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

the cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Content warnings: homophobia, racism, miscarriage, underage drinking

Messy Roots: a Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao

the cover of Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American

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Messy Roots is Laura Gao’s memoir of her childhood and coming of age, first in Wuhan, China, then an early move to Texas, and finally through her choices of college in Pennsylvania and a job in the Bay area. As a Chinese American immigrant, Gao depicts her struggle to reconcile her childhood in Wuhan with the expectations of her friends and classmates in America via a direct and honest look at her own internalized biases and struggles, illustrated by a flowing and charming art style. I found Messy Roots to be a heartwarming and fast-paced read, and I’m really glad a friend recommended it to me.

Gao is brutally honest in her depiction of herself. She starts out by describing her efforts to fit in with her classmates in Texas, including by taking an American-ized name and minimizing hobbies and traits that mark her out as too obviously an immigrant. She finds her Chinese lessons burdensome and resents having to attend Chinese events at her family’s church. When she moves to college, she both connects more with the Chinese student community and realizes that she is attracted to women. Free from being directly under the eye of her family and people who knew her growing up, Gao, like many college students, starts to figure out for herself who she wants to be as a person. I felt like Gao’s personal journey really resonated from the page, because it was messy and not linear. I personally really empathized with how Gao’s attraction to women was evident through her early years with the benefit of hindsight, but not fully realized until college and near adulthood. Laura also struggles with who and how to come out to people, and especially to her family, but even when they are struggling to communicate, Gao depicts a complex and affectionately nuanced showing of family. I think memoirs like this are important, because real life does not reflect a neat narrative like in fiction. Reading this really focuses in on how you keep growing and learning as a person, and things that you think you had moved on from can later become important to you, and I really think this perspective is important for the teen audience this is intended for, although older readers can certainly appreciate that aspect as well.

In the final part of the book, Gao tells about moving to San Francisco after college, and rooming with a group of her immigrant friends. Buoyed by the strong Chinese community in the area and the city’s diverse and modern atmosphere, Gao starts to feel like she is putting down her own roots. But when the pandemic hits in 2020, Wuhan goes from an obscure location to a household name in America. As waves of racism and hatred impact her life and her family, Gao once again struggles to make sense of her identity and her life. It’s a terribly poignant and personal look at a time most of us would rather not look to closely at. It’s sort of refreshing to see a narrative that actively includes the pandemic as a time period that had real impact on people, and not just through the possibility of getting sick. Gao’s narrative highlights the some of the real ripple effects that this global event had, and I think that is also important to show in literature. 

Messy Roots is Laura Gao’s effort to document her journey through her identity.  Unlike a conventional, fictional coming of age story, Gao shows that life is messy and most people’s development is not linear. Her unflinching introspection and willingness to shine a light on the complex and less pretty parts of personal development make for an inspiring and insightful read. I am definitely glad to have read her perspective, and think this would be an excellent book for both adults and teens looking for a new viewpoint about growing up, coming out, and finding yourself. 

Bestselling Book Gets a Second Wind: Juliet Takes a Breath: The Graphic Novel

Juliet Takes a Breath Graphic Novel cover

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Back in 2016, when I first heard that there was a new young adult novel by a queer Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx who was also potentially my cousin (just kidding—all the Puerto Rican Riveras from the Bronx aren’t related, y’all), I remember feeling so excited. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera (she/her) is the story of Juliet Milagros Palante, a 19-year-old baby dyke from the Bronx navigating the coming out process, radical feminism, and what it means to be a queer person of color.

In December 2020, nearly five years after the novel’s debut, Rivera released the graphic novel adaptation of Juliet Takes a Breath with gorgeous illustrations by Celia Moscote. I read the novel the summer it came out and was blown away.  I picked up the graphic novel seven years later and was just as impressed.

Juliet Takes a Breath is a coming of age story that opens on the eve of Juliet’s departure to Portland, Oregon for a summerlong internship with white feminist author Harlowe Brisbane. At family dinner, Juliet reveals that she is gay and has a girlfriend. Although Juliet’s brother, abuela, and titi are supportive, Juliet’s mother is rattled by her revelation and the two have little time to process their feelings before Juliet must leave. When Juliet arrives in Portland, she meets free-spirited Harlowe, who she clearly idolizes. However, as the summer progresses, Juliet develops her own queer identity, finds community amongst queer people of color, and comes to learn that Harlowe is not necessarily worthy of the pedestal upon which Juliet has put her.

