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.

A Cozy Queer Comic of Community: Matchmaker by Cam Marshall

the cover of Matchmaker

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This was a surprise, last-minute entry in my list of favourite reads of 2023!

I stumbled on this while researching new releases for Our Queerest Shelves, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was by a local British Columbia author/artist! I requested it from the library knowing pretty much nothing else about it except that it was queer and looked cute. I ended up devouring it in a couple days, and I’m now mourning that it’s over.

This follows Kimmy and Mason, best friends and roommates trying to survive the early 2020s in their early twenties. Kimmy is a nonbinary/genderfluid transfem lesbian, and Mason is cis and gay. As the title suggests, Kimmy is determined to set Mason up with his first boyfriend, which is made a lot more complicated during a pandemic when Mason is high risk.

This was originally a webcomic, which is obvious from how each page is set up to be somewhat complete in itself, but there is a narrative. We follow Kimmy and Mason through dating, breakups, and accumulating a growing group of queer friends. I loved these characters so much, and I was laughing out loud at several pages. It’s just such a cute, funny, and relatable read.

Kimmy is an unforgettable character. They’re over-the-top bubbly and silly, and they radiate confidence. I really appreciated reading about a fat transfem character who is so secure in themselves. They usually use they/them pronouns, but they also experience gender fluidity and change pronouns some days.

About halfway through the book, we find out Kimmy has depression, and they have to taper off their medication to start a new kind. As they go off their depression medication, they become an almost unrecognizable numb, closed-off version of themself Mason calls “Normal Kimmy.” Their friends support them through the weeks of this until they’ve adjusted to the new medication and begin to feel like themself again, including being able to better take in what’s happening around them.

This community of queer friends was the strength of this story. Not only have Mason and Kimmy been best friends since high school, but they also make connections with other queer people, quickly growing a supportive friend group. Despite the struggles they’re dealing with in terms of employment, the pandemic, dating, capitalism, and more, that rock solid foundation made this a comforting and cozy read.

This is not a short comic: it’s 280 pages. But by the time I finished it, I was already missing spending time with these characters.

I do have one complaint, though, and I hope it’s changed in later editions, because it doesn’t fit with the range of queer identities represented positively in this story: Kimmy refers to their lack of libido from being off their medication as being asexual, including triumphantly declaring, “I’m not ace anymore!” when their sex drive returned, which isn’t great, especially because I believe that’s the only mention of asexuality in the book.

That unfortunate inclusion aside, I really enjoyed this book. You can also still read it as a webcomic!

A Literal Love Song: Stars Collide by Rachel Lacey

the cover of Stars Collide

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“You’re more than your sexuality. So much more.”

After her divorce, pop star sensation Eden Sands’ latest album lacked the spark fans and the industry have expected of her after 20 years. Meanwhile, Anna Moss, her fellow Grammy nominee, is beginning to rise, though people in the industry don’t take her as seriously as she hoped. To rekindle that spark, Eden invites Anna to join her on stage during her Grammy performance, only for fans to focus on the spark between them. Following the unexpected popularity of #Edanna, Eden invites Anna to open her upcoming tour. The more time they spend together, the more they realize that chemistry exists off-stage, too. Is there something more to what they’re feeling?

Mild Spoilers Ahead. Book Contains Sexual Scenes.

Rachel Lacey does a wonderful job at exploring topics of self-discovery and identity. Eden and Anna’s love story gives a respectable nod to many realities of life as a celebrity. As a young star, Eden is forced to mature quickly. Allowing the adults in her life to make major decisions on her behalf stole Eden’s control, leading her to claim that control in extreme ways as an adult. Fans have mobbed Eden, tugging at her hair, getting in her personal space, and claiming some unspoken right to flash cameras in her face, leading Eden to further seclude herself under the guise of safety. So much of her young life was controlled that she lost the chance to explore her identity beyond the pop star on stage. Meanwhile, Anna is forever seen as a teen character she played (while in her 20s), prompting no one to take her seriously. One of the things I loved most about this book was the mentorship between the two women. While Eden helped Anna recognize the control she could have over her career, Anna helped Eden recognize who she was and the life she could have outside of the spotlight. A lot of the conflicts in this story were internal; Eden’s self-discovery and sexual awakening, the words of a controlling and toxic ex haunting Anna. Eden and Anna helped one another through their self-growth.

