Tag Archives: Transgender

Backlist Book of the Month:The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon

Super queer found family. Witches and fairies. Trans main character. Badass fantasy. Swoony romance between two guys doing the best friends-to-betrothed-to-enemies dance. Awesome duology opener with a sequel coming on May 31st. Just stop me when you’ve read enough to get the grabbiest of hands for The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon, a rare YA fantasy I absolutely loved that you should check out ASAP so you can jump right into The Fae Keeper!

Wyatt would give anything to forget where he came from—but a kingdom demands its king.

In Asalin, fae rule and witches like Wyatt Croft…don’t. Wyatt’s betrothal to his best friend, fae prince Emyr North, was supposed to change that. But when Wyatt lost control of his magic one devastating night, he fled to the human world.

Now a coldly distant Emyr has hunted him down. Despite transgender Wyatt’s newfound identity and troubling past, Emyr has no intention of dissolving their engagement. In fact, he claims they must marry now or risk losing the throne. Jaded, Wyatt strikes a deal with the enemy, hoping to escape Asalin forever. But as he gets to know Emyr, Wyatt realizes the boy he once loved may still exist. And as the witches face worsening conditions, he must decide once and for all what’s more important—his people or his freedom.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

New Release Spotlight: Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin

I must confess that other than YA anthologies, I’m not much of a short story person, but I was really intrigued by Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin and decided to pick it up, figuring I’d read a couple of stories. Of course, I ended up devouring it and all its beautifully messy stories about gender and sexuality, falling in love with it, and blogging about it for Buzzfeed, and now I’m passing that love along to you in the hopes you’ll pick it up too (it releases May 31st from Catapult), whether or not you think you’re a short story reader!

Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin

In this delightful debut collection of prize-winning stories, queer, gender-nonconforming, and trans characters struggle to find love and forgiveness, despite their sometimes comic, sometimes tragic mistakes.

In one story, a young lesbian tries to have a baby with her lover using an unprofessional sperm donor and a high-powered, rainbow-colored cocktail. In another, a fifth-grader explores gender identity by dressing as an ox—instead of a matriarch—for a class Oregon Trail reenactment. Meanwhile a nonbinary person on the eve of top surgery dangerously experiments with an open relationship during the height of the COVID crisis.

With insight and compassion, debut author Lydia Conklin takes their readers to a meeting of a queer feminist book club and to a convention for trans teenagers, revealing both the dark and lovable sides of their characters. The stories in Rainbow Rainbow will make you laugh and wince, sometimes at the same time.

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

Fave Five: YA Audiobooks with Transmasc MCs

All links are Libro.fm affiliate.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, narrated by Avi Roque

A Million Quiet Revolutions by Robin Gow, narrated by Salem Corwin

Act Cool by Tobly McSmith, narrated by Shaan Dasani

The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon, narrated by Dani Martineck

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, narrated by Logan Rozos

Bonus: Upcoming in 2022 are Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White, narrated by Shaan Dasani, Graham Halstead, and Avi Roque (June 7), Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min, narrated by Alejandro Ruiz and Jensen Silvio (July 26), The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas, narrated by André Santana (September 6), and Self-Made Boys by Anna-Marie McLemore, narrated by Avi Roque and Kyla Garcia (September 6)!

Under the Gaydar: Trans and Nonbinary MCs in YA

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This edition is dedication to YA with trans and/or nonbinary main characters, with the aim of helping readers find books that explore gender identity and can more safely be read in unsafe spaces. Please note that most of these have some potentially triggering content, including transphobia and abuse, so I do encourage reading reviews, if that’s helpful to you.  (And please do read the notes below as well.)

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – This absolutely lovely m/f romance steeped in magical realism includes trans boy Sam as one half of the couple.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi – This was a Backlist Book of the Month on the site in 2021, so you can read a lot more about it here. For the sake of this post, I’ll just mention that the protagonist is a trans girl and that’s not in the copy.

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman – Note: this is only under the gaydar with the British copy; the copy on the version coming out in the US in October 2022 does state that Jimmy is trans. You can get the UK version via Book Depository, Waterstones, or Blackwell’s.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall – Note: This blurb can be read as Sapphic, so do read it carefully and consider your environment, but there’s no visible nod to the fact that the main character is either genderfluid or bigender.

Even if We Break by Marieke Nijkamp – In this gaming-themed thriller, there are five POVs, one of which belongs to a trans boy and another of which belongs to a nonbinary kid. The copy is 100% thriller-centric with no descriptions of the POVs to be found. (You can also find hidden nonbinary rep in one of the three POVs of Nijkamp’s newest YA thriller, At the End of Everything.)

For a books with gender questioning as a non-central element, check out This is How We Fly by Anna Meriano. (This is also true of And They Lived… by Steven Salvatore, though obviously that book is not under the gaydar. Feels like I should mention it, though, in case this is a thing someone is looking for where it’s not mentioned on the cover.)

Non-queer-specific anthologies are also great resources for hidden trans and/or nonbinary rep. You can find trans stories in:

Coming Out While Writing: a Guest Post by Names of the Dawn Author C.L. Beaumont

Today on the site we welcome C.L. Beaumont, author of Names of the Dawn, a contemporary m/m romance starring a trans man that released last month from Carnation Books. C.L. discovered his own identity while writing the book, and is here to share more about that experience! But first, the book:

Seasoned Park Ranger Will Avery has found his home in the Denali wilderness, cherishing his solitary routines for the decade leading up to 1991. The trade-off that no one knows of his identity as a transgender man feels worth it for the comforting assurance he finds in the towering glaciers.

Until Will discovers an unexpected passenger in his truck—the visiting wolf biologist everyone in the Park is ecstatic to meet—Nikhil Rajawat.

Nikhil doesn’t return his new colleagues’ fervor. He’s dreamt of Denali for one reason: the pinnacle of his research, and it isn’t anyone’s business that this is the last year he’ll get to chase the wolves. He doesn’t expect to fall for the grisled Ranger who forces him to carry bear spray in the backcountry. Just as Will doesn’t expect to ask Nikhil to share his bed.

But when their dreamlike summer comes to an end, and Nikhil resolutely leaves on a plane bound for India, a devastated Will pretends he didn’t just plead for Nikhil to stay. And one year later, when Nikhil suddenly re-appears in Denali without explanation, Will must decide if Alaska is his solitary refuge—or if perhaps there’s a home somewhere in the world for two.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

Denali was a place of many firsts for me. Almost five years ago, I spent a week there visiting my partner who was working as a seasonal Ranger. Even after years of hiking together, it was the first place I ever backpacked off trail (the mileage of which resulted in me not being able to walk normally for days). It was the first time I encountered a grizzly at close range, and the first (and thankfully, last) time I was ever chased by a moose.

