The Magic of Community: Brooms by Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall

cover of Brooms

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Brooms is a YA graphic novel created by Jasmine Walls (writer) and Teo DuVall (illustrator) and published in 2023 by Levine Querido. It is set in an alternate 1930s Mississippi where magic flows all around, but is heavily restricted. Only certain people are allowed to learn certain types of magic to be used only in certain situations, with offenders punished by having their magical abilities locked away. Native American children showing magical abilities are rounded up and sent to government schools where they can learn “proper magic”. 

Despite the law’s best efforts, there’s one type of magical activity that continues to thrive: underground broom racing. Every weekend, teams of thrill seekers meetup to see who can take home the prize money for being the best. One such team is the Night Storms. Led by their captain Billie Mae, the team includes her best friend Loretta, Cheng Kwan, Mattie, and Emma. Together, they hope to make enough money to make their dreams come true.     

The greatest strength of Brooms is its worldbuilding. The setting of a magical 1930s Mississippi feels unique as it’s not a setting that has often been explored. By emphasizing history accuracy, Jasmine Walls shines a light on the queer communities that existed at that time but have long been ignored. The diversity of characters is also phenomenal. Mattie and Emma are mixed Black and Choctaw. Luella, their cousin who introduces them to the rest of the team, is mixed Choctaw and Mexican. Cheng Kwan is transgender and Chinese American. Emma is Deaf and speaks Indian Sign Language. Billy Mae and Loretta are Black and suffer from chronic illness and disability. Billie Mae and Luella are in a relationship with one another. Other broom racing teams include characters who are nonbinary, amputees, or come from other cultural backgrounds. Through this diversity, Jasmine Walls succeeds in showcasing people who have long been underrepresented in the media, including fantasy media. It gives every queer, BIPOC, and disabled reader the chance to see themselves as a part of the magical community of Brooms

Brooms also does a great job of developing its main characters and their relationships. The main cast is fairly large, consisting of the five racers and Luella. Through a combination of the main story and flashbacks, we get to see how this small chosen family came to be and how they continue to support each other. Luella and Billie Mae also get these really sweet moments together that show how deep their love for each other is. This made for characters and relationships that felt fully fleshed out. I was able to feel a strong connection with each and every one of them. It also made it harder for me to put the book down. I just had to know how their stories ended! 

I appreciate how Jasmine Walls was able to convey an overall hopeful tone while also clearly conveying the danger the characters are facing. Throughout the novel we are shown the very imminent threat that the girls and their community are under without ever slipping into a darker tone. We see racism and oppression, but never in its full brutality. These scenes are balanced with ones that show that, despite that oppression, the characters’ spirits never falter. They continue to support each other and their community in the face of overwhelming bigotry. To me, this feels like the perfect balance to aim for in a YA graphic novel. The people most likely reading this book may be dealing with real bigotry in their daily lives; they don’t always need to see it in their books too. They need hope and, in that regard, Brooms succeeds in giving them that. 

I found the story’s focus on the power of community incredibly resonant. Brooms isn’t a story about a group of people coming together to overthrow racist and bigoted power structures. Instead, it’s a story of how finding and building a supportive community can help people survive and thrive in spite of the dangers that surround them. It shows the reader that there is hope in community as long as its members stick together and look out for each other. It’s a message that we need more than ever. 

Brooms is also a really pretty graphic novel. The contrast between the earthy tones of the daytime scenes and the vibrant colors of the magical night races give these events a wondrous quality. It provides a nice contrast between a world that shuns non-White magic and one in which everyone is welcome and loved. The broom races also have this dynamic quality in their rendering that helps convey a sense of speed and danger, making for a thrilling read.

In the end, I enjoyed my time with Brooms. It is a well written and beautifully illustrated story that showcases the power of hope and strength of community. Through its historical setting and diverse cast, it highlights the simple fact that queer communities have always existed and will continue to exist into the future. It’s a message that every queer person, no matter their age, needs to hear.

A Slam Dunk Sapphic Romance: Coasting and Crashing by Ana Hartnett

Coasting and Crashing cover

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With March Madness continuing into April, I decided to start my month with Ana Hartnett’s Coasting and Crashing, the third book in her sapphic contemporary romance series set at the fictional Alder University. This time, the story revolved around players on the university’s basketball team. 

Emma Wilson is coasting. She’s one of the star players for the Alder Lions. She’s got a great group of friends. Every queer woman at Adler wants her. She’s going to law school after graduation. On the surface, everything is fine. Below the surface, however, is another story. Despite what she says, she’s still not over her long-time crush, and she’s only interested in law school to satisfy her dad’s demands. So yeah, life isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the alternative. 

