Who is Worthy of Survival at the End of the World? On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

On the Edge of Gone cover

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I want to preface this with that I read this for my Bi Book Club and it turns out the bisexual character is a supporting one, not the main one. So I will focus this review on that relationship.

This was a really good look into who gets to survive the apocalypse. It follows the story of a young autistic girl, Denise, doing everything she can to help her family live while still dealing with her sensory issues and working through her social behaviors. It makes you question the value put on humanity when the only thing valued is productivity and how much you can offer.

As Denise navigates the end of the world as they know it with a mother who struggles with substance abuse, she seeks to find her sister, Iris, lost amid the chaos. Iris is a bisexual transgender woman who, for the first half of the book, appears mostly in flashbacks as Denise remembers key points of her childhood.

Even as the world unravels due to natural disasters, Denise always remembers her sister and her role in getting Denise to where she is now. Memories show that when Iris first began recognizing herself as a girl and wanted to transition, she trusted her sister Denise as her first confidante. As children, they played a game where she “pretended to be a girl.” Duyvis presents a nuanced dynamic, as Denise struggles at first to understand this because often with autism, she has difficulty grasping concepts that are not literal. But as Iris gets older and explains what it means to be a transgender person, Denise comes to accept her sibling as her sister.

Iris gravitated toward a queer community in their home city in Amsterdam that she invited Denise to join and take part in to help her make friends. It’s this very community Iris sought to help and protect when the meteor hit Earth, leaving her separated from her mother and sister. While many people got to leave on generation ships to populate another planet, most were left behind to live on a destroyed Earth. Iris knew her community would be among the majority left behind.

Iris’s efforts to help the queer community rebuild and prepare for survival through mutual aid are a reflection of Denise’s struggle to make herself “useful” so she can be accepted aboard a generation ship. Iris recognized early on as a transgender individual on hormones, she wouldn’t qualify as a priority to bring on board a generation ship. She knew that others like her would get left behind and so she chose to stay and help them.

On the surface, this novel is a slow-build apocalypse, but look a little deeper and you will find it’s more about who is deemed worthy of survival.

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. 

Identity in Transition: Us by Sara Soler

the cover of Us by Sara Soler

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Growing into one’s queer identity is often more a journey of discovery than a destination, and loving someone through the discovery phases takes one on the journey as well. Us by Sara Soler is a graphic memoir of love in motion. It follows two partners as they journey from perceiving themselves as a typic heterosexual couple, to realizing there was something far from hetero about both of them.

As one partner, Diane, discovers her identity as a trans woman and begins transitioning, the other, Sara, begins the self-reflection of what it means for her own self-concept. Diane’s struggle of finding her true self while trying to maintain the difficult balance on her relationship with Sara is truly heartbreaking and achingly beautiful. Meanwhile, Sara tells her own journey with stark vulnerability. She describes the conflicted feelings of going from being locked in the heteronormative mindset, to realizing she is in love with a woman for the first time in her life, and really exploring what that means to her. 

Us is a memoir unafraid to delve into the challenges. It shows both the heights of queer euphoria and the despair and darkness that can come from such a journey. It does so unflinchingly. Sara is unafraid to discuss the negative and unflattering thoughts she had in the early days of their journey, being willing to show herself as the flawed human she is. Sara’s openness in this memoir is important because she allows readers to journey along with her growth, to see her challenge the heteronormative thoughts she had from society and find both unconditional love for her partner, and understanding of her own queer self. Us is able to delve into these themes while maintaining a compassionate space for young Sara and Diane, and for all those who are less far along on their own journey of deconstructing gender and sexuality.

It’s the art that truly brings this story its easy accessibility. Drawn in a comforting, cozy style, it feels like a warm hug. Sara makes the fascinating choice to give the people who are supportive detail and definition, while leaving the people who have been unkind during their journey—and the outright transphobic people—mostly formless shapes. In part, this is likely to protect the guilty by revealing less of their identities. However, it also creates a stark picture of the people who are still stuck in the binary of gender and sexuality as less well-formed and colorless, while those who embrace their queerness burst into each page with detail and holistic beauty. The color pallate of the story further creates both a cozy sense and focuses on the gender euphoria: coloring everything in the shades of the trans flag throughout.

Ultimately, Us is a gorgeous memoir that can educate and move the reader. It is a lovely story made more powerful by the fact that it is true. Us invites us to become fully defined people, embracing our queerness and letting it make us whole.

