Review: Sara Farizan – Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Sara Farizan

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.

20312458Leila 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.

3star

Review: Liz Kessler – Read me like a Book

Read me like a Book
Liz Kessler

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.

22352840I 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.

4star

Review: Leah Raeder – Cam Girl

Cam Girl
Leah Raeder

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.

23430483Ellis 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.

4star

Review: Alex Gino – George

George
Alex Gino

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.

24612624For 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.

5star

Review: Jenny Downham – Unbecoming

unbecoming
Jenny Downham

Katie’s grandmother has unexpectedly come to stay. Katie’s life has been fragmenting since her parents split up, and this new addition to an already dysfunctional family could be the end of it. In coming to care for her eccentric grandmother, Katie comes to realise that family is complicated – but that doesn’t mean it is inherently bad.

9780545907170_xlgThis novel touches on a number of important topics – sexuality, family history and degenerating health conditions. The family history here is convoluted and lovely, and exposed sneakily by Katie’s perspective, and also from Mary’s memory. Mary’s memory loss is extreme, and is getting worse, but she is still trying to work out what has gotten lost, and why it is important.

Dementia can be a tricky subject to portray in a manner that is convincing, but it is done so brilliantly here. The mentions of Jack being present for Mary could have been jarring, but instead they were comfortingly woven into the text, where they could be either past memories or imaginings from Mary.

What I liked about Katie and Jamie/Simona’s relationship was that it was less ‘typical’ or predictable than relationships in other novels, where being in love doesn’t solve all problems. Something I always struggle with, both in novels and in real life, is that any gay characters are automatically expected to like each other! I mean, the saying is that ‘there are plenty more fish in the ocean’ for straight people, and I think that needs to be different for gay or alternative relationships – it’s more like an overcrowded pond with plenty of random fish that are forced to be friendly because they share the same space. Is that too much of an analogy?

The ending was a little neat for my now-refined taste, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. This is the second novel I have read recently that doesn’t offer easy answers, or a linear, unimaginative plot. Not being able to predict characters based on past novels you have read (and I have read a lot) is beginning to be a sign of brilliance of authors I read.

This is a valuable contribution to YA literature. Highly recommended reading.

4star

Thanks to Scholastic for providing me with a complimentary copy.

 

Review: Alexandra Bogdanovic – Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey

Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey
Alexandra Bogdanovic

Alex is a jilted, divorced wife. But what should make this novel different from the norm is that she got divorced because the man she loved was a trans-woman. Honestly, I don’t think the book hit all the right things in order to make this something special like it could have been.

17058464Poor, poor Alex. Dating a man for 10 years, and then suddenly finding out that he is a woman. But the person Adam was on the inside was the same, surely. Yes, he now won’t have a penis, but is sex with that all you were interested in? It frustrated me that Alex couldn’t even give Audrey the chance to explain. If anyone needed therapy, Alex certainly could have used some.

The majority of the text in this novel is devoted to talking about how Audrey and Alex met. And then about horse shows. And then about shopping to fix her feelings. And cats. And very little that was unique. It just sounded like a pity party. And hanging out with her buddies, the cops. Who cares who they were? They’re just your friends, and putting them in the novel didn’t really serve any purpose.

What didn’t come through to me was the ‘special nature’ of their divorce. It seemed like any other divorce, and why would complaining about your husband becoming a woman be a special complaint to knock down other people’s relationship woes?

Ok, so Audrey is portrayed as a grasping, lying pig. The author says that Audrey refused to cooperate with helping write the novel, and that the author didn’t want Audrey getting her grubby hands on any money from it. I think that Audrey may have been given the short shift. Why would she want to revisit her old life? Did it ever occur to the author that Audrey might have been able to move on?

The final thing that broke it for me was the fact that Alex couldn’t get Audrey’s pronouns right. As a friend to a trans-person, and sometimes making mistakes when referring to the past, then some excuses are ok. But really, she should be able to remember the correct pronouns, its simply just polite. Even if you now hate the person involved.

I was so disappointed in this novel. I had requested a copy to review, based on the hype on Twitter, but it didn’t live up to expectations. 2 begrudging stars from me, because I did manage to finish it. I so wish it had added more to queer literature like it had the potential to. It’s not as unique as it is billed to be.

