Tag Archives: Sim Kern

Gift Guide: Chanukah/Hanukkah 5782

Give a loved one celebrating the Festival of Lights the joy of queer Jewish literature!

The Flower Girl Wore Celery written by Meryl Gordon and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

The Flower Girl Wore Celery by [Meryl G. Gordon, Holly Clifton-Brown]Emma’s so excited to be a bridesmaid at her cousin Hannah’s wedding, but it sure does come with a lot of surprises! She did not expect to have to wear a dress the color of celery, or for the ring-bearer to be a bear, or for Alex, the person Hannah’s marrying, to be a girl, too! But it’s a beautiful day and a beautiful traditional Jewish wedding, even in a dress the color of celery.

Grab this one for your youngest readers, and certainly for any flower girls in your life!

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

A Romanian immigrant named Alter is trying to settle into his new life well enough to bring his mother and sister over, but when his roommate is the latest in a line of Jewish boys found murdered, and his dybbuk takes over Alter’s body in pursuit of the killer, Alter is forced to join forces with the most dangerous (and compelling) boy from his past to find the guilty party, get justice for Yakov, and regain his freedom.

Grab this one for fans of historical fiction (it’s set at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 Chicago at the World’s Fair), thrillers, horror, and anyone who’s regularly immersed in Ashkenazi culture and loves to see it reflected.

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

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan

Naomi Grant knows she’s more than qualified to lecture on sex positivity and her successful startup, but her past as a porn star keeps getting her blocked from opportunities. Enter Rabbi Ethan Cohen, who’s happy to take a chance on Naomi in order to draw interest to and expand his congregation. They are a most unlikely pair, but they’re certainly successful…a little too much so, maybe.

Grab this one for any fans of sexy romance. Don’t be frightened off by the rabbi hero, because I can definitely confirm It Works.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

Controlling her food intake with restriction and ritual is about as religious as Rachel gets, which makes her instant connection with Orthodox, food-loving Miriam of the frozen yogurt shop both confusing and compelling. But while on a therapy-induced hiatus from communicating with her controlling mother, nothing feels better to Rachel than the way Miriam takes care of and nourishes her, even as both struggle with how far this relationship of opposites can possibly go.

Grab this one for the litfic lovers in your life, and anyone coping with complicated relationships with mothers, food (with the obvious content warning in place), religion, or any combination thereof.

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

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Lara’s finally landed Chase, the guy of her dreams, so why can’t she stop thinking about Jasmine, the girl she hooked up with over the summer? And WTF is Jasmine doing at her new school?

Grab this one for tweens, teens, questioning and/or bi friends of any age, and romance lovers.

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

I Kissed a Girl by Jennet Alexander

B-List actress Lilah and makeup artist Noa need to work together to help both of them succeed and move up in their respective food chains in Hollywood. But the more time they spend together, the harder they fall, giving them the brand-new problem of how to handle love in the spotlight.

Grab this one for the Sapphic adult romance lovers in your life!

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | Books-A-Million

Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow

Dalia’s plans for a perfect amusement-park filled summer hit a snag when her blended family-to-be decides it’s the perfect opportunity for some quality time. Which sucks, until Dalia learns her future stepsister’s bringing her girlfriend on the trip, and realizes they have more in common than she thought…and she just might have feelings for her own roller coaster companion of choice, Rani.

Grab this one for younger readers, especially if they’re newly out, love romance, are coping with family blending, or just like fun.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Camp by L.C. Rosen

Randy’s always loved hanging out with his friends and starring in the musicals at all-queer Camp Outland, but this year, he’s reinventing himself as the considerably more masc Del in order to finally land his crush, Hudson. He’s sure that once Hudson falls for him, he’ll be able to shift back into his old personality, but will he? And would it even be worth it if he could?

Grab this for summer camp kids, romance fans, readers hungry for all-queer casts, and anyone who appreciates books for teens that are a little more Queer 2.0. (Also, this one’s available in paperback, making it a good option for readers who prefer them, and also easier on the budget!)

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

Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern

53417444. sy475 When Noah seeks refuge during a hurricane, he immediately clicks with the other queer refugees, but not without concern that his also being Jewish and trans could put a target on his back. Support arrives in the most unlikely place: the form of his great-grandfather, German refugee Abe, who coaches Noah on how to survive and forces him to choose what he’s willing to sacrifice in order to live.