Juliet Takes a Breath features a refreshingly diverse cast of characters, which includes individuals who are bisexual, trans, and biracial. Puerto Rican culture is also prominently featured in the graphic novel, infused into its language, history, and imagery. Juliet’s Puerto Rican-ness is the foundation of her identity. She is anchored by her close-knit family, which provides her unconditional love and support even amid conflict.  Moscote perfectly captures the personalities and emotions of Juliet’s loved ones. Her renderings of Juliet, a beautiful,  curvaceous young woman with caramel skin and dark curls, in various states of emotion—joy, anger, pleasure, and sadness—are stunning.

Seven years later, I still love this story. As a queer Puerto Rican woman with Bronx roots, it made me feel seen. Beyond that, I loved how Rivera educated her audience on the importance of intersectionality and community and boldly tackled complex and emotionally charged issues like the white savior complex in feminism. The graphic novel format made these topics even more accessible. I highly recommend checking it out! 

Rivera is also the author of the original comic series b.b. Free, as well as Marvel Comics’ AMERICA series, which follows the adventures of America Chavez.  If you’d like to learn more about Rivera, you can check out her Instagram, @quirkyrican, where she posts about her writing and the joys of being a “masc mom”.

Trigger warnings for sexual assault, racism, and white saviorism.

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.

A Sapphic Marriage of Convenience Manga: I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama cover

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Machi has been going along with what other people want for as long as she can remember, but she’s so sick of her parents nagging her to find a husband that she’s ready to marry someone they’d hate to spite them. She wasn’t expecting her (female) best friend Hana to volunteer for the role, though!

Yep, we’re skipping the fake dating and going straight to marriage, that’s how we roll here.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a fast, tropey read with a really cute art style. Machi and Hana have been friends for a long time, and work as a classic “the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one” pair, so their teasing and support for each other is lovely! And while the relationships starts off feeling unbalanced due to Hana’s pushiness and Machi’s passivity, its gradual evening out is fun.

I have so many mixed feelings about Hana’s pushiness, by the way; she’s mostly a cheery and flirty character, with her arc being all about revealing the serious core beneath that. But her response to Machi’s internalised homophobia (or what looks like homophobia) is sexual aggression that borders on harrassment. It’s presented as her issuing a challenge in the face of Machi’s previous knee-jerk reactions, and she always backs off without needing to be told, but it’s such a weird off-note with the rest of the manga. The manga’s tone is mostly funny, with jokes about boobs and playing with the stereotypes of heterosexual marriage! Hana pinning Machi to a bed to prove a point didn’t fit with that, to me.

But there is a serious core to I Married My Best Friend, in the form of Machi’s character arc—it’s my favourite part of the book. Machi grows so much as a result of living with Hana. She starts out completely detached from her own life, only doing what’s convenient and never actually thinking about what she wants. Her growth is entirely realising that there are things she cares about, and she’s allowed to say so! Whether that’s asserting herself at work, standing up to her homophobic mother for the first time, or trying to move from fake dating Hana to really dating her, she’s growing and changing for the better!

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a lot of fun. If you’re in need of some f/f fake dating in the new year: this is a good place to start!

Caution warnings: homophobia, sexism, parental abuse

Susan is a queer crafter moonlighting as a library assistant. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, reviewing for Smart Bitches Trashy Books, or just bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

All The Pretty Girls Read Sapphic Stories: More Readalikes for Reneé Rapp’s Snow Angel

the album cover of Snow Angel

If you have Reneé Rapp’s album Snow Angel playing on repeat, these are the sapphic books you need to read! Pick up the one that matches your favorite song, or get the whole stack if it’s too hard to pick. You can get a copy of any of these titles from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop. Click here for Part One! 

“Pretty Girls”

the cover of Girls Like Girls

In the p.m., all the pretty girls/They have a couple drinks, all the pretty girls/So now, they wanna kiss all the pretty girls/They got to have a taste of a pretty girl

Pretty Girls is a song for people who keep falling for “straight” girls, and a celebration of those exploring their sexuality, even if it feels frustratingly drawn out to the other person. In the same vein, Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko, inspired by the sapphic anthem of the early aughts, follows the story of Coley and Sonya, two teenage girls in rural Oregon who each find themselves falling for the other girl. This lyrical debut novel fills out the gaps in the plot to Kiyoko’s music video, but balances the overall sweetness of the summertime romance with an exploration of grief and what it means to be out in today’s society. I think Pretty Girls would fit in beautifully during the summer romance montages that Girls Like Girls lays out.

