Messy Roots: a Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao

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Messy Roots is Laura Gao’s memoir of her childhood and coming of age, first in Wuhan, China, then an early move to Texas, and finally through her choices of college in Pennsylvania and a job in the Bay area. As a Chinese American immigrant, Gao depicts her struggle to reconcile her childhood in Wuhan with the expectations of her friends and classmates in America via a direct and honest look at her own internalized biases and struggles, illustrated by a flowing and charming art style. I found Messy Roots to be a heartwarming and fast-paced read, and I’m really glad a friend recommended it to me.

Gao is brutally honest in her depiction of herself. She starts out by describing her efforts to fit in with her classmates in Texas, including by taking an American-ized name and minimizing hobbies and traits that mark her out as too obviously an immigrant. She finds her Chinese lessons burdensome and resents having to attend Chinese events at her family’s church. When she moves to college, she both connects more with the Chinese student community and realizes that she is attracted to women. Free from being directly under the eye of her family and people who knew her growing up, Gao, like many college students, starts to figure out for herself who she wants to be as a person. I felt like Gao’s personal journey really resonated from the page, because it was messy and not linear. I personally really empathized with how Gao’s attraction to women was evident through her early years with the benefit of hindsight, but not fully realized until college and near adulthood. Laura also struggles with who and how to come out to people, and especially to her family, but even when they are struggling to communicate, Gao depicts a complex and affectionately nuanced showing of family. I think memoirs like this are important, because real life does not reflect a neat narrative like in fiction. Reading this really focuses in on how you keep growing and learning as a person, and things that you think you had moved on from can later become important to you, and I really think this perspective is important for the teen audience this is intended for, although older readers can certainly appreciate that aspect as well.

In the final part of the book, Gao tells about moving to San Francisco after college, and rooming with a group of her immigrant friends. Buoyed by the strong Chinese community in the area and the city’s diverse and modern atmosphere, Gao starts to feel like she is putting down her own roots. But when the pandemic hits in 2020, Wuhan goes from an obscure location to a household name in America. As waves of racism and hatred impact her life and her family, Gao once again struggles to make sense of her identity and her life. It’s a terribly poignant and personal look at a time most of us would rather not look to closely at. It’s sort of refreshing to see a narrative that actively includes the pandemic as a time period that had real impact on people, and not just through the possibility of getting sick. Gao’s narrative highlights the some of the real ripple effects that this global event had, and I think that is also important to show in literature. 

Messy Roots is Laura Gao’s effort to document her journey through her identity.  Unlike a conventional, fictional coming of age story, Gao shows that life is messy and most people’s development is not linear. Her unflinching introspection and willingness to shine a light on the complex and less pretty parts of personal development make for an inspiring and insightful read. I am definitely glad to have read her perspective, and think this would be an excellent book for both adults and teens looking for a new viewpoint about growing up, coming out, and finding yourself. 

Creating Utopia in Love After the End edited by Joshua Whitehead

“Tomorrow will be kinder,” I whisper as I am swept into the rushing river of my dreams. 

—”The Ark of the Turtle’s Back” by jaye simpson 

Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, edited by Joshua Whitehead, is a follow up to the anthology Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time. These nine stories offer visions of the future that showcase hope and resilience in a ruined world.

Regarding the decision to focus on utopia rather than dystopia, Joshua Whitehead describes it as “…an important political shift in thinking about the temporalities of Two-Spirited, queer, trans, and non-binary Indigenous ways of being. For, as we know, we have already survived the apocalypse—this, right here, right now, is a dystopian present. What better way to imagine survivability than to think about how we may flourish into being joyously animated rather than merely alive?”

In these stories, topics often treated as theoretical in post-apocalyptic fiction are highlighted as realities of Indigenous people. For example, in “History of the New World,” Adam Garnet Jones shows a family being given the “opportunity” to move to another planet. As the protagonist is well aware, she is being asked to leave her ancestral home in order to colonize a planet that has been recently confirmed to have intelligent life—and does not trust her government’s plans for this “new” world and its inhabitants. Her wife, who is a white woman, brushes aside these concerns, insisting that leaving is the best thing for their young daughter. The fissure this creates in their family shows how even in the future, history cannot be ignored. Meanwhile, in “The Ark of the Turtle’s Back,” jaye simpson takes a different tack with the concept of humans moving to another planet, imagining a future in which a select group of people plan to form a healthy and mutual relationship with their new, uninhabited home. 