Chris Ceary (she/they) is a psychology professor by day and a reviewer of all things queer media by night. They host the podcast Thirsty on Toon, which covers queer indie and small press media, as well as the podcasts Gotham Outsiders and Talking Comics. Chris can be found screaming about their latest reads across various social media sites linked at linktree.com/themythofpsyche

A Trans Teen Finds Her Words: Just Happy to Be Here by Naomi Kanakia

the cover of Just Happy to Be Here

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Tara is the first trans girl to attend Ainsley Academy, an all-girls school. She finds it hard to fit in, especially considering that she’s also one of the few students of color. One place she does feel like she belongs is the Sibyls, an exclusive society within the school that values classical history. Tara’s passion is speeches throughout history, and she admires how the Sibyls stand behind their values and don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks about them. When she applies to join, though, she’s thrown into a controversy about who is allowed into this elite group for girls, and whether it should still exist at all.

This was an infuriating read. Tara is a young trans woman of color who seems to bounce between dealing with micro aggressions and macro aggressions; there’s almost no one she can just be herself around. Her parents are… somewhat accepting, but they often misgender her and question whether she’s sure enough about her transition to go on hormones. Tara desperately wants to be on hormones, but they live in a state where parents can have their kids taken away if they’re suspected of pushing them to transition. And because of their immigration status, they’re even more vulnerable. It’s not paranoia, either: they are reported at one point and interrogated by a state official.

Tara is used as a political pawn. Even people who are theoretically accepting just see as her as “the trans girl.” When she says anything that doesn’t match their idea of what a trans girl should be, they immediately push back against her, even when she’s just expressing her own insecurities. They seem more concerned about saying the right things than actually getting to know her. Even the trans guy at school uses her as an unwilling figurehead in his fight to take down the Sibyls for being exclusionary, ignoring that she loves the Sibyls and has no interest in dismantling the group.

Tara wants so badly to fit in, to be “ordinary”, and deals with a lot of internalized transphobia and racism. She doesn’t want to lead a charge against transphobia. She just wants to blend in.

I had to put down the book at some point because I was so full of rage on her behalf. The school administrators and teachers often have double standards for her: when it comes to benefits of being part of Ainsley Academy, Tara is technically part of the boys’ school. But when it comes to the drawbacks and discipline of students, she’s part of Ainsley. One of her teachers escalates from double standards to flat-out transphobic hate speech.

The Sibyls aren’t perfect, and in fact there are very good reasons to want to dismantle this not-so-secret society of rich women. But it is where Tara meets her first genuine friends, who treat her as an individual—including her crush, Felicity, who she gets closer and closer to. (Tara is bisexual, with a preference for women.) They’re all flawed people, and they may not always say the right thing, but they’re finally a place where Tara feels like she belongs and that people have her back—not for political reasons, but for her as a person.

Just Happy To Be Here has a long author’s note at the end with advice for trans girls, and that advice is not sugar-coated. It’s also frustrating that trans women and transfem YA is so new, and yet this author’s note feels even more urgent and dire than these books did a handful of years ago, when the first few trans YA titles were being published by mainstream presses. It’s horrific that it’s gotten even more dangerous to be a trans woman in the United States.

This was an emotionally harrowing read, full of non-stop transphobia—plus some added racism. It’s one I’m glad to have read, but I’m even more glad to be done.

A Cozy Queer Comic of Community: Matchmaker by Cam Marshall

the cover of Matchmaker

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This was a surprise, last-minute entry in my list of favourite reads of 2023!

I stumbled on this while researching new releases for Our Queerest Shelves, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was by a local British Columbia author/artist! I requested it from the library knowing pretty much nothing else about it except that it was queer and looked cute. I ended up devouring it in a couple days, and I’m now mourning that it’s over.

This follows Kimmy and Mason, best friends and roommates trying to survive the early 2020s in their early twenties. Kimmy is a nonbinary/genderfluid transfem lesbian, and Mason is cis and gay. As the title suggests, Kimmy is determined to set Mason up with his first boyfriend, which is made a lot more complicated during a pandemic when Mason is high risk.

