If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Iran)
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Japan)
Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley (Mexico)
Another Word for Happy by Agay Llanera (Philippines)
Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell (South Africa)
Why There’s No Sex in my Book
(It’s not the reason you think)
by Dianna Gunn
When a lesbian romance emerged partway through Keeper of the Dawn I found myself faced with a difficult decision: do I include sex?
This was a tough decision for many reasons, but none of them were fear of censorship. I have always believed my fiction should challenge boundaries and that having your book banned is a great marketing tool (seriously, there are entire banned book reading challenges). I also come from a fairly liberal family who won’t disown me if they find out there are lesbians or sex or even lesbian sex in my book.
I also believe it’s important to have sex in YA fiction, and not just the fumbling first time or the regrettable one night stand induced by underage drinking. As a preteen, I learned almost as much about sex from fanfiction as I have learned from sex in the intervening years. This fanfiction—primarily written by older women, at least on the archives I frequented—taught me about enthusiastic consent, about how to please different lovers, and even about various fetishes. I believe YA fiction is an opportunity for us to teach these same lessons to the people who need them most, because they certainly won’t learn it from mainstream porn.
What bothered me was the idea of writing a sex scene between these two specific characters. At first I thought it was mainly because I personally have no interest in sex with women, and the technicalities of writing a lesbian sex scene are rather daunting from my angle. I prepared myself to go out and read more (probably fanfiction, let’s face it) sex scenes between two women, even started looking at lists—
And then I realized it wasn’t about the technicalities at all. It was about my characters, specifically the main character, Lai. I already knew Lai had never been attracted to anyone but Tara (yes, she is named after a Buffy character), but as I continued writing I realized Lai wasn’t attracted to Tara in a sexual way. In fact, Lai is asexual.
I knew Lai for years before I came to this realization, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise. The only reason it took me so long to discover Lai’s asexuality is that when I originally wrote Keeper of the Dawn, I had no idea what asexuality was. It’s a concept that only came into my awareness about two years ago, which is crazy considering that I’ve been hanging out in queer communities since I was 15.
The world Tara and Lai live in has no word for asexuality, but I have worked hard to make it clear that Lai is asexual. I’ve been lucky enough to have a publisher who insisted I make it even clearer instead of trying to suppress this part of her personality.
With or without the label, I hope Keeper of the Dawn will show readers that romantic relationships can be powerful without sex.
Sometimes failure is just the beginning.
All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.
From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.
Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.
Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.
Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.
Lai practiced until well after dark, ignoring the call for supper. She tore a massive hole into one of the dummies with a training sword in her rage, but it didn’t make her feel better. She had spent most of her life training for this day, and Kaiden ruined it with a few words about their father.
Eventually she gave up and collapsed in a heap on the ground, pulling her knees up to her chest so she could rest her chin on them. She forced herself to breathe deeply, using all her willpower to push the rage into the ground. Bit by bit it drained into the soil around her, dispersing harmlessly.
She sat like that in the clearing until clouds engulfed the stars and rain started pouring, one of the last rains before the dry weeks of summer. Lifting the hood of her robes to cover her head, she rose and hurried towards the temple.
Her left foot caught on something and Lai flew through the air, losing her grip on her sword and landing face first in a puddle. Her nose shattered when it smashed into the tough ground, and when she grabbed it to feel the damage her hand came away covered in equal parts mud and blood. Her stomach churned as she picked herself back up, her whole body aching.
Something sharp pierced her back, tearing into her skin and muscles like sharp fire. She screamed and fell face first to the ground. She caught herself on her forearms, avoiding bashing her head against the rocky path.
Lai’s attacker pulled the knife out of her shoulder. She screamed as warm blood flowed freely down her back, mixing with the rain. Fiery agony filled her body, blurring her vision. She gritted her teeth and flipped over to face her attacker.
She froze at the familiar sight of white robes with golden cuffs. Another initiate. Her hood hid her face completely.
Lai gathered her strength with a deep, ragged breath and reached for her training sword. The initiate kicked Lai in the back then stomped on her wrist, grinding bone under her boot, sending sharp waves of pain up Lai’s arm.
“You understand, it has to be me.”
Lai knew that voice, but she couldn’t focus on it through the pain, couldn’t remember who it was.
The initiate seized a clump of Lai’s hair and yanked her head backwards. She knelt and raised her knife towards Lai’s exposed throat.
Something knocked the initiate into Lai’s back. Black spots appeared at the edges of her vision as agony surged outward from her wound. The other initiate didn’t move, suffocating Lai with her weight. Lai tried to lift herself up with her elbows, but a fresh wave of pain knocked the wind out of her. She collapsed onto her stomach and closed her eyes, willing her body to die quickly.
Dianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She blogs about writing, creativity and books athttp://www.thedabbler.ca. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiannaLGunn or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dlgunnauthor/.
BUY KEEPER OF THE DAWN
When the emperor of Eveinia is murdered alongside his heir, the kingdom’s twelve nations are thrown into chaos. A fortnight later, a young woman wakes up with no memories, having been unwittingly selected for an impossible mission—to track down the chosen successor from each nation and appoint one as the emperor. If she fails, she may never be able to return to her old life.
But a dark order is emerging. Hunted by assassins and escorted by a stableboy, Lia sets out on a journey to uncover the truth about who she is and why she was chosen.
Her first target is Jade, the beautiful but mischievous princess of Sperath. Disguised as her maidservant, Lia must navigate the treacherous waters of the court, her daunting task, and a growing closeness with Jade. When suspicious poisonings begin to plague the castle, it’s up to Lia to find the culprit, or else risk failing her mission—and losing Jade entirely.
Buy it: Amazon
Months after saving Jamie and Deanna from crywolf, Kiara and her brother Cole have moved into the city. While clubbing one night, Kiara is stunned to see her ex, Taryn, on stage. But before she can react, Jamie notices a distinctive tattoo in the crowd: an axe rumored to be the mark of the Huntsmen, a group of werewolf-tracking humans. The girls need to leave immediately—and since Taryn is also a werewolf, they need to take her with them.
The Huntsmen are more than a myth, and they’re scouring the city for lone wolves just like Taryn. Until the General North American Assembly of Werewolves lends a plan of action, Kiara’s small pack is on lockdown in Nathan’s apartment building, where she and Taryn must face the differences that drove them apart. Furthermore, the longer the group waits, the more it seems the Huntsmen haven’t been acting entirely on their own.
Buy it: Amazon
Can friendship, Star Trek, drama club, and a whole lot of coffee get two nerdy best friends through the beginning of their senior year of high school?
Meg and Linus are best friends bound by a shared love of school, a coffee obsession, and being queer. It’s not always easy to be the nerdy lesbian or gay kid in a suburban town. But they have each other. And a few Star Trek boxed sets. They’re pretty happy.
But then Sophia, Meg’s longtime girlfriend, breaks up with Meg. Linus starts tutoring the totally dreamy new kid, Danny—and Meg thinks setting them up is the perfect project to distract herself from her own heartbreak. But Linus isn’t so sure Danny even likes guys, and maybe Sophia isn’t quite as out of the picture as Meg thought she was. . . .
Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.
But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?
Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?
Abigail is content with her quiet life as a librarian. But when she’s invited to a high-profile charity auction, she finds herself dancing with one of the most beautiful women she’s ever met. Abby’s sure she’ll never see her again, but then Gabrielle calls and asks her on a date. And soon after, another.
Supermodel Gabrielle Levesque has a reputation as the Ice Queen—cold and untouchable—except she warms up whenever she’s with Abby. Only Abby isn’t interested in the heat between them; she’s asexual, and she’s worried that admitting as much to Gabrielle might spell the end of their blooming romance.
They’re two different women from two very different worlds, but Abby knows she can love Gabrielle. Her passion for books, travel, and theater prove there’s more to the Ice Queen than meets the eye. But they’ll have to overcome Abby’s fears—and Gabrielle’s own threatening secrets—in order to find their way to love.
LESBIAN PIRATES AND SEA MONSTERS. That’s pretty much all anyone really needs to know about this book, other than that it is really damn good, especially if you’re a fan of slow-burn romance and/or an animal lover. I am not at all a sci-fi person, and this was definitely one of my 2016 faves. And the best part? The sequel comes out this month! So get to know Cas and the rest of the badass pirate gang, and make sure you snag The Edge of the Abyss when it releases on April 18!
For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.
There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.
But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA Magical Realism, Latina/Desi, m/f)
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (YA Contemporary, Chinese Australian/Black, f/f)
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (YA Contemporary, Japanese/Latina, f/f)
Wander This World by G.L. Tomas (NA Paranormal, Afro-Latina/Filipino, m/f)
Hold Me by Courtney Milan (NA Contemporary, Latina/Chinese-Thai, m/f)
All links are Amazon Affiliate links; proceeds go back into LGBTQReads.com. All works on this list are from 65-130 pages, for your quick-reading pleasure!
Making Love by Aidan Wayne ($2.99, 79 pp)
The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz ($2.99, 65 pp)
Make Much of Me by Kayla Bashe ($2.99, 84 pp)
We Go Forward by Alison Evans ($4.99, 126 pp)
To Terminator, With Love by Wes Kennedy ($4.99, 125 pp)
Match Point by R.L. Burgess (tennis)
Roller Girl by Vanessa North (roller derby)
Interference by Zoe Reed (hockey)
Crash Into You by Diana Morland (roller derby)
Bonus: Tumbling by Caela Carter has a lesbian POV (YA, Olympic gymnastics), although there is no romance, and the You Know Who Girls series by Annameekee Hesik (basketball) has f/f romance and a lesbian protag but is not a Romance by definition
A&B by JC Lillis (YA, f/f, B)
Grrrls on the Side by Carrie Pack (YA, f/f)
Stygian by Santino Hassell (m/m)
One Kiss with a Rock Star by Amber Lin and Shari Slade (m/f, B)
True Brit by Con Riley (m/m)
Double Bonus: Not a Romance, but Another Word For Happy by Agay Llanera has a gay main character who’s a piano prodigy