Jill reviews Carry the One by Carol Anshaw


Carry the One by Carol Anshaw received a ton of praise from the queer community last year, and it includes blurbs on its back cover from such heavy hitters as Emma Donoghue and Alison Bechdel, along with Publishers Weekly. And I agreed with everything they said–yet this was also a hard novel for me to read. It starts out bleak: a car crash after a wedding, a young girl dead in the middle of the woods. The story follows the three siblings that were all in the car–while, interestingly, none of them was the driver–and how their lives sprawl forward from the time of the accident. The writing is fantastic, never overwrought, tightly crafted yet often still lovely, and by the end of the novel, I felt deeply that this family was almost real, that I knew them and cared about them.

Yet the weight of the accident hangs over them, even decades later, even in non-obvious ways, even when Anshaw doesn’t explicitly mention the accident or the girl for whole chunks of chapters. You can still just feel it there, in the back of your stomach somewhere. And I know that was obviously the point, and proof that Anshaw has done her job well. But I occasionally just felt too depressed during this novel to truly enjoy myself. Even during the happy times–Alice, the lesbian sister, pursuing her art in Amsterdam was one of my favorite times to read about–things never felt 100% happy.

Alice is easy to love, and in a sense is the happiest character, even while she spends a majority of the novel pining over her fiercest love, Maude, who was also in the car that tragic evening. Nick, the only brother, is the truly tragic character, never able to shake the addictions that plagued him the night of the accident, yet reading about his struggles was fascinating to me, in a sad way. But Carmen, the oldest sister, is the one that sticks with me most for some reason, and the one that always made me the saddest. While not queer, Carmen is full of activist, feminist, liberal vigor, spending her days running shelters for women and going to protests, yet this passion she has for social justice never translates to her personal life, where she settles into marriages and things that never seem to truly make her happy, carrying out duties she feels like she’s supposed to do but never truly enjoys. Her close relationship with Alice seems to be the only thing in her life full of light, and one of my favorite parts of the book. I also did love the sheer amount of time that this book traversed, and mostly through Carmen’s activism, the critiques of the political and social atmospheres of the times that we got to see along with the inner turmoils of the characters.

Throughout the book, whenever I was feeling particularly depressed about it, I also questioned myself and my own read habits in regards to my own reactions. I don’t read “literary adult fiction,” that often, which I would definitely categorize this book as. (Which is not a bad thing at all; I only use the quotation marks because who really knows how we can truly categorize what’s “literary” or not.) But when I do, I feel like I often have that gut reaction of things just being too depressing. When I know logically there is nothing wrong with writing about depressing things, because life, a lot of the times, isn’t 100% happy. Children get hit with cars. So in the end, perhaps, it is just me.

For example, you can also read another less-weirdly-conflicted review of the book from Lindy Pratch from last year on the Lesbrary (http://lesbrary.com/2012/07/28/guest-lesbrarian-lindy-pratch-reviews-carry-the-one-by-carol-anshaw/). If anything is clear, it’s that Carol Anshaw is a superb talent who creates movingly complex characters. I perhaps am just still processing the depths to which they moved me. But I understand why this was on so many “best of” lists last year, and I’m glad I read it.

Jill reviews Strangers In Paradise: Volume One by Terry Moore


I’ve heard so much about Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise over the years, especially this year as he released a special box set edition of the entire series for its 20th anniversary, that approaching it started to seem intimidating, and also complicated. I’ll probably lose some nerd cred for saying this, but compilations of long running comics have always confused me: there are so many different volumes, and different versions of those volumes, that I never know which are the best or right ones to get. My library’s holdings of it are shoddy at best, and I obviously can’t afford the $100 box set. But last month when I was perusing the graphic novel section of my local bookstore and found a $4 copy of Strangers in Paradise: Volume One, there was pretty much no excuse for me anymore.