Everything changes, however, with the arrival of a new coach, Coach Jordan. Along with Coach Jordan comes the talented, arrogant, and very attractive Lake Palmer. Emma is instantly attracted to Lake, even though she knows Lake is gunning for her starting position. Between Coach Jordan’s tough coaching style and tensions between her and Lake, Emma begins to question everything about herself and her “better than the alternative” life. Soon, everything comes crashing down, and it’s up to Emma to decide how to put it all back together again. 

In Emma Wilson, Ana Hartnett gives the reader the perfect high achieving disaster lesbian. I loved her and related to her so much. Like many young adults who showed early promise in school or sports, she has had an immense amount of pressure piled onto her. Her family, friends, and teachers expect the world of her. Her father has taken these expectations to toxic levels, leading to some very traumatic moments for Emma. To cope with it all, Emma has often taken the path of least resistance because it has the lowest chance of failure and disappointing everyone. Sure, it’s not the best and most fulfilling, but she finds ways that maybe aren’t the healthiest to enjoy it. It’s a story that so many young people, especially young women, face in their lives. That choice of coping mechanism is understandable; we’ve all done it at least once in our lives when faced with overwhelming external pressures. It makes it very easy to very quickly sympathize with Emma and root for her. 

Emma’s journey from coasting to thriving in the novel isn’t an easy one, which makes for a highly cringe-worthy yet satisfying read. As the title of the book alludes to, Emma crashes. She crashes hard, and she crashes multiple times. Over and over again, Emma tries to do what she thinks is the right thing. She tries multiple times to romance Lake and be the person Coach Jordan wants, only to fail miserably and have to start over. When she fails, it’s painful to read. It’s like watching a slow-moving car wreck that you are helpless to stop. However, it also makes for a sweeter experience when Emma finally starts putting the pieces together and making positive steps in the right direction. Just like you wanted to die from embarrassment at watching Emma fail, you feel overcome with joy when she succeeds. 

One character I really appreciated seeing in the novel was Coach Jordan. At first, she comes off as overly strict and demanding, because that is how Emma sees her. As Emma and the reader get to know her, however, she is revealed to be a much more nurturing character. She ends up, in some ways, being the catalyst for Emma’s growth. Every romance has that supporting character who helps the main character figure things out. I loved how that ended up being Coach Jordan in this book. This comes from my experience as a student athlete in high school. I had so many great teachers and coaches who helped me see my self-worth during rough times and pushed me to be the best version of myself. While I’m vastly different from who I was then, their lessons still have had a huge impact on me. I loved seeing Emma also get this type of help from Coach Jordan as she tries to figure out how to stop crashing. 

All in all, Coasting and Crashing is a slam dunk for fans of watching loveable disasters slowly figure it all out and find love. It’s especially satisfying if you were one of those high achieving kids who showed early academic or athletic talents and subsequently had a world of pressure placed upon your shoulders. Even if you weren’t or have no idea how basketball works, it’s still a great romance worthy of your time.  

When Your Hyperfixation is Sapphic Books: A Shortlist of Sapphic Autistic Narratives

I recently read a report from the University of Cambridge about how autistic people are more likely to be queer than allistic people, with specifically autistic female-identifying people being three times as likely to identify as some form of queer. If you are interested in reading more about this, you can read the abstract. This got me thinking about how there has been a recent uptick in autistic narratives, especially in young adult and middle grade books. Once I got thinking about that, I went down a little rabbit hole of autistic queer literature, and found some fantastic titles that I’d love to share with y’all! Without any further ado, here are five of my favorite autistic sapphic titles.

the cover of The Ojja-Wojja

The Ojja-Wojja by Magdalene Visaggio and Jenn St-Onge

Val and Lanie are two middle-graders trying to retain their individuality in small-town Bollingbrooke, despite the metaphorical targets on their backs due to being queer (Lanie) or autistic (Val). When the two complete an ancient ritual and summon the Ojja-Wojja, Val, Lanie and their group of friends have to defend the town against the demonic presence before it destroys their town.

The Ojja-Wojja is great for people who heard “Alien Party” by Sid Dorey and went “wow…they’re right! Being queer or autistic is like being an alien!” 

the cover of Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl

Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl by Sara Waxelbaum and Briana R. Shrum

Margo is an overachiever, autistic, and newly out as gay, while Abbi is known for being visibly queer and failing US History. The two team up to cover their blind spots; Margo receives Queer 101 lessons in exchange for Abbi receiving history lessons.

Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl is a fun, tongue-in-cheek read that I couldn’t put down. If you want a book about a Jewish, autistic protagonist and plenty of queer rep, you’ll want to pick up this one.

the cover of Cleat Cute

Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner 

When Phoebe joined the US Women’s National Team, she had no idea that she was taking Grace’s spot after the veteran got injured. The two clash due to their personalities, until a daring kiss brings them together. The two work together both on and off the field as the World Cup approaches. Grace wrestles with a potential autism diagnosis and Phoebe is diagnosed with ADHD, making this the AuDHD romance of your dreams.

I would recommend Cleat Cute for people who are fans of Ted Lasso and A League of Their Own.  

the cover of The Luis Ortega Survival Club

The Luis Ortega Survival Club by Sonora Reyes

In this YA revenge story, a queer and autistic girl is struggling to put into words what happened and decide if she has the right to be mad with the cute, popular person she had sex with at a party—where she didn’t say no but she definitely didn’t say yes. But when she finds other students determined to expose this predator, she decides to take him down.

This is the autistic revenge story that fans of Do Revenge will want in their TBR stacks.

the cover of An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts by River Solomon

This dystopian sci-fi novel features Aster, an autistic person who works on the HMS Matilda as a descendant of the original passengers journeying to a Promised Land. However, the ship’s leaders have imposed a brutal enslavement on the passengers of color, including Aster, and she learns there may be a way to end it if she is willing to start a civil war.

Aster’s autism is integral to the story and not for trauma-related reasons—her perspective on the HMS  (and the reader by extension) is thoroughly informed by her being autistic.

As always, you can get any of these books through your local library, indie bookstore, or through the Bookshop links above! Happy reading!

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, they act in local community theaters, play D&D, and are halfway through their MLiS program. You can find them on Goodreads, Twitter, or Instagram.

An Epic, Slow Burn F/F Romance: The Senator’s Wife by Jen Lyon

the cover of The Senator’s Wife by Jen Lyon

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Since reading The Senator’s Wife, I’ve been thinking about what exactly my criteria is for rating a book with five stars. Anne of Green Gables is the first five-star book I ever read; Anne of Avonlea was, unsurprisingly, the second. The three books by Jeanette Winterson that were the subject of my undergraduate thesis—The PassionWritten on the Body, and The PowerBook—are all rated five stars. The only book that I rated five stars in 2023 was Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died. I rated Iris Kelly Doesn’t DateWritten in the Stars, and Count Your Lucky Stars each with a 4.75 on Storygraph.

I’m not defending my five-star rating of The Senator’s Wife. I have to admit, though, that I’m still trying to understand just what it was about Jen Lyon’s novel/series that drew me in so forcefully. That admission notwithstanding, if I could offer some advice, it would be to dive into this 1000+ page odyssey as soon as you can. I read the entire story in three days—it would have taken less time if it weren’t for pesky nuisances like work and sleep.

Alex Grey, a professional soccer player and national team hopeful, is spending some well-deserved R&R with her lifelong friend Caleb on Daufuskie Island. Meanwhile, after a couple of decades spent dealing with her boorish husband, Catharine Cleveland, the titular senator’s wife, has begun making a habit of slipping away from the senator’s plantation mansion to spend a few minutes alone on the boat that she loves so much. As the weather turns unfavorable, Alex sees a small boat struggling against strong winds; when the boat capsizes, she dives in to try and save a life. The life that Alex saves belongs, of course, to Catharine.

This initial set of events takes place no more than ten miles from where I’m currently sitting. Admittedly, that fact doesn’t contribute to this review, but it is kind of neat, don’t you think?

Lyon switches between Alex’s perspective and Catharine’s perspective throughout The Senator’s Wife and the two subsequent novels, Caught Sleeping and Whistleblower. Alex grew up in South Carolina, taken in by extended family and raised conservative and religious. Spending her entire life within the confines of a single state—a small, narrow-minded one at that—Alex dreams of a bigger life. Catharine, meanwhile, has had “a bigger life,” one that has been defined by a bargain made with her father decades ago: marry a man she doesn’t care for and gain control of the family’s shipping company. Though she lives a life of wealth and privilege, managing the company better than her father ever could, Catharine still feels confined and without much agency. When Alex and Caleb bring Catharine back to Senator Cleveland’s mansion on that stormy day, neither Alex nor Catharine could predict how entwined their lives would become.

