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November Round Up

Again, I’m still super behind, so I’m going to do a round up because I REALLY want to share these books with you and if I wait for a full post it might never happen.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Being a teenager during the Summer of Sam is difficult – fun is always limited by how safe 25982606you feel and Nora is struggling to enjoy her last year of high school. She doesn’t know what will come next, her brother Hector is growing ever more unstable, and the family is struggling to pay their bills.

This is my second Medina book and I love how she draws out the small details to gives us a really full world and characters. I felt for Nora and celebrated when she made decisions that lead her toward more happiness. Diversity: Nora and her family are Latinx, Hector is dealing with some mental health issues, and Medina is Cuban American.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

28220826Miel fell out of a water tower and Sam was the only one that could make her feel safe. She lives with Aracely now and must face the beautiful Bonner sisters as they try to steal the roses that grow from her wrist and keep their ability to enchant the town’s boys. Sam paints moons that light the town and helps its children sleep while keeping his own secrets.

This is modern magical realism at its most lyrical. Pumpkins in a field turn to glass, roses grow from skin, the river can transform someone into their true self – and at the same time, a pregnancy and the ensuing gossip can destroy a girl, birth certificates are necessary for high school enrollment, and hate and misunderstanding can still tear people down. I’m still letting this book sit with me because I’m not totally sure how I feel about it yet. It made me feel and I think it’s important, but I’m not sure I ultimately liked it. HOWEVER – I will shove it at people looking for magic in the everyday and who love beautiful writing. Diversity: Sam’s mother is Pakistani, his father is Catalan (I think?), Miel is Latina, and there are two transgender characters.

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

Tara’s best (and only) friend is spending their junior year of high school studying abroad 25802922so Tara hates the idea of schools starting. She doesn’t want to be totally alone. But even as she dreads it, she must also face startling news – an alternate Earth with just a few changes has been discovered. As everyone comes to terms with what that means, Tara finds herself navigating a new group of friends, her mother’s obsession with the new Earth, and just what kind of person she wants to be.

I really wanted to love this book – it’s a great premise and it brought up a lot of interesting ideas, but I never felt fully invested in the story. I think part of it was the writing and part of it was Tara as a character. However, I appreciated the honest look at microaggressions that Tara has to put up with – though that appreciation is slightly decreased by the rather poor way the book deals with anorexia and weight in general. In some ways this felt like an older person’s interpretation of how “mean girls” interact without respecting them as full people. I’m not sure exactly what, but something was off. Diversity: Tara is biracial (Indian and white American) and less well off in a very, very wealthy area. Also, #ownvoices.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda is the new girl and, even though she has a secret to keep, she’s making a bunch of26156987 new friends. She even has a boyfriend – and she can’t hold herself back from becoming invested in the relationship even if it’s dangerous. And when the secret is out – who will stay by her side?

This is generally not my kind of book – contemporary, high school drama, and romance – but Amanda is an engaging character and the time switch across chapters adds an interesting depth to the story. And, even with the discrimination and violence that Amanda suffers, this is still a fairly light book. Russo addresses that in her afterword and I’m saddened that the story has to be made so, so palatable for cis/hetero readers (but I’m also glad that trans readers have something light and happy to read). Diversity: This is one of the (or the?) first YA books about a transgender character by a transgender author with a transgender model on its cover.

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine (Book #1 of a series)

23495112Elli has been raised to become Queen of her people and when, on the night that she must accept the magical power that comes with the crown, things go wrong, she must find a way to stay true to her loyalties while saving herself.

This was so good! The world building is amazing and I loved the characters. I am disappointed that this is a series starter because I really thought things were going to be nicely wrapped up, but also – yay! more books! Diversity: Bisexual main character, lots of racial diversity among characters.

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (book #1 of a series)

Cas is a trainer of Reckoners, dedicated to protecting ships as they cross ever-growing seas24790901 and the pirates that call them home. But, when her first solo mission goes wrong, she must navigate the difficult obstacles that a pirate captain and a baby Reckoner put in her path.

