Tag Archives: Jewish

New Release Spotlight: The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

Look, I’m well aware I cannot shut up about this book, but I also cannot shut up about this book, so. To quote my own blurb, “Chillingly sinister, warmly familiar, and breathtakingly transportive, The City Beautiful is the haunting, queer Jewish historical thriller of my darkest dreams.” Whether your holidays are the many Jewish ones we just passed or the upcoming Halloween, or every day with a good book is a holiday to you, this is the book to gift to yourself this month!

Death lurks around every corner in this unforgettable Jewish historical fantasy about a city, a boy, and the shadows of the past that bind them both together.  

The City Beautiful by [Aden Polydoros]Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.

But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.

Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound | Blackwell’s

What’s In A Name? On Writing Jewish Families In Queer Romance, a Guest Post: by Unwritten Rules Author KD Casey

Today on the site, we’re welcoming KD Casey, author of the upcoming Jewish m/m sports romance Unwritten Rules, which releases October 12, 2021 from Carina Press. KD’s here to talk about writing queer Jewish rep, but first, here’s the story behind the book:

Zach Glasser has put up with a lot for the sport he loves. Endless days on the road, playing half-decent baseball in front of half-full stadiums and endless nights alone, pretending this is the life he’s always wanted.

The thing is, it could have been everything he ever wanted—if only he’d had the guts to tell his family, tell the club, that he was in love with his teammate Eugenio Morales. Well, ex-teammate now. When Zach wouldn’t—couldn’t—come out, Eugenio made the devastating choice to move on, demanding a trade away from Oakland. Away from Zach.

Three years and countless regrets later, Zach still can’t get Eugenio out of his head. Or his heart. And when they both get selected to play in the league’s All-Star Classic, those feelings and that chemistry come roaring back.

Zach wants a second chance. Eugenio wants a relationship he doesn’t have to hide. Maybe it’s finally time they both get what they want.

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

And here’s the post!

I have a confession to make as an author: I hate naming characters.

My first drafts are littered with placeholders, brackets, a healthy amount of [name here], and an unhealthy amount of whining to critique partners. Because names are decisions. They reflect characters’ birthplaces, ethnicities, the era in which they live, and socioeconomic class. 

Unwritten Rules, which comes out in October, started as a Gchat conversation with a friend. It’s a conversation I’ve returned to a number of times throughout the editing process, specifically to reflect on the evolution of the book’s main characters, and by extension, their families and histories. 

Both main characters began their lives as placeholder names, as unmade decisions. To get from idle conversation to 100,000 word novel, I needed a (small) push. At my request, my friend provided the following list of names: Zach, Cal, Evan, Mario, Yehuda, Andy, Eugenio, Mike. Each of these signify different things about characters. One can imagine the background and experience of someone named Yehuda differs fairly significantly from someone named Cal

Two of these names eventually became the main characters of Unwritten Rules. The book follows Zach Glasser, a professional baseball player, who unexpectedly reunites with Eugenio Morales, who’s his ex-teammate—and ex-boyfriend.

Along with the decision about names came a lot of information about Zach and Eugenio as histories and backgrounds beyond former partners. Eugenio’s family is from Venezuela, and immigrated to the United States in the late ‘80s. (A few people have asked me how Eugenio is pronounced. Here’s an interview with Eugenio Suárez, a Venezualen infielder on the Cincinnati Reds, where the interviewer says his name a number of times.)

Zach’s name is specifically Ashkenazi Jewish because the character (like me!) comes from a Ashkenazi Jewish family. I didn’t set out to write a Jewish book, but once I decided on Zach’s name, I “knew” a lot about him.

His grandmother immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. His mother drinks tea in a Russian Jewish way: with sugar between her teeth and from a glass mug, not a ceramic one. The book also has a sprinkling of Yiddish, discussions of a ketubah, and an emotionally significant babka. 

In naming Zach, I also realized I was writing a queer Jewish baseball book that would, necessarily, focus on Zach’s relationship with his family. His major conflict was being torn between his family’s wishes for him and professional baseball’s “unwritten rules,” the set of dictates that governs, and limits, players’ lives on and off the field. 

There aren’t a huge number of romance novels, particularly queer, non-YA romance novels, written by Jewish authors about Jewish families. They do exist: Shira Glassman and Jennet Alexander write them. Corey Alexander, alehém hashalóm, wrote them. But they are relatively few in number compared with the vastness (the wonderful vastness!) that is genre romance. 

In general—and this is not limited to works by Jewish authors—I’ve seen queerness with Judaism portrayed in one of two ways: unconditional acceptance or religiously-based intolerance. Both of these are valid, possible experiences, but they aren’t the only experiences. I wanted to write a book where the main character feels the very real Jewish pressures to get married and have a family, but that those pressures come from love and survival rather than bigotry.

Readers, both Jewish and not, come in with their own notions of what Jewish families are like. These notions derive from both personal experience and media depiction, be it realistic or reductive. To be clear, there are pressures: Academically, professionally, romantically. That we should get married. To a doctor. A Nice Jewish Boy or Girl who can love us and keep us. 

These pressures don’t arise from nowhere. If you’ve experienced generational displacement, then it makes sense to pursue professions that are employable regardless of location. Therefore, marrying a doctor isn’t born of some grasping financial instinct but an acknowledgement of trauma and of history. 

So how to portray a family whose love, and anxieties are both valid and limiting? Another early decision I made (spoilers!) is that Zach’s relationship with his family not only survived the book but was deepened and strengthened throughout it. As a queer person, I understand why people write about familial homophobia and rejection. It’s unfortunately a real thing that occurs. If novels are about emotional catharsis, there is a certain satisfaction for a reader when a character stands up to their awful, homophobic family. 

But I’m always left wondering—what then? Whose house do they go to on Rosh Hashanah? Who do they call on Passover when their pesadich (kosher for Passover) cake turns out closer to fudge? Where will they get gossip about their second cousin’s wife’s sister? It’s hard for me to balance the romance requirement of an optimistic ending (in addition to a central love story) with the notion of estrangement. That when a fictional character—for legitimate and understandable reasons—closes that door, what happens the next day? The next year? 