That’s right! Somebody is going to get a toaster oven, but not before what feels like the slowest of slow burns. To make matters even more engaging, somebody has a “deep, dark secret.” There’s also the matter of an age gap with which to contend. What I’m trying to say is that this book has everything. We start on Daufuskie Island, but end up in Charleston, Portland, San Francisco, Denver, and… well, if Taylor Swift stopped there on the Eras Tour, there’s a good chance Alex and Catharine spend time there as well. Eventually, the story will take an international turn, but that is another story. Except, well, it isn’t. 

Don’t go into The Senator’s Wife expecting a trilogy. Caught Sleeping is not about one of Alex’s teammates or Catharine’s best friend Nathalie: it’s the middle third of Alex and Catharine’s story. Lyon’s trilogy is best thought of as an epic novel, not unlike Shōgun or The Pillars of the Earth. (All three books were released in 2023, suggesting that the trilogy was written as an epic.) The Senator’s Wife begs to be turned into an epic miniseries like The Thorn Birds or Noble House. Except with women who love other women. And some of those women are foul-mouthed Australians. (Hmm, I think I might be figuring out the whole five-star rating thing.)

Another expectation one should have going into this epic is angst. I mean, secrets and slow burns have to be accompanied by some angst, right? Well, imagine the angstiest romance you’ve ever read, double the angst, and that’s about the level you’ll find in The Senator’s Wife. Compared to what Alex and Catharine go through, every obstacle that I’ve seen romance novel characters go through seems trivial. These two women get put through an emotional ringer. To me, though, even though the scope of the story is—once again—epic, it never felt overwrought to me. The lives that these people lead do not resemble my life at all, but the plot and all of its angst never felt so overblown that I was taken out of the moment. 

When it comes to being taken out of the moment, though, there is one more thing that you should know before picking up The Senator’s Wife. Based on the elements of the story that I’ve described above along with a basic knowledge of the romance genre, it shouldn’t be considered a spoiler to mention that the romance of this story happens within the context of an affair. (The title of the novel also kind of gives it away.) If that context bothers you… well, it bothers me too. I held off a bit on starting this book because of how much that bothers me. After Catharine’s first interaction with Senator Cleveland, though, it is clear that he is abusive. That’s an ethical conundrum on which your mileage will certainly vary. For what it’s worth, Lyon does a pretty good job of depicting what it’s like to escape an emotionally abusive marriage. Having lived that experience, I think Lyon might have actually done too good of a job. There were a couple of spots where I had to get up and walk away for a little while.

The Senator’s Wife has a lot to say about what it means to grow up and become a person who isn’t solely defined by who you were as a child, where you grew up, and who raised you. Senator Cleveland and Caleb are prime examples of people who only know one way to live, become confined by that one way, and then try to confine everyone around them to that same small, narrow view of the world. Though Catharine and Alex have already seen the cracks in those narrow worldviews, their discovery of each other helps them break through to finally be part of a larger world. Even if it’s difficult. Even if there are significant risks. Even if there are no guarantees.

If there is one last piece of advice that I could offer, it would be this one: Before diving into The Senator’s Wife, make sure that you hydrate, because there will be tears.

Content warning: cheating/affair, domestic violence, blackmail, revenge porn

Liv (she/her) is a trans woman, a professor of English, and a reluctant Southerner. Described (charitably) as passionate and strong-willed, she loves to talk (and talk) about popular culture, queer theory, utopias, time travel, and any other topic that she has magpied over the years. You can find her on storygraph and letterboxd @livvalentine.

Sporty Sapphics: Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner

the cover of Cleat Cute

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Meryl Wilsner’s Cleat Cute is probably one of the most talked-about sapphic romances of the fall, at least in my circles, and in my opinion, the hype is deserved. It follows serious team captain Grace Henderson and enthusiastic up-and-comer Phoebe Matthews from a rocky first impression to a growing respect to genuine romantic feelings, all amidst preparations for the World Cup.

As someone who cared about soccer for one weekend and never before or since, I will say first that you definitely do not need to care about soccer to care about this book. Soccer is of course the backdrop, and it’s important to both of the main characters, but none of it is so detailed that it loses readers who aren’t soccer fans. As a theater person rather than a sports-of-any-sort person, I could still relate to a lot of this book, with all of the passion and dedication, even to the point of overdoing it and needing the reminder that, hey, it’s okay to rest.

I loved the characters a lot. Their banter made me laugh, and I smiled a lot through most of their interactions, whether it was in a this-is-funny way or a I’m-so-happy-for-these-characters-connecting kind of way. I definitely felt like I could understand why they liked each other, which is the most important thing for me in romance.  I loved how seriously they took each other, pretty much from the beginning, especially when it came to how they handled each other’s neurodivergence, even before either one had actually put a word to it. I will say that I would not have been mad if some of the side characters got more page-time as well because they were all lovely, but I get that it’s not their story, so.