2star

Review: A.C. Burch – The HomePort Journals

The HomePort Journals
A.C. Burch

Marc longs to be an author, but the words never seem to come to him in the city. After he breaks up with his abusive partner, he flees to Provincetown, where he’s taken in by an old woman and her enigmatic companions.

25244093The novel is well realised, with scenery which I can vividly picture right now. There was only one inconsistency towards the end of the novel, when the Captain’s journals appeared in two places at once. I can see them walking down the beach, and Marc trying to write in his tower, complete with the art workshop on one of the middle floors.

I like that in this novel, all of the characters are ok with being one form of queer or another. This is a world I dream of, where it’s ok to be yourself! Everyone in the novel has a role somewhere, even if it’s not where you expect. They were lovely, three dimensional characters that reached out to me through just Marc’s perspective – a mark of a strong writer.

I spent most of the novel in suspense that Brandon would track down Marc. I knew he would eventually, but I didn’t know how much Marc was going to be able to stand up against him. Marc draws people to him without even knowing it, and those people think he’s worth a lot more than he gives himself credit for.

The romance that occurs in this novel is subtly layered and sort of incidental. What threw me was some of the comments of Marc to himself about being extrainged from love. He had been so badly hurt (which is mainly just alluded to intriguingly through the novel), and yet he can’t open up when someone else is trying to help! If the romance was the main theme, the reader wouldn’t keep going.

Instead, the mystery and suspense of the plot grips the reader. I wanted to know the history, and how all the competing interests would be served. I loved the ending. So happy, and yet, bittersweet, and arg, why didn’t they fix things earlier.

At some point recently in my reading, I have moved into the pure fiction genre. I never expected it to happen, usually finding those sort of novels boring and repeditive. But add a hint of mystery and a strong queer element, and you’ve got an avid reader on your hands.

I give this novel a very solid 4 stars, moving up to 5 stars. It’s just not a 5-stars for me because I don’t have a strong desire to read it again. But by all means, go out there and buy it, it’s awesome!

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Review: Karelia Stetz-Waters – The Purveyor

The Purveyor
Karelia Stetz-Waters

Helen and Wilson have been forcibly separated in the wake of The Admirer‘s thrilling conclusion. As Wilson suffers from a disorder with no cure, Helen finds herself increasingly lost and uncomfortable, not knowing why Wilson is not returning to her college.

23120239This novel is just as entrancing as the first novel. It is written more from Wilson’s perspective which is a refreshing change after Helen’s insecure narration in the first novel. At the same time, it is obvious that Wilson suffers from the same insecurities. I felt frustrated that they weren’t communicating well, because surely they should have gotten over it in the first novel? But that is what makes this novel more life-like and less like a fiction.

That being said, the things that go wrong that are really random things that get wrong. How likely is it that these things would happen in real life? The whole hierarchy in Wilson’s family seems off, but then again, these atrocities to occur in modern life, and what better way to expose it than in a novel? Her family is seriously interbred and messy, made more so by the questionable sexualities of its members. I wonder how much of this actually goes on…

I had such differing levels of disgust and horror and discomfort all about one person, but I didn’t know that they were someone else until it was too late! I didn’t feel tricked, instead I felt like I’d had an actual expose go on, just like Wilson feels. It’s a clever technique that Karelia uses with expertise in both of her ‘Wilson and Helen’ novels.

I couldn’t make the final connection for what happened to the girls. They’re basically surrounded by myth the whole time. They’re completely legendary, and remain that way. I’d love to hear more from them. I want to know whether they are both happy, whether they decide to study more, and what the collector wanted from them (if it wasn’t sex or religious purposes).

Once again I was left feeling like I’d been walking along hot coals and found myself loving them so much that it felt more painful when it ended. I was pushed along by how things were interconnected and messy and yet not obvious all at the same time. Love, love, loved this novel. Not only did I connect with the characters, the plot didn’t miss a beat and kept moving forward with no inconsistencies.

When I interviewed Karelia, she mentioned that many people seem uncomfortable with the sex scenes in her novels. I think that the majority of them are tastefully done, and actually offer insight into the characters. That is particularly the case in this novel. It’s certainly not a gratuitous pledge to her readers.