Grab this one for readers interested in cli-fi, Dystopian fans, and anyone looking for rare Jewish and trans rep.

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

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Teen witch Nova lives a lovely small-town life with her grandmothers, but it all turns upside-down when she follows a white wolf into the woods and realizes it’s her childhood crush, Tam, who’s been searching for someplace to land. Now Tam needs help taking down a horse demon and everyone else looking to steal their power, and Nova is up to the task…and finding that her old feelings are very much still there.

Grab this one for fans of graphic novels, books that are spooky yet cozy, and anyone particularly looking for bicultural Jewish representation.

Note: Want to make this an extra-special gift? Grab the collector’s edition!

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

Unwritten Rules by KD Casey

Read more about this book and the Judaism within it here.

Zach Glasser looks like he has a dream life as a pro ball player, but truthfully, he’s miserable over the fact that he lost the love of his life, teammate Eugenio Morales, when he wouldn’t and couldn’t come out three years earlier.  But now they’re being reunited for an all-star game, and Zach’s finally got another chance. Can he be who Eugenio needs him to be without giving up everything else in his life?

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Grab this one for fans of sports, romance, and sports romance!

Don’t see something for your recipients here? Take a glance at this post for a whole bunch more queer Jewish reads!

Going with a gift card this year? Consider pairing it with recommendations for upcoming books, like This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke, Ellen Outside the Lines by AJ Sass!

Prefer to give a donation, or simply won’t get books in time because this blogger decided to do this post at the last minute and swears she’ll be earlier next year but right now this is the best we’ve got? Consider giving to Jewish Queer Youth!

Authors in Conversation: Sim Kern and Cynthia Zhang Talk LGBTQ Rep in Books About Climate Change

Today on the site, authors Sim Kern and Cynthia Zhang are here to talk queer fiction, gender and diaspora identities, and climate change! Sim Kern’s debut, the climate horror novella Depart, Depart!, came out in September 2020; Cynthia Zhang’s debut, the urban fantasy After the Dragons, will be released on August 19th. Both authors are published by Stelliform Press, a small press focused on climate change and culture. Here’s more info about both books:

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

After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang

57544433Dragons were fire and terror to the Western world, but in the East they brought life-giving rain. Now, no longer hailed as gods and struggling in the overheated pollution of Beijing, only the Eastern dragons survive. As drought plagues the aquatic creatures, a mysterious disease—shaolong, or “burnt lung”—afflicts the city’s human inhabitants.

Jaded college student Xiang Kaifei scours Beijing streets for abandoned dragons, distracting himself from his diagnosis. Elijah Ahmed, a biracial American medical researcher, is drawn to Beijing by the memory of his grandmother and her death by shaolong. Interest in Beijing’s dragons leads Kai and Eli into an unlikely partnership. With the resources of Kai’s dragon rescue and Eli’s immunology research, can the pair find a cure for shaolong and safety for the dragons? Eli and Kai must confront old ghosts and hard truths if there is any hope for themselves or the dragons they love.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

And here’s the conversation: please welcome Sim Kern and Cynthia Zhang!

SK: I was struck by how there’s a similar scene in both our books, where the queer protagonist is wondering whether their grandmother would accept them as their whole queer self. In your book, I’m thinking of the scene where Eli visits his grandmother’s grave and comes out to her posthumously. He can’t know how she’d react, but he “likes to think [she] would have been kind about it,” because she had seen the impact of bigotry and close-mindedness on other members of her family. In Depart, Depart! Noah also wonders what his grandmother would’ve thought about him coming out as trans, and he chooses to believe she would have understood him. The similarity of these scenes was uncanny to me. I think many queer people feel alienated from our ancestors, and our ancestral cultures and religions, because we assume they wouldn’t have accepted us. But at least for their own well-being, both our protagonists reject that narrative. That desire to reclaim my ancestors from a queer perspective was a major driving factor behind Depart, Depart! I’m wondering if you had similar motivation for writing After the Dragons? Besides the scene at the grave, are there other places you’re reclaiming your ancestors or your ancestral culture with this story?

