Erica Gillingham reviews She Loves You, She Loves You Not… by Julie Anne Peters


She shoves the tray between us and cuts through. The name on her badge reads FINN. I watch her dump the tray, load up the hot plates along her arm, then serpentine through the tables and chairs.

Dyke! my gaydar screams. She has that self-confident aura. Plus, she’s wearing carpenter shorts and leather hiking shoes. Dark curly leg hair. Hel-looo.

I have an unabashed soft spot for Julie Anne Peters’ young adult novels. The drama, the straight-up lady longing, the romantic clichés, the processing, the feelings—did I mention the drama? Peters is completely unafraid to throw absolutely everything at her characters, just to see how it will all pan out. One natural disaster too simple? Why not give ‘em two!

She Loves You, She Loves You Not… (2011) by Julie Anne Peters is a perfect example of the pulpy-romance on which Peters has built her career. Delightfully, this novel ends on a slightly more hopeful and lighter note than a few of her previous novels (Rage: A Love Story and Pretend You Love Me), but the ride to get there is no less emotion-fuelled or tender.

The protagonist, Alyssa, finds herself being flown across the country to the mountains of Colorado, leaving her father, step-mother and brother on the East Coast. What she will find or do in this tiny ranching town is totally beyond her, but she is determined to make her own way—without the help of her pole dancer-cum-prostitute mother.

Heartbroken by the rejection of her girlfriend and, subsequently, of her father has left her emotionally adrift. Despite the recent trauma, Alyssa is still firm in her identity. She has known she is a lesbian since she was thirteen. She has no qualms about her sexuality—no coming-out processing here!—but she’s not sure she ever wants to fall in love again. That shit hurts.

While I really appreciate Peters’ depiction of Alyssa’s sexuality, some may take issue with her portrayal of a few of the other secondary characters. For these characters, their sexual identities are not as fixed as Alyssa’s and thus, at first glance, they could appear to be falling into the biphobic trope of “you have to pick: are you gay or straight?” I’m not totally happy with how Peters’ handles these characters, but a more generous reading of them allows for something that is desperately needed in young adult fiction: fluidity. Teenagers, in general, are unsure of a lot of things about themselves, and sexuality can often be a part of that larger, looming question: Who am I? For including this in her novel, I give an encouraging nod to Peters.

Overall, She Loves You, She Loves You Not… is a charming summer read, for lady lovers of any age. I would say its a ‘beach read’ but the scenery of this novel plays such an intimate part of the story that I would actually call it a ‘lake read’ or ‘camping read’ instead! You can almost smell the dry summer air and feel the dust and hot sun on your skin… If you enjoy strong female protagonists, first love stories, and a bit of pulpy mountain drama, definitely pick up this novel this summer.

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 ( 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.

Danika reviews The Trouble with Emily Dickinson by Lyndsey D’Arcangelo


The Trouble with Emily Dickinson is a cute lesbian teen book with a few notable features. One is that the main character, JJ, has a lesbian best friend: Queenie. They are not into each other. They’re just super close. The other is that JJ’s love interest? Straight. Or is she?!

The point of view switches between Kendal and JJ (and Kyan, but we’ll get to that later). JJ is out, is on the basketball team, and is a poet (we’ll get to that later, too). She’s not exactly part of the in crowd, but she’s got friends and hobbies and pretty much has things figured out, except for a habit of always falling for straight girls. Kendal is a cheerleader. She is part of the in crowd, and she thought she had everything figured out until she got JJ as a tutor, teaching her Women’s Literature, and Emily Dickinson’s poetry in particular. Kendal realizes that the life she’s built around cheerleading, parties, and being popular may not be what she really wants for herself.

I think the highlights of The Trouble With Emily Dickinson are the characters and their relationships. JJ is relateable and well-rounded, and Kendal’s self-discovery is sympathetic, especially because it comes from a bit of a different place than most lesbian teen novels: it’s not really about what she is and always has been but has suppressed, but is instead about how she feels right now, and the kind of person she seeks to become. Their friendship/courtship is sweet, especially at the end. I also appreciated Mya the cheerleading captain’s portrayal later in the book. But Queenie really steals the show. Her parents are rich and she loathes them. She gets great grades without trying. She seduces girls, but doesn’t believe in commitment. She’s charming, especially in her interactions with JJ. They balance each other out, with Queenie being all bravado and cynicism, and JJ all stage fright and so sincere and optimistic it kind of hurts. At first I felt like Queenie was veering into just flat-out jerk territory, especially with her plan to disrupt her sister’s wedding by coming out in her speech, but she grows throughout the book.  The sequel focuses on her, so that definitely makes me want to pick it up.