This was originally a webcomic, which is obvious from how each page is set up to be somewhat complete in itself, but there is a narrative. We follow Kimmy and Mason through dating, breakups, and accumulating a growing group of queer friends. I loved these characters so much, and I was laughing out loud at several pages. It’s just such a cute, funny, and relatable read.

Kimmy is an unforgettable character. They’re over-the-top bubbly and silly, and they radiate confidence. I really appreciated reading about a fat transfem character who is so secure in themselves. They usually use they/them pronouns, but they also experience gender fluidity and change pronouns some days.

About halfway through the book, we find out Kimmy has depression, and they have to taper off their medication to start a new kind. As they go off their depression medication, they become an almost unrecognizable numb, closed-off version of themself Mason calls “Normal Kimmy.” Their friends support them through the weeks of this until they’ve adjusted to the new medication and begin to feel like themself again, including being able to better take in what’s happening around them.

This community of queer friends was the strength of this story. Not only have Mason and Kimmy been best friends since high school, but they also make connections with other queer people, quickly growing a supportive friend group. Despite the struggles they’re dealing with in terms of employment, the pandemic, dating, capitalism, and more, that rock solid foundation made this a comforting and cozy read.

This is not a short comic: it’s 280 pages. But by the time I finished it, I was already missing spending time with these characters.

I do have one complaint, though, and I hope it’s changed in later editions, because it doesn’t fit with the range of queer identities represented positively in this story: Kimmy refers to their lack of libido from being off their medication as being asexual, including triumphantly declaring, “I’m not ace anymore!” when their sex drive returned, which isn’t great, especially because I believe that’s the only mention of asexuality in the book.

That unfortunate inclusion aside, I really enjoyed this book. You can also still read it as a webcomic!

A Kind Voice from the Unkind Days of Early 2020: Care of by Ivan Coyote

the cover of Care of by Ivan Coyote

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Ivan Coyote is one of my all-time favourite authors; I love their short stories and their essay collections. I’ve gotten to see them perform several times, and it’s always an amazing experience. Which is why I was thrown when I listened to the audiobook of Rebent Sinner when it came out and… didn’t love it? I didn’t know what to think. Was it me? Or had their writing changed? So, while I went out and bought a new, still-in-hardcover copy of Care of—something I very rarely do—it sat unread on my shelves for months, because I was nervous that I wouldn’t like it, either. Luckily, I was completely wrong.

I ended up listening to the audiobook of this one, too, and as soon as I hit play, I wanted to be listening to it all the time. Ivan Coyote has such a comforting, kitchen table storyteller way of speaking. It’s soothing to listen to, while the subject matter addresses issues like transphobia.

This is a collection of letters. During the early months of the pandemic, their shows had to come to a halt, and they used that newfound time to answer emails and letters that they had been saving until they had the time to give them the attention they deserved—some had been waiting years for that response. I’ve realized lately that I love these sort of collections in audiobook: Dear Sugar and Dear Prudence are two other audiobooks I couldn’t stop listening to.

As always, Coyote is a compassionate, thoughtful voice no matter whose letter they are answering. I actually feel like I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to listen to it even when I was too distracted to pay as much attention as it deserves, so I plan on rereading/relistening to this again very soon.

Even though it’s written during the early days of the pandemic, it doesn’t feel dated. The topics being addressed are just as relevant now as they were then, and I think having a little bit of distance from 2020 helped me appreciate that aspect more; I’m not sure I could have listened to/read it during 2020, if it had been released then.

Despite my comparisons to Dear Sugar and Dear Prudence, these aren’t really letters with advice. They’re more responses with commiserations, with stories that the original letter reminded them of, and sometimes with questions or pleas for the letter writer. They’re personal, considered, and empathetic responses to all kinds of different people who have reached out to them.

If you haven’t read Ivan Coyote’s books before, this is a good place to start. And if you have, you won’t be disappointed by picking this one up, especially as an audiobook.

Trans Horror Satire with a Beating Heart: Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky

the cover of Boys Weekend

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Boys Weekend a satirical horror graphic novel about Sammie, a trans feminine person who is invited to a bachelor party of an old friend as the “best man.” While there, Mattie seems to be the only one concerned about the cult sacrificing people. This was already on my TBR, and I was happily surprised to find out this one is sapphic! Sammie has a wife.

