A Belated Bi Awakening: Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli

the cover of Imogen, Obviously

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

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

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

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

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

The Vibes

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

💬 Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

A Small Middle Grade with a Big Punch: The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

the cover of The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

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Sunny St. James has a new lease on life. In her case, this is literal after she receives a heart transplant and finally, finally has a chance to have something close to a normal summer. Swimming in the ocean, staying up late to watch movies, and devouring junk food are now actual possibilities rather than daydreams.

This also means that she can finally begin implementing her new life plan:

Step One: Do awesome amazing things I could never do before.
Step Two: Find a new best friend.
Step Three: Find a boy and kiss him.

At first, her plan is off to an incomprehensible level of success when Sunny meets Quinn Ríos Rivera and finds that making a new best friend isn’t that hard. However, it doesn’t take long for her to realize that the rest of her plan is going to be a bit more difficult. Between struggling with the fallout of her relationship with her Former Best Friend (FBF), to the unexpected arrival of her estranged mother, to the realization that maybe she doesn’t even want to kiss boys in the first place, Sunny is struggling to figure out how all of the different parts of herself fit together.

This was such a fun book, pure and simple. I’ve read Ashley Herring Blake’s middle grade work before in Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, but she continues to blow me away with how well she portrays the experience of being an awkward twelve-year-old with a first crush. Sunny is the perfect balance of exasperated and exasperating in the way that kids can be and I love how Blake doesn’t shy away from her characters making mistakes.

I’m also always amazed at how much Blake can pack into her books. It’s about being a twelve-year-old. It’s also about coming to terms with queer identity in a world that can be hostile to that, and unusual family structures, growing out of friendships, and how to wrestle with a constant stream of anxious thoughts. I especially love how the book handles the complexity of Sunny’s relationship with her mom, a woman who hasn’t been in her life in almost a decade due to her struggles with alcoholism. The book doesn’t shy away from the tougher conversations, but they are approached with such thought and care.

If you’re a fan of Blake’s adult romances like Delilah Green Doesn’t Care or Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date, I suggest giving these a try—you’ll find a lot of the same things that make her other books so much fun. For me, they are such a wonderful escape into a cozy world where things turn out alright in the end as long as you’re true to yourself.

Content warnings: surgery, illness, homophobia, references to addiction

A Lesbian Poet Teen Finds Her Voice: Kween by Vichet Chum

the cover of Kween

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Kween is a character-centric book about Soma Kear, a Cambodian teen whose life in Lowell, MA has been deeply shaken. Soma’s Ba has been deported, her Ma is in Cambodia with him, her Bridezilla sister is in charge… and Soma just wants to make sense of things. With a viral TikTok video, an upcoming poetry contest, a loyal best friend, and a (hopefully!) new girlfriend, Soma just might be able to find her voice.

The queer content in this book is nice. Truly, “nice” is the best word for it. The relationship is comfortable and easy. Soma’s parents are supportive when she comes out; though they do worry she may experience challenges outside the home, these challenges do not occur on the page. This is a safe book for a lesbian protagonist to explore her identity and feelings.

However, when that holds true for all facets of the narrative, it becomes a problem. Soma is always safe to explore her feelings. That may sound like a positive, but for me, it felt indulgent and excessive and made for a deeply frustrating reading experience. Soma wants to find her voice… but she already has her voice. She’s already facing a parent-teacher meeting for an essay she wrote a bit too loudly. Her TikTok video goes viral in the first few chapters. Her poetry is encouraged and praised and everyone believes in her.

All of that could be positive, if Soma weren’t so acutely cruel. I have never hated a main character as much as I hate Soma, maybe because I was bullied in high school and Soma is a high school bully. She’s not trying to find her voice. She’s using it. When she’s not lashing out actively at others, she’s filling the first-person narrative with complaints about the sister who uprooted her own life to help her family, the best friend who does nothing but support and cheer for her, the lonely classmate who just wants a friend. All of this seems somehow excusable to the greater narrative. She rarely faces consequences, and when she does, it all comes wrapped up in words of encouragement, reassurance, and admiration.

