A Dazzling Debut: How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler

the cover of How Far the Light Reaches

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I first learned about Sabrina Imbler (they/them) last year when my girlfriend and I traveled to Seattle to watch the UConn Women’s Basketball team compete in the Sweet 16. Whenever I travel, I like to visit a local bookstore, which is how we ended up in the gorgeous Elliott Bay Book Company, a woman and queer owned business located in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. When I asked one of the booksellers what LGBT books she recommended, she enthusiastically suggested Imbler’s gay volcano chapbook Dyke (geology) and a signed copy (Imbler’s name flanked by two cute goldfish) of How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures. Two gorgeous books by a queer person of color? I was elated.

Imbler is a writer and science journalist with a gift for storytelling. How Far the Light Reaches is organized into ten essays wherein Imbler masterfully weaves facts about sea creatures and phenomena with meditations on survival, identity, body image, family, relationships, and community. While the essays stand alone and can theoretically be read out of order, they have a clear throughline. As a reader who began How Far the Light Reaches with limited knowledge of marine biology, I was shocked by how many facts I retained from each essay. Imbler’s essays are crafted with care and intentionality. They don’t just state facts about each sea creature, they reflect on their essence, treating each with reverence.

In “My Mother and the Starving Octopus,” Imbler introduced readers to Graneledone boreopacifica and highlighted one of the most renowned of these purple octopuses: a mother who starved herself for 53 months (four and a half years) while she focused on the task of brooding her eggs. Imbler interspersed reflections on their mother’s sacrifices and on how Imbler learned to find their own body desirable through reveling in queer bodies.

In “Pure Life,” Imbler marveled at deep sea dwellers—vent bacteria, tube worms, and yeti crabs—which survive by using chemosynthesis for energy in the absence of sunlight.  Imbler likened hydrothermal vents in the ocean to queer spaces and communities—both representing oases providing rest, nourishment, and safety: “Life always finds a place to begin anew, and communities in need will always find one another and invent new ways to glitter, together, in the dark.”

In “Hybrids,” Imbler juxtaposed their biracial identity (half Chinese, half White) with a hybrid butterflyfish, the offspring of two different species. Imbler examined how The Question: “What are you?” is itself an act of taxonomy. They also reflected on the irony of their frustration with The Question, but also their endless curiosity about other mixed people.

In a word, How Far the Light Reaches is spectacular. The more I reflect upon it, the more I love it. I read it over the course of a few days, but Imbler’s writing is so thought-provoking, you may want to savor the book over time. I really hope Imbler will write another book, but in the meantime, you can check them out at Defector, an employee-owned sports and culture website, where they cover creatures.

Trigger warnings for sexual assault, lack of consent, rape, body mutilation, racism, body image, disordered eating, and animal death/harm.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey.  She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

Haunted by the Past: She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran

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Horror is a very broad genre, and, I am inclined to say, a particularly personal one, seeing as what scares one person may not scare another, or, on the other hand, it might scare them too much. I myself love a good haunted house, but psychological horror freaks me out in concept alone, to the point that I won’t touch a book when I see it labeled that way. Trang Thanh Tran’s She is a Haunting, I am pleased to report, is my favorite kind of horror, that particular style where it’s kind of about the ghosts, but it’s not really about the ghosts. Or rather, it is, but it’s about what the ghosts represent more than the don’t-look-behind-you scariness.

That’s not to say this book isn’t scary, of course. I personally do not tend to get scared while reading books, so I am not the best judge, but I thought the book did a good job creating a creepy atmosphere and some really unsettling images (all those bugs *shudder*). The scariest thing in this book, though, is not the ghosts themselves but the very real horrors of colonialism, as well as the impacts of it that linger through to today. While this book is aimed at teenagers, it does not shy away from those atrocities, but nor does it dwell on them, exactly.

Beyond those horrors, however, this is also the story of Jade, a closeted seventeen-year-old wrestling with a complicated family dynamic and her relationship to Vietnam as a Vietnamese American who is visiting the country for the first time. As a protagonist, I adored Jade. I thought she felt very authentically seventeen, which is to say that while she was occasionally frustrating, she was trying her best. 