If romance is a genre of hope, then that happy ending had to extend beyond Zach and Eugenio’s eventual reconciliation to Zach’s relationship with his family and his sense of Jewishness. Those were the hardest parts to write. Because Zach’s family is in many ways my own, not in a literal sense, but in a sense of having gone through similar considerations and compromises. 

Without tipping (more) into spoilers, I wanted his family not to be overbearing, uncompromising stereotypes, but real people with real dreams and fears for their child. His mother, in particular, could have easily become the villain of the book: The inflexible, haranguing Jewish woman who is often the only representation we get in media. I wanted her to be sometimes those things and sometimes not those things. More pressingly, I wanted Zach, as her child, to come to see and understand her as much as she comes to see and understand him.

Writing about your own people, your own culture, is often a conversation with stereotypes. Those stereotypes can be challenged or reconstructed, but they are lurking, present, in readers’ assumptions—and my own assumptions. Writing this book became about acknowledging and challenging those assumptions, and about treating characters with care.   

Zach’s mother isn’t based on my own mother, but on the distance I see between the stereotypes about Jewish parents and the realities of actually having them. (Also, Mom, if you’re reading this, I asked you not to read the book because of [redacted], [redacted], and please don’t tell the rabbi about this one, [redacted].)

In writing a Jewish family, I wanted them to be imperfect, and loving, and whole. I wanted to show the work it takes on Zach’s part and his family’s part to provide that optimistic ending, one that’s messy but ultimately hopeful. It was a journey I didn’t expect to go on, but I’m glad I did. And hope you join me for it. 

KD Casey (https://linktr.ee/KDCaseyWrites) is a romance writer and baseball enthusiast living in the Washington, DC area. Her debut novel UNWRITTEN RULES will be published by Carina Press in October 2021 and is available for preorder.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: From Dust, A Flame by Rebecca Podos

Today on the site I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover of Rebecca Podos’s extremely Jewish contemporary bi YA fantasy, From Dust, A Flame, which releases from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on February 8, 2022! Here’s the story:

Hannah’s whole life has been spent in motion. Her mother has kept her and her brother, Gabe, on the road for as long as she can remember, leaving a trail of rental homes and faded relationships behind them. No roots, no family but one another, and no explanations.

All of that changes on Hannah’s seventeenth birthday when she wakes up transformed, a pair of golden eyes with knife-slit pupils blinking back at her from the mirror—the first of many such impossible mutations. Promising that she knows someone who can help, her mother leaves Hannah and Gabe behind to find a cure. But as the days turn to weeks and their mother doesn’t return, they realize it’s up to them to find the truth.

What they discover is a family they never knew, and a history more tragic and fantastical than Hannah could have dreamed—one that stretches back to her grandmother’s childhood in Prague under the Nazi occupation, and beyond, into the realm of Jewish mysticism and legend.  As the past comes crashing into the present, Hannah must hurry to unearth their family’s secrets—and confront her own hidden legacy in order to break the curse and save the people she loves most, as well as herself.

Rebecca Podos, award-winning author of Like Water, returns with a contemporary fantasy of enduring love, unfathomable loss, and the power of stories to hold us together when it seems that nothing else can.

And here’s the cover, designed by Sarah Kaufman and illustrated by Lisa Sheehan!

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | B-A-M

(c) Zaynah Qutubuddin

Rebecca Podos’ debut novel, THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016. Her second book, LIKE WATER, won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s and Young Adult. THE WISE AND THE WICKED, her third novel, was recently released. Forthcoming books include FOOLS IN LOVE (Running Press Kids, 2021), a co-edited YA anthology with Ashley Herring Blake, and FROM DUST, A FLAME (Balzer + Bray, 2022). An agent at the Rees Literary Agency in Boston, she can be found on her website, Rebeccapodos.com.

Happy Jewish American Heritage Month!

Books to Buy Now

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

Cool for the Summer is a story of self-discovery and new love. It’s about the things we want and the things we need. And it’s about the people who will let us be who we are.

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

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan

Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won’t hire her.

Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag named him one of the city’s hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Taking a gamble in an effort to attract more millennials to the faith, the executive board hired Ethan because of his nontraditional background. Unfortunately, his shul is low on both funds and congregants. The board gives him three months to turn things around or else they’ll close the doors of his synagogue for good.

Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems–until they discover a new one–their growing attraction to each other. They’ve built the syllabus for love’s latest experiment, but neither of them expected they’d be the ones putting it to the test.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

The Rabbi Who Prayed with Fire by Rachel Sharona Lewis

Congregation Beth Abraham expected their newest rabbi to “sing some songs and go to an environmental rally.” But Vivian Green has other ideas. She wants her flock to engage meaningfully with their city-special mayoral elections, interfaith breakfasts, fights for affordable housing and all. Also, she would like just one night off to go dancing in the leather boots that make her look like her finest gay self.

Taking on the city’s old boys’ club is already proving difficult…but then Beth Abraham bursts into flames. Fingers get pointed, and everyone’s biases rise to the surface. It turns out that wasn’t the only fire burning in town.

Vivian sticks to her instincts, raising tensions with her boss, her community, and a certain hottie in a power suit. And she learns that knowing whodunnit is only half the battle.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

The Fever King (Feverwake, #1)In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

Buy it: Bookshop | B&N | Amazon

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.

Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.

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

Nine of Swords, Reversed by Xan West z”l

Dev has been with xyr service submissive Noam for seven years and xe loves them very much. Dev and Noam have built a good life together in Noam’s family home in Oakland, where they both can practice their magecraft, celebrate the high holidays in comfort, support each other as their disabilities flare, and where Noam can spend Shabbos with their beloved family ghost.

