Review: LC Rosen – Camp

LC Rosen

Randy used to be a steriotypical gay teenager. He’s fallen in love though with a straight-seeming guy who seems to date (and hurt) a different person each summer. Randy wants to be noticed and be the one who gets to keep the guy. But will changing himself into a buff and masculine gay teen mean that he misses out on all the things about camp that he used to find fun?

This book hurt me, because it had so many steriotypical ‘gay male’ behaviours in it. The main character is a normally flamboyant gay male who wears nail polish, sings and dances hilariously and isn’t sporty. Normally I hate steriotypes, but they are usually known for a reason. The fact that Randy’s head space shows his personality regardless of his outside presentation is important. Many gay people act straight to ‘pass’ as normal, and it’s nice to have a protagonist who can show what that’s like, and how hard it is.

I could have cried at some points in the novel. Randy/Del had so many feelings, and he shared all of them with me! Maybe I would have liked to have something more from Hudson’s side of the story, but it was good to have some brief perspectives from older queer individuals and their shared life experiences.

It would be so cool if there were gay/queer retreats like this in Australia. Or maybe there are but I missed the window to attend one. Anyway, it’s good to know that there are options for gay teens in the USA, because it seems like their environment is a lot less tolerant of queer individuals compared to Australia.

This book has very leading text on the cover – “Putting the ‘out’ in the great outdoors”, “Top or bottom?” and “It’s time to bunk up…” What was cool for me was that the first copy I had of this had rainbow colours behind the Penguin publishing penguin (instead of the regular orange). Now I’m wondering if there are other books on my shelves that have it.

A worthy addition to young adult queer fiction. I very much liked the first novel from this author, Jack of Hearts (and other parts) and I was excited to read this book. When this novel walked in through the door I got started reading it almost immediately. Unfortunately, I didn’t review it right away… I was prompted to write this review when I received a second copy! 4 stars from me, and I’ll definitely try to pick up the next novel from this author. I’d also be keen to see some more young adult lesbian fiction by #ownvoices. Also, a book such as this one should be made compulsory reading in the Australian curriculum – enough Tim Winton, guys, let’s see some gay fiction.

Penguin Random House | 2nd July 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Phil Stamper – The Gravity of Us

The Gravity of Us
Phil Stamper

Cal’s going to make his FlashFame feed support his career as a journalist, do an internship at BuzzFeed and get a free ride to college with a full scholarship. When his dad is selected to become an astronaut of the Orpheus Twenty Cal’s plans are derailed – going to Texas isn’t in his ideal future! But with a cute boy in the picture, maybe something about this summer might not be a waste afterall.

The cute cover should give this away as a gay fiction. The recommendation statement on the back from Becky Albertalli says this book is a ‘story I didn’t I know I needed’. And she’s right! I didn’t know that I could be excited about a somewhat futuristic space voyage – but it turns out that there really is a current program to have humans on Mars by 2032. Thus I can confidently say that this is NOT science fiction.

The single paragraph devoted to his final high school year seems a bit perfunctory. I’m not complaining, because there are plenty of teenage fiction novels out there that cover high school and being gay well. At the same time though, I felt like that could have added a bit more depth for the protagonist, who seems to exist in his own little bubble most of the time.

I struggled with the sense of time passing. Perhaps instead of boring chapter numbers, a handy chapter date would have been more useful. This lack of time made their romance feel instant, and their feelings insincere. What I did appreciate was that Leon’s depression wasn’t cured in an instant by falling in love (lust?) and neither was Cal’s mom’s anxiety completely treated by therapy.

There seems to be a growing interest for novels about space and mathematics. I’m loving it! From avoiding meteoroids (Learning to Swear in America), to general astrophysics (The Square Root of SummerΒ andΒ Stargazing for Beginners), I’m excited for what will happen next. 4 stars for this one from me.

Bloomsbury | 17th March 2020 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Alison Evans – Euphoria Kids

Euphoria Kids
Alison Evans

Iris has never had friends before, other than the faeries that live in their backyard. Babs has trouble staying visible thanks to the witch who cursed her. The boy hasn’t found a real name yet. Can magic and friendship keep them safe?

I’m not really sure how old these kids are. Teenagers? I thought that I read somewhere that they are in junior high, but they certainly seem to have a lot of freedom in school for that. I’m a great believer in the power of education, and they don’t seem to spend much time at school! The only class they seem to do is art, and while I think it’s really important for expression, it’s not the only way to express yourself.