It’s a thin collection, including the first three comics in the series, along with a short vignette and some of Moore’s sketches and original inspirations for the characters. We’re introduced to our two main ladies: Francine, dark haired, curvy, heart of gold, and Katchoo, scowly but funny, angry, artsy, with a mess of blonde hair almost always covering too much of her face. Best friends since high school, the story really begins at some indeterminate point of their adulthood. Roommates, Katchoo is clearly in love with Francine and always has been, and has to gut wrenchingly watch as Francine, clueless and naive, clings from one horrible guy to the next. The plot in this first volume mainly deals with the latest bad egg in Francine’s life, who is really, really a bad egg, and the revenge Katchoo takes for messing with her girl. We also meet a couple of side characters, including the adorable and lovable David, a fellow artsy type who wants to woo Katchoo until she not so politely informs him that he’s not her type, but who sticks around anyway, because that’s the kind of guy he is.

While I enjoyed this volume, it’s hard to review it on its own because I know that it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and all I’m left feeling is that I want more! I want Francine to get some sense knocked into her; I want Katchoo to have to stop pining. But it is remarkable that in such a short book, less than 100 pages, I already do feel attached to these characters Moore has so lovingly crafted: while Francine’s misdirected clinginess is excruciating, you somehow still like her and root for her to get over all of this, and while Katchoo’s rage can be over the top, you see her heart and know that you’re on her team from page one. Plus, in one of the very first scenes, we see her sleepily take out a gun from her bedside table and literally shoot her ringing alarm clock. It’s hard not to like a girl like that.

But my favorite thing about the story so far is actually Moore’s illustrations. While done in black and white and not overly complex–most of Strangers in Paradise was self-published–his depictions of both women are realistic in a wonderful way I can’t completely describe. We see Francine in particular in various shades of undress, and each time, her body is imperfect–thick thighs and bum, a perfectly normal stomach–but yet she is still completely and utterly sexy. It’s refreshing, and lovely, and I look forward to much, much more in my near future when I get my hands on Volume Two.


Jill reviews Empress of the World by Sara Ryan


There’s something special about a good teenaged summer story, which is why human beings keep making movies and writing books about them. And Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World is our very own classic summer teen story, with the added bonus of queer sexual awakening. Published in 2001, it came out long before the apparent current tidal storm of gay YA (http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2013/03/new-way-gay-characters-y/63563/) that the world is suddenly paying attention to. I’ve been wanting to read it forever, and what a sweet and satisfying story to wait for.

Nicola Lancaster is our main girl, and we meet her as she’s just arrived at the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth–essentially, summer camp for nerds. So not only is it a summer story, it’s a summer CAMP story, which are even better (although they don’t do many camp-y things and mainly just take classes at the Siegel Institute, but go with it anyway), and it’s a summer camp for NERDS story, which is the best. As is wont to happen at summer nerd camp, Nicola soon makes some wonderful, interesting friends: the amazingly manic computer geek Kristina, awkward music theory wiz Kevin, sweet sleeper Isaac, and of course Battle, of the beautiful blonde hair and lovely green eyes. In between studying for her archaeology classes and practicing her viola (nerd!), Nicola quickly begins to realize that her feelings for Battle are perhaps not just-friend feelings, and that maybe Battle feels the same way, but is that even possible, since Nicola has spent so much time enamored with boys in the past? (We all obviously know the answer to that one.) Yet it’s never with shame or disgust that Nicola questions her new feelings, but more a bit of confusion, and mainly awe. But like all summer stories, summer has to come to an end eventually, making Battle a somewhat bittersweet love interest from the start.

Nicola and her friends are funny and likeable, and Empress of the World is a quick, great read that pulled me in right away. Perhaps the used, somewhat battered copy of the novel I have helped this notion, but the writing had an almost classic, genuine feel to it, like all of the YA books from the ‘70s I grew up reading and loving. Yet at the same time, it felt surprisingly undated. The only part that stuck out was one moment when only ONE of the friends owned a camera, being as this was still the age before they all would have flipped open their smartphones, but being history, science, and music nerds as teens is timeless, and Katrina’s interest in programming still completely works.