I thought the concept behind this was really interesting, though I would have liked more explanation about exactly why the person that made a rogue Reckoner possible made that decision (although, the “who” of this mystery was easy to see from the very beginning). Diversity: Cas is of Asian descent (I think Chinese?), there’s a main f/f relationship, and there’s a lot of diversity among the pirate crew.

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Unicorn Tracks

Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember 25231892

Summary

Mnemba is recovering from a terrible attack at her cousin’s safari business as one of his most successful guides. Kara arrives with her father to study unicorns in the wilderness – a final trip before she returns to “proper” society and marries. Together, they discover poachers abusing unicorns to exploit the land and must decide how to save the animals and reconcile their growing feelings for one another.

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heart Romance Score: Good Effort

I thought the relationship between Mnemba and Kara grew slowly and naturally. There were a few lines about skin color that felt a little off, but overall I liked how these two girls found each other and found happiness.

Rosie Feminist Score: A+ Success

Mnemba is recovering from a brutal attack and finds relief with her cousin and his safari business. I appreciated her strength and resilience dealing with her history. Plus, she’s an entrepreneur making sure the business grows and helping Tumelo bring in the best customers. Kara is a scholar pursuing the secrets of wildlife and attempting to avoid her required marriage back home. Both girls are working the system to find their own kind of success.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t feel fully immersed in the book and its world. This is an alternate Earth, much of it is the same, but there are few changes – the country names, magically animals are real, and, apparently, the fact that girls are legally required to marry back in Kara’s home country. I’m not sure why, but the closeness of the worlds bothered me. This story centers around two women falling in love, which is apparently acceptable for Mnemba’s family but not for Kara’s, so that’s definitely a bonus. However, there were parts of the story that felt…even though there are comments made about the way the pseudo-Europeans that visit for safaris and how the two cultures mix and judge each other, it still felt a little unbalanced. If it’s an alternate-Earth, why couldn’t it be the Europeans that lack technology rather than the Africans?

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t that much. I really enjoyed Mnemba’s character and her family, but I didn’t ever feel like I really connected with the story. I just think the writing wasn’t completely there for me. BUT, I really loved the idea that there are magical beasts in the world and biologists study them just like other animals.


Favorite Character

Mnemba – I loved her resiliency and her head for business.

Fun Author Fact

Ember names her pets (and she has many) after Harry Potter characters.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think many people will enjoy this book – especially if you’re thirsting for lady-lady romance stories and different locations. 

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for pirates, sea monsters, and lesbians or Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst for queens with forbidden magic and forbidden love.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz17900792

Summary

Etta is dealing with a mess of things in her life – her best friends have kicked her out of their group for owning her bi identity (instead of sticking strictly to lesbians), she stopped dancing ballet – her one true love, and she has decided to face her anorexia and work for recovery. In the middle of this, she meets Bianca – someone unlike anyone she ever imagined as a friend – and they work together towards recovery, acceptance, and an elite theater and dance school in New York City.

not otherwise specified

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Romance Score: Good Effort

Etta isn’t looking for something serious in Nebraska because her heart is still set on her ex. There is a relationship in the book and they both are aware that it isn’t something serious, which lets them be comfortable and honest with each other. There’s not a lot of actual romance to judge, but I appreciate the sex-positive attitude in the book and that Etta’s family does their best to support all her romantic relationships even if they don’t always get it perfectly right.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta is strong and aware. Her experience as a black girl in Nebraska has given her some lessons. Her experience as bisexual in Nebraska has taught her some things – especially after her friends kick her out of their group (known as the “Disco Dykes”) because she wasn’t just into girls. Her experience as a black girl doing ballet taught her even more. The narrative is on point with so many things, it’s impressive (though it shouldn’t be). I especially liked the call out to toxic friendships. This goes back to something we say almost every podcast – when you’re in high school so many of your friendships are determined by who your parents are friends with, where you live, and what activities you do; it’s not necessarily up to actual personality match or liking each other. The other girls in the group are important, but Etta’s friendship and realizations about Rachel are even more important to see.