“Tummy Hurts”

the cover of she is a haunting

Now my tummy hurts, he’s in love with her/But for what it’s worth, they’d make beautiful babies/And raise ’em up to be a couple of/Fucking monsters, like their mother and their father

In Tummy Hurts, Rapp explores a past relationship through an analysis of heartbreak, grief, and bittersweet predictions of the continuing cycle of unhealthy relationships. This song contradicts and supports the exploration through using a childlike imagery of an upset stomach and the consequences of an unhealthy romance. If you are looking for a book that explores being haunted by a past relationship or dysfunctional relationships, I would recommend reading She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran. In this horror young adult novel, Jade is visiting her estranged father and her only goal is to end the five-week visit with the college money he has promised her—but only if she can seem straight, Vietnamese, and American enough. However, Jade can’t ignore the effects of colonization on the house or a ghost bride’s warnings to not eat anything. She is a Haunting explores the concept of places being haunted by dysfunctional family dynamics, just as “Tummy Hurts” explores the haunting of a romantic relationship.

“I Wish”

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers cover

I wish I could still see the world through those eyes/Could still see the colors, but they’re not as clear or as bright/Oh, the older we get, the colors they change/Yeah, hair turns to gray, but the blue’s here to stay/So I wish, I wish

“I Wish” is the Pisces moon of Snow Angel, with Rapp singing about how she wished she didn’t know about death as a concept. This sweet ballad mourns the loss of an important figure and the resultant loss of innocence in the world around her. Similarly, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers explores themes of existential dread, fear of not living up to people’s expectations, and a loss of innocence once you grow up. Twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes to Vegas to celebrate getting her PhD in astronomy, but accidentally ends up getting drunkenly married to a strange woman from New York. This triggers a rush of questions about herself, including why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled in her life, and Grace flees home to move in with her unfamiliar wife. Honey Girl is a story about self-growth, finding queer community, and taking a journey towards better mental health, and it honestly made me cry as much as I Wish did the first time I listened to it.

“Willow”

the cover of Even Though I Knew the End

Don’t cry, don’t cry, Willow/I’ll cry, Willow/Willow/I’ll cry for you

Willow is another sad ballad, in which Renee talks to her younger self (metaphorically) under a willow tree, and tries to reassure them that everything will be alright. This concept of wanting to take away someone’s pain, regardless of your own, made me think of one of my favorite novellas, Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk. Elena Brandt is the hardboiled detective of mystery noire past, with her private eye set up in a magical 1930’s Chicago, and a lady love waiting in the wings for her. However, Elena’s days are numbered and she decides to spend the last of them with said lady love, Edith. Just as she is about to leave the city, a potential client offers her $1,000 to find the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. To sweeten the pot, the client offers something more precious—the chance to grow old with Edith. As Elena dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life, she learns that nothing is as she thought it was. If you want a read that will capture your mind and heart for an afternoon, then grab a copy of C. L. Polk’s Even Though I Knew the End. 

“23”

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

But tomorrow I turn twenty-three/And it feels like everyone hates me/So, how old do you have to be/To live so young and careless?/My wish is that I cared less/At twenty-three

Finally, 23 explores the emotional turmoil and questioning that can come with turning twenty-three years old. Rapp’s lingering lyrics ask why she doesn’t feel like she has been succeeding in life, especially when compared to society’s expectations and assumptions about her career. By the end of the song, Rapp expresses the hope that she can grow into herself as a person and learn to love herself more by her next birthday. In the same vein, Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kahn is about a nineteen Black year old college student named Alice, whose summer was going to be perfect until her girlfriend broke up with her for being asexual. Alice had planned on remaining single as to never experience being rejected for her sexuality again, but then she meets Takumi, and Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood. A huge theme in Alice’s story is that of figuring out what you want to do and/or be as opposed to what your family and friends (or society) expects from you, whether it is about your sexuality or career choices. I think Alice would be wistfully listening to 23 right before the climatic third act, as she contemplates what to do.

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, they act in local community theaters, play D&D, and are halfway through their MLiS program. You can find them on Goodreads, Twitter, or Instagram.

Queer F/F Rom-Com for National Hispanic Heritage Month: The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School

the cover of The Lesbiana's Guide to Catholic School

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The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School had been on my reading list for way too long and I am so glad I finally opened it up to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15)! The sweet characters, nuanced coming-of-age and coming out story, and will-they-or-won’t-they first F/F romance had me hooked from the first page. 