I did have a few issues with the novel, however. The writing is mostly straightforward, nothing particularly noteworthy, though I did dislike a few things. One is that JJ has a bit of a drawn-out struggle with realizing that she likes Kendal. She’s out. She knows she’s gay. I refuse to believe she’d actually say out loud to herself “Why am I thinking about her?” A grey area is the poetry included. It’s absolutely believable as angsty high school poetry, but personally I didn’t find it particularly poignant, even for high school. JJ is described over and over as a writer and as talented, so I’m not sure if the poetry is supposed to be believable as high school poetry, or as genuinely moving poetry, but I wasn’t interested in them (and I still remember my high school poetry class and first year college poetry classes).

What most got to me, though, was the character of Kyan. His POV is shown a couple of times, and he just did not seem interesting or relevant enough to get that spot. Compared to the complex and interesting characters that comprise the rest of the novel (well, maybe not Christine), Kyan falls flat. He’s a jock/jerk type who gets what he wants, and stating in his first appearance in the novel that he has a “[l]ack of confidence, but he’d never admit that” just isn’t enough to humanize him. I thought his character was unnecessary to the story, especially as a POV character.

The Trouble with Emily Dickinson is a sweet teen lesbian love story, and I will definitely be reading the sequel, but I have a feeling that I will like The Education of Queenie McBride more than its predecessor.

Danika reviews Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

Silhouette of a Sparrow

With a cover as strong as Silhouette of a Sparrow‘s, I immediately have high expectations for the story within. And although the cover gives me a bit of a creepy vibe that I don’t get from the book itself, the story definitely lives up to my expectations of quality. Silhouette of a Sparrow takes place in the 1920s, and the protagonist, Garnet, is doing her best to navigate the practically Victorian values of her family and the rapidly changing, flapper culture of 1920s America. It is interesting to compare the setting of this book to Ellis Avery’s The Last Nude, which takes place in 1920s France. The dialogue of the characters could pretty easily be spoken in current times, which sometimes made me forget about the time period, but ultimately I think kept it from seeming too old-fashioned or gimmicky.

I loved Garnet as a character. She is very believable, and I really felt for her struggle to stay true to herself as well as her family. I think often we value individualism so much that we can be dismissive of people or characters who may be willing to sacrifice some of their freedom in order to be loyal to their family, but I thought Garnet’s struggle was portrayed very sympathetically, without casting her mother as a villain for wanting Garnet to get married and help support them.

I also really liked the ongoing bird theme of the book. Garnet cuts out silhouettes of birds she sees: a suitably feminine way to pursue her passion for ornithology. Each chapter is named after a bird with the corresponding silhouette above the chapter title. That bird is one that relates to a theme or a character in that chapter, and this is skillfully incorporated without, again, seeming like a gimmick. Garnet’s hobby of cutting out silhouettes is also used artistically later on as a metaphor for her attempt to find the edges of herself, to determine where she ends and her family, obligations, etc begin.

The love story is also really sweet, though really more of a subplot, in my opinion–as emily m danforth would say, this is about Garnet’s coming of gayge, not coming out. Garnet falls for a flapper girl, Isabella, who is beautiful, mysterious, and shows Garnet new possibilities for her life. [spoiler] I appreciated the realistic ending, as well, which emphasized that although Garnet and Isabella played an important role in each other’s life at that time, that doesn’t mean that they are now going to live happily ever after together. I liked that Griffin left it pretty open about whether they will end up back together or not. [/spoiler]

I haven’t even really mentioned what I usually consider the most important factor in a book: the writing. Most of the writing is pretty straight forward and furthers the story without distracting me from it, which is all I really ask for in a book. Often, though, the writing is downright poetic. Take the opening lines:

I was born blue. Life ripped me early from my safe place and thrust me into the world. It was all so astonishing I forgot to breathe.

But the puffed-up robin that sang outside the window of the birthing room came early too, that March of 1910, and just in time. He flew north before the spring came so he could sing me into the world. His song said Breathe child, this life was meant for you. When I finally let out my first scream I flushed red as that robin–red: the color of life, blood, love, and fury. At that moment I earned my name, Garnet, after the deep red stone that’s meant to bring courage.

I kept having to stop to scribble down quotes I wanted to post later on the Lesbrary tumblr.

Silhouette of a Sparrow is, obviously, a keeper, and I will be adding it to the shortlist of lesbian teen books I can recommend with no reservations. I hope to see more from Molly Beth Griffin soon.