Not every story grapples with the fate of humanity. In “Eloise” by David A. Robertson, virtual reality allows people to live out whole lifetimes in the span of a few minutes. A young woman who has been ghosted grapples with what another woman is willing to do rather than return her calls. I liked how this story showed that even in a future where technology creates so many grand opportunities for both good and ill, people are still dealing with something as personal as rejection.

As a fan of Darcie Little Badger’s writing, I also enjoyed “Story for a Bottle,” in which a girl is abducted under mysterious circumstances and writes a letter to her sibling. While she tries to escape, she uncovers the secrets of a floating city called New America. This story’s suspense and worldbuilding kept me intrigued through the end. Another story that I found intriguing both in its premise and how it is told is “Seed Children” by Mari Kurisato, which opens with its cyborg protagonist dramatically narrating her situation while bleeding out.

Overall, the stories differ in style as well as apparent audience, with some leaning more YA and some more adult. Though readers may thus end up favoring some stories over others, this anthology has a particularly solid thematic through line that makes it feel like more than the sum of its parts. The protagonists’ worlds have been stolen from them, and they must seek out space to heal and start anew. These characters are searching for security, connection, and home. If any of this resonates with you, I recommend this anthology, which also contains the works of Nathan Adler, Gabriel Castilloux Calderón, Kai Minosh Pyle, and Nazbah Tom.

Though these content warnings aren’t comprehensive, be aware that this anthology contains themes of climate change, colonialism, violence including state violence, bigotry including anti-Indigenous racism, children in peril, and an allegory for conversion therapy. 

A House Haunted by Fascism: Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt

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I feel so conflicted about Tell Me I’m Worthless, because it’s one the most thought-provoking and memorable horror books I’ve ever read. The sections I liked were captivating, and in the first chapter, this felt like a new favourite book. But there were also sections of this book I found unreadable.

I have to start by saying that this comes with strong content warnings (listed at the beginning of the book), including for rape, racism, transphobia, fascism, antisemitism, eugenics, and more. These topics aren’t just included: they are the central pillar of the story, and they’re described in detail. Be prepared for that going in.

This is a haunted house story, but it’s more about two people trying to live in a society so soaked in fascism that it’s easy to absorb it unconsciously. Both these main characters are bigoted. They’re deeply flawed. And they’re also compelling.

Alice, a white trans woman, and Ila, who is Jewish and mixed race, entered a haunted house three years ago with their friend Hannah, a cis white woman. Alice and Ila had a complicated relationship with a sexual and romantic element, while Hannah was always a bit removed from the other two. They each experienced their own trauma there that night, and Ila and Alice both believe that other sexually assaulted and scarred them. Hannah never left the house. Though Alice and Ila escaped, they can’t seem to free themselves entirely of its influence, and Ila convinces Alice they have to return to get closure.

While this house drives the plot—and even gets its own point of view—most of the book takes place outside of it, following Alice and Ila separately as they live in a sort of fog, unable to process what happened to them. Ila has made being transphobic practically a full time job, regularly giving talks at different institutions. The focus on these aimless, dissatisfied main characters is common in litfic, but less so in horror. Personally, I was drawn in by it, especially paired with the distinct, often meta writing style.

That writing style is precisely my hang-up with this book. Some of the writing was so effective, like the Hill House motif, but there were several points where it descended into pages and pages of hateful stream of consciousness that did not work for me at all. For example, there would be long tangents describing a dream or pages of a nonsensical auto-translated transphobic screed. At times, I completely zoned out. I understand what it was trying to do, but it really took me out of the story.

Still, it’s hard for me to put much stock in that when overall this was such a thought-provoking and powerful read. It’s a brutal book, but it’s purposeful and effective. If you’re looking for a horror book that will challenge you and leave you thinking about it long after you finish, you need to pick this up.

A Genre-Bending Haunted Bookstore Story: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

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I kept hearing people rave about this book when it was new. I heard it was a cozy read about someone working in a bookstore haunted by the ghost of a customer. So imagine my surprise when the book begins with the main character remembering a woman she had a crush on convincing her to steal a body that turned out to have cocaine on it, which is how she got a life sentence. That wasn’t what I was expecting.