The one thing that slightly bothered me was, as the book wore on, the gang as a whole but particularly Battle, gave Nicola a lot of guff for being over-analytical, for always having to name and classify and understand every situation and feeling and thing, to the point that it seems it might draw Battle and Nicola apart forever. Yet I personally didn’t think Nicola was over the top in this regard at all; she actually seemed rather normal for a teenaged girl. And I felt like Battle’s harping about it simply made Nicola feel ashamed of her sensitivity and thinkiness, instead of simply being okay with, and proud of, her open, vulnerable soul.

While the conclusion is somewhat open ended, a sequel to Empress of the World came out in 2007, The Rules for Hearts, and I would definitely be interested in checking it out one day, along with some short stories that were released in an updated, deluxe edition of Empress of the World last year.

Jill reviews Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand


As a warning right off the bat: if you’re looking for a book that primarily focuses on lesbian relationships, this is not the book for you. While both of our protagonists end up being queer, the plot of the novel doesn’t really revolve around love interests at all. And in a way, that’s a lovely thing, that one’s queerness can simply be a minor detail, that it doesn’t have to factor in as a “conflict” in a story whatsoever.

The story of Radiant Days is rather about art. And the quirkiness factor is that the two protagonists live centuries apart: one is Merle, an art school drop out living in Washington, DC in the late 1970s; the other is Arthur, a poor poet trying to run away from home in the French countryside in the late 1800s, right as Paris is about to be besieged by Prussia. Interestingly, Merle’s story is told in first person, while Arthur’s is from the third person; we accordingly feel closer to the emotions of Merle, but Arthur is the character based on a real historical figure: Arthur Rimbaud, a famous poet whose work has influenced scores of modern musicians.

At the beginning of the book, Merle’s muse is her former art teacher who she’s also having an affair with, Clea, a selfish married woman who uses Merle and her art. It’s hard to know how much Clea truly cares for Merle, or how much Merle truly cares about her, but there is an artistic bond that ties them together–all of Merle’s drawings, on paper and covering the walls of her room, are of Clea. That is, until she starts tagging her signature “Radiant Days” graffiti mark around DC. It’s when she’s suddenly lost everything except for a can of spray paint that she runs into an old man fishing in a canal, who eventually leads her to Arthur Rimbaud.

While most of Radiant Days reads as realistic fiction, the heart of the story itself is fantasy, as Arthur and Merle’s worlds are able to somehow shift time and meld together for brief but fantastic moments, one transported into the life of the other, and eventually, vice versa. While these shared moments altogether only count for hours of each of their long lives, they make lasting, deep impressions on each other. It would be interesting to debate with others who have read the novel about how exactly to classify the relationship between Arthur and Merle. I personally didn’t feel that it was sexual, or even romantic, in any sort of a way, but was rather a more unexplainable bond even deeper than that, or a different sort of love, bridged by art.

I first heard of this novel on Malinda Lo’s recommendation, and while I normally love books she recommends, it took me a long time to get through this one. Which almost feels embarrassing, as it’s by no means a very long book, and I am a huge fan of art, and stories about art in all shapes and forms. I also love history, and I love DC, and I love relationships that don’t fit into qualitative boxes–so by all counts, this seemed like it should be a winner for me. But by the time I pushed through the end, I only felt sort of relieved that I could finally move on to the next book on my stack. Whenever this happens, I always wonder if it’s the book itself, or if it’s me–I had an incredibly busy month and could only read this in short bursts here and there, which almost always takes the magic out of any reading experience. But at the same time, maybe it still should have pulled me in, either way. I felt like it took too long for Arthur and Merle’s stories to connect, and hence for the overall point of the book to feel solid and meaningful. And while the writing was, on one hand, absolutely beautiful in many points, I almost felt like it was too flowery at other points, that there were too many adjectives and metaphors and throughout the entire thing, I had to go back and re-read sentences over and over again when I realized I had no idea what I had just read. Which typically doesn’t happen in YA, which this book is. This is not to say that language in YA shouldn’t be difficult; of course, I think it CAN be, and good reading that challenges you is typically a very good thing. But this felt not like it was challenging my brain, but simply making my brain glaze over in a distracting way.