Through Etta’s experience with anorexia, blackness, bisexuality, and ballet, we get commentary on a long list of things that plague society (and especially girls and women of all varieties) and it’s actually talked about. Etta comes out on the other side with hard earned confidence  and a great perspective on being herself against all odds.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are a lot of different kinds of people in this book and it all feels wonderfully natural (as it should). Etta is black, bisexual, a recovering anorexic, and wealthy. Rachel is Japanese, diabetic, and a lesbian. Bianca is white, anorexic, deeply faithful, and poor. James, Bianca’s brother, is white, gay, and poor. Etta’s group of friends are aggressively lesbian – they call hetero girls “breeders” – I’m not trying to push any lesbian stereotypes by calling them aggressive; they really are. It’s high school and they carve out their space in a very particular way and it’s not a very kind way, but they’re fighting the norm in Nebraska, so maybe that’s the only way they feel they can survive.

The characters have some very real conversations about what all these identities mean for them and within their social context. Etta and Mason in particular lay out the difficulties of surviving as “different” from what is understood as the “norm.” They talk about race and being bisexual and being gay, but the comments that stood out the most were the ones about economic privilege. It is rarer than rare to find that in mainstream books and I appreciate that Moskowitz took the time to point out that her main character has a lot of privilege through money even if she lacks it in other areas. That kind of awareness is missing in a lot of YA and it’s frustrating when the solution is “go to another school” or “get a new car” or “go to the fanciest doctors” because that’s not practical or possible for so many readers.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta’s voice is amazing and I loved the way her character came through in everything. I loved the awareness and social commentary throughout the story. I loved how her relationship with Bianca developed and that the book allowed Etta to interact with a large group of people rather than centering that one new person over all others. I will recommend this book to lots of people and I’m so glad I read it. I couldn’t give it a full A+ because, while I can appreciate the skill and amazing characterization, I didn’t exactly like the conversational style of the writing. I love Etta and her story, but this style isn’t for me.


Favorite Character

Kristina – Etta’s little sister is a bright, loving sister and I loved the way she stood up for and loved her sister completely. I wish we got a little more of her, but she was a bright little star even with her few moments.

Favorite Line

Pause to consider the fact that me dating a fourteen-year-old anorexic is okay but me dating a guy is not.

This book captures some of the absurd hypocrisies of our messed up culture while converting them to Etta’s particular situation.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! I really liked getting to know Etta and rooting for her as she works for recovery and figuring out what decisions are hers. There’s a lot packed into this book and it’s wonderful to see 1. characters that actually look like the world 2. a story that can get to some very deep places while still having fun.

Fun Author Fact

Moskowitz sold her first book to a publisher while she was still in high school. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? Also, she struggled with her own disordered eating and she identifies as queer, so this book counts as an #ownvoices read in several ways.

Read These Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sarah Farizan for more girls attracted to other girls and trying to deal or Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (review coming soon!) for girls figuring out their identities while being under Hollywood’s eye.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: What We Left Behind

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Summary

Toni and Gretchen have the cutest relationship in their high school and 22082075have set the bar for love and all future relationships that their classmates dream of. But what looks perfect on the outside isn’t always so and when they go off to college, the two find their relationship buckling under the pressure of navigating their changing identities. In high school, Toni identified as genderqueer, but once at Harvard begins to explore other terms and feelings that have always been bubbling under the surface. Gretchen is left trying to understand everything from afar.

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heartRomance Score: You’re Trying & Good Effort

Toni and Gretchen are adorable and sparks fly from the moment they first see each other. The sexy times are hot without being explicit and the kissing is on point. And, because we end up watching them navigate very difficult terrain, it feels like a realistic relationship. However, it also feels realistic because Toni treats Gretchen pretty terribly. It becomes all about Toni’s issues and what Toni is going through rather than an equal relationship.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Firstly, this should probably be changed since the book is not really about feminism. But, both characters are empowered to make choices, own their identities and actions, and to feel free to be themselves – whatever that means. I think the book displays some wonderful examples of what it means to navigate expectations and how difficult it can be to feel like the “lesser” person in a relationship. I admired Gretchen’s struggle with why she chose NYU a lot because it seems to be something lots of people deal with when coupled up. And, Toni’s struggle gives a point by point map for thinking about gender, the binary vs spectrum, and the roles we choose and how we present them – something everyone should consider.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book has genderqueer, transgender, lesbian, and straight characters, so it definitely has that category covered. Additionally, there is a Korean character, several black characters, and a decent representation of regional differences (Northern vs Southern US, urban vs rural). It’s a little lacking on the economic lines and there were a few times where I felt the story was aided by the characters’ privilege, but that’s ok. I think this book is important because it’s not a “seriously traumatic QUILTBAG” book – there’s difficult issues and families aren’t always loving, but it’s not about depression, suicide, or violence.

