Shana reviews Who We Could be by Chelsea Cameron

Who We Could be by Chelsea Cameron

Who We Could Be is a fluffy, heartwarming romance about supposedly straight best friends who fall in love with each other. The story loosely reimagines two of my favorite characters, Anne Shirley and Diana Barry from Anne of Green Gables. I sometimes find coming out stories too predictable and trite. I loved this gooey, angst free story anyway, and recommend it for when you need an inclusive, low-conflict read.

Tessa is a quiet, nurturing, librarian who falls asleep most nights while giggling over the phone with her best friend Monty. She’s engaged to be married to a guy no one much likes, especially outspoken Monty. The two friends are fiercely and unapologetically each other’s most important person.

Monty works at a bookstore owned by her lesbian trans aunts, and is also engaged to her sweet friend Gilbert Gus, who she adores, but is more likely to play games with than kiss. When Tessa’s lackluster fiance cheats on her, Monty takes her on an alternate honeymoon. This leads to the two going on practice dates to help Tessa ease into dating again. Along the way these two figure out what everyone around them already knows: they’re perfect for one another.

Tessa and Monty have an intensely loving friendship, and watching them discover their romantic side left me squealing with joy. Their dynamic is a balm for every fan who sighed over two straight characters who clearly should be dating each other, whether that’s Rizzoli and Isles, or Diana and Anne.

Who We Could Be has an idyllic, fairy tale quality. It’s set in a progressive small New England town, and cocoons the characters within this supportive atmosphere. Instead of leaning into the drama of ended engagements and newfound sexuality, the story resolves potentially obstacles easily, letting Tessa and Monty’s playful relationship take center stage. I appreciated that the characters come to recognize their queer sexuality before falling in love with one another, and the role Monty’s aunts play in their drama-free coming out process.

Cameron specializes in stories about BFFs who fall in love, and after reading Who We Could Be, I devoured her backlist. This remains my favorite version of this trope. Highly recommended for fans of quiet romances.

Sinclair reviews Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Untamed by Glennon Doyle Amazon Affiliate link

I was skeptical about this book. Remember back in May 2020 when nearly the entire bestseller list was taken up by anti-racist titles such as How To Be An Anti-Racist, Me & White Supremacy, and My Grandmother’s HandsUntamed was also on there, and I felt skeptical about a white woman’s voice being amplified so loudly during such a critical time. I knew it was a memoir, but someone told me it also addressed her personal journey with her own whiteness and coming to an anti-racist identity.

Hmm, I thought.

I was disappointed to see so little of that in the book, but that’s not Glennon’s fault — I had bad information. It does have a little bit about it, but it’s just one medium-length essay among dozens of others — not even a major theme, really.

I was skeptical because I knew who Glennon Doyle was: a white, feminine woman with a conservative Christian background who fell in love with a (famous, queer) woman (soccer player Abby Wombach — who also wrote a book, Wolfpack) and left her husband. I knew she had quite the social media following, and my impression was that she was in that category of inspirational speakers and motivational self-help that is usually geared toward white wealthy mainstream women, and of which I tend to be very critical for the ways it reinforces capitalism, hegemony, beauty standards, and even patriarchy.

I struggled to relate to a lot of her work because she is so mainstream. I have been out as butch and queer since 1999 — more than half my life now — and my entire adult understanding of myself comes from counter culture, activism, being critical of the overculture, and and being very actively against indoctrination. I not only came out into counter culture, I grew up in it, outside of the contiguous US, and have never had a mainstream US world view. So when she describes her process of expanding and transforming outside of her mainstream world view, I applaud her — but parts of it are not all that radical or even all that interesting to me. Those things seem kind of like a baseline, not a revelation.

What was really interesting — fascinating, moving, and even inspiring — was the ways she describes that transformative process.

I am so impressed and have much respect for her process in general, and how much she had to trust herself in order to re-build her life, going against almost everything she’d known. So many of the short essays that make up this book are about how she trusts herself, the personal process of naming her inner Knowing, the consequences, the social expectations of placing trust somewhere outside of one’s self in order to know what’s right.

