The Things We Promise
During the height of the HIV and AIDs epidemic in the 1990s, Gemma is blissfully ignorant of any health issues that could be going on in her home town of Sydney. Her worst concerns are who she will hang out with school and what kind of hairdo she is going to have her brother Billy do for her formal.
I’ll be the first to say that a lot of the language in the novel is offensive. It’s particularly offensive to gay people, eg. “limp-wristed, pillow-biting, doughnut punching bum bandit”. Which, given the subject matter, I’m not surprised that it’s targeted so negatively. But I also appreciated the hard feelings and accuracy of that. It felt ‘real’.
The problem some reviewers had with this novel was that it was horrifically offensive to a variety of people. While I agree that it is, I also accept that this novel is an accurate snapshot of the early 90s, where this sort of language, beliefs and behaviour was common. If you are easily offended and can’t understand the setting of the novel (such as a slavery novel with ‘nigga’ in it), this novel is not for you.
It’s an interesting way of approaching the early years when very few people knew about HIV and how it was transmitted. It paints a picture of how miserable things really were from a personal perspective, not just a sheer number of people who were infected as a sterile statistic.
I’m giving this three stars. It took me a while to warm up to it, and despite eventually enjoying it, it seemed a little forced at times.
Allen & Unwin | 22nd February 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback
This Is How It Always Is
Penn couldn’t keep away from Rosie when she was interning as a doctor and he was writing his ‘damn novel’. When they inevitably get married, they know that they want a couple of kids – and end up with 4 boys before having a final run of getting a biological girl. Instead, they get Claude, who for his fifth birthday wants to ‘be a girl’. This novel is an exploration of what happens in a family, and a community, when a secret this big is kept for years.
This is from the perspective of the adults for the most part, but the omniscient narrator reveals all that you could hope for. It’s not ‘just another transgender novel’. Some of the lines from it are so memorable and touching that you will be tempted to cry. It’s ok – I cried, I’m not going to hold it against you.
I’ve left this too long before writing a review to give you a proper run-down of what I loved about it. Just reading other people’s reviews on GoodReads of this novel makes me want to read it again.
The author is a parent of a transgender child, but this is not her story. This is a fictionalised account which I think could reflect many families’ experiences when it comes to living with (and to an extent, explaining) a child with gender dysphoria. All I can say is that more novels like this help de-mystify gender dysphoria to the general population and perhaps will help reduce the horrifically high rate of transgender suicides.
I’ll give this the full five stars – I couldn’t stop reading it and talking about it to my partner. This is for adults, and fits a niche that George and Luna (both decent teenage/YA novels in their own rights) just don’t fill. I loved it, not because it was a niche novel, but because it was bloody well written.
Hachette Australia | 1st February 2017 | AU $32.99 | Paperback
Jessica Watson & Dougal Macpherson
Teddy is keeping a big secret from Thomas, and Teddy is worried that Thomas won’t understand and might not like him anymore. Will Teddy be accepted as Tilly?
There’s not very much I can write about a children’s novel so small. Oh, but how will I convey how impressed I am with this?
In a world where transgender individuals are gradually getting the rights they deserve, this novel is how to introduce children from a young age that some people aren’t born into the right bodies for their brains.
It’s sensitive, simple and something that younger readers (maybe grade 1 or 2) will be able to read by themselves (with adult guidance for the contents). The language is straight-forward, and the message of acceptance is clear.
With any children’s book, I’m not sure whether to recommend you buy it, or borrow it from the library as it may only get one read, depending on the age of your child. I received a paperback and a hard copy version, and I donated the hard copy one to my library. Well worth having in a collection of children’s books.
Bloomsbury | June 2016 | $24.99 | Hardback
Lena’s dating a footballer and her best friend is a cheerleader – all she needs to do is keep on top of her work and make it through high school. What she doesn’t know about herself is that there’s going to be someone new in her life – Juliet, a damaged gorgeous lesbian.