That all said, I don’t regret reading this at all, and did find so many aspects of it fascinating: I previously knew nothing of Arthur Rimbaud, and little of the French-Prussian war, and I did absolutely love the character of the old, fishing musician man, along with the eventually revealed myth behind him. Elizabeth Hand is also an extremely prolific and successful writer of both adult and youth fiction, winning many prestigious awards, so the effect of her writing on me is clearly purely personal. If you’ve read any of her work before, or if you’re interested in art and poetry, I would still recommend picking up Radiant Days.

Jill reviews Hear Us Out: Lesbian and Gay Stories of Struggle, Progress, and Hope, 1950 to the Present by Nancy Garden



Written by Nancy Garden of Annie on my Mind fame, Hear Us Out is essentially three quarters short story collection, one quarter history lesson. The stories are divided into decades of time, covering the 1950s through the 2000s. Each section begins with a brief essay about the events and atmosphere of the time in gay history, followed by two short stories full of characters and places that could fit into that time frame, although many of the stories could definitely cross into timeless places, as well. Before I even started this book, I thought the entire idea and organization of it was brilliant: covering a smorgasbord of real political issues made personal through Garden’s fictionalized worlds, this book is a little hard to classify. And typically, I adore books that are hard to classify. The library where I found it, interestingly, had it classified as non-fiction. But while it is in one way very much a history text, it’s also a clear work of literary fiction at the same time. The blurb on the jacket actually sums it up much better than I just did: “This unique approach gives not only the facts but the feelings, too.”

One thing that’s certain, though, is that it is geared towards youth, and the non-fiction historical essays are definitely written in a relatively simplified and straightforward manner, which is only negative if you’re overly opposed to reading books for youth as a whole. I happen to love non-fiction geared towards youth in particular because it can often simply be more enjoyable than the adult stuff, while still enlightening when done right, as Garden does. It’s clear and engaging, while avoiding being derisive. And one of my favorite parts was that in each historical essay, after the main events of the time were described, she made sure to focus on what that decade meant for youth in particular, or how youth helped to galvanize change for themselves and for the community, an aspect that’s often wanting in other historical queer texts.

As for the stories themselves, there are many tropes that we have seen before, to the point that they’re often looked on as conclusions we should be moving away from now: that being gay necessitates rejection, violence, running away, death. Yet in light of the point of this project, I think they make sense: that was how many people experienced gayness in the 50s, and many of these things do still even happen today, too, amidst all the progress. And importantly, one thing is true in all the stories, even the darker ones: even if the characters feel like giving up or face enormous odds, none of them deny who they are, or believe that they should.

Some of my favorite stories included both of the stories from the 60s: “Cold Comfort,” a classically Southern-feeling tale of two girls in a small town, and “Stonewall,” documenting when one man got to lose his virginity and witness the birth of a movement all in one night. I also found “My Father’s Buddha,” from the 80s, particularly moving, touching briefly on both the ghosts of Vietnam and the all-too-present horror of AIDS, and the search for solace in the pain of both. Another highlight as a whole was being that Garden was at the helm, the majority of the stories, other than these two I just mentioned, do in fact deal with lady love. And in my own experience with queer short story collections, the scale is normally tipped towards the dudes, so it was refreshing to experience the opposite.

While rejecting gender norms, particularly by women, was addressed in many of the stories, I did wish that there could have been at least one specifically trans story included (although she does include them in the essays), but I suppose one author and one book can’t be everything for everybody.

Short story collections can also often be a strange beast in terms of the ratio of wins to disappointments, but when they’re all from the same author, it feels consistent enough to be steadily satisfying, while the plots and writing styles still vary enough with each story to keep it interesting.

