and other famous people who passed tragically. These missives shed light on the complicated lives of these celebrities and allow Laurel to come to terms with May’s death – and to examine her own life, as well.

As part of Laurel’s coping, she decides to transfer to a different high school than the one May attended. At her new school, she meets Natalie and Hannah, a pair who quickly accept Laurel into their circle. Natalie and Hannah are your quintessential high schoolers on the fringes of the social hierarchy, and while they certainly embody a “type” of teenager (one who parties, drinks, sneaks out after dark, and occasionally cuts class), the two do not come across as cliché.

The story of Natalie and Hannah’s more-than-friendship is definitely one of the most compelling parts of the novel. Dellaira has a talent for writing about complicated emotions, and while there was a stark contrast in how the girls chose to show – or hide – their feelings for each other, I thought both were represented well. The complexity of their situation feels genuine, so their confusion resonates with the reader rather than alienating her.

The thing that struck me about the introduction of these two as being in a (deeply problematic) relationship was the flippancy with which Laurel described her reaction. She is certainly alarmed when she discovers her two friends making out, and a combination of alcohol and Natalie and Hannah’s panic at being caught makes Laurel run away. But while witnessing their intimate moment startles her, the concept of Natalie and Hannah’s queerness does not faze Laurel at all.

Although no one speaks about what Laurel witnessed for quite some time, it is understood that she is in on the secret. Laurel never pushes them to discuss it, but when one girl (I won’t say who) sobs upon seeing the other in a potentially harmful relationship with an older guy, Laurel’s first words are: “You love her, huh?” This is both the perfect response in the scenario, and rhetorically brilliant on Dellaira’s part – the first vocalization of her sexuality is about love, rather than about identity.

In this way, Laurel’s approach to Natalie and Hannah’s relationship sets a standard for the reader; as she acknowledges their queerness without ever questioning their feelings for each other, we are also compelled to accept their sexuality. This is a prime example of why we not only need more lesbian leading ladies, but more LGBTQ supporting roles as well – when a teenager picks up this presumably “straight” book and sees Natalie and Hannah’s love through Laurel’s eyes, it normalizes queerness in a way that makes them immediately recognize it as valid.

As I continued reading, I was also pleasantly surprised by how often the ladies appeared in Laurel’s letters. I always expect the conflict between secondary characters to vanish as the main plot climbs, but Natalie and Hannah were woven into the central storyline in a way that prevented them from falling flat. Dellaira masterfully conveys the highs and lows of the girls’ relationship through Laurel’s mature voice and a keen sense of observation.

The epistolary novel is certainly one of the more difficult styles to execute, but Dellaira has a knack for making each letter into a well-crafted vignette. I would certainly recommend Love Letters to the Dead for both its queer-ish-ness and its style – though I would warn that its similarity to The Perks of Being a Wallflower may have you wondering if Dellaira’s production work on the Perks movie translated too far into a female version of Stephen Chbosky’s classic.

Ashley reviews The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson


Nina, Mel and Avery have been inseparable for as long as they can remember — until Nina decides to attend a leadership program at Stanford the summer before her senior year of high school. Mel, who knows she is a lesbian but has never spoken it aloud, plans to spend her summer working alongside Avery at a local restaurant in Saratoga, New York. Having her first real kiss with Avery was definitely not on the agenda, but once it happens, there is no turning back.

As Mel and Avery make the transition from best friends to girlfriends, Nina starts dating a boy in her program, an environmental activist from Oregon. Nina’s relationship seems perfect – she has finally met someone with as much ambition as her – but becomes complicated after she returns to New York. Mel and Avery’s relationship is far from ideal, and as the book progresses, the two become entangled in some scenarios that call into question whether they are better off as friends, partners, or neither.

I liked that Johnson was true to the teenage experience in documenting the ups and downs of high school relationships, but I also felt uncomfortable being thrust into the midst of the tension. While I agree that conflict is inevitable in portrayals of young love, there are parts of the story that seem bogged down by problems. These issues contribute to the likeability of the main characters; while no girl is flawless, there were many instances in which I sided with one over another, or felt that they could have easily avoided hurting each other. I know this is a deeply contested issue at the moment, especially concerning female characters, but likeability often determines whether readers (particularly adolescent readers) can connect to a text, and I suspect that Johnson alienates some readers at certain points in this novel. 

[spoilers] There is also some controversy over how Avery’s confusion about her sexuality was handled, and whether her hesitance to identify as anything other than straight perpetuates biphobia. Johnson’s response to a bisexual reader’s letter on the subject notes that she wanted to illustrate a relationship that didn’t have a traditionally happy ending (as often happens when close friends decide to date). Ultimately, Johnson writes that Avery looks like the bad character because she is the one who breaks up with the extremely likable Mel, and that Avery’s choice to go back to dating boys is the result of her internalized homophobia. Though this is a valid explanation, the reader is left rooting for Avery to overcome her fears, and the fact that she never gets there is upsetting. [end spoilers]

I also wish that the plot itself had been a little more complex; it was interesting, but did not stand out from other, similar novels. That being said, The Bermudez Triangle was written in 2007, and LGBT YA has become more self-conscious of “queering” your typical coming out story in more recent years. Overall, I would say that Johnson’s novel was a good quick read, but not one of my absolute favorites in this genre.