This is a more gritty version of Keeping You a Secret. These characters have serious home problems and health problems. You aren’t going to love all of them, and some of them are going to drive you up the wall. For me, some of the characters came off as cliched, and the character building wasn’t enough to flesh them out. This was a limitation of only having Lena’s admittedly biased perspective.
Lena spent a lot of time frustrating me inside her own head. Seriously girl, pull it together! You are how old? But at the same time it’s super cute and I know some readers are going to really identify with her. From the simple thoughts she has about kissing Juliet to more complicated ones about the nature of friendship, the reader is going to travel along with her.
It’s now been a while since I read the novel, and neglected writing my review. What I can tell you is that I gave this 3 stars right off of reading, even if I don’t remember precisely why. I’m not going to mock this book for ‘only’ getting three stars, it’s still a good novel with something to add to the coming-of-age lesbian genre. Others you are going to want to check out include Is Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel and Read Me Like a Book.
Speak Its Name
Lydia is part of the Christian Fellowship, the strictest and least forgiving of the Christian societies on her college campus. While she enjoys leading others into the words of God, Lydia is often left feeling like she has missed something from her own readings of the scripture – how can she be feeling these things towards other people if the Bible says it is wrong? This is a novel of how Lydia finds herself, and in doing so, can help others too.
I’m having a problem with some of these honeymoon romance periods novels at the moment. The sad truth is that many relationships won’t survive past the 2 year biological imperative. This novel is more important than that though, it’s about coming out in a place where you think everyone will be hostile.
For me, the ending didn’t entirely ring true. I’m not sure how dependant she was on her parents and other people, but noone seemed to have job. Oh wait, I’ve just realised this is set in the UK, so that means that the college rules are different. Anyway, aren’t jobs essential to university students?
I appreciated the reference to bisexuals not being really recognised in the queer community. Jowitt puts it nicely when she says that Colette could have fallen off one side of the fence or the other!
Surprisingly I’m going to be releasing this 4 star novel into the wild. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I think it offers a unique entry into being queer in a Christian community, and I think it can help many people in their journey towards being comfortable with themselves.
Marydale and Kristen have very little in common. One is a convicted murderer, the other a straight up defense attorney. One is a committed lesbian, the other has only dated men of various standards. When their lives collide in a tiny country town ruled by homophobes, it seems like love will never succeed.
Stetz-Waters creates characters that are compliments of each other, particularly in these romances of hers (Something True, Forgive Me if I’ve Told You This Before). I worry that this could become formulaic for her work, but I am reassured by her thrillers (The Admirer, The Purveyor) that she can write in more than one area.
I read this novel while there was a tornado warning for the area I was staying in overseas. Nothing like a storm outside to provide a perfect reading atmosphere. I couldn’t tell you why exactly I kept reading, only that I did and that I couldn’t put it down. Love, love, love.
Lesbian sex scenes written by a lesbian? Yes please for realism and a drive to include value in what could just be lumped into ‘eroticism’. As with other Stetz-Waters novels, sex is for controlling or for submission, not just a titillating inclusion for the reader. I’m not reading the novel for the sex scenes, but I love it all the same.
Money where my mouth is on this one. I received an ebook copy well before it was ‘properly’ released (I can’t even find it on GoodReads), but I’ll be purchasing a paperback copy as soon as one is available. 5 stars from me for another valuable contribution to adult queer novels.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Leila has made it through school without crushing on anyone. That is, until wild-child, sophisticated Saskia turns up and starts to invade Leila’s school days… and then her life.
Leila is challenged by her Persian background, and I learnt a lot about that culture just reading this novel. I particularly loved the way Leila’s older sister was characterised. I could have had more here!
There are so many other little stories going on in this. And the main thing is to note that things are hardly ever how they seem. Not only is Saskia not what Leila expected, her other friends, her family and her childhood best friend aren’t predictable. Seriously though, Leila’s friends were sometimes just a little too dumb and ignorant for their own good.