This is illustrated in a style I associate more with adult cartoons than graphic novels, but it works well for this dark comedy. Sammie is conflicted about whether to attend Adam’s bachelor party, but Adam has been fairly accepting after they came out, so they decide to take the leap. The party takes place at a sci-fi, ultra capitalist version of Las Vegas: it’s called El Campo, and on this island, anything goes. Including hunting your own clone for casual entertainment. Adam’s friends are all tech bros, and Sammie is uncomfortable with them on multiple levels: while their home is decorated with ACAB signs and pride flags, Adam’s friends are interested in strip clubs, get rich quick schemes, and everything else associated with hetero masculinity.

Even before the outright horror elements come in, this is an unsettling and upsetting environment to be in. Sammie constantly misgendered, both from strangers and friends/acquaintances who should know better. The horror plot is really just an exaggeration of the cult of masculinity that the bachelor party is so devoted to. There is some gore, but as a whole, it is focused on the satire, not being outright scary.

It’s difficult reading Sammie experience the unrelenting transmisogyny that they do, but there’s also a defiant, hopeful element to this story. It explores the complicated question of which relationships are worth holding onto after coming out—what about the friends and family who don’t get it but aren’t actively hateful? When is it time to walk away, and when is it worth reaching out and trying to repair the relationship?

Despite the horror, the micro- and macroaggressions, and the constant misgendering, this wasn’t bleak. Sammie reaches out to their wife and other queer friends throughout the story, asking for their advice and support over the phone, so even when they are surrounded by assholes, they don’t feel alone. Sammie is secure in their identity and self-worth and has support from coworkers, friends, and in their marriage.

While having lots of over-the-top elements—El Campo is something else—I actually teared up a bit at the end. The setting and plot might be cartoony, but the emotion is grounded. I recommend this both to horror fans and to those less familiar with the genre: as long as you’re okay with a few pages of gore, this is well worth the read.

A Dark, Magical Story of Gender Versus Tradition: Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson 

the cover of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven

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Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, written by Juno Dawson, is an enthralling urban fantasy that explores gender in a magical world that, similar to our own, finds itself strictly divided along the binary. It questions concepts of power, friendship, love, and feminism in a world in which traditional power structures are challenged and, to some, are no longer acceptable. Taken together with its fantastic characters and thrilling story, this book is a must-read for anyone who’s a fan of queer witchy stories.

On the night of the summer solstice, five young girls named Helena, Elle, Leonie, and twins Niamh and Ciara are inducted as members of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (HMRC), the official witch’s coven of the British government. Twenty-five years and one devastating magical war later, the sisters have gone their separate ways. Wealthy Helena is now Headmistress of the HMRC. Leonie has left the coven to start Diaspora, a coven of queer witches and witches of color. This stands in stark contrast to the more conservative HMRC. Elle is a nurse and housewife who has chosen to keep her witchly status secret from her husband and children. Niamh is working as a veterinarian, using her powers to treat animals. However, when the HMRC discovers an incredibly powerful young warlock named Theo who is prophesied to destroy the world, Helena recruits her old friends to help her decide what to do. Things get even more complicated when Theo is revealed to be transgender. Soon, battle lines are drawn. On one side stands Helena, willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. On the other side stand Niamh, Leonie, and Elle, fighting to nurture and protect this young witch. 

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is filled with great storytelling and relatable characters that feel drawn from real life. Juno Dawson’s writing is full of clever turns of phrase and humor that balance well with the dark nature of the story. The pace of the book never feels rushed. It mixes slower character-focused chapters with more thrilling narrative-focused ones to great effect. The characters and the dynamics between them feel incredibly realistic. You really get the sense that these women had been the closest of friends when they were younger, which makes their split all the more painful to read. In terms of balance between the four main characters, Juno Dawson does a fantastic job of giving each of them arcs that feel complete and integral to the overall story. Even though Niahm and Helena get most of the focus in the story, Leonie and Elle still get moments to shine and fully-fleshed out arcs. Lastly, I loved the magic system in this book. I am always a big fan of magical systems that portray magic as limited and coming with a physical cost. This is not a world in which magic is used in a haphazard or casual fashion. Casting spells in this world comes with a price. This makes the magic feel more grounded while also adding an incredible amount of narrative weight to the characters’ actions in pursuit of their goals.

