Literally nobody on Earth needs me to extol the virtues of Akwaeke Emezi’s writing; pretty sure all their awards and accolades do a fine job at that on their own. But if you somehow haven’t read Pet, their speculative 2019 YA debut starring a Black trans girl who goes hunting for the most insidious kind of monster in a world that’s supposed to be safe from them, I am legally* obligated to make sure you do that, and to remind you that no matter how much increased rep we see in other areas, we’re still not seeing a real increase in transfeminine YA heroines in traditionally published YA novels, and certainly not trans girls of color.
But this isn’t a “read it because the rep is so special” call, even though the rep is so special, and nothing brings on more like increasing the success of what exists; it’s a “read it because it’s one of the only times in my life I’ve ever been completely hooked by a novel on page 1.” Read it because it does something brilliant and special with the gentle way it handles CSA and both sides of the fear and bravery coin. Read it because it’s so damn smart in such a slim profile. Read it because I said so.
Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?
There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with the lesson that the city is safe for everyone. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature who some might call monstrous but, in reality, is anything but, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has emerged from one of her mother’s paintings to hunt a true monster–and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. No one has encountered monsters in years, though, and Jam’s quest to protect her best friend and uncover the truth is met with doubt and disbelief.
This award-winning novel from a rising-star author asks: What really makes a monster, and how do you save the world from something if no one will admit it exists?
You may remember Alex Harrow from their awesome recent cover reveal on LGBTQReads, and today they’re back with one of our favorite topics: found families! In this case, they’re specifically talking about found families in queer spec fic, so I’ll step aside and let Alex take it away, but not before noting that info for their new book, Empire of Light, is at the bottom of the post, so check it out!
Found families top the list of my favorite tropes ever to write. Probably because to me, like many queer authors and readers, found families will always have a special place in my heart. We all create our own found families for a variety of reasons: whether it’s because we’re far away from our biological family, both physically and/or emotionally, or simply because most of us have that tendency to meet others we just click with and decide, “Yes, you’re my people.”
Found families almost always form by accident instead of by blood and that’s what make them so powerful: there’s choice involved here. That conscious (or maybe in some ways unconscious) choice toward connection and community.
Found families are the ones we’ll happily set the world on fire for or just show up with ice cream and rosé at ungodly hours of the morning. They’re the ones that will totally send an extraction team to get you out of a bad date and might not bother getting out of their PJs to hang out with you.
In fiction, especially queer fiction, just as in life, found families are very much the backbone of queer people. They might be cobbled-together, they might be messy, but that just makes us love them even more, because no one exists in a vacuum.
Which is the second reason why I love found families so much: they’re an excellent remedy for tokenism, because when was the last time you’ve ever seen a queer person in isolation? Yeah, I can’t remember either. Even if you are writing a coming out story, I find it very hard to believe that your main character would be the only one. And let’s not forget that creating found families around our characters give so many opportunities to create characters all across different spectrums of identity, sexuality, and so many intersections thereof. There is so much potential in found families, why not use it?
Speaking of, found families aren’t always clear cut, nor should they be: they can be as messy as any other family and friend groups because everyone is different. So, yes, found families can be excellent character motivation, along with backup and community, but they can also be fantastic sources for conflict. How many of us always get along with our friends and family members? Relationships are in constant flux, and this is such a great way to explore change and growth in them. Just because characters stick together and would go through fire for each other doesn’t necessarily mean they always have to like each other, after all.
As both a reader and an author, I’ve always admired writers who manage to weave complex found families together because they allow readers to identify with so many more characters than just their main characters. Found families can and do absolutely become the backbone of stories, just as they become a backbone of our own lives. But in order to do so, they have to be complex, multi-layered, and yes, often messy, because if everything is smooth sailing, where’s the story and conflict in that?
Finally, let’s not underestimate the ways in which found families create homes, both for characters and for readers, because to many of us, that’s exactly what they are. Found families create a microcosm of belonging and an environment for characters to just be themselves and to so many of us, that feeling right there, is everything. It makes all the other stuff absolutely worth it. That’s why I dedicated Empire of Light to found families everywhere: because of all these reasons and more.
Empire of Light
Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.
Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.
To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As Aris slips away from Damian and his control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on. Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one minute and kiss him the next.
With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.
Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.
A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.
Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexHarrowSFF or visit their website at alexharrow.com.