Ever since Yamilet (Yami) was outed by her ex-best friend last year, she has been committed to acting as straight as possible: don’t hug your girlfriends too long, talk about crushes on boys—you know the drill. Her hope is that just maybe that acting will help her be straight, since she’s confident her religious mom would kick her out if she’s gay. It is both heartbreaking and endearing following Yami’s very gay thoughts as she tries oh so hard to be straight. She watches her every move, hoping they’re not too gay, and she is definitely not spending a lot of her time thinking about Bo, the only out girl (and one of the few other people of color as an adopted Chinese American) in her Catholic School.

I’m going to take a gander and guess that you don’t choose YA coming out stories for the high stakes plot. If you’re anything like me, you open up this kind of book for another sweet example of someone living into their truth and being better for it. Even if the end result of a rom-com is expected, it’s the journey to that queer happily ever after that is so fulfilling. I never get sick of honest yet positive coming out stories and this one from a queer Mexican American girl navigating Catholic school and a religious family is especially important to be told and read. 

The awkward growing up moments made me laugh out loud. The found family relationships made my heart swell. The biological family love and growth made me tear up. The very real homophobic reactions and religious trauma made me cringe. The understanding and patient romance made me swoon. And the journey of self-love and self-confidence was contagious, reminding me all over again of the freedom of getting brave enough to be you out loud. This was a beautiful read through and through—I highly recommend it!

Content warnings: racism, homophobia, immigration, suicidal ideation and hospitalization of a character

Natalie (she/her) is honestly shocked to find herself as a voracious reader these days—that certainly wasn’t the case until she discovered the amazing world of queer books! Now she’s always devouring at least one book, as long as it’s gay. She will be forever grateful for how queer characters kept her company through her own #gaypanic and now on the other side of that, she loves soaking up queer pasts, presents and futures across all genres. Find more reviews on her Bookstagram!

The Perfect Sapphic September Read: The Adult by Bronwyn Fischer 

the cover of The Adult

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The moody, fraught, and atmospheric energy of Bronwyn Fischer’s novel The Adult (Random House, 2023) is the perfect September read that reflects the joy and the chaos of a new academic year! 

The Adult follows Natalie, an eighteen-year-old student who has just arrived in Toronto to begin her first year of university. Moving from her remote, rural hometown to a bustling city is destabilizing to say the least, and on top of it all everyone around her seems to fit in perfectly, while Natalie always stands apart. From the beginning of the novel, we can tell that Natalie is searching for an identity—for the exact code that will allow her to effortlessly blend into her new life without all the sharp edges she can’t seem to stop running into. She studies her would-be friends, searches online, and spends most of her time contemplating just how apart she feels from everyone else. 

Enter Nora, an older, mysterious woman who suddenly takes an interest in Natalie after a chance meeting. As Natalie is drawn further and further into Nora’s life—and into her intense, all-consuming feelings for the other woman—she wonders if this relationship contains the answers she’s been searching for. However, because Natalie fears how her friends will react to her relationship with an older woman, she quickly begins to lead a kind of double life while attempting to keep her time with Nora separate and sacred. But eventually, Natalie must reckon with the discovery that Nora is not all that she seems, and that the secrets she keeps could have devastating consequences for Natalie’s life. 

The Adult is a fabulously literary lesbian novel all about coming of age and coming out. In many ways, it’s easy to sympathize with Natalie’s insecurity and her desperation to fit into a world that seems to fast-paced and unfamiliar. We spend so much of this novel deep inside Natalie’s head, privy to her cyclical thoughts, her fears and anxieties, and her overwhelming obsession with Nora—an obsession that is made worse by Nora’s unclear feelings. It’s impossible not to find this novel immersive and captivating. 

While the plot of this novel is slow to unfold and the text is driven forward by the characters, I still found myself unable to put it down. Fischer’s writing carefully unveils the intricacies—and inconsistencies—of Nora’s life, which left me desperate to uncover (as Natalie eventually is) what all of the clues meant. It was fascinating the way Fischer played with readers’ expectations and then subverted or denied them at every turn. While the end wasn’t a huge surprise to me, I’m not sure it’s intended to be. Instead, it seems that what Fischer really wants to focus on in Natalie’s response to and growth from her relationship with Nora. I loved the way this novel was woven together. In some ways, it really did keep me guessing until the very end. 

There are certain plot twists I wasn’t overly captivated or convinced by, and I wasn’t sure how to handle them as a reader—especially when Natalie’s character struggles to cope effectively with anything. The twist I’m thinking of definitely added some intensity and urgency to the novel, but that could have been accomplished more effectively in other ways, I think. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed The Adult and I think it’s an excellent novel to read for fall! 