I loved how Juno Dawson uses the split between the erstwhile best friends as a way to examine one of the most contentious debates within modern feminism: the inclusion of transgender women in traditionally cis women-only spaces. Through the four main characters, readers are presented with varying ways in which people come to this debate in the real world. By giving it apocalyptic consequences, we are shown just how massively important inclusion is for many transgender people. It takes something that is often misunderstood and poorly reported on, presents it in clear terms, and effectively shows how much it means to the people involved. At the same time, Juno Dawson does not treat all sides of the debate equally. Time and time again, events in the narrative make it very clear that transgender women belong in women’s spaces and that choosing otherwise is choosing hate. So, although this book is an exploration of modern gender issues, it is never one that tries to play both sides.    

At a personal, character level, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is also a story about the power of love and hate. Elle, Leonie, and especially Niamh push themselves beyond their physical and emotional boundaries multiple times in the narrative to keep Theo safe. Niamh and Elle especially go to great efforts to understand Theo and see the girl behind the chaotic magic. Despite the danger to themselves, they never once give up on Theo. On the other side, Helena travels a very dark route as she attempts to deny Theo’s personhood. She sacrifices her ideals, betrays her community, and becomes the type of monster she once fought against. All out of her hatred of what she does not understand. This conflict between radical love and unadulterated hate is a perfect allegory for what people, for better or worse, are willing to do in the fight over transgender rights. 

Another thing I really applaud Juno Dawson on is how she handles having a main character who ends up being a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF). When I read Helena’s turn to TERFdom, I immediately got nervous. Despite my trust in Juno, I could not help but worry that somehow this would open the door to humanizing anti-trangender arguments. I was also worried that reading a character using anti-transgender hate speech over multiple chapters would be too triggering. Call it naivete or just simple world-weariness. Either way, I was wrong and came away incredibly impressed at how it all was handled. Never once is Helena portrayed as a sympathetic villain. Although you can see the causes of her turn to evil, you never are made to feel sorry for her or given the opportunity to side with her. The narrative shows how fear of the unknown can lead people down dark paths, but never once is lost the point that despite every chance given to reconsider her actions, she never does. Instead, she digs deeper and deeper into her hate, letting it consume her.   

I think if I had any complaint about the book it is that I wish that I could have seen more from the queer characters in the book. Leonie, for example, is the only queer main character and she gets the least amount of chapters dedicated to her. So, while the concept of gender is dealt with well in the book, it is mainly examined through the perspectives of cis straight women. 

That being said, I loved Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. It is an expertly written story with great characters and a thrilling narrative. Moreover, as a transgender woman living in today’s political climate, I absolutely adored how the debates that shape my life right now were made manifest and dealt with in such powerful terms.

A Queer M/F Romance of Healing and Reconciliation: A Shot in the Dark by Victoria Lee

the cover of A Shot in the Dark by Victoria Lee

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This novel is a masterful exploration of various themes, ranging from consent and communication during intimate moments to faith, substance abuse, and power dynamics. The author’s ability to delve into these topics with depth and sensitivity truly impressed me.

The novel shines in its approach to consent and communication during sexual encounters. Lee’s portrayal of characters navigating these conversations felt both authentic and refreshing. The way the characters navigate their desires and boundaries is a testament to the importance of open dialogue in relationships.

Furthermore, the exploration of faith and its impact on one’s identity within the context of the Orthodox community adds another layer of complexity to the story. Lee handles this topic with great care, highlighting the struggles and conflicts faced by Ely as she grapples with her past.

Substance abuse is tackled with a nuanced perspective, portraying the protagonists’ journey through recovery with empathy and realism. Lee’s portrayal serves as a reminder of the challenges individuals face on the path to sobriety, and how recovery is a continuous process.

The examination of power dynamics is another highlight of the novel. The teacher-student relationship between the characters introduces a layer of tension and complexity that is brilliantly executed. The internal struggles of the characters as they navigate their feelings while maintaining a professional boundary is both engaging and thought-provoking.

In conclusion, A Shot in the Dark is an exceptional read that skillfully weaves together a myriad of important themes. Victoria Lee’s ability to approach subjects such as consent, communication, faith, substance abuse, and power dynamics with sensitivity and depth is truly commendable. This novel is a must-read for anyone seeking a captivating story that sparks introspection and provides a platform for meaningful discussions.