On the train ride back to Fairbanks, trying not to cry over the fact it would be months before I saw my partner again, I leaned hard into the ‘romantic train travel’ aesthetic and started jotting down ideas for a potential story on the back of my park map. Denali had stunned me. I’d always been a nervous person, and yet we had ventured into that bear-infested land with only a compass. I knew it would make an incredible setting for a story: the drama of the changing seasons alongside the comfort of animal migrations, long-traveled routes by the Koyukan people who’d given the mountain its rightful name. The simplicity of life versus death, and the complexity of no certainties once we ventured beyond the sole park road.

And as I wrote, I realized that my Ranger was a trans man.

I had no idea what made me picture my main character in that way. My brief previous experience including a trans character in a story had felt like taking a picture of someone’s life and merely recording it as the writer. This felt like I was in mortal danger of falling into the photograph I was supposed to have taken.

But over the next year, I wrote the entire first draft of Names for the Dawn without even realizing I was transgender. I felt guilt, in fact, for writing from that perspective without it being my own experience. I wondered if I was allowed to write the story of Will Avery, or if I could somehow earn that right. I would have said to anyone who asked that I was a cis woman writing this story of a trans man from the perspective of a queer ally, digging into research so I could do his story justice. What I didn’t admit was that so many of his fears were uncharted whispers I’d been shutting down for twenty-five years, somehow made safer to think about if they were Will’s thoughts instead of my own. How could I have written 100,000 words of a trans man’s inner thoughts and not known?

During my second draft, once I had made the decision to turn the story into a full-on novel, I found myself in an online forum to learn more about what chest binding could have looked like for Will. A week later, my own binder arrived in the mail. Not long after that, I made a spur-of-the-moment appointment after work and cut my hair. Tiny steps that I told myself were aesthetic explorations, nothing more.

By the time I started on my third draft of the novel, I had started seeing a therapist who specialized in gender identity. I had since realized that my confusion was coming from far more than just writing this book, and yet I still feared I had over-identified with my own character, somehow brainwashing myself. It didn’t occur to me then that perhaps this writing process felt so raw and all-consuming because these were thoughts I’d had for long before I ever typed the name Will Avery.

The fourth draft, and I had come out to everyone I knew. I now understood the wave of self-doubt and vulnerability that comes with such a step. After the loneliness of silently questioning, there was now a certain type of loneliness in being seen, even though I was lucky to have supportive people in my life. I found myself thinking back to Denali as I agonized over how to describe the landscape. I had felt that same unique loneliness there among the mountains. Alone, and yet surrounded by vibrant life.

I began my fifth draft just after I started taking testosterone. Again, my entire understanding of the book had shifted. The scenes where Will gives himself his shot didn’t change, but they felt more intimate now, not purely medical. I understood the subtle shame that comes with having to pierce yourself to bring who you are to the surface where everyone can see. I felt I should have been scared of such a seemingly permanent or drastic step, and yet I felt no fear.

A year later, I completed the last major rewrites while recovering from my own top surgery. It was the aspect of Will’s life that had felt the most unbelievable to me when I first wrote it — the fact that someone was allowed to just do that. And there I was, editing passages that I knew were first written by a hand that had absolutely no idea that same operating room was on my own horizon. I added in a scene where Will takes his shirt off outside for the first time. It was perhaps the first detail where it felt like I knew something my own character didn’t, finally allowing myself to be the expert of my own experience.

I struggled for a long time with my decision to continue working on this book. It felt like my earliest drafts were a lie, both to myself and to future readers. Or like maybe I should have moved on from this book a long time ago, treating it as a tool that had helped me when I needed it most. It feels strange now to be in the same category — as the world sees it — as my protagonist.

But as I prepare to send this book out into the world, I look back at the moment I first stepped off the bus into the Denali landscape. That same trust in myself accompanied me to my first therapy session, the first day with my new name tag at work, the day I told the people I love who I really was. It doesn’t feel devastating to recognize that it’s finally time to leave Denali behind. Perhaps these past five years haven’t really been about transitioning while writing a trans character. Rather, they’ve been about how I can write a story of a Ranger in Alaska.

***

C. L. Beaumont received his B.A. in South Asian Linguistics and Art History from the University of California, Berkeley, and now volunteers as a crisis line counselor while he delves into his true love: writing. When he isn’t hiking or checking another National Park off his list, he enjoys devouring crime fiction, cooking new vegetarian recipes, and working on way too many cross stitch projects at once. C. L. Beaumont lives in Montana with his gorgeous partner and their chickens.

 

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Wrath Goddess Sing by Maya Deane

I have been anticipating this book since what feels like the beginning of time, so I’m thrilled to be revealing Maya Dean’s Wrath Goddess Sing, releasing June 7, 2022 from William Morrow! Here’s the story:

Drawing on ancient texts and modern archeology to reveal the trans woman’s story hidden underneath the well-known myths of The Iliad, Maya Deane’s Wrath Goddess Sing weaves a compelling, pitilessly beautiful vision of Achilles’ vanished world, perfect for fans of Song of Achilles and the Inheritance trilogy.

The gods wanted blood. She fought for love.

Achilles has fled her home and her vicious Myrmidon clan to live as a woman with the kallai, the transgender priestesses of Great Mother Aphrodite. When Odysseus comes to recruit the “prince” Achilles for a war against the Hittites, she prepares to die rather than fight as a man. However, her divine mother, Athena, intervenes, transforming her body into the woman’s body she always longed for, and promises her everything: glory, power, fame, victory in war, and, most importantly, a child born of her own body. Reunited with her beloved cousin, Patroklos, and his brilliant wife, the sorceress Meryapi, Achilles sets out to war with a vengeance.

But the gods—a dysfunctional family of abusive immortals that have glutted on human sacrifices for centuries—have woven ancient schemes more blood-soaked and nightmarish than Achilles can imagine. At the center of it all is the cruel, immortal Helen, who sees Achilles as a worthy enemy after millennia of ennui and emptiness. In love with her newfound nemesis, Helen sets out to destroy everything and everyone Achilles cherishes, seeking a battle to the death.

An innovative spin on a familiar tale, this is the Trojan War unlike anything ever told, and an Achilles whose vulnerability is revealed by the people she chooses to fight…and chooses to trust.

And here’s the stunning cover by Marcela Bolivar, with art direction by Richard Aquan!