I will say that most of the conflict seemed to stem from miscommunication, which can be frustrating and isn’t usually my favorite, but it was so understandably in-character that I actually didn’t really mind it here. It never felt contrived, and it was resolved quickly enough that it didn’t make me wonder how they would ever be able to make a relationship work moving forward. I also have to say, the way the final misunderstanding was resolved was fantastic and it actually made me cackle.

This was definitely my favorite romance I’ve read in a while, and while I’m not actually a huge romance reader, this was definitely one to remind me why I like coming back to this genre.

Ted Lasso But Make It Sapphic: Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner

the cover of Cleat Cute

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“Calling Phoebe loud and obnoxious and gay ignores all her layers and contradictions. That’s Grace’s issue with fame—people take you at face value. Nobody bothers to look for the person beneath the brand.”

⚠️ Spoilers ahead. Book contains graphic sex scenes. ⚠️

Phoebe Matthews is ready to take her first season as a professional soccer player by storm. She even gets to play alongside her idol, Grace Henderson: the veteran star of the US Women’s National Team. Since they met, there’s been a spark of chemistry between them, and Phoebe can’t help but flirt with and seduce the woman she’s had a poster of since childhood. Though they’re on the same page on the pitch, a little miscommunication outside of the game leaves them both mentally spiraling. Are they brave enough to make a move both on and off the field?

The few factors that drove me to finish reading this book were the focus on fame, personal identity, and neurodiversity—NOT the relationship between Grace and Phoebe. The story touches on Grace’s preference not to reveal too much about who she is outside of soccer, in an effort to protect her privacy, until soccer becomes her entire identity, both to the outside world and herself. From the beginning, it’s also obvious that both main characters are neurodivergent. Phoebe is diagnosed with ADHD by the epilogue, and though Grace isn’t diagnosed with autism, it’s mentioned as a possibility. Though their neurodiversity is obvious from the first two chapters, the topic isn’t discussed in any way that matters to the story. There’s so much going on under the surface of these characters that would have made the story beautifully important if they were the focus, rather than a subtle plot point that’s slipped into the end of the book.

I almost DNFed this book many, many times; it takes a one-star read for me to give up on a book, rather than give it the benefit of the doubt. Though I did finish it, I dragged my feet every step of the way. The most obvious issue with this novel is the point of view. A third-person objective point of view is cold and distant. It leaves readers disconnected from the characters and the story. For Phoebe—passionate, energetic, a thousand thoughts a second Phoebe—we’re cut off from what she’s really feeling. Beyond that, this POV is choppy, especially for a story that primarily involves women. Unfortunately, the objective POV means the entire story is tell; we’re not shown through actions or imagery or any form of creative writing. The tension between them doesn’t last long enough to keep readers enthralled, either; once the sex is introduced, that’s apparently all that matters.

Every other sentence starts with a name to avoid referring to too many “she’s” within a single thought. The writing also lacks descriptive language, even though the story is set in vibrant New Orleans. For all the scenes focused on food, we never smell, taste, or experience a moment with the characters. Even during gameplay, there’s no sweat, heat, or the sound of screaming fans in our ears. The readers are kept at arm’s length at all times. Perhaps worse: the sex scenes read like fanfiction—a first-time writer’s fanfiction. Instead of steamy, the word choice makes it awkward and off putting. “Baby girl?” Really?

Despite my issues with it, I do recommend it for fans of workplace romances, Ted Lasso, or A League of Their Own. You’re going to get serious “Ted Lasso but make it sapphic” vibes from this, I promise; Phoebe and Grace are very much Jamie and Roy. If you’re in your sporty romance era, give this a try!

✨ The Vibes ✨

⚽︎ F/F Romance
⚽︎ Neurodiversity / ADHD and Autism Rep
⚽︎ Sports Romance
⚽︎ Secret Dating
⚽︎ Workplace Romance
⚽︎ Miscommunication
⚽︎ Grumpy vs Sunshine

#SapphicSoccerStoryGoals: You Don’t Have a Shot by Racquel Marie

the cover of You Don't Have a Shot

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You Don’t Have A Shot is sapphic soccer-rivals-to-lovers perfection set in present-day Southern California. If you’re still mourning the fact that the Women’s World Cup is over or you agree that “fútbol is life” a la Danny Rojas from Ted Lasso (but with a queer Latina twist), this book is for you!

