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Book Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—Two high school seniors find their voices and first love in this enemies-to-lovers story told from dual perspectives. Brusque and controlling filmmaker Rachel Recht, a Jewish scholarship student at the prestigious Royce School, wants nothing to do with Sana Khan, cheerleading captain and model human being. But when a literal run-in forces them to work together on a film, their tense relationship morphs into something beautiful and unexpected. As they collaborate, they begin to share their most private feelings. Sana, who is Muslim, reveals that she’s been having a crisis about her future, hasn’t sent her down payment to Princeton, and has secretly applied to a fellowship. Rachel knows she’s NYU-bound if the scholarship funds come through, but her future is in jeopardy if she can’t get this last film finished. Working together on this project about a woman forging her own path could be transformative for both, if only they could stop arguing and misjudging each other’s intentions. Determined to find success on their own terms, the ambitious girls learn to stand up for themselves as they challenge, support, and infuriate each other. Immensely readable with strong characters and quick, clever dialogue, this romance has real depth. Though there is no question that the girls will end up together, it’s a joy to watch them fumble toward their eventual happy ending. As much about finding yourself as it is about finding love, this smart, feminist story shows that expectations shouldn’t dictate the future. 

VERDICT This well-written and supremely satisfying romance should be in all collections

ISBN-13: 9781250299482
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 06/11/2019

Book Review: Brave Face: A Memoir by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

Critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants—described as having “hints of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (School Library Journal)—opens up about what led to an attempted suicide in his teens, and his path back from the experience.

“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”

Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.

A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.

Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a big fan of memoirs. While most of my reading is of children’s and YA books, when I do grab an adult book from the library, it is frequently a memoir. I like the deep dive into someone’s life. I like seeing them raw and unpacking their challenges and successes. So when a memoir comes out by one of my favorite YA authors, you can bet I will devour it.

For me, this had an added element of interest. I’m the same age as Hutchinson—we both graduated high school in 1996. We were both depressed and anxious teens, kept journals (and hung onto them all this time—I have a whole bin of my journals from elementary school through college), listened to a lot of the same music, wrote for the school paper, and so on. For me, as an adult reader, I really felt myself right there with Hutchinson because I really *saw* him. I would’ve been friends with him. My computer-programming, D&D-playing, fantasy-novel-reading husband would’ve been friends with him.

I spent the whole memoir really wanted two things for Hutchinson: for him to find his people and for him to get the mental health help he needed. And that’s really want this whole memoir is about. We follow Hutchinson through high school and a few years of college. We watch him go from an excited ninth grader positive about his future to a severely depressed and self-loathing older teen who can’t see anything good in his present or his future, feels like a failure, and grows increasingly reckless. We watch him participate in drama and debate, work various jobs, hang out with his close girl friend, play D&D, and half-heartedly date and make out with some girls. Meanwhile he’s feeling increasingly irritated, having meltdowns, lashing out while alone, and writing in his journal about his misery and his suicidal ideation.

We also see Hutchinson really struggle with being gay. He writes a lot about how his negative and limited idea of what it would mean to be gay came from the culture and stories around him at this time in the 90s. He wasn’t able to see beyond horrible stereotypes and miserable endings. He simply didn’t have any other examples. And he certainly didn’t have any kind of community to help him work through these thoughts. Even as he came to understand that he was gay, he still lacked examples of love or romance or happiness. His view of his life, already complicated by his untreated depression, grew darker.

Eventually, Hutchinson attempts suicide and ends up in a psychiatric treatment facility. There is a content warning for this part of the book to allow readers to skip over the details included here. He then summarizes life after this time—the ups and downs of both relationships and various treatments. He leaves readers with the important message that it can indeed get better, though it can take a while to get there. And, most importantly, it’s okay to ask for help—that struggling alone and putting on a brave face isn’t required.

This is a powerful and painfully honest look at surviving while finding your place, your people, and self-acceptance.

Review copy (e-ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781534431515
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 05/21/2019

Book Review: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Publisher’s description

It’s just three words: I am nonbinary. But that’s all it takes to change everything.

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.

Amanda’s thoughts

Go order this book now. Request it from your library, buy it from your local bookstore, order it FOR your library, email your media specialist to make sure they know about it, just go. I’ll wait.

Did you do it? I really hope you did, because this is an Important Book. There are not a ton of nonbinary teens yet in YA books. This fact alone makes this book noteworthy. But it’s the fact that Ben’s story is so complex and emotional and that the writing is SO GOOD that really makes this book one that you need.

This is not always an easy book to read, but just know that it gets easier and has a happy ending. And that’s not a spoiler—I think it’s important to know that this book about a nonbinary teen kicked out of their home isn’t a story just full of misery and betrayal. That’s certainly part of the story, and not an unimportant part, but Ben’s story is so much deeper than that. And, thankfully, it’s so much more joy-filled than just that.