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

***

Maya Deane first retold the Iliad at the age of six. Athena was the protagonist; all six pages were typed up on a Commodore 64; there were many spelling errors. (She has only doubled down since then.) A graduate of the University of Maryland and the Rutgers-Camden MFA, Maya lives with her fiancée of many years, their dear friend, and two cats named after gods. She is a trans woman, bisexual, and fond of spears, books, and jewelry. Aphrodite smiles upon her.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Cinder the Fireplace Boy and Other Gayly Grimm Tales by Ana Mardoll

Today we welcome back to the site Ana Mardoll, who’s releasing another fantasy story collection, this one playing on fairytales and titled Cinder the Fireplace Boy and Other Gayly Grimm Tales! The book releases January 4, 2022, and contains Queer, Trans, Nonbinary, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Ace, and Aro rep, so there’s a little something for everyone! Come check it out:

Once upon a time there lived… a beautiful prince who kissed a frog. A cinder-smudged child who hid a secret. A princess who climbed a long braid of golden hair for love. A thumb-sized boy with the courage of a giant. And a valiant little tailor whose wit was as sharp as her needle.

These stories and many more await you in this delightful collection of classic fairy tales, lovingly retold and featuring characters who receive wonderfully queer happily-ever-afters! Let these new takes on the Brothers Grimm warm your heart and nurture your yearning to see yourself reflected in beloved favorites.

Features eight original illustrations by artist Alex Dingley.

And here’s the fairytale cover, designed by Anna Dittman!

Want a sneak peek inside at one of the gorgeous illustrations by Alex Dingley? Check out this stunner from The Robber Bridegoom!

Buy it: Amazon | Books2Read | Apple | B&N | Kobo | Vivlio | Angus (AU) | Bol.de | Thalia (DE)

Ana Mardoll is a writer, activist, and nonbinary trans boy in love with another trans boy. They live together in Texas with five spoiled cats. Ana’s favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold nights. Ana is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and many published short stories. (Pronouns: xie/xer) [More bio and pronouns here if you’re curious: http://www.anamardoll.com/p/writings.html]

Authors in Conversation: Ada Hoffmann and RB Lemberg

Today on the site I’m thrilled to introduce two brilliant authors in conversation: Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside and The Fallen (the latter of which just released last month from Angry Robot), and RB Lemberg, author of the Birdverse series. They’re here to chat about their work and the worldbuiliding, representation, and themes within it, so pull up a chair and listen in!

RB: I love how in the world of your novels The Outside and The Fallen, issues of faith and ethics take central place. One of the things that made me root for Yasira is seeing her grapple with ethical issues at every step. She constantly makes calculations related to fairness and right and wrong as she perceives them; I found this very relatable, and I think this is relatable to other autistic people as well. I would love to hear how you went about creating this aspect of Yasira’s character, and how this may connect to your larger worldbuilding around issues of divinity, godhood, and justice.

https://i0.wp.com/www.angryrobotbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/TheOutside_144dpi.jpg?resize=278%2C421&ssl=1Ada: Thank you, RB! Ruminating and calculating about what’s right or wrong is relatable to me, too. It’s something I can paralyze myself with if I’m not careful. I wouldn’t say that autistic people are any more moral than others, overall, but I do think that this specific kind of rumination is something I see a lot.

I created Yasira some time after creating my main villains, so from the get-go I knew she needed to be someone who’d be caught between them in their machinations and would eventually need to decide for herself what side she was on. (And whenever there’s a plot dilemma like that, I almost always root for the character to come up with their own, third option!) It takes a lot of thinking things over in order to be able to make a decision like that. It was almost a plot requirement more than a character requirement, but I think it fits Yasira’s other traits well and formed a substantial part of who she is.

The worldbuilding of the Outside series is very much one that presents two bad options. I had some fun with the idea of religion being presented mechanistically, as a set of rules to follow that will have a set of well-defined spiritual outcomes–this is highlighted by the Gods of Yasira’s galaxy literally being machines. Someone like Yasira has a desire to be good and follow rules–when she accuses Tiv of doing things just to be good, and not because she really means them, it’s almost a bit of projection. It takes her time and some bad experiences before she really understands that the rules she’s been raised to follow are not just and that she cannot continue to follow them. But on the other side of the equation, the polar opposite of a mechanistic religion is Outside, which is just this wild, utterly unknowable mystical force with no regard for human lives or suffering whatsoever, and that doesn’t seem to be a good option either.

I talk about Yasira finding a third option, but in the end I suppose it’s not fully a third option–she doesn’t go off on her own and create a completely different, third religion. Instead she really does come to revere Outside in some ways, but she has to reconcile that with her own very human belief in justice and human dignity and that it’s worth saving as many human lives as she possibly can. A lot of Yasira’s heroism lies in the ability to do that reconciliation, at great cost to herself. Meanwhile Dr. Talirr is a villain because she discards that belief – her own very human tendency is to sacrifice other people, mostly people she doesn’t know, to advance her own aims.

Or at least that’s my own moral take on what’s going on in this series –I do find it rewarding when readers come up with their own nuanced interpretations that are a bit different from mine. That tells me that I’ve given them enough to chew on, philosophically, that they’re really thinking about it and concluding things on their own, and I like when that happens.

Buy The Outside

RB, you write a lot about divinity and mysticism as well in your Birdverse series, which I love. In The Four Profound Weaves, I was really struck by the depth of meaning in the four weaves of the title, with characters who can weave carpets out of substances as abstract as songs, bones, sand, and wind. They are a counter-intuitive set of things to build carpets out of at first glance, but each one has a very particular emotional meaning, and the end of the novella combines these meanings and shows them as being intertwined, in a kind of cycle or a weave consisting of all four threads. What led you to choose these four particular substances, these four particular meanings? Did you consider many possible ones, or did you always know deep down it would be these four?

RB: Thank you so much for those thoughtful answers, Ada, lots to chew on! I want to talk more about Dr. Talirr, if that’s OK–I loved seeing two autistic women in a mentoring relationship. I rarely see women mentors and mentees, and I rarely see an autistic mentor/autistic mentee relationship, even though I feel this happens frequently in life, so the complicated relationship between Dr. Talirr and Yasira felt exciting to me. I love how central this relationship is to the world of the Outside, and how deep their conflict is. I think that from a normative human perspective, the value of human lives outweighs most other concerns, but that, too, can be broken – if the fundamental relationship to reality itself is altered, ethics are altered as well, and with them the value of human lives; that is, perhaps, what makes Dr. Talirr a heretic rather than straightforwardly a villain. I guess that’s those other interpretations you mentioned 🙂

As for the four weaves, I was always deeply interested in the relationship between hope and death. Years before I was a published writer, I envisioned hope and death as sibling birds, circling around each other as they descend towards a person on the ground. The imagery of hope and death as birds appears in print for the first time in one of my early poems, “Twin-Born,” in Goblin Fruit.