In this heartwarming YA novel, Racquel Marie (she/her) introduces readers to Valentina “Vale” Castillo-Green, who is half Colombian, half Irish, and all about soccer. At the outset of the novel, we learn that Vale’s dream of playing college soccer has just imploded after her high school team, the Ravens, suffer a devastating loss at the hands of Hillcrest/her archrival, Leticia Ortiz. Although Vale is the captain of her team, it is apparent that she has lost her way as its leader. Vale intends to spend the summer before her senior year sulking at a low-stakes, sleepaway soccer camp she hasn’t been to in several years with her best friends and teammates, Dina and Ovie. Unbeknownst to Vale, soccer camp has gotten way more competitive in the last few years and she isn’t the only SoCal Latina planning to spend the summer there. Leticia will be attending as well, and sparks are sure to fly!

Vale is a character with depth and substance. Her inner monologue is sharp and hilarious. She is flawed, relatable, and always growing. Early on, we learn that her mother died of cancer a few years ago when she was thirteen and she is continuing to work through that grief. Unfortunately, that process is exacerbated by her complicated relationship with her father, who really wants Vale to excel in soccer, but has a penchant for negative, and often cruel, reinforcement that borders on emotional abuse. In his eyes, nothing Vale does on the pitch is ever good enough, and she has internalized his criticisms, as evidinced by her anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Notwithstanding her fraught relationship with her father and the loss of her mother, Vale is incredibly resilient and well-adjusted. She is in for an unforgettable summer where she is going to have to figure out what kind of leader she is and grapple with what soccer truly means to her.

The world that Racquel Marie builds is rich with diversity. Vale is biracial, queer, and asexual. Leticia is Cuban, a lesbian, and has two moms. There are several women of color who play important roles in Vale’s life, as well as significant bisexual, pansexual, gay, and trans characters. Although not a criticism, I really wanted to hear more about Vale’s queer asexuality. I thought it was an important aspect of her identity that I don’t usually see represented in YA literature and that Racquel Marie could have spent a little more time developing it. 

Overall, I loved this book. I coveted sapphic YA when I was in high school, but I couldn’t always find it. When I did, the characters didn’t usually share my cultural background. You Don’t Have a Shot is the kind of feel-good, representative book I wish I had growing up. Read it.

Trigger Warnings: anxiety, death of a loved one, and emotionally abusive language.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey. She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

A Breezy F/F Romance With a Fatal Flaw: Against the Current by Lily Seabrooke

the cover of Against the Current

Against the Current is the second in what promises to be a lovely cozy romance series, based on a queer friend group that lives in the same fictional, medium-sized city. The main characters, Annabel and Priscilla, were introduced (Priscilla a lot more briefly than Annabel) in the first book, If It’s Meant to Be. In that book, Priscilla is introduced as a younger straight woman who has a massive crush on the incorrigible playgirl, Annabel. By the opening of Against the Current, only the “massive crush” part of that remains true. Priscilla is fully aware that her feelings for Annabel are not exactly heterosexual (she takes a bit of time to figure out what that means for her as the book goes on), and Annabel is desperate to shed the “playgirl” from her life. She wants someone a lot more permanent in her life, even (maybe especially) after having had a relationship with the emotionally-unavailable Emberlynn, one of the main characters in If It’s Meant to Be.

There’s no real toaster-oven angst in this one on Priscilla’s part. She’s comfortable having this crush, even if the crush itself is deeply uncomfortable. The angst and main problematic come because Priscilla is a) younger, and b) a swimmer on the college team Annabel coaches, which makes this an age-gap/student-teacher romance if you squint hard enough, even though the gap in question is only four years. The romance itself follows a fairly standard arc with moderate pacing and medium spice, the chapters are narrated first-person by one or the other of the main characters, and it comes to a tidy resolution, with enough of the supporting cast tangled up in their own drama to provide further fodder for the series.

