Queer YA for Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day! Or, as I like to call it, Discount Chocolate Day. When you’ve got enough chocolate to start a dragon’s hoard, why not grab a book or two and spend the day reading? Here are a few romantic LGBTQ reads starring people of color to get you started…

When the Moon Was OursWhen the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Aristotle and DanteAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

 

HuntressHuntress by Malinda Lo

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Not Your SidekickNot Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

Review: Let’s Talk About Love

Title: Let’s Talk About Love
Author: Claire Kann
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQIA
Pages: 281
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

Review: Note: The first chapter of LTAL is the breakup mentioned in the summary, and it includes aphobic and racist comments by the ex-girlfriend. In addition to these, LTAL also includes a brief sexual harassment scene.

The first time I saw the cover and read the summary of Claire Kann’s debut, LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE, I knew I had to get my hands on it. A black, biromantic, asexual teenager in college? Yes please! Within the first couple of chapters, I knew I was going to enjoy going on this adventure with Alice. Alice has a distinctive voice filled with quirky commentary and parenthetical asides, which I generally enjoyed (though at points the pop culture references got a bit tiresome). Her narration was compelling and gave me a good idea of how she viewed the world and herself, especially in this tumultuous period in her life.

One of the things I really appreciated about LTAL is that Alice is explicitly biromatic and asexual, and Alice spends a lot of time thinking about and (sometimes) talking about her asexuality. (There’s even some discussion of asexuality as a spectrum.) Alice is out to just a handful of people, and after the disastrous end of her previous relationship, she’s reluctant to start a romantic relationship with Takumi even though she falls for him hard. Throughout the book, Alice pushes back against aphobic rhetoric that says her love isn’t “good enough” compared to someone who wants a sexual relationship with their partner.

As a young black woman, Alice also deals with a number of racial microaggressions on the page, from “you’re [x] for a black girl” to people asking questions about her hair. Her racial identity is just as important in this book as her asexuality, and it is a key factor in her conflict over college and career plans with her parents, as mentioned by her father:

“Black people have to be perfect, inhumanely good at everything, and even then we can fail, because that’s the way the system is set up. It is rigged against us. The environment, the opportunities we created gave you a leg up so you wouldn’t have to fight as hard.”

Alice’s relationship with Takumi was pretty cute. I had some specific-to-my-taste complaints, but overall, I enjoyed the long buildup of their friendship and watching the two of them become closer. (I do wish we’d seen more of their adventures together, though. There were some things I wanted to see play out on the page instead of being told about them later.) I’m rather fond of do-I-confess-and-risk-our-friendship romances, and the stakes felt even higher with Alice so recently burned by her ex-girlfriend’s reaction to Alice’s asexuality. Alice and Takumi’s relationship was filled with ups and downs, hurt feelings and happy times, but the ultimate resolution was satisfying.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you’re a fan of contemporary romance. Alice is an entertaining narrator with a strong voice, and you’ll quickly become invested in her getting a happily-ever-after. LTAL doesn’t shy away from addressing anti-black and aphobic microagressions, and it also tackles conflicts between parental expectations and children’s happiness. If you’re looking for a cute, sweet romance with some staying power, you should read Claire Kann’s debut.

Extras

Interview with Claire Kann

Let’s Talk About the LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE Cover

Review: Wild Beauty

Wild BeautyTitle: Wild Beauty
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, LGBTQIA
Pages: 320
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: Love grows such strange things.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Review: So, it’s been a while since I ugly sobbed my way through the climax and resolution of a book, but here I am, wanting you to have the exact same experience. In a book where love can—and often does—bring tragedy, it goes without saying that there would be a lot of heartache in store. There’s bucketfuls of it, passed on from generation to generation, of lovers vanished or sent away before the Nomeolvides curse can take hold of them.

Wild Beauty starts off with a bang, when Estrella and her four cousins discover that they have all fallen (a little) in love with Bay Briar, a queer non-binary girl whose extended family owns the land they live on, La Pradera. The girls’ rush to sacrifice their precious things to La Pradera in an attempt to keep Bay from vanishing is what causes a boy called Fel, who has no memory of who he is or where he came from, to appear in their enchanted garden. And while Fel tries to figure out who he is, the girls, their mothers, and their grandmothers all have to wrestle with what Fel means as the only person to have ever been given back by La Pradera.

Anna-Marie McLemore tackles love in its many forms, and there is an abundance of queer characters, young and old. The tragedy of the Nomeolvides family isn’t in who they love—it’s in the curse that steals anyone and everyone from them without warning. There is a wide range of love in this book, and some of my favorite moments were when love and caring and gratitude were given physical form through the cooking and sharing of food. Another major theme in the book is how privilege and the lack of it both radically shape opportunities and lives. Reid’s character in particular is a close-up examination and condemnation of powerful men who believe they are above others, and the heroes’ confrontations with and strategies to manage him were all too real.