The perspective swaps between Babs and Iris were made doubly confusing once the two humans became three humans, and the pronoun ‘they’ was used for both Iris and the three of them. I had trouble remembering which one was Iris (neutral gender plant sprout with witch potential) and which was Babs (trans-girl fire spirit that disappears with witch mother?). ‘The boy’ doesn’t even get a name until a powerful witch helps him find it! And what is up with his dad? I couldn’t decide if the dad was accepting or not, because the boy doesn’t always wear his binder (take with a grain of salt and always do your research before getting a binder).

Having three gender queer teens in a single year level, let alone school, is very rare. That alone would have been enough for the novel to process. Then make one of them a plant spirit that talks to faeries with two mothers (one of which took time off work to look after her while she was a plant/seed baby?), and the other a cursed fire spirit. Just for good measure, toss in a cafe owner/worker who is also trans and a trans-boy without a name.

What does it mean that Babs is made of fire? Can someone be more specific for me please? So much about this novel seemed unfinished, and I don’t think it was just because I had an ARC copy. I think too many themes and too much was crammed in.

I didn’t like the way Babs’ depression was treated. Ok, so they went to the special understanding GP, but then they just talked about it, and she was magically cured almost immediately? Talk about setting unrealistic expectations. Oh yes, also that the boy is able to just go to the GP to get a script to stop his periods. In my experience, it’s never that easy.

I wanted to love this novel, for the fact that it is a #ownvoices novel. But I couldn’t. I at least finished it but it was a struggle. It wont be coming home with me from vacation and I’m not giving it to any gender queer people I know.

Echo Publishing | 1st March 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Gabby Rivera – Juliet Takes a Breath

Juliet Takes a Breath
Gabby Rivera

Juliet is going to take the summer to find herself. She’s just come out as gay to her parents, she wants to be a writer, and she thinks she’s a feminist. Enter Harlowe Brisbane – the ultimate authority on all things feminism and lesbianism. Surely if Juliet lives with Harlowe some of her empowered feminism will rub off, right?

This has no plot, and yet Juliet manages to get herself into trouble. She makes every bad decision that she possibly can, and forgives far more easily than I wanted her to. In a way that perhaps makes her more relatable, yet somehow things just work out for her in the end. Juliet can somehow do no wrong? Her flow-of-consciousness interspersed with passages of Harlowe’s doctrine didn’t do any favours to the feeling that I was just floating and being told the story, not shown it.

Because I’ve gradually been expanding my own queer and feminist language I understood the pain that Juliet was going through. What I did have a major problem with though was that you basically had to have a vagina to be considered a feminist. Having recently read Trans* Like Me, I felt like this novel undermined non cis-gendered people (cis-gendered means basically the gender you were assigned at birth matches the one that you identify as).

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but one of the few swear words I just 100% can’t stand was the major cuss word of this novel. Every time I hear it I feel a bit dirty, and reading it just made me feel the same. I felt honour-bound to finish this novel though because it had a lesbian protagonist, but I felt uncomfortable the whole time. I don’t even want to type it!

We need more novels with underrepresented lesbian women of colour and maybe this novel is for some people. Maybe it could empower other people. It just wasn’t for me – a white, slim, cis-woman lesbian with a hangup on a particular swearword. I read it the moment it came in the door, but put off reviewing it for over a month. 3 stars.

Penguin Random House | 19th September 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Rainbow Rowell – Wayward Son

Wayward Son
Rainbow Rowell

Simon’s defeated the enemy and found true love. So why can’t he make it off the couch? Bunce and Baz are going to college and experiencing life, but Simon just can’t face it. What’s the point when you’ve achieved your life aim? Bunce stages an intervention – a road trip across America is just what they need.

Rainbow Rowell’s novels are usually a 100% love from me (Fangirl and Eleanor and Park). In fact, I often feel urged to reread Fangirl (has it been 5 years since I reviewed it already? wow!). When I saw this one in the publicity catalog I even told the publisher that I’d possibly kill to get my hands on it. With hype like this, and the avid fan following Rowell has, I had high expectations.

Somehow the nature of this novel is that you don’t become too attached to any of them, and unfortunately that’s what made Rowell’s other novels speak to me so deeply in the past. At one point a character was introduced and I wondered how they could possibly be relevant if they get mindwiped! Overwhelmingly I felt like there were too many characters that I needed to care about, and so I felt myself caring less about them overall.