I will note that, by the nature of Toni and Gretchen’s relationship, it’s a little “time for some definitions” in some sections, but it never crosses into “let me give you a lesson” territory. The explanations fit into the story fairly well and aren’t being shoehorned into the conversations. Rather, they flow from the characters’ experiences and emotions instead of from the need to get a point across.

NOTE: After reading a lot of other reviews, I’ve learned that many readers find the use of “genderqueer” and the portrayal of the community very problematic. I think this is one of those times where my personal lack of knowledge/non-identification was clearly a blindspot. I’m not going to change the score, but encourage you to do your own research.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I loved getting to know the characters and seeing them struggle to find the middle ground (or not) for their relationship. I thought Toni and Gretchen were great examples of what going to college feels like – especially how your life can change drastically in just a few days and it’s hard to translate to someone that’s not there with you just how big those changes are when it happens in the simplest details. I’m excited to see more characters on the gender spectrum and a wide spectrum of family reactions as well. I love Robin Talley’s writing style – the two person perspective works especially well here as we see the confusion on both sides of the relationship and the desperation as things begin to change.


Favorite Character

Samantha – We don’t get to know her well until the end, but I loved that she played against stereotype.

Favorite Line

“Nothing good in the history of ever has started with the words We need to talk.

The characters are well developed and I really loved the dialogue and being in their heads (and I’m not a lover of first person).

Fun Author Fact

Talley is writing a lesbian retelling of MacBeth and I am SO EXCITED.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The characters are engaging and their relationship is beautiful. It’s also a great book for being introduced to what genderqueer and transgender mean – for those not identifying as such and, I think, for those struggling to understand where they live on the spectrum. Plus, the writing is awesome!

Read These Next

I’m going to recommend Talley’s other published book, Lies We Tell Ourselves for more teens struggling to fight preconceived notions and Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz about a girl trying to break off the labels and make a space to live in.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

 

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Book Chat: Huntress

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Summary

Taisin and Kaede are studying to be Sages while the kingdom’s lands and 9415946people suffer and dwindle due to fluctuating weather and the arrival of strange new beasts. Neither knows exactly where their path will lead, though Taisin’s strong skill with dreams is promising. Kaede, with little skill, must fight the growing pressure to make political alliances through marriage. But, when a message from the Fairy Queen pulls them into an adventure, everything may change. Together, they face many obstacles, including growing feelings between them and a dream-promised loss that might tear them apart.

huntress


Favorite Character

Taisin – she’s powerful, she’s determined, and there’s a lot roiling beneath the surface that we don’t get to see. I like that her background gives us a bit more commentary on privilege and that her unease with her growing feelings allows the romance to burn slowly.

Favorite Line

“All you can do is make your decisions based on what you know now.”

It’s not especially “new,” but I appreciate that this is repeated and gives both girls strength and self-confidence. Plus, it’s too true.

Fun Author Fact

Malinda Lo is a rockstar and does a lot (A LOT) about queerness in YA. For the past few years, she’s pulled together all the numbers she can on published books with queer characters to show how representation is lacking. Here is her post for 2014.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think so – it’s a fun adventure and the romance is perfect – a slow burn with lots of feeling behind it so when you finally get there, it’s super satisfying. There are also good side characters to give the story depth. It’s a little quick with the storytelling and lacks some depth, but I had fun getting to know Taisin and Kaede.

Read These Next

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee for two very different girls traveling across the US as settlers expand West or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a group adventure with full of character and a touch of fantasy.

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

 

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

 

 

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