Continuing the pattern established by McLemore’s previous books, Wild Beauty has duel protagonists who alternate chapters. Estrella and Fel were excellent narrators, and the richness of their inner lives is a great fit for the lush prose. I really enjoyed the way the two of them connected and grew together.

While there were occasional moments where I felt the story got bogged down by description, the meandering pace and lingering on the details generally enhanced the story and was a good reminder that the setting—La Pradera—is just as important as any of the people. This world is a fantastical one, with curses and women who grow flowers with their hands, and it is also a familiar one, where injustice and blood leave lasting scars that shape future generations.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you want a big dose of queer characters and magical realism. McLemore’s newest offering is another great addition to any home or school library. Fans of McLemore’s previous work will find more of what they loved before in Wild Beauty, and the book will be just as welcoming to new readers. I’m looking forward to reading it again.

Extras

Better Know an Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Anna-Marie McLemore’s ‘Wild Beauty’ Is A Magical Story Of Love, Loss, And Family Curses

Interview with Anna-Marie McLemore, author of “When the Moon Was Ours” and “Wild Beauty”

Queer and Here in YA Lit

I feel like I’m always running around being like, “Look at this book! It’s going to be amazing! You need to read this when it comes out! Ahhhh!” It’s kind of a constant thing with me. But I’m here to say that this is my current to-read and must-read book on my radar:

Not Your VillainNot Your Villain (Sidekick Squad #2) by C.B. Lee

Available: October 5th, 2017 (soon!)

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government? Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

I loved the first book in this series, Not Your Sidekick, and I’m pretty darn excited for the sequel. Not Your Sidekick is all about queer superheroes doing their thing, and it’s just a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan of fun genre YA lit starring queer and PoC characters, and this fits the bill. What’s your favorite queer PoC YA book?

Review: Noteworthy

Noteworthy by Riley RedgateTitle: Noteworthy
Author: Riley Redgate
Genres: Romance
Pages: 400 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: A cappella just got a makeover. Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I am the opposite of musical, but I loved reading this book, which truly is a love letter to a cappella. And, I liked the queer and Asian representation within the book. But just to be clear, this is not a book about a non-binary or trans character. The language of the original book blurb on the cover seems to hint at this, but it isn’t the case – something that the author addresses in this post.

I’ve grown up with a love-hate relationship with crossdressing manga series like Ouran High School Host Club and Hana Kimi. They were just so fun to read! But also pretty problematic, especially when it came to much older books. I was curious as to how Noteworthy would handle the subject. Gender and identity is discussed, and the heroine Jordan doesn’t shy away from grappling with the ethics behind what she does to keep her place in an all-male a cappella group. But again, if you’re looking for a non-binary or trans main character, this book is not it.

I just bet this book is amazing for people who have anything to do with a cappella. Despite being not at all musical, I was hooked by all of it, and immediately looked up youtube playlists to listen to afterwards. In Noteworthy, Jordan is plunged into an intense world of competitive a cappella and the social life that goes with it – all while, on the sidelines, her attention jumps to her parents on the West Coast struggling to get by.

While my ship didn’t sail in Noteworthy (cry), what I truly fell in love with was the group dynamics, the strong thread of friendship that runs through the book. I would happily read an entire book made up entirely of the Sharpshooters’ group chat. One driving force for Jordan is her need to belong, and that’s a powerful theme throughout the book. Consider my heartstrings tugged.

As with Seven Ways We Lie, I read Noteworthy in a few days and loved every moment of it. Days later, I feel like there’s still a lot about Noteworthy that I’d like to mull over. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the next book that Redgate writes! If you have any love at all for a cappella, definitely check this book out!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

YA Lit List: Queer PoC Protagonists

It’s that time of year again, when I gather up all the precious Queer PoC YA books around like a magpie hungry for the shiny gleam of representation. Here are 8 books and 1 comic that I’ve either read or re-read in the last half year, or plan to read that star queer PoC characters:
 
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova | Review
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee | Review
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore | Review

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe*by Benjamin Alire Sáenz | Review

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman | Review
The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie | Review
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde | Review
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate | Goodreads
The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One** by Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh (Illustrations) | Goodreads
*Re-read in anticipation of book 2, There Will Be Other Summers (!!).
**The LoK comics, Turf Wars, isn’t out yet, but will be as of June 22nd, 2017. Super excited (yay Korrasami)!