51600161Hope and death are intertwined in paradoxical yet intuitively familiar ways. I see both hope and death as properties of humanity as a whole, its defining characteristics, if you will. As for change and wanderlust, I envisioned those as properties of individuals, and both are very important to me. In The Four Profound Weaves and elsewhere, I interpreted change as it relates to transness, to coming out; change is both frightening and necessary in order to embrace one’s fullest self. As for wanderlust, it is also a property of an individual, and specifically my own need as an autistic person–to roam both physically and intellectually, to explore and wander. I often think about the absence of wanderlust as stagnation, being stuck in one place that neither hope nor death can reach. Change and wanderlust are weaves that represent the protagonists nen-sasaïr and Uiziya, both of whom are trans, both of whom have been feeling stuck in their lives for a very long time. Embracing both change and wanderlust leads them to the two other, more collective, weaves of hope and death. Readers sometimes ask me which is my favorite weave. Right now I will have say wanderlust; the best ending for me always leads to new adventures. The thing I desire most in my own life right now is to be free to wander, as a person who exists in a physical world, as a writer, as a scholar. I think that in 2021, many people would agree with me. As for how I chose these particular weaves: my process is always organic and almost dreamlike. I endlessly ruminate on imagery, turn things this way and that in my mind, and write poems until the structure solidifies.

Speaking about divinity and worldbuilding process, would you mind talking about how you came up with the individual AI gods in the world of The Outside? Is there any god or gods that you wanted to explore more, but did not have a chance yet?

ADA: I did love writing the complicated relationship between Yasira and Dr. Talirr, so I’m glad that comes off compellingly. They share a neurotype and a kind of mystical experience that almost no one else does, but they’re so different in the ways they’ve been brought up and rewarded or punished for their neurotype, and in the attitudes they take. It leads to a kind of intense ambivalence that was really rewarding to explore. We definitely haven’t seen the last of Dr. Talirr.

For the AI Gods, I knew immediately that I wanted each of them to represent a human tendency, something that’s present in everyone, but drives some people more than others. And from very early on I knew a few of the Gods that I wanted to include–Nemesis, of course, and a God of creativity (who eventually became Techne), and Gods of the pursuit of knowledge (Aletheia) and of love (Philophrosyne), as well as a fallen, demonized figure to play the role of the Keres. But the full list of Gods wasn’t finalized right away. Eventually, an early collaborator suggested that I should name the Gods after ancient Greek personifications of concepts, because my initial attempts at naming Them did not sound God-like enough. So I actually found a list of these and went through them one name at a time, jotting down the ones that seemed compelling to me and sufficiently different from the others to play a role in this cosmology. Not all of the concepts are very flattering – there is a God of conformity, for instance, and a God of laziness! But these are human tendencies that play an important role. Without something that could be labeled as laziness, for instance, we would never know when we need to take a break and rest. I wasn’t dead set on having a specific number of Gods, but the number that I eventually settled on (eleven “proper” gods, with the Keres making a ghostly and implicit twelfth) felt good.

We definitely don’t get a lot of time on the page, in these books, exploring other Gods besides Nemesis, but I would love to do that exploration some day, maybe in side stories. Nemesis is pretty unambiguously terrible, but there are Gods who play much more joyful, gentler roles and I have headcanons about several of Them. I think Philophrosyne’s priests do beautiful wedding ceremonies as well as having ways of honoring other, non-romantic forms of love. I think Gelos, the God of pleasure, has angels who are elusive but who suddenly pop up on a planet every once in a while with some fascinating God-built art installation or theme park-like attraction that’s like nothing the local mortals have ever seen.

The Fallen does contain hints of the complex relationship between Nemesis and Arete, the God of heroism. The two of Them often find themselves working together for the same goals but with very different methods, which leads to Nemesis’ harsh methods being softened a bit, but also Arete’s helpful intentions getting very morally compromised.

Let’s talk more about those trans themes in The Four Profound Weaves. It’s not the first time you’ve written trans characters, but I was struck by the complexity of nen-sasaïr’s arc, with regards to gender. We so often think of physical transition as an endpoint, an end goal, especially in a medical system that often reserves affirming medical care for people who can prove they have already socially transitioned. But nen-sasaïr’s story is almost the opposite of that. He has fully transitioned and is living his life as a man, but he is not in his home culture, and he experiences intense ambivalence as to whether he can ever return to that culture, whether the men of his culture would ever accept him as one of them, whether or not that’s even what he wants. Can you say more about this kind of ambivalence?

RB: I come to my stories from an international perspective, as a migrant and a person who has lived in different parts of the world, so the social norms around transitioning in the US are not where my worldbuilding originates. I always assume that trans and queer identities differ between various cultures and time periods. We can find a variety of attitudes even within a single culture – this is true for our world, and for Birdverse. As a migrant, I am always interested in exploring how trans and queer people navigate intersections of cultures, with all the different cultural norms and expectations. Throughout his life, nen-sasaïr experienced his society as trans-rejecting even as it embraces queerness. There are a lot of what we would call TERFy attitudes among his loved ones and in his home culture. In his twenties, nen-sasaïr accompanies his lover Bashri-nai-Leylit on a trading venture to the great Burri desert. Their journey is motivated by desperation – they are trying to acquire the greatest treasure ever woven, to buy back the life of their third lover, Bashri-nai-Divrah.

In the desert, among the snake-Surun’ people, nen-sasaïr witnesses a very different reality–trans people are affirmed, transition is a communal event; everyone who loves a trans person are invited to assist their transition through the act of weaving. This is shocking to nen-sasaïr. Among the snake-Surun’ he meets Benesret, a famous weaver who is ready to assist him with his physical transition. But he feels that transitioning will take him away from his home culture, and from his lover Bashri-nai-Leylit, who is not accepting of his transness; that would also mean giving up on rescuing Bashri-nai-Divrah. He cannot go through with his transition then, but he always wants to come back, and it takes him forty years to do so. His story cannot end with finally transitioning in his sixties; in fact, it barely begins there. Once he physically transitions, he is still left with those same old traumas and dilemmas – Bashri-nai-Leylit died without affirming him, his culture is still rejecting, the story of Bashri-nai-Divrah is unfinished, and he feels that while he is a man, he has no place among Khana men. His eventual journey does not end on a single triumphant note – he cannot completely change his society, and he is also not willing to leave his friends behind to join the world of the Khana men. But he is able to become more deeply and truly himself without erasing any part of his journey.

