Tag Archives: Eliot Schrefer

New Releases: June 1, 2021

Young Adult

The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham in training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of isolation and bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy’s soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans–he’s passing. So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him after he discovers the “F” on Spencer’s birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even though it would mean coming out to everyone– including the guy he’s falling for.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Poison Ivy: Thorns by Kody Keplinger and Sara Kipin

There’s something unusual about Pamela Isley–the girl who hides behind her bright red hair. The girl who won’t let anyone inside to see what’s lurking behind the curtains. The girl who goes to extreme lengths to care for a few plants. Pamela Isley doesn’t trust other people, especially men. They always want something from her. Something she’s not willing to give.

When cute goth girl Alice Oh comes into Pamela’s life after an accident at the local park, she makes her feel like pulling back the curtains and letting the sunshine in. But there are dark secrets deep within the Isley house. Secrets Pamela’s father has warned must remain hidden. Secrets that could turn deadly and destroy the one person who ever cared about Pamela, or as her mom preferred to call her…Ivy.

Will Pamela open herself up to the possibilities of love, or will she forever be transformed by the thorny vines of revenge?

Buy it: DC Comics | Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

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The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

54776523Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.

Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn’t seem so stifling anymore.

But Keltie has some secrets of her own. And as the girls start to fall in love, everything they’re each trying to hide will find its way to the surface…whether Morgan is ready or not.

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Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June

55200702There’s one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all this friends can’t stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda.

Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he’s found where he truly belongs, where he can flirt with Very Sexy Boys and search for love. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he’ll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones…because after all, life and love don’t always go according to plan.

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Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin

54860447When Trixie picks up her best friend Lux for their weekend getaway, she’s looking to escape for a little while, to forget the despair of being trapped in their dead-end Rust Belt town and the daunting responsibility of caring for her ailing mother. The girls are packing light: a supply of Diet Coke for Lux and her ‘89 Canon to help her frame the world in a sunnier light; half a pack of cigarettes for Trixie that she doesn’t really smoke, and a knife—one she’s just hanging on to for a friend—that she’s never used before.

But a single night of violence derails their trip and will forever change the course of the girls’ lives, as they go from ordinary high schoolers to wanted fugitives. Trying to stay ahead of the cops and a hellscape of media attention, the girls grapple with an unforgiving landscape, rapidly diminishing supplies, and disastrous decisions at every turn. As they are transformed by the media into the face of a #MeToo movement they didn’t ask to lead and the road before them begins to run out, Trixie and Lux realize that they can only rely on each other, and that the love they find together is the one thing that truly makes them free.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

The Ghosts We Keep by Mason Deaver

When Liam Cooper’s older brother Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run, Liam has to not only learn to face the world without one of the people he loved the most, but also face the fading relationship with his two best friends.

Feeling more alone and isolated than ever, Liam finds themself sharing time with Marcus, Ethan’s best friend, and through Marcus, Liam finds the one person that seems to know exactly what they’re going through, for the better, and the worse.

This book is about grief. But it’s also about why we live. Why we have to keep moving on, and why we should.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

The (Un)popular Vote by Jasper Sanchez

Vaseline on the teeth makes a smile shine. It’s a cheap stunt, but Mark Adams knows it’s optics that can win or ruin an election.

Everything Mark learned about politics, he learned from his father, the congressman who still pretends he has a daughter and not a son. To protect his father’s image, Mark promises to keep his past hidden and pretend to be the cis guy everyone assumes he is. But when he sees a manipulatively charming candidate for student body president inflame dangerous rhetoric, Mark decides to risk the low profile he assured his father and insert himself as a political challenger.

One big problem? No one really knows Mark. He didn’t grow up in this town, and he has few friends; plus, the ones he does have aren’t exactly with the in-crowd. Still, thanks to countless seasons of Scandal and The West Wing, these nerds know where to start: from campaign stops to voter polling to a fashion makeover. Soon Mark feels emboldened to get in front of and engage with voters—and even start a new romance. But with an investigative journalist digging into his past, a father trying to silence him, and a bully front-runner who stands in his way, Mark will have to decide which matters most: perception or truth, when both are just as dangerous.

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The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon

Wyatt would give anything to forget where he came from—but a kingdom demands its king.

In Asalin, fae rule and witches like Wyatt Croft…don’t. Wyatt’s betrothal to his best friend, fae prince Emyr North, was supposed to change that. But when Wyatt lost control of his magic one devastating night, he fled to the human world.