I wanted to love this book, I really did. It’s queer fiction, a coming-out story of a young lesbian. The thing is, that it was very repetitive and predictable, not to mention that the pace was glacial for the first half of the novel. If you’re just getting into queer fiction, this could be a novel for you. If you are desperate for reassurance that it’s ok to be gay, this book might be it. But everyone’s stories are different.
I’m giving this novel 3 stars, and recommending my forever-favourite of Keeping You a Secret or perhaps Read Me Like a Book for the beginning lesbian.
Read me like a Book
Ash is in her final year of high school (college to you British people). She’s finding out what it means to have a boyfriend and be in love – not necessarily with the same person. Her parents are slipping apart, and Ash feels like she is being drawn apart in more ways than one.
I feel like it is possible that this novel had too many themes crammed into it, but instead I felt like they all balanced themselves out. It read exactly like the protagonist was thinking and feeling. Ash struck me as so confused, and yet so cute. And don’t be put off by the ‘teacher crush’ thing. It’s not a big deal, its just used as a prop for forwarding Ash’s character development.
Personally, I’ve never seen ‘love’ used so much in a novel where it didn’t actually mean loving someone. I suppose it’s a bit like the Australian ‘mate’? That’s the thing that ticked the box of not being in my country, and lead me to feel some annoyance and frustration at times.
Ooh yes. This is a British version of ‘Keeping you a Secret‘. In keeping with that, I’d be recommending it for teenage readers to early YA readers (if that is such a thing), because the writing is a little superficial, despite having quite a few swear words in it.
Other reviews have been mixed, but for me, I picked it up the moment it arrived on my doorstep, and then read it until I was done. I’m going to give it 4 stars for another worthy contribution to Queer literature.
A car accident can change everything – your future, your past and your work. Vada is a talented artist before it is taken from her. And she loses her best friend and partner at the same time. Broke, facing eviction, she will face anything to get her life back.
Ellis is a tortured soul who is only trumped by Vada’s nightmares. Vada is the protagonist, and we see everything from her perspective. What wasn’t obvious to me was why Ellis pulled away after the accident. The blurb is misleading for sure. Just ignore the comments there, and jump into the novel.
This is a properly gritty novel about being one of the LGBT*. It came into my inbox and I ummed and ahhed about whether to request a copy. I had previously read Black Iris, and I hated it. The characters were unrealistic, it was filled with violence and just generally bad. This one is far better, even if it still has some violent scenes and tumultuous sex acts.
I appreciated the positive portrayal of the sex work industry. Time and time again I run into feminists who complain that sex work isn’t treated like a real job. Here it’s no worse than any other job, and it’s a particularly well paid job! Cam girls probably have one of the safer sex work jobs.
The ending didn’t creep up on me too much, and it left me feeling quite satisfied and as if I had just run a long race. Phew. I’d been ripped apart, put back together again, and I was happy-sad.
I’m going to give it 4 stars, which is a complete change from my opinions on her writing before.
George has never seen herself as anything other than a girl. That’s just a small problem when she has been assigned as a male at birth. She doesn’t even like what’s in between her legs, and wishes she could play games with the other girls. When a chance to perform might give her the chance to be herself, she will take anything she can to be in it.
For the first chapter of George you don’t actually know what’s happening in the story. George could be a girl or a boy’s name. Instinctively the problem is that George knows that she is a girl, it’s just explaining it to other people. Sometimes it is the least likely of people that believe.
There’s a bit of George concerned with understanding different adults, but it doesn’t seem too packed in. Especially poignant is George finding allies are in unexpected places and sometimes feeling the joy of being just herself without fear.
This book is a great intersection between children and teenage transgender literature that I don’t think has been properly explored in fiction. I think it’s accessible to primary school level (I think Bridge to Terabithia is just as moving, and that was a primary school novel for me), especially since the characters within it are all in grade 4.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t reread this. But I can see it as a definite reread for a young person questioning their sexuality, gender or anything else not ‘normal’. This novel makes those things accessible, and suitable for a school library. Get out there, buy it for your young person.