Picking a spotlight book every month, when so much greatness keeps coming out, is a challenge, but every now and again I stumble upon a book I hadn’t even known was queer and am so completely walloped by it that I need to spread the gospel ASAP. There’s no pun intended, as this is in fact another one of YA’s rare “reliqueer” titles, i.e. books that explore the intersection of queerness and religion. In this case, Mormon Ellis is questioning whether she’s bisexual, and the way religion, questioning, sexuality, love, and mental health all come together in this sophomore novel, Let’s Call it a Doomsday by Katie Henry, just knocked me off my feet. If you’ve been seeking such a thing, I hope it does the same for you!
There are many ways the world could end. A fire. A catastrophic flood. A super eruption that spews lakes of lava. Ellis Kimball has made note of all possible scenarios, and she is prepared for each one.
What she doesn’t expect is meeting Hannah Marks in her therapist’s waiting room. Hannah calls their meeting fate. After all, Ellis is scared about the end of the world; Hannah knows when it’s going to happen.
Despite Ellis’s anxiety—about what others think of her, about what she’s doing wrong, about the safety of her loved ones—the two girls become friends. But time is ticking down, and as Ellis tries to help Hannah decipher the details of her doomsday premonition, their search for answers only raises more questions.
When does it happen? Who will believe them? And how do you prepare for the end of the world when it feels like your life is just getting started?
This book is basically…all my favorite things rolled into one? I mean, how can you go wrong with a bisexual psychological thriller set in the world of theatre? Turns out, you can’t! Or at least Layne Fargo doesn’t, because Temper is a beautifully violent delight with unexpected edges peeking out from every page. If this sounds as much like your crack as it is mine, good news! It’s already out, and you can read on and make it yours!
After years of struggling in the Chicago theater scene, ambitious actress Kira Rascher finally lands the role of a lifetime. The catch? Starring in Temper means working with Malcolm Mercer, a mercurial director who’s known for pushing his performers past their limits—onstage and off.
Kira’s convinced she can handle Malcolm, but the theater’s cofounder Joanna Cuyler is another story. Joanna sees Kira as a threat—to her own thwarted artistic aspirations, her twisted relationship with Malcolm, and the shocking secret she’s keeping about the upcoming production. But as opening night draws near, Kira and Joanna both start to realize that Malcolm’s dangerous extremes are nothing compared to what they’re capable of themselves.
I’m so, so excited that Felix Yz author Lisa Bunker has another MG out, and so excited that there’s another great trans girl book out, and wouldn’t you know it but those books are one and the same! Zenobia July is thoughtful and fun and handles its subject matter so well and has such a great secondary cast and I love that Zen is a cybergenius and the most major secondary character is genderqueer and it’s just so good. (Content notes: There is some bigotry, including transphobia, Islamophobia, and misgendering, though the latter is not of the MC. The MC is not deadnamed.) Check it out:
The critically acclaimed author of Felix Yz crafts a bold, heartfelt story about a trans girl solving a cyber mystery and coming into her own.
Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.
When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.
In case you’re not already aware, this book is a Very Big Deal, being the first contemporary YA from a major publisher (in this case, Scholastic) with an on-page non-binary MC by an openly non-binary author. It’s also sweet and affirming and I could not agree with that front-cover blurb by Becky Albertalli more: this book will save lives. So let’s get to it!
When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.
But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.
At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.
I really couldn’t not feature a book that’s a genderbent King Arthur legend with a queer female Arthur (aka Ari) in an f/f romance, a gay teenaged Merlin, a nonbinary Lamorak who uses they/them pronouns, and so on and so forth, by two of the best names queer YA has to offer. (Full disclosure but really it’s more like bragging: I did moderate their NYC launch, and it was fabulous.) This book is wildly fun and inclusive and I’m so excited it’s the first in a series. Get thee to it!
I’ve been chased my whole life. As an illegal immigrant in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.
Now I’m done hiding.
My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.
When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.
I’m so excited about this month’s featured new release, the Proud anthology edited by Juno Dawson! Yes, this is UK YA, but thanks to Book Depository, you can buy it in the US as well! Not only are the stories in this collection wonderful and adorable and full of glorious representation all over the LGBTQ spectrum, but it’s also got stunning illustrations created especially for each story.
The authors have been kind enough to share a little more information on their stories, so read on to learn more about the book and it’s awesome contents!
A stirring, bold and moving anthology of stories and poetry by top LGBTQ+ YA authors and new talent, giving their unique responses to the broad theme of pride. Each story has an illustration by an artist identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Compiled by Juno Dawson, author of THIS BOOK IS GAY and CLEAN.
A celebration of LGBTQ+ talent, PROUD is a thought-provoking, funny, emotional read.
Contributors: Steve Antony, Dean Atta, Kate Alizadeh, Fox Benwell, Alex Bertie, Caroline Bird, Fatti Burke, Tanya Byrne, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Frank Duffy, Simon James Green, Leo Greenfield, Saffa Khan, Karen Lawler, David Levithan, Priyanka Meenakshi, Alice Oseman, Michael Lee Richardson, David Roberts, Cynthia So, Kay Staples, Jessica Vallance, Kristen Van Dam and Kameron White.
The Courage of Dragons was born out of necessity, in that sometimes being proud is a process: a constant, political, active thing, and sometimes being brave enough for that is hard. Figuring yourself out, fighting archaic and terrible systems and virulent media, and finding somewhere you belong: all hard. The trials of proper swords-and-honour heroes.
We all know what it’s like to wish we were those heroes, that we could go around righting awful wrongs and saving hapless princes in our own everyday lives, and that got me to thinking: what if you could borrow some of that spirit and – together with a band of faithful friends – fix some of the stuff society has broken?
Dragons is that story. It’s a tribute to the power of legend and imagination and belief, and friendship (because honestly, without my own D&D party and the friends within it I’d be lost and lonely somewhere in the mines).
“As The Philadelphia Queer Youth Choir Sings Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’”… by David Levithan
My story is a chorus of voices from LGBTQ+ teens. When I set out to write it, I knew that it was going to involve a young member of a gay men’s chorus…but many different voices tell their stories – all louder together than apart. Stylistically, the typesetting (especially indentation) is VERY important here. Imagine a crescendo of perspectives all clamouring to be heard.
“Dive Bar” by Caroline Bird
The poem is all about finding the pride to come out. So many old gay clubs had to be underground, down steep flights of stairs into windowless cellars. The gateways club in Euston for example: (The club was described as having a green door with a steep staircase leading down to a windowless cellar bar) And this secrecy has a sexiness to it and an exciting clandestine feeling to it… but it’s also a trap, we were literally driven underground… swallowed under the city.
The poem is a process of being driven deeper and deeper underground both in society and inside yourself – Your Secret’s Safe with me/ your secret’s in a safe/ your secret is yourself – and then suddenly realising you can’t breathe, you can’t be illicit, you can’t be forbidden you have to overcome these ‘dead laws’ and run up the stairs out into the open … into the sunlight…
Pride is difficult. It’s scary. Especially when you’re young. That is why I didn’t want to patronise the reader by pretending like it’s easy to be yourself… often the process of finding yourself is preceded by a long stint of self-denial and burial and suppression until you’re finally so suffocated, so ‘windowless’ that you need to break down those walls in yourself and escape…
Dive Bar is a celebration of self-exploration, of the kinds of dim lit bars that are the places where the Pride movement was dreamt up in.
“Almost Certain” by Tanya Byrne
When Juno approached me to write something for PROUD, I knew that I wanted to set it in Brighton. People travel from all over the country for Brighton Pride because they know that they will be safe – and welcome – here. ALMOST CERTAIN was supposed to be a celebration of that, but as I began to write it, I couldn’t help but reminisce on my own experiences as a teenager. I didn’t come out until I was 40 and I’ve often wondered if I would have come out sooner if I had lived somewhere like Brighton, but what if I didn’t? What if all those reasons I didn’t come out – fear that it was just a phase and I’d change my mind, fear that my friends and family wouldn’t accept me, fear that someone would hurt me – were still there despite living in a town that is so accepting of the LGBTQ community. That’s how Orla’s story came about, because I know there are teenagers like her, not just in Brighton, but around the world, who are scared and confused and need to know that it’s okay to not know who they are yet. ALMOST CERTAIN is the story I needed to read when I was sixteen and if a teenager like Orla finds it, I hope it makes them feel less alone.
“Penguins” by Simon James Green
I felt like everywhere I looked, I was seeing gay penguins. There were some at an aquarium in Sydney; a pair from a Danish zoo who ‘kidnapped’ a chick from a neglectful straight couple, and, of course, Roy and Silo at Central Park Zoo, who famously inspired the picture book, AND TANGO MAKES THREE. In each case, there was a serious amount of media attention – people were fascinated. Two things occurred to me. First, what must it be like if you’re a teen, all set to come out, only to find everyone’s more interested in some gay penguins who have beaten you to it? Second, boys going to Prom in their black and white tuxes look a bit like penguins. Combining the two was irresistible.
“Love Poems to the City” by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
In the patchwork of any story, a couple of scraps are always taken from your own life. Sometimes you put them there on purpose, sometimes they kind of just get stitched in by accident and you only realise it once the quilt is made. Love Poems to the City ended up being a patchwork heavily influenced by a particular time in my life.
When I was asked to write a story on the theme of pride, two very specific things were happening in my life side by side. I was campaigning for the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment, so everything was posters and placards lashed to lampposts, handing out fliers and YES badges. And my marriage was ending, so I was having a lot of feelings about love and marriage. I didn’t set out to write a story about two teen girls with divorced parents campaigning for the 2015 equal marriage referendum, but it’s what my subconscious came up with.
During the marriage referendum my old secondary school (which was the first school in Ireland to set up an LGBT group for students) made the news because, in answer to the scores of NO posters on the road outside, students painted a rainbow across the main gates. I don’t know who painted it or what their stories were, but that rainbow got stitched into my patchwork. I wanted to write about pride in community and pride in activism. I wanted to write about love for a city and a city that speaks back. And I wanted to write about that rainbow.
“I Hate Darcy Pemberley” by Karen Lawler
I’ve always loved retellings – Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You are two of my absolute favourites – and I’m a HUGE sucker for a lesbian romcom. So when I saw the prompt for Proud, which asked for a response to the theme of pride, the first thing that popped into my head was Pride and Prejudice. It’s always struck me that today the surname Darcy is commonly used as a girls first name, especially in the States, so I was off.
I had a lot of fun with little P&P Easter eggs – Pemberley is my Darcy’s surname because that was the name of Darcy’s estate in Austin’s book – and some elements of the book had to stay. Wickham is still the worst; Jane is still too nice for her own good. But I had a lot of fun reimagining other bits, especially Lydia, who I always felt got a bit of a short shrift in Austin’s novel, and for all her faults deserved better than to be married to Wickham. And of course the most important thing is still there: the hilarious, pride-filled romance between Lizzie and Darcy.
“The Other Team” by Michael Lee Richardson
My story ‘The Other Team’ is about a queer football team rallying around their trans star player.
When I was trying to come up with stories for Proud, I realised pretty quickly that I wanted to write something about friendship. There are lots of LGBTQI+ stories about love and romance and relationships, and those are great, but not as many about queer friendships, and those are really important to me.
I work with LGBTQI+ young people, and – despite knowing next to nothing about sport! – I’ve somehow found myself working for a sports organisation. I’ve taken lots of young people on day trips and weekends away to a play sport, and a lot of those experiences went into the story.
Working for a sports organisation, I realise how many issues there still are for LGBTQI+ people in sport, and I wanted to make sure the story stayed true to them.
I really wanted to get over the feeling of the pride you can feel, being part of a team – even when things aren’t going well! – and how important it is to feel like part of something.
“The Phoenix’s Fault” by Cynthia So
If you go to a Chinese wedding, you might see a picture of a dragon and a phoenix. It’s a popular symbol of a harmonious, heterosexual marriage—the dragon represents the man, and the phoenix the woman. Growing up in Hong Kong, even if I don’t really remember ever going to a wedding, I still saw this symbol around. Big Chinese restaurants there usually have a wall with a massive dragon and a massive phoenix on it to serve as the backdrop for wedding banquets.
When I was fifteen, I wrote a poem called “defying tradition” that ends “I will stand as a traitor, / not in between the phoenix and the dragon, / but next to a woman who, / like me, / seeks a phoenix to match her own”. I’ve always wanted to expand on the ideas that I touched on in that poem, about the heternormative expectations that these two mythical beasts represent in Chinese culture. So when I saw that the theme for this anthology was pride, the dragon and the phoenix immediately came to mind. They’re proud creatures, after all. I was thinking too of the pride that many parents feel when their children get married, and other ways someone might be able to make their family proud. So I wrote “The Phoenix’s Fault”, set in a world in which phoenixes and dragons are real, to see how a girl who has a pet phoenix might respond to these expectations that are placed upon her shoulders. What does she do when having a pet phoenix seems to destine her for marriage to the Emperor, but her heart wants something—someone—else?
“On The Run” by Kay Staples
‘On the Run’ is about two queer kids who have the chance to run away together and be themselves. It’s especially important for protagonist Nicky, who’s trying to figure out if he, or she, or they, are trans or not.
Uncertainty is what I really wanted to write about, since it’s something that marks adolescence for a lot of LGBTQ+ people. We take some time to work ourselves out, and all the while we’re being told that our orientation, gender, or gender presentation might be something shameful – and pride is the antithesis to that.
So, I came to this theme with the idea that you can be proud of who you are even if you aren’t sure who that is yet. Things will be okay whatever the answer is, just like they will be for Nicky and Dean.
“The Instructor” by Jess Vallance
When I was thinking about the theme of pride, I tried to work out what my own proudest achievement was and I realised it was probably passing my driving test! It took me two years and six tests. The idea of driving lessons as the backdrop of the story really appealed to me – I’ve always liked stories with small casts of characters with the bulk of the story covered as dialogue between them.
I also wanted to write something about the pain of relationships where the same-sex element is largely irrelevant to the confusion. The story is about the difficulties of working out what you mean to another person, when to speak up and what happens after you have – things that no one ever can be sure they’re getting right, whatever the gender of the people involved.
This novella by the inimitable Alyssa Cole has been out for almost a month, so still new, but no waiting to read allll about the freaking adorable (and stylish-as-hell) couple on that gorgeous cover! Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is part of Cole’s wildly beloved Reluctant Royals series, and though this is the only queer story so far, I selfishly hope it won’t be the last!
While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.
When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.
Your first incredibly memorable read of the year releases today and introduces readers to the talent of Mesha Maren, whose Sugar Runhad me literally dreaming in this tense, dusty, green, and wild Appalachian scenery as I read. It’s a novel about building a new life while unsure how to escape the old one, about rehabilitation real and imagined, about home and family and love and jealousy, about crimes of passion and crimes of necessity, and, yes, about being a queer woman through it all.
In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she goes searching for someone she left behind, but on the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother. Together, they try to make a fresh start, but is that even possible in a town that refuses to change? Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a run for another life.
OK, so I’m a liiiittle slow this month to get up the New Release Spotlight, but actually, it’s kind of perfect timing, since this wildly fun YA space romp actually releases today! The Disasters is about a ragtag team of space academy rejects forced to team up to stop attacks and expose some major shadiness, and if you love fun and banter-y friend groups, I can pretty much guarantee this bi MC-helmed debut will be your jam.
Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.
But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.
On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.
They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.
Hello and welcome to one of my favorite YA fantasies in the history of ever, made even more perfect by the fact that it’s a queer fantasy where royal concubines fall in love with each other. You know how you always dream of Bachelor contestants saying, “Screw the guy; let’s just get together?” Girls of Paper and Fireby Natasha Ngan is that on that on lush, dreamy, caste-examining Asian fantasy steroids. Now go get it!
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.
But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.