Where this novel falls short is in the first sex scene, and what follows are both light spoilers and a content warning for coercive sex, so read on at your own discretion. The pair find themselves at a hotel, having travelled for a high-level swim meet, in which Priscilla won a gold medal. They are sharing a room and discussing the significant sexual tension between them. Priscilla is trying to convince Annabel that she knows where she is, what she’s doing, who she’s doing it with, and that she understands their scholastic relationship. And Annabel says, “no,” kindly and clearly. Priscilla pushes right past that no, past at least two others, and eventually wears Annabel’s resolve down and into bed. Not exactly enthusiastic consent. This is a thing that happens in romance novels and has been used in other books as an effective point of contention. But that doesn’t happen here. Annabel doesn’t bring up her feelings the next morning, Priscilla is happy to have bedded her crush, and the friend group admonishes Annabel and warns her off breaking the younger woman’s heart. I waited for the author to flag Priscilla’s behavior as bad at any point in the rest of the book, but she didn’t. I was stunned. Seabrooke is a better author than this, and these wonderful, rich characters (particularly Annabel) deserved so much more. But this was a significant oversight on an otherwise talented author’s part that must be mentioned and highlighted, particularly for any readers that have experienced such coercion themselves.

Overall, the book was a well-written, breezy romance for those times where you just want to disengage for a couple of hours and read about some messy sapphic twenty-somethings being cute and gay. I unfortunately can’t recommend it, as the coercive manner in which the sexual relationship between the main characters starts cast a pall over the whole book as I was reading it. Read the first book. Read everything else Seabrooke has written, supporting a trans author who deserves a lot more visibility. But, unless you read book one and you just can’t not read what happened with Priscilla’s first gay crush, I’d skip Against the Current.

I received an advance review copy of this book from Booksprout in exchange for nothing but an honest review.

An F/F Romance for Women’s Soccer Fans: Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner

the cover of Cleat Cute

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For everyone currently getting excited about women’s soccer, Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner, out September 19, is a cute romance between two teammates during the leadup to a World Cup year. I would like to thank the publisher for providing The Lesbrary with an ARC for review. I honestly enjoyed this story a lot—it’s a fun romance between two highly competitive people and features plenty of steamy action and on field dramatics.

Grace Henderson is a veteran star on both the US Women’s National Team and her National Women’s Soccer League team in New Orleans. She’s a consummate professional and deals with the intense pressure that comes at playing at her level and being in the spotlight by intensely cultivating her privacy even among teammates. But when rookie Phoebe Matthews is invited to National Team training camp, she manages to throw Grace off her stride almost instantly, and Grace is somewhat dismayed to realize that she will also be Phoebe’s captain back for the regular season in New Orleans. Phoebe Matthews is approaching her first season as a professional soccer player with her usual boundless enthusiasm and energy and a willingness to work hard and do whatever it takes to succeed. Her invitation to be considered for the National team juices her determination even more, as she realizes she could be competing for a spot on the World Cup Team. Gregarious and friendly, Phoebe has never bothered with not being out or with team politics. When sparks fly between them as the professional stakes mount, will they be able to find common ground between walls Grace has built around herself and Phoebe’s need for openness?

I really enjoyed this romance. As someone who has read her fair share of het or m/m athletic romances, I greatly enjoyed this foray into wlw sports. I’m on board. Let’s make lesbian soccer romances the next thing. You get all the cuteness of a romance combined with all the hyper competitiveness of professional athletes. Neither Grace nor Phoebe have taken it easy in their entire lives, or they wouldn’t be playing at an elite level, and that tension on the field translates so well into their romantic tension. Even if they’re not competing against each other, every time they help each other get better they get all hot and bothered. It’s great. I especially enjoyed their dynamic, with Grace taking the lead on the team as Captain and also showing Phoebe around New Orleans, but Phoebe being the more experienced one with feelings and communication. I loved it; it was exactly the level of fun and hi-jinx I want from a romance, but the difficulties introduced for tension did not feel forced or unlikely as sometimes romance problems do.

In conclusion, if you’re still jonesing for some quality soccer content in September, you should look up Cleat Cute, out September 19th. It’s fun and flirty with a heaping helping of sports feelings on top as an extra treat. I really felt like Phoebe and Grace fit together and worked well together. It was the perfect fast paced romance I wanted to get me pumped up for reading again. Definitely check it out: you won’t regret it.

A Hilarious and Sweet High School Love Triangle: Belle of the Ball by Mari Costa

the cover of Belle of the Ball

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In the graphic novel Belle of the Ball, Brazilian author and illustrator Mari Costa treats us to a charming, sweet, and funny story of a high school love triangle between a nerdy wallflower, a charming jock, and an overly driven cheerleader.