Trigger warnings: substance abuse, alcohol, overdose, transphobia, abusive parent, antisemitism, drug use, religious trauma, relapse, death of a parent, domestic violence

A High-Heat Heist: Double Exposure by Rien Gray

the cover of Double Exposure

Note: While I’ve avoided major plot spoilers, this review is relatively detailed regarding the character arcs and themes.

Fittingly enough, I’ve been exposed to Double Exposure by Rien Gray twice. The first time was through the Happily Ever After Collective, which releases monthly romance novellas from a variety of authors. Last year, Double Exposure released to patrons along with other second chance romances, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m delighted to have my own print copy of this book due to its recent wide release. 

Double Exposure is a romantic suspense novella about a pair of rival art thieves, Jillian Rhodes and Sloane Caffrey, who are hired to steal the same target—a never-before-seen collection of infamously scandalous photos. Ever since a steamy encounter gone awry, they have been at each other’s throats from a distance, but competing to pull off a heist at the Art Institute of Chicago brings the tension between them up close and personal. The stakes rise as they realize a larger game may be afoot—if they can overcome their own drama to uncover it. 

Jillian’s client is the son of the late photographer whose scandalous affair is depicted in the photos. For the client, retrieving them before the exhibit opens is a matter of his family’s honor. For Jillian, it is a matter of bragging rights. Sloane is just as determined to prove they’re the best by stealing the photos for a greedy baron. Though they loathe him, they’re happy to take a large sum of his money in exchange for a successful heist.

While the thieves are equals in ambition and ability, their approaches and backgrounds couldn’t be more different. As a charismatic con artist born into a rich family, Sloane steals to redistribute the wealth and return pieces stolen by colonizers. Meanwhile, the ever-pragmatic Jillian prefers stealth to small talk. She grew up with next to nothing and survived alone at a young age, so she still prioritizes self-preservation and independence. For all their differences, each acknowledges the other as their only worthy rival. What they lack is trust. After a messy misunderstanding left them brokenhearted, they have spent years sabotaging each other, turning to vengeance rather than risking reaching out. They’ve isolated themselves by placing each other on pedestals, untouchable, when they both yearn to be with the one person who might understand them.

Their second chance at love echoes a second chance at life, as the characters have already remade themselves. After traumatic childhoods, they cut ties with their families and built up their careers. Jillian has fought to claim the freedom, security, and access she once lacked, while Sloane strives to heal the damage of their family’s harmful legacy. Each of them attempts to take charge of their own futures and change the world around them. Double Exposure is interested in the different ways that people wield power, and what happens when that balance shifts, whether the power stems from perception, money and status, or institutions. This is mirrored in the ways that Sloane and Jillian, as exes and rivals, are constantly trying to one-up each other. Neither is used to the vulnerability that comes from a willful give-and-take, and they have already been burned by their last attempt to open up to each other. 

If you’re interested in romance that doesn’t follow the traditional formula, a second chance romance novella offers a unique opportunity. Because the two have already met, tried to be together, and broken up, this book reads almost like a more developed third act of a traditional romance novel. It explores the already established barriers between the two and challenges them to overcome those barriers. Meanwhile, they have a heist to worry about, as well as threats they aren’t even aware of.

Double Exposure effectively maintains its gripping suspense. The prose is precise, with each word and detail carefully chosen and arranged. The writing itself feels confident in a way that sells the characters’ competence. It leans hard into the satisfaction of watching masters at work, as both Sloane and Jillian approach the heist fully aware they are at the top of their field, with plenty of specialized knowledge woven into the narration to demonstrate it.        

For me, the most memorable aspect is the characters. I was especially drawn to Sloane due to their charm, cunning, and life’s mission. Being nonbinary, Sloane is keenly aware that their gender presentation affects how people perceive them, and they must keep this in mind as they take their more public, sociable approach to their work. This blog’s readers may also be glad to know that Jillian is bisexual and a side character is a lesbian.

If mutual pining, cutthroat competition, and intoxicating intensity appeal to you, then give this book a chance to break and mend your heart.

Content notes drawn from the book: In addition to explicit sex between consenting adults, this book contains “brief references to societal transphobia, historical anti-Black racism in Chicago, class discrimination, and exploitation of the opioid epidemic, as well as one incident of gun violence.”

Emory Rose is a lover of the written word, especially all things whimsical, fantastical, and romantic. They regularly participate in National Novel Writing Month as well as NYC Midnight’s fiction writing challenges. They are fueled by sapphic novellas and chocolate.