In my favorite scenes, Anna coaxes Eden to talk through her thoughts (finally, a sapphic book that avoids using miscommunication to simmer the story in tension). Anna reminds Eden, “You don’t have to label yourself before you’re ready… or ever, if you don’t want to. How you identify is so personal, and you’re under no obligation to share it with anyone.” For many people, recognizing who they are—labels or not—is a lonely process. Anna never pushes or rushes Eden, but she does help Eden work through her concerns. You’re never too late to decide who you are. I didn’t navigate my own sexuality until after college, but I wish I’d had a friend to help me understand it, the way Eden had Anna. Even when their relationship blossoms into more, their friendship never wavers. Rachel Lacey does an incredible job at describing how out of tune you can feel for so much of your life, only for the static to clear because of an event, a realization, or a person. I’ve met that person and I can say with certainty that it can change everything.

Though I loved the internal conflicts both main characters had to navigate to mature and develop, the lack of strong external factors seems unrealistic. The major external factors are the mobbing fans and Anna’s ex; the latter of which creates the only major blow-out scene in the entire novel. While we see Anna mature throughout the story (both in how she treats Eden and in her career growth), her maturity unravels in that scene. Eden, who is usually steadfast in her composure, steps beyond the professional veneer she wears in a moment of immature jealousy. That scene, presented in the last few chapters, felt like a rushed, inserted source of conflict before a HEA ending. Even Anna’s ex felt out of character in these scenes, jumping from one extreme to the next, brought in as a last-minute trigger for Anna’s insecurities about her relationship with Eden. There were other external conflicts to explore that would have strengthened the story. For example, the media is never posed in a negative light (as if the media wouldn’t distort the truth or paparazzi wouldn’t mob both popstars). What if Eden was only enamored by the situation (a concern that could have crept alongside Anna’s other doubts)? During the second half of the novel, Eden and Anna were surrounded by so much BLISS that I kept waiting for a real problem to challenge their relationship. The strongest relationships navigate problems and survive, all the stronger for it.

Recommended to anyone in need of a warm and fuzzy romance read. Ideal for fans of sexy slow burns, workplace romances, and celebrity romances.

✨ The Vibes ✨ 
👩‍❤️‍👩 Lesbian and Pansexual Main Characters
💞 Sapphic Romance
🎤 Workplace Romance / Forced Proximity
🎙️ Dual POV
🎵 Slow Burn
⌛ Age Gap
💗Friends to Lovers
🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Rep
❤️‍🔥 Sexual Awakening
🌶️ Spice

Cheesy Goodness: The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz

the cover of The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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Note: Though plot spoilers are restricted to the very end of the review, this review discusses some themes and character arcs in the latter part of the book.

As the first snow falls in my region, it’s a perfect time for a cozy graphic novel with grilled cheese oozing on the cover. Despite some quibbles, I had a great time with The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz, a lighthearted young adult romance inspired by the author’s own love story.

In the kingdom of Fromage, Lady Camembert can’t legally inherit her father’s fortune without marrying a man. Aware that she isn’t into men, her father suggests she move away and pretend to be his son. After his death, she follows his advice. She brings only one servant, Feta, who has been with her since birth. While taking on a masculine persona is no problem for the dashing, gregarious Cam, discretion proves a greater challenge, as she immediately makes waves at the princess’s no-furs ball. Cam has always been a fan of Princess Brie’s activism and develops a crush on her, causing no end of frustration for Feta, who knows Cam could be arrested if her secret gets out. 

If the naming scheme isn’t making it clear, this is a story more interested in a fun time than a realistic time. If you want to be swept away in an earnest fairy tale of a royal romance, be assured that this one doesn’t take itself too seriously. The expressive art style was what personally sold me on it and gave me the most giggles. Cam especially is a bundle of charm thanks to her mannerisms, ranging from debonair to excitable to flustered. The pages’ compositions effectively conveyed the story, with clarity, good flow, and emotional impact. Plus, Brie’s puppy is top-tier precious.

Despite the title, this book is less focused on food (if anything, the main characters are into fashion, which Cam nerds out over adorably) and more on whether it’s worth giving up true happiness to take a path focused only on avoiding pain. As is pointed out later in the book, many people don’t have the luxury of trying to actively pursue a good option in life and must instead choose the least undesirable path. Being a princess gives Brie more freedom to break boundaries and set a new standard, despite the societal limitations around gender and sexuality—yet even as an activist, she balks at the idea of upending the status quo. Meanwhile, from the start, Cam rejects the “safe” path of marrying a man, but then has to choose between the safety of living a secretive life versus pursuing a chance at love. 