I also thought all of the relationships in the book were well-drawn. Her romance with “bad girl” Florence was endearing, and their interactions made me giggle a few times. The more complex dynamics with the parents worked equally well for me, and in fact I found her mom to be a standout character for me by the end.

Regarding the ending, I will say there were one or two elements that felt on the edge of overly dramatic, but I thought the book did enough well that I didn’t really mind. Emotions were running high, after all, and real life can be overly dramatic too. Regardless, I felt the book ended on a high and, frankly, down-to-earth note that left me satisfied.

I look forward to more horror from Trang Thanh Tran, and reading more horror in general this year, because this book reminded me that it is a genre I enjoy when it is done in the particular way I most vibe with, as this one was. If you are looking for a creepy haunted house that’s grounded in both the past and the present and the ways they affect each other, I highly recommend She is a Haunting.

Understanding the Japanese Internment Camps: Displacement by Kiku Hughes

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“And keep drawing, too. Draw what you see, what happens here. It’s important. They can scare us, but they can’t make us forget.”

In this simply illustrated yet poignant graphic novel, Kiku Hughes reimagines herself as a teenager who is pulled back in time to witness and experience the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during World War II. There, she not only discovers the truths of what life was like within these camps but also follows her late grandmother’s own experiences having her life turned upside down as her and her family are villainized and forcibly relocated by the American government. Kiku must live alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese American citizens, as she finds out about the atrocities they had to suffer and the civil liberties they had been denied, all while somehow cultivating community and learning to survive.

Touching on important themes of cultural history and generational trauma, Hughes meshes these topics seamlessly into a fascinating plot and an extremely endearing and relatable main character. Kiku reflects a lot, during her journey, on the way that marginalized people are treated within the U.S.—during the past and in modern time—but also on the way that her family’s history and experiences had such a great effect on her own life.

Throughout the story, she feels powerless because of the lack of information she has regarding her grandmother’s past and her community’s history, which makes it difficult to help those around her. She can’t tell them what is about to happen to them; she doesn’t know what the living conditions are like in the different internment camps they are sent to; she can’t warn them about the specific atrocities that await them. She is forced to undergo this displacement alongside everyone else, and her ignorance not only makes her scared but also makes her feel quite guilty for not being able to contribute more aid or comfort to those around her.

She is also confronted with this difficult-to-place, bittersweet feeling of being disconnected from her family’s culture but also acknowledging that her own habits and traditions have been so deeply impacted by it. All these moments of introspection felt like a personal call out to me and made Kiku the kind of main character to whom a lot of readers will be able to relate.

Because of my own relationship to my family’s culture and history, reading this graphic novel was an extremely personal and emotional experience. On one hand, I think a lot of people will be able to connect with this story; on the other hand, I think a lot of other people will have the opportunity to learn something new through it.

I also loved the subtle sapphic romance arc that was included. It didn’t overpower the main message of the novel, but it was a nice, comforting surprise in an otherwise heavy read. I saw it as a beautiful testament to the joy and love we humans are capable of finding, even in moments of great duress.

The illustrations were beautiful, the art style was simple but extremely effective, the characters felt very fleshed out—which is sometimes hard to do in a graphic novel, working within a limited number of panels. All the artistic choices perfectly matched the tone of the story, which is a testament to Hughes’ true talent as a creator.

Representation: sapphic, Japanese American main character

Content warnings: racism, racial slurs, colourism, sexism, hate crimes, cancer, death, grief depiction, confinement, imprisonment, war themes (World War II and Japanese internment camps)

A Queer Take on Dragon Riding: So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole

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So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole is a Jamaican-inspired YA fantasy. I would like to thank the publisher Little, Brown Young Readers for sending the Lesbrary a review copy. I enjoyed this book a lot, and think it’s a great addition to the genre.