Please put The Adult  on your TBR on Goodreads.  

Rachel Friars is a writer and academic living in Canada, dividing her time between Ontario and New Brunswick. When she’s not writing short fiction, she’s reading every lesbian novel she can find. Rachel holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a PhD in nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history. 

You can find Rachel on Twitter @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars

How to Use Time Travel to Explore Your Sexuality: Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh by Rachael Lippincott

the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh

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Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh by Rachael Lippincott begins with two women, both of whom find themselves quite lost in life. Audrey Campbell lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the year 2023, and a recent breakup and loss of her artistic spark has left her floundering, with no clear path to the future she’s dreamed of. Lucy Sinclair, who lives in Radcliffe—her family’s estate in England—in the year 1812, is being pressured into a marriage with a rather unpleasant man, for her father’s financial benefit. Neither woman is happy with their lot, but have settled into a sort of familiarity with the unhappiness, unsure of how they could possibly improve their situations. 

This is where time travel comes in. 

Audrey finds herself thrust back in time to 1812, crash landing in her work clothes (or as Lucy calls them, her “undergarments”) in the yard behind Radcliffe. Lucy quickly agrees to help Audrey, seeing this as a last adventure before she finds herself chained to a man she despises—an excuse to do the things she has been denying herself. The two women’s stories form a double ticking clock, as the pair realize that Audrey has a limited amount of time to figure out how and why she was sent back, and Lucy has a limited amount of freedom left before her inevitable engagement and marriage. 

The relationship between the two leads is strongly written and convincing, especially as it deepens into friendship and beyond. The two women do not initially have much attachment to each other beyond chance, but their shared attempts to acclimatize Audrey to the world of 1812 and to solve the mystery of her traveling there develop a bond, as well as a mutual attraction. There are also several quite enjoyable “red herring” romantic interests, as both female leads begin the story believing themselves to be heterosexual. These characters serve plot and character excellently, driving the story forward and helping to confuse and inform the leads as they come to terms with their sexualities. 

Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh is a sapphic romance, so queerness is readily apparent. The two women share a denial of their attraction to each other, both accepting that their feelings for women step beyond platonic during the course of the story. Audrey is bisexual, though has been denying herself for years, not feeling valid in that identity while she was in a relationship with a man. Lucy is never labeled, but does note that she has never felt drawn to any man that has been put before her. Both have been shoved into a heteronormative box by the men in their lives. Lucy, by her domineering father, and Audrey, by her notably less malicious but still heteronormative ex-boyfriend. The story of these characters breaking out of this box nicely mirrors the path of the story as a whole, as they break out of the mediocrity they have both settled into. 

While the story of Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh does many things well, there are some small flaws that prevent it from reaching greater heights. The premise is fun and well executed, but the story beats don’t do much to elevate themselves above other queer romance stories. The villains, Lucy’s father and the man he intends her to marry, are very one-note and exaggerated, caricatures of the misogynistic nobleman of the time period. While it makes sense that the story only has so much time to spend, and chooses to explore and develop the protagonists, it is unfortunate that the villains are so lacking in complexity. 

All in all, Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh is a rather good story. The protagonists and side characters are interesting and well developed, and the setting is fun to explore and serves its purpose. Though the villains are not as interesting, they don’t detract significantly from a story that is well worth the read. 

A Sapphic Romance at Adult Summer Camp: That Summer Feeling by Bridget Morrissey

the cover of That Summer Feeling

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That Summer Feeling delivers exactly that. A beach read set at an adult summer camp, this read is low angst and very wholesome. The beginning of the book starts out with a bit of chaos: a flashback to the past, a bit of family history to set the stage, and a frantic rush through the airport to catch a flight—not to mention a vision (there’s a light helping of woo in the beginning, but the book doesn’t involve much magical realism). But the pace slows considerably after the prologue, as the rest of the book spans the course of only seven days. 

Our main character Garland requires a bit of patience—she’s 32 years old with zero sense of self identity, though the thing she’s got going for her is the awareness of that flaw. It’s one of the reasons she’s at this camp. Garland is licking her wounds from a recent divorce (to a man; this a toaster oven situation) but is also sort of letting the divorce define her in the same way that the relationship defined her. She was Married—now she’s Divorced. And she might just be done with romance, unless of course her fella decides to take her back. She’s hoping this summer camp will lead to a new start. 