I hadn’t heard anything about this having queer content, but we know from the first chapter that Tookie is bisexual! It doesn’t use the word bisexual, though, and in the rest of the book, she’s in a long-term relationship with a man, so I suppose most people thought it wasn’t worth mentioning. As someone who’s always on the hunt for more queer books, though—especially by BIPOC authors, and especially especially by Indigenous authors—I wish someone had told me so I could have picked it up sooner!

This is a really difficult book for me to summarize. My overall impression is of a comforting, even cozy read, but as you might imagine from what I said in that first paragraph, that’s misleading. It’s also about death, racism, and Covid-19. It’s mostly set in an Indigenous bookstore; during Tookie’s time in prison, she fell in love with reading, and when she got out, she started working at the bookstore.

One of the regulars of the bookstore is Flora, a white woman who is heavily involved in the Minneapolis Indigenous community, and who hints at having an Indigenous grandparent with little to no evidence. She was annoying enough when she was alive, but after she dies—while reading a possibly deadly book?—she’s even worse. She begins haunting the bookstore and even tries to possess Tookie, in the ultimate form of cultural appropriation.

Meanwhile, the events of 2020 in Minneapolis play out, including loved ones hospitalized from Covid, and protests against the murder of George Floyd raging through the nights. Tookie’s marriage with her husband is complicated and somewhat fraught, and her relationship with her stepdaughter is even more difficult. When her stepdaughter shows up pregnant on their doorstep, looking for support, Tookie has to try to repair their relationship and unearth her nurturing side.

As I describe it, nothing about that sounds cozy—except, maybe, the bookstore setting. But Erdrich is such an incredible writer, especially when it comes to characterization, that I just fell into this novel. I loved Tookie’s voice so much, and all the characters, including Tookie’s family and coworkers, felt real. That network of support around her made this feel comforting even as she dealt with horrific circumstances.

This was my first Louise Erdrich book, and I’ll definitely be reading more. While the sapphic content isn’t the focus of this story, I can’t help but recommend this incredible, genre-bending read in any context I can.

A Genre-Defying Queer Black Memoir: The Black Period by Hafizah Augustus Geter

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In 2023, I was a judge for the Nonfiction category of the Lambda Literary Awards. One of the books I read—the one that ended up winning for the category—was The Black Period: On Personhood, Race, and Origin. This is a brilliant, expansive book that I don’t feel qualified to really speak about, because there are so many layers going on in this narrative.

Geter is a poet, and you absolutely tell in this memoir. There are so many shining lines—”Safer to be accepted than loved, I thought.”—even when describing seemingly inconsequential details, like, “Even though she laughed constantly, it was like every laugh took her by surprise.”

This book is an embodiment of the idea that the personal is political. While this is in some senses a memoir, it’s also much broader than that. Geter traces back how her life is connected to all that came before it: her disability is connected to her parents’ health problems, which are connected to the racism at the foundation of the United States.

This is why The Black Period doesn’t fit neatly into the memoir category: it’s also a history book, and a collection of essays about art criticism and Afrofuturist thought, and it’s also about the connected struggles of Indigenous and Black people in the United States. Oh, and it includes original artwork from her father, a well-respected artist in his own right.

I can’t believe this book, which has won multiple awards and made several “best of” lists, is still so underread, even now that it’s available in paperback. This would be a fascinating book to read in a group, or to study in a class. I need you all to go out and read it so we can talk about it together. It’s one I can’t stop thinking about.

A Māori and Coast Salish Reimagining: Tauhou by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall

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I am a white settler living on the territory of Lək̓ʷəŋən-speaking Peoples, and I’ve been looking to read more Indigenous books this year, especially ones by local authors. So when I saw this book, I had to pick it up. It’s by an author of Māori and W̱SÁNEĆ descent, and it reimagines Vancouver Island (my home) and Aotearoa New Zealand is being side-by-side islands, influencing each other throughout history.

Apparently I also just have an infallible radar for queer books, because this also has several sapphic point of view characters, which I didn’t realize when I first added it to my TBR! I love being surprised by queer books.

This is described as a “hybrid novel.” It’s part poetry collection, part connected short stories. Each chapter feels like a vignette. There are some repeating characters, but mostly it shares a setting and focus with the other chapters, not a continuous plot.

Living in British Columbia, I have some familiarity with Coast Salish history and culture, but only in a broad sense. I have even less knowledge of Māori history and culture, which means I know that some of this went over my head. The author’s note explains that this is not a book to educate readers on either: she has combined and reimagined these two cultures that she shares, so it’s not meant to be representative of the real world. Indigenous authors and authors of colour are often expected to educate white readers, so I appreciated Nuttall’s rejection of this idea.