I bought this novel for myself after reading Karelia’s other novels, The Admirer, Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before and Something True. Let that be a mark to you that I now proudly own all these novels after buying them with my own cash, and would confidently promote them to everyone.

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Review: Leah Raeder – Black Iris

Black Iris
Leah Raeder

I’m not even sure I can write a blurb for this novel, it was so unsatisfying. Complex relationships and a F/F/M love-triangle combined with copious amounts of drugs and a couple of mental illnesses thrown in does not make a good book.

9781476786421This book was raw, rough and sometimes hard to follow. I am a serial ignorer of chapter titles and headings, particularly when reading an e-book. It took me a couple of chapters before I realised that yes, it was all from one perspective, but no, the time wasn’t proceeding in a linear fashion, and yes, some of those were flashbacks, and no, I couldn’t work out from Laney’s unreliable narrating whether things actually happened. It all came across with the same level of importance and the same amount of crudity.

I feel like I am betraying the queer community for saying this, but I don’t think it’s a supportive book for those going through acceptance issues. I appreciate what this novel is doing in terms of trying to expose sexualities and gender balances to a wider community of readers. However, I felt that the execution of this was too extreme for most people to relate to. The important messages were drowned by the characters’ sex and drugs.

There was sex and drugs and sex and abuse left, right and centre. I’ve read other novels with those things in it, and it hasn’t bothered me. Some of the best books I have read manage to make those things available to the reader, by not scaring them off. If anything, this novel seemed to enjoy disquieting the reader for no purpose,

Something that I didn’t agree with at all was the treatment of serious mental illnesses. Two of the characters had bipolar disorder, and the other had borderline personality disorder. No-one made an effort to medication professionally, instead they abused the medications they had and combined it with as many drugs as possible. If it was just them affecting themselves, I’d be ok with that – it’s their business. But when they are affecting close family members and causing deaths, there’s something seriously wrong.

I felt entirely confused and turned around by the time I got to the end. And I never felt any satisfaction. Laney seemed happy ripping holes in as many other people’s lives as possible, but I wasn’t happy with the way things turned out. The things she gets away with, the forgiveness she demands from other people, everything was wrong.

I had to let the book sit for a while before I could review it. Even now, I can feel the rotten taste of it in my mouth. I literally felt dirty once I had read it. I didn’t walk away from it feeling like I had gotten positive out of it – all I’d seen was what the worst of the world had to offer.

Yes, I kept reading it to the end. Yes, I didn’t want to walk away from it. But no, I shouldn’t have started reading it in the first place. Stay far, far away and shop for something with similar themes but a more satisfying ending (I’d suggest Scars, The Burn Journals, The Admirer and Keeping You a Secret). In fact, even the worst of the queer/mental illness novels that I have reviewed on this blog so far are better than this one.

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Review: Julie Anne Peters – Grl2Grl

Grl2Grl
Julie Anne Peters

This is a collection of 10 short stories by Julie Anne Peters, one of my favourite queer authors. It covers a range of ‘first-date’ situations and getting over breakups of young lesbians.

Normally for a book of short stories I would be reviewing each one individually. But I don’t have the book here, and all of the stories are by the same author, so I’d pretty much be just giving you a synopsis of each one, and you can do that elsewhere on the internet.

I gave this book to my partner to read while we were on vacation. She didn’t get past the first story! And she suggested that since I hadn’t reviewed it yet, I should reread it. When I finally got down to reading it, one night when I just wanted something light to read, I opened it and was instantly disappointed.

The writing seemed stilted, I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, and there seemed to be too many extremes. Teen drama novels often go that way, but this wasn’t what I had expected from Peters. The first time I read it, I might have been a bit forgiving, but now that I’ve read a wider variety of queer fiction, this one isn’t anything special.

Am I just up to reading big girl lesbian fiction now? Will I never find another queer teenage fiction book to fall in love with? I don’t think so. I just think that the combination of short stories which I don’t like in the first place, and unfinished endings, which I like even less. Line me up for more ‘proper’ fiction please!

I’ll give this 3 stars, because it’s not awful, but it’s not anything particularly special either. Well worth stocking in a public or high school library.

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