There’s a whole unseen YA novel that happens before So Let Them Burn even starts. The island of San Irie is fighting the Langley Empire for it’s freedom, a chance prayer makes a child the Chosen One of the gods, and there’s a quest to restore the rightful queen – raised in the countryside unknowing of her real identity – to the throne. So Let Them Burn starts after the war is over and San Irie has won independence, and it looks at what happens afterwards, when you have an overpowered teenaged hero and a young queen and no more war to focus on.

Faron Vincent is overpowered, short-tempered, and, most of all, bored. She’s back at home with her family and back in school because no one wants to give a child, even a gods-touched one, a position in the government. And they shouldn’t, because she’s still a child, with a child’s self-centered outlook. During the war, when there was short term goals and fighting to focus on, Faron excelled and was needed as the only weapon against the Langley Empire’s dragon riders. But now, with no battles left to fight, she’s too impatient to learn diplomacy but she’s seen too much to slot back into her old life.

When the Queen decides to hold a diplomatic conference to show their neighbors how well things are going and rub the Langley Empire’s nose in its defeat, she summons Faron and her sister to the capital as part of a show of strength. I found Faron to be not very likeable but still hugely interesting. She’s a character out of place, as her powers, temper, and arrogance probably served her well during a war time situation but now lead to her crashing about like a bull in a china shop. She doesn’t understand any political subtleties and feels that her presence at the conference is like being a show pony doing tricks, but she’s also the type of person to summon her god power to help her win a school yard race. She’s truly a girl who grew up during a war and has the trauma and combat experience to go with it, but she has literally no other life experience to balance that out, leaving her off balance and out of place in this new world she helped create. It was extremely interesting to me to see this take on a “Chosen One” experience after the fact; I thought it was clever and very well done.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic conference goes sideways as Faron’s sister Elara inadvertently bonds with a Langlish dragon and is forced to return to Langley for training. Stuck in Langlish Dragon School, Elara is surrounded by people who hate her and what she represents. She is also walking a tightrope between learning useful intelligence to send back to San Irie and figuring out why exactly Dragon Rider command seemed to especially want her there. She’s also learning to be a dragon rider until her sister back home can figure out how to break the bond. Langlish dragons have two riders, and as time goes on, Elara and her other rider Signey have to figure out how to deal with their growing feelings for each other.

I found Elara’s chapters the most interesting part of the story, because she goes to the school determined to hate everyone, and there’s a lot of people that hate and look down on her, but she slowly finds other people she can sympathize with, because San Irie wasn’t the only country that the Langlish had colonized. Signey also opens up about her own family history, and the two girls slowly realize they have more in common than they think. Signey slowly changes from the enemy to a friend and maybe more. Just as Faron turns the Chosen One trope into a new angle, Elara’s dragon school training takes a common YA conceit and looks at it from a different, and queerer, viewpoint.

In conclusion, So Let Them Burn is a YA fantasy novel with a lot to offer. Not only does it start at a different point in the story than a more typical novel might have started, it takes several YA tropes and gives them a fresh viewpoint. If you’re looking for queer YA fantasy with something new to say, this is a good book to put on your list.

A Steamy Lesbian Historical Romance in France: An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adriana Herrera

the cover of An Island Princess Starts a Scandal

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“A person could live a lifetime in six weeks, Your Grace. Entire lives have been changed in less.”

Picture this: it’s summer, your sunscreen is applied, and you’ve taken the day off to spend solo on the beach. You’ve already taken a dip in the ocean. You lay out your towel and get all your fun drinks and snacks ready, and you pull out An Island Princess Starts a Scandal: a steamy F/F romance set in 1889 Paris. Bliss. That’s how I read this title, and it was the perfect setting for this romp of a romance read.

I’m not usually a big romance reader, especially historical romance, but this changed my mind about what a historical romance novel could be. It has such a fun premise. Manuela is a lesbian engaged to a wealthy man, but she has a summer of freedom in Paris with her two best friends before she gets married. She plans to spend this time exploring the sapphic side of Paris in one last debaucherous adventure.