Each chapter is quite short, so we don’t spend a lot of time with any individual character. Instead, we get glimpses into their lives, including how colonialism has affected them.

Queerness is not the focus of any of these vignettes, but it is woven throughout. We see a woman and her wife hosting a dinner party while she fights off a panic attack. A young woman tries to introduce her white girlfriend to her aunty in the graveyard. (That one was my favourite.) An artist paints her muse/lover and can’t help comparing their bodies.

Nuttall is skilled in establishing characters, mood, and setting in just a few pages. Although we kept moving to different points of view, I was swept up in this setting that weaves together two cultures in fascinating and thoughtful ways. I’ll definitely be picking up whatever this author writes next.

GBBO, but Sapphic and Bangladeshi: The Dos and Donuts of Love by Adiba Jaigirdar

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Adiba Jaigirdar, author of The Henna Wars and Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, has become known for her compulsively readable teen romances centering queer Bangladeshi-Irish characters. Her newest novel, The Dos and Donuts of Love, tackles fatphobia, racism, and familial expectations, this time on the set of a nationally televised baking competition. 

Seventeen-year-old Shireen Malik is at a low point heading into summer vacation. Her best (and only Bangladeshi) friend Fatima is spending most of summer vacation visiting family in Bangladesh, and Shireen is recovering from a recent breakup. Between shifts at her parents’ struggling donut shop You Drive Me Glazy, Shireen barely leaves her bedroom, marathon-watching Great British Bake Off, FaceTiming with Fatima, and obsessively checking her email for news from Junior Irish Baking Show

When Shireen receives a congratulatory email inviting her to be on the show, she feels like she has no one to celebrate with—her parents seem wary of the pressures of reality TV, Fatima is in a different time zone, and her ex is out of the picture. But Shireen is determined to prove herself as Ireland’s most talented young baker, and to represent her South Asian identity amid a mostly white pool of competitors. 

But when Shireen shows up to the first filming, she finds herself face to face with her ex Chris Huang. Chris is not just her ex, but also the daughter of her family’s rival donut shop owners. Shireen has to navigate the next few months of high-pressure competition confronting the hostile feelings from her recent breakup, and to complicate matters, she has developed feelings for Niamh, another charismatic contestant on the show.

I’ll be honest—I typically do not go for the increasingly popular baking/romance genre. But as a recent (and very late to the game) fan of Great British Bake Off, I was sucked right into this baking competition setting, the coziness and high stakes of which Jaigirdar very realistically brings to life. Shireen is a tenacious, lovable, fat-positive main character who, despite her self-confidence, falls prey to the toxic culture of reality TV fame and to the overwhelming feelings of teenage romance. Jaigirdar does a flawless job of balancing interpersonal drama with the more sobering issues of body standards and anti-Asian rhetoric thrown at Shireen and Chris as they progress through the competition. I look forward to working my way back through Jaigirdar’s previous books, which I suspect are equally fun, thoughtful, and heartwarming. 

Shakespeare, Fae, and Orisha: That Self-Same Metal by Brittany N. Williams

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At the age of sixteen, Joan Sands possesses exceptional craftsmanship skills that she employs to create and maintain the stage blades for The King’s Men, a theatrical troupe led by William Shakespeare. Joan’s remarkable blade-crafting ability is rooted in her magical power to manipulate metal, bestowed upon her by her guiding deity, the head Orisha, Ogun. Hailing from a family blessed by Orishas, the Sands have always been attuned to the presence of Fae in London.

Normally, this awareness entails little more than observing the subtle luminance enveloping the Fae as they attempt to assimilate into London’s social fabric. However, recently, there has been a noticeable rise in violent Fae assaults. When Joan injures a formidable Fae assailant and rescues a nobleman’s son in the process, she becomes entangled in the intricate web of political machinations spanning both the human and Fae realms.

This is a captivating story! Joan’s journey is portrayed with such depth and authenticity that she feels like a genuine person, navigating the complexities of being forced to grow up too soon while still grappling with relatable teenage experiences. Joan’s confidence in her bisexuality, coupled with her witty humor about her romantic encounters, adds a layer of realism that’s both endearing and relatable. In avoiding making Joan’s sexuality a central point of conflict, the author’s depiction of her as a casually queer person is remarkably refreshing. The near absence of queerphobia is a commendable aspect of the book. Rather than being related to her sexuality as a whole, Joan’s central romantic conflict involving her strong feelings for two people at once, which brings a rich complexity to her character, as she grapples with matters of the heart.