Overall, this entirely accessible volume reaches out to youth to not only bring comfort about a variety of situations readers might relate to in one story or the other, but to show the hope in how far we’ve come. The hiding and the rejection and the injustice in some of these stories are all very real parts of our history and parts we can’t forget, and parts that youth need to know about, as well. This book was published in 2007, and even reading through the introductory essay for the 2000s decade (the one essay that seemed a little overlong to me), it felt slightly surreal in terms of all the gains we’ve made just in the last five years since its publication. Accordingly, while that section by itself is easily outdated, a fact Garden acknowledges to be inevitable, the rest of the book could stand the test of time forever. While being up to date on queer books for youth is sort of my thing, I feel this one has flown under the radar a bit: I hadn’t really heard of it before I stumbled onto it in the library, and I wish that was a different story, and that it was widely available to youth (and just people) everywhere. (An updated, slightly more hip cover wouldn’t hurt, either.) Highly recommended.

Jill Guccini reviews My Awesome Place by Cheryl Burke


Reading My Awesome Place felt like a bittersweet experience from the start, a fact that has nothing to do with the writing itself, and everything to do with the story behind it. It’s a series of autobiographical tales written by New York City performance artist/poet/playwright/overall writer and liver of life Cheryl B, mostly covering times of sex and love (with both women and men, often destructive either way), drugs, alcohol, and survival in the city in the ‘90s. Yet the collection wasn’t put together until after her untimely death in 2011 at the age of 38 from complications related to Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the pieces selected and reprinted with obvious love and care by her friends. While I was always glad that the book existed and that I was able to read it, there was still that knowledge that she would never see its existence that served me with slight discomfort somehow at the beginning, to pure rage by the end.

It took me a brief moment to really get into the book, perhaps because the first essay, Winter Wonderland, deals with her childhood growing up first in Staten Island and then New Jersey, overweight and unhappy under an abusive father and a chain-smoking, not-helping-the-situation mother, and things felt so bleak for Cheryl at that point that I felt anxious for the later stories that I knew must be coming, the tales of lust and adventure in the city. But I also always wonder when I have a hard time getting into a book if it’s not my own mind’s preoccupations at the time as opposed to the words themselves that are the problem, and this glimpse into her youth, while difficult, proves to be a necessary building block for all that comes after. Indeed, while the stories of the lovers and the various addictions later on in her life are fascinating, it’s her connections to her family, no matter how strained, that hit the reader in the gut the hardest, and that obviously meant the most to Cheryl. By the second essay on, I was hooked, and while I had been looking forward to absorbing life in New York City in the ‘90s (two of my favorite things), it was her returns to New Jersey that I ultimately found most compelling. The heart of the narrative is her father’s quick death from cancer; she explains her grief in unsentimental yet powerful terms, and it’s a grief that seems to quietly dictate everything else in her life.

On a surface level, there are a few flaws in the editing of the book which may bother grammar hawks. For instance, there seemed an excess of commas where there should’ve been periods, which jarred me at first. But when I began to read it as being purposely indicative of her performance art style, I was no longer bothered. And in any case, at that point I was wrapped up enough in Cheryl’s life that the oddities in the print were barely noticeable. Michelle Tea says in her blurb for the book that reading it “is like meeting your new best friend,” a notion I would agree with–you do feel like Cheryl is your friend by the end, or at least someone you want to root for, someone you wish you could see perform tonight. She’s not perfect and she doesn’t hide it, but she’s trying really hard, as a writer, as a human. And who doesn’t relate to that?

All of which is why my discomfort at the beginning morphed into my rage at the end. At the end of the last essay, I felt like shouting, “But–but that’s not fair.” The collection of essays is loosely termed her “autobiography” on the cover, and while the essays do run chronologically, I felt there was too much missing for it to truly be the tale of her life. The book mainly covers her 20s, yet she lived for almost another decade after that, and I wanted more. I wanted to read about her falling in love with someone that really mattered; I wanted to know what happened to her mom. I wanted to know more about her cat. I wanted to hear more than just this one book. Her partner, Kelli Dunham, details her tragic physical demise in the afterword, and there is something that seems distinctly Not Right about it all–that such a vibrant artist would spend many of her last days in hospital beds, struggling to breathe, all before the age of 40. That’s not how it was supposed to go down. She deserved to not only see this book come to fruition, she deserved the time to write ten more. (But seriously, you should read this one.)