Without spoilers, I’ll just say I didn’t personally enjoy how the midpoint turn played out or where it left the status quo of the main characters’ relationship for a portion of the book. I would have preferred a direction that allowed for more interaction between the main couple in the book’s second half. I also wished that Brie’s best friend, Ricotta, got to shine more as an individual. Her design and personality were fun, so I would have liked her to get a bit more depth outside of her support of the main couple, and for her to be more in the loop in the end. In contrast, I thought that the other main supporting cast members, Gorgonzola and Feta, had satisfying character arcs, as some of the most memorable moments involved them changing their approaches to the central conflict and theme. 

Everything else aside, I couldn’t stop grinning at Cam’s reactions from panel to panel, and I’m glad I read this. Order this book up if you like your romance with an extra helping of cheese.

The following content note contains spoilers:

This book contains an instance of a character guessing her love interest’s assigned gender due to a visual cue and then reacting negatively, which may be triggering for trans readers. As implied in the summary, the book also contains parental death and discussions of structural sexism and heteronormativity. 

The Perfect Sapphic Halloween Romcom Comic: That Full Moon Feeling by Ashley Robin Franklin

the cover of That Full Moon Feeling

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This is a tiny graphic novel—only 64 pages—so I’ll keep this review short. This is a queer romcom about a werewolf and witch going on their first three dates and getting into supernatural shenanigans along the way. There always seems to be something to ruin the romantic mood, like your ex at the farmer’s market sending an army of skeletons after you and your date. We’ve all been there.

That Full Moon Feeling is absolutely adorable, from the art to the adventures to the cute romance between Suzy and Jada. There isn’t a ton of room for character development or subplots, obviously, but their conversations are relatable, even if their specific magical circumstances are not.

I know there are a lot of people looking for seasonal reads that aren’t horror, and this is a perfect match. It’s a cute fantasy comic you can easily get through in one sitting, and it’s a delight to read. I would definitely read many more of these if they were available, but this also stands well on its own.

(Psssttt, this is exactly what I was hoping Moonstruck would be, but without the uncomfortable relationship dynamics.)

It looks like this isn’t in stock everywhere, but tou can order it directly from the publisher, Silver Sprocket.

If you know any more cute fantasy romcom comics like this, please send recs my way, because it’s one of my favourite things to read, especially around Halloween!

A Cozy Queer Witches Comic: Mamo by Sas Milledge

the cover of Mamo by Sas Milledge

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I checked out Sas Milledge’s Mamo because I had some extra hoopla borrows and I thought the cover art was cute, to be honest. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I was quickly drawn into the quiet town of Haresden and its not so quiet problems. Jo Manalo goes looking for the witch of Haresden because her mother has been cursed.  Magic is, in fact, out of whack all over town, and they need a witch to set it right.  But their previous witch, Mamo, had died, and so Jo goes looking for her replacement. She finds Orla, a young witch who seems both drawn to Haresden and unwilling to be there. It turns out that the titular Mamo was her grandmother, and the town’s problems are her attempt to bring Orla back to the fold. Together, the girls go on a quest to set the balance of magic and their burgeoning feelings for each other on the right track. But Mamo is determined to influence things from beyond the grave, and setting things right isn’t as easy as performing a few magical tasks.

Jo and Orla are delightful characters, and the easy way Milledge fleshs out their characters with the magic and world-building pulled me right in.  Jo is so earnest and kind and loves so deeply, while Orla is prickly and flighty but has deep wells of feelings hidden within her. They set each other off at first, but then they end up working together so well. And their realization that they could be the ones to really help each other out was so satisfying to read.  I found the buildup of their partnership over the course of their quest was really well done, and the ending was everything I hoped for. I really loved how patient Orla was with explaining what she was doing to Jo, and how she built Jo’s confidence up that she could help.  On the flip side, I love that Jo really understood the differences between herself and Orla, and had no interest in trying to change Orla, just in getting to know her. Their compromise at the end was perfect, because it let each be true to herself while setting up a great future for them both.

I also really enjoyed the artwork on this one. It was flowy and cute, full of fun creatures and magical effects.  Orla and Jo were really expressive, and the story telling focused on their reactions to things. I think a lot of comics and graphic novels struggle to balance showing action versus showing character moments, and I thought Mamo really prioritized the characters but not at the expense of the quest or the magic. It was really a cozy and fun book to read.

Whether you’re looking for queer witches, cozy magic, something for yourself, or for something cute to rec to a teen, Mamo is a good entry for any to-read list. Come for the queer witches, stay for the heartwarming magical quest and fantastic art. I had no expectations going into this, and I was honestly so delighted I started thinking about who I could get to read it. It made my whole day better reading it.