The major takeaway for me was about the cost and construction of abandoning one’s self. I know from early childhood development theory that our attachment styles, and sometimes relational trauma, are wrapped up in how we abandon ourselves to seek outside approval. For some of us, we have a pattern of others overriding what we know to be true and right for ourselves, and that often, for me personally, when resentment brews and gets directed at others, it is a clue that I have not been being true to myself at some deep level.

I am surprised to be so moved by this book. If you like personal transformative reflections, parenting, spiritual seekers, truth seekers, you may enjoy this book. I found it very easy to read and digest, with many profound moments.

Carmella reviews Love Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Love Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors growing up. Something about her battalions of weird, bookish, tomboy protagonists and their intense friendships with other girls really appealed to me.

Looking back on her extensive oeuvre as a fully-realised lesbian adult, I began to see what that connection may have been, and I always wished that Wilson had written an explicitly sapphic character somewhere in her over-100-book career. Then came the news, earlier this year, that not only was Wilson finally going to write a book about two girls falling in love… but that she herself was in a long-term relationship with another woman! I was delighted (to say the least), and couldn’t wait to get my hands on Love Frankie.

When explaining why she hasn’t written a gay protagonist before, Jacqueline Wilson said that she writes about children with problems, and she doesn’t see “any problem whatsoever with being gay”. This is true for Love Frankie, where the protagonist’s sexuality isn’t nearly as big a deal as everything else going on in her life.

Frankie is nearly fourteen, and having a rough time of it. Her mum is chronically ill with MS, finances are tight, she’s worried about her two sisters, and their dad’s no help: he’s left them to live with his new girlfriend. Even her best friend Sammy is a source of stress now he’s decided he wants to be her boyfriend.

Wilson is always strong at writing touching, troubled families. Frankie’s dynamic with her mum and sisters is so warm and true to life. I particularly liked the youngest sister, Rowena, with her obsession for collecting Sylvanian Families – I remember a lot of children like that from my own school years! The issues of illness and divorce are treated sensitively and carefully pitched towards younger readers.

Outside of her fraught home life, Frankie’s being picked on by a group of girls at school. But then their ringleader – the pretty, cool, wealthy Sally – turns out to be not-that-bad-actually and goes from sworn enemy to close friend.

As Jacqueline Wilson novels go, so far, so typical. Then Frankie starts to like Sally as more than a friend.

This central relationship rings true as an account of first love – exciting, intense, giddy, and confusing. However, Sally isn’t particularly likeable as a love interest. She’s hot-and-cold, teasing, and sometimes cruel. I would ask what Frankie sees in her, but who hasn’t had a crush on a popular ‘mean girl’ before?

Although I enjoyed reading this novel as an adult, I know that I would have loved it as a younger teen. I’m so pleased for all the girls who will get to read this at the same age as Frankie and see themselves reflected in the pages.

Coming Out Later In Life: Books About Coming Out as Bi or Lesbian at 30+

Coming Out Later in Life cover collage

Coming Out Later In Life: Books About Coming Out as Bi or Lesbian at 30+

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Danika reviews Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure is about Simone, a teenager who’s been HIV positive since birth. Her dads have done their best to make sure she has the best possible life, and as long as she takes her medication every day, her day-to-day isn’t much different from her peers. The problem is not so much with symptoms or medical care, but stigma. At her last school, her peers turned on her when they found out her diagnosis, and she had to switch schools. Now, she just wants to enjoy directing the high school play and hanging out with her friends and crushing on a boy without having to think about how people would react if they knew. Which is why getting blackmail notes threatening to out her if she doesn’t stay away from her crush is particularly terrifying.

I will say up front that this has a bisexual main character, and the central romance is M/F. But even aside from the bi main character, there is queer rep aplenty: Simone has two dads, one of her best friends in an asexual lesbian, and the other best friend is also bisexual. In fact, it’s partly because Simone is surrounded by confident, out queer people in her life that she doesn’t feel like she can claim the word bisexual for herself. Sure, she has crushes on celebrity women, but that doesn’t count, right? And liking one girl isn’t enough to be able to call herself bisexual, right? An undercurrent of the story is Simone coming to terms with her sexuality, and realizing that she can claim that identity. (Also, her–almost?–ex-girlfriend is awful.)

