Secrets, Sororities, and Sobriety: Thirsty by Jas Hammonds

Thirsty cover

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What would you be willing to do if it meant finding your flock? Jas Hammonds explores this age-old question in their young adult novel Thirsty. Incoming college freshmen Blake Brenner has been with her girlfriend, Ella, since freshman year; they are voted “The Couple Most Likely To Still Be Together In Ten Years” and are desperately in love. The duo is planning to go to Jameswell University and to join the exclusive Serena Society, along with their best friend, Annetta. As the summer begins, so does the Serena Society’s pledging process, which includes a fair amount of hazing. Blake is determined to prove herself—unlike Ella, who is a legacy pledge, Blake is the first in her family to go to college and has no connections or money to boost her status. However, in proving herself, Blake begins to develop an unhealthy relationship with both alcohol and partying, and she must decide what parts of herself to keep and which ones to banish.

This may be stating the obvious, but Thirsty is such a hard book to read, especially if you are an alcoholic or have dealt with alcoholics previously. I did cry at least twice and had to take self-mandated breaks while reading, so be prepared to do the same. But as hard and scary as reading Thirsty was, it also is incredibly healing, powerful, and such an important book to have out there. Narratives about alcoholism in teens/new adults feel rare, and I think that if I had read this in my early 20s, this book would have helped me curb some bad habits and/or thought patterns that existed at the time. 

The characterization in Thirsty is realistic, to the point where I sometimes felt uncomfortable with how much I identified with some of the characters and their choices. Blake’s desires of solidarity and feelings of loneliness are heartbreaking to read, all while her euphoria acts as a sort of bandage to the reader’s emotions. I also heartily enjoyed Annetta’s role in Thirsty—in a book that is dominated by Blake’s relationship with Ella, Annetta’s scenes acted as a palate cleanser and a place to emotionally recuperate. Annetta’s relationship with Blake shows how friendships should be about support, even when it may be initially unwanted.

If you enjoy Elizabeth Acevedo, emotionally complex stories, and solidarity narratives, you can order your copy of Thirsty through Bookshop, your local indie bookstore, or your library.

Comp titles: Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie, You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow, and Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett.

Content warnings include: alcoholism, hazing, accidentally outing, transphobia, intentional outing, cheating, vomiting, and vandalism.

A Rivals to Lovers Soccer Romance: You Don’t Have a Shot by Racquel Marie

the cover of You Don't Have a Shot

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Racquel Marie’s You Don’t Have a Shot is a YA romance that centers around Valentina Castillo-Green, a high school soccer star whose life revolves around the sport. After an abrupt end to her junior year soccer season, Vale ends up at soccer camp, co-captaining a team with her longtime rival, Leticia. As they take their team from a bunch of rookies with little more than enthusiasm and a whole lot of untapped potential to a tight group of friends with the skills to win, Vale and Leticia learn to not only trust each other but also to care about each other, more than either of them could ever have expected.

I read Marie’s 2024 release This is Me Trying a couple months ago and loved it, so I wasn’t terribly surprised to love this one as well, especially considering I’ve been in such a sports romance mood lately, but man is it fun when a book still manages to exceed those expectations. It gave me exactly what I want from sports romance: a romance I can root for, a deep feeling of camaraderie among the team, and a love for the sport so deep it makes me forget I actually hate sports in real life. More than once while reading this, I caught myself thinking, wow, this sounds fun—this despite the fact that my own very brief soccer career was limited to me, age six, wandering around the field picking flowers and ignoring whatever gameplay was happening elsewhere.

The thing about this book is there is so much compassion here. Vale had a lot of growth she needed to do at the beginning. She was selfish, judgmental, even a little mean. She took everything so seriously, to the point where Leticia notes that Vale doesn’t even look like she’s having fun when she plays. For all her flaws, though, I loved her. I always find it refreshing, especially in YA, when an author isn’t afraid to let their characters be in the wrong, and Vale certainly was that, but watching her learn to listen to Leticia and the rest of her team brought me just as much joy as the romance did. And by the end, I was so proud of her.

As for the romance, as I said, it brought me quite a lot of joy. The banter was funny, and the transition from rivals to friends to something else felt natural in a way that can be difficult to manage. Without saying too much, though, the background was believable, and it was so much fun to watch them learn to rely on each other and see Vale kind of fight against the realization that she is starting to—gasp!—like Leticia as a person. Vale’s other relationships had a similar realism. Every conversation she had with her father made my heart clench—Leticia and I had a similarly unfavorable assessment of the man. But by far, my favorite secondary relationship was the tentative alliance between Vale and her writer brother, Jorge, as they each grapple with their father’s unfair expectations of them.