Similarly, while Joan’s Blackness is not used as a central conflict point, this book deftly addresses complex issues of race and class. Joan and her family are accepted within their immediate circle, but the author skillfully exposes the insidious racism perpetuated by the upper classes. The narrative masterfully highlights the disturbing tendency toward fetishization, as well as the harmful notion of there being a “correct” mold for a Black person. By shedding light on these often-overlooked aspects, the book invites readers to confront uncomfortable truths.

Finally, the portrayal of the Fae lore is a standout feature of this novel. Rather than the typical romanticized depiction, the Fae are presented as gritty, malevolent creatures, much more in keeping with their mythological depictions. The exploration of their darker aspects adds an intriguing layer of tension and suspense to the narrative. Similarly, the incorporation of Orisha into the story is a brilliant addition that sets this book apart. It’s refreshing to see the inclusion of elements from a lesser-explored mythology, and I’m eager to learn more about Orisha in the upcoming sequel.

All in all, this novel successfully weaves together multifaceted characters, captivating Fae lore, and unique mythological influences, creating an immersive and unforgettable reading experience. I am greatly looking forward to what the author has in store for us in the sequel!

Content warnings: racism, sexism, murder, dismemberment, blood, some gore.

Girl Meets Girl, Girls Fall In Love, Girl Gets Amnesia: Forget Me Not by Alyson Derrick

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Last year, I reviewed She Gets the Girl written by Alyson Derrick and her wife, Rachael Lippincott, and really enjoyed it. So when I saw that Derrick had a new sapphic YA book coming out just in time for the April 4th episode of All the Books, I had to read it. This is an amnesia romance, but while that can sound like a soap opera premise—girl meets girl, girls fall in love, girl gets amnesia and forgets girl, girl tries to win her back—there’s an undercurrent of sadness here that keeps it feeling more grounded than that suggests.

In the first chapter, we meet Stevie. She just graduated high school and has big plans for what comes next… but almost no one in her life knows about them. She has secretly been dating Nora for years, but in their small conservative town, being out isn’t an option. Stevie’s mother is deeply involved in the Catholic church, and her father watches Fox News almost every waking hour. So Nora and Stevie see each other in private, with dates in the woods. When Stevie can’t sleep, she silently calls Nora and just listens to her voice, not wanting to wake up her parents in the next room by speaking herself.

It’s been difficult keeping this private, including having to fake a better relationship with her parents than she believes and even maintaining friendships with people she no longer gets along with, but it will be worth it. They just need to get through the summer before they’re both off to California–Stevie secretly applied to UCLA and got in—and then they can start their life together. They’ve been saving up for an apartment by saving their paychecks, plus Stevie’s job at a coffee shop two towns away is the perfect cover for the time she spends with Nora.

After all that meticulous planning, though, one moment erases everything they’ve worked for. During a date in the woods, Stevie falls. She’s put into a medically induced coma. When she wakes up, she’s forgotten the last two years. She still thinks she’s 15. And she doesn’t remember ever meeting Nora.

Stevie is left trying to piece together the time she’s lost. She’s distant with her parents, and she doesn’t know why. She can’t understand why she was alone in the woods when Nora saw her and rescued her. Any evidence of her relationship with Nora was deleted or hidden, so there’s nothing to stumble on.

Interspersed with these chapters are unsent letters from Nora, explaining her heartbreak and confusion. This version of Stevie doesn’t have any idea that she’s gay, never mind that she’s in a relationship with a girl. She’s worried that telling her will scare her off, but she also feels terrible about lying to her. Stevie thinks Nora is a new friend, someone to hang out with that doesn’t have memories of her that she doesn’t have. Both of them hope that Stevie can recover her memories by retracing familiar things, but there’s no guarantee.

There’s an interesting balance happening here between Nora and Stevie’s perfect relationship (pre-coma) and their hateful surroundings. Stevie is half Korean, and she is startled to find her best friends when she was 15 have grown up to make racist jokes. Her dad has also become obsessed with Fox News in recent years. The threat to her relationship does feel real: both Nora and Stevie’s parents are conservative, so it makes sense that they would stay in the closet until they have somewhere else to live.