The Loosely Medieval YA Romcom of My Dreams: Gwen and Art are Not in Love by Lex Croucher

the cover of Gwen and Art Are Not In Love

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Gwen and Art are Not in Love by Lex Croucher is not an Arthurian retelling, nor is it particularly converned with historical accuracy. What it is instead is a queer YA romcom set in a Camelot that is slightly obsessed with King Arthur several hundred years after his death, starring a princess (Gwen) and a noble (Art) who have been engaged since they were children, and who also can’t stand each other. Rather than fall for each other, as the romcom structure would typically dictate, they instead grow closer in the aftermath of Gwen catching Art kissing a stable boy and then Art finding Gwen’s diary, wherein she fantasizes about the kingdom’s only female knight. From there, they decide to more or less act as each other’s wing(wo)men for the summer, resulting in what may be the sweetest, funniest, and all-around most entertaining book I have read this year.

Reading this book felt like reading fanfiction, and I mean that as the highest compliment. When I stopped reading published books in my free time and switched over to fanfiction for years because it was the only place I could find what I was looking for, this book right here is exactly what I wish I had. These characters felt like old friends right from the beginning, and I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at a book. Like, the dialogue in this book was impeccable.

I can’t gush enough about how much fun I had reading this book or all of the things I loved about it because it really was pretty much everything, so instead I’m just going to note the two things that kept sticking out at me that made me appreciate this book even more:

For one, I loved the way this book challenged the idea of being “not like other girls,” because yeah, as a queer nerdy teenager, I definitely could have related to Gwen’s assumption that all of the other girls were shallow stereotypes gossiping about her when she’s not listening, and I also could have used a reminder that other teenager girls aren’t the enemy just because they’re more comfortable making friends than you are. I thought this book incorporated that really nicely, without it feeling heavy-handed.

Most importantly, I loved how much love was in this book. Between Gwen and Art’s blossoming friendship, their respective blossoming romances, and Gwen’s close friendship with her brother, there really is no shortage of love of all kinds, something that I think is especially important in queer YA. It was a joy to watch these kids fall in love, and then also be able to talk about it with their outside support systems, or help each other work through their feelings, or go let loose together at a party on their birthday.

My only note, if you will, is I did feel like the sapphic relationship got the least pagetime, predominantly because Art’s love interest is also Gwen’s brother, which means that while Gabe is a major character in both Art and Gwen’s chapters, Bridget is mostly only in Gwen’s. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a failing on this book’s part, because I truly do mean it when I say I loved every page of this book, but I did wish I got as much of Bridget as I did of Gwen, Art, and Gabe.

From the very first page, I thought this was legitimately one of the funniest books I have ever read, but it did not take long for this book to prove itself full of just as much heart, as well as characters I would protect with my life. If I could give my teenage self just one book, it would almost certainly be this one.

Concentrated Adorableness in a Queernorm World: The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O’Neill

the cover of The Tea Dragon Society

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The Tea Dragon Society is a short graphic novel composed of the most concentrated adorableness I have ever encountered. It centers around Greta, an outgoing, compassionate girl training to become a blacksmith—though she sees the profession as somewhat outdated. Rescuing a tea dragon brings her to tea brewers Hesekiel and Erik, and their painfully shy ward Minette, all of whom help Greta decide what truly matters.

Central to this story is the existence of tea dragons, a mix between the ethereal and a sweet but needy pet. These small creatures frolic, snuggle, and occasionally blep. They also sprout tea leaves: fur-puffed Rooibos grows them like a mane, while the languid Jasmine has leafy antlers between his large, curving ears. And don’t get me started on little Chamomile, whose floppy ears, stubby wings, and little puppy body have absolutely captured my heart. (They may keep it.)

The narrative itself is simple enough. This being a first volume, it serves largely to introduce the main characters, and as much plot as it includes is about Greta’s growing maturity. Even so, as someone who usually needs a strong plot, I enjoyed this so much I wish every individual panel came with two pages of text, just to make it last longer. This doesn’t need a plot because it knows what it is and fulfills that purpose.

As for the worldbuilding, well, the book is an exploration of gorgeousness and soft light.

Only as I’m writing this do I realize that the sapphic content is almost ambiguous—to me, Greta and Min’s relationship is clearly a romantic one, even if that romance is of the subtle sort. There are simply too many blushes, meaningful glances, and close moments to be platonic. There’s also a small kiss near the end. It’s coded in a way that would be unambiguous between a cis girl and a cis boy in other media, and for a comic that so normalizes queerness, The Tea Dragon Society seems to me to be an epically tender slow burn.

Zero content warnings here, just a strong recommend for anyone who appreciates a simple tale of nurturing, healing, family, and time.