This is a story of older people, and older, complex lives in which transness is a huge part of the story, but not the totality of the story. My hope for him is that in his travels, he will find a different pocket of the Khana culture which is more affirming. The Khana people are diasporic, and there are other groups scattered around the landmass. Most are quite similar culturally to nen-sasaïr’s home in Iyar, but a few are a bit different. A certain bird whispered in my ear that he might just be headed that way.

Buy The Four Profound Weaves: Tachyon | Amazon

So let’s talk about transness a bit, and villains, although I am honestly reluctant to use this word with many of the Outside villains. I am fascinated by Akavi, who is a shape-shifter and a (eventually, fallen) angel of Nemesis in the world of The Outside. He is a shape-changer who enjoys taking a female form from time to time, and he also assumes female pronouns when he does so – I would love to hear more about how this character came about, whether or not you view him as trans (he seems to identify as a man?), and I would also love to hear you talk about the relationship between shapechange and transness in your work and in general. While we are talking about Akavi, I would also love to hear more about the relationship between Akavi and Elu. Elu is obviously in love with Akavi and he comes across as a gentle, caring person – how come he is an angel of Nemesis? Without spoilers, what does the future hold for these two?

ADA: Oh my goodness, transness and shapeshifting and villains, yes! The first thing I want to say about Akavi and gender is that he’s a character I started wanting to write about long before I realized that I might be genderfluid myself. When I look at him from a queer perspective I see a lot about my early self kind of hesitantly poking my toe into questions and fantasies about gender, about what gender means and what form it can take, but without quite admitting to myself that I was doing it, or that it had anything to do with being trans. There’s an additional layer here in that the person who first came up with Akavi, as a D&D character, is not me – I write the science fiction version of Akavi with that person’s enthusiastic consent, and he is also not completely binary gendered himself. So when I look at Akavi he’s not necessarily the kind of character I would create if I were starting from scratch, trying to write a story about gender today, but he’s still a character who is very important to me.

I think that Akavi does identify as male, but with some caveats. I think that the Vaurian idea of gender is a bit more fluid and flexible than we are used to (and as you point out, I am being a bit North America-centric here). I think it would be relatively uncommon, though certainly not unknown, for a Vaurian to be so attached to a single gender that they won’t want to present as another one sometimes when it fits the situation. Vaurians are not exactly a culture – they are an engineered human variant that has spread through several mortal cultures – but what they have in the way of culture places a high value on blending in and committing to a role. And that includes using pronouns that fit the presentation they are using at the time. So Akavi thinks of himself as a man, but he has a very expansive idea of what it means to be a man, which includes presenting as or referring to himself as though he’s a woman at times. My friend who created the character referred to it as magical cross-dressing, which I think is still accurate.

Shapeshifting is an extremely common trans fantasy but I’ve also seen a lot of non-binary readers complaining that they are tired of shapeshifting characters, especially when that is so often the only trans or non-binary representation that a work will offer. In The Outside the only characters that really invite a trans or non-binary reading are Akavi and his supervisor Irimiru, who is also a Vaurian, and who uses a mix of pronouns including they/them. Needless to say it’s not ideal for the only non-binary characters in a work to be manipulative, untrustworthy shapeshifters! When I wrote The Outside I wasn’t really thinking very hard about this, but by the time I came to The Fallen I was more aware of it. I’m still attached to the Vaurians and I don’t think there is anything wrong with having written them, but there was room in the plot for several new characters, so I have added various characters who are also somewhere on the trans spectrum, and who are not shapeshifters, or manipulative or untrustworthy at all. I hope that goes some ways towards balancing it out.

And then, Elu. Elu! Elu is a character very dear to my heart, and I would also call him a problematic character – not in the sense of being offensive or bad, but in the sense of calling attention to problems and inviting difficult questions. Elu talks about his backstory a little bit in The Outside, and this is expanded on a little more in The Fallen. Nemesis presents Herself as someone who uses ruthless methods in order to protect humanity, to save them from even worse things. Elu had an intense experience as a child where Nemesis’ forces saved his planet from a violent attack by the Keres. He is idealistic, and he grew up wanting to help save other people in that same way. But when he became an angel in order to do this, he discovered that it was not really what he thought, and it was also too late to take it back. Elu’s attachment to Akavi – to an individual in the system who is important to him, rather than necessarily the system itself – is one of his ways of coping with this reality, I think.

I have to say I have a lot of feelings about Akavi and Elu’s relationship. I’m someone who is very attracted to villains, which is not at all uncommon – you can look into any given fandom and see it happening. I have also had, shall we say, not the easiest romantic history ever, and when a person behaves abusively it is very easy to turn it back on myself and imagine I must have invited that behavior somehow; maybe if I am drawn to bad people, even if I don’t fully realize they are bad, then whatever happens next is my own fault for being drawn to them. That feeling is bullshit and victim-blaming but it can feel very emotionally true, and frankly I feel complicit in a lot of the worst things that have happened to me in relationships. So, I often catch myself projecting those feelings onto Elu, too. He is kind and gentle, but he is still a cog in a very harmful machine and he became that way because of his own choices. He is not free from responsibility, and deep down he knows that, and while he is on the run from the Gods with Akavi he continues to be complicit in what Akavi is doing.

It’s very easy to construct an arc for Elu that is all about punishing him for the choices he’s made, either out of naive, misplaced idealism or in a bid to survive. But I hope that the arc I have actually constructed for him in The Fallen manages to avoid this. It’s not an easy arc for him, because he is, after all, on the run with Akavi, and Akavi is not a person who is very interested or capable of maintaining a healthy relationship. But I also found that in the process of writing the book, as I wrote how Elu adapts and survives in a situation that’s increasingly unpleasant for him, I was able to find a lot more compassion for him than when I started.

RB, I find myself thinking of what you said about wanderlust as I look at the impressive variety of things you’ve done in your creative life. You have the Birdverse fantasy setting, which is sprawling and complex enough to include many kinds of stories in many cultures, but you also have other settings, and you write poetry, and you have been a poetry editor putting many projects together; you have written essays and are writing a scholarly volume about Ursula K. LeGuin, and now your memoir, Everything Thaws, is coming out in 2022! I want to know, what challenges have you encountered in a creative life that includes so many diverse things? Do you find that writing in a certain genre helps enrich the writing you do in another?

