Once you see the cover, it’ll become quickly clear why it feels so extra special to be able to introduce to you The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros, a queer, Jewish historical YA thriller that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about in weeks. It releases from Inkyard Press on September 7th, and I could not encourage you more strongly to use the preorder links below! Here’s the story:
Death lurks around every corner in this unforgettable Jewish historical fantasy about a city, a boy, and the shadows of the past that bind them both together.
Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.
But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.
Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.
And here’s the magnificently Gothic cover designed by Mary Luna with art direction by Erin Craig!
Yes, that is my blurb on there! “The City Beautiful is the haunting, queer Jewish historical thriller of my darkest dreams.” Extremely accurate!
Aden Polydoros grew up in Illinois and Arizona and has a bachelor’s degree in English from Northern Arizona University. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys going to antique fairs and flea markets. He can be found on Twitter at @adenpolydoros.
I am THE MOST excited to be sharing this cover reveal today, not just because I happen to adore the editors personally and not just because the cover is adorable, and not even just because the actually collection sounds incredible and so, so necessary, but because as you’ll read, I had a little hand in this one!
This is Our Rainbow is an all-LGBTQ+ Middle Grade anthology edited by Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby, releasing from Knopf on October 19, 2021, and here to share the cover and the story behind it are the editors themselves!
This anthology has been such a joyful experience from start to finish…and it started with a tweet! Dahlia, who is no stranger to editing anthologies, tweeted that she really hoped there was a queer middle grade anthology in the works, and that she would help whoever decided to take this on however they needed. When Nicole expressed interest, Dahlia got her in touch with Katherine (who had just finished up on It’s a Whole Spiel so had the anthology editor experience).
We clicked immediately and got brainstorming. Meanwhile, our editor at Knopf, Marisa DiNovis, responded to Dahlia’s tweet, too, saying that a queer middle grade anthology was literally her dream. It’s only fitting that we’re doing the cover reveal here, on Dahlia’s blog, seeing as she helped make this whole thing possible!
So Twitter can be a force for good!
These stories are full of so much heart and joy and thoughtfulness, and we cannot wait to share each and every one of these with readers.
The first LGBTQ+ anthology for middle-graders featuring stories for every letter of the acronym, including realistic, fantasy, and sci-fi stories by authors like Justina Ireland, Marieke Nijkamp, Alex Gino, and more!
A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.
From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aida Salazar, and AJ Sass.
But today, we get to share the most glorious cover either of us have ever seen with YOU.
We are COMPLETELY obsessed with this cover with by Jes and Cin, designed by Sylvia Bi! Like, COMPLETELY OBSESSED.
Without further ado…here it is!
We LOVE this cover. Seeing such joy and pride and so many different representations on the cover of a middle grade book was a dream come true. We love that it’s so bright and happy; queer children getting to be themselves and happy and celebrating themselves was exactly what we wanted on the inside of this anthology, so we love that you can so clearly see that from this cover. And we can’t wait to share the back of the book too in a few months with more characters and more joy!
And we wanted to share more from the artists too! Here’s what Jes and Cin had to say about working on the cover:
What excited you about working on This Is Our Rainbow?
We were so excited that this was the first middle grade anthology about queer identities! We’re extremely passionate about queer representation in kids’ media, and seeing this diverse collection of stories and creatives was something we absolutely wanted (and are very honored) to be a part of.
How did you envision the cover?
The cover was a fun challenge. Fitting in all the protagonists and visualizing their flags into a book jacket is a lot! Sylvia Bi, the assistant designer, gave us some great prompts and directions to play with! We definitely wanted something bright and colorful, that showcased happy queer children celebrating themselves as individuals but also as a community. Reading the stories in this anthology really solidified how this cover would look.
What were your inspirations for the cover’s direction?
We were largely inspired by Naomi Franquiz’s cover for ToComix Press’ Shout Out Anthology! She put so much personality and individuality to the characters on that cover. We wanted the kids to interact with each other for This is Our Rainbow. Like a “warm gay hug” feeling! We also pulled from our experience going to Pride events. The many ways people joyfully expressed their identities through pins, flags, capes, and flower crowns was something we wanted to bring into the cover.
This is Our Rainbow releases on October 19th, 2021, and you can find more information and where to buy This is Our Rainbowhere!
Katherine Locke lives and writes in Philadelphia where they are ruled by their feline overlords and their addiction to chai lattes. They are the award-winning author of THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, THE SPY WITH THE RED BALLOON, editor-and-contributor to IT’S A WHOLE SPIEL, and other titles. They not-so-secretly believe most stories are fairytales in disguise. They can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @bibliogato, and on katherinelockebooks.com.
Nicole Melleby, a born-and-bred Jersey girl, is the author of HURRICANE SEASON, which was a Lambda Literary Finalist, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS…, a Kirkus Reviews best book of the year, and the upcoming HOW TO BECOME A PLANET (May 2021). She lives with her partner and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LadyNeeko
I’m so, so excited to have Malulani Moreno on the site today to reveal the cover of his debut, Hawai‘i-set contemporary YA An Island Without You, which releases from Abrams Books on January 4, 2022! Here’s the story:
When Keoni’s longtime bully Spencer disappears, he’s ecstatic: Life as a sixteen-year-old gay outcast in Wahiawā, Hawai‘i just got a lot easier. But Keoni can’t seem to escape Spencer’s memory—there are missing posters everywhere, his best friend is spearheading a fundraiser, and some people think that Spencer didn’t actually run away.
Aaron didn’t know what to expect when his dad uprooted them after his mom’s death, but it wasn’t that the first person he’d connect with in their new town would go missing. Still reeling from the loss, Aaron tries to make friends, but that’s hard with his selective mutism and the visions he’s having about Spencer.
When their lives collide, Keoni and Aaron try to find the truth of what happened to Spencer. And as they draw closer to the truth, they also grow closer to each other.
And here’s the lovely, tranquil cover of An Island Without You, illustrated by Andi Porretta and designed by Hana Anouk Nakamura!
And here’s a message from the author himself!
Hawaiʻi is my home. Or as we say in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, our native tongue, it is my kulāiwi, the place of my ancestors’ bones. I am so excited to present to you the cover for my novel, An Island Without You, which is as much about my main characters, Keoni and Aaron, as it is about my native homeland.
Keoni is a lot like teenage me. A Native Hawaiian, or Kanaka Maoli, growing up in a place colonized by Americans, feeling more of a connection with the Western world than with his own culture. He struggles at school because of the taunts and bullying of his childhood tormentor, Spencer. And all he really wants is deep connection and friendship. Keoni is a character I needed growing up, and I’m elated that Native Hawaiian keiki and LGBTQ+ teens will get to see themselves in the pages of a book.
Aaron, too, carries similarities to my younger self. He recently moved to a new town on the island of Oʻahu. All he wants is to meet a friend, but that’s difficult for him since he’s a little socially awkward, struggling with a condition called Selective Mutism. He meets someone, though, a closeted high school athlete by the name of Spencer, who he thinks could end up being more than a friend.
Keoni and Aaron’s lives collide when Spencer — the boy they have in common — turns up missing. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own when the book launches in January 2022.
You can add An Island Without You on Goodreads. And pre-order from your favorite retailer or through Abrams Books.
For now, a hui hou. Until we meet again.
Malulani Moreno is a hapa writer of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Mexican, and Portuguese descent. Born in Honolulu, Hawai’i, he currently lives and works on Maui. He earned his MFA in creative writing at The New School. An Island Without You is his first novel.
Today on the site I’m excited to reveal a very dashing cover for the upcoming Contemporary m/m Romance Hard Sell by Hudson Lin, which releases May 25, 2021 from Carina Adores! It stars two Asian-Canadian men bonded by their mutual love for Wei, Tobin’s big brother and Danny’s best friend, and follows what happens when they meet again in the boardroom after a one-night stand… Here’s the official story:
Danny Ip walks into every boardroom with a plan. His plan for struggling tech company WesTec is to acquire it, shut it down, and squeeze the last remaining revenue out of it for his Jade Harbour Capital portfolio. But he didn’t expect his best friend’s younger brother—the hottest one-night stand he ever had—to be there.
Tobin Lok has always thought the world of Danny. He’s funny, warm, attractive—and totally out of Tobin’s league. Now, pitted against Danny at work, Tobin might finally get a chance to prove he’s more than just Wei’s little brother.
It takes a lot to get under Danny’s skin, but Tobin is all grown up in a way Danny can’t ignore. Now, with a promising patent on the line and the stakes higher than ever, all he can think about is getting Tobin back into his bed—and into his life for good.
If only explaining their relationship to Wei could be so easy…
And here’s the brutally suave cover, designed by Victor Cheng!
Hudson Lin was raised by conservative immigrant parents and grew up straddling two cultures with oftentimes conflicting perspectives on life. Instead of conforming to either, she has sought to find a third way that brings together the positive elements of both.
Having spent much of her life on the outside looking in, Lin likes to write stories about outsiders who fight to carve out their place in society, and overcome everyday challenges to find love and happily ever afters. Her books are diverse romances featuring queer and disabled people of color.
When not getting lost in a good story, Lin hosts a podcast, interviews queer people of color, and coaches aspiring authors.
We’re honored to have Jay Coles on the site today, revealing the cover of his sophomore novel, Things We Couldn’t Say, which releases from Scholastic on September 21st, 2021! (Preorder links down below!) Here’s the story:
There’s always been a hole in Gio’s life. Not because he’s into both guys and girls. Not because his father has some drinking issues. Not because his friends are always bringing him their drama. No, the hole in Gio’s life takes the shape of his birth mom, who left Gio, his brother, and his father when Gio was nine years old. For eight years, he never heard a word from her … and now, just as he’s started to get his life together, she’s back.
It’s hard for Gio to know what to do. Can he forgive her like she wants to be forgiven? Or should he tell her she lost her chance to be in his life? Complicating things further, Gio’s started to hang out with David, a new guy on the basketball team. Are they friends? More than friends? At first, Gio’s not sure … especially because he’s not sure what he wants from anyone right now.
There are no easy answers to love – whether it’s family love or friend love or romantic love. In Things We Couldn’t Say, Jay Coles shows us a guy trying to navigate love in all its ambiguity — hoping at the other end he’ll be able to figure out who is and who he should be.
And here’s the beautiful cover, designed by Baily Crawford and accompanied by a few words from the author!
I’m so very, very excited for the world to see the cover for Things We Couldn’t Say and for the world to eventually read what’s inside it! I’m a huge fan of James Baldwin and how he writes about the unique intersections and complexities of Blackness and queerness, racism and homophobia. I’ve always wanted to write a book attempting to explore that, too. I was and (continue to be) inspired by Mr. Baldwin. In fact, two of the main characters in Things We Couldn’t Say are named after the two main characters in Mr. Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.
During the process of writing this book, I faced trials of many kinds: crippling anxiety, depression, family conflicts. Together, we faced horrific racial injustices and a global pandemic, among other things. Throughout all of this, I felt burnt out, broken, beaten down, defeated, and thought I’d lost my way, my voice. I thought I couldn’t write anymore. But I kept thinking about what this book might mean to a Black kid and QPOC all over the world. This story sort of demanded that I write it. And I’m so, so thrilled that I did. This book saved me in so many ways. It helped me fight. It helped me process the things I couldn’t say. It made me brave. At the very least, I hope this book inspires you to be brave to talk about all the things you couldn’t say before!
24-year-old Jay Coles is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, teaching middle school students, and composing for various music publishers. His acclaimed debut novel Tyler Johnson Was Here is based on true events in his life and inspired by police brutality in America. He resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Today on the site I’m excited to be revealing the newest of longtime queer YA author Hannah Moskowitz! The Love Song of Ivy K. Harlowe is a contemporary f/f YA romance releasing from Entangled Teen on June 1, 2021, and you can learn more about it here:
Ivy K. Harlowe is a lot of things.
She’s my best friend.
She’s the center of attention.
She is, without fail, the hottest girl in the room. Anytime. Anyplace.
She has freckles and dimples and bright green eyes, and with someone else’s energy she’d be adorable. But there is nothing cute about Ivy. She is ice and hot metal and electricity.
She is the girl who every lesbian wants, but she has never been with the same person twice. She’s one-of-a-kind but also predictable, so I will always be Andie, her best friend, never Andie, her girlfriend.
Then she meets Dot, and Ivy does something even I would have never guessed—she sees Dot another day. And another. And another.
Now my world is slowly going up in smoke, and no matter what I do, the flames grow higher. She lit that match without knowing who or what it would burn.
Ivy K. Harlowe is a lot of things.
But falling in love wasn’t supposed to be one of them…unless it was with me.
But wait, there’s more! We’ve got an excerpt, so you can get your first glimpse of the girls!
I leave with Ivy and Dot, spilling out of the club and toward the lot two blocks away where I left my car. We’re up on College Hill, and the street’s covered with Brown and RISD kids standing in line for cheap pizza or stumbling back to their dorms. Dot’s a little slow in her high heels, and she lags behind Ivy, who snarks to me, “Do you really think I didn’t make sure she wanted to come?”
“Can’t be too careful.”
“I can rescue my own damsels, thanks. Or is this interrogation thing a new role you provide?”
“What, you mean along with my taxi service? And only if they look like they were born during the Obama administration.”
Ivy glares at me and slows down to take Dot’s hand.
They get in the backseat together and are all over each other before I’ve even started the car. Christ. I roll my eyes and adjust the rearview mirror so I don’t have to look at them. “Yeah, you’re welcome for the ride,” I mumble to myself, wondering, like I always do, why the hell I always agree to do this shit. God, I don’t even agree. I volunteer.
I weave us around the college kids, down the hill into the lights of the city, and south to good old Elmwood, the neighborhood where Ivy and I have lived since we were little kids, making pillow forts and mixing nail polish colors and teaching each other how to kiss. Or I guess she taught me.
I don’t really wonder why I volunteer for this shit. I just wish I did.
Elmwood’s one of the shittier parts of the city, and part of me expects Dot to try to back out when she sees where we’re headed; she wouldn’t be the first prospective girl of Ivy’s to do it, and she doesn’t exactly look streetwise. But she doesn’t care, or maybe just doesn’t notice, with her face and hands otherwise occupied, feeling up my best friend in my backseat, and there’s no protest as I turn onto Ivy’s block. And then immediately stop, because her street is crowded with police cars, firefighters, and a bunch of people gathered on the sidewalk.
“Ivy,” I say.
“Mmm,” she says, her hands on Dot’s waist, their lips together.
She pulls away and shoots daggers at me in the rearview mirror. “What?”
“Your house is on fire.”
There’s a second where none of us move, and then all three of us scramble out, leaving the cars open and beeping in protest as we run down the rest of the block, weaving through the crowd until we’re on the sidewalk. The shit hole formerly known as Ivy’s house is smoking pathetically, one wall completely gone and the others not much better, bits of charred roof and furniture strewn into the front lawn. The firefighters are packing up their equipment, ready to go.
Oh my God. Holy shit.
Somehow what comes out of my mouth is, “How many fucking times did your landlord say he was going to fix the wiring.”
“Oh my God,” Dot says. “Was anyone in there?”
I shake my head. “Her mom’s in Costa Rica. Fuck, Ives. You could have been in there.”
Ivy’s staring at the house, her eyes slightly narrowed like she’s trying to figure it out.
“Holy shit,” Dot says. She puts her hand on Ivy’s arm. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“She’s not okay,” I snap, because who the fuck is Dot to be here, to be part of this, to act like it really matters to her world whether this person she’s known for half an hour burned alive or not? “She could have died. If this had happened last night she would have been in there.”
“But I wasn’t,” Ivy says flatly.
“Still… God, all your shit. All your school stuff. Your clothes.” All the crafts we made when we were little, her half of the construction paper heart that says BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, though fuck if I’m about to say that in front of Dot. I take her hand. “Ivy…”
Ivy is still looking at her house like she’s making a decision, and I think about Dot’s face at the club when she was looking up at her. Two natural disasters in one night.
Ivy’s so fucking beautiful, in the streetlight and the smoke.
Her mouth quirks up into a smile. “Good,” she says quietly. “Good. Burn it all down.”
Hannah Moskowitz is the author of more than a dozen works for children and young adults, including Break, A History of Glitter and Blood, the 2013 Stonewall Honor Book Gone, Gone, Gone, and Sick Kids in Love. After a stint in New York, she’s happily back in Maryland.
You know those cover designs that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Well this is one of them, so I’m thrilled to be revealing the re-design of Handmade Holidays by ‘Nathan Burgoine, rereleasing* on December 1! (Yes, that’s next week!) Here’s the story:
At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.
A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born. As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.
Of course, Nick might have already missed his shot at the one, and it might be too late. Still, after fifteen Christmases, Nick is ready to risk it all for the best present yet.
*Handmade Holidays was originally published by NineStar Press in 2017
‘Nathan Burgoine is a tall queer guy who writes mostly shorter queer fictions, though novels do happen. He tends to write fiction with a dash of the speculative, usually contemporary, and always with queer characters. He’s published dozens of short stories, and released his first collection of short fiction, Of Echoes Born, a series of interconnected short fiction pieces tell a story greater than the sum of its parts.
At the novella length of things, ‘Nathan tends to write queer romance, including his wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey gay romance In Memoriam, a trio of holiday-themed romances: Handmade Holidays (chosen family), Faux Ho Ho (fake boyfriend), and the upcoming Village Fool (an April Fools’ Day prank gone wrong). He also co-wrote Saving the Date with Angela S. Stone, as part of the 1Night Stand series, a romance which explores surviving and thriving after a hate crime.
His first speculative fiction novel, Light (think a gay superhero, only not very good at it yet), was a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and his first YA novel, Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks (a teen boy with a tendency to plan out his whole live has to scrap his plans when he develops a teleportation problem), was a finalist for the YA Prix Aurora Award. His other two novels, Triad Blood and Triad Soul (vampires, wizards, and demons, oh my!), are contemporary urban fantasies set in Ottawa.
‘Nathan lives in Ottawa, Canada, with his husband and his rescued husky. You can find him online at nathanburgoine.com.
Today on the site I am so excited to reveal the cover of The Last 8 author Laura Pohl’s first book in her brand new series, The Grimrose Girls! A Beautiful Doom releases from Sourcebooks on August 3rd and features two f/f couples, a demi-bisexual lead, and an aroace lead, and if dark academia and fairytales are your jam, this is your next can’t-miss read. Check out the blurb:
The Descendants meets Pretty Little Liars in this story of four troubled friends, one murdered girl, and a dark fate that may leave them all doomed. Reimagined fairytale heroines must uncover connections to their ancient curses and forge their own paths… before it’s too late.
After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Grimrose Académie. The police ruled Ariane’s death as a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.
When Nani Eszes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events that no one could have predicted. As the girls retrace their friend’s final days, they discover a dark secret about Grimrose—Ariane wasn’t the first dead girl.
They soon learn that all the past murders are connected to ancient fairytale curses…and that their own fates are tied to the stories, dooming the girls to brutal and gruesome endings unless they can break the cycle for good.
And here’s the iconic cover, designed by Maggie Edkins and Nicole Hower!
But wait, there’s more! We also have the first two chapters: read on!
The first day of school started with a funeral.
This was not, of course, the usual for the Grimrose Académie for Elite Students, whose student body mostly lived to their eighties, and went on to command corporate conglomerates or win Academy Awards, Nobel Prizes and other such trifles. Therefore, everyone was shocked, and whispers were heard in every corner of the castle, from the library tower to the girl’s bathroom on the fifth floor.
The whispers, especially, followed Eleanor Ashworth.
Ella gazed upward self-consciously, tightening her hand on the strap of her bag. “How long do you think this is going to last?”
Eleanor, known to her friends only as Ella, was a small girl of seventeen, with light blond hair cut to her chin and equally light brown eyes, reddened cheeks, freckles all over her face and arms, and clothes that had seen better days. The whispers had followed her before, but never with such commitment.
“A month, if we’re lucky.” Yuki, Ella’s best friend answered, a crease appearing in her ivory forehead.
“We won’t be,” Rory muttered, glaring at a group of younger girls who dared to dart eyes in their direction. “What the hell are you looking at?”
“You do realize that attracts even more attention, right?” Yuki said, raising an eyebrow.
“At least I’ll get a reason to fight,” Rory replied with a satisfied shrug.
The Grimrose Académie was exclusive not only in name, but also in reputation. Its location in Switzerland and the exorbitant prices ensured that only the richest and most powerful were able to attend. It sat on one of Alps’ most beautiful lakes and boasted a giant fairytale-like castle with four towers and white marble, gardens extending beyond the mountains that surrounded them, and a crystalline lake to complete the view.
Studying at Grimrose was a guarantee of your future. When you studied at Grimrose, nothing could ever go wrong.
Except that on the eve of the first day of school, one of the Académie’s most exceptional students had drowned in the lake.
For most students, it meant an uproar. For the Académie, it meant an open line for calling parents reassuring the safety of their children, and keeping the death out of the papers. Drowned in the lake besides the school, alone.
But for Ella, Yuki, and Rory, it wasn’t just another tragedy. Ariane Van Amstel had been their best friend.
Ella avoided the stares and the whispers, knowing all the students wanted to ask her the same questions. Had she been suicidal? Did she know how to swim? Did Ella know she was sad? And why hadn’t Ella helped her?
The last question was the worst, the reminder a sting.. How could she not know if one of her best friends had done the unthinkable? Ariane had been happy, daughter of a rich businessman from Holland and with a bright future ahead of her. Just like everyone in the Académie.
Well, everyone except Eleanor Ashworth.
The worst part about the stares was how they made her feel ashamed, because she ought to have done something. She should have acted. She should have saved her friend, because that’s what friends did.
Ella stepped forward in the cafeteria line, looking at their lonely table in the corner. Everyone else in the cafeteria was lively, friends gathering for the first time in three months, groups coming together with only happiness in their minds. But for them, the table was missing something. Stacie caught her looking wistfully at the popular table, and she gave the smallest nod to her stepsister.
Stacie and Silla, her twin stepsisters, belonged to Grimrose in a way that Ella couldn’t. They paid full tuition. Ella was the scholarship student.
In truth, Stacie and Silla owed their place to Ella. The Académie had personally invited her, but her stepmother ruled that she would go only as long as there had been openings for her two daughters. That had been five years ago. Sharon said if Ella wanted to go to an expensive school, she had to deserve it.
Rory slammed her tray on their table as they settled down. The table felt too big for them now. There was a space where Ariane was supposed to be, at the table she had chosen herself. It felt like a part of her was missing, and Ella could not find anything big enough to hide that absence.
The three girls sat in silence. Ella finished her lunch and opened her bag to pick a pair of knitting needles.
“Knitting already?” Rory asked, chewing with her mouth open.
“This is just…” Ella started. “I promised Ari. Couldn’t finish it because Sharon kept nagging me last week. So now I have to finish it before… before…”
She didn’t finish her sentence, letting out a frustrated breath. Ella knew she was ranting. That she was stuck in a loop. She had to finish her goodbye present. If she didn’t, then…
The good thing was that Ella’s brain could not imagine a consequence worse than the situation they were already in.
“The memorial is this afternoon,” Ella said. “I promised it. I’m doing it. Ella Ashworth doesn’t let her friends down.”
Not even if they were dead, she thought to herself.
Yuki Miyashiro waited for her friends in the garden.
She stood perfectly still as other students passed her, glancing at the tall lonely figure with ivory white skin and dark hair like a raven’s feathers that fell over her shoulders, turning their heads when they met the merciless black eyes.
The memorial was being held in the garden, the only place that could hold all the students, despite being inconveniently close to the lake where Ariane had drowned.
When Rory and Ella showed up, they went in silence together. The gardens were lush and covered in flowers and bright tones of green, the last touches of summer.
“You all right?” Ella asked, and for a moment, Yuki’s stomach twisted in guilt. She should be the one asking the question.
Ella had been her best friend since their first day of school, when Ella had declared Yuki’s shoes were the most beautiful she’d ever seen, and therefore both of them had to be friends. Only later Ella confessed that she didn’t like the shoes that much, but that she found complimenting people was always the best way to make friends.
Yuki wouldn’t know. She didn’t have a lot of friends.
“I’m all right,” Yuki answered, even though it was a lie.
Ella pulled her knitting from her bag. Ella always needed something to do with her hands. She took a deep breath, and Rory glanced at them both.
“You’ve been taking the pills?” Rory asked.
“Yeah,” Ella replied. “Wait, you think I haven’t?”
“That’s not what she said,” Yuki interrupted.
“I’ve been taking them.”
Rory looked at Yuki for reassurance, but Yuki could offer nothing. Ella had been diagnosed with severe OCD and anxiety over a year ago, and it was still an adjustment..
It was a short walk. Every student was wearing their uniform, liberty blue skirts and pants, white shirts and silver ties and periwinkle blue blazers, a crowd of blue descending the path. The rain had stopped but the clouds had stayed, and the sky was gray like the mountaintops. Students started filling the front, but Yuki preferred the back.
Ariane’s parents were standing in the front row. There was no coffin—they would take the body home, sealed up so no one would ever see the bright red flaming head of hair, but there was a picture of her. Yuki avoided Ari’s eyes, and stared at the ground.
Ella had sat down almost immediately on the chair, and Yuki closed her eyes, but there were the whispers, talking of the bloated body, talking of Ariane drowning, her body sinking into the lake, and how they had found her, face up, barely recognizable. Accident. Suicide. Same thing. It didn’t matter. She was dead.
When Reyna Castilla stepped to the pulpit, Yuki was almost glad to hear her stepmother’s voice.
“It’s with great sorrow we are gathered here today,” she started. “One of our most promising students has been taken from us so abruptly. Ariane was a great student, and beloved by all. It’s difficult to describe how terrible her loss…”
Yuki tuned all of it out. Reyna didn’t know Ariane enough to truly understand what it meant to lose her. Her loss was pure, untainted by knowing and loving Ariane.
Yuki’s loss was not pure.
When she looked up, she saw another face in the crowd. Edric, Ariane’s ex-boyfriend. Only one week after he and Ari had broken up, he’d been with someone else. All over each other in the halls.
Yuki wished she could watch him choke.
To calm herself down, she recited the facts of the case to herself.
Ariane did not know how to swim. Ariane would not go near the lake at night. Ariane would not leave without saying goodbye. But there had been no foul play discovered.
Reyna’s eulogy ended, and Ari’s father took over the microphone, giving another thankful speech. All the students in the school were courteous enough to pretend they cared, even though Ariane did not belong with them.
She belonged to us.
Yuki’s heart beat faster in her chest.
The memorial dissolved little after that. Ella got up before any of them could stop her and walked decidedly over to Ariane’s parents. Yuki could almost hear what Ella was saying. She could imagine her words would be firm and kind. A flash of a smile from Ariane’s mother, a hug, Ella handing them the sweater she’d finished.
Someone else approached Yuki, and she turned to see her stepmother.
Reyna rarely looked tired, but today, Yuki could glimpse something raw in her, as if she’d lowered a barrier that wouldn’t be lowered again in the next hundred years.
Reyna didn’t look like she was old enough to be Yuki’s stepmother. Her medium brown skin was flawless, and her rich chocolate brown hair fell in generous waves over her shoulders. She dressed the part of the Headmistress at least, today a dark red dress that was both formal and elegant.
“Walk back with me?” Reyna asked, gesturing to the castle.
Yuki obeyed, as she always did. Perfect posture, walking calmly side by side. Their shoulders never touched. The silence stretched as they climbed.
“How are you doing?” Reyna asked at last, not unkindly.
Yuki did not answer for a moment. She knew what was expected of her. She’d seen the answer in Ella’s hands, in Ella’s gestures, in Ella’s words. She was supposed to be holding up, to accept her loss gracefully, to think of the others.
“Fine,” she answered curtly. “Just fine.”
Reyna paused as they climbed and Yuki was forced to stop her march.
“Yuki, one of your friends just died,” Reyna said. “I’m asking because I know you can’t be all right.”
“Well, I am.”
She spoke the words with such conviction that she almost felt like she could hear them ringing across the gardens, across the leaves and carried by the bird’s wings. I am. I am. I am.
She wouldn’t lose her composure. She was the headmistress’ stepdaughter, after all. Her behavior would always be examined first.
“I’ll ask the police to keep the questions to a minimum,” Reyna said, and Yuki took a deep breath, because she did not lose her composure, because she was always, always, the image of perfect, no matter what happened, and she was not going to lose her cool today. “It’s all routine.”
“I’m just preparing you for what’s to come,” she said. “I don’t want to make this worse for you. I know how hard it must be.”
Except Reyna didn’t know.
She had no idea.
She could never have any idea at all, because Ariane was dead, and it was Yuki’s fault.
Laura Pohl is a Brazilian YA author. She likes writing messages in caps lock, quoting Hamilton and obsessing about Star Wars. When not taking pictures of her dog, she can be found curled up with a fantasy or science-fiction book. She makes her home in São Paulo, where she graduated in Literature. She is the author of THE LAST 8 duology, which won the International Latino Book Awards. Her next novel is A BEAUTIFUL DOOM, which opens the Grimrose Girls duology. Learn more about her on her website (www.onlybylaura.com), and make sure to follow her on twitter, instagram, and pinterest.
Today on the site we’re revealing the cover of The Papercutter by Cindy Rizzo (author of Exception to the Rule), which kicks off the Split series, about a divided United States in a Dystopian future. It releases from Bella Books on June 22, 2021, and here’s the story:
A deeply polarized and ungovernable United States of America has separated into two nations―the God Fearing States (GFS) and the United Progressive Regions (UPR).
Judith Braverman, a teenager living in an Orthodox Jewish community in the GFS, is not only a talented artist accomplished in the ancient craft of papercutting, she also has the gift of seeing into peoples’ souls―and can tell instantly if someone is good or evil.
Jeffrey Schwartz has no love for religion or conformity and yearns to escape to the freedom of the UPR. When he’s accepted into an experimental pen pal program and paired with Dani Fine, an openly queer girl in the UPR, he hopes that he can finally find a way out.
As danger mounts and their alarm grows, Judith embeds a secret code in her papercuts so that she and Jeffrey can tell Dani what’s happening to Jews in the GFS without raising suspicions from the government. When the three arrange a quick, clandestine meeting, Jeffrey is finally faced with the choice to flee or to stay and resist. And Judith is reeling from a pull toward Dani that is unlike anything she has ever felt before.
Cindy Rizzo is the author of three novels, Getting Back (2015, Ylva Publishing), Love Is Enough (self-published, 2014), and Exception to the Rule (self-published, 2013), which won the 2014 Goldie for Best Debut Author. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Unwrap These Presents (Ylva), Conference Call (Bella Books), Language of Love (Ylva), and Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars (Flashpoint Publ.). Cindy has a long career in social justice philanthropy and has served on the boards of many LGBTQ organizations, including currently, Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE). She is a member of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue. She lives in NYC with her wife and their three cats. They have two adult sons and three wonderful granddaughters.
Today on the site we’re getting a first look at the cover of Prize Money by Celeste Castro, a contemporary lesbian sports romance set on the professional rodeo circuit(!) that releases from Interlude Press on May 11, 2021! Here’s the story:
Eva Angeles is a professional barrel racer headed for her third world title when a competition mishap throws her in the path of an on-the-loose bull. She is saved from impending disaster by a tall, dark, and handsome bullfighter—a woman. Toma Rozene is an equestrian stuntwoman fresh off the set of a blockbuster film when a family emergency calls her home to help run the family business: rescuing fallen rodeo riders before blustering bulls and bucking broncos trample their dreams. Eva and Toma’s shared passions and competitive spirits make friendship easy, but, as their feelings deepen, they must decide if the divergent futures they seek will stand in the way of love.
And here’s the powerful cover by none other than C.B. Messer!
Celeste Castro, she/her, is an American Mexican, Own Voices author from small-town, rural Idaho, where most of her stories take place. She grew up with learning disabilities, though she always kept a journal. When she was a young adult, court-ordered volunteer work helped her find her way—community outreach. In 2009, she graduated from Seattle University with a Master of Public Administration. She began writing fiction in 2015. Her writing credits include HOMECOMING, Bella Books, 2017. LEX FILES, Bella Books, 2018. WE’VE GOT THE POWER, Brisk Press, 2018. THE TAKING, Bella Books, 2019, SAVE THE DATE, Bella Books 2021 and PRIZE MONEY, Interlude Press, 2021. In addition to fiction, she is a staff writer with Hispanecdotes, an online magazine for Latinx writers, where she publishes essays and poetry.