Perhaps my anger is an immature response to this book; I know there must be larger lessons to take from it, about taking advantage of the time we have, of living and writing all of it, as much as we can, while we can. And Cheryl did do just that–she was constantly writing and putting her words into the world, if just not in pure book form until now. (And books aren’t the only things that count, a fact that all of us book people need to remind ourselves of, sometimes.) The book, perhaps, is a testament to not just preserving and paying tribute to an amazing writer and member of the queer community–and also to the worth of having good friends who continue to believe in your talents, even through and after cancer–but as a reminder to all of us, to live and write it all, and if we do want to put it into book form, to work our darndest to make it happen. Or maybe you don’t want to write a book, but you want to do something else. So go out there and do it. Even if you’re surrounded by people who tell you your only option in life is to be a toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike. Cheryl didn’t listen to them, and we shouldn’t, either.

Jill Guccini reviews The Narrows by M. Craig

The world of the M. Craig’s The Narrows (http://narrowsthenovel.com/) contains a lot of elements you’ll recognize: full of bicycles and outcasts, skinny jeans and crowded cafes, and of course, a healthy dose of beer, its streets very much resemble a Portland or a Brooklyn of today. Yet then there’s the Other Stuff. There’s dragons and fairies; mysterious names of cities and faraway lands; wars with ogres; wands and swords and black magic–familiar fare for the fantasy junkie. There’s elements of steampunk weaved in, too, with a badass magic-sensing pair of goggles amongst other gadgets, and plenty of abandoned and creepy factories in a very urban setting. All combined together, it creates an atmosphere and story that’s unique and engaging, well crafted and well written. I have to admit that the Brooklyn-But-With-Magic vibe threw me off at first, but perhaps that’s just because I opened this book really not knowing quite what to expect. But the more I got to know the Bikeway Narrows, and the more I got to know the story of our protagonist, Sim, the more I cared about all of it, and the more I wanted to know more.

We meet Sim right after she’s run away from a not-so-pleasant upbringing in the home of the powerful Nogron, stealing an important and mysterious wand in the process. She and the wand are lucky enough to run into a lad named Cader in a train station on her way out of town, and he generously offers her a place to stay in the city of Terresin. Herein we get to know the second most important setting after the cafes and bars in the neighborhood of the Bikeway Narrows, the house where Sim and Cader live along with two other women, Pru and Kai. Between its large, mystical garden, the delicious dinners Kai concocts, and the amount of time Sim spends drinking coffee and reading books inside of it, I wanted to BE in this house. I especially wanted to be next to Pru, a cynical, dark-but-tough woman who becomes a steadfast friend to Sim, especially when it’s revealed that they are both real big lesbians. They especially need to form solidarity as homosexuality is looked upon with scorn and disgust by the majority of society. Yet their friendship is just perfectly that, with the romance in their hearts reserved for others. While Pru spends too much time with too many ladies she doesn’t actually care about–sort of the Shane of Terresin, unkempt short dark hair and all–Sim is over her head entranced by Wood, a local college student who she meets with everyday at their favorite coffeeshop. There’s only one problem: this love is only apparent to Sim. Cue heartache central.

Other minor characters we meet are also essential to the plot: there’s Azzer, the lovably eccentric old dude whom Sim works for, who makes gadgets and fixes bikes, and then there’s a strange girl who Sim keeps running into, who keeps warning her: stay away from the Bikeway Narrows. Along with these ominous warnings, both Azzer and Wood constantly talk of revolution, of injustice, of impending environmental and societal ruin in Terresin and beyond, problems that are easy to parallel to our own imperfect world. Whereas Wood believes change is possible, Azzer rests more on the side of defeat, wondering if they can ever be strong enough to conquer Nogron and those in power. Sim lies somewhere in the middle, unsure of exactly what to feel, but increasingly sure that evil forces are at work, and that they may all be in danger–and perhaps Sim most of all.