CZ: Culture’s a tricky concept in general, isn’t it? On the one hand, it’s often evoked to gatekeep people and police individual behaviors—“our ancestors wouldn’t have tolerated this homosexual nonsense,” etc. What I think is missing in these kind of arguments is the fact that our understanding of tradition is limited and that culture is often more fluid and diverse than we give it credit for. There are people the official narratives leave out, stories that get mixed-up between translations and tellings before they eventually reach the present, in which they’re reinterpreted once again, maybe this time accessing some of the meanings other generations have missed. In Depart! Depart! Noah’s research into dybbuks gives him a way to connect with Jewishness, but it’s also a buried route, one that he has to search for. Against conservative narratives of identity, I think it’s important to remember our understandings of the past are always limited and imperfect.

That’s the abstract, theoretical answer. In terms of After the Dragons, before writing the novel, I don’t think I’d worked too closely with Chinese folklore in my fiction. I knew some of it, of course, from cartoons and books, but it wasn’t familiar in the same way werewolves and vampires were. My Chinese-American experience shares a lot of similarities with that of my cousins in mainland China, but there’s still a significant gap between us, bits of pieces of each other that we don’t quite get. In writing and doing research for After the Dragons, I was searching for a way to lessen that gap, to make myself more familiar with the histories and customs that shaped the way I was raised. It’s not a task that can ever be fully accomplished, but it’s one that I think is worth attempting nonetheless.

In addition to existing within specific cultural histories, our books both also exist within specific genre boundaries and expectations. When it comes to speculative fiction, there’s often the idea that it’s removed from reality – spaceships, Middle-Earth, etc. By contrast, with queer fiction, people tend to expect that it’s going to be broadly autobiographical if not a thinly veiled version of the writer’s own life. With both our books, it’s interesting how both the cli-fi and queer elements complicate this script. Noah is written from your experience of being trans, but he’s not trans in quite the same way you are, even if the transmasc and nonbinary experiences overlap in a lot of ways. On the other hand, the devastating hurricane in Depart! Depart! is in many ways all too terrifyingly real.

The length of this question is quickly approaching “I have a question that’s also a comment” levels, so to follow Carly and cut to the feeling, I’m curious how you feel about the expectations placed on your work as both spec fic and queer fiction. When do you feel comfortable sticking more closely to the facts/your own experience (realism), and when do you feel going a little beyond that (speculation)?

SK: I’m going to echo lots of other queer authors here and say that there has to be room for queer authors to write outside the strict limits of your own gender and sexuality–because writing is often an essential act of queer self-discovery. I figured out I was nonbinary while writing a nonbinary character into my YA novel, four years ago. I wrote Noah’s character at a time when I was wrestling with whether I was truly nonbinary or actually transmasc. I was dealing with some intense gender dysphoria at the time, and I needed to explore those feelings. But after living in Noah’s shoes for a while, I realized I didn’t feel the way he did about his gender. I gained more certainty in my nonbinary-ness. Processing my gender-feelings through writing helped me–and a lot of other authors–come to terms with my own queerness. And I want to make sure to hold that door open for future writers.

All that being said, I don’t think someone necessarily has to be exploring their own identity in order to be “allowed” to write a queer book. I have a story coming out this month in the latest issue of Planet Scumm which features a gay, cis male main character, told in first person. That’s obviously not an identity of mine, or one I could conceivably ever claim, but that’s how the character popped in my brain, wanting to tell his story.

I’m curious if it was similar for you–How did you settle on Kai and Eli for the focus of After the Dragons? Was it a conscious choice to make them both male? And do you feel you need to justify or litigate your right to write outside the boundaries of your own gender?

CZ: It’s been so long since I first started writing the novel that it feels like I’m talking about someone else when I talk about “how this came to be,” but I’ll give it a shot! The first answer is the pragmatic/logistical answer: Eli and Kai are men because quite franky, women and femme-presenting people would not be able to wander around Beijing the way they do. Being a guy in a city gives you a certain level of privilege and freedom that women/fems don’t have in the sense that you don’t have to be hyperaware of the people around you in the same way. It doesn’t nullify all danger, sure, but I also don’t hear my cis guy friends talk about clutching their keys in a parking lot so they can have a weapon in case someone decides to attack them. (Apparently, keys are better as stabbing weapons than as punching ones, so make sure the key teeth won’t gouge into your skin when you’re positioning them.)

