The following is the script I used for making this video. I may have said some things a little differently, but the large majority remains the same.
Hello and welcome to my June Books Wrap Up, part one! I read 18 books in June, and ten of those were for the Queer Lit Readathon, so part one will be just the Queer Lit Readathon books. Part two will be the remaining eight, but all of the books I read this month were either explicitly queer or had queer side characters in them. Let’s start!
The Witch Boy. Aster comes from a family of magicals, and he’s expected to do what all of the men do, which is shapeshifting. But Aster has no interest in that, and is far more interested in what all the women do, which is witchery. It’s forbidden in his family to cross those lines, but he can’t help his interest in witchery. Something starts happening to the boys in his family, and Aster knows the only way he can help is as a witch. His non-magical and non-conforming friend encourages him to try his skills, and he has to find the courage to be truly himself. This was a sweet graphic novel about family and the expectations that can be difficult to fight, the courage that it takes to break through those and be yourself.
We Set the Dark on Fire. Medio, an island nation ruled by the wealthy, where all of the men have two wives – the Primera and the Segunda. The Primera is responsible for running the husband’s household, and the Segunda is responsible for raising the children. Dani has gone through the training to become a Primera and is just about to graduate, but it’s all based on lies. Her parents faked her papers to get her over the wall and into the wealthy part of the island, so she could grow up in a life of luxury. Dani is likely going to be paired with the son of someone very powerful, and she is asked to spy for a resistance group that wants to bring equality to Medio. She has a choice: cling to the privilege her parents fought for, or fight for a free Medio and a chance at a forbidden love? This story is GORGEOUS! The world-building is just amazing, and Mejia does a great job of creating this island nation with complex layers of privilege, freedom, and limitations. The forbidden love in this is just so good, and it gets steamy at times!
Red, White, & Royal Blue. Alex Claremont-Diaz is the First Son of the US, and his mother is the president of the US. He has a long-standing rivalry with Prince Henry of Wales, and after causing an international incident at a royal wedding that threatens American/British relations, they have to do damage control. And that is having Alex and Henry pretend to be best friends. They quickly realize they’re falling for each other, and have to work to keep their relationship secret, lest they endanger Alex’s mother’s bid for reelection and upend two nations. Basically, a hate-to-love story with royalty. I will shout from the rooftops forever about this one! It’s hilarious, witty, steamy, and just downright enjoyable. There are also moments of vulnerability and authenticity, which was so well done alongside the romance and steaminess. If you read any of the books from this video, READ THIS ONE. And one coming up!
The End of Eddy. Eddy, a boy growing up poor in northern France, struggles with his identity and wanting to be seen as a “real man” by the villagers, but he was always different, acting “girlish” and being a very bright child. It talks about the violence and desperation that happens in small, poor villages. This is fiction, but Édouard Louis writes from his own experience, so there’s some impact from that. I personally thought this was alright. I mean, I didn’t mind reading it, but it didn’t blow me away. The writing of Louis sometimes would over-explain things, when it should’ve been left up to the reader to figure out for themself. Also, the story was one that’s very common – a gay boy trying his best to be a manly man so people won’t figure out he’s gay, failing in that, and getting bullied by his peers, put down by the adults, struggling with depression and identity. I do think we need stories like this, but I just have the feeling that it could’ve been done in a slightly different way to make it feel fresh. But then again, this is a translated French novel, so that may play a part. So, I would say while it’s a good read, it’s not something I would immediately recommend.
As I Descended. This can be summed up in one sentence – a queer Macbeth retelling that includes ghosts. Do I need to say more? Maria and Lily are a power couple at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and they’ll do anything to make sure they get the best future. Including calling upon ghosts and the dark power that’s been rumored to exist at Acheron. They want to force Delilah, the golden child of Acheron Academy, to lose her chance at the prestigious Kingsley Prize that would ensure Maria and Lily can go to Stanford and stay together. Things start going sideways, people are dying, reality and imagination start to blur, and the girls must decide where they draw the line. I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did! I also didn’t realize it was a Macbeth re-telling until I had finished and read the acknowledgements. Once I knew that, I thought back, and it became really obvious. It could be said that this book has a disabled character who is Lily, Maria’s girlfriend. She has crutches and I believe chronic pain. It’s interesting, I read a review on Goodreads (after finishing) that analyzes this book in comparison to the original text. (Linked here.) Basically, while it’s a good concept, it doesn’t parallel the source text very well for a few different reasons. If you don’t focus too much on the fact that it’s a retelling, it’s fairly good!