Now a coldly distant Emyr has hunted him down. Despite transgender Wyatt’s newfound identity and troubling past, Emyr has no intention of dissolving their engagement. In fact, he claims they must marry now or risk losing the throne. Jaded, Wyatt strikes a deal with the enemy, hoping to escape Asalin forever. But as he gets to know Emyr, Wyatt realizes the boy he once loved may still exist. And as the witches face worsening conditions, he must decide once and for all what’s more important—his people or his freedom.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

The Love Song of Ivy K. Harlowe by Hannah Moskowitz

54860302. sy475 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.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Never Kiss Your Roommate by Philline Harms

54968308Welcome to Seven Hills, the world’s most exclusive boarding school where only the best and brightest roam the hallowed halls. Being committed to your studies, service, and community doesn’t mean that you can’t break the rules now and again, right?

But watch your back because lurking on the anonymous Chitter Chatter Blog is The Watcher—who can’t wait to reveal all the latest hookups, hot lists, and secrets around campus. The latest objects of The Watcher’s affection? Straight-off-the-train (but not exactly straight) insta-besties Evelyn and Seth.

It doesn’t take long for Evelyn to realize she is inexplicably drawn to her gorgeous and standoffish roommate Noelle. Meanwhile Seth has eyes, and some serious heart palpitations, for budding thespian and school flirt Jasper. Just as things start to heat up, The Watcher strikes. Will the secrets revealed turn their happily ever afters into happily never afters?

Some rules are worth breaking

Evelyn’s new roommate doesn’t exactly project a warm, welcoming vibe. Noelle is intimidating—opposite to Evelyn’s shy and good-natured demeanor—but also impossible to resist. Everyone at Seven Hills, the most exclusive boarding school, knows Unwritten Rule No. 1: never kiss your roommate. But when Evelyn starts breaking more rules with Noelle, their recklessness starts to fuel an anonymous gossip blog on campus. As more secrets come to light, Evelyn and Noelle will have to come to terms with their dangerous pasts with the help of their friends before they lose each other.

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The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

55200663Two boys, alone in space.

After the first settler on Titan trips her distress signal, neither remaining country on Earth can afford to scramble a rescue of its own, and so two sworn enemies are installed in the same spaceship.

Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor, with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: Evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed—not when he’s rescuing his own sister.

In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust one another… especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

The Lucky List by Rachael Lippincott

55851119Emily and her mom were always lucky. Every month they’d take her lucky quarter, select lucky card 505, and dominate the heatedly competitive bingo night in their small, quirky town of Huckabee. But Emily’s mom’s luck ran out three years ago when she succumbed to cancer, and nothing has felt right for Emily since.

Now, the summer before her senior year, things are getting worse. Not only has Emily wrecked things with her boyfriend Matt, who her mom adored, but her dad is selling the house she grew up in and giving her mom’s belongings away. Soon, she’ll have no connections left to Mom but that lucky quarter. And with her best friend away for the summer and her other friends taking her ex’s side, the only person she has to talk to about it is her dad’s best friend’s daughter, Blake, a girl she barely knows.

But that’s when Emily finds the list—her mom’s senior year summer bucket list—buried in a box in the back of her closet. When Blake suggests that Emily take it on as a challenge, the two set off on a journey to tick each box and help Emily face her fears before everything changes As they go further down the list, Emily finally begins to feel closer to mom again, but her bond with Blake starts to deepen, too, into something she wasn’t expecting. Suddenly Emily must face another fear: accepting the secret part of herself she never got a chance to share with the person who knew her best.

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Strange Creatures by Phoebe North

55338919From the moment that Annie was born, she and her older brother, Jamie, were inseparable. Alike in almost every way, they promised to always take care of each other while facing the challenges of growing up different in suburban America. And when life became too much for them, they created their own space in the woods behind their house: a fantasy world of their own making, where no one else could find them. And it was enough, for a while. But then came middle school when Jamie grew dark and distant. He found new friends, a girlfriend, and a life away from Annie and their shared world. By the time Annie was in eighth grade, it was as if she hardly knew the brother who was her other half.

And then, one day, he disappears.

Annie, her family, and the entire community are devastated. And as the days turn into months turn into years, everyone begins to accept that Jamie is gone for good. Everyone, that is, except Annie, who believes that Jamie, somehow, has entered the world they created, and who believes that she’s the only one who can bring him back. But as Annie searches for answers and finds a new relationship with a girl she did not expect, she makes startling discoveries about her brother’s disappearance—and has to decide how much of herself she’s willing to give up in order to keep hope alive.

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Speak For Yourself by Lana Wood Johnson

54776552Girl meets boy. Girl likes boy.Girl gets friend to help win boy. Friend ends up with crush on boy…

Skylar’s got ambitious #goals. And if she wants them to come true, she has to get to work now. (At least she thinks so…) Step one in her epic plan is showing everyone that her latest app is brilliant. To do that, she’s going to use it to win State at the Scholastic Exposition, the nerdiest academic competition around.First, she’ll need a team, and Skylar’s not always so good with people. But she’ll do whatever it takes to put one together … even if it means playing Cupid for her teammates Joey and Zane, at Joey’s request. When things get off to an awkward start for them, Skylar finds herself stepping in to help Joey. Anything to keep her on the team. Only, Skylar seems to be making everything more complicated. Especially when she realizes she might be falling for Zane, which was not a #goal. Can Skylar figure out her feelings, prove her app’s potential to the world, and win State without losing her friends–or is her path to greatness over before it begins?

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You’re the One that I Want by Simon James Green (3rd)

56250281. sy475 Freddie has a reputation as a ‘nice guy’ – inoffensive, sweet, kind – and therefore completely un-dateable.

As he starts sixth form, Freddie decides that this nice guy isn’t going to finish last any more. No more missing out on parties because he’s got to do his homework. No more saying no when he really wants to say yes. And most of all no more lusting after unobtainable straight boys who enjoy the attention but ultimately break his heart.

Freddie embarks on a series of changes designed to transform his social and romantic life, and suddenly he’s a drama darling, getting invited to all the popular kids’ parties, and hot new boy Zach is showing an interest. Life couldn’t be better!

But the path to love is never smooth – and Freddie’s about to learn that changing everything about yourself isn’t necessarily a foolproof way of finding the right person…

Buy it: Blackwell’s | Book Depository

Adult Fiction

Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters

55648824

When it comes to her career, Cade Elgin has it all figured out. Only “professional talk” has become her default mode, relationships are nonexistent, and don’t even mention the word “orgasm.” All work and no play makes Cade a dull human. But when she inherits a sex toy store, Cade is caught between business and a store filled with every imaginable kind of pleasure—including her infuriatingly irresponsible and deliciously sexy new co-owner.

Selena Mathis learned the hard way that she can have too much of a good thing. Which is precisely why she’s taken an oath of celibacy and is focusing on how to make Satisfaction Guaranteed a success. She won’t mess this up. Not this time. But once again, Selena’s emotions are getting in the way and tempting her with a serious attraction to buttoned-up Cade.

But the shop isn’t exactly vibe-ing, and Cade and Selena are on the verge of losing both their income and the possibility of love. Can they find a way to work together . . . before Satisfaction Guaranteed runs out of batteries?

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Cynical twenty-three-year old August doesn’t believe in much. She doesn’t believe in psychics, or easily forged friendships, or finding the kind of love they make movies about. And she certainly doesn’t believe her ragtag band of new roommates, her night shifts at a 24-hour pancake diner, or her daily subway commute full of electrical outages are going to change that.

But then, there’s Jane. Beautiful, impossible Jane.

All hard edges with a soft smile and swoopy hair and saving August’s day when she needed it most. The person August looks forward to seeing on the train every day. The one who makes her forget about the cities she lived in that never seemed to fit, and her fear of what happens when she finally graduates, and even her cold-case obsessed mother who won’t quite let her go. And when August realizes her subway crush is impossible in more ways than one―namely, displaced in time from the 1970s―she thinks maybe it’s time to start believing.

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Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

Harlem, 1926. Young black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead.

Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She”s succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie”s Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Manhattan”s hottest speakeasy. Louise”s friends might say she”s running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don”t tell her that.

When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she”s been trying to ignore–several local black girls have been murdered over the past few weeks. After an altercation with a local police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or let a judge make an example of her.

Louise has no choice but to take the case and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind. She’ll have to tackle her own fears and the prejudices of New York City society if she wants to catch a killer and save her own life in the process.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | Indigo | B&N | Indiebound

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

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Future Feeling by Joss Lake

The year is 20__, and Penfield R. Henderson is in a rut. When he’s not walking dogs for cash or responding to booty calls from his B-list celebrity hookup, he’s holed up in his dingy Bushwick apartment obsessing over holograms of Aiden Chase, a fellow trans man and influencer documenting his much smoother transition into picture-perfect masculinity on the Gram. After an IRL encounter with Aiden leaves Pen feeling especially resentful, Pen enlists his roommates, the Witch and the Stoner-Hacker, to put their respective talents to use in hexing Aiden. Together, they gain access to Aiden’s social media account and post a picture of Pen’s aloe plant, Alice, tied to a curse:

Whosoever beholds the aloe will be pushed into the Shadowlands.

When the hex accidentally bypasses Aiden, sending another young trans man named Blithe to the Shadowlands (the dreaded emotional landscape through which every trans person must journey to achieve true self-actualization), the Rhiz (the quasi-benevolent big brother agency overseeing all trans matters) orders Pen and Aiden to team up and retrieve him. The two trace Blithe to a dilapidated motel in California and bring him back to New York, where they try to coax Blithe to stop speaking only in code and awkwardly try to pass on what little trans wisdom they possess. As the trio makes its way in a world that includes pitless avocados and subway cars that change color based on occupants’ collective moods but still casts judgment on anyone not perfectly straight, Pen starts to learn that sometimes a family isn’t just the people who birthed you.

Buy it: Indiebound | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

If she’s being honest, Sammie Lucas is scared of her son. Working from home in the close quarters of their Florida house, she lives with one wary eye peeled on Samson, a sullen, unknowable boy who resists her every attempt to bond with him. Uncertain in her own feelings about motherhood, she tries her best—driving, cleaning, cooking, prodding him to finish projects for school—while growing increasingly resentful of Monika, her confident but absent wife. As Samson grows from feral toddler to surly teenager, Sammie’s life begins to deteriorate into a mess of unruly behavior, and her struggle to create a picture-perfect queer family unravels. When her son’s hostility finally spills over into physical aggression, Sammie must confront her role in the mess—and the possibility that it will never be clean again.

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Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly

58011355. sy475 After a lifetime of failed relationships, non-binary history professor Sam Bell is committed to a new (non)romantic strategy: Thirst Only. It’s the actual drinking where things get too complicated, where Sam inevitably gets hurt.

Sam is good at being thirsty, though, especially when it’s karaoke night at The Moonlight Café, otherwise known as Moonie’s to its largely queer regulars. Moonie’s is fun. Comfortable. Safe. Except for tonight, when one by one, all of Sam’s friends abandon them. Disappointed, they prepare to leave—until their #1 karaoke crush catches their eye…

For Lily Fischer, karaoke at Moonie’s is the only time she can step outside of her quiet shell. When there’s a mic in her hand, she’s no longer merely a receptionist harboring big dreams. At Moonie’s, Lily can pretend to be someone else: someone bold, who takes what she wants. And tonight, what Lily wants is the way Sam looks at her across the room as she sings her signature opening song, like they see her exactly as she wants to be seen. Like Moonie’s Lily is real.

As the night progresses, both Sam’s and Lily’s personal fears are tested, and the real world outside of Moonie’s looms. But maybe sometimes, the real world should be a little more like karaoke. It’s not always about knowing all the right words or having the perfect voice. Maybe all Sam and Lily need is a little courage to pick up the mic, and sing anyway.

Buy it: Amazon

Dare to Live, Dare to Love by Nicole C. Moon

58147647. sy475 Elle Jones is constantly immersed in her job and doesn’t have time for much else. Her work life is on point, but the rest? Not so much. She never takes time to take care of herself, and she’s terrified of not being good enough to be loved.

Dylan Andrews recently moved in with his brother after leaving London. He doesn’t have a job, but he’s determined to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

When the two of them run into each other, they’re overwhelmed by old feelings that never really went away. After a long talk on a quiet beach under a glimmering night sky, Dylan comes up with an idea that could change everything. He writes a list of things to show Elle that love is real, it can be true, it can last, and it can find her when the time is right. As they move through all the items written on a crumpled piece of paper, Elle slowly starts learning that there is more to life than she thought, and Dylan realizes that he would do anything to fight for love. Can the two of them face the feelings they keep trying to avoid before the list ends? Can they take a leap towards a future that could be filled with unconditional love, both for each other and themselves, or will it be too late?

Buy it: Amazon

Sunset Springs by Kacen Callender (3rd)

No job, no money, no love – and to make things worse, 27-year-old Charlie has no choice but to leave New York City and move in with his mom in his isolated and conservative hometown of Sunset Springs.

Home isn’t a comfortable place for Charlie. One of very few Black residents and the only trans person around town that he knows of, this will be Charlie’s first time back in Sunset Springs since he transitioned. He expects confusion and maybe even hostility. He definitely does not expect Jackson Ford.

Jack was the brooding yet beloved football star at their high school, but now, he’s an outsider after coming out as gay. When Charlie and Jackson fall for each other in a swift and surprising romance, Charlie has to decide if he’s willing to exchange his old dreams for a new one.

Sunset Springs is an audio novella about finding courage to allow unexpected change, even at the risk of a broken heart.

Buy it: Audible

Non-Fiction

The 2000s Made Me Gay: Essays on Pop Culture by Grace Perry

The 2000s Made Me GayToday’s gay youth have dozens of queer peer heroes, both fictional and real, but former gay teenager Grace Perry did not have that luxury. Instead, she had to search for queerness in the (largely straight) teen cultural phenomena the aughts had to offer: in Lindsay Lohan’s fall from grace, Gossip Girl, Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl,” country-era Taylor Swift, and Seth Cohen jumping on a coffee cart. And, for better or worse, these touch points shaped her adult identity. She came out on the other side like many millennials did: in her words, gay as hell.

Throw on your Von Dutch hats and join Grace on a journey back through the pop culture moments of the aughts, before the cataclysmic shift in LGBTQ representation and acceptance—a time not so long ago, which many seem to forget.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Authors in Conversation: Nicole Melleby and Eliot Schrefer

Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome frequent LGBTQReads guest Nicole Melleby, author of one of yesterday’s fabulous new releases, How to Become a Planet, and site newcomer Eliot Schrefer, whose The Darkness Outside Us releases June 1st!

Yes, we’re bridging the MG/YA divide here. A rare occurrence on the site, but there is a connection between these authors! Want to know what it is? Read on…

Nicole: Hi Eliot! I’m excited to be doing this interview with you. A fun fact that most people might not know: you were my mentor in grad school, so you’ve actually gotten to see me grow from the baby writer I used to be. It makes it even more fun that we’ve both got books out this year that in some capacity–yours literally and mine as more of a metaphor–involve outer space! (And, of course, are both queer!)

The Darkness Outside Us is such a great addition to LGBTQ+ YA shelves. For those who weren’t as lucky as me to get their hands on it before its June 1st release, why don’t you tell us a little bit about it?

55200663Eliot: Nicole! How amazing is this?! If only we could go back to 2014 and tell baby Nicole and Eliot that they’d one day be having this conversation, and doing gay space book events together (you can check us out together virtually on June 8th hosted by Best of Books.) I’ll have lots more to say and ask about the years in-between later, but for now, yeah, let me tell you about The Darkness Outside Us. It’s set 400 years in the future, when Earth is locked into a cold war between two remaining countries. When the first settler of Titan trips her distress signal, the countries have to mount a joint mission to rescue her—with one astronaut from each country onboard. They start as enemies, but wind up developing feelings for each other, even as they discover that their mission isn’t what they thought it was. At all.

You gave me some awesome feedback on the manuscript, and changed its course! I love this new phase of our lives when we’re peers and friends. The world has some really devoted Melleby fans (“Mellefans”?) in it. It’s been awesome to see your accolades and masses of happy readers—I know how excited they are about reading How to Become a Planet. Would you tell us about Pluto’s story? 

Nicole: You gave me feedback on an early draft of PLANET, too, back when it had an entire arson subplot (when in doubt, add fire?) There are no fires in the finished draft, but How to Become a Planet is about a 12-year-old named Pluto who loves outer space, her single mom, her family’s pizzeria, and running around the boardwalk with her best friend Meredith. The novel starts right after Pluto is diagnosed with depression and anxiety, after a month of missing school, finding it too hard to get out of bed, ignoring Meredith’s phone calls, and arguing more and more with her mom. Because of this, Pluto can’t help but wonder how she can try and feel like herself again. Pluto-the-planet isn’t a planet anymore, and Pluto-the-person doesn’t know where she fits anymore, either.

So, Eliot, you are no stranger to kidlit (Mr. Fancy Pants two-time National Book Award Finalist) but, and correct me if I’m wrong, this is your first YA novel with explicitly queer characters. I’m living for gays in space, but why did you decide to write this story now, and has your experience writing gay characters been any different than your other work?

Eliot: I think I’m ten Earth years older than you (though just 0.04 Pluto years!), and it’s been a big ten years for children’s literature, and books in general, around LGBTQIA+ themes. Though there were important early queer works already when I started writing YA, for the most part books were either about queerness or they had no queer characters, with little in between. For the most part, my narrative instincts don’t lean toward romance, so I had characters in most of my books who were driven by other interests, not romantic ones.

With THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US, though, my first moment of inspiration was the book’s big (no spoilers here!) plot twist, which requires two people to be trapped on a ship together. That got me thinking of a romantic storyline, and the romance I came up with was true to my own (gay male) identity. I continue to be a plot-first sort of writer, but this plot really called for these two boys to be on a ship, falling in love. Cue the gaaaays in spaaaace!

In writing their romance I was inspired by Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, where he writes about how seeing Earth from space “underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another.” Nicole, I’d love to know how our conception of space and (non?) planets works in HOW TO BECOME A PLANET, whether literally or metaphorically or anything in between!

Nicole: When I sat down to write PLANET, what I really wanted to do was show that mental illness can be a lifelong issue. I wanted to let Pluto explore what it meant for her, now that she has this diagnosis, moving forward. How does it change her? Does it change her? What does it all mean? Which, in turn, made me start thinking about Pluto-the-planet. When I was in middle school, Pluto was still a planet, and all of a sudden we were told, “no wait, we changed the definition of what makes a planet, so Pluto doesn’t qualify anymore.” What did that mean? Was Pluto-the-planet suddenly different? No, of course not. The definition changed, but Pluto was exactly the same as it was, and still is, as when I learned about it back in middle school. All of its properties are still exactly the same. Getting a depression diagnosis for Pluto-the-person is just like Pluto-the-planet getting a new definition. It doesn’t change who she is; if anything, it gives her a clearer understanding of who she is.

If you’ll allow me to be sentimental for a moment, having you for a mentor in grad school helped me have a clearer understanding of myself, too, and who I was as a writer and a person–particularly one who writes about queer characters and stories. We also had the privilege of launching Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Writing for Children concentration in their creative writing MFA program, you as a professor and me as one of the first batch of students under that concentration. I learned a lot from you (I’m done stroking your ego after this) and I thought I’d ask, if you could teach student writers like myself only one thing, what would that be?

Eliot:  Oh, please don’t be done stroking my ego! Nicole, one of the things I love so much about Pluto’s story is how you make her depression feel real and intimate and not like some huge crisis that ruins the lives of “other people.” It’s just part of life, and part of being a person in the world. That’s something I love so much about your novels—even though my life experiences might not always match your characters’, you’ve brought me so cleanly and simply into their minds that I still feel this very close kinship to them.

I should answer your question, though! Lately I’ve been thinking that one of the most important things student writers have to learn is the power of withheld information. I feel like every protagonist should have a secret, even if they’re not consciously hiding it. The instinct as a writer is to tell the reader everything about a character’s situation, as quickly and efficiently as possible. But instead I think it’s so much more powerful to hint at all the things the reader doesn’t know yet, and take your time as an author revealing the information, producing dramatic tension all the while. The first chapter of The Hunger Games is a total master class of this, and I think that’s a big part of the book’s huge success. On this craft topic, do you have any thoughts to share about handling backstory and frontstory in the early part of a book? How do you do it in Pluto’s case?

Nicole: In fairness, The Darkness Outside Us also is pretty damn good at doing exactly that–both of your characters have things they play close to the chest, and the plot twists (don’t even think you’ll get spoilers out of me, reader) in your book speak for themself in terms of knowing exactly when to reveal certain parts of the story.

For Pluto in particular, it was important to me to tell a story from the perspective of what happens after the diagnosis. Which meant that I had to decide how much of the first chapter to bog down with what came before the diagnosis. I wanted to explore the results and consequences instead of showing the entire journey that led to the doctors and medications. I introduce the idea that Pluto needs to be tutored over the summer, and that’s because she missed a lot of school. Her best friend Meredith is upset and mad at Pluto, and that’s because Pluto stopped calling and hanging out with her during the school year. These are the things that happened before the novel started that are part of the reason Pluto ended up with the diagnosis, but I didn’t need to spend the time at the start of the book detailing that.

This craft conversation actually reminds me of the essay I had to write for you during grad school, where I analyzed the moment in a handful of MG/YA books where the author “outs” the character to the reader. It’s again one of those important decisions as a writer: when and how do I reveal this piece of information to the reader. Do you remember what that moment is for Ambrose? (This is just a warm up question, don’t get too comfortable.) For Pluto, its revealed by her slowly developing a crush on Fallon, which was nice to write on my end, because Pluto doesn’t really have an “oh, I might be queer” moment. She just has an “oh, I think I like Fallon” moment.

Staying on the craft conversation: my real question for you is, since Darkness is a SFF novel that takes place in an alternative futuristic version of our universe, what was the worst part about having to develop and world build your idea of this future, and, also, what was the best part?

Eliot: I that essay so much! I learned so much from you, working with you on that. And I remember your presentation of it was also about your coming-out journey, and had half of the MFA cohort in tears.

As far as outing Ambrose: he comes from a really progressive country, 400 years in the future. I let myself imagine how far we might have come by then. They’re well past labels at all, so when Kodiak (who’s from a less progressive society) asks Ambrose if he’s gay or bi or what, Ambrose busts out laughing, because the question sounds like it’s out of a historical fiction. That’s one of the things I love most about sci-fi, that you can imagine better futures, not just worse ones. That was the best part, creating a character and giving him a kinder, more inclusive place to live in.

The hardest part was trying to make a believable future, tech-wise. I tried to imagine evolved technologies, but I’m sure someone actually from 400 years in the future would crack up at my version of future tech. Kind of like how everyone in the 1960s was convinced we’d have robot maids and be riding around in flying cars by now.

Nicole, my last question for you: You stopping by Pluto’s house for breakfast, ten years after the events of HOW TO BECOME A PLANET. How’s she doing? (More important: what does she serve you to eat?)

Nicole: Ten years after the events of PLANET, Pluto would be around 23 years old. She’s doing well–she kept up with her therapist and her doctors and took her medication. There were some bumps along the way, because as Pluto learns throughout the course of the book, mental illness isn’t an exact science and things change and she still has her ups and downs. But she knows who she is and she’s proud of it. I don’t think she studied astronomy or a related science when she got to college–I think while she’ll always love her connection to space and still read and learn as much as she can about it, I think she’ll grow to spread her wings a little bit. Astronomy is what connected her with her mom, and they still share that, but I think Pluto would find something to make completely her own. Still in the sciences–maybe health science? Maybe she’s going to be in a lab somewhere someday helping to advance the resources available for kids with anxiety and depression, just like her.

And, of course, she would serve me some sort of breakfast pizza!

Eliot, thank you so much for joining me in chatting about our upcoming releases. I’ve been a fan of yours since that first year at grad school, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be able to sit down and gab about our queer books. Thank you Dahlia at LGBTQ Reads for hosting us!

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ELIOT SCHREFER is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

Nicole Melleby, a born-and-bread Jersey girl, is an award winning children’s author. Her middle grade books have been Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections, recipient of the Skipping Stones Honor Award, and a 2020 Kirkus Reviews best book of the year. Her debut novel, Hurricane Season, was a Lambda Literary finalist. She lives with her partner and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule.

Inside an Anthology: Out Now: Queer We Go Again! ed. by Saundra Mitchell

Today on the site, we’re thrilled to welcome the authors of Out Now: Queer We Go Again! edited by Saundra Mitchell, which releases today from Inkyard Press! This anthology has a little bit of everything queer, so take a gander at the beautiful cover, check out the blurb, and then dig into the authors’ personal stories behind their stories!

Out Now: Queer We Go Again! ed. by Saundra Mitchell

A follow-up to the critically acclaimed All Out anthology, Out Now features seventeen new short stories from amazing queer YA authors. Vampires crash prom, aliens run from the government, a president’s daughter comes into her own, a true romantic tries to soften the heart of a cynical social media influencer, a selkie and the sea call out to a lost soul. Teapots and barbershops, skateboards and VW vans, Street Fighter and Ares’s sword: Out Now has a story for every reader and surprises with each turn of the page!

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

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“Refresh” by Mark Oshiro

I was a freshman in college in Long Beach, CA, when I went on the very date that inspired “Refresh.” Online dating was much sketchier back then, but I had spent weeks talking to a boy my age who seemed so effortlessly cool. I finally mustered the courage to ask if he wanted to meet up, and he agreed enthusiastically. I knew this was risky, so I picked a public meeting space outside of a Metro Station in Hollywood. It took me two trains and nearly two hours to get there, so you can imagine my disappointment when I showed up to discover he had catfished me.

My date did not end as the story does in “Refresh.” I left immediately, feeling scorned and rather foolish. I had worked up so much courage to even come, doubting that I was handsome enough or interesting enough for this person. I wrote this story from that place of vulnerability, of not knowing if you are enough for another person, of existing in a world where the politics around the size and shape of our bodies make life harder. It’s a bit of queer fluff, and I had so much fun writing it.

“What Happens in the Closet” by Caleb Roehrig

When I first sat down to begin my contribution for OUT NOW, I outlined the story of a theater kid with a crush on a boy who might or might not be queer—and then I struggled to write it. Even though it was ripped straight from the headlines of my own teenage life, I couldn’t quite connect with the narrative I was crafting. Where were the stakes?

Among my influences as a storyteller, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is probably number one. It was inventive and suspenseful, of course, but it balanced its undead bombast with nuanced and sensitive explorations of very real day-to-day issues. On a season three episode entitled Homecoming, Buffy and her frenemy Cordelia are forced to hash out their longstanding jealousy and insecurities…all while fighting for their lives against vampire assassins. It was a brilliant metaphor for the fishbowl of high school life, and the layered dynamic between the two characters still felt so rich with potential for more.

What if it had been two queer kids trapped together instead, with physical attraction added to the already volatile cocktail of envy and admiration? What if they’d had to navigate those life-or-death problems while also, you know, trying to literally just stay alive?

Eventually, I asked if I could go ahead and lean into it—to write a story about two boys facing their demons (figurative and literal,) where a vampire invasion is only the second-most annoying thing about a ruined school dance; and I am forever grateful to Saundra Mitchell for saying yes. The universe I created for “What Happens in the Closet” was so much fun that I used it as the basis for a full-length novel, (The Fell of Dark, coming in July!) and I hope you love this fun and fang-toothed tale as much as I do!

“Star-Crossed in D.C.” by Jessica Verdi

The idea for this story sparked for me around the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when I saw posts on social media about Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump (two adult children of the two nominees) being friendly in real life. It confused me, honestly, since they seem to stand for very different things. How on earth could they be friends?

But then I wondered, what if Ivanka did secretly agree more with Chelsea and her mother Hillary more than she let on in public—if maybe she had an obligation to stand by her father’s side, but deep down disagreed with him on the issues. (I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Come on, Jess, Ivanka has made her opinions more than clear.” But this was years ago, before any of that was as blatantly evident as it is now.) And then I wondered, how amazing would it be if Ivanka (or any child of a high-profile conservative politician) had enough of a backbone to buck tradition, and what was expected of them, and publicly announce their support for the other candidate—the more progressive one. How absolutely inspiring and thrilling would that be!

Over time, the real-life inspiration for “Star-Crossed” fell away, and what remains is something a bit more romancey, a lot more queer, and even more wish-fulfilling. It’s my version of a fairy tale.

“Floating” by Tanya Boteju

“Floating” grew directly out of my experience as a high school English teacher. I’m surrounded by teenagers and tend to most notice the kids who seem a little out of place—the ones who sit alone in corners at lunch, who aren’t wholly driven by ‘A’s and university acceptances, who offer up weird and wonderful insights into the literature we’re studying. One student I noticed a few years ago kind of floated through the hallways, seemingly in a world of her own. And having taught her, I also knew she had one of those weird and wonderful minds. I was curious about what her brain was doing as she drifted through the school. The protagonist in “Floating,” Shanti, is my attempt to explore the inner workings of students like this and what it might look like for someone else to be able to reach into those inner workings somehow–as Essie does—but without changing who Shanti is at the core. I wanted Shanti to be able to maintain her wanderings and wonderings, but then to also find a gentle stillness with Essie. That it was two girls finding each other just felt natural to me. Many of the setting details in the story are pulled from my own school too—including the paper swirls that become so integral to the story.

Photo courtesy of Monique Cheung
Photo courtesy of Monique Cheung

“Far From Home” by Saundra Mitchell

I wasn’t going to write a story for my own anthology (I didn’t have one in All Out, either!) but my wonderful editor at Inkyard, Natashya Wilson, really, really, really wanted one. And it’s hard to say no when someone brilliant is saying, “please write a thing for me, I think it would be great.”

“Far From Home” may or may not be great– that’s not up for me to decide. But I did have a lot of fun writing it. I wanted to write a non-binary character, so check, and I wanted the genders and orientations of the characters to be as far from central as possible.

Also, my reviews agree that sometimes, my novels are slow to start. So I wondered, what would happen if I just started with the danger? And that’s how I end up with a non-binary starboi and their pan boyfriend dangling a thousand feet above an empty creekbed, with Men in Black in pursuit.

I love the conversation they have– because we love superhero movies, but I’m not entirely sure we’d be thrilled with actual superheroes. So yeah… write fast, write hard, no mercy! (Well, a little mercy. I love a happy ending!)

“Ready Player One” by Eliot Schrefer

I actually wrote the first incarnation of “Player One Fight!” twenty years ago, and rewrote it to include here. I was 21 at the time, and back then I was prey to a conception that I think a lot of us have when we’re young—that relationships are a form of battle, with winners and losers. That if you do all the moves right, then you’ll come out on top. Through Blake I wanted to look at the early life of someone who still had a lot of room to grow as far as how he treated boyfriends, and himself.

“Victory Lap” by Julian Winters

In “Victory Lap,” Luke Stone is great at everything, but there’s one thing he repeatedly fails at: asking a boy out. Specifically, he hasn’t found a date to the winter formal. His friends are putting more effort into finding him a date than he is. That is until Luke bumps into Milo, a shy classmate who Luke thinks is his perfect match, if he can get the nerve to ask Milo out. And the one person who he knows he can get the best advice from doesn’t know he’s gay yet—his dad.

When I first started writing this story, I had two goals: write a cute love story starring a gay, Black teen who’s still becoming comfortable in his own skin and set it in a barbershop, a place that is well-known in the Black community as a place of comfort, strength, laughter, and discourse. I didn’t plan to write a “coming out” story but the moment Luke sits in his dad’s barber chair, I knew the story I needed to tell. It was an opportunity to show a positive experience between a queer teen and his father, something that isn’t often depicted, especially inside POC communities. QPOC teens deserve to read stories where they feel safe and comforted by their loved ones. And I hope readers walk away from this story feeling lighter, confident, and smiling goofily just like Luke.

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Photo by Jared Hagan

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. The author of nearly twenty books for tweens and teens, Mitchell’s work includes SHADOWED SUMMER, THE VESPERTINE series, ALL THE THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK, a novel forthcoming from HarperTEEN and the forthcoming CAMP MURDERFACE series with Josh Berk. She is the editor of three anthologies for teens, DEFY THE DARK, ALL OUT and OUT NOW. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.