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.

Katie reviews Project Unicorn Vol I: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza! by Jennifer Diemer and Sarah Diemer


Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza! by Jennifer Diemer and Sarah Diemer is a free fiction project that was created, in the authors’ words, “because of the obvious lack of lesbian heroines in the Young Adult genre, and the critical need for them.” Typically updated twice a week, this project provides short genre-fiction stories that feature lesbian characters.

I’m reviewing Project Unicorn: Volume I, which includes The Dark Woods, The Monstrous Sea, and Uncharted Sky. I really can’t tell you how delighted I am that these stories are being written and published – for free, no less – in the first place. I’ve always been a genre fiction girl at heart, and I’ve sharply felt the lack of lesbian characters in genres like fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and historical fiction. Not only is the quality of the stories in Project Unicorn: Volume I extremely high, there 30 stories to enjoy in this volume, more on the authors’ website (, and more to come. The stories are extremely diverse, from mermaids to ghosts to werewolves to aliens. They span all sorts of time periods, and elements of romance appear in varying levels of focus. I loved the sweetness of the relationships in “Finding Mars” and “The Gargoyle Maker” as much as I appreciated that romance wasn’t forced to take the spotlight in “Melusine”. The characters are all lesbian, but their lesbianness doesn’t necessarily define who they are. There was a balance of stories in which being a lesbian was a non-issue and ones in which the characters had to deal with the discrimination and hardships that lesbians face in reality. I found the balance very satisfying, because I get tired of all stories featuring lesbians focusing mostly on their lesbianness, but at the same time I understand the importance of acknowledging what we go through.

Some of my favorites from the anthology include Jennifer Diemer’s “Dreaming Green,” about a woman on a sterile space station who finds a mysterious seed in space and defies regulations by planting it; her “The Girl on the Mountain”, which follows the relationship of a young girl in a mountain village with a sky-being who her people consider to be a deity; Sarah Diemer’s “The Gargoyle Maker,” about a woman who creates stone monsters to protect a medieval town; and her “Nike,” a stunningly beautiful story about a bullied girl who reaches the depths of despair and learns how to raise herself out of them. Also among my favorites are “Kyrie” and “Mirror,” two extra stories not published on the website that are included in Volume I.

The writing quality ranges from charming to exquisite. There were a handful of stories that left me wanting more and felt like snapshots of a larger story, but the majority of them were well-rounded. These are stories I’ll gladly curl up with and read again when I need comfort or crave escape.

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.

Casey reviews Dare, Truth or Promise by Paula Boock

I read New Zealand author Paula Boock’s young adult lesbian novel Dare Truth or Promise (1997) in one day, practically in one sitting.  I have a soft spot for queer YA anyway, but I really loved this book for its sweet, simple style.  Boock writes in a very straight-forward, deceptively plain way that is reminiscent of New Zealanders themselves, at least what I learned about them when I was there for four months a few years ago.  In fact, I’d say this book is a lot like Kiwis and Kiwi culture: humble, charming, quietly proud, and not inclined to boast of its own merits but rather to simply display them as if reassured of its own value.  (Side note: for those readers not familiar with Kiwi culture or English, there is a glossary of terms at the beginning of the book).

Dare Truth or Promise is essentially a teenage love story.  Willa is the bold red-headed daughter of a former-country star-turned-pub-owner, an aspiring chef, and a loving dog owner.  Louie is a charismatic, self-assured actress, stellar student, and frequent poetry quoter from a well-off Italian family.  Boock makes a few interesting (and in my opinion great) choices: she makes Louie Willa’s second same-sex relationship; Willa already knows she’s gay, even though she’s still a bit confused about it.  She also makes the girls come from notably different class backgrounds, which is something I haven’t seen dealt with very much in YA fiction.  Both Willa and Louie have a feminist sensibility about them as well: for example, Willa threatens to cut off the “goolies”—balls—of her work supervisor who tries to pretend patting her on the ass is no big deal—awesome!
I love how the book opens with their first meeting, but presents a little realist twist on the love-at-first-sight trope: “There was a moment, later, that was a lightning strike.  But the first time Louie saw Willa she had just begun the coleslaw.”  Louie and Willa meet, you see, while working at a takeaway (that’s Kiwi speak for fast food restaurant).  The understated way that Boock tells their love story makes the revelatory moments in it stand out all the more:

“I’m in love with that girl,” [Louie] said out loud in amazement, because she knew that this was a life-changing thing and life-changing things should be said aloud, should have a moment in time, and a place in the air, some molecular structure to make them real. I’m in love with that girl, she heard as it reverberated inside her head. And it was a truth, she realized, as things are which you don’t think, but discover have always existed.

The way Boock describes Louie’s sudden realization is so authentic and lovely, don’t you think?  The description of their first kiss is also moving and genuine:

When Willa turned and kissed her, Louie thought in her head, this is my first kiss.  It wasn’t, of course, she’d kissed a number of boys, and done more too, but she’d never, ever felt as if she were falling off a cliff.  She’d never felt before as if her body were being turned to water from the inside out, or as if they were both whirling through space into an airless black vortex.  Louie felt all of these things, and, above all, a disbelief, a wild, terrifying disbelief that this should be happening—no, not that she was in love with a  girl, for it seemed suddenly absolutely natural that she should be in love with this girl—but that, god only knew how, this girl should love her back!

There’s just something that Boock really gets about first love, regardless of gender, that really shines through the whole novel.  I also really loved the realism of the secondary characters’ reactions to the girls’ relationship, in that there were those that were negative and (sometimes surprisingly) those that were positive.  I was especially delighted—spoiler alert!—that Louie’s Catholic priest actually ends up being her ally and that Willa’s mother is supportive from the get-go.  In the end, the book really sustains the idea that teens having to lie about their sexuality and hide who they are is what is harmful to their relationships with their families, not their actual queerness.  Although this is obvious to older LGBTQ folks, it’s a really important lesson for teens just coming out, and for the straight folks around them, and it’s one that Boock puts forwardly firmly but eloquently in this poignant novel.

Anna K. reviews Elissa Janine Hoole’s Kiss the Morning Star

In Elissa Janine Hoole’s Kiss the Morning Star, Anna takes a roadtrip with her best-friend-for-years, Kat, to find proof of God’s love. It’s a few weeks before Anna’s 18th birthday, and a few months after her mom died in a house fire and her pastor father stopped preaching, and speaking altogether. A lesbian, Young Adult, coming-of-age novel centering on faith? you ask. Yep. And it’s good.

I was skeptical at first, waiting to get hit over the head with moralizing. But that doesn’t happen (excepting a couple less-than-ecstasy-inducing drug experiences and a nearly PG sex scene). Katy Kat and Anna babe, as they call each other, use Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums as a guide by choosing their next move with closed eyes and a finger on a random page. They get tattoos, get caught in a Mexico-bound bus full of missionaries stalled on train tracks, meet the shaman (a musician/spiritual leader), and have an encounter with a bear while backpacking. Along the way, Anna mourns the loss of her mother, tries to mend her relationship with her father via text message, begins to let go of some her burdensome fears and limiting routines, and recognizes that she is in love with Katy.

They find God subtly–the reader is left only to suppose they succeed–and falling in love with each other is a huge step of their journey. This sweet, teenage road novel is so satisfying I only wish I could have read it when I was a teen, but it’s just as fulfilling as an adult.