Boy Erased. Boy Erased is a memoir of Garrard Conley’s upbringing as the son of a Baptist pastor in small town Arkansas. As a gay boy, obviously, he was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. Just starting college, he got outed to his parents, and was forced to decide whether to attend conversion therapy that would “cure” the gay, or lose his family, friends, and the God he prayed to every day. He chooses conversion therapy, and suffers through it for a while, until he finds the strength to break away and really find himself. Whew. This was often hard to read, conversion therapy is just horrible. Obviously, trigger warnings for that, and sexual assault. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, so look up what they are before reading. I thought this was well written, and I would recommend this if you feel like you can handle the story.
I Wish You All the Best. Ben comes out as nonbinary to their parents, and is immediately thrown out of the house. They reach out to their estranged sister, and moves in with her and her husband, who they’ve never met. Ben has to go through the process of transferring to a new school, and decides to stay in the closet at school. Only their sister, brother-in-law, and therapist know that Ben’s nonbinary. At Ben’s new school, they try to keep a low profile, but Nathan, a very charming boy, decides to take them under his wing. As they get to know each other, they start to maybe have feelings, and to Ben, this looks like it just might be a chance at a happier life. I’m telling you, this book will crush your heart in the first chapter. But it DOES get better, and I loved how this ended. Hannah and Thomas, the sister and her husband, are SO supportive of Ben, even though they barely know them, and they try their best to use the right pronouns for Ben. I’m really glad there was a whole arc with the therapist, you don’t see that talked about enough in YA. Well, stories in general. This book is so heartfelt, and will put you on a rollercoaster from start to finish. I LOVE IT. Like Red, White & Royal Blue, if you read any of the books from this, READ THIS.
The Prince and the Dressmaker. This is the third time I’ve read this book, so I won’t talk too much about it. In Paris during the dawn of the modern age, Prince Sebastian is now of marrying age. His parents are pushing him to find a bride, but he’s more interested in his secret life as Lady Crystallia, where he goes out at night in fabulous dresses designed by his best friend, Frances, who is a dressmaker. But since it’s a secret, Frances has to put her dreams of becoming a big fashion designer on hold. How long can she do that? I just love these characters, the fluidity of Sebastian, the characters that are so supportive of his playing with gender, everything.
On a Sunbeam. Mia joins a team that travels through space, rebuilding beautiful and broken-down structures. There are flashbacks to Mia in boarding school, falling in love with a new student. As she gets to know the crew better, she finally reveals the reason why she joined the ship, to find her long-lost love. The art in this graphic novel is just mindblowingly gorgeous! There are some spreads I could just stare at for a long time. The crew is all queer, mostly women with one nonbinary character that doesn’t speak for the majority of the story. Be warned though, there’s a lot of silent panels. It’s not very heavy on dialogue, and sometimes you have to work to understand the plot. There are some gaps, not everything is explained, but that didn’t stop me from giving this book five stars. I would definitely recommend if you like gorgeous art of space and architecture.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. A collection of interviews with six trans young adults about their gender journey, figuring out who they were as a person. There are pictures of themselves, family photos, and candids. Some show the journey they’ve taken, some are current, and one didn’t have pictures at all. Each person had a completely different journey because of varying family dynamics, living situations, the process of transition, and their gender itself. First, I want to say that the concept for this book is fantastic. We absolutely need more stories FROM trans teens, ones they tell themselves, rather than having others tell it for them. There is *some* diversity in this book – two transmasculine people, two transfeminine people, and two nonbinary people. Half of them were people of color, all of them come from different socioeconomic and familial backgrounds. When I first started reading this, I felt slightly uneasy because the first two people say things that fall into binary stereotyping, such as “I knew I was a boy, because I like sports” or “I knew I was a girl, because I like wearing pretty things.” While I do believe they truly felt that way, I don’t see why the book had to start with them. Why not start with one of the nonbinary people? Following on that, nearly all of them are from New York City and the surrounding areas. NYC is already a fairly diverse city. I’m kind of more interested in seeing the stories of people from less visible areas, such as the Midwest. Also. Only six? In 192 pages? There could’ve easily been 20 more. I’m not kidding. Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation has 32 stories in roughly the same amount of pages, 48 stories in total over 275 pages. And on top of that, it was edited and put together by two trans people. Beyond Magenta was put together by Kuklin, who is a cis woman who clearly doesn’t know that much about trans people. She said as much in her Author’s Note, that she started out to write a book about boys who realized they’re girls, and girls who realized they’re boys. Wow. This book was really written for a cis audience, and didn’t really have much beyond the teens’ stories and a very basic idea of transness. Immediately after reading it, I gave it 3.5 (four on Goodreads), but more recently dropped it to 2.5 because this is not really a book I would recommend, unfortunately. It’s fine and all for snapshots of today’s teens and what they experience, but a lot of the things said were very off base in terms of gender, and just in general. These are teens, after all. Many of them had very recently started their journey, so they still had a lot of learning to do.
That’s all for the books I read during the Queer Lit Readathon! Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, and part two of my June books will be out soon!
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