Again, this could be great. I love the idea of a character allowed to be messy without being condemned, but that character needs to address if they cause hurt, and Soma does. The entire book, all she cares about is herself. Of course she makes an apologetic gesture at the end, but even then, it seems to come from a sense of her own grandeur, not actually caring about anyone else. Soma is a deeply flawed, deeply flat character experiencing a narrative of encouragement and indulgence.

From a narrative standpoint, this book is unbalanced. I said earlier that the queer content is nice, and that’s true. It also feels almost perfunctory. The book lacks a central focus—it wants that focus to be the poetry contest, but it’s not. The contest is the second-act climax and has no impact on the rest of the book other than being dismissed when Soma is done having feelings about it. And that’s honestly representative of the whole book.

A well-intentioned but deeply flawed reading experience, overall.

A Sweet Middle Grade Coming-of-Age: Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World cover

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Ivy Aberdeen’s life was already chaotic between her newborn twin brothers, her older sister’s odd behavior, and Ivy struggling with her own confusing feelings for girls that she can’t quite name. But then her family home is swept away by a tornado and Ivy’s world is completely upended without a home and without her trusted notebook filled with her secret drawings of girls holding hands.

That is, until the drawings from her lost notebook begin to show up in her locker, along with a note telling her she should talk to someone. Ivy doesn’t know what that note means, because obviously she’s fine. Ivy has to figure out who has her notebook and get it back, and maybe along the way she’ll figure out what those feelings even mean.

This is such a sweet middle grade story. I never knew that Ashley Herring Blake, author of the Delilah Green Doesn’t Care romances, wrote books for younger audiences! It has a lot of her charm and a love of quirky small towns, but there’s something about the formula that I find clicks even more when it comes to middle grade. Of course, I might be biased because I adore middle grade, perhaps because the explosion of LGBTQ+ middle grades are the very sorts of books that I wish I had access to when I was a kid. Luckily, they exist now, and the list is ever-growing!

Ivy is a character that feels so real as she struggles with her simultaneous love of and frustration with her family, her sometimes annoyance with her best friend, and the way she makes mistakes and oversteps and miscommunicates. All of this is written with such compassion for how hard it can be to figure out your place in the world. I also want to say that for a book that features deep grief in the wake of a natural disaster, it has such charm and humor in places that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.  

So oftentimes a coming-of-age focuses on romance as the way for a person to figure themselves out. That certainly exists—it’s partially about Ivy’s struggle with her feelings for the new girl in class, after all—but it’s also about how families evolve and grow, how you can find community in unexpected places. It’s a lovely testament to the bravery and power in being true to yourself and I would highly recommend as a heartwarming read for a bit of hope.

Trigger warnings: natural disasters, childhood illness, grief, references to homophobia

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.

The Secret History Meets The Breakfast Club: The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian

the cover of The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian

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At a private boarding school, five writers are selected for the elite writing group called the Circle: Beth, the “townie” who feels very much out of place; Sarah, Beth’s former roommate who carries her own secrets about the school; Spence, who struggles to carve out her own identity while also benefiting from the privilege of her famous parents; Freddy, the star athlete who isn’t sure if he can do anything else; and Ramin, an international transfer student who left his previous school after being outed and finds that Chandler has its own hazing traditions. Though they’re from such different backgrounds, the Circle brings them together in ways that they never could have expected.

Based on Nazemian’s own experiences at a private boarding school in the 90s, it’s at times a brutal read as it navigates the ways abusers remain in positions of power. I appreciated, though, how this is a dark academia interested in the actual horror of places like Chandler. A lot of books in this genre involve magic or overexaggerated cults with a collection of oddball characters that can stretch the limits of believability. These can be fun in their own ways, but here the true villains are the all-too-familiar authorities plagued by apathy and cover-ups that allow the abuses to continue festering. Nazemian portrays these horrific events with such care and sensitivity while also not turning away from the reality of their impact—a hard balance to strike, but this story manages to do both.

That’s not to say that this book is all doom and gloom. Where Nazemian really shines is in the ways that the characters grow to love and support one another. A lot is packed in here, and yet each of the five characters, with their own POV chapters, felt distinct and real. They were at times annoying, at times charming, at times naïve, and above all else, they felt like actual teens navigating their lives and how they fit in.