The second answer—the vaguer one, but also probably the more honest one—is that when it comes to character creation, I’m not terribly hung up on gender. Eli and Kai came to me as cis guys; thus, they’re guys. When I submitted one of the early drafts of the novel for critique, I got some comments back about gender and whether or not the way these characters navigated the world feels masculine or not. Which is valid criticism (see the above notes on living in a city). But I think there’s also an implicit danger in this line of critique in terms of reifying gender stereotypes. Eli and Kai don’t feel like guys because, what, they’re too touchy-feely? Maybe it’s because most of my friends are some flavor of queer/gender non-conforming or maybe it’s because I grew up identifying with the boy hero protagonists of fantasy novels, but unless it’s something egregious—something like “Caroline considered her breasts, which sagged sadly today”—I generally don’t put too much stock in whether a character feels sufficiently like a particular gender. Certainly, as someone who isn’t part of the gay male scene in Beijing, I know my portrayal of the world is going to be imperfect despite my best efforts. But when it comes to gender more generally? Gender is weird, and we all experience and express it differently. Look at how weird Americans get about K-pop stars! So I suppose the answer is that I write characters who are kind of cavalier about gender because I personally am pretty cavalier about gender.

Honestly, I was more stressed about writing Eli as a Black Asian character, as that’s an experience that comes with its own specific difficulties that I haven’t experienced. In a way, that decision was probably influenced by the fact that one of my college friends whom I love dearly is Barbadian-Japanese-Norweigan, but I wasn’t seeing many characters like them in fiction. When a character’s mixed-race Asian, we tend to assume that one parent is white, but that’s not necessarily always true in real-life, so I guess I wanted to challenge those assumptions a little. I did write Eli’s dad out of his life because I wasn’t confident in my ability to tackle some of the specifics of his relationship to Blackness (but also because I don’t really write father/child relationships in general—see Kai, whose dad is also conveniently out of the picture). I have some ideas for awkward father-son bonding between Eli and the dad he totally doesn’t have mixed feelings towards, but if I were to ever write them, I would do so carefully and with the help of as many sensitivity readers as I can. At present though, this is probably also one section of the narrative that is better left to the exploration of others. All of which is to say, if any readers see themselves in Eli’s story and want to write father-son bonding fanfiction, please do! You’ll probably do it better than I can.

Building on this thread of identity and who gets to say what and for whom, there’s been talk about #OwnVoices lately: who gets to use it and what forms of representation are considered ‘authentic’ enough. As someone’s who Chinese, there were some parts of After the Dragons that I felt definitely comfortable writing. However, as someone who’s specifically diaspora Chinese, there were other parts that were less comfortable (especially considering the last time I visited Beijing was five years ago!) For me, diaspora’s always been a process of questioning your own authenticity, your right to ‘speak’ for a population you only feel partially connected to. Given the role of Jewishness in Depart! Depart!, I was wondering whether you felt any similar feelings when writing the novella? If so, how did you manage to navigate them?

SK: Sure. My whole life I’ve felt “Jewish imposter syndrome,” being a patrilineal, non-religious Jew. I’ve encountered a lot of people (mostly non-Jews, actually) who feel comfortable telling me I’m not Jewish because I don’t meet their criteria for Jewishness. With this book, I decided to confront that ambiguity head-on. Noah feels ambivalent about his Jewishness for all the same reasons I do. He wasn’t raised religious, he doesn’t practice, and yet there’s this way that his Jewishness is powerfully interwoven with his identity. So I think because I was speaking about being an outsider-Jew, who doesn’t tick all the boxes, I felt confident in my perspective.

But I have an idea for another novel, that would be a multi-generational thing, partly set in my ancestors’ shtetl. I actually bought some history books to research it. But that’s as far as I’ve gotten, partially because I’m too intimidated. I’m scared I’m just not Jewish enough to write a shtetl-novel, and that any practicing Jews would be able to see right away that I don’t know what I’m talking about. So I admire your courage in going for it with After the Dragons. There’s a great twitter thread from June Hur about being a diaspora writer, where she relates how her mother responded to her fears that she wasn’t “Korean enough” to write about Korea. She said, “When some diaspora Koreans speak in Korean, they speak with an accent. And likewise, when we write about Korea, there will be an “accent” to our Storytelling. But she reminded me that accents are beautiful. Accents tell a story in itself. We bring in a new perspective.”

I think your “accent” in After the Dragons was beautiful, and it was a story only you could tell. A native Chinese person wouldn’t have told that story better, because it’s not theirs, it’s yours! And I guess I need to tell that to myself and write the dang shtetl book, with my own weird, Texas-Jewish accent.