I find this book a little difficult to describe, because on the whole, I found it a fun, absorbing, even fluffy read. Simone is passionate about musical theatre, and she is excited and intimidated to be acting as director. She is swooning over a cute guy (also involved in the production), and their romance is adorable. Simone’s friends are great–even if they have some communication issues–and so is her family. She is surrounded by support, and there is a lot of humour sprinkled throughout.

On the other hand, Full Disclosure also grapples with the stigma around HIV positivity. Simone’s dads felt that it was fitting that they adopt an HIV positive baby, after having lost so many people in their lives to HIV and AIDS. There is discussion of what living through the epidemic was like, and the extreme bigotry towards people with HIV/AIDS. Simone is being blackmailed, and she lives in fear of having people turn against her again. She doesn’t feel like she can even talk to the principal about it, because it could mean that the information could get out. Even her best friends don’t know.

There is tension between the lightheartedness of the book as a whole, and the serious underpinnings. It meshes well, though, and doesn’t feel like bouncing between emotional extremes. Instead, it portrays that HIV positive teens can have happy, fulfilling lives and also have to worry about unfair, hateful treatment. They can be carefree in most aspects of their lives, and also have to take their health very seriously.

Full Disclosure is masterful, including well-rounded characters, an adorable love story, and a protagonist who grows and matures over the course of the novel. I highly recommend this, and I can’t wait to read more from Camryn Garrett.

Meagan Kimberly reviews Perspective by Monica McCallan

Perspective by Monica McCallan

Campbell St. Claire is a best-selling author whose novel is being produced for a film led by Sloane Murphy, a former friend from college. But the two haven’t spoken since an incident one night that left Campbell brokenhearted. Reunited, Campbell learns what happened that night with Sloane and the two reconcile. But misunderstandings ensue, and the two are once more at odds. It’s an uphill battle to get to their happily ever after.

For readers seeking a fun yet angst-filled romance novel, this is one to pick up. The character dynamic between Sloane and Campbell sizzles and burns as they orbit around one another, constantly coming together and pulling away. Miscommunications and mishaps cause their tug of war love affair as they decide what they mean to each other.

Both women suffer from insecurities that lead to their miscommunications. Campbell’s writing slump gives her a bout of impostor syndrome as she wonders if she’ll have another hit novel after her current gig. That impostor syndrome extends to how she sees herself and her worth. She considers Sloane totally out of her league and thinks the glamorous actress made her feelings clear long ago in college.

Sloane has a natural distrust of everyone as she created a career in the film industry. But her rough upbringing, which is kept vague, also influences how she views others. She believes the worst in people without knowing the full story. She guards her heart, but it’s a lonely life living in constant distrust.

The romance between Sloane and Campbell is built with care and compassion. While Campbell has been out and proud since college, Sloane did not come to peace with her sexuality until Campbell returned into her life. It’s a sweet relationship where Sloane wants to explore her feelings and Campbell helps her, but never pushes her. Their flirting is teasing, but never mean. It’s clear that although they have a great deal of sexual tension and physical fun, their relationship has always been based in friendship.

It’s a romance novel, so of course there are hot and steamy scenes throughout. But unlike many other romances, the sex doesn’t happen every other page. As Campbell guides Sloane through her journey of coming out as a lesbian, there’s more moments of tension than sex on the page. McCallan is adept at describing the sensuality of intimacy, especially in a budding romance between two women who take great care with their hearts.

When they do have sex, McCallan pulls all the stops. From start to finish, Sloane and Campbell’s intimate moments leave the readers and characters alike breathless. As they engage in their first time together, and Sloane’s first time with a woman, Campbell is incredibly careful about consent and boundaries.