RB: Thanks for this question! My biggest challenges involve juggling my overwhelming day job in academia, my family obligations, and the fact that I am on the spectrum, and overwhelm and burnout are never far from me. I have diverse interests, and my creativity takes different forms – I write fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and I do scholarship of different kinds; I do art, and I love editing. This diversity can be viewed as a strength, but it can also easily be spun as a weakness. I often think that under capitalism, we tend to view anything which is not “one brand, one push” as a detriment, and it’s certainly much less easy to monetize a creative career which takes so many forms, but that’s me, and I do not want to undo myself. I keep reminding myself that Ursula K. Le Guin, who is in many ways my lodestar, also worked across many genres. She wrote poetry and prose, she edited, she translated, she wrote endless incredible pieces of creative nonfiction, she published with a variety of presses big and small – and can I just say, her doodles are phenomenal! There is more than one way to be a creator in this world. All of my pieces work together – my scholarship enriches my fiction and vice versa, and the art I do comes from my worlds as well; everything is interconnected.

Speaking of which, you too have produced work in different genres and areas! I love your poetry, and I would love to hear more about your recent poetry book Million-Year Elegies. Do you see these poems connected – thematically, philosophically – to the ideas and inspirations of the Outside books? I would also love to talk to you about The Autistic Book Party, your long-running review column highlighting works with autistic characters and/or works by autistic
creators. How does your reviewing inspire or support your fiction?

ADA: I hadn’t thought about connections between Million-Year Elegies and the Outside series until you asked! They’re two very different things, but now that I think of it, they do have several big themes in common – trauma, subjectivity, and upheaval. Both works contain characters dealing with the effects of both personal and collective trauma. Million-Year Elegies really ruminates on the topic of trauma – it writes from the perspective of ancient creatures who have survived (or failed to survive) mass extinctions, as well as creatures dealing with predators and injuries and other shattering events on a more personal level. It talks about loss and grief and how cycles of abuse replicate themselves, and it also talks about growth and flourishing and rebirth and how life springs up again in a new form after devastation.

The Outside series has a lot of individually traumatized characters, and The Fallen in particular does a lot to show how they are coping with trauma and what the longer-term effects are. Maybe it does too much with that; my writing is a little too introspective for some readers’ tastes, even when there are things blowing up, cosmic horrors stalking the earth, and cool cyborg angels swooping around in big spaceships. But that’s just me and how I think. And it deals with massive changes to a particular planet that fundamentally and traumatically alter what life is like there, and how the whole society of that world has adjusted in a bid to survive.

We are, of course, in the middle of a mass extinction right now, as well as a pandemic, a resurgence of fascism, and various other global emergencies, and I think that’s beginning to bubble up through everyone’s creative work in more and more obvious ways. And I’ve never really been interested in writing calls to action about these things – I sort of think that everyone in my reach who can act, already knows they should act, and is probably beating themselves up for not doing more! But I suppose what does interest me as a writer is understanding what these crises do to people’s minds and to the ways they connect or fail to connect with one another. So that shows up in a big way in both works.

The other theme I mentioned is subjectivity. Dr. Talirr likes to say that reality is a lie – that there’s something about our perception that inherently fails to grasp some of the deepest truths. Million-Year Elegies plays with that idea in its own way; there are a lot of poems about humans finding dinosaur bones and inherently interpreting them in a human, culturally specific way, failing to grasp something about them. Filling in the gaps in what’s known with their own human concerns, I suppose, as one would with frog DNA. And my own take on what dinosaurs mean to me or what I imagine them saying and experiencing, in the poems, is just as human and just as subjective. A human point of view is something you can’t ever really escape from, and I’m not even sure the effects would be desirable if we did, but I think about it a lot.

Autistic Book Party is something I started over a decade ago, when I was much less established as a writer than I am now, and the publishing landscape for autistic people was also a bit different. It’s definitely been a project I’ve learned a lot from as a writer – I had to teach myself wider knowledge about autistic community and self-advocacy as I went, and I started noticing all sorts of patterns I hadn’t noticed before. I’ve learned a lot about autism  representation, what’s out there, what the common problems are, where the gaps are, and also about the good work that many autistic authors are already doing. It’s enriched how I write about autism but it’s also been something that I feel a need to step away from at times. When you think so intensely about representing a particular thing it gets easy to overthink it, and to stop writing projects before they begin because you’re so worried about getting it wrong. When you see the viciousness on social media towards authors who do get it wrong – which doesn’t just mean writing something bigoted by accident, or phrasing something carelessly but also just writing representation in a way that isn’t what some portion of the audience was hoping for – it’s easy for this worry to be magnified. Sometimes I have to step out of my critical reviewer’s mind and just shamelessly follow some other creative impulse and see what happens, because otherwise I just won’t write anything at all. And sometimes that conflict makes me angst about whether this kind of reviewing is even a good idea. But the reviews series is so important to so many autistic readers, I always end up resolving to keep it going in some form.

Tell me more about Everything Thaws, your upcoming poetry memoir. In this memoir you’ve promised to cover a wide range of topics – Soviet Jews, climate change, queerness, multigenerational trauma. It sounds like heavy and fascinating work. What can Birdverse readers expect from you when they come to this book?

RB: Awesome! I felt there was a connection to be made between Million-Year Elegies and The Outside, and I love how you articulated it. As for being “too introspective”, that’s what I especially love about your writing. I think introspection is necessary with the themes you are dealing with – examining the very nature of reality demands a fair amount of introspection, I think! Of course, this reflects my own preferences – I am always on the lookout for stories that deal with the impact of action – all too often fast-paced books do not stop to consider the impact of these fast-paced, often traumatic experiences on the protagonists, and I find this difficult to relate to. The attention to trauma and neurodiversity is something I really appreciate about your fiction, in-between the cool cosmic horror!

Everything Thaws is about multigenerational trauma and memory, it is a very migrant, diasporic text. It’s my first fully-fledged foray into non-speculative writing, and it’s something I felt  compelled to write and worked on for three years after my father passed away. I am glad this book found a good home, and I’m looking forward to what people think about it – people beyond the speculative realm, actually. I have no idea what Birdverse readers might get from this – beyond that it is something I wrote and it deals with my usual themes – identity, migration, queerness, history, art, materiality – in a realistic setting that includes an ice dragon. The dragon existed.

Reading The Outside, I couldn’t stop thinking about the punitive “corrective” treatments Dr. Talirr underwent as a child. The treatments were designed to wean her off the Outside heresy, but given that Dr. Talirr is also autistic, I felt that this evoked a discussion of ABA and similar terrible treatments so often inflicted upon autistic children. This treatment has a traumatizing impact upon Dr. Talirr as a child, and her parents decide to pull her out of treatment despite the wishes of the agents of Nemesis. I would love to hear your thoughts about the “cure” narratives we encounter so often in stories with neurodiverse and/or disabled protagonists – as a field, we have been pushing against these narratives for quite some time, but I feel that we still have quite a ways to go, both as a society and in publishing. Do you intend to continue exploring these themes in the future?

ADA: Thank you for this question! I think we see this less often nowadays in speculative fiction than we did even ten years ago, the idea that a happy ending for an autistic character is to cure their autism and make them neurotypical. People are becoming more aware that this isn’t what an autistic person would consider a happy ending, that it involves essentially destroying the person the character was until that point, and remaking them into a new shape, and autistic people generally do not want to go through that process. Even from the people providing ABA-like therapies, I see slightly more awareness these days. Ivor Lovaas, who invented this therapy, famously said that the autistic child was not a person and that the person needed to be built through conditioning. Nowadays we do not see providers using this language – they talk more about building skills and getting the child to be ready to face the world.

Yet, the therapies are still abusive. The Judge Rotenberg Center is still using electric shocks as an aversive! Even the softest, most outwardly positive, punishment-free versions of ABA are coercive in nature. The child’s expressions of distress or attempts to withdraw consent are ignored. And the aim of the therapy, the skills being built, are skills of conformity and acting as a neurotypical adult expects, even if it compounds the autistic person’s distress. There is an assumption that if the autistic person is outwardly remade and begins to look neurotypical, from the outside, then this will make it easier for them to live a fulfilling life in neurotypical society. When, actually, the opposite is true – the skill of masking, looking neurotypical, has significant negative effects on mental health and even on life skills. This is borne out by the data, when people bother to collect the data on autistic adults. It’s a constant, exhausting, dehumanizing effort. And the impulse to teach autistic people this skill, I think, comes from the same place as the impulse to cure them. The underlying aim is not to make the autistic person happy, but to free neurotypical people from having to think about autism.

I should note that when I talk about this, I am not speaking from lived experience – I am not an ABA survivor myself. ABA is generally done to young children and I was not diagnosed until my teens. But I am speaking based on what I have consistently heard from many different ABA survivors in the autistic community. And I think that even for autistic people who did not go through therapy, we are taught through more informal means that we need to mask in order to survive or be worthy of existing among other people. And at some point in our lives we have to actively unlearn that, often in the wake of burnout when it becomes impossible to do anymore.

As for returning to these themes, it’s really hard to say. My writing process is that I start with a character or scene idea that seems very shiny and exciting to me, and I construct the scaffolding of a plot around that; many of the deeper themes of the work don’t become apparent until later, when I’ve worked on it more and seen the shape it takes on the page. I didn’t know that Dr. Talirr was going to have something ABA-like in her backstory until I was midway through the draft. So, I have no specific plans, but that doesn’t mean I won’t return to it at some point!

Definitely the theme of masking, if not of therapy or cures exactly, is one that I have been thinking about almost obsessively for the past couple of years. Not just in terms of autism, but also in terms of how queer people mask some part of themselves in order to pass or stay closeted, how all sorts of marginalized people have to mask as a part of respectability politics – even if their marginalization as such, in terms of what label applies to them, is not kept secret. It is a survival strategy; I do not want to call it morally wrong. But it takes such a toll on us as humans and on our relationships with each other as humans. I feel like I am actively searching for ways to unmask more, and I am also wrestling with how to balance that need with the need for privacy and safety. So I would be shocked if that search isn’t reflected in my future fiction at some point, but I don’t know yet exactly where it will be, or what it will look like. It will find a place to situate itself, I am sure.

You mentioned that you see Ursula K. Le Guin as your lodestar. You edited a poetry collection, Climbing Lightly Through Forests, in honor of Le Guin, which included your own literary overview of Le Guin’s poetry. (Spoiler alert: a poem of mine appears in Climbing Lightly Through Forests as well.) I heard you have now received a grant to produce an academic book about this topic. Can you tell me more about this project? What draws you to Le Guin’s poetry in particular? What have you learned so far by looking at it, and what are you hoping to learn in the archives?

RB: I’m very excited about any future work you might do that explores masking, both as a survival strategy and something that can be toxic and erasing – it’s something I struggle with in my own life, and I am sure anything you write about it will be meaningful.

56907586. sy475 As for Climbing Lightly Through Forests, I co-edited this collection with Lisa M.Bradley, whose work in both prose and poetry should definitely be more widely known! When I originally pitched the book to Aqueduct, I promised to write a Le Guin poetry retrospective to round out the volume of poetic tributes. I knew Ursula’s poetry well and read many of her collections, but I did not realize just how much poetry she’s written, and how deeply she cared about her poetry throughout her life – the first thing she’s written, at age five, was a poem, and she worked on her poetry until the very last. The vast majority of her poetry is not speculative, but it reflects her inner rich life, her recurrent and evolving perspectives on dying, and on the nature of the Pacific Northwest. Early in 2020, I was named the 2020 Le Guin Feminist Fellow by the University of Oregon Libraries, but the library closed to outside researchers during the pandemic, and I could not do my archival research. I am finally getting my chance to go this August. I am hoping to find correspondence, any journal entries, and other archival material that could shed light on her process as a poet. I’m also hoping to find unpublished poems! I am tentatively calling my academic manuscript in process My Old Tongue Breaks in Two: The Poetry of Ursula K. Le Guin. I hope to report more on my findings later this summer, mostly on Patreon – this is where I’m mostly at, these days.

Buy Climbing Lightly Through Forests

What’s next for you as an author? What are you working on right now?

ADA: Right now I am working on Book Three in the Outside series (which has yet to be named, although in my notes I am calling it simply, Nemesis.) I am really struggling with this one and I’m not quite sure yet what form it will take by the time it has been finished and revised and sent to readers, but it is going to happen! My hope for it is that it goes even further – in one direction or another! to be determined! – than the books before it.

And to wrap up, I will ask the same question back to you – what are you working on now? What future project, or projects, are you most excited about?

RB: I am finishing the big revision on my new Birdverse novel The Unbalancing, which is a book about a group of queer and nonbinary magic keepers who are trying to prevent an environmental and magical disaster. The book started out as a novella, but it has been expanded into a short(ish) novel now, and I am looking forward to share these people, and these themes, with my readers. After that, I’ll go back to work on my big Birdverse novel Bridgers, which I keep talking about. It’s about revolution and linguistics and deeply explored Jewish themes, and I need to get this right.

Thank you for a chance to ask and answer these questions! I am very excited for the launch of The Fallen – looking forward to finishing the book, it’s great so far!! I hope more and more people will find your work.

ADA: You’re very welcome, RB, and thank you too for these wonderful questions and answers! It’s been a pleasure and I hope your future projects go very well.

***

Ada Hoffmann is the author of the space opera novel THE OUTSIDE, its sequel THE FALLEN, the collection MONSTERS IN MY MIND, and dozens of speculative short stories and poems. Ada’s work has been a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award (2020, THE OUTSIDE), the Compton Crook Award (2020, THE OUTSIDE), and the WSFA Small Press Award (2020, “Fairest of All”).

Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 13, and is passionate about autistic self-advocacy. Her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to in-depth discussions of autism representation in speculative fiction. Much of her own work also features autistic characters.

Ada is an adjunct professor of computer science at a major Canadian university, and she did her PhD thesis (in 2018) on teaching computers to write poetry. She is a former semi-professional soprano, tabletop gaming enthusiast, and LARPer. She lives in eastern Ontario.

*
R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe to the US. R.B.’s novella The Four Profound Weaves (Tachyon, 2020) is a finalist for the Nebula, Ignyte, and Locus awards. R.B.’s novel The Unbalancing is forthcoming from Tachyon in 2022, and their poetry memoir Everything Thaws will be published by Ben Yehuda Press, also in 2022.  You can find R.B. on Twitter at @rb_lemberg, on Patreon at http://patreon.com/rblemberg, and at their website rblemberg.net

Most Anticipated LGBTQA Middle Grade: July-December 2021

Obie is Man Enough by Schuyler Bailar (September 7th)

Obie knew his transition would have ripple effects. He has to leave his swim coach, his pool, and his best friends. But it’s time for Obie to find where he truly belongs.

As Obie dives into a new team, though, things are strange. Obie always felt at home in the water, but now he can’t get his old coach out of his head. Even worse are the bullies that wait in the locker room and on the pool deck. Luckily, Obie has family behind him. And maybe some new friends too, including Charlie, his first crush. Obie is ready to prove he can be one of the fastest boys in the water—to his coach, his critics, and his biggest competition: himself.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

A Touch of Ruckus by Ash Van Otterloo (September 7th)

Tennessee Lancaster has a hidden gift.

She can pry into folks’ memories with just a touch of their belongings. It’s something she’s always kept hidden — especially from her big, chaotic family. Their lives are already chock-full of worries about Daddy’s job and Mama’s blues without Tennie rocking the boat.

But when the Lancasters move to the mountains for a fresh start, Tennie’s gift does something new. Instead of just memories, her touch releases a ghost with a terrifying message: Trouble is coming. Tennie wants to ignore it. Except her new friend Fox — scratch that, her only friend, Fox — is desperate to go ghost hunting deep in the forest. And when Tennie frees even more of the spirits, trouble is exactly what she gets… and it hits close to home. The ghosts will be heard, and now Tennie must choose between keeping secrets or naming an ugly truth that could tear her family apart.

Magic and mayhem abound in this spooky story about family legacies, first friendships, and how facing the ghosts inside can sometimes mean stirring up a little bit of ruckus.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Other Boys by Damian Alexander (September 7th)

In Other Boys, debut author Damian Alexander delivers a moving middle grade graphic memoir about his struggles with bullying, the death of his mother, and coming out.

Damian is the new kid at school, and he has a foolproof plan to avoid the bullying that’s plagued him his whole childhood: he’s going to stop talking. Starting on the first day seventh grade, he won’t utter a word. If he keeps his mouth shut, the bullies will have nothing to tease him about―right?

But Damian’s vow of silence doesn’t work―his classmates can tell there’s something different about him. His family doesn’t look like the kind on TV: his mother is dead, his father is gone, and he’s being raised by his grandparents in a low-income household. And Damian does things that boys aren’t supposed do, like play with Barbies instead of GI Joe. Kids have teased him about this his whole life, especially other boys. But if boys can be so cruel, why does Damian have a crush on one?

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

The Insiders by Mark Oshiro (September 21st)

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country—and opens the door to a life-changing year full of magic, friendship, and adventure.

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City of Thieves by Alex London (September 21st)

54671391. sy475 In a modern mega-city built around dragons, one boy gets caught up in the world of underground dragon battles and a high-stakes gang war that could tear his family apart.

Once, dragons nearly drove themselves to extinction. But in the city of Drakopolis, humans domesticated them centuries ago. Now dragons haul the city’s cargo, taxi its bustling people between skyscrapers, and advertise its wares in bright, neon displays. Most famously of all, the dragons battle. Different breeds take to the skies in nighttime bouts between the infamous kins―criminal gangs who rule through violence and intimidation.

Abel has always loved dragons, but after a disastrous showing in his dragon rider’s exam, he’s destined never to fly one himself. All that changes the night his sister appears at his window, entrusting him with a secret…and a stolen dragon.

Turns out, his big sister is a dragon thief! Too bad his older brother is a rising star in Drakopolis law enforcement…

To protect his friends and his family, Abel must partner with the stolen beast, riding in kin battles and keeping more secrets than a dragon has scales.

When everyone wants him fighting on their side, can Abel figure out what’s worth fighting for?

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This is Our Rainbow ed. by Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby (October 19th)

The first LGBTQ+ anthology for middle-graders featuring stories for every letter of the acronym, including realistic, fantasy, and sci-fi stories by authors like Justina Ireland, Marieke Nijkamp, Alex Gino, and more!

A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.

From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aida Salazar, and AJ Sass.

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The Golden Hour by Niki Smith (October 26th)

The Golden HourStruggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside of town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and in the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. As Manuel aides his new friends in their preparations for the local county fair, he learns to open up, confronts his deepest fears, and even finds first love.

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A-Okay by Jarad Greene (November 2nd)

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Candidly Cline by Kathryn Ormsbee (November 9th)

Born in Paris, Kentucky, and raised on her gram’s favorite country music, Cline Alden is a girl with big dreams and a heart full of song. When she finds out about a young musicians’ workshop a few towns over, Cline sweet-talks, saves, and maybe fibs her way into her first step toward musical stardom.

But her big dreams never prepared her for the butterflies she feels surrounded by so many other talented kids—especially Sylvie, who gives Cline the type of butterflies she’s only ever heard about in love songs.

As she learns to make music of her own, Cline begins to realize how much of herself she’s been holding back. But now, there’s a new song taking shape in her heart—if only she can find her voice and sing it.

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