The book falters a bit towards the end as certain looming secrets and problems are wrapped up sooner than expected, but the rest of the book’s strengths come through enough for me to buy into the ending. For fans of The Breakfast Club or Dead Poets Society who wanted to see more of themselves in those movies, this book is a great addition to the coming-of-age genre.  

Trigger warnings: violence, homophobia, racism, bullying, references to suicide, references to self-harm, sexual assault

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

If you have watched The Sex Lives of College Girls or Mean Girls (the musical), then chances are that you’re familiar with bisexual singer/actor Reneé Rapp. In 2022, Rapp released her debut EP Everything to Everyone, which featured nine original songs about mental health, her queer identity and love. Most recently, Rapp released her first full-length album, Snow Angel, on August 18th, 2023 and will be starting on an international tour in mid-September. Snow Angel has been on repeat in my household for the last month and as is usually the case, listening to sapphic music reminds me of sapphic titles I have read. Down below is part one of readalike titles for songs on Snow Angel. You can get a copy of any of these titles from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop.

“Talk Too Much”

the cover of Leah On the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

“I’m here again/Talking myself out of/My own happiness/I’ll make it up ’til I quit/I wonder if we should just sit here in silence ’cause/Ooh/Ah, just shut the fuck up!”

“Talk Too Much” is one of my go-to bi girl songs as I feel that it speaks to how bi women constantly have to prove their sexuality while maintaining the status quo around them. Upon hearing Talk Too Much for the first time, I immediately pictured one of my favorite heroines in her bright yellow dress, sunglasses, and coffee in hand—Leah Burke in Becky Albertalli’s Leah on the Offbeat. Leah is externally defined by her boldness and confidence; however, she is struggling with keeping her friend group together and whole while also struggling with self-doubt about her talents and her sexuality. I think she would pull off the intense talking bridge Rapp slid into Talk Too Much with immense pleasure.

“I Hate Boston”

the cover of For Her Consideration

“How’d you make me hate Boston/It’s not its fault that you don’t love me/Had its charm, but it lost it/It’s not its fault, just a casualty/And casual’s the way you chose to leave”

I barely made it into the first chorus of this ballad about hating a town due to an ill-fated romance when For Her Consideration by Amy Spaulding came to mind. In this contemporary romance, Nina Rice now stays far away from romance, scriptwriting, and her former community of LA proper after a horrific breakup three years ago. However, after she begins working for queer B-list actress Ari Fox, Nina begins to feel like it may be less terrifying to bring back the good facets of her old life. As she reconnects with her former community and begins to edit her old script, a relationship with a movie star feels like one more impossible thing to add on – but why not at least try? This story is as much a love story about the community found within L.A. and overcoming that hauntedness as it is a love story between script writer and actress.

“Poison Poison”

the cover of We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman

“You gеt on my nerves/You’re so fucking annoying, you could poison poison/You’rе the worst person on earth/Forgiving you is pointless, you could poison poison, baby girl”

As I was good-naturedly mumbling along to Rapp’s various expletives in the boppy vitriol “Poison Poison,” I could feel the spirit of Cass in We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman spitting those same words out. Cass is an unlikeable protagonist, hiding out in L.A. until her actions at a big New York City party create a little less gossip. While out there, she gets involved with her next-door neighbor, a documentarian obsessed with filming the high school girls running their own Fight Club. If Cass heard Poison Poison today, she would be wishing her nemesis, Tara Jean Slater, the pain of those lyrics. 

“Gemini Moon”

the cover of Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

“I bet you’re sick of it/Believe me, so am I/Always the problem kid/I could never pick a side/I bet you’re sick of it (Ah-ah)/I could blame the Gemini moon/But really, I should just be better to you”

“Gemini Moon” is a softer, more self-aware version of “Talk Too Much,” where Rapp knows that she will never feel comfortable in the relationship until she works on herself. With “Gemini Moon”’s bittersweet lyrics about self-doubt morphing into self-sabotage, I have to compare it to Jennifer Dugan’s Verona Comics, a bisexual Romeo and Juliet retelling set in the world of comic books. Jubilee and Ridley fall in love at a comic con prom and strive to keep their relationship secret, even as Jubilee struggles with prepping for college auditions and Ridley struggles with his mental health. [SPOILER] The two eventually break up, recognizing that they have to work through their various issues with codependency and depression before engaging in a romantic relationship, bringing to mind the soft-spoken chorus of “Gemini Moon.” [/SPOILER]