There is a heartwarming romance at the heart of this, including that Stevie feels drawn to Nora even without her memories, and it’s adorable to watch her fall for Nora all over again. But the amnesia trope and almost-too-perfect relationship is tempered by the more serious context of the story, including Stevie’s internalized homophobia.

I meant to just read the first few chapters of this and found myself instead reading it in one day. Even though we know the answers, it was compelling to watch Stevie try to piece together what happened in the time she lost and consider whether she really needs to recover it or whether she should embrace the opportunity to start fresh. After all, in this missing time she apparently became more distant from her friends and family and also applied to the local community college when she’s been waiting her whole life to go somewhere new. Does she really want to be that person?

This is a very readable, engaging novel, and though I’ve mentioned that their relationship was almost too perfect, that’s helped by Nora’s characterization. She’s not on the page that much, considering this is mostly a romance, but what we do see of her is charming without being one-dimensional. You can see why Stevie falls for her (twice).

A Bisexual, Magical, Asian American Take on Gatsby: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo, Narrated by Natalie Naudus

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In this retelling of The Great Gatsby, Jordan Baker narrates the story from the perspective of a queer, Asian woman adopted by a white couple. Although she runs in elite circles with Daisy and Tom, she is treated as an exotic pet, left on the outside even when a part of their group.

Calling Jordan adopted brings up a problematic situation of white saviors. When the Bakers found her in Vietnam, they claimed she had been wandering alone. Wanting to save her from the violent environment, they simply took her back with them to Kentucky. They never even inquired about her parents’ whereabouts.

Throughout the story, Jordan encounters racism at every turn. She endures questions like, “Where are you from?” and when she answers Kentucky, it makes white people uncomfortable. Even in her own group with Daisy and Tom, Tom goes off on racist rants against Asians but tells Jordan she’s “one of the good ones.”

Jordan also encounters that feeling of Otherness amid people who look like her. As the novel unfolds, she interacts with other Asian characters who ask her the same thing: “Where are you from?” When she tells them Kentucky, there’s a disappointed reaction to her seeing herself as American. She embodies the duality of neither belonging among white Americans nor among the Asian community. As she says toward the end of the novel: “Alone I was a charming anomaly, with Kai I was a dangerous conspiracy.”

In certain ways, Jordan uses her Otherness to occupy a space not afforded to her gender at this time in history. As she is an outsider in elite white society, she is not expected to be a proper lady or behave in predefined proprieties. She takes greater freedoms that Daisy does not feel she can.

Personally, when I read The Great Gatsby in high school, I hated it. I hated all the characters and thought they were all the worst possible human beings. In this retelling through Jordan’s perspective, it’s easier to see the nuance of what makes these characters so terrible. For Daisy especially, as it’s clear throughout that Jordan is in love with her, there’s much more sympathy toward her position in a society that puts so much pressure on young, upper-class women.

All the queer subtext from the original novel gets brought to the forefront. Jordan, openly bisexual, has relationships with whoever strikes her fancy, including Nick, who is also bisexual. But Nick isn’t as open or accepting about his sexuality. Jordan tries to pull out of him his feelings for Gatsby but it makes Nick angry and she doesn’t bring it up again. Daisy and Jordan have an unspoken desire for each other that never becomes actualized.

The magic woven throughout the story brings another interesting layer to the original book. Jordan has special powers that appear to be an inheritance from her Vietnamese bloodline. She meets others like herself who have the same power, but she tries to deny this part of herself. It plays into her insecurities and how she fights against her Otherness in every way.

Where the classic novel ends with the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg looking upon Daisy’s crime, Jordan confronts the billboard and brings it to life with her magic powers to learn what they saw. She realizes what happened and reluctantly comes to Daisy’s rescue.

SPOILERS BEGIN

Vo also creates mindblowing twists with the added layer of magic. Jay Gatsby made a deal with the devil and when he fails to deliver his end of the deal, his life is taken. And in the end, Nick turns out to be a paper being of Jordan’s making with her magical powers. With all these strings that tethered her to New York gone, Jordan is finally free to go to Shanghai and find out where she really belongs.

SPOILERS END

At times the pacing is slow, but overall, it’s a compelling read that really brings the original story to another level. I listened to the audiobook, so the narrator, Natalie Naudus, brings it to life.

Content warning: racism