There, she meets Cora, a wealthy businesswoman giving off Anne Lister vibes. Basically the only thing of value to Manuela’s name as a single woman is a small parcel of land she inherited, and Cora needs it to complete a lucrative railway project. Manuela agrees to sell it on one condition: Cora needs to be her guide to the lesbian nightlife of Paris. Oh, and did I mention they already met once before at a queer sex club?

This made for a perfect beach read. I always love seeing the gay side of Paris in the late 1800s/early 1900s, especially the art and literary side. Manuela is a painter, so we see a bit of that: Manuela sees examples of women who have managed to make a living doing their art, something she thought was impossible.

That setting combined with the premise had me hooked from the beginning, and the dynamic between Manuela and Cora kept me reading. Manuela is reckless, indulgent, and clever, while Cora is more tightly wound and ambitious. They clash, but they’re also instantly obsessed with each other. Both are leveraging their power over each other before the land deal goes through for good, and they’re both pretending they’re fine with this being a purely physical, limited time fling.

I can’t leave off that this is perhaps the steamiest romance novel I’ve ever read. There are a lot of sex scenes, everything is described, and everything is described in detail.

I did sometimes get hung up on the writing style, because there are a ton of sentence fragments. They’re a stylistic choice, and I’m not saying it’s wrong to write that way, but they’re frequent. I did sometimes snag on that and get distracted from the story.

This is part of a trilogy of romance novels, each following one of three friends as their love stories play out simultaneously during this summer. I liked seeing glimpses into those stories, and though the other two are straight romances, I still might pick them up, since I had so much fun with this one. This is the second book in the series, technically, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by starting here.

If you’re looking for an immersive and sexy romance to escape with for a while, I highly recommend this one.

Censorship, Expression, and Signaling in Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club

the cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

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Malinda Lo’s novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club (2021) has won multiple awards and has been reviewed multiple times at the Lesbrary already, so let’s start this review somewhere different: Last Night at the Telegraph Club has been banned and/or challenged at least 34 times in 14 states. Having done a bit of research and writing about these book challenges, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the people who submit complaints to school boards and file police reports with law enforcement very rarely actually read the books that they are attempting to ban. In the post linked above, Lo provides evidence of just how easy it is to file FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests that reveal all sorts of information about the people who want to ban books that they feel do not fit a certain narrative profile.

This is why you won’t see me write much about YA here—I spend way too much time writing about these issues elsewhere. However, I wanted to write about Last Night at the Telegraph Club because, simply, I hadn’t read it yet. 2023 was not a good year, so why not end it with a book on my TBR pile that I knew would be good? And it certainly was.

One element of YA that is important to watch out for is how it serves two primary sets of readers. The first set is the group of readers whose identities most closely align with the characters and/or the subject matter. For example, in the case of Last Night, adolescents who are Asian American, immigrants, and/or part of the LGBTQ+ community are in this first set of readers (along with potentially any other adolescent from a marginalized community). When we talk about who books are for, this is the set of readers to whom we are usually referring. If I can recognize myself in some facet of Lily’s character, Last Night speaks to me and my experiences. I might, for example, be reminded of the thrill of realizing something important about myself when Lily begins to interact with Kath, or I might recognize the danger that I feel through Lily’s constant need to keep large parts of her life a secret. In other words, the reader’s experience is reflected back to them in the pages of the novel.

The second group of readers is, simply put, everyone else—and this is where we run into trouble. Why should my child, who is nothing like the characters in these books, be subjected to these books? That’s the question that I’ve heard posed so often, either in those exact words or otherwise. Their children, they argue, shouldn’t have to be confronted with what it means to call an Asian American person a term that is meant to describe objects rather than people. Their children shouldn’t be exposed to a point of view that challenges the way the “typical” white person behaves, as they are when Lily is asked if she can speak English or is repeatedly called a “China doll.” Their children, most especially, shouldn’t see “immoral” behavior go unpunished. 

Except these sorts of issues are precisely what adolescents should be reading about because, for many, novels like Last Night provide a window into an experience that isn’t their own. The parents who seek to ban books only want their children reading books that mirror a certain set of experiences, while marginalized adolescents have to look through windows into lives that don’t mirror their own. In truth, all adolescents should read both sorts of books. All adolescents need the books they read to function as windows and mirrors so that they can learn about themselves and about others. (Note: The credit for the windows/mirrors metaphor goes to Rudine Sims Bishop, who advocated for diversity in children’s literature, particularly for Black readers and authors. Here is a great resource for more on this concept.)

Again, I really enjoyed Last Night, and I wanted to say just a bit more about two things that I found particularly delightful: the discussions of butch/femme and signaling. Does anyone remember Genesis from The Real World: Boston? The first time that I ever heard the term “lipstick lesbian” was from her. A couple of years later, I learned more about the concept of “butch” from Jack Halberstam. In 2024, we know that these terms are slippery and have limited utility—perhaps they don’t even have any utility for current adolescents at all. However, for many of us who left adolescence behind long ago, femme and butch were part of the limited ways that we had to describe queerness at something resembling a mainstream level.

Lo uses the historical setting of San Francisco during the Red Scare to explore the femme/butch binary in a way that helps younger readers understand the ways in which previous generations explored queerness, sexual orientation, and gender expression. Again, even if the femme/butch binary doesn’t serve adolescents today, the historical context does because, as we know, where we came from directly influences where we are and where we are going. And, of course, who among us hasn’t at some point felt the same awkwardness and excitement that Lily feels as she is figuring all of these things out over the course of the novel?

This past fall, I taught an undergraduate seminar on young adult literature; in one of the books that we read, several characters provide nonverbal cues to signal their sexuality. The discussion that we had in class about signaling was one of my favorite discussions that we had all semester. I wish I had time to recount more of that discussion; for now, though, just imagine Last Night as a way to juxtapose mid-20th century signaling from what it looks like today. After all, all one has to do today is slap on a pride flag, get an undercut, or quote Steven Universe or The Owl House, and the people who need to know—well, they know. Compare those contemporary signals with the ways in which Lo describes the way her characters dress and wear their hair as well as the way she describes Lily’s reverence as she encounters outward expressions of queerness. 

If you haven’t read Last Night at the Telegraph Club yet, don’t wait any longer! If you have read it already, perhaps it’s time to give it a second read.

Content warning: homophobia, racial slurs, racism

Liv (she/her) is a trans woman, a professor of English, and a reluctant Southerner. Described (charitably) as passionate and strong-willed, she loves to talk (and talk) about popular culture, queer theory, utopias, time travel, and any other topic that she has magpied over the years. You can find her on storygraph and letterboxd @livvalentine.

A Trans Teen Finds Her Words: Just Happy to Be Here by Naomi Kanakia

the cover of Just Happy to Be Here

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Tara is the first trans girl to attend Ainsley Academy, an all-girls school. She finds it hard to fit in, especially considering that she’s also one of the few students of color. One place she does feel like she belongs is the Sibyls, an exclusive society within the school that values classical history. Tara’s passion is speeches throughout history, and she admires how the Sibyls stand behind their values and don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks about them. When she applies to join, though, she’s thrown into a controversy about who is allowed into this elite group for girls, and whether it should still exist at all.

This was an infuriating read. Tara is a young trans woman of color who seems to bounce between dealing with micro aggressions and macro aggressions; there’s almost no one she can just be herself around. Her parents are… somewhat accepting, but they often misgender her and question whether she’s sure enough about her transition to go on hormones. Tara desperately wants to be on hormones, but they live in a state where parents can have their kids taken away if they’re suspected of pushing them to transition. And because of their immigration status, they’re even more vulnerable. It’s not paranoia, either: they are reported at one point and interrogated by a state official.