CZ: That sounds super exciting, honestly! Best of luck with writing it, and I’m looking forward to seeing your Texas-Jewish accent shine through.

Moving from the books into the “real world,” I’d like to talk about a dilemma that lot of socially conscious artists and writers often face, which is how much our work really matters. Stories are important, yes, but because it’s hard to quantify the impact of fiction, there’s sometimes a small nagging voice that says, sure, but what if you devoted your life to NGO work instead? Maybe this is also my background as a grad student speaking, where a lot of angst is devoted to whether writing essays on neoliberalism or the Anthropocene actually does anything in terms of fighting these problems. I’m not sure if this is an issue you’ve dealt with before, but since Depart! Depart!’s been out in the world for a while now, I’m wondering if you’ve been able to see any ways in which the book has had a tangible impact on the real world/other people? Basically, I guess, what are the moments that reassure you about the value of the art we make?

SK: I believe in the importance of climate fiction very deeply. In fact, my faith in the power of stories is probably the closest thing I have to a religion. We cannot create a better world if we cannot imagine one, and writers are the drivers of our collective societal imagination. So I’m a believer in the power of the written word.

But in terms of concrete, tangible things–in the first week after Depart, Depart! was published, a Public Health Response Coordinator shared with me that as a result of reading my book, she was working with the Red Cross in her state to ensure that trans people would have access to safe and equal bathrooms and showers in shelters, that emergency shelters would have LGBTQ+ coordinators, and that evacuees would have access to hormonal medications. I was so moved by that, and if my little book can make even one trans person safer in a crisis, then writing it was worthwhile.

And that reminds me of one of the themes in After the Dragons: Kai is constantly hovering on the precipice of being overwhelmed by the enormity of suffering in his world. Like feral cats, there are so many dragons that are starving, discarded, and tormented–but he resists nihilism and finds his purpose in helping those he can, one at a time. At one point, Eli says, “Kai, you can’t expect everyone to be an activist,” to which Kai replies, “Can’t I?” Were either of these characters speaking for you there? Kai’s story teaches us to manage grief through small, tangible acts of good, and I was wondering in what other ways is this book a guide to channeling climate grief?

CZ: Personally, my view of activism has always been tempered by an awareness of the impossibility of perfection. In the early 2010s, there were a lot of posts floating around Tumblr that pretty hostile towards vegans. Or, maybe less vegans in general than a certain stereotype of them—i.e., self-righteous white women ready to set wild animals free regardless of the effect on local ecosystems. As a vegetarian, it was a weird place to be, but it also gave me a lot of food (ha) for thought when it comes to individual actions and morality even as I disagreed with some arguments. In a food desert, it’s hard to be picky, and there’s something deeply uncomfortable about mostly middle- or upper-class crusaders telling lower-income folks how to live. It’s not impossible to be vegan on a budget (and honestly, the relative cheapness of meat feels is a recent phenomenon—my parents recall only eating meat once or twice a year while they were growing up in rural China), but it’s also important to understand people’s situations as they are. That’s Eli’s side of that exchange, then—the willingness to cut people slack, to realize that sometimes simply surviving itself takes an incredible amount of power.

As for Kai’s side of the story—well. The more I get involved with mutual aid and local organizing, the more respect I have for how much people manage to do even when they don’t have much on paper. Homelessness is a major problem in LA, but overwhelmingly the people I’ve seen do the most for unhoused folks are not millionaires, but ordinary people—some of them earning minimum wage, some of them who’ve experienced or who are experiencing being unhoused. I think it’s important to extend empathy to people when limited mobility or a bad mental health day prevents them from, say, participating in a public protest. But I think it’s also important to remember that the billionaires are not going to save us. It’s our job to take care of each other, in the small, seemingly insignificant ways that it takes. Seeking allies in power is important, as Eli does with Dr. Wang, but it’s ultimately collective action that drives change.

***

Sim Kern is an environmental journalist and speculative fiction writer, exploring intersections of climate change, queerness, and social justice. Their quiet horror novella DEPART, DEPART! debuted from Stelliform Press in 2020. You can find links to all their stories at http://simkern.com.

Cynthia Zhang is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture at the University of Southern California. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kaleidotrope, On Spec, Phantom Drift, and other venues. A 2021 DVdebut mentee, her debut novel, After the Dragons, is out on August 19 with Stelliform Press.

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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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