Ben’s parents kick them out when they come out as nonbinary. Ben (they/them) feels like they are living a lie and that their parents don’t actually know them. Their parents’ reaction is, obviously, not positive. Ben’s mother says this isn’t what God wants and Ben’s father is totally unwilling to even entertain this as an idea that exists. Thankfully, Ben’s sister, Hannah, takes them in, but it’s been a decade since Ben saw her and, while so grateful to her and her husband, Thomas, Ben still has complicated feelings about how she left the family. Hannah and Thomas are great. They get Ben set up with school, new clothes, a supportive and affirming home, and do their best to use the right pronouns. They are learning, but they are working hard to do so. Hannah also gets Ben set up with a therapist, so they can talk about what went on at home. It is during these sessions that Ben also is able to address and start to understand their depression and anxiety with panic attacks. This system of support that is being built around Ben is SO important.

Ben also finds unexpected support through new friends at school, including Nathan. Ben isn’t out as nonbinary at school and is worried what Nathan may think, especially as they grow closer. (Readers probably won’t worry what Nathan will think—he’s such a wonderful, sweet, charming character and it was nice to not feel like this is just someone else who will judge or hurt Ben.) Ben begins to thrive in their new life, painting, slowly making friends, feeling safer, and starting to think about the future. Used to being a loner and seen as “that weird kid,” Ben still has trouble trusting people and feeling secure, but they are surrounded by people who show them that this is okay.

Another wonderful source of support for Ben is Miriam, who is nonbinary and has a popular YouTube channel. From Bahrain, Miriam is Shi’a Muslim and immigrated to the US. Now in California (Ben is in North Carolina), the two connected online and have a strong bond. Miriam says they are Ben’s “enby mama” and helps to guide Ben through this time in their life. Miriam’s role as a mentor, friend, confidant, and example of a nonbinary person happy and successful is so important for Ben.

Could I use the word “important” more in this review? I’ll try.

The not easy to read parts include Ben constantly being misgendered. Remember, they are not out to anyone beyond their family, Miriam, and their therapist. An unknowing Nathan refers to Ben as he/him, boy, Mr, prince, and dude. These all hurt Ben, but they are not yet ready to come out. Ben’s parents are really just so awful, even when they allegedly try to make some amends. As a parent of an almost-teen myself, they are what most infuriated me and ate away at me while I read. I cannot imagine not accepting anything to do with my child’s identity. Of course, I know plenty of young people who have been exactly where Ben is—they come out and are kicked out. Thank goodness for Hannah and Thomas. Thank goodness for all the love, support, and kindness that surrounds Ben. This is such a shining example of the family that can form around you and hold you up when the people who SHOULD always be there for you refuse to. Shall I tell you that it’s an IMPORTANT message? Because it is.

This heartfelt story will empower readers. Ben’s journey is not always easy, but it is full of love, affirmation, and eventual happiness. And have I mentioned that all of this is so important? I can’t say that word enough (though you may argue otherwise at this point). This story, this representation, this example is so needed. Get this on your shelves and into readers’ hands.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338306125
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date: 05/14/2019

Book Review: Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

hot dog girlA fresh and funny contemporary YA rom-com about teens working as costumed characters in a local amusement part.

Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:

* She’s landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog.
* Her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou’s never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after.
* Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who’s always been up for anything, suddenly isn’t when it comes to Lou’s quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou’s scheme to get close to Nick.
* And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland—ever—unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.

Jennifer Dugan’s sparkling debut coming-of-age queer romance stars a princess, a pirate, a hot dog, and a carousel operator who find love—and themselves—in unexpected people and unforgettable places.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I read for and write posts many, many weeks before they publish. I’m a Type A human who is always expecting catastrophes (thanks, anxiety!), so getting things done as early as possible is my method of operation. Right now it’s early March. I’ve had a sinus infection for three months, we’re getting yet another foot of snow here in Minnesota, and I am so cranky and sunlight-deprived that almost nothing seems fun. But you know what was fun? Reading this book in one day. So fun. This book is cute and fun and set in SUMMER, a time I seem to vaguely remember and hold out a small bit of hope that it will ever appear again in Minnesota.

 

Like romances? Like queer romances? Like books set in a workplace? Like frustrating characters who sometimes make cruddy choices? This book’s for you!

 

Elouise (Elle to some, Lou to others) is always scheming. She’s pretty sure that people are wrong—the summer after senior year isn’t the one that’s supposed to be the most epic ever (there’s too much stress that comes with the transition time). It’s the summer BEFORE senior year that should rule. As such, she is determined that this summer will be amazing. Even if she is once again employed as a giant hot dog at her beloved theme park. Even if she has to watch Nick, her crush, with his girlfriend every day. Even if her beloved theme park is going to close after this summer. Even if she ropes her best friend, Seeley, into a ridiculous scheme that could maybe ruin everything. Yep. Most epic summer ever!

 

Or maybe it could have been, if Lou could just live her life without constantly coming up with schemes. Her worst one, