Tag Archives: Contemporary

New Release Spotlight: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Out on April 7th, this intense contemporary I’d argue borders on thriller has traditional publishing’s first bigender MC, and we love a new trad pub milestone in this house! Check it out:

Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.

But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

 

Authors in Conversation: Kit Rosewater and Nicole Melleby

Welcome back to another Authors in Conversation post on LGBTQReads! If you’ve been following LGBTQA MG, you know it’s been blowing up in the most gorgeous way these past couple of years, and here are two of the authors responsible for that: Kit Rosewater (L), author of The Derby Daredevils, a brand-new illustrated series that kicks off with Kenzie Kickstarts a Team today(!), and Nicole Melleby (R), author of last year’s Hurricane Season, next month’s In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, and at least two more queer MGs after that! (Not to mention co-editor with Katherine Locke of the upcoming all-queer MG anthology This is Our Rainbow!)

Kit and Nicole are here to talk about their new books, what’s up next, and more, so pull up a seat and listen in!

Nicole: Hey Kit! I’m excited to get to do this interview with you! I’m a pretty easy sell when it comes to queer kid lit, but The Derby Daredevils is such a special addition to LGBTQ+ middle grade shelves. It made me want to go dust off my skates, which I haven’t used in, like, a decade. (It’s like riding a bike, though, right?) For those who weren’t lucky enough to get their hands on it before its March 24th release, why don’t you tell us a little bit about it?

Kit: Thank you so much Nicole! I literally dusted off my childhood skates as I researched and wrote The Derby Daredevils! (My feet didn’t grow much after fifth grade.) Book 1 of the illustrated series, Kenzie Kickstarts a Team, follows best friends Kenzie and Shelly as they set out to expand their Dynamic Duo into a whole team of roller derby skaters so they can play together on the Austin junior league. But for every potential new player they recruit, more and more tension gets wound into their own friendship… until Kenzie’s not sure she wants the Dynamic Duo to change at all. As the cast of characters slowly builds, the story shifts, and a big turning point comes when Shelly tries to get Kenzie’s secret crush to join the crew.

You should also tell us about your upcoming middle grade, In the Role of Brie Hutchens! I love how you’ve infused this in-depth history of soap operas and coming out scenes with Brie’s personal story. The way Brie sees the world is so darn relatable, and I have to admit that I slipped right back into my days of first girl crushes as I read along.

Nicole: In the Role of Brie Hutchens is what I keep referring to as Love, Simon meets Lady Bird. Brie is a soap opera obsessed Catholic school girl (much like myself) who has a complicated relationship with her mom, which is only further complicated by her mom’s strong faith and Brie’s first crush on another girl. Nothing seems to really go Brie’s way, especially when her mom walks in on Brie googling inappropriate photos of Brie’s favorite soap opera actress, and to divert her mom’s attention, Brie lies and says she’s been chosen to play the big role in her 8th grades religious May Crowning ceremony…which she obviously hasn’t been. So, to make that actually happen, Brie decides to ask the smartest girl in her class (who happens to be Brie’s crush) for help.

I’m excited we both have queer middle grade novels out this year, especially ones that deal with that awkwardness of a first crush (and those poor decisions you sometimes make because of them!) Kenzie Kickstarts a Team is your debut, and I know you’ll be following up with a sequel later in the year. Would you tell us a bit about your journey to publishing queer middle grade? Did you face any roadblocks or fears when you started?

Kit: I love that both our books explore first queer crushes too! Honestly, this was a subject that until a few years ago, I didn’t realize I was allowed to write about. I was a pretty escapist kid, always trying to disappear into worlds I made up in my head, and my earliest manuscripts were mostly fantasy. I experienced A LOT of typical roadblocks in my publishing journey, from moving between agents to having various projects not make it out of revisions. But the biggest roadblock for publishing queer middle grade was ultimately… me. For so long I had looked back on my first girl crushes in 5th and 6th grade with absolute shame–the same kind I get when I think about accidentally wrecking my mom’s car as a 16-yr-old. It took a long time to realize I could “escape” into positive queer middle grade stories. Now I never want to stop writing about kids who are queer and not cloaked with the type of shame I felt.

There is so much room for all kinds of queer stories in the middle grade canon, and I love every type of story out there–the coming out stories, the unrequited feelings stories, the found families stories, the happy ending stories–all of them! While reading Brie Hutchens, I was so impressed at the way you handled some hefty topics like reconciling being queer within a heavily religious setting. You said that like Brie, you were a Catholic school girl. Would you mind sharing your experience with writing some details from your own childhood into Brie’s story?

Nicole: It’s actually funny–I said earlier that In the Role of Brie Hutchens could be comped to the movie Lady Bird. I actually walked out of the theater after seeing Lady Bird and said, “I want to write about a coming of age queer middle grade story based on my experience in Catholic school.” Only, when I sat down to write that story, I realized that the experiences of middle grade readers now are much different than when I was that age. In big part thanks to the internet (I sound about a thousand years old right now), today’s middle grade readers have access to and an understanding of queer identities and vocabulary that I had no idea existed until I was in my twenties. I had to find a way to tell the story I wanted to tell, but for today’s audience. Brie is exactly like I was: dramatic, confused, a little self-centered, questioning the idea of faith and religion. But Brie knows that she has feelings for girls and doesn’t really struggle with understanding what that means–just what to do about it.

Speaking about main characters–Kenzie (or should I say Kenzilla?) was likeable and relatable right from the start. She’s determined to start her own team, and even with her mistakes along the way, I was rooting for her to succeed while maintaining her changing friendship with Shelly. Can you tell us more about Kenzie, and who she is as a character? Are there any similarities between Kenzie and your younger self?

Kit: Thank you so much! As much as I try not to get personally attached to reader’s opinions… it’s such a relief to know that Kenzie is relatable, because this girl is basically me. I tend to enfold myself into almost every character I write, and because The Derby Daredevils series has rotating protagonists, I wanted a huge chunk of my personality in each team member. But Kenzie feels especially close to home. At her best, Kenzie’s a leader, and she cares deeply about dynamics and how everyone works together. Whenever I’m thriving in a group setting, whether it’s a writers meeting or a school project, it’s because I’m taking on that same role. At her worst, well… Kenzie can be a bit exclusionary. And so was I. I’m embarrassed about how often I bristled when a new person came into my friend group. Maybe I was worried they would replace me in some way. Or maybe, like Kenzie, I was just scared of change. As an adult I try to be really conscientious of including others, but I can still be a bit of a butt about it from time to time. I was one of those kids who always pined for one best friend, and that kind of pining relies on exclusion to some extent.

Brie’s friendship with Parker really tugged on my heartstrings in the best way over the course of their relationship in the book. I love the moments of disconnect they have because they’re such different girls, but the ultimate reassurance that their friendship is one built on mutual support and care. Did you have a close friend like Parker growing up? Were there allies in your life as you explored various parts of your identity?

Nicole: I was actually the kid who was friends with everyone, so I had different groups of friends and different best friends throughout the years. What I wanted to do with Parker was a couple of things. Like I said above, I wanted to tell a coming of age Catholic school queer story for contemporary readers, and Parker played a big role in that. She’s understanding and supportive, because kids are full of empathy and understanding in ways that I didn’t always have growing up. She doesn’t question Brie’s sexuality; they have the knowledge and vocabulary to have a conversation about it. When I was Brie’s age, I remember turning to a friend of mine and saying, “Do you ever just…really like the way another girl’s face looks??” I had no idea I was talking about attraction! I also wanted Parker to be completely boy crazy–because some eighth grade girls are, and there’s nothing wrong with that!–so that I could have Brie encounter those awkward moments and feelings and conversations I was used to. Those ones where a friend says, “Which guy are you crushing on?” and you have to decide, “Am I going to lie?”

As an adult, when I knew I needed to fully come out of the closet, I did have important allies, though, which is why I put a lot of people in Brie’s corner. Teachers, friends, even some family members…it was important for me to build Brie’s support system, because my support system was the only thing that got me through my whole coming out process. I had friends who bought me ice cream and beer the night I came out to my parents, and I had a mentor who listened and helped me get to a point where I was ready to come out at all. Without all that, I don’t know what I would have done. So while not everything goes well for Brie, I wanted some things to go well, too.

What I really liked about Kenzie’s story is that she wasn’t new to the idea of queer identities either–Kenzie even has a transgender parent. It’s another one of those contemporary queer stories–our audience has queer friends and families and are discovering their queer identities themselves openly and in a way queer middle grade books are starting to reflect. Could you tell us more about your decision to write Kenzie’s dad’s identity, along with her own budding sexuality?

Kit: Absolutely! I wrote the queer themes in Kenzie Kickstarts a Team both as a queer/bisexual author and also as an ally to the transgender community. Someone very close in my life came out to friends and family as transgender in 2017. They were in the midst of seeking help for anxiety and depression, and the process of coming out was long and fraught with a lot of emotional speed bumps and roadblocks. As their primary support and contact, I spent so many days crying on the phone with this person, sending notes, contacting other people in our network to buffer negative reactions or intercept inappropriate questions… I couldn’t get any writing done during that time. I finally reached out to my agent and said I just wasn’t interested in continuing to work on the darker middle grade project we’d had in revisions for months. I needed to write a different story, one where being transgender was normalized and celebrated, and where being queer in general was normalized and celebrated. I had gotten into the Austin roller derby scene a few months earlier, and it was like all the pieces fell into place. Once I started writing through Kenzie’s lens, I knew I wanted her to explore her sexuality in a positive and open environment. The only queer stories I’d been exposed to as a kid were tragic ones! I wanted young readers–especially young queer readers–to know there is nothing inherently negative about the queer identity. If people react negatively, that’s 100% ON THEM.

Brie ends up dealing with a variety of reactions–both immediate and eventual reactions–as she explores her own sexuality. I absolutely loved the complexity in her dynamics within each of those relationships. There wasn’t a cliché bigot villain or hero ally, which allows Brie the agency and freedom to navigate the coming out process in her own beautiful, messy way. What would you say is the number one takeaway you hope young readers get from reading Brie’s story?

Nicole: My goal in having Brie come out again, and again, and again… throughout the novel, to a variety of responses, was to show that “coming out” isn’t one moment. It’s a lifetime of moments. And it sucks, it does. It’s frustrating for Brie as much as it is freeing. But I wanted to balance the bad reactions with the good ones. I wanted to show that, despite the struggle and the pain, there is good, there is hope. The soap opera scene that Brie consistently goes back to, the one where the character Bianca comes out to her mom, Erica Kane, is this sweet, heartbreaking scene where Bianca begs her mom to see her. “Can’t you see who I am? I want you to see who I am.” That’s exactly what Brie wants throughout her whole process, too. She wants to be seen, she wants her mom to see her. My number one takeaway I’ve always wanted my young readers to get from this story (and every story I write) is that *I* see them, regardless of the rest.

I think that’s so important in queer middle grade especially–for us to give our readers hope. I think you do that especially beautifully with Kenzie’s story, with the queerness being so celebrated and normalized. I know you have a sequel coming out, too. Could you give us a sneak preview of what we can expect from this continuing story? Are you working on anything else at the moment?

Kit: Book 2 of the Daredevils series is called Shelly Struggles to Shine, and follows Kenzie’s best friend Shelly as the Daredevils team gears up for their first roller derby tournament! Shelly’s story is an artist’s story as she tries to figure out how being creative fits into a sport setting… which it absolutely does in derby! But finding that “in” is tricky. Shelly doesn’t identify as queer, but I wanted to keep the loving and open queer community ongoing in this book. Kenzie’s crush continues to flourish. Shelly’s friend and mentor in art class is non-binary. And many characters from Book 1 make some surprising guest appearances!

Apart from the Daredevils series, I have an upper middle grade WIP with characters closer to Brie’s age. There is a fair bit of queerness in there… with some of my favorite cheesy tropes! One pivotal scene chases my two lead characters, who are camp enemies with secret hots for each other (f/f) up a tree and leaves them stranded. I love the camp setting and the bickering, and am having so much fun with the whole project. My biggest hope is that eventually it will make its way onto shelves and be comped to In the Role of Brie Hutchens!

Nicole, thank you so much for joining me in chatting about our upcoming releases. I’ve been a huge fan of yours since Hurricane Season, and couldn’t be more thrilled to sit down and gab about queer middle grade and the long and drawn out process of coming out! Thank you Dahlia at LGBTQ Reads for hosting us!

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Kit Rosewater writes books for children. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her spouse and a border collie who takes up most of the bed. Before she was an author, Kit taught middle school theatre and high school English, then worked as a children’s bookseller. She has a master’s degree in Children’s Literature and a knack for finding her characters in clouds, ceiling plaster, and Cheetos. Books 1 & 2 of her debut series THE DERBY DAREDEVILS rolls out in 2020 through Abrams.

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Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. When she’s not writing, she can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.

The Summer of Impossibilities by Rachael Allen: Excerpt Reveal and Giveaway!

Today on the site, I’m thrilled to have Rachael Allen, whose upcoming young adult contemporary, The Summer of Impossibilities, releases May 12 from Abrams! We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the story, so check out the blurb and dig in! (And pssst: keep scrolling for your chance to win an advanced copy!)

Cover artist: Emily Mahon

Skyler, Ellie, Scarlett and Amelia Grace are forced to spend the summer at the lake house where their moms became best friends.

One can’t wait.

One would rather gnaw off her own arm than hang out with a bunch of strangers just so their moms can drink too much wine and sing Journey two o’clock in the morning.

Two are sisters.

Three are currently feuding with their mothers.

One almost sets her crush on fire with a flaming marshmallow.

Two steal the boat for a midnight joyride that goes horribly, awkwardly wrong.

One of them is hiding how bad her joint pain has gotten.

All of them are hiding something.

One falls in love with a boy she thought she despised.

Two fall in love with each other.

None of them are the same at the end of the summer.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

And here’s the excerpt!

Amelia Grace

I WAS HOPING SHE WOULD BE THE FIRST PERSON I saw. Only, now that I’m here, I have no idea what to do. I know what she was thinking about doing with that knife—it’s why I stopped dead in the doorway, so she’d have a chance to put it down and paste a smile on her face before my mom could see around my body. But maybe I would have stopped dead no matter what. There’s something about seeing her in person after so many emails that makes me forget how to breathe.

“Scarlett, hi.” Mom gives her a hug. “You’ve gotten so tall.”

She’s definitely taller than I imagined she would be, but I’m only five foot four, so everyone is tall. She’s even more beautiful than in her pictures, all long red hair and curves and freckles. But somehow different. Edgier or sexier.

I stay on the other side of the room. If I get too close to her, will she know? I feel like my mom would know.

“Is Adeline around?” Mom asks, brows furrowed with concern.

“She’s upstairs.” Scarlett bites her lip, and I have to look out the window. “I think she’s not doing so well. Can you check on her?”

“Of course.” Mom squeezes her shoulder and leaves immediately. There’s something about the way she walks out of the room—her steps are so purposeful. I almost don’t recognize her for a second.

Skyler bounds in just as Mom is leaving. She grins at me, but her eyes are red.

“Amelia Grace!” she squeals, giving me a big, bouncy hug. “I haven’t seen you in forever! You look just like your pictures on Insta!”

And then it feels like it would be weird for Scarlett and me not to hug after I’ve just hugged her sister, and she must be feeling the same way because she takes a couple steps toward me too. Her shirt is wet in patches, and so is her hair.

“Are you okay?” I ask. It’s a general are you okay, but buried underneath is a very specific are you okay? Because back when things were really bad, with the girls at school and the cutting, she used to email me every day. But that was three years ago, before our emails trickled to every few weeks and then every few months. A part of me wants to pick back up right where we left off, but—

“I’m fine,” she says.

She hugs me, and it isn’t a big or bouncy one like Skyler’s, and it’s over too quickly, and it doesn’t answer any of my questions. I guess I thought we meant more to each other than that.

There’s the sound of another car pulling up outside, and Skyler runs out of the room to meet them, her chestnut ponytail swinging behind her. Scarlett takes exactly one step closer. She lowers her voice and says in a whisper that’s just for me, “I’m really glad you’re here.”

My heart squeezes in my chest, and I almost choke on my own spit. “Me too.”

The kitchen gets really quiet. I can hear Skyler outside, greeting the new arrivals with some unintelligible bubbliness. A trickle of water from the faucet goes drip- drip- dripping down the sink.

“I should, um, go upstairs and change.” She gestures to her shirt.

“Right. See you.” See you? Of course, I’ll see her. We are living in the same dang house for the summer.

Her footsteps echo up the stairs, and I feel like I’m on the cusp of realizing some great truth. Then my phone dings in my pocket. Carrie? I type in my password. Nah, just a bunch of social media updates. Including one from Carrie. It’s a photo of a book she’s reading—she posts those a lot—with a tiny caption.

weekend plans

So, she does have her phone. Well, maybe she doesn’t know what to say or maybe she’s feeling really bad about things or maybe she wishes it never happened and she never wants to see me again but she’s too sweet to tell me.

What if you just promised you wouldn’t kiss any more girls or go on dates or anything?

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal to promise that after all. If Carrie doesn’t want to talk to me, I mean, I don’t know anyone else in Ranburne who might be interested. And Scarlett, well. She’s in a relationship. I know this. She has emailed me about this. I have pretended to be happy for her on multiple occasions.

I could email Pastor Chris—he’s our youth minister, the one I was going to be serving with. See about being a junior youth minister when I come back in the fall, maybe sooner. I could promise him, like Abby said. I only have one more year of high school anyway. And it wouldn’t be changing who I am so much as it would just be . . . waiting.

Sometimes I imagine what life will be like on the other side and all the shapes my life could take, but mostly I’m scared to even think about it. Because if I do, all the possible futures start to shift like a kaleidoscope, each one falling into place, forming a single dream. I want to marry a sweet girl who I’m in love with. And I want us to have kids; I don’t even know how many. Two? Three? Seven plus a menagerie of pets? I don’t even know how the baby- having part would work exactly, but who cares as long as they’re ours? And she and I will walk down the street holding hands and we’ll sit together in church on Sundays, each holding up one half of the same hymnal.

That’s about where the future starts to fall apart. Because I already know I’ll never be able to have all those things at the same time.

I realize I’m still staring at the stairs, so I go outside, because I don’t want to seem like I’m creeping around Scarlett’s kitchen waiting for her. Skyler is dancing circles around a woman I recognize as my aunt Seema, and her daughter, Ellie. I remember playing with her brother, Zakir, when I was little. I haven’t seen them since Mom married Jay and moved to Tennessee. We stopped seeing all the aunts after that.

I walk up to the group of them, everyone talking at once. I say hi to Ellie, who is impossibly gorgeous and who gives me a hesitant side- hug like she isn’t sure what else to do.

Seema beams at me. “Amelia Grace, love, you look beautiful.”

I smile and allow myself to be scrunched into a hug. I remember that about her from when I was little—she gives the best hugs.

A tan SUV pulls up next to us. There’s not exactly a driveway, more just a dirt road that makes a circle in front of the house. A tall, Latinx woman with golden brown skin and glossy hair gets out. She has a piercing through one eyebrow and a flower tucked behind one ear. Definitely Val.

“I’m here, and I have everything we need!” she hollers. She pulls out a cardboard box from the passenger seat. “My ‘fasten seatbelt’ alarm has been going off since the liquor store. You know it’s a good day when you have enough alcohol in your seat that your car thinks it’s a person.”

She sets down the box so she can give Seema a hug. It’s like watching family members get reunited at the airport.

“How are you, Seema?”

“Good.” Seema smiles slyly. “I’m good. Because I have everything we need.”

“Wh—? Excuse me? I have wine, whiskey, bourbon, and tequila. I’m not sure there’s anything else a person could need.”

Seema swings a wrinkled brown paper bag. If she has weed in there, just, I don’t know, shoot me dead. I am so not prepared for this.

“Every kind of Cadbury you can imagine from when I visited my mother in Canada.”

Val clutches her heart. “You brought Cadbury? Did you bring—”

“Coconut cashew? Yes, five bars of it, one of which I instructed Ellie to write your name on in Sharpie.”

“God bless you.”

I used to think Cadbury was just those eggs you get at Easter, but it turns out Canada has a whole new level of chocolate going on. I remember I would totally freak out every time a care package from Aunt Seema came in the mail.

“Is that whole bag really filled with chocolate?” I ask.

Seema smiles. “About three kilograms.”

“I love it when you talk metric to me,” says Val, and Seema cackles.

And then it’s like they both remember why they’re here at exactly the same time.

“I am going to kill Jimmy Gable,” says Aunt Val.

“You’ll have to arm wrestle me for it, jaan, because I’m going to kill him first.”

I stare up at the blue house with the white wraparound porch, where my mom is no doubt holding my aunt Adeline like she’s trying to put her back together. Scarlett stands in the second window from the left, looking down at the lawn. The way the light hits her makes her look like a ghost. She’s never even talked about liking a girl, so I know she’ll probably never feel the same way, but the things I’m feeling, they’re so big, it doesn’t even matter. I look at her, and I feel lucky just to feel this way.

The great truth finally takes shape inside my head: If I was ever thinking about doing what they want, of going back to the way I was before and locking away the part of me that likes girls and hiding the key until college—seeing her makes me realize that is no longer an option.

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And here’s more from Rachael!

In addition to giving away ARC’s of THE SUMMER OF IMPOSSIBILITIES, I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway where each of the girls in the book gives away her favorite YA book, and next up is an Amelia Grace giveaway and exclusive excerpt with LGBTQ Reads!

About Amelia Grace

Amelia Grace (Nickname: Ames)

Loves: interior design, kindness, being a junior youth minister, friends that feel like family

Favorite YA book: HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters

Why: Remy is earnest and kind, and he’s confused about how to define himself because he’s a lot of different things – adopted, black, gay, a brother, a best friend. For Amelia Grace, being inside Remy’s head feels like talking to an old friend. It feels like everything. Especially because it’s really rare to find a book that talks about being LGBTQ+ and about religion. Also, Julian Winters is the absolute best at turning high school stereotypes upside down and he’s funny as hell. Like, catch-you-off-guard sly and witty. Please go read this book immediately.

Giveaway includes (open internationally!):

1 signed ARC of The Summer of Impossibilities

1 signed copy of HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Giveaway note: As a rule, LGBTQ Reads doesn’t host giveaways because they are kind of a lot to deal with. Please note that this giveaway is 100% my (Rachael’s) responsibility, and if you have any questions or concerns, please take them up with me and not LGBTQ Reads. Thanks for being awesome!

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Lauren Wright Photography

Rachael Allen is a scientist by day and kidlit author by night. She is the winner of the 2019 Georgia Young Adult Author of the Year award, and her books include 17 First KissesThe Revenge Playbook, and A Taxonomy of Love, which was a Junior Library Guild selection and a 2018 Books All Young Georgians Should Read. Her next novel, The Summer of Impossibilities, is out May 12, 2020 (Abrams/Amulet). Rachael lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband, two children, and two dire wolves.

Rachael’s books have been published internationally in German, Spanish, French, and Polish. She is represented by Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary.

Visit Rachael on Twitter: @rachael_allen and Instagram: @rachael.stewartallen

Exclusive Excerpt and Character Portrait Reveal for Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen!

Today on the site, we’ve got some extra fun in the form of character portrait and excerpt reveals from one of my absolute favorite upcoming releases, Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen! The book releases on April 21 from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, but you can get to know its stars now! (And, a fun note: you can also come see me and Kelly talking about said book at Books of Wonder this summer in NYC on Thursday, June 18th at 6:00 p.m., so save the date!)

Here’s a little more info on Late to the Party:

Seventeen is nothing like Codi Teller imagined.

She’s never crashed a party, never stayed out too late. She’s never even been kissed. And it’s not just because she’s gay. It’s because she and her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, spend more time in her basement watching Netflix than engaging with the outside world.

So when Maritza and JaKory suggest crashing a party, Codi is highly skeptical. Those parties aren’t for kids like them. They’re for cool kids. Straight kids.

But then Codi stumbles upon one of those cool kids, Ricky, kissing another boy in the dark, and an unexpected friendship is formed. In return for never talking about that kiss, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and draws her into a wild summer filled with late nights, new experiences, and one really cute girl named Lydia.

The only problem? Codi never tells Maritza or JaKory about any of it.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | IndieBound

And here are the portraits and excerpts! All portraits in this post have been done by Rima Salloum, a good friend of the author’s. 

Codi Teller – the protagonist and narrator, a quiet artist who is questioning her wallflower status

You know how adults are always talking about teenagers? When I was in fourth grade, my family drove past a house that had been rolled with toilet paper, and my dad shook his head and chuckled Teenagers under his breath. My mom griped about Teenagers every June, when dark figures hung over the monkey bars of the clubhouse playground long after closing hours, but she never actually seemed mad; she seemed wistful. And then there’s all those shows and movies, the ones where thirty-year-old actors pretend to be high schoolers, and they go on dates and drive their fast cars and dance at crazy house parties where their fellow Teenagers swing from chandeliers and barf into synthetic tree stands. You grow up with these ideas about Teenagers, about their wild, vibrant, dramatic lives of breaking rules and making out and Being Alive, and you know that it’s your destiny to become one of them someday, but suddenly you’re seventeen and you’re watching people cannonball into a swimming pool in the pouring rain, and you realize you still haven’t become a real Teenager, and maybe you never will.

Maritza Vargas – Codi’s best friend, a headstrong dancer who is determined to expand her social world

Maritza leaned forward, an urgent energy about her. “Listen to me,” she said. “Last night we picked up your little brother from a date, something none of us have ever experienced, and we watched him almost kiss a girl for the first time, something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. Didn’t that feel as shitty for you as it did for me? I’m tired of feeling like I’m missing out. We keep hanging out just the three of us, doing the same shit we always do, watching bad movies we’ve already seen . . .” She clasped her hands in front of her and steeled herself. “We need to try something different, meet people who are different. It’s like Einstein said: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.”

JaKory Green – Codi’s other best friend, a hopeless idealist trying to push beyond his anxiety

“Did you feel horrible yesterday, too?” JaKory asked.

I looked up from the colors I was mixing. “The worst I’ve felt in a long time.”

JaKory was silent. Then he screwed up his mouth and said, “I went home and wrote a poem about it.”

I smiled wryly. “’Course you did.”

“There was one line I really liked. ‘My youth is infinite but my fears are intimate.’”

I mixed my orange and yellow paints. Such bursts of color, such vibrant promises, like the infinite youth JaKory spoke of. And yet those intimate fears loomed larger.

“I’m scared, too,” I admitted. “Scared of . . . I don’t even know what.”

“I’m so pissed at myself,” JaKory whispered. “I always knew I was different . . . black, nerdy, queer… but that’s not why I’m missing out. It’s because I’m standing in my own way.”

Ricky Flint – the closeted football player who takes Codi under his wing and introduces her to a new social group

After a while, we ended up along the river. Ricky parked with his truck facing the water, and we kicked our feet up on the dash, slurping the last of the ice cream from the bottoms of our cups.

“So what do you and Maritza and JaKory do when you hang out?” Ricky asked. “Is it anything like this?”

I told him. I kept checking his expression the whole time, worrying that I was boring him, but he had this open look on his face that made me feel like he cared what I had to say. When I’d said enough, I asked him, “What about your friends? What’s your favorite thing about them?”

He looked out over the river. A whole minute must have passed, but he didn’t seem pressed to come up with the answer right away. Finally, he started nodding to himself and said, “That I feel like I could have met them in kindergarten.”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t meet most of my friends until high school, but every single one of them is someone I could have met on the kindergarten playground—it’s natural and easy, nothing held against each other. Remember how easy it was to make friends at that age?”

Lydia Kaufman – Codi’s crush who is trying to be brave during her last summer before college

She bit her lip, a secret grin on her face. “What’s your favorite color?”

I laughed unexpectedly. “That’s what you want to follow up with?”

“Yes.”

I smiled, my hands in my lap now, all thought of the painting abandoned. “It changes all the time. Right now it’s violet.”

“I love that.”

“What’s yours?”

“Green,” she said right away.

I nodded, unsurprised. “Like your eyes.”

She laughed. “Not for that reason.”

“Why?”

“The first house my family lived in was green. Like a pastel shade, you know? And anytime a friend’s mom would drop me off, we’d turn on my street and I’d say, ‘My house is the green one.’ I didn’t know how to count the mailbox numbers but I knew my house was green, and I loved it.”

My heart expanded inside me. In that moment I felt like it was okay to be exactly who I was, because she was being exactly who she was, and that must have meant something. I absorbed it all: her eyes, her secrets, her space in the world.

The only thing I managed to say was, “I like knowing that.”

“I like knowing that you know it.”

***

Kelly Quindlen is the author of the young adult novels Late to the Party and Her Name in the Sky. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and a former teacher, Kelly has had the joy of speaking to PFLAG groups and high school GSAs. She currently serves on the leadership board of a non-profit for Catholic parents with LGBT children. She lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter @kellyquindlen.

Fave Five: LGBTQ Takes on Cinderella

Sometime After Midnight by L. Philips

The Secrets of Eden by Brandon Goode

Cinders by Cara Malone

Cinder Ella by S.T. Lynn

Dithered Hearts by Chace Verity

Bonus: Coming up in July, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

 

Fave Five: Queer YA with MCs of Iranian/Persian Descent

If You Could Be Mine and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Darius the Great is Not Okay and Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

How it All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

Bonus: Coming in May, Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is a bi fantasy based on Persian mythology

Rainbow heart

 

Fave Five: LGBTQ YA MCs with Anxiety

Yeah, there are six. What can I say? We are an anxious bunch.

Top Ten by Katie Cotugno (Bf)

Ten Things I Can See From here by Carrie Mac (L)

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (GF)

Let’s Call it a Doomsday by Katie Henry (Bf)

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (G)

Ziggy, Stardust & Me by James Brandon (G)

Bonus: Coming up in 2020, Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan features a bi male protag with GAD!

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Fave Five: Queer-Girl YA Set in Maine

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (bi f/f)

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (bi f/f)

Style by Chelsea M. Cameron (lesbian f/f)

All the Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell (pan f/f)

Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale (bi m/f)

Bonus: For a trans girl MG set in Maine, check out Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker!

New Release Spotlight: Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett is one of those books that just nails it, from concept to voice to nuance, and Simone is one of the main characters you just can’t forget. She’s handling friendships, a budding romance, questioning her sexuality, and directing the student play, all while managing being HIV-positive and everything that comes with it, including keeping her diagnosis a secret as needed, even under the threat of blackmail. There’s nothing quite like it out there right now so do yourself a favor and pick it up!

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Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.

Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Exclusive Cover and Excerpt Reveal: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Make way, make way, for the first bigender MC in traditionally published YA! (Or at least that I know of, but I feel pretty good about this.) This is a very exciting cover for me to be revealing in particular because the author is the person who taught me the very time “bigender” lo a bunch of years ago, so I’m thrilled to be showing off the cover of Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert, which releases from Carolrhoda on April 7, 2020 and tells the story of a Russian Jewish bigender teen who discovers they can overhear confessions to their priest uncle and takes it upon themselves to become a “guardian angel.” Here’s the story:

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.

But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

And here’s the brilliantly bi-coded cover, designed by Kimberly Morales!

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Lerner

But wait, there’s more! Want an excerpt? We’ve got you covered with the entire first chapter, so come check it out!
(cw: internalized transphobia)

***

Aleks

The last place I ever thought I’d live was next to a Catholic church.

I stared at the street view on my phone screen. The building I would live in looked pretty normal. You know, two stories, flat roof and brick siding and a fire escape. And the church itself was pretty humble-looking too. Not some huge cathedral with gothic architecture and creepy statues of Jesus getting crucified. At least on the outside.

“The rectory’s actually very comfortable, according to your aunt,” Mom said, knuckles clenched so tightly around the steering wheel that they were blanched. “Very homey, aside from the church office. It’s basically an apartment. The couple of other priests attached to Saint Martha’s live in a separate space, so you’ll have a fair amount of privacy.”

“Yup,” I said, putting my phone away. We’d been over this before.

Mom’s eyes remained locked on the road ahead of her. Not one glance behind. “And the cemetery is right across the street. Your uncle said you’re welcome to treat it like your backyard and use it anytime. Well, almost anytime. No barbeques during a funeral.”

I snorted. “He actually said that?”

“Mm-hmm. He was dead serious, too.”

Damn. What sort of heathen did he take me for? Granted, I hadn’t even seen the guy in years. Not since he went from being an Episcopal priest to a Catholic one. According to my internet research, there are only about two hundred people in the country who’ve gone this route—marry, convert, become a priest—so it was no surprise that Uncle Bryan took his new calling seriously. But you’d think that if he got to keep his wife, he would’ve been allowed to keep a sense of humor too. “What does he think I’d do if someone died? Tie a badminton net up on the statues? Play horseshoes with the American flags?”

Mom chimed in: “Croquet through the headstones, stomping over letters and stuffed animals for the deceased.”

“Damn, Mom. And I thought I was brutal.” I waited for her smile. It never came. She gazed ahead, unblinking. She’d never admit she was hurting, that my decision tore her to bits, but she radiated so much pain I could feel it in my chest.

I sank in my seat. Well, no need to keep riffing about the cemetery. Wasn’t like I was planning to set foot in there anyway. Not because I was afraid or thought cemeteries were eerie, even though they kind of were. They just made me sad. Maybe a little angry. I wasn’t really sure why. Last year, maybe I’d have taken advantage of it with my cosplay group just to get an edgy photo for tons of likes. Something provocative by the inevitable statue of Mary. I’d done that sort of stupid shit a lot, especially with him.

Don’t go there, Aleks, I reminded myself. That part of my life was over. No more trolling, no more CAPSLOCK LOLZ, and definitely no more being an asshole just for a bunch of likes. I was going to pretend that segment of time didn’t exist. I’d always been good at pretending.

Although I should have, I hadn’t deleted my social media accounts. Believe it or not, Mom was the one who convinced me not to do it. She thought that one day I’d get nostalgic and not have anything to look back on. I’d taken her word for it because she’d been in tears as she said it. Figured that came from personal experience, maybe with my aunt. So I just disabled notifications and comments and logged out of everything. I didn’t want to deal with the messages from my friends. Former friends, I mean. Why was past-tense so hard to say? To think?

I didn’t want to deal with the other bullshit either. You know, the “faux trans” or “ugly girl” crap that made me nauseous. I’d dealt with that for years, people refusing to believe my identity was legit, people insisting that I was calling myself bigender for attention. I was done with going to conventions where at least three girls would approach me, asking me if I was a boy or girl and, if I said boy, ask “Are you sure?” about seven times before adding, “because you’re really hot.” And I didn’t know if that was because they were lesbians or because they wanted to make sure I was an effeminate guy because that meant they were still straight. And my friends would laugh, especially him, saying, “Yeah, you’re such a hot guy” while the voice inside said something else:

Imposter.

Where’s your dick at? Huh?

Packed away?

Who does that?

Fake.

Liar.

Loser.

That voice still made me shudder. It crept in like a waiting storm, then suddenly it was there, breaking down my mental walls like a hurricane, destroying everything in its path. It was there way before I got in trouble. And afterward, it never went away. Sometimes the voice sounded just like one of my exes. Ring, ring, ring. Buzzing in my ears. No matter how many times I tried to tune it out, it wouldn’t leave me. No. It became louder. Faster. Pulsed like my heartbeat. Like its own breathing, living thing.

Imposter.

Liar.

Fake.

Louder, louder, LOUDER.

The noise was almost unbearable by the time we pulled up in front of a sign that read SAINT MARTHA ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. Loud enough for me to scrape my nails against my scalp, sliding down to rub my fingers against the back of my neck, getting the tension out. Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut—

“You doing okay, Aleks?” Mom asked, her voice shaking.

Trying to sound convincing, I said, “Yep. I’m good.” After all, this was my idea.

“Because if you’re having second thoughts, we can call this off. I could ask for an emergency leave from work—”

“Mom, we’ve been over this.”

“But—”

“Seriously, don’t.” And then to prove my point, “If you do, I’m going to feel guilty as hell. So don’t. Please.”

She fell silent.

The second I’d told my parents I wasn’t safe, Mom had started looking for transfers. There weren’t any openings. I couldn’t let her quit, not when she’d spent so long building her career, trying to get her twenty years to collect pension. And Dad was stationed in Iraq. It wasn’t like I could say “come home” when he was on active duty.

There were only two options I could think of.

One: Do nothing.

Two: Move in with Aunt Anne Marie and Uncle Bryan while Mom waited for a transfer to go through or until I went to college, whichever came first. I had two more months of summer break before I had to decide where I’d spend my senior year of high school, so it was the perfect time to move.

“You know what kind of people they are, right?” Mom had asked me once she’d regained the ability to speak.

“Yeah, I know,” I’d said, although I was mostly guessing based on offhand comments she and my dad had made. My parents had strong opinions on Catholicism, so strong I used to fear that if I ever met a Catholic, they’d curse me simply for existing. But then I got older. I learned that extremists and shitty people exist everywhere. Sure, some Catholics might be scary, but a person could say that about members of literally any group. I was trying to be a less shitty person myself these days, so I didn’t want to make assumptions about my aunt and uncle. Especially because I wasn’t like anyone else I knew, even in the cosplay communities I’d belonged to.

The last time I’d seen my aunt and uncle, I was little. So little, I didn’t remember how old I’d been. I didn’t know if they had converted to Catholicism yet or if Uncle Bryan was still an Episcopal priest. I did remember being entranced by Aunt Anne Marie’s sewing machine and liking Uncle Bryan’s laugh. But I also remember an argument through the walls and the door slamming. Mom’s sobs: What happened to her?

What happened, I guess, was that she was a good Episcopalian girl who grew up to marry an Episcopal priest, and then gradually both she and her husband got into Catholicism. Fun fact, courtesy of my internet research: Protestant clergy are sometimes allowed to switch teams and become Catholic priests, and if they’re already married, they’re allowed to stay married. I still didn’t get it though. Like, did celibacy laws still apply? In which case, what was the point?

My aunt was a puzzle even without all that. My grandparents on Mom’s side were pretty liberal, always vocal about equality, just cool in general. They died a couple of years ago, but back when I was twelve, after Mom told them about me coming out as bigender, they called to tell us all about joining their local PFLAG group. But Aunt Anne Marie wasn’t like them. I had so many friends who’d broken away from their conservative families as they discovered more inclusive values. I didn’t think I’d met a single person who came from a family as chill as Mom’s and left for Faux News. It was different. Weird.

Living with them still had to be better than what I was running from. Coming here was the safest option, because it was the last place anyone would ever think to look for me.

Mom parked the truck and turned the ignition off. “We’re here.”

The rectory—the priests’ residence—looked just like it had online. Right up against it was another building that I knew was the church. It actually looked like an extension of the same building, except the windows on the church part were more arched and the double doors at the front looked more imposing.

We climbed out of the truck. I approached the building and traced my fingers along the cracks in the brick facade. Up close, it looked nicer than in the pictures. They must have done some renovations recently.

There was some chattering and commotion as people came out the front doors of the church, a few yards away. Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contactbut they went the other direction, oblivious. I exhaled, relieved. For now, I was still invisible. Just the way I wanted.

The front door of the rectory opened. Immediately, I withdrew from the wall, moving to stand next to Mom. An older woman clattered down the steps with an uneven stride, like she was in pain but trying not to limp. Surely that couldn’t be . . .

Mom cleared her throat. “Hey, Annie.”

The old woman corrected her: “Anne Marie. Please.”

I barely kept from gawking as Aunt Anne Marie approached. This didn’t make sense. Aunt Anne Marie wasn’t that much older than Mom. Like a few years. This wrinkly-faced woman looked like she should have been my grandma instead of my aunt.

She embraced Mom stiffly and briefly, like she was being polite even though she couldn’t stand to be near her. Judging from Mom’s expression, the feeling was mutual. Next, she moved to me hugging me for just a second, if even. Like she wasn’t sure it would be welcome. “It’s—it’s good to see you, Alexis.”

A rock formed in the pit of my stomach.

Before I could open my mouth, Mom said, “It’s Aleks today. He and him.”

“It’s fine,” I told Mom quickly. I’d already decided I wouldn’t publicly present as male here. I didn’t know if that counted as going back in the closet or whether it was self-preservation.

Mom frowned. “Pronouns are important.”

“I know, but not today. Okay?” I touched her arm. “It’s fine. I promise.”

Mom frowned but dropped it. Good. Last thing I wanted was super high tension around me before I even moved in. Besides, this was their home. I was a temporary guest. Coming here was my idea. I knew what I was getting into. Sort of.

Aunt Anne Marie didn’t respond to my mother. She looked at me, smiling. It seemed genuine but also strained, like it’d been so long since she smiled it ached. She looked so old. So tired. So thin. Had Uncle Bryan aged that quickly too? “I was worried you’d look more . . .” She trailed off, leaving me to fill in the gap:

Butch? Queer? Covered in glitter with rainbows shooting out of my butt?

Aunt Anne Marie tried again. “I was worried you’d stand out. If you stay like this, you’ll fit right in.”

I exhaled with relief. Good. Fitting right in was exactly what I needed, even if boy-me was going to hate it in about 0.0008 seconds, and probably girl-me too. It didn’t matter how much this place sucked because it would be safe. If I hid inside my skin, I wouldn’t be in direct danger. No one would notice the ugly girl. She was innocuous and easy to ignore, which was perfect, even though sometimes, just sometimes, I wished she wasn’t so ugly.

Here’s the sad part: I never thought she was ugly until people told me again and again that she was. All those school formals, me standing awkwardly by the wall as everyone was asked to dance except me. That kid who threw a tape dispenser at me in class, telling me to put it on my upper lip to rip the mustache off. The classmates who called me an ugly slut for wearing layers of tank tops in winter when, really, I just got overheated and sweated through my clothes. I guess the masochist in me preferred the bullying to the silence I now was seeking. Any attention was better than no attention, or so I’d thought. I knew better now.

How would people here react if they saw two different people with the same face? If I left the house as a girl one day and a boy the very next? Would they think I had a twin? Think it was a costume? Condemn me to hell? Hold signs outside the rectory and shout slurs at me?

I could picture all that so clearly. Images of horrible things happening to me, worst-case disasters, gleefully narrated by “the voice.” No matter how many times I told it to shut up, it was always there. Left ear, right ear, crashing like a turbulent sea.

“This is just temporary,” Mom said to Aunt Anne Marie. Then, almost as an afterthought, “Thank you for doing this.”

Aunt Anne Marie looked at me instead of my mother. “We’re family.” Like she was erasing Mom from existence. The tension was so thick, it was almost visible. Was there ever a time when she and Mom were close? Like when they were children? Had they confided in each other, whispering secrets in the dark? It was hard to imagine. The few times I’d asked Mom about Aunt Anne Marie, she’d said, “I don’t want to talk about her.” I never pressed. My parents had taught me that if someone doesn’t want to talk about something, you should leave them alone. Don’t prod snakes.

“There are going to be a few ground rules,” Aunt Anne Marie said.

“Ground rules?” Mom asked. “You didn’t say anything about ground rules on the phone.”

Aunt Anne Marie turned on my mother. “I haven’t seen you in years. Not a word of communication. When you called me out of the blue, I gladly stepped in. Money doesn’t grow on trees—”

“Fine!” Mom reached in her purse for her wallet. “If you want money—”

“I don’t want your money. I want to get to know my niece. Is that a crime?”

I flinched. From that perspective, she sort of had a point, even though she’d called me “niece” after Mom had requested male pronouns today on my behalf. Although it was hard to swallow, I could forgive it for now. Tons of people made mistakes, misgendering people out of ignorance rather than cruelty. I’d known to expect it here.

I’d never heard the term bigender until I was twelve. Honestly, I can’t remember if I’d ever heard it. One day I woke up and, out of nowhere, said, “I’m bigender.” Everything immediately felt right, like I’d had a massive epiphany. Simultaneously, it made me really . . . lonely. I couldn’t even find much use of the term online. Of course, the internet is full of people who identify outside of the male or female boxes. Genderqueer and genderfluid have floated around in the mainstream for a little while, but those terms never fit me. There’s a lot of crossover in those brackets, a lot of beautiful transition and blending, but for as different as I was, everything was black and white. There was no gray space. I’d wake up in the morning and know whether I was a girl or a boy. Rarely, in the middle of the day, I’d change. When that happened, it wasn’t a gradual shift. More like a light switch. Off on, on off. And almost always, that sudden shift felt bad.

But now wasn’t the time to think about that. Now was the time to play “blend in” and avoid rocking the boat so that I’d stay safe. My aunt and uncle, despite their religious views, were safe. Thou shalt not kill. Maybe I could suggest an addendum: Thou shalt not be a douchebag to thy nephew.

“What are the ground rules?” I asked.

Aunt Anne Marie looked delighted that I was talking to her. “We eat dinner together at six unless your uncle is helping a troubled parishioner.”

I wondered if “troubled” meant a depressed person or a sinner. Or were depressed people automatically considered sinners?

“If he’s late, we wait for him . . .”

Ooh, toxic patriarchy! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

“. . . unless he tells us ahead of time that we should eat without him, which is the case today. He’s helping out with the summer day camp over at the school.” She nodded toward a building across the way: Saint Martha Elementary. “We’ll eat without him. He’s a very busy man.”

I’m sure he is.

“Also,” Aunt Anne Marie said, “do you have a nice dress?”

Definenice dress.”

“Um . . . yeah? I think,” I said cautiously as the voice in my head screamed, It’s a trap. “If not, I could sew one, I guess. Why?”

“You’ll need one for Sundays, when we go to church.”

Mom’s eyes widened. “You can’t make Aleks—”

“Mass is nonnegotiable,” my aunt said. “If Alexis is going to stay here, it’s what we do. Can you imagine a priest’s niece not attending?”

Mom grumbled beneath her breath, “Unfortunately I can imagine a lot of things.”

“Do you want us to help or not?”

Mom glanced at me, like somehow she was failing even though she was trying her absolute hardest.

I touched her arm. “It’s just a dress.”

“It’s more than just a dress.”

She was right, but that wasn’t a problem for today. “Mom, really. It’s okay. I can deal.”

At least for the next few months.

Mom hesitated but then sighed. “No making Aleks say grace before meals or any of that.”

“That’d be her choice.”

I flinched. Was the emphasis on “her” intentional, or was I extra sensitive today?

When Mom called my aunt and uncle to bring up the idea of me staying there temporarily, one of the first things she said was, “Alexis is bigender. That means some of the time, they identify as female and Alexis, and some of the time they identify as male and Aleks. They’re also queer. If either of you make them uncomfortable or spout homophobic, nonbinary-phobic nonsense, I’ll rip out your throat.”

Mom could be a little theatrical sometimes. And by sometimes, I mean all the time. I had to inherit it from someone. I’m sure my aunt and uncle weren’t impressed, but I thought it was pretty damn funny. And it certainly couldn’t have sent a clearer message.

Let me give my aunt the benefit of the doubt just for today. Maybe for the next week, since there would have to be an adjustment. A learning curve.

What if it’s longer than a week? I tried to ignore the nagging worry. What if she uses only female pronouns forever?

Fake trans.

Loser.

Liar.

Aunt Anne Marie continued, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Alexis finds that this is the right path for her.”

Sure. I might also find that I enjoyed bashing my head against concrete.

Aunt Anne Marie looked at her watch. “As I said, your uncle will be working late tonight.” Was he really working late or was he deliberately avoiding Mom?

. . . or me.

 “Let’s get your things to your room, get you settled, and have a little dinner. Okay?” She forced another big smile. “I’m so happy I’ll finally get to know you.”

“Sounds good,” I said, forcing some pep into my voice.

As we walked to the back of the truck, Mom latched to my side. Quietly, she said, “If you need an escape . . .”

“I’ll let you know immediately. I promise.”

“No heroics—”

I embraced my mother, cutting her off. I turned my face against her neck, trying to remember the smell of her perfume and the way her huge hoop earrings jingled. “Thank you,” I whispered. “For letting me do this.”

“I’d do anything to protect you.”

“I know.”

“Is there anything else I should be doing?”

“No, Mom. It’s not you.” It’s them, I thought. It’s their fault.

HIS fault.

“Aleks?” Mom asked, worried.

“I’m fine,” I said instinctively. Then, with the bravest face I could muster, I grabbed the first box.

***