Campbell always made sure to check in, but it never ruined the moment. The details in the scene depicted a positive experience for both women as they finally brought their burgeoning romance to its inevitable next level.

The one characterization that felt lacking was Sloane’s past with her mother. Details were dropped here and there indicating that the relationship was strained and that her childhood was traumatic. But it was all kept vague, making it hard to understand Sloane’s distrust in others. However, it can be argued that the point of leaving out Sloane’s difficult past and childhood was purposeful so as not to be voyeuristic.

One of the defining moments between Sloane and Campbell is when Campbell reaches out to Sloane after the actress’s mother gives the tabloids a tell-all. But Campbell never reads the story, because she knows that’s not what Sloane wants. Campbell is so considerate and respectful of Sloane’s boundaries that it’s what makes the actress drop her guard and give in to the love she has for the author.

There are a few supporting characters that round out the story and create a connection between the protagonists when they are circling each other. Riley the screenwriter befriends Campbell on set as the author stayed on as a consultant for the movie adaptation of her book. She also took a liking to Sloane, who had no choice but to keep her on as a friend. Riley is the kind of personality that doesn’t give others much choice in accepting her friendship.

Campbell’s younger sister Val plays a fleeting role. She acts more like a tool for the development of Campbell’s communication skills. She isn’t really given a chance to be her own character. Still, the love between the sisters is clear and sweet. In a story that’s mostly about Sloane and Campbell, it’s hard to add more of Val without digressing.

As with any good romance, the characters get their HEA. For any readers like myself who don’t usually gravitate toward the genre, this is a great book to give romance a chance. It keeps you turning the page and hoping for the best for everyone.

Mallory Lass reviews Everything Grows by Aimee Herman

Everything Grows by Aimee Herman

CW: suicide, homophobia, family trauma, parental character death (remembered) and child abuse

Have you ever picked up a book and the whole time you’re reading, it feels like somehow the universe aligned and you were meant to find it, to soak in the words and glide through the pages? Well this is how Aimee Herman’s Everything Grows was for me. This young adult book is set in the early to mid 90’s and so many of the experiences and references (Audre Lorde! Bikini Kill! Adrienne Rich!) jumped off the page and reminded me I am not alone. While no queer experience is universal, queer people have a lot of shared history, and this book brought that into sharp focus. If you are a fan of found family and queer discovery and mentorship, this might be a book for you.

This book tackles heavy subject matter, but provides its own healing along the way. The main plot jumps off from the suicide of a teen boy named James; Herman explores the issues of identity, survival, and navigating life from the perspective of James’ classmate, Eleanor, which lightens the load a little bit. It is written in epistolary style, composed almost entirely of Eleanor’s letters to James, who also happened to be her school bully. It reads almost like a diary, the most intimate details of Eleanor’s developing mind laid bare and exposed for the reader to relish in.

Eleanor is 14 when we meet her, and the book takes place over her school year. This is a period of immense growth and self discovery, and we are privy to her journey in a way that made her highly relatable for me. She tries to make sense of her mother’s recent suicide attempt, the suicide of James, and typical coming of age experiences like puberty, masturbation, and sex all the while trying to make sense of her own gender and sexual identity. There are no easy answers, but if there is any single message to take away from Eleanor’s story, it’s that our voice matters. Ask questions of ourselves, of others, and listen patiently for honest answers. The answers don’t always come easily or the first time you ask.

It felt like big parts of her coming out experience were my experience and also a good chunk of her exploration of her gender identity were completely foreign to me but still relatable. Getting to read Eleanor’s thoughts as she pours them out almost daily to James made it seem as if we had been friends for years.

Everything Grows has a full cast of supporting characters who all play a role in Eleanor’s journey: her friends Dara and Aggie, Shirley (her mom), her sister and her dad, plus her mom’s lesbian friend Flor. Additionally Ms. Raimondo, her English teacher, and a trans woman she meets named Reigh, both play an important role in her road to self discovery.

The book underscores the importance queer mentors can play in young adult lives and inversely the tragic consequences for queer youth who have no one in their corner, no one to say, “Who you are is okay, is worth loving, is worth being here and taking up space.” I was lucky to have these type of mentors in my life, and I am more appreciative of it now than I’ve ever been.

Through Eleanor’s journey I was also reminded of the importance of queer people as creatives, of the artists and writers who have come before us and have laid the groundwork to help us understand ourselves and the people around us.

Ultimately this book is confirmation that the human condition is real and life is hard. But the best thing about it is Eleanor gives me hope that if we can keep working to uncover our own mysteries and help each other do the same along the way, the world will be a better place.

There is a line in the book, “…I wonder if there were more books and movies about us, would we feel less alone?” And at least for me, Herman answered that question with an affirmative ‘YES!’.

This book filled a place in my heart from my childhood that I didn’t know was missing. I hope you will open it and give it a chance to grow inside you as well.

Tierney reviews One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

It is so exciting to experience the current burgeoning of middle LGBTQ fiction: it feels absolutely amazing (not to mention freeing) to have enough books out there to be able to pick and choose and categorize, and set aside what misses the mark in favor of reading the good stuff. Shannon Hitchcock’s One True Way is the good stuff.

After the death of her brother and her parents’ subsequent separation, Allie moves to North Carolina with her mom, hoping for a fresh start in the fall of 1977. Despite being the new girl at Daniel Boone Middle School, she quickly finds her footing, thanks to the kindness of Sam, the easygoing star basketball player who is friends with everyone. As an intrepid would-be reporter writing for the school newspaper, Allie is no stranger to asking tough questions–but she has to turn her gaze inward as her deepening relationship with Sam brings up questions she must ask herself–and Sam–and new feelings she has to navigate, while trying to figure out what kind of support they can get from the adults around them.

Coming out stories may be more oversaturated in fiction and pop culture geared toward adults and young adults, but a middle grade story like this (especially one that is so well-written, thoughtful, and tender) is nothing less than stunning–especially one starring a 12-year-old girl, set in the 1970s, and in North Carolina no less. This kind of historical fiction is sorely needed representation for today’s queer youth–and One True Way is all the more special for the representation it skillfully weaves in for its protagonist. Allie has a strong network of adult queer role models, from her Uncle Jeffrey, who is mentioned in passing, to Coach Murphy and Miss Holt, two teachers at her school who are quietly in a relationship with one another (and are friends with her mom). Hitchcock has built a world that reflects a possible reality–one that is neither maudlin nor saccharine, that showcases beautiful, unabashed queerness in many forms without shying away from depicting the existence of harsh realities (unaccepting family members, intolerant religious institutions, an inability be out for fear of losing one’s job…) for her queer characters.

Today’s queer youth deserve tender historical fiction about a girl and her new best friend realizing they have crushes on one another–with all the ensuing teenage angst, and a decent portrayal (without being gloomy or heavy-handed) of some of the serious aspects of being a queer middle schooler in the South in the 1970s. And even more than its portrayal of a queer love story, One True Way’s portrayal of queer community is a bold and important statement to share with queer and questioning middle schoolers. While I so wish I had had books like this growing up, I am so grateful that today’s kids have works like this to read (and have even more to choose from, depending on what tickles their fancy!): One True Way fills a much-needed niche, and beautifully so.

Mallory Lass reviews Rescue Her Heart by KC Luck

Rescue Her Heart is a fun debut novel featuring a mysterious disappearance of both father and fuel, space girlfriends and pirate battles. I would call it science fiction light, so if you are interested in a lot of word building, this might not be for you. However, if you are a fan of adventure romance and can go along with some space travel and blaster battles, you will enjoy this whirlwind romance.

This novel is told in round robin style, ping ponging every chapter between the two main characters points of view:

Captain Nat Reynolds is an expert and experienced Space Ranger Pilot. She has been in the Rangers since she turned 18. Now she is 28 and recovering from a brutal battle where she lost a fellow Ranger. Her recovery is by way of a cushy space patrol assignment. Well, it was supposed to be a cushy assignment. That is until a seemingly run of the mill fuel theft incident down on planet Prospo threatens to upend her life.

In 18 short years, Catherine Porter has lived a hard life. Her mother died when she was young, and her drunk of a father has been missing for nearly a month. She has been evicted from her home and has minimal credits to her name. How will she survive?

Nat is in desperate need of a morale boost, which comes by way of a risky rescue of Catherine following the crash of her ancient space craft she purchased in a last stitch effort to find her father. Now that the galaxy has brought them together, will they be able to find Catherine’s father? Catherine’s father’s disappearance isn’t the only mystery these two need to solve. Their discovery mission brings fierce queer space pirate Sal into their orbit and she is definitely hiding something. Nat and Catherine have instant chemistry, even if Catherine doesn’t know what that feeling overtaking her is just yet.

The age-gap between the two is not an overshadowing part of the story, but it is definitely a factor in their relationship and how it progresses. Catherine has survived a hard family life, but she has hardly lived. Nat has survived a solitary life in the Rangers, but hasn’t really loved. They both have a lot to learn from each other. For Catherine, there is nothing like being swept away by a real life hero to start her on the road to discovering her sexuality. For Nat, protecting people is what she does, but its different when it is someone she is undeniably attracted to.

Another thing that really warmed me to this story is the friendship between Nat and Dee. Dee is a dispatcher for the Space Rangers, and in their communications together you can tell there is a lot of history and a lot of love for one another. Dee shows up throughout the story, as well as some of Nat’s other queer friends who we get to meet in a Sapphic space bar. Space pirate Sal is the shining secondary character but Dee and Vic and the others bring their own sparkle to this story. A significant number of my friends are queer, so seeing queer friendships reflected is really great.

Through their many adventures, Catherine and Nat are constantly tested. Watching their relationship develop and kept me interested. Pick this one up and find out how all these mysteries resolve themselves and whether Nat and Catherine can make their relationship work beyond their mission.

By day Mallory is extremely passionate about higher education fundraising and by night she is a hype girl for all things Sacramento, CA and all things queerkru (especially fandom rarepairs). Her favorite trope is age-gap. She wishes she could read all the things and eat more ice cream, alas hermione refuses to lend out her time-turner. Give her a follow on twitter @datalover916 or over on tumblr.

Greetings From Janeland: Women Write More About Leaving Men for Women edited by Candace Walsh and Barbara Straus Lodge

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 6 years since I wrote my review of Dear John: I Love Jane. The Lesbrary was still a baby! In that review, I talk about how fascinated I was with it, namely because of it addressing sexual fluidity. In fact, the author of Sexual Fluidity wrote the foreword, and that inspired me to add it to my TBR. I wouldn’t read for 5 more years–not until I was experiencing my own sexual fluidity. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I waited that long: it was extremely helpful to read at that point in my life (review here).

Needless to say, I had some expectations starting the sequel to that pivotal book. And perhaps those expectations were a little too high. As I sad in my original review, I have a personal interest in those essays where authors address sexual fluidity: having their attractions shift over time. The majority of stories in the first book were not about that. They were about realizing that they were gay later in life, or at least coming to terms with it after having serious relationships with men. That’s even more true in Greetings From Janeland. The focus seems to have shifted to really be representing women who come out later in life. (Later than teenager, I mean.)

These are still interesting stories! They’re about how compulsory heterosexuality can cause people to live decades without owning up to their own desires and pleasure. They show the many different paths that people take to find their truths. They show the ways that their relationships with the men in their lives change: some are still close to them, and some have completely gone separate ways. Some follow up stories from the first book. For the most part, though, they follow a pattern: I was always a lesbian, but I didn’t come out until later. There are a few bisexual writers, but not a lot, and even fewer that address fluidity.

So this collection didn’t cater to my interested quite so closely, but I still think this is a great resource. The editors reference how women have written to them to say how life-changing the first book was for them. We do still have a very rigid idea of what a lesbian looks like, what a queer woman looks like, what coming out looks like. It’s good to have stories that stretch that, and show that it’s never too late to live your truth.