Tara is used as a political pawn. Even people who are theoretically accepting just see as her as “the trans girl.” When she says anything that doesn’t match their idea of what a trans girl should be, they immediately push back against her, even when she’s just expressing her own insecurities. They seem more concerned about saying the right things than actually getting to know her. Even the trans guy at school uses her as an unwilling figurehead in his fight to take down the Sibyls for being exclusionary, ignoring that she loves the Sibyls and has no interest in dismantling the group.

Tara wants so badly to fit in, to be “ordinary”, and deals with a lot of internalized transphobia and racism. She doesn’t want to lead a charge against transphobia. She just wants to blend in.

I had to put down the book at some point because I was so full of rage on her behalf. The school administrators and teachers often have double standards for her: when it comes to benefits of being part of Ainsley Academy, Tara is technically part of the boys’ school. But when it comes to the drawbacks and discipline of students, she’s part of Ainsley. One of her teachers escalates from double standards to flat-out transphobic hate speech.

The Sibyls aren’t perfect, and in fact there are very good reasons to want to dismantle this not-so-secret society of rich women. But it is where Tara meets her first genuine friends, who treat her as an individual—including her crush, Felicity, who she gets closer and closer to. (Tara is bisexual, with a preference for women.) They’re all flawed people, and they may not always say the right thing, but they’re finally a place where Tara feels like she belongs and that people have her back—not for political reasons, but for her as a person.

Just Happy To Be Here has a long author’s note at the end with advice for trans girls, and that advice is not sugar-coated. It’s also frustrating that trans women and transfem YA is so new, and yet this author’s note feels even more urgent and dire than these books did a handful of years ago, when the first few trans YA titles were being published by mainstream presses. It’s horrific that it’s gotten even more dangerous to be a trans woman in the United States.

This was an emotionally harrowing read, full of non-stop transphobia—plus some added racism. It’s one I’m glad to have read, but I’m even more glad to be done.

A Genre-Bending Haunted Bookstore Story: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

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I kept hearing people rave about this book when it was new. I heard it was a cozy read about someone working in a bookstore haunted by the ghost of a customer. So imagine my surprise when the book begins with the main character remembering a woman she had a crush on convincing her to steal a body that turned out to have cocaine on it, which is how she got a life sentence. That wasn’t what I was expecting.

I hadn’t heard anything about this having queer content, but we know from the first chapter that Tookie is bisexual! It doesn’t use the word bisexual, though, and in the rest of the book, she’s in a long-term relationship with a man, so I suppose most people thought it wasn’t worth mentioning. As someone who’s always on the hunt for more queer books, though—especially by BIPOC authors, and especially especially by Indigenous authors—I wish someone had told me so I could have picked it up sooner!

This is a really difficult book for me to summarize. My overall impression is of a comforting, even cozy read, but as you might imagine from what I said in that first paragraph, that’s misleading. It’s also about death, racism, and Covid-19. It’s mostly set in an Indigenous bookstore; during Tookie’s time in prison, she fell in love with reading, and when she got out, she started working at the bookstore.

One of the regulars of the bookstore is Flora, a white woman who is heavily involved in the Minneapolis Indigenous community, and who hints at having an Indigenous grandparent with little to no evidence. She was annoying enough when she was alive, but after she dies—while reading a possibly deadly book?—she’s even worse. She begins haunting the bookstore and even tries to possess Tookie, in the ultimate form of cultural appropriation.

Meanwhile, the events of 2020 in Minneapolis play out, including loved ones hospitalized from Covid, and protests against the murder of George Floyd raging through the nights. Tookie’s marriage with her husband is complicated and somewhat fraught, and her relationship with her stepdaughter is even more difficult. When her stepdaughter shows up pregnant on their doorstep, looking for support, Tookie has to try to repair their relationship and unearth her nurturing side.

As I describe it, nothing about that sounds cozy—except, maybe, the bookstore setting. But Erdrich is such an incredible writer, especially when it comes to characterization, that I just fell into this novel. I loved Tookie’s voice so much, and all the characters, including Tookie’s family and coworkers, felt real. That network of support around her made this feel comforting even as she dealt with horrific circumstances.

This was my first Louise Erdrich book, and I’ll definitely be reading more. While the sapphic content isn’t the focus of this story, I can’t help but recommend this incredible, genre-bending read in any context I can.

Colonialism and Revolution in Fantasy France: The Faithless by C. L. Clark

the cover of The Faithless

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When I finished The Unbroken by C. L. Clark, I wasn’t sure I was going to continue with the series. It was brilliant, yes: thought-provoking and gut-wrenching, with commentary on colonialism and a passionate, doomed F/F romantic subplot. The strengths of the book, though—the bleakness that reflects the real-life horrors of living through war, occupation, and revolution; the fallible characters making mistakes with devastating consequences; the complexity of the depiction of colonialism—were exactly what made it difficult to read. I wasn’t sure I would be able to read another thousand pages of that between the next two books of the trilogy. By the time The Faithless came out, though, I felt ready to dive in again. And I was surprised to find that book two had everything I loved in book one, but with a lot more fun.

To be clear, this is still a story about empire and power struggles, with deaths and high stakes. But while book one took place mostly on the battlefield, book two is more about court politics in a country reminiscent of France. The power difference between Luca and Touraine is still there, but Touraine has more leverage.

It’s also interesting to see Touraine struggle with trying to figure out where she belongs: the country she was raised in as a child soldier, or the country she was born in and is trying to fight for? She feels outside of both, and is developing her own sense of identity now that she has more space to make her own decisions.

The relationship between Luca and Touraine is more of a focus, and the pining here is unmatched! It also feels more fun to read because there isn’t such a huge power disparity between them. I’m still not sure if they’re good together, but of course I was rooting for them to sleep together anyway. Also, Sabine—who has a friends-with-benefits situation with Luca—really steals the show. Her flirting with both of them and calling out their sexual tension is always fun to read.

This is still the Magic of the Lost series, so there’s a dark undercurrent underneath. Touraine is dealing with PTSD after her near death experience—something I rarely see in fantasy, even though of course you would be traumatized after something like that. The peace between Balladaire and Qazal is tenuous, and the conditions of their agreement are being bitterly fought over, which threatens to throw them back into combat at any moment. Violent revolution looms. Luca is looking for any sort of advantage to seize the throne—and finds that power comes with a price she isn’t sure she’s willing to pay.

I’m so glad I continued with this series. I appreciated the writing, plot, and characterization just as much as the first book, but I found it a much easier read—it probably helps that I’m now familiar with this world and these characters. It’s a rare second book in a trilogy that I like even better than the first. I’m excited to read the final book in the series when it comes out!

A Genre-Defying Queer Black Memoir: The Black Period by Hafizah Augustus Geter

the cover of The Black Period

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In 2023, I was a judge for the Nonfiction category of the Lambda Literary Awards. One of the books I read—the one that ended up winning for the category—was The Black Period: On Personhood, Race, and Origin. This is a brilliant, expansive book that I don’t feel qualified to really speak about, because there are so many layers going on in this narrative.

Geter is a poet, and you absolutely tell in this memoir. There are so many shining lines—”Safer to be accepted than loved, I thought.”—even when describing seemingly inconsequential details, like, “Even though she laughed constantly, it was like every laugh took her by surprise.”

This book is an embodiment of the idea that the personal is political. While this is in some senses a memoir, it’s also much broader than that. Geter traces back how her life is connected to all that came before it: her disability is connected to her parents’ health problems, which are connected to the racism at the foundation of the United States.

This is why The Black Period doesn’t fit neatly into the memoir category: it’s also a history book, and a collection of essays about art criticism and Afrofuturist thought, and it’s also about the connected struggles of Indigenous and Black people in the United States. Oh, and it includes original artwork from her father, a well-respected artist in his own right.

I can’t believe this book, which has won multiple awards and made several “best of” lists, is still so underread, even now that it’s available in paperback. This would be a fascinating book to read in a group, or to study in a class. I need you all to go out and read it so we can talk about it together. It’s one I can’t stop thinking about.