When Belle Hawkins (who goes by her last name), school mascot and super shy wallflower, finally works up the courage to ask her crush, the super beautiful, super smart, and super popular cheerleader Regina Moreno, to the school dance, things don’t go particularly well. For starters, she forgets to take off the big cat head she’s wearing as part of her costume. Even worse, Regina has a girlfriend, the star athlete Chloe Kitigawa, who just so happens to show up right at that moment and threaten Hawkins to never talk to her girlfriend again. While both Hawkins and Chloe hope that that is the last time they see each other, fate has other plans. Later that day, Regina finds out that Chloe is failing English, which does not fit in with her 10 year plan for their lives. Regina decides to get Chloe a tutor. She sees Hawkins’s profile on a tutoring service website and comes up with a devious plan: play nice and ask Hawkins to tutor Chloe for free. 

Initially, Regina’s plans work well. Hawkins jumps at the chance to tutor Chloe to impress Regina. Chloe, despite being stubborn and a bit of a jerk to Hawkins, decides to play along. That all changes, though, when Chloe remembers who Hawkins is. Long before Hawkins decided to start hiding who she was (and going by Hawkins instead of her first name), she and Chloe were close friends, with Hawkins perpetually dressed as a princess and leading Chloe on adventures. As their tutoring sessions continue and they spend more and more time together, old feelings between the two resurface and a romance begins to bloom. However, with Regina still in the picture, things are complicated and they can’t admit their true feelings.

I really liked Mari Costa’s writing. For starters, I love the main characters and the journeys Mari takes them on in the book. While they all start as stereotypical high school archetypes, there is so much more depth to them over time. Hawkins starts as your typical shy nerdy wallflower. She sits the other nerdy kids in school, but never has the courage to join in. She’d rather wear her mascot head than be seen. However, as the story progresses, she begins to have the courage to open up and let people see who she truly is, thanks in no small part to Chloe. Chloe appears at first to be your stereotypical jock, but by the end you see that she has her own nerdy side and is actually very sweet and charming. I loved the interactions between Hawkins and Chloe as their relationship develops. The antagonism between them (mostly coming from Chloe) goes from mean-spirited to playful and sweet. They go from being two people stuck with one another because someone else made them do it to two people who genuinely care for one another and want to be around each other as much as possible.

And then there’s Regina. Initially, I didn’t care for Regina. She comes off as very selfish and full of herself at the beginning of the book. Her conversations are often all about her and how smart, beautiful, and talented she is. When talking about their relationship with Chloe, Regina routinely frames it around her own goals and her own needs, putting Chloe’s second. With Hawkins, most of their dynamic revolves around receiving praise from Hawkins or asking Hawkins to do things for her. However, as the story progresses, she slowly begins to realize her flaws and make small changes for the better. While I still didn’t become her biggest fan by the end of the book and I still see room for her to grow, I did come around on her at least a little. 

Mari’s art in this book is also outstanding. I really appreciated the unique color palette of the book, with Mari choosing to keep everything in black, white, and shades of red and pink. The pacing of her panels is also fluid. Not once did I get confused as my eyes moved from panel to panel. Mari uses her art to full comedic effect, with multiple awkward momsents illustrated hilariously. A special mention needs to be said for how she used Hawkins’ mascot head, this giant cat head, in several scenes. For me, though, the best thing about the art in this book was how Mari illustrated facial expressions, from over the top manga-style illustrations to emphasize character emotions to more subtle illustrations to show the character’s inner thoughts. It all really worked for me and made the character’s emotions and thoughts crystal clear. I really think that this helped the most with Chloe, the quietest of the three protagonists. There are pages in which she says maybe two lines of dialogue, but her eye movements and facial expressions say so much more. 

I only have two minor complaints about this book. First, I would have liked to see more of Regina’s arc. I feel like a lot of it gets left to the last chapter and is fairly short. That’s not to say that it doesn’t work or that it’s sudden: you do see how she goes from selfish and stuck-up to a better friend to Chloe and Hawkins, and it does make sense. I just wish I saw more of it. Second, I wish there had been more about what happened to Hawkins that made her hide herself away so much. It’s hinted that something happened that made her go from Belle, dressed like a princess as much as possible, to Hawkins, hidden away in more androgynous clothes. Still, we get nothing more than “high school happened”, which, granted, is believable. 

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this graphic novel. If you’re looking for a sweet, funny, and light-hearted high school romance, I highly recommend it.       

Jamie Rose is a trans woman living in Florida (so you can imagine how that’s going right now). She has a PhD in Applied Linguistics and teaches courses in language learning and teaching. A lover of stories, she enjoys reading both comic books/graphic novels and the ones without pictures. Her favorite genres are contemporary romance, science fiction and fantasy, superheroes, and comedy. When she’s not reading or working, she’s usually playing table-top games or video games, binging YouTube videos, or spending time with her wife and daughter. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, Bluesky, and Threads at @jamiegeeksout.