I truly loved this book. With its strong romance, its complicated friendships and familial relationships, and a compelling protagonist with room to grow, this book had a lot going for it, and in my opinion, it nailed every aspect.  Racquel Marie has yet to let me down, and I very much look forward to reading more from her.

How Much Would You Sacrifice for Fame?: Every Time You Hear That Song by Jenna Voris

Every Time You Hear That Song by Jenna Voris cover

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I won’t be able to get through this review without mentioning The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, so let me get the comparison out of the way now. Like Evelyn Hugo, this cover likely doesn’t scream “queer story,” but it is—twice over, actually. Like Evelyn Hugo, we’re alternating between two stories, one of which is an ambitious queer woman trying to make it in an industry and time period that required being closeted. I’m definitely tempted to recommend this one to fans of Evelyn Hugo, but it has some big differences, not least of which is that this is a young adult novel.

Our main character is Darren, a seventeen-year-old aspiring journalist who can’t wait to get out of her hometown of Mayberry, Arkansas. The only thing Mayberry ever produced to put it on the map is country music legend Decklee Castle—and Decklee left as soon as she could. Darren and her mother are big fans; her music helped the two of them get through her mother’s cancer treatment. When they watch Decklee’s televised funeral, they learn that she put together a treasure hunt to begin after her death. The prize at the end is three million dollars and a new album of Decklee’s music—enough money to pay off Darren’s mother’s medical debt and get her into a good university. So she convinces her coworker with a car, Kendall, to come with her to decipher the clues hidden in Decklee’s lyrics. Meanwhile, we flash back to Decklee’s life, beginning with her running away from her childhood home in Mayberry in the middle of the night.

Last time, I promise: like Evelyn Hugo, Decklee Castle is a fascinating character. She’s ruthlessly ambitious and loves nothing more than to be on stage. She’s willing to sacrifice a lot—almost everything—for fame. When she and songwriter Mickenlee Hooper fall for each other, she goes to great lengths to conceal their relationship from the press. Decklee isn’t a likable character. She’s believable, but she’s not exactly sympathetic. To be honest, I find that refreshing in a queer character. Decklee is talented and hardworking, but she is also callous and selfish. Darren considers her a role model because she got out of Mayberry and also because Dareen suspects Decklee was queer and Darren is trying to come to grips with her own bisexuality. The more she learns about her, though, the more she begins to realize that her image of Decklee isn’t true to life.

While we alternate between Decklee and Darren’s perspectives, this is Darren’s story. As Kendall and Darren spend more time together, Darren begins to see him in a different light—and she’s surprised that he sees the good in Mayberry. In fact, he’s offended that she seems to hate it so much. He points out that she’s buying into racist and classist narratives about the South and argues that she loves Mayberry, that you can see her passion for their hometown in her writing about it. As they fall for each other, this tension between his commitment to stay and her determination to leave simmers underneath the surface.

I could easily pitch this as a road trip story, a scavenger hunt, a tell-all about a fictional celebrity, but that doesn’t really match the vibes. Above all, this is about relationships, ambition, and what you’re willing to sacrifice to get what you want. While both Decklee and Dareen have love stories, this isn’t a romance. It’s bittersweet, and Decklee’s story is a warning for Darren.

I think the way these stories play out together is really well done, and I liked Dareen’s subplot of coming out as bisexual. Both couples in the alternating timelines have interesting dynamics, and Decklee’s friend Marquel1 was a breakout character, especially as he shows an alternate approach to being queer in an industry that does not accept that. I listened the audiobook, and I think it works well that way: there are two different narrators, so it’s easy to keep the stories separate. I highly recommend this one.

  1. I listened to the audiobook, so I’m not sure if that’s how you spell it. ↩︎

Lesbians in Space: Cosmoknights, Vol. 1 by Hannah Templer

the cover of Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer

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In this queer space adventure, our main character Pan has grown up alongside her best friend Tara, a princess who is soon to be married off to the winner of the interplanetary jousting game that’s about to take place in their town. Tara can’t stand the thought of accepting her fate and allowing herself to become “claimed”. So, with Pan’s help, she escapes. A few years later, two strangers appear at the door of Pan’s family home, injured and needing medical attention. When Pan discovers that these two women are undercover Cosmoknights who win tournaments and help the princesses escape the patriarchal system they’re being forced into, our main character realizes that this is her chance to get off her planet, discover what the world has to offer outside of her father’s mechanic shop, and maybe… find her best friend again.

This graphic novel is, first and foremost, absolutely stunning. The art style is really wonderful and Templer does an incredible job with colour. I took pictures of multiple panels because I was so in awe of the cosmic landscapes, the character designs, the colour schemes. Before even getting into the story itself, the book is worth opening simply for the sake of appreciating the beauty that is within its pages. It without a doubt reignited a love for graphic novels within me and reminded me just how powerful of an effect amazing art can have on a person’s state of mind and emotions.

Regarding the story itself, I really did enjoy the premise. I think it’s unique, it fits well within the sci-fi setting while still feeling contemporary and relatable. Even though it’s a quick read, each of the characters felt well-developed, including the ones that were in the story only for a short amount of time. I think the friendship (*cough* unspoken romance *cough*) between Pan and Tara was incredibly sweet. We only got a short snippet of them together at the beginning of the story and a few moments of sapphic yearning later on, and it was still enough to get me to root for them so intensely.

Of course, the queer found family aspect of this is also great. Cass and Bee as mentors or parental figures for Pan is so effective. Pan does seem to have a decent relationship with her actual parents, but you can tell that the way that she feels and acts around them is a quieter version of who she actually is. Although they aren’t bad parents per se, they do inherently force her to exist and live within a society that punishes her for trying to save her friend, that belittles her, that disrespects her, and it all clearly takes a toll on her—which is exactly why creating that parallel relationship between her and Cass and Bee was so powerful. Your parents not actively harming you isn’t necessarily enough. Having a support system that really allows you to grow and stand up for yourself is so important, especially for young people who are already struggling to understand who they are and to assert themselves within the world. Cass and Bee taking Pan under their wing and allowing her to participate in the dismantling of the Cosmiknights system while simultaneously exploring the world and maybe finding her purpose is such a beautiful representation of what found family actually means, especially to queer people.

But by far, my absolute favourite part of this book was the butch representation. Cass as a butch lesbian was phenomenal, both in character design and for her role within the story. If you know me then you know I adore a beefy butch lesbian. The fact that she is genuinely muscular and not simply toned is so wonderful. She’s tall and broad-shouldered, she dresses in a very masculine way, she’s strong and puts up a real fight for the other Cosmoknights—which is incredibly satisfying to witness. She has that smirk and that charm and that slight cockiness that makes me weak in the knees, and there is not a single thing about her that exists to placate her masculinity. Of course, people can exist within whatever bounds of femininity and masculinity they want to, and gender expression is something so personal to every single individual. But there is a habit, in media and art as a whole, to “feminize” butch lesbians so as to not make them “too masculine”. It is so refreshing to come across a character that embraces her masculinity, that loves the way that she is, that proudly rejects the femininity that was forced upon her—not because she looks down upon feminine traits, but simply because it is not who she is, and she will not let anyone take her masculinity away from her.

The other great thing about Cass is that Templer uses her character to perfectly exemplify butchness as being a protector. It is more than just dressing a certain way or keeping your hair short: butches hold an actual role in butch/femme communities and history, and I think it is so beautifully showcased in this story. I loved her not just as a character but as a representation of all the butches I’ve known and loved.

Her relationship with Bee is also fantastic. Bee is sort of the brains behind their operation; she’s incredibly cunning and does a lot of the planning and strategizing. She’s very tech savvy and she supports Cass in the battlefield a ton. Their relationship is so heartwarming and works so well as a whole. They balance each other out perfectly and every panel where you see them simply holding hands made my heart instantly melt.

I am so excited to pick up the second volume for this and I cannot wait to see how their story continues. If you’re a fan of graphic novels or sci-fi stories, or taking down the patriarchy, or pretty colours, or lesbians, then I wholeheartedly recommend this to you.

Representation: sapphic MC, lesbian couple, butch lesbian, Black lesbian

Content warnings: blood, violence, injury, misogyny, sexism

A Curveball Romance: Playing for Keeps by Jennifer Dugan

Playing for Keeps cover

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A baseball pitcher and umpire definitely aren’t supposed to fall for each other, right? Especially not when star pitcher June and officiate-to-be Ivy are trying to go pro. Sometimes, life throws you a curveball, though. When Ivy is assigned as an umpire for June’s elite club baseball team, they instantly clash on the field, only to find they have something in common: grief. Soon, they become enemies to friends to far more, despite the rules that prohibit them from dating each other. Will romance get in the way of them following their dreams?

On the surface, Playing for Keeps seems like a fun, sweet young adult sapphic romance. The initial set-up gives us sharp, bittersweet enemies to lovers potential between a pitch and an umpire. Seems cute and fluffy, right? No one is that one-dimensional, though. Both Ivy and June are struggling with the loss of a loved one, balancing that on top of unrealistic expectations from their parents and the pressures they put on themselves to succeed. Add in the pressure you get from sports alone and it’s enough to make anyone crumble. Ivy and June find happiness in each other, through stolen moments as they date in secret, wary that the conflict of interest between them will tear them apart. There’s a potential for them to heal through one another, alongside one another, while learning how to navigate the external forces of loss while growing up.

I loved that both Ivy and June were pursuing career paths that don’t often make space for women. I would have liked to see more focus on that, though. It was sweet to see how the male players on the baseball team were quick to support June, but I expected to see more pushback (either from her team or other teams) to show (not tell us) how she struggled and still persevered.

Unfortunately, the story is so rushed, so many scenes time-jumped, emotions mentioned but not illustrated, that I didn’t FEEL anything while reading this story. With the topic of grief, whether a character is processing it or trying to avoid it, readers should have an easy time sympathizing with the characters. Instead, the grief feels like a plot point, a reason for potential enemies to connect and eventually become more.

Even with little jumps, the story lagged. Dugan has a tendency to pair selfless characters with less reasonable counterparts, which we certainly see between Ivy and June. Given that, it’s difficult to root for both girls. Yes, they’re both grieving, and yes, they both deserve happiness, but their actions are exhausting and (yes, I know it’s YA) juvenile at times. Though the two girls had so much in common, the miscommunication trope constantly tugged them in opposite directions.

Recommended for fans of Some Girls Do, Home Field Advantage, and Cool for the Summer.

The Vibes
⚾ Enemies to Lovers
⚾ Young Adult Romance
⚾ Sapphic Romance
⚾ Forbidden Love
⚾ Lesbian & Bi FMCs
⚾ Sports Romance
⚾ Grief
⚾ Pressure From Parents
⚾ Miscommunication

Quotes

“Expecting it means I can prepare for it, plan for it, and figure out a way to keep my cool in its face. What I didn’t expect, though, was for there to be an extremely attractive girl throwing balls at about seventy-five billion miles per hour, striking out dumb boys left and right, like some kind of varsity, all-star Black Widow.”

“There’s a lot of pressure on girls to conform, to become nice women, to do what’s expected. Smile more, whiten your teeth, lose the weight, don’t be too loud or too funny or too much. Make yourself less so the boys can feel like more. Don’t wear spaghetti straps or you might tempt them. Hold yourself accountable for the both of you, so they don’t have to.”

Forever is Now by Mariama J Lockington

Forever is Now by Mariama J Lockington cover

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Content warnings: biphobia, racism, police violence

Forever is Now by Mariama J. Lockington tells the story of Sadie, a Black teenage girl with anxiety that develops into agoraphobia after a truly terrible day. Her girlfriend breaks up with her and they witness an incidence of racist police violence. The idea of leaving home fills her with overwhelming dread. Anything could happen. Anyone can be lost. But the world doesn’t stop and Sadie feels compelled to help, somehow, find justice for the young woman she saw assaulted.

I am not in the majority with regard to this book. It has a very high rating on Goodreads, and I can see why. It feels authentic. The angst and teenage experiences are relatable. The representation is strong. Pop culture references are very current and the fictional social media network is both understandable and realistic. From a teenage perspective, it’s a strong read.

The cover is also fantastic. The book ultimately focuses on Black joy and the cover reflects that. Rather than showing Sadie at her worst, her most anxious, her least put-together, it shows her pretty and happy and smiling. It shows her thriving. For a book about a mental health crisis to focus on the main character at her best and a book about Black joy to present a Black girl looking happy, those are great choices.

Unfortunately, from a literary perspective, it needs work. I don’t mean to be overly harsh; the book certainly has strengths. They’re just not fully integrated or realized. Sometimes it’s minor things, but for an example, Sadie’s little brother desperately wants her to come to his end-of-camp cooking event, and that is mentioned several times. The approaching deadline is clear to readers. However, Sadie doesn’t seem to care. That missing element in a character-centric narrative really weakens engagement. Throughout the narrative, Sadie feels extremely well-developed, but others around her don’t, and the way the narrative bends around her becomes frustrating as the story develops.

The book also just needed an editor. This is indicative of a larger trend in publishing. There were typos in the manuscript; a line editor should have caught those. There was also some confusion since dialogue, thought, and things Sadie wishes she said were all indicated with italicized font. These are things that should have been fixed in the pre-production process.

I think this book has a lot to say and a lot of potential. It needed a better team working to develop it—a couple more drafts and it would have been incredible. Overall, I would deem it very okay.

An Obsessive Female Friendship Turns Dark: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls on Fire audiobook cover

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Two teen girls, Hannah Dexter and Lacey Champlain, become obsessively attached to each other in their rebellion and vengeful agenda against Nikki Drummond. Then dark secrets about what happened to Craig, the boy found dead at the beginning of the novel, begin to unravel, and the bonds of friendship are tested. It becomes harder to tell what’s a mask and what’s real. I listened to this one on audio narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Simone Lewis, and Allyson Ryan.

Hannah Dexter starts as a typical good girl from a middle-class suburban family. But when Lacey, the town’s bad girl, takes an interest in her and takes her under her wing, Hannah becomes Dex. Dex is sharper, tougher, and more willing to get into a little bit of trouble. Lacey introduces Dex to grunge, Kurt Cobain, and dabbling in Satanism to laugh in the face of small-town fears.

It’s easy to see how co-dependency develops between them. Lacey molds Hannah into Dex, someone who can learn to bend the rules and let loose. But even when she’s Dex, there’s a part of Hannah, the voice of reason, that keeps Lacey from taking things too far—until one night, Dex no longer wants to be Lacey’s puppet.

Meanwhile, Lacey keeps the secret of her past relationship with Nikki Drummond, Hannah’s mortal enemy. Nikki and Lacey engaged in a sapphic relationship out in the woods, a place that holds a power of its own as being both haunted and sacred. But there was never any love between them; they were both seeking a reprieve from the suffocation of living in a crappy small town.

Throughout the novel, we see snippets of the relationships between each girl and her parents. Lacey is a typical troubled teen with problems at home—an alcoholic mother, an abusive stepfather, and abandonment issues from her biological father. Hannah’s parents are a constant reminder of mediocrity and showcase a couple that plays their roles on the surface, but bubbling beneath are unspoken tensions that make their relationship toxic. Nikki’s parents are in denial about the master manipulator their daughter is.

Each girl’s mother gets an interlude between chapters that seem out of place at first. But the final one brings it all together with the idea that “girls like them believe they could never become mothers like us.” Once that statement is made, it makes all the other interludes from the mothers make sense. However, because there’s so little point of view from the mothers and most of it comes from the eyes of their daughters, it’s hard to get that message. Perhaps that’s the point: they don’t see it until it’s too late.

Overall, it’s a dark and twisted story of obsessive female friendships that lead to the unthinkable. The premise is not particularly innovative and the plot unraveled much as I expected it to, but it’s well-written enough to keep you reading.

Trigger warnings for rape and violence

A Dream Introduction to Nia Nal: Bad Dream by Nicole Maines and Rye Hickman

Bad Dream cover

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On October 14, 2018, transgender actor and activist Nicole Maines made history by appearing as Nia Nal/Dreamer, the first transgender superhero on TV, in Supergirl. She has since gone on to pen Dreamer’s comic debut in the DC Pride #1 in 2021 and Dreamer’s mainline DC continuity debut in Superman: Son of Kal-El #13 in 2022. This year, Nicole and artist Rye Hickman teamed up to create the YA graphic novel Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story. This graphic novel provides a beautiful and moving origin story for Nia Nal that will resonate with queer readers of any age. 

Teen Nia Nal spends most of her free time alone reading and drawing superhero costumes. She’s always idolized her mom, a former powerful seer from the planet of Naltor who relocated to Earth to raise a family, and supported her sister, who has been training to inherit her mother’s powers. When a freak dodgeball accident awakens Nia’s precognition powers, Nia is shocked. Her sister, as the sole AFAB child, should be inheriting the powers. Worried about what her mother and sister will think, she runs away to Metropolis. It’s there that she meets Taylor Barzelay, another transgender superhero (main character of Galaxy: The Prettiest Star), her girlfriend, and an entire community of queer people and aliens. She begins to feel like she can find a home in this supportive community of people like her. However, events will soon force her home and into a confrontation that will force her to reckon with her new powers and the responsibilities they entail.

Nicole Maines and Rye Hickman do such a great job creating a story that reflects the very real painful and hopeful experiences that so many queer people go through. Through fantastic writing and evocative artwork, readers are made to feel Nia’s pain at being ostracized by the people in her hometown because she is transgender. We can feel the guilt she carries for, as she sees it, causing problems for her mother and her sister. These are things that so many queer people have gone through in their own lives. Queer readers will relate to all of these feelings so much and empathize with Nia, while cis and heterosexual readers will, hopefully, come away with a greater understanding of our experiences.  

At the same time, Nicole and Rye infuse so much hope into this book. Through putting Nia into contact with characters like Taylor, her girlfriend Katherine, and their friend Yvette, they show readers that there is always a community to find. They show that no matter how dark it may feel, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s also a beautiful message about the power of community. It tells readers that haven’t found their community yet to keep looking and those of us who have to keep fighting for it. 

Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story is an origin story worthy of this groundbreaking character. Nicole Maines’s writing, coupled with Rye Hickman’s gorgeous art, make this book another fantastic inclusion in DC’s line of graphic novels as well as the wider canon of queer young adult literature.

More Than a Statistic: Every Variable of Us by Charles A. Bush

the cover of Every Variable of Us

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Alexis Duncan is a Black teenage girl from Philadelphia whose incredible basketball skills are her one ticket to receiving a scholarship and getting out of her poverty-stricken neighbourhood. However, after getting injured during a shooting at a high school party and being told she will never play again, her dreams vanish. Aamani Chakrabarti, the new student in school, believes that Alexis has the potential to thrive even outside of an exclusively athletic environment, and pushes her to join her on the high school’s STEM team. Alexis agrees (reluctantly) and eventually starts to learn that she has a passion outside of basketball—astronomy. But with the chaos in her personal life constantly making her second-guess if she can actually strive for a better future for herself, and her feelings for Aamani becoming ever more confusing, Alexis must fight to not let her doubts get in her own way.

I read this book back in December of 2021 and still, two and a half years later, I remember so many details of the emotional trainwreck it put me through. I made the unwise decision of reading it on a plane, and not only did I finish it within one sitting, but I also had to find a way to sob silently next to sleeping strangers for the entire second half of the story. There is something about the way that Bush wrote these characters that made me so deeply attached to them right from the beginning. I was incredibly invested in the storyline, the characters’ relationship, and especially Alexis’s character development. I really appreciate Bush writing a main character that you can root for, while still making her realistic and flawed. Alexis is a product of her environment and has opinions about other people and the world that can be ignorant, bigoted, and uninformed—opinions that happen to also impact her own identity and self-worth. Those opinions are challenged by the text, specifically through Aamani’s character, in a way that is both subtle and poignant. I think authors sometimes struggle to write effective redemption arcs for their characters, which made it that much more satisfying to watch Alexis’ redemption unfold in a carefully crafted way.

The other great thing about this book is that it absolutely is made for its target audience. Bush wrote it for a young adult reader, and you can tell that he made sure that the characters, their struggles, their anxieties, their fears, and their friendships would feel relatable to that audience, without underestimating what they could handle in a story or what they would want to read about. I think it shows just how much respect Bush has for his young readers to know that they would be able to not just handle heavy themes such as internalized misogyny and homophobia, racism, poverty, violence, and drug abuse, but concretely understand, relate to, and analyse these themes. I love when authors give their young audience the benefit of the doubt and don’t try to over simplify or sugarcoat serious storylines. It allows teenage readers to access literature that is more than just informative, but also liberating and self-reflecting.

I’ve recommended this book a lot over the years, in many different circumstances. To readers looking for: underrated novels; heart-breaking storylines; books that accurately center characters of colour; sapphic books that aren’t romance novels but are nonetheless romantic; books that heal the part of you that struggled to accept your queerness when you were younger; stories that discuss the intersection of race and queerness; novels that make you cry sad tears; novels that make you cry happy tears; books that will put you in a reading slump; books that will get you out of a reading slump. There are dozens of reasons to pick up this book and exactly zero reasons not to. It remains, to this day, one of my most memorable reading experiences and one of my favourite go-to recommendations.

Representation: Black bisexual disabled main character, Indian-American lesbian love interest

Content warnings: gun violence, gore, drug abuse, homophobia, islamophobia, biphobia, death, abuse, racism, transphobia

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.