What exactly is happening in those factories that border the Narrows? Why exactly is their society at war with the ogres? And what is so special about that wand that Sim was able to steal? And, you know, will there be any lesbian happy endings? While some questions are answered by the end of The Narrows, there’s still plenty left open–and I now, of course, lay in wait for a sequel.

Aside from the story and the writing itself, I must say that the design and cover art of this book is splendid. Small presses can be a mixed bag at times, but I loved the whole look and feel of this novel once I held it in my hands–and it was a further delight when what was inside didn’t disappoint either. My only plea to Miss Craig for a sequel, or if there’s ever a reprint of this one, would be a good map of Terresin, the Narrows, and its environs included at the beginning–because heavens knows I love a sweet map at the beginning of books that invite you into new worlds as this one does. If you’re looking for a different, enjoyable read, this one is definitely recommended.

Jill Guccini reviews Girl from Mars by Tamara Bach

Miriam is a 15-year-old girl living in a small town in Germany, and like a lot of 15-year-old girls in small towns, she spends her life waiting for something to happen. She fights with her mom; passes her schooldays in boredom. She goes to parties and drinks when she has the opportunity yet never really enjoys herself. She has friends but when she thinks about it, doesn’t even know if she really likes them. As she describes it::

“I’m Miriam, I’m tired, and that’s it. No more, no less. Ordinary. My mother says I’m lazy. My math teacher says I’m not stupid. Sometimes I’m like this and sometimes I’m like that.”

And then, unexpectedly, there’s something interesting, and that something is Laura. And who is Laura? Miriam doesn’t quite know herself. And she doesn’t know exactly how she feels about Laura, either, other than she likes being with her, and that life is weird.

“Then I look at her and she looks at me, and it’s different again. Not bad different, but weird, like when you hear a new song that sounds strange but not in a bad way. And at some point you find yourself humming along, and you remember the words as you lie in bed, thinking of Laura and smiling into the dark, because the song is good, better than the others, and because it makes your heart beat faster, and it reminds you of yourself.”

Sorry to include so many quotes from Girl From Mars within the first two paragraphs of this review, but Tamara Bach just says it so well. Originally published in Germany in 2003 and first translated into English in 2008 by the Canadian publisher Groundwood Books, Girl From Mars won a number of German book awards such as the Oldenburg Young Adult Book Award and the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis (German Youth Literature Prize). As I read it, I kept getting hit with Skins or Show Me Love vibes, and thinking to myself, is it just me, or does Europe really just get teens right? There’s a certain darkness, a complexity, that permeates the language that, speaking as an American, isn’t always allowed here. It hits a tone that almost makes you uneasy, a dangerous feeling to many people who believe we need to look out for the delicate flowers of youth.

Or perhaps Miriam’s malaise strikes all the right chords for me because I relate to it too well. Oh, the ache of growing up in a small town when all of your insides feel so much bigger than your surroundings! Yet there are things that you like, the pretty things about your environment that you allow yourself to appreciate once in a while. But then you remember that everyone you know has known you since you were in diapers, and maybe you don’t want to be that person anymore. Maybe you want to be someone new. Maybe you want to make out with a girl named Laura.

As soon as I saw the cover of this book, I knew I would like it–the plain girl on the right who fears she’s boring, glancing at the girl on the left with the crazy hair and the confident smirk, wanting all that she is. Miriam’s heart is my heart.

This is a quick read and a relatively simple story plotwise, yet the conclusion is a bittersweet one. It’s one with no clean conclusions, proving that first loves can be just as confounding as later loves, if not more, and that for better or worse, sometimes the people we love are the same people we will never be able to truly know.