“Snow Angel”

the cover of Planning Perfect

“I’ll make it through the winter if it kills me/I can make it faster if I hurry/I’ll angel in the snow until I’m worthy/But if it kills me I tried/If it kills me”

“Snow Angel” is the most poignant and vulnerable song on this album; full of heartbreak, loneliness, trauma, and euphemisms for substance abuse. This may not seem like a song for a light and happy recommendation, but take my recommendation of Planning Perfect by Haley Neil with a grain of salt. In this young adult novel, Felicity loves putting together gorgeous, heartfelt events and takes on the momentous task of planning her mother’s wedding with a month to spare. After her long-distance friend Nancy offers her her family’s apple orchard for the wedding, Felicity and her family end up spending the summer with Nancy and the two friends become closer despite Felicity’s ongoing issues with anxiety, perfectionism, and trying family members. Felicity’s internalization of needing to be perfect to make up for everyone else around her rings true with Rapp’s title track, making Planning Perfect a perfect readalike.

“So What Now”

the cover of Kiss Her Once for Me

So, what now/Should we talk/If we run into each other on the street/Should I keep walking/So, what now/Do you tell your friends/That things ended well/That I’m overdramatic, it was chill/Do you lie and say you don’t wanna see me again/’Cause I do it too

“So What Now” chronicles Rapp’s struggle with an ex coming back to town and not knowing whether to welcome them back into her life or to oust them and immediately invokes to mind Kiss Her Once For Me by Alison Cochrun. Last Christmas, Ellie fell in love with both Portland and Jack, the woman showing her around, only to be betrayed and fired a short time later. In the present, Ellie agrees to a marriage of convenience with her shop’s landlord and to meet his family during Christmas, only to find out that Jack is her future sister-in-law. “So What Now” brings to life Ellie’s frantic attempts to figure out if continuing with the marriage is worth being around Jack and if she’d been too hasty last Christmas with casting Jack aside, making the two a marriage of equals. 

“The Wedding Song”

the cover of That Summer Feeling

“You are my one, you set my world on fire/I know there’s Heaven, but we must be higher/I’m gonna love you ’til my heart retires/Forever will last/I think it went something like that”

“The Wedding Song” starts off gorgeously with a celebration of love between Rapp and her partner and fades into obscurity as Rapp realizes that she can’t remember this once-consuming song that she had created. In the same vein, Garland Moore in That Summer Feeling (written by Bridget Morrissey) has sworn off romantic love after being surprised with divorce papers on Valentine’s Day, and is determined to let go of her past at adult summer camp. However, she never accounted for Stevie, the sister of the man who she’d had a premonition about years ago, and for summer camp to help her heal. I’d like to think that “The Wedding Song” would morph eventually into That Summer Feeling, allowing for peace and second love to come to both Rapp and Garland.

Keep an eye out for Part Two!!

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.

A Quiet & Queer YA Horror Story: A Guide to the Dark by Meriam Metoui

the cover of A Guide to the Dark

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Mira and Layla are trying to make their way to Chicago for the last leg of their college tour road trip when they’re stranded in a small town and forced to stay at the Wildwood Motel. To Layla, this is a minor setback while she’s more focused on figuring out her confusing feelings for Mira. But though Layla doesn’t seem to notice anything amiss, Mira senses something dark and wrong about their room and increasingly can’t seem to escape visions of her dead brother. With several days left until their car is fixed, Mira and Layla need to figure out what exactly is happening in Room 9 and how they can survive until the final night.

Parts of this book worked so well. I loved the diverse cast of characters and liked how well-rounded they felt for a book that takes place over just a handful of days. The slow escalation of suffocation from being trapped in a small room in a small town felt tangible. Part of this dread came from the inclusion of real photographs taken by the author interspersed throughout—fitting, since one of the characters is a photographer. I thought it was a wonderful way to convey how things were just a little off even as they weren’t yet noticed by the characters. I think the atmospheric set-up and the use of the haunting of the room as a metaphor for grief are the strongest parts of the book and deeply engrossing.