On paper, Garland is the sort of character that should really annoy me. She might really annoy you. But I found her to be so obtuse about her own feelings that it was actually kind of hilarious. When she meets Stevie, her roommate at camp, she’s immediately fascinated by her, and the two form a “camp alliance.” Despite enjoying her new friend’s company more than is typical of a platonic relationship, Garland takes a while to come around to realizing her queerness. It’s not for a lack of having queer friends or exposure to the idea of sexuality being fluid, she’s just been so caught up in a heteronormative idea of things like marriage as a measure of success she’s never paused to consider her sexuality. 

Vague spoilers, highlight to read: Once she realizes her feelings for Stevie are romantic, it opens the floodgates for her Big Moment of Self Realization. For those who hate the instalove trope, you’ll likely not love Insta I Just Figured My Shit Out either, so you’ve been warned! It does make for a refreshing third act when our main character, in a situation where a main character usually does something monumentally stupid, instead shows her growth as a person. It’s tough to pull off that kind of low angst read yet still maintain tension through the end of the book, but That Summer Feeling gets it right.

There are also some solid themes of found family, not needing others to define your worth, and the difficulty developing adult friendships. With the addition of tropes that keep things light and help make this a pretty fluffy book overall, this is perfect for a relaxing day at camp.

The Enthusiastic Ally to Bisexual Pipeline: Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli

the cover of Imogen, Obviously

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Now that I’m twice the age of many of the protagonists in Young Adult books, I have a different relationship with them. I still read YA, but I find myself feeling protective of the main characters instead of relating to them. Nothing exemplified that shift more than reading Imogen, Obviously, where I just wanted so badly to give Imogen a hug as I read it.

Imogen is a high school senior who is a very enthusiastic queer ally, even though she’s, as Imogen puts it, “hopelessly” straight. Her sister and two closest friends are all queer. She goes to every Pride Alliance meeting. Her favourite movie is But I’m a Cheerleader, and she collects editions of One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston.

Her best friend Lilli is a year ahead of her and has already found a queer friend group in university—the same school Imogen will be joining in a few months. Imogen is happy for her… even though she feels out of place. She doesn’t want to intrude, as a cis straight person.

When Lilli finally convinces her to visit, she drops a bombshell when Imogen arrives: Lilli felt insecure about not having a serious relationship with a girl before, and she lied about Imogen and her being exes. So now everyone thinks Imogen is bi, including Tessa, who gives Imogen butterflies, which is obviously just Imogen queerbaiting inside her own head.

Imogen as a character broke my heart, to be honest. She’s a people-pleasing overthinker who analyzes herself to death, twisting herself into knots until she loses sight of the very obvious. The very obvious like: she’s not straight. The very obvious like: her friend Gretchen isn’t the authority on all things queer, and can be pretty toxic when she acts like it.

In a social media graphic for the book, the author describes Imogen as having queer discourse brainworms, which is a good way to put it. She tries to educate herself about queer issues, but just ends up thinking that there’s only one right way to be queer. She doesn’t feel the same way about girls as she does in her crushes on guys, so she concludes that means she doesn’t like girls at all. Even when faced with obvious evidence to the contrary, she convinces herself that she’s just trying to be bisexual for clout and that she’s a bad person for appropriating queerness.

“Queerness recognizing queerness. It’s kind of beautiful when you think about it. I really do wish it was mine sometimes.”

Imogen longs to be part of the queer community, and while I’m sure there is some 100% straight and cis person this applies to in the world, it’s such a relatable queer experience. I was in middle school when I excitedly talked about looking forward to joining the Gay/Straight Alliance in high school, and how if I could choose, I’d be pansexual and panromantic. But, of course, I was hopelessly straight…

Gretchen was a difficult character. Some people will absolutely hate her, which I understand. But I found myself thinking that my high school self was somehow right between Imogen and Gretchen: an anxious overthinker who also was so deep in queer discourse that I thought I knew it all. Gretchen is going through some things and lashing out at other people—I hope that this is just the beginning of a journey of processing her trauma, because she’s not in a healthy place now.

I haven’t even mentioned the Tessa/Imogen romance! It is adorable. Tessa is a lesbian and Imogen (spoiler?) is bisexual. Both are Jewish. Poor Imogen takes a while to understand she’s falling for her, but it’s a fun ride, including college shenanigans with her and their friend group.

I loved reading this, even if being inside Imogen’s head could be a little too relatable at times. This is actually my first Becky Albertalli read, but I can now confirm the hype is justified. I highly recommend it to any queer person who once also thought they were hopelessly straight.