I’m so wildly psyched to have Xan West’s newest cover on the blog today for so many reasons. First of all, dual enby representation FTW. Second of all, Xan’s recs and reviews have helped provide so many titles to this blog, and if you’re not familiar with their bookish website (including the dedicated section of #ownvoices trans reviews), you should be. And third of all, the artist, Laya Rose, happens to be the mastermind behind one of the best Twitter threads ever, which is entirely fanart of wlw books.
So with that said, let’s get to the book, Nine of Swords, Reversed! It’s a speculative romance with a genderfluid/genderfluid pairing (including neopronouns) and includes fat, Jewish, queer, spoonie, and autistic representation, as well as characters who are trauma survivors with chronic pain and depression. Here’s the blurb:
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?
And here’s the cover, done by the fabulous Laya Rose!
It was good to be out of the house, sitting down with Ezra in one of our places, a feast spread before us. Comforting to see our canes leaning against the booth next to each other, to know Ezra wouldn’t let lunch pass without pushing me to tell zir what was going on. Ze had already indicated that in the car, clucking zir tongue over my low maintenance outfit—just a deep purple maxi dress and my sapphire boots—and how tired I looked, demanding I say what would taste the best for lunch, and driving us all the way to Berkeley for it.
A magical herbalist, Ezra favored floral colors. It had started as a joke ze pulled on one of zir first magic teachers, but had evolved into zir signature style. Today, Ezra was of course dressed impeccably, curly dark hair flowing over zir shoulders, nails pale peach and sparkly to match both zir lipstick and zir hat, in a gorgeous white suit with a dark peach dress shirt. It was Shabbos, and Ezra always dressed up for shul. Besides, ze had this image in zir head of our Friday lunches, our own genderfluid brand of Ladies who Lunch, which absolutely included dressing impeccably. Ze even insisted on singing the Sondheim tune at least once on the way, every time.
As we ate, I concentrated on getting my hands to hold things while Ezra entertained me with a story about teaching zir new boy how to weed the garden properly and not throw away any of the good stuff. Then ze said it was time to tell zir about it.
“I don’t know where to start.”
“Start with why you look so tired, of course.”
“Oh, that. I woke up too damn early because of this dream-vision.”
“That sounds like where to start. Written it down yet?”
“No,” I said quietly. “My hands hurt too much.”
Ezra clucked zir tongue in empathy, and went rooting through zir bag, taking out a notebook, a pen, and a jar of zir salve, which ze opened and gently rubbed into my hands, humming all the while. It felt like ze was rubbing soft sunlight into my skin and the sensation was so much to process that I couldn’t speak, or even look. I closed my eyes, counting my breaths, feeling the pain ebb away. In some ways, its immediate absence was sharper, harder to tolerate.
When ze was done, ze pressed the jar into my hand. “I brought this for you, ‘cause you said you’d run out.”
I took my time putting it away in my bag, getting used to the absence of pain, gathering myself back together. Then I took a long sip of tea, before I started telling zir about being made of ice, surrounded by it, protected by it, in the dream-vision. How at first I felt safe in my ice silo, didn’t even notice the cold until light came and hurt my eyes, and then I was freezing, and able to see the chasm below. A chasm separating me from Noam. How I realized that I couldn’t move, or speak. That they were stuck in their ice silo and me in mine, and Noam was terrified and trapped, just like me. I was helpless to do anything about it. I kept trying, but I could not get to them. How I watched their ice silo shatter, and the dust that was Noam blow away on the wind, waking me into a terrified meltdown.
Ezra didn’t say a word, as ze scribbled down the last details. My heart was a tiny frantic bird beating against my chest, as I remembered. I felt so cold that I took out my tarot deck, put it on the table, and huddled in the scarf I usually wrapped it in, my hands the only thing that felt warm. Ze waited for me to stop trembling before ze spoke.
“What do you think it means?” Ezra asked quietly.
Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer and community activist 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 “First Time Since”, won honorable mention for the 2008 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Their collection of queer kink erotica, Show Yourself to Me, is out from Go Deeper Press.
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 been working on a queer kinky polyamorous romance novel, Shocking Violet, for the last four years, and hopes to finish a draft very soon! You can find details and excerpts on their website, and sign up for their newsletter to get updates. Their Troublesome Crush, a polyamorous kinky queer m/f romance novella about metamours realizing they have a mutual crush on each other as they plan their shared partner’s birthday celebration, is due out in March 2019.