That said, for a YA horror this book moved a lot slower than I expected. It alternates between three perspectives: Layla, Mira, and the room itself. The result is that the four days spent with these characters takes its sweet time. I found it difficult to keep switching between the Mira and Layla perspectives because tonally they sounded so alike. It also meant that sometimes the same event is described twice over in a way that became a little repetitive. I was caught by surprise when the ending picked up so quickly considering how much it lingered in the set-up and was left a bit unsatisfied by the resolution. I think that if readers go in knowing that this is not going to be an action-packed horror, they’ll have a better time. For those looking to linger for a bit in an atmospheric creepy book exploring grief, I think it’s worth a read.

Trigger warnings: violence, suicidal ideation, drowning, grief, child death, fire, car accident, homophobia

Larkie reviews The Verifiers by Jane Pek

the cover of The Verifiers

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Claudia is a private detective, of a sort: she works for Veracity, an exclusive company that investigates people who are lying to their partners who they met through an online dating platform. When one of her clients shows up dead, she can’t help but dig into some of the lies that the client herself told—and the increasingly mysterious circumstances around her death.

I loved this book. I thought that the prose was beautiful, with fresh metaphors and musings on the nature of humanity and romance, seen from the perspective of a terminally single lesbian. Pek investigates how, in a space designed for like minded people to meet each other, it can still be so difficult to find someone you want to be with—if you even know what it is you want in the first place. Whether it’s through Claudia’s roommate and his latest fling, her sister’s somewhat rocky relationship, or even Claudia’s own relationship with her brother, Pek examines how people misrepresent themselves in order to get what they want (or rather, what they think they want).

I love a good murder mystery, and this book had so many great mysterious elements, but also included enough clues that I was able to piece together a broad picture of what had happened before the final reveal. I really appreciated that there wasn’t a huge twist surprise ending just to surprise the reader, and I could see all the pieces falling into place, but I didn’t quite get all the details right, so there were still plenty of surprises! It’s not the fastest paced book, and Claudia is often frustrating in an incredibly relatable way, but I enjoyed it a lot and I can’t wait to see what Pek writes next.

Rachel reviews The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

the cover of The Book Eaters

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A fast-paced, truly unputdownable fantasy novel, Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters is the kind of expansive adventure novel that draws you in and keeps you there. Dean’s writing represents a fabulous new voice in fantasy literature. 

The world of The Book Eaters introduces us to a secret lineage of aristocratic beings who live on isolated and private estates. For them, secrecy is necessary, because books are food. After consuming a book with their “book teeth,” the eater retains all of the content of that book. They give a whole new meaning to the idea of “taste” in literature. Some book eaters prefer romances or fairy tales, while others eat crime thrillers or comics. Encyclopedias taste bland, and the book eater children are punished for bad behaviour by a diet of dictionary pages. 

The novel centers on Devon, a book eater whose value as a female book eater comes from her ability to procreate. While Devon’s brothers enjoy the many freedoms their gender provides, including eating all of the books they want, Devon is permitted only to read fairy tales and other relatively empty pieces of fiction, limiting her knowledge and her capacity for choice. When Devon is married off and has a son whose hunger is not for books, but for human minds and memories, she must make a critical choice between the life she has always known and her son’s future, which could easily come at the expense of her own. 

I truly could not bear to put this novel down. I finished it in a day almost immediately after it was released. It has a thoroughly fast-paced writing style and a world that seems wholly original in its construction. I think this book is perfect for fans of authors like Ransom Riggs who are interested in dark and paranormal horror. This is not a light-hearted fantasy novel; it is intense and harrowing at times. I was absolutely gripped until the very end. 

I feel like there was a period of time this year where I was reading fiction that sounded interesting, and it ended up being about queer women without being overtly marketed that way (that I had seen). So, let me definitively say: this book is queer! It was really interesting to read about a queer main character whose resistance to an oppressively heterosexist space was just one dimension of her rebellion. I feel like Devon was a thoroughly realized character with her own motives and desires that she was compelled to pursue in order to fully embody herself. I loved the queer dynamics in this book, and I found myself rooting for these characters and for their happiness. 

I cannot recommend The Book Eaters enough, especially as the perfect queer read for the Halloween season. 

Please add The Book Eaters on your TBR on Goodreads.

Content Warning: Forced marriage, child abduction, domestic abuse.

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.