But Dev’s got a problem: xe has been in so much arthritis pain recently that xe has not been able to shield properly. As an empath, no shielding means Dev cannot safely touch Noam. That has put a strain on their relationship, and it feels like Noam is pulling away from xym. To top it off, Dev has just had an upsetting dream-vision about xyrself and Noam that caused one of the biggest meltdowns xe has had in a while. It’s only with a timely tarot reading and the help of another genderfluid mage that Dev is able to unpack the situation. Can xe figure out how to address the issues in xyr relationship with Noam before everything falls apart?

Buy it: Gumroad | Amazon

The Spy With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

38650956In a nuclear arms race, you’d use anything for an edge. Even magic.

Ilse and Wolf Klein bear many secrets. Genius Ilse is unsure if her parents will ever accept her love of physics. Her brother Wolf strives for a quiet life, though he worries that there’s no place in the world for people like him. But their deepest secret lies within their blood: with it, they can work magic.

Blackmailed into service during World War II, Ilse lends her magic to America’s newest weapon, the atom bomb, while Wolf goes behind enemy lines to sabotage Germany’s nuclear program. It’s a dangerous mission, but if Hitler were to create the bomb first, the results would be catastrophic.

When Wolf’s plane is shot down, his entire mission is thrown into jeopardy. Wolf needs Ilse’s help to develop the magic that will keep him alive, but with a spy afoot in Ilse’s laboratory, the secret letters she sends to Wolf begin to look treasonous. Can Ilse prove her loyalty—and find a way to help her brother—before their time runs out?

Loyalties and identities will be tested in this sweeping fantasy and a fast-paced thriller that bravely explores the tensions at the dawn of the nuclear age.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Sarahland by Sam Cohen

54503493In Sarahland, Sam Cohen brilliantly and often hilariously explores the ways in which traditional stories have failed us, both demanding and thrillingly providing for its cast of Sarahs new origin stories, new ways to love the planet and those inhabiting it, and new possibilities for life itself. In one story, a Jewish college Sarah passively consents to a form-life in pursuit of an MRS degree and is swept into a culture of normalized sexual violence. Another reveals a version of Sarah finding pleasure—and a new set of problems—by playing dead for a wealthy necrophiliac. A Buffy-loving Sarah uses fan fiction to work through romantic obsession. As the collection progresses, Cohen explodes this search for self, insisting that we have more to resist and repair than our own personal narratives. Readers witness as the ever-evolving “Sarah” gets recast: as a bible-era trans woman, an aging lesbian literally growing roots, a being who transcends the earth as we know it. While Cohen presents a world that will clearly someday end, “Sarah” will continue.

In each Sarah’s refusal to adhere to a single narrative, she potentially builds a better home for us all, a place to live that demands no fixity of self, no plague of consumerism, no bodily compromise, a place called Sarahland.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Kissing Ezra Holtz by Brianna Shrum

40879516. sy475 Seventeen-year-old Amalia Yaabez and Ezra Holtz couldn’t be more different. They’ve known (and avoided) each other their whole lives; she unable to stand his buttoned-up, arrogant, perfect disposition, and he unwilling to deal with her slacker, rule-breaking way of moving through the world.

When they are unhappily paired on an AP Psychology project, they come across an old psychological study that posits that anyone can fall in love with anyone, if you put them through the right scientific, psychological steps. They decide to put that theory to the test for their project, matching couples from different walks of high school life to see if science really can create love.

As they go through the whirlwind of the experiment, Ezra and Amalia realize that maybe it’s not just the couples they matched who are falling for each other . . .

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Hollywood powerhouse Jo is photographed making her assistant Emma laugh on the red carpet, and just like that, the tabloids declare them a couple. The so-called scandal couldn’t come at a worse time—threatening Emma’s promotion and Jo’s new movie.

As the gossip spreads, it starts to affect all areas of their lives. Paparazzi are following them outside the office, coworkers are treating them differently, and a “source” is feeding information to the media. But their only comment is “no comment”.

With the launch of Jo’s film project fast approaching, the two women begin to spend even more time together, getting along famously. Emma seems to have a sixth sense for knowing what Jo needs. And Jo, known for being aloof and outwardly cold, opens up to Emma in a way neither of them expects. They begin to realize the rumor might not be so off base after all…but is acting on the spark between them worth fanning the gossip flames?

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

Camp by L.C. Rosen

Sixteen-year-old Randy Kapplehoff loves spending the summer at Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. It’s where he met his best friends. It’s where he takes to the stage in the big musical. And it’s where he fell for Hudson Aaronson-Lim – who’s only into straight-acting guys and barely knows not-at-all-straight-acting Randy even exists.

This year, though, it’s going to be different. Randy has reinvented himself as ‘Del’ – buff, masculine, and on the market. Even if it means giving up show tunes, nail polish, and his unicorn bedsheets, he’s determined to get Hudson to fall for him.

But as he and Hudson grow closer, Randy has to ask himself how much is he willing to change for love. And is it really love anyway, if Hudson doesn’t know who he truly is?

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

The Second Mango by Shira Glassman

32179385. sy475 Queen Shulamit never expected to inherit the throne of the tropical land of Perach so young. At twenty, grief-stricken and fatherless, she’s also coping with being the only lesbian she knows after her sweetheart ran off for an unknown reason. Not to mention, she’s the victim of severe digestive problems that everybody thinks she’s faking. When she meets Rivka, an athletic and assertive warrior from the north who wears a mask and pretends to be a man, she finds the source of strength she needs so desperately.

Unfortunately for her, Rivka is straight, but that’s okay — Shulamit needs a surrogate big sister just as much as she needs a girlfriend. Especially if the warrior’s willing to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other women who might be open to same-sex romance. The real world outside the palace is full of adventure, however, and the search for a royal girlfriend quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.

Buy it: Amazon

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

theartofstarvingMatt hasn’t eaten in days.

His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal. But Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger… and he isn’t in control of all of them.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad

Intimacy has always eluded twenty-seven-year-old Maggie Krause—despite being brought up by married parents, models of domestic bliss—until, that is, Lucia came into her life. But when Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home only to discover a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and, along with Iris’s will, five sealed envelopes, each addressed to a mysterious man she’s never heard of.

In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris—who made no secret of her discomfort with her daughter’s sexuality—Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother. Maggie quickly discovers Iris’s second, hidden life, which shatters everything Maggie thought she knew about her parents’ perfect relationship. What is she supposed to tell her father and brother? And how can she deal with her own relationship when her whole world is in freefall?

Told over the course of a funeral and shiva, and written with enormous wit and warmth, All My Mother’s Lovers is the exciting debut novel from fiction writer and book critic Ilana Masad. A unique meditation on the universality and particularity of family ties and grief, and a tender and biting portrait of sex, gender, and identity, All My Mother’s Lovers challenges us to question the nature of fulfilling relationships.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

What If It’s Us? by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

36341204. sy475 Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass

For fans of George and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, a heartfelt coming of age story about a nonbinary character navigating a binary world.

Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin, the reigning US Juvenile figure skating champion, is not a frilly dress kind of kid. So, when Ana learns that next season’s program will be princess themed, doubt forms fast. Still, Ana tries to focus on training and putting together a stellar routine worthy of national success.

Once Ana meets Hayden, a transgender boy new to the rink, thoughts about the princess program and gender identity begin to take center stage. And when Hayden mistakes Ana for a boy, Ana doesn’t correct him and finds comfort in this boyish identity when he’s around. As their friendship develops, Ana realizes that it’s tricky juggling two different identities on one slippery sheet of ice. And with a major competition approaching, Ana must decide whether telling everyone the truth is worth risking years of hard work and sacrifice.

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

You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman

bivis5Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. He works hard – really hard – to make his life look effortless. A failed Calculus quiz is not part of that plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.

Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options.

Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Wide Awake by David Levithan

I can’t believe there’s going to be a gay Jewish president.

As my mother said this, she looked at my father, who was still staring at the screen. They were shocked, barely comprehending.

Me? I sat there and beamed.

Everything seems to be going right in Duncan’s life: The candidate he’s been supporting for president has just won the election. Duncan’s boyfriend, Jimmy, is with him to celebrate. Love and kindness appear to have won the day.

But all too quickly, things start to go wrong. The election is called into question… and Duncan and Jimmy’s relationship is called into question, too. Suddenly Duncan has to decide what he’s willing to risk for something he believes in… and how far he’s willing to go to hold on to the people we hold dear.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman by Abby Chava Stein

44287250Abby Stein was raised in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, isolated in a culture that lives according to the laws and practices of eighteenth-century Eastern Europe, speaking only Yiddish and Hebrew and shunning modern life. Stein was born as the first son in a dynastic rabbinical family, poised to become a leader of the next generation of Hasidic Jews.

But Abby felt certain at a young age that she was a girl. She suppressed her desire for a new body while looking for answers wherever she could find them, from forbidden religious texts to smuggled secular examinations of faith. Finally, she orchestrated a personal exodus from ultra-Orthodox manhood to mainstream femininity-a radical choice that forced her to leave her home, her family, her way of life.

Powerful in the truths it reveals about biology, culture, faith, and identity, Becoming Eve poses the enduring question: How far will you go to become the person you were meant to be?

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | IndieBound

The Wife in the Attic by Rose Lerner

54369673. sx318 Goldengrove’s towers and twisted chimneys rose at the very edge of the peaceful Weald, a stone’s throw from the poisonous marshes and merciless waters of Rye Bay. Young Tabby Palethorp had been running wild there, ever since her mother grew too ill to leave her room.

I was the perfect choice to give Tabby a good English education: thoroughly respectable and far too plain to tempt her lonely father, Sir Kit, to indiscretion.

I knew better than to trust my new employer with the truth about my past. But knowing better couldn’t stop me from yearning for impossible things: to be Tabby’s mother, Sir Kit’s companion, Goldengrove’s new mistress.

All that belonged to poor Lady Palethorp. Most of all, I burned to finally catch a glimpse of her.

Surely she could tell me who had viciously defaced the exquisite guitar in the music room, why all the doors in the house were locked after dark, and whose footsteps I heard in the night…

Buy it: Audible

The Papercutter by Cindy Rizzo

A deeply polarized and ungovernable United States of America has separated into two nations―the God Fearing States (GFS) and the United Progressive Regions (UPR).

Judith Braverman, a teenager living in an Orthodox Jewish community in the GFS, is not only a talented artist accomplished in the ancient craft of papercutting, she also has the gift of seeing into peoples’ souls―and can tell instantly if someone is good or evil.

Jeffrey Schwartz has no love for religion or conformity and yearns to escape to the freedom of the UPR. When he’s accepted into an experimental pen pal program and paired with Dani Fine, an openly queer girl in the UPR, he hopes that he can finally find a way out.

As danger mounts and their alarm grows, Judith embeds a secret code in her papercuts so that she and Jeffrey can tell Dani what’s happening to Jews in the GFS without raising suspicions from the government. When the three arrange a quick, clandestine meeting, Jeffrey is finally faced with the choice to flee or to stay and resist. And Judith is reeling from a pull toward Dani that is unlike anything she has ever felt before.

Buy it: Amazon

Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern

53417444. sy475 When an unprecedented hurricane devastates the city of Houston, Noah Mishner finds shelter in the Dallas Mavericks’ basketball arena. Though he finds community among other queer refugees, Noah fears his trans and Jewish identities put him at risk with certain “capital-T” Texans. His fears take form when he starts seeing visions of his great- grandfather Abe, who fled Nazi Germany as a boy. As the climate crisis intensifies and conditions in the shelter deteriorate, Abe’s ghost grows more powerful. Ultimately, Noah must decide whether he can trust his ancestor ⁠— and whether he’s willing to sacrifice his identity and community in order to survive.

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

Books to Preorder

Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow (June 8th)

Would-be amusement park aficionado Dalia only has two items on her summer bucket list: (1) finally ride a roller coaster and (2) figure out how to make a new best friend. But when her dad suddenly announces that he’s engaged, Dalia’s schemes come to a screeching halt. With Dalia’s future stepsister Alexa heading back to college soon, the grown-ups want the girls to spend the last weeks of summer bonding–meaning Alexa has to cancel the amusement park road trip she’s been planning for months. Luckily Dalia comes up with a new plan: If she joins Alexa on her trip and brings Rani, the new girl from her swim team, along maybe she can have the perfect summer after all. But what starts out as a week of funnel cakes and Lazy River rides goes off the rails when Dalia discovers that Alexa’s girlfriend is joining the trip. And keeping Alexa’s secret makes Dalia realize one of her own: She might have more-than-friend feelings for Rani.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

I Kissed a Girl by Jennet Alexander (August 3rd)

Lilah Silver’s a young actress who dreams of climbing out of B-list stardom. She’s been cast as the “final girl” in what could be her breakout performance…but if she wants to prove herself to everyone who ever doubted her, she’s going to need major help along the way.

Noa Birnbaum may be a brilliant makeup artist and special effects whiz-kid, but cracking into the union is more difficult than she imagined. Keeping everyone happy is a full-time job, and she’s already run ragged. And yet when the beautiful star she’s been secretly crushing on admits to fears of her own, Noa vows to do everything in her power to help Lilah shine like never before.

Long hours? Exhausting work? No problem. Together they can take the world by storm…but can the connection forged over long hours in the makeup chair ever hope to survive the glare of the spotlight?

Preorder: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | Books-A-Million

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros (September 7th)

Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.

But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.

Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.

Preorder: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound | Blackwell’s

Books to Add to Your TBR

Exclusive Cover Reveal: The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

Once you see the cover, it’ll become quickly clear why it feels so extra special to be able to introduce to you The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros, a queer, Jewish historical YA thriller that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about in weeks. It releases from Inkyard Press on September 7th, and I could not encourage you more strongly to use the preorder links below! Here’s the story:

Death lurks around every corner in this unforgettable Jewish historical fantasy about a city, a boy, and the shadows of the past that bind them both together.  

Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.

But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.

Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.

And here’s the magnificently Gothic cover designed by Mary Luna with art direction by Erin Craig!

Yes, that is my blurb on there! “The City Beautiful is the haunting, queer Jewish historical thriller of my darkest dreams.” Extremely accurate!

Preorder: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound | Blackwell’s

(c) Melanie Elise Photography

Aden Polydoros grew up in Illinois and Arizona and has a bachelor’s degree in English from Northern Arizona University. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys going to antique fairs and flea markets. He can be found on Twitter at @adenpolydoros.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: The Papercutter by Cindy Rizzo

Today on the site we’re revealing the cover of The Papercutter by Cindy Rizzo (author of Exception to the Rule), which kicks off the Split series, about a divided United States in a Dystopian future. It releases from Bella Books on June 22, 2021, and here’s the story:

A deeply polarized and ungovernable United States of America has separated into two nations―the God Fearing States (GFS) and the United Progressive Regions (UPR).

Judith Braverman, a teenager living in an Orthodox Jewish community in the GFS, is not only a talented artist accomplished in the ancient craft of papercutting, she also has the gift of seeing into peoples’ souls―and can tell instantly if someone is good or evil.

Jeffrey Schwartz has no love for religion or conformity and yearns to escape to the freedom of the UPR. When he’s accepted into an experimental pen pal program and paired with Dani Fine, an openly queer girl in the UPR, he hopes that he can finally find a way out.

As danger mounts and their alarm grows, Judith embeds a secret code in her papercuts so that she and Jeffrey can tell Dani what’s happening to Jews in the GFS without raising suspicions from the government. When the three arrange a quick, clandestine meeting, Jeffrey is finally faced with the choice to flee or to stay and resist. And Judith is reeling from a pull toward Dani that is unlike anything she has ever felt before.

And here’s the cover, designed by Kayla Mancuso!

Preorder on Amazon

Cindy Rizzo is the author of three novels, Getting Back (2015, Ylva Publishing), Love Is Enough (self-published, 2014), and Exception to the Rule (self-published, 2013), which won the 2014 Goldie for Best Debut Author. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Unwrap These Presents (Ylva), Conference Call (Bella Books), Language of Love (Ylva), and Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars (Flashpoint Publ.). Cindy has a long career in social justice philanthropy and has served on the boards of many LGBTQ organizations, including currently, Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE). She is a member of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue. She lives in NYC with her wife and their three cats.  They have two adult sons and three wonderful granddaughters.

Exclusive Cover and Excerpt Reveal: Eight Kinky Nights by Xan West

I am delighted to have Xan West back on the site today to reveal the cover of their newest Romance, which just happens to take place during Chanukah! Eight Kinky Nights is a kinky polyamorous f/f Romance releasing just in time for the holiday on December 16, 2019, and includes friends to lovers, roommates to lovers, kink lessons, seasoned romance and getting your groove back tropes, and polyamorous, gray ace, pansexual, Jewish, fat, autistic, and disabled representation. (More details in the tags.) Here’s the official blurb, with content warnings located here:Newly divorced stone butch Jordan moves into her friend Leah’s spare room, ready, at 49, to take on a new job and finally explore kink and polyamory. But moving to NYC during the holidays sends grief crashing through her, and Jordan realizes that when she isn’t solely focused on caring for others, her own feelings are unavoidable. Including her feelings for Leah.

51-year-old queer femme Leah, an experienced submissive kink educator who owns a sex shop, has recently come to terms with being gray ace and is trying to rework her life and relationships to honor that.

Leah has a brainstorm to help them both: she offers Jordan eight kink lessons, one for each night of Chanukah, to help Jordan find her feet as a novice dominant, and to create a structured space where Leah can work on more deeply honoring her own consent, now that she knows she’s gray ace.

She’d planned to keep it casual, but instead the experience opens cracks in the armor Leah’s been using to keep people at a distance and keep herself safe. Now she needs to grapple with the trauma that’s been impacting her life for years.

Can these two autistic queers find ways to cope with the changes they are making in their lives and support each other, as they build something new they hadn’t thought was possible?

Preorder: Gumroad | Amazon

And here’s the warm, lovely, kinky cover, illustrated by Hannah Zayit!

But wait, there’s more! Here’s an excerpt!

“So I had this idea and I wanted to see what you thought about it,” Leah said.

“Okay, I’m listening.”

“I was thinking about Chanukah, and had this idea for a present for you. You said you wanted to learn how to be a good dominant. I thought I could give you lessons, as your present. One lesson per night of Chanukah.”

Jordan felt her eyes go wide. She really had not been expecting that. “But, I thought you didn’t want to, so you told Iris to do it.” She hadn’t even decided to say that, had just blurted it out. It probably came out wrong. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.”

“No, no it’s fine. I just want to make sure I understand what you meant. You thought I was rejecting you?”

“Well. Yeah. I mean, I’m used to it. You never took me to kink things. You didn’t really want me to go to your class. You seemed all weird after the party.”

“Oh, fuck. I’ve made a mess of this. I’m sorry. I didn’t take you to kink things because I was trying to be respectful of your vanilla-ness. Now that I know you’re kinky…I think I’ve been playing catch-up. I don’t change how I think of things very fast, you know that about me. So…I’ve acted all weird, not because I’m rejecting you, but because I’m awkward with change.”

“That’s the only thing that’s going on? Nothing else is making this weird?” Jordan wanted to be sure.

“Well, I think that’s the main thing that’s going on.”

“Uh huh.” Jordan knew there was something else.

“There’s this other thing I’ve been dealing with, and I’m still figuring out how to handle it. It might’ve had some splash over.”

“Okay. Do you want to tell me about it?”

“I’m not sure I have the words. But yeah I would, maybe. Though not right this minute.”

“Okay. So you really want to give me kink lessons? I don’t want you to feel obligated.”

“Yes, I really want to.”

“That would actually be great. It was okay getting stuff for my toybag with Iris, and I like her and everything, but if you were up for teaching me, I think that would feel…safer, if that makes sense?”

“Yeah, I get that. We have such a deep friendship, it could make a safer place to learn.”

Jordan nodded. “I trust you, and it feels better learning from another autistic person, honestly. You won’t expect me to learn in an allistic way.”

Leah grinned at her. “I definitely will not expect that. I didn’t even consider that aspect of this.”

“It feels like a big deal, for me anyway. I haven’t had the best learning experiences. You know that, you saw how hard college was for me.”

“Yep, I remember. So I was thinking about eight lessons, one per night, though eight nights in a row might be too much, so they can always be postponed.”

“Sounds good.”

“How would you feel about a structure where I do some teaching, then we do a short scene where you get to practice what we covered? And then we could do follow-up, if you have questions or want feedback.”

“So a bit like where Iris taught me some safety stuff about clips, and then I got to try it out?”

“Yeah, but a bit more formal than that. I might even make a handout for the lesson, and it would be a bit longer, probably. Not quite so quick and dirty.”

“I do better if I get to practice, and a handout would help me, actually. I also get things better if you can lead me to realizing them myself, and help me connect to other things I know.”

“Okay, I can work with that. So it sounds like this is something you want to do, then?”

Jordan took several slow breaths and held the idea for a few moments, just to be sure. “Yes. This is a really wonderful present, Leah.”

“I want to be sure it doesn’t fuck things up with our friendship. You mean so much to me, Jordan. I don’t want this to ruin what we have. So we need to keep it strictly about learning, okay?” Leah’s voice was raw.

“I don’t want us to ruin what we have, either. It’s been thirty years, darlin’. We made it this far; I really think we’ll be okay. Our friendship might change, might have new layers to it, move slightly differently. But then, that’s already started, and it seems okay so far, yes?”

Leah nodded. “I might need you to reassure me about this,” she whispered, closing her eyes.

“I can do that. We have a solid foundation. I truly believe that. We’re just adding new aspects to what we already have. Sex, kink, romance…none of that is more important than friendship.” Jordan watched Leah’s face carefully to see how she reacted to the fact that she’d snuck the word romance in there. A small tentative smile grew on Leah’s face, like she was rolling the words around in her head, wanting to believe in them. She definitely didn’t seem to object to the word. Jordan would just leave it there, for now.

Eight Kinky Nights is available for preorder from Gumroad and Amazon and releases December 16, 2019!

***

Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time on Twitter.

Xan’s erotica has been published widely, including in the Best S/M Erotica series, the Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “Trying Submission,” won the 2018 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Their collection of queer kink erotica, Show Yourself to Me, will be rereleased soon.

After over 15 years of writing and publishing queer kink erotica short stories, Xan has begun to also write longer form queer kink romance. Their recent work still centers kinky, trans and non-binary, fat, disabled, queer trauma survivors. It leans more towards centering Jewish characters, ace and aro spec characters, autistic characters, and polyamorous networks. Xan has two other queer kink romances currently available: Nine of Swords, Reversed and Their Troublesome Crush.

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.

***

 

 

 

New Release Spotlight: Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

One of my favorite things about blogging is pushing myself into reading new things, and I could not have made a better choice for my first graphic novel than Mooncakes, written by Suzanne Walker and drawn by Wendy Xu. This book is a freaking delight, targeted to a YA audience and featuring a queer hard-of-hearing witch who lives with her grandmas and is delighted at the return of her old friend, a non-binary werewolf. Together, they fight a demon and celebrate Jewish and Chinese heritage and honestly it is all just glorious! 

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Inside an Anthology: Keep Faith ed. by Gabriela Martins

Keep FaithKeep faith, in the broad sense of the word. It doesn’t have to be a religion, unless you want it to be. It doesn’t have to speak about the universe, unless you want it to. It doesn’t have to be about anyone but yourself. Keep faith, in other planets and other houses; be it in the face of danger, grief, or while you spread your arms and laugh. Keep faith the same way you keep hope, bright and shiny, ever present. Keep faith in all your queer, beautiful self. Because you deserve it.

This is an anthology of 14 short stories, by 14 queer authors, where faith and queerness intersect. Incidental, purposeful, we-exist-and-that’s-why queerness. And faith meaning whatever you want it to mean.

Buy now!

“And I Entreated” by Bogi Takács

In “And I Entreated,” nonbinary trans kid Gil is preparing for their bar mitzvah on a cramped space station, while their mom Shoshana has turned into a houseplant. “And I Entreated” is a fun story, but it also tackles some serious issues, like how trans people can have different feelings about misgendering, how traditional Jewish observance interacts with nonbinary gender, and whether to keep the term “bar mitzvah” – which is gendered in itself.

I have been writing a lot of stories that are about Jewishness and growing up, in one way or another; and also incorporating trans and/or intersex aspects. And I confess I always wanted to write a story from the perspective of a houseplant! So this time I put the two together. While I was working on “And I Entreated,” our kid was also preparing for his bar mitzvah. Our household is very different – we are two trans parents, for instance –, but some aspects of Jewish family life are similar regardless. Including the endless practicing of the Torah reading: like Gil’s mom, I also know our kid’s Torah portion backwards, forwards, upside down… His bar mitzvah went great, and I have no doubt that Gil’s will too. With this story, I’d like to offer a bit of warmth and belonging to everyone around the world, regardless of religious affiliation.

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“Bigger Than Us” by Megan Manzano

“Bigger Than Us” is about two teenaged girls, Jude and Mari, who have to face a reality they had been ignoring since they were children⁠—Jude could be a Mage. In the country of Aurora, Mages are reincarnations of Gods and are immediately whisked away by the government to become servants of the people. Jude always believed she was meant for this path, but falling in love with Mari threw a rather large wrench in her future. She has to reconcile being a Mage with her love for Mari and if ultimately, either is worth keeping.

While we may not be in a fantasy world like Jude and Mari, it was important to show not every decision is black and white. As a teenager, and especially getting older, we tend to question systems in place and the responsibilities they’ve placed on our shoulders. My hugest motivator for “Bigger Than Us” was teasing out these nuances and making the reader ask what happens when your faith in something is shaken, especially by someone you love.

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“Droplets Of Starlight” by Vanshika Prusty

“Droplets of Starlight” is a short story about Payal, a girl who is head over heels, struggling with her heart and her society. We follow her, an almost eighteen-year-old girl who is bisexual, and who struggles with understanding how she fits into her Indian society because of her sexuality.

Set in New Delhi during the monsoon, “Droplets of Starlight” will take you on a quiet journey of struggle, acceptance and love all under thunderous clouds and starry night skies.

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“Godzilla” by Kate Brauning

I love this story because I love Halloween– I never got to trick-or-treat as a child (though I go every year with my nieces and nephews now!), so it was fun for me to write that into reality. I pretty quickly knew I wanted to write Emily’s story because while in some countries progress toward safety and acceptance has been made for queer kids, even in those places, adolescents find themselves dealing with really complex and difficult situations, often from lacking the relationship modeling cis-gendered, straight people their age often have. Churches meaning to be accepting and welcoming too so often hold their LGBTQ members up like mascots or poster children of their own progressiveness, and the spotlight is a hard place to be as you learn who you are and how to love. An anthology like this full of hard and transformative and hopeful moments about this intersection between faith and queerness is priceless, and I’m so honored to have been able to celebrate that through Emily.

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“Golden Hue” by Mayara Barros

My story is about finding hope in the unknown and what happens when you die. It’s set in a fantasy world, where people have powers, but technology has also developed to about our current era. Even with all that, there are still mysteries that neither science nor magic can solve.

I lost my grandmother last year and it still hurts some times. She never knew about by queerness, so I guess I wrote this story to tell myself she still loves me wherever she is.

***

“How Not To Die (Again)” by Gabriela Martins

Do you ever just have a crush on someone and deny it so hard that you totally die? Because Margô can’t take all the dying anymore. Every single time she denies her feelings for Josie, the universe flips her off by killing her in a yet more ridiculous way.

I wrote this short story because I think we all deserve some sapphic joy, especially romcom style. Especially ridiculous. Especially Brazilian. Especially trans. Anyway, there’s a lot we deserve! Faith in this story comes very much in the form of having faith in yourself. … because, don’t you doubt it. If you keep self-sabotaging (YOU. You know I’m talking about you!), the universe will find a way to teach you a lesson.

***

“Life Is A Story Of Change” by Elly Ha

Even when she didn’t know the terminology as a young teen, she knew she was ace and aro. Knowing she’ll always be ace, she never expected to doubt herself. Especially not when she gets to college and starts to fall in love with her best friend of almost a decade. What changed? Are her anti-depressants clearing her head so that she can focus on her own long-lost feelings? Is she simply maturing? Are her Korean parents right, and she’s finally found The One? The scarier question continues to gnaw at her: is she still ace if she feels attracted to him this way?

“Life is a Story of Change” is a semi-autobiographical story at the intersection of mental illness, sexuality, and personal faith. I wrote it from my personal experience with self-doubt in questioning my sexuality once I fell in love with who I can only describe as my ride-or-die partner. Despite that I am happily in love, I also endure occasional existential crises, always asking myself, “What am I, if not ace and aro?” For others who end up questioning their hearts, I hope that this story serves as a reminder that you are valid no matter where you land on the a-spectrum. You can be a little ace or entirely ace, or, like me, you can just be sure that you’re not not ace.

***

“Nothing Left Standing” by C. T. Callahan

“Nothing Left Standing” is the story of a queer teen, who—facing abuse and bigoted parents at home—decides to run away with his boyfriend for a chance to find his happily ever after. It’s a story about coming from trauma and pain and learning to put your faith in someone else. And essentially, it’s about that struggle of wanting to be optimistic and proactive, and the fear that that’s naive and you’re just going to get hurt again.

I have a very complicated relationship with religion and capital “F” Faith, so when I was asked to write a story about holding on to faith, I was instantly reminded of my life in high school. I went to a Catholic high school, and while my friends were all praying to God, I was constantly putting my faith in other things—music, people, fiction, etc. In the long run, it’s probably easier to have faith in religion because you aren’t looking at a flawed person who’s guaranteed to mess up, but I’d been so betrayed by it that my last resort was putting faith in people with the constant fear that it was only a matter of time before they let me down. And so I wrote this story to explore that fear, the feeling of sitting on a ledge and knowing it’s only a matter of time before you fall, but doing it anyway because that’s what faith is about, and when your life refuses to give you something to have faith in, sometimes you just have to make your own.

***

“On The Other Side” by Shenwei Chang

“On the Other Side” is a story that draws on my own experiences with Buddhism, which my mom’s side of the family practices. It’s not a very commonly portrayed religion, so I wanted to shine a little light on it. My story doesn’t dig super deep into the belief system, but it does touch on a some of the rituals (disclaimer: Buddhism is an extremely diverse religion/spiritual tradition, so I’m limited to portraying the ones I know).

I also wanted to depict the experience of having an ambivalent relationship with faith and religion that I haven’t seen very often when it comes to fiction. This story is dedicated those of us who are half-familiar and half-ignorant when it comes to our parents’ faiths, who have some exposure but not enough to feel entirely comfortable in a religious setting, who are receptive to immersing ourselves more in it but don’t know how or where to start. This story is also dedicated to all the queer people who wanted to come out to one or both of their parents but didn’t get the chance to because their parent(s) passed away before they could. It’s hard to cope with not knowing how your parent(s) would have reacted and not being able to share something so intimate and important with them. I want those people to know they’re not alone.

***

“Read The Room” by Sofia Soter

“Read the Room” features many of my favorite things: clueless teens, rituals, queerness and polyam crushes. It’s a short and sweet story, centered around Jo, a girl whose experiences with love and spirituality mirror my own in many ways; there’s specificity to her world and life that I sometimes shy away from writing, worrying about how (un)relatable it might be, but I hope it resonates with readers who are—like me, like Jo—looking for connection with others and themselves.

***

“Ten Steps To Becoming A Successful Blogger” by Julia Rios

I’ve been thinking about influencers a lot lately. It’s fascinating to me how and why certain people become cultural touchpoints, and what that means, both for them, and for their followers. In times of difficulty, we can look for messages all around us, and I wanted to think explicitly about the messages I give and the ones I listen to. It’s easy to dismiss Instagrammers and YouTubers as shallow and frivolous, but I think they can be doing good and important work, and I wanted to explore why and how that might happen for queer people who feel isolated in their daily lives. Also, I just really love the idea of a Bigfoot makeover. Glam Bigfoot!

***

“The Language Of Magic” by Adiba Jaigirdar

“The Language Of Magic” is the story of Asha, a Bangladeshi teen in Ireland, who wakes up in the early morning of the new year to a hint of magic in the air. The magic presents her with a vision of her grandmother back in Bangladesh. Motivated by her vision, Asha decides she has to find a way to travel back to Bangladesh, even though she knows it’s almost impossible. But maybe with the help of a stranger, the impossible can be possible.

I was motivated to write “The Language Of Magic” because when I was a kid and living in Saudi Arabia as an immigrant, my maternal grandfather (my nanabhai) suddenly passed away. My Mom was distraught and it was my first major experience with death. But we couldn’t go back to Bangladesh. We couldn’t attend the funeral. We couldn’t comfort my grandmother or the rest of our family. We were mourning but there was so much distance, and that distance created a strange boundary and a sort of emptiness to my sadness. After that experience, I moved to Ireland for good and over time I lost more members of my family. Every time I experienced the same lack of closure, the same kind of distance and emptiness. Unfortunately, this is simply a part of being an immigrant. I wanted to imagine a world where this wasn’t a part of being an immigrant. Where the universe, or magic, wanted to help us out and give us the closure that we need.

***

“The Messenger” by Mary Fan

“The Messenger” tells the story of a woman who transferred her consciousness into a probe in order to explore the multiverse. After years of dimension-hopping alone, she accidentally crash-lands near a pre-industrial civilization and is mistaken for a miracle — a prophesized messenger from the Infinite Spirit. At first, she goes along with it. But when she falls in love with a local girl, she realizes she can no longer keep up the charade.

I grew up atheist—not in a “God is dead” kind of way, but in that religion just wasn’t a thing in our household (probably a byproduct of my parents’ upbringing during the Chinese Cultural Revolution). Yet the studies of religion and faith always fascinated me. I spent years in church choirs both for the music and because I found the rituals fascinating (and was fortunate enough to have very accepting local churches that didn’t care whether their choristers were also worshipers). With “The Messenger,” I wanted to explore the question of just what faith is. And to depict a world where two women can fall in love, and it’s not a big deal.

***

“Whatever She Wants” by Kess Costales

“Whatever She Wants” is a queer fake-dating story about a Filipino teen named Theodora who is asexual and biromantic with a Catholic upbringing. She believes in God as a creator who loves and accepts all people, including those who are queer. The story shows her journey of discovering her sexuality along with her classmates. The story shows her journey toward self-acceptance as she discovers romantic love for her best friend, Magnolia, and for a boy named Alastor. After she and her best friend break up with their boyfriends, they agree to pretend to date each other to make their exes jealous. But the entire, Theodora hides that she’s in love with her. Spoiler: there’s a happy ending to it as they come out to each other and realize that they stopped pretending somewhere along the way.

When Gabhi approached me with this opportunity, I quickly realized the only thing I could write was something personal and similar to my own journey (except being in love with my best friend). I grew up Catholic like Theodora, attending Catholic schools and going to Mass on Sundays. And like Theodora, as I started understanding myself and my sexuality, I realized I couldn’t believe in a God who wouldn’t love all people, especially if He supposedly created us in His image. So I wrote about my doubts and emotions through Theodora and hoped to share a story that resonates with someone else. Plus, it’s always nice to have a chance to write something sweet and fluffy when life is dark and difficult.

***