Nat reviews Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

the cover of Legends and Lattes

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I must confess that I’d seen the cover of Legends and Lattes pop up a number of times and thought to myself, eh, too much of a high fantasy book for my tastes. Well, I should know better by now than write off a book based on genre, and I finally gave it a shot after my wife enthusiastically recommended it. If I could leave only a single comment it would be that this book is PRECIOUS. Is there anything more wholesome than a bone crushing, mercenary orc with a heart of gold just looking to get on the straight and narrow and live a quiet, simple life? How about that misunderstood orc finding a new group of loyal, steadfast friends and maybe even love along the way? Did you love Brian Jacques’s Mattimeo when you were a kid? How do you feel about cinnamon rolls? This is the book equivalent of a fresh-from-the oven baked good. 

After years of life on the road, Viv decides to cash out on her wandering, mercenary ways and settle down. Her dream is to open a coffee shop, a risky endeavor considering no one outside of her chosen city of Thune has even heard of coffee. We follow Viv as she embarks on a new adventure, literally hanging up her sword as she takes a different sort of risk. While this is generally considered a low stakes book, I would argue these are at least medium stakes, as the coffee shop is Viv’s dream. While that may not be life or death, it means the world to her. 

In some ways reading this novel feels a bit like playing a RPG in a magical realm with an epic storyline. Watching Viv gradually build her dream cafe, acquiring a motley cast of friends along the way, all while encountering enemies and perhaps stumbling on a surprising ally –  there is a video game-like quality to the way the story unfolds and it’s not surprising that Baldree has a background in game development. 

We are on a journey that feels almost as rewarding to the reader as it does to our book’s hero. 

Of course, Viv can’t live out her dream on big ideas alone – she needs a carpenter, a barista, and perhaps a baker. And most importantly, she needs customers. Viv’s first hire is Tandri, a succubus who’s saddled with an unjust reputation for “manipulating” people, especially men. I love the dynamic between Viv and Tandri as they remind each other not to give into prejudice and assumption. As their business relationship strengthens, so does their personal bond. While there’s a very strong romantic element to this book, most of the conflict is centered around Viv working to attain her goals and becoming a new version of herself. The momentum comes from her personal development and internal struggles, rather than solely on her budding relationship with Tandri. 

A fun fact about this book is that Travis Baldree started writing it for NANOWRIMO in 2021 and self published it in 2022. This is his debut novel, and it met with enough success that it was picked up by trad publisher Tor only a few months later! The backstory of the book is even warm and fuzzy! 2020 2021 2022 2023 is off to a rough start, so why not read more warm and squishy books to pad those rough edges?

Kelleen reviews Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

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At the risk of being profoundly cliche (and profoundly redundant as I reviewed a graphic novel last month), I’ve decided to review Mooncakes.

I am not a spooky season gal. I’m a curl up with a cozy blanket and a hot cup of tea, watching Gilmore Girls by the light of a sandalwood scented candle while orange and yellow leaves fall outside my window kind of gal.

But somehow, I think this YA graphic novel is perfect for both kinds of autumnal gals. It tells the story of Nova Huang, a hard-of-hearing witch working at her aunt’s magical bookshop as she navigates mysterious mystical forces, rabid demons, and the sudden reappearance of her childhood crush Tam Lang, a nonbinary werewolf who needs Nova’s help.

This graphic novel is an absolute delight. The artwork is beautiful and cheeky, with expressive, evocative coloring and atmospheric detail. And the story is so heartwarming and entertaining! Part mystery, part romance, whole paranormal romp, Mooncakes is a captivating story that practically turns its own pages. The characters are empathetic and hilarious, and the relationships between them are so sweet. In fact, the whole thing is cozy. It’s the perfect quick autumnal read. It’s bite-sized, but it packs a punch of queer paranormal joy.

The writing is fast and witty, and the representation is off the charts. The world that Xu and Walker create is adorable, but also incredibly powerful: queer disabled witches, nonbinary werewolves, and a world with no homophobia or ableism that still manages to honor the complexities of these identities. They explore the nuances of what it means to have a queer sense of home; the powerful, nurturing friendships between young women; and even present an allusion to the epidemic of queer homelessness that is treated with tenderness and care.

It is such a comfortable, loving book. It’s a book about transformation and safety, and finding home in the people who love you. In my most humble opinion, it is the perfect read for any time of year, but especially for spooky season.

In fact, writing this review (while drinking tea and watching Gilmore Girls) is making me want to reread it all over again.

You can read more of Kelleen’s reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.