You wonder at first what the main plot point of this novel is going to be. Surely it can’t just be following two magicians, a werewolf and a demon across America in a convertible? Nope! It’s not! But Simon, Bunce and Baz unpacking their feelings around having overcome the enemy from Carry On could have had more air time. If child soldiers are a theme that Rowell wanted to address, and PTSD, I wanted more of it. Less ‘fluff’ somehow. There’s being lighthearted, and then there’s just blatantly brushing off problems.

I found myself underwhelmed by this novel. I don’t know whether it’s because I hadn’t read the first book (oops) or that there was something inherently lacking in it. I don’t really understand why Simon is so confused about his relationship with Baz all of a sudden. I do want to go back and read the first book to see what I missed, and maybe identify what I really needed to know to enjoy this novel to its fullest.

Personally, I’d keep the wings. There are some other issues that are left unaddressed, such as Baz’s inevitable non-aging compared to his friends and how he’ll deal with that in the future. And Bunce’s overwhelming nature of, well, being Bunce. The novel ends on a cliffhanger, but I’m just not that excited for the third. 3 stars from me.

Pan Macmillan | 24th September 2019 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner – Starworld

Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner

Sam’s a withdrawn artist with one best and only friend in the world. Somehow Zoe, a popular cute girl, enters into Sam’s universe through one of Sam’s paintings. Sam and Zoe aren’t sure they’ll be friends, but together they can escape into another world outside their complicated families.

The *star talk* of Zoe and Sam’s fantasy world together didn’t actually set me on fire (pun intended). I was more interested in their complicated emotions and cute ways of showing they cared. For example, Sam’s mom packs her a lunch in foods that are colour coded and divisible by four (which I personally find a very odd manifestation of OCD – but who am I to judge?). Then they share and make crazy flavour combinations.

Look, I’m not sure whether this novel was trying to take too much on or not, but there was certainly a whole range of things going on (so many that I wondered that it had to be set up like that – as in, I’d never expect a situation like this in real life). There’s Sam, with her Aspergers and OCD mom, and then there’s Zoe who is adopted with a severely intellectually disabled brother. Too many themes in one novel? Oh, and then add some true artistic skill and a queer angle just for good measure.

That being said, I liked this novel. Mainly because it had me ugly crying at one point, and it was JUST SO SAD. Sam, my heart broke with yours. Not as relate-able as perhaps Our Chemical Hearts or the dangerous art of blending in, but still good. If I had one teensy complaint, it would be that the ending left me feeling cold and empty. That’s what keeps me from giving this five stars, despite the emotional wreck that it left me in.

Walker Books | 1st July 2019 | AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Orlagh Collins – All the Invisible Things

All the Invisible Things
Orlagh Collins

It’s time for Vetty to move back to London, 4 years after her mother’s death. Living in her childhood home is difficult, but what is worse is no longer seeing eye to eye with Pez, her best friend. Have Pez and Vetty changed too much to be friends anymore? And can Vetty be honest with herself and everyone else about who she likes?

What I really liked about this novel was that the main character wasn’t automatically understood by everyone around her. Nor did she automatically know whether to shave or how to behave with other teenagers. Being a teenager is all about not knowing yourself yet and having to experiment and experience life, and Vetty gives a window into that world. Collins does a fantastic job of communicating Vetty’s insecurities in a way that still lets her be a person.

Despite Vetty’s mother dying, Vetty isn’t too put upon by her dad in terms of having to look after her little sister. I found their interactions to be strangely touching and very realistic. Discussing safe sex with your little sister isn’t really something many teenagers look forward to! I did expect more in terms of grieving from Vetty though. Losing a parent is a major life trauma.

Hmm, I’m not sure about the title of this one. What invisible things are we talking about? I tend to think of invisible things as imaginary things such as fairy tales and fantasies. You won’t find those here. I guess the secondary story line with Pez’s addiction is a hidden and private problem? I’ve not yet come across a fiction with this particular addiction, so there’s something new on offer here with that too.

I can’t believe the final school year subjects these UK kids can choose! Photography and History? Not a trace of math or simple English? Only three subjects. And it appears to be a bit optional whether you do it or not. I complain about the Australian system, but I guess at least we get a few more well rounded students.

This novel ended too soon for me. I felt so-so about No Filter (3 stars due to its luckluster romance), but this one looked promising. Indeed, I really enjoyed it. Complicated story line with multiple plot points and an actual fear of someone dying or something really bad happening? Tick. 4 stars from me, and I’d consider a reread (except Beautiful Broken Things gets first dibs).

Bloomsbury | 1st April 2019 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Karelia Stetz-Waters – Worth the Wait

Worth the Wait
Karelia Stetz-Waters

Once upon a time Avery Crown and Merritt Lessing were the best of friends – but only friends. Then, neither was willing to admit that they loved the other, but now 15 years later they might have a chance together. But Avery’s career would be ruined by coming out as a lesbian, and will Merritt be willing to wait for her to work things out?

Avery, get your head in the game! Merritt, I love you the mostest but please get over yourself and get started loving Avery properly. Even if it’s just sex, enjoy the time you have, grab it! In line with this, there are sex scenes, and I can’t decide whether they helped with the storyline or hindered. As the author is a lesbian, you’d be able to assume that the sex scenes are not unrealistic and pornographic.

I liked how Avery was guilted into continuing with her career by the threat of her co-star being bankrupted by the show ending. However, Avery, grow a spine and admit that you’ll need to look after your co-star a bit better, and keep your mother in line. How old are you now?

I’m really sorry, but I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as the others by Karelia.Β I much preferred The Admirer and Something True. It just felt sort of ‘meh’ in comparison. Neither of the women really had jobs or personalities that I connected or empathised with.

I’m giving this 4 stars in the knowledge that this book may be someone else’s cup of tea, particularly people who enjoy ‘reality’ or ‘makeover’ TV shows. Identifying as a lesbian isn’t enough for me to love this novel.

Review: Becky Albertalli – Leah on the Off Beat

Leah on the Off Beat
Becky Albertalli

Leah is ready to ride out her senior year of school and cruise into the college that she has a full scholarship to. But she expected to have all of her friends together – and when they start breaking up into smaller groups and losing relationships due to distance, Leah finds herself out of step with the beat.

I think I would have actually benefited from reading ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ first. I just ignored the fact that this novel was the sequel because it looked awesome, and I really enjoyed the Upside of UnrequitedΒ (actually receiving this one pushed me to review that one). I then felt like I never connected properly with the characters and that it seemed like they were just wandering through Leah’s life.

I honestly found myself expecting more actual drumming in this novel rather than dramas. The closest it gets to her drumming is the band showing up at the rehearsal house – and then the guy who lives there is having a breakdown!

I love the way Leah owns the way she looks. Although she occasionally mentions her weight, you don’t get the feeling that she’s self-conscious about it. She isn’t afraid of squashing anyone – all she is concerned about is that being bisexual will alienate her from her group.

If you are looking for a teenage fiction with a non-typical protagonist (not a straight, thin, middle-class white girl) then this could be a novel for you. I read it all in one sitting and I didn’t regret it! I’m giving it 4 stars as I found it above average but not spectacular.

Penguin Random House | 30th April 2018 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Angelo Surmelis – the dangerous art of blending in

the dangerous art of blending in
Angelo Surmelis

Evan has been trying to fit into society and his family his whole life. But with violence at home, and the knowledge that he kissed a boy in summer at Bible camp, Evan is probably never going to manage it. As his life goes from barely tolerable to horrific, Evan has to decide how he is going to shape his life from here.

I didn’t understand the obsession with money, except as a way of having more control over Evan. Evan’s father seemed like a sensible enough man, even if he was trapped by what the Greek community told him was normal.

Oh Gods. This novel ripped me apart. While reading it, I felt like my heart was going to break, and when I finished it, I felt like I needed a cuddle from my own partner to remind me that not all of the world is filled with idiots.

This novel powerfully tackles domestic abuse (from a female perpetrator, no less) and coming out as gay in a community that doesn’t understand it. It brought back memories of my own high school years, and the experiences I have heard from many other Queer people.Β I loved the authenticity of this novel, which came from it being written based on the experiences of the author. That a person had to go through that as a child, well, it brings me to tears.

How much actually happens in this novel? I spent a lot of the novel anticipating what Evan’s mother was going to do to him next, and not as much paying attention to the action. That anticipation and climax is what lets me give this novel 5 stars.

Penguin Random House | 12th February 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback