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)
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
The past year has been great for trans lit by trans authors getting some spotlight time, and for awesome diversity in superhero books (see: Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger, The Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn), so this month’s spotlight is on a book that combines both by starring a trans lesbian protag who inherits a superhero’s mantel when he dies in front of her and sees her body morph into one that reflects her gender as a result!
Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.
It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.
She doesn’t have time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer—a cyborg named Utopia—still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.
Add the sequel to your TBR here!
The great outdoors isn’t so great for Sydney It-Girl Lien Hong. It’s too dark, too quiet, and there are spiders in the toilet of the cabin she is sharing with friends on the way to a New South Wales music festival. To make matters worse, she’s been separated from her companions and taken a bad fall. With a storm approaching, her rescue comes in the form of a striking wilderness ranger named Claudia Sokolov, whose isolated cabin, soulful voice and collection of guitars bely a complicated history. While they wait out the weather, the women find an undeniable connection—one that puts them both on new trajectories that last long after the storm has cleared.
Buy it: Amazon
Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since second grade, and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished.
More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.
Ozzie doesn’t know how to navigate life without Tommy, and soon suspects that something else is going on: that the universe is shrinking.
When Ozzie is paired up with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. But the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings developing between them, even if he still loves Tommy.
But Ozzie knows there isn’t much time left to find Tommy–that once the door closes, it can’t be opened again. And he’s determined to keep it open as long as possible.
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.
Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.
Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?
In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most celebrated new writers.
Buy it: Amazon
My FallenCon agenda is simple: sit on a couple of panels and let people meet the real me. Jesse Garvy—mod of a famous Twitch channel and, if I ever come out of my shell, future vlogger. I definitely didn’t plan to sleep with a moody tattooed fan-artist, but he’s gorgeous and can’t keep his hands off me. There’s a first time for everything, and my first time with a guy turns out to be the hottest experience of my life.
But the next day, I find out my moody fan-artist is Ian Larsen AKA Cherry—someone I’ve known online for years. And he’d known exactly who I was while shoving me up against that wall. Before I figure out whether to be pissed or flattered, the con ends.
Now we’re back online, and he’s acting like nothing happened. But despite the distance between us, and the way he clings to the safety of his online persona, we made a real connection that night. I don’t plan to let him forget.
Buy it: Amazon
“You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.”
Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.
In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.
On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.
But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya’s home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen.
To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.
Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.
But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.
Zane Jaffe has almost lost track of what conception cycle she’s in. (That’s a lie: this is cycle thirteen.) She’s fake-dating her pal Mildred to get her best friend off her back, but judging by how hot it was when they accidentally kissed, her feelings might be somewhat less platonic than she’d thought.
And she’s decided that healing the fractured local queer community can only be accomplished through a party. Or maybe it’s actually a wake. Whatever it is, it’ll take place at Club Fred’s, and there will be alcohol.
Trying to conceive is an unholy rollercoaster of emotions, and Mildred won’t let them kiss again until Zane figures out how she feels. Between the wake (exhausting as hell, and that’s just the fun stuff), the constant up-down cycle of trying to get pregnant, and saving the world in the meantime, Zane has no idea. Fall in love with Mildred isn’t on her list, but maybe it’s time to let go of that rigid future she’s been working toward, and instead embrace the accidents that can lead to something better.
Don’t worry; be happy.
Keep calm and carry on.
Maeve has heard it all before. She’s been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom—the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through—is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver.
Vancouver brings a slew of new worries, but Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, her very pregnant stepmom insisting on a home birth, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen. Will she be able to navigate through all the chaos to be there for the people she loves?
Fin and Betty’s close friendship survived Fin’s ninth-grade move from their coastal Maine town to Manhattan. Calls, letters, and summer visits continued to bind them together, and in the fall of their senior year, they both applied to NYU, planning to reunite for good as roommates.
Then Betty disappears. Her ex-boyfriend Calder admits to drowning her, but his confession is thrown out, and soon the entire town believes he was coerced and Betty has simply run away. Fin knows the truth, and she returns to Williston for one final summer, determined to get justice for her friend, even if it means putting her loved ones—and herself—at risk.
But Williston is a town full of secrets, where a delicate framework holds everything together, and Fin is not the only one with an agenda. How much is she willing to damage to get her revenge and learn the truth about Betty’s disappearance, which is more complicated than she ever imagined—and infinitely more devastating?
Hard Wired (February 13th)
Author: Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell
Genre/Category: Contemporary Romance
Rainbow details: Gay
Why put it on your radar?
Please tell me you’re already reading the Cyberlove series and so this excellent writing duo and their internet-centric m/m Romance series needs no introduction…
10 Things I Can See From Here (February 28th)
Author: Carrie Mac
Genre/Category: Contemporary YA
Rainbow details: Lesbian MC
Why put it on your radar?
This is one of those amazing mental health YAs that digs really deep into the reader’s brain, a la OCD Love Story, and I think it’s gonna be huge for readers with severe anxiety looking to see themselves reflected. Also, gay. Very gay.
The Tiger’s Daughter (October 3rd)
Author: K. Arsenault Rivera
Rainbow details: Lady lovin’
Why put it on your radar?
It’s a Mongolian-inspired Fantasy starring two female warriors who have to save the world from demons. Like. Come on.
The Edge of the Abyss (April 18)
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Genre/Category: YA Sci-Fi
Rainbow details: f/f
Why put it on your radar?
Because it’s a sequel to one of my favorite YAs of last year and I am dying to know the outcome of The Abyss Surrounds Us’s slow-burn pirate romance!
Storm Season (February 2nd)
Author: Pene Hanson
Genre/Category: Contemporary Romance
Rainbow details: f/f
Why put it on your radar?
How cute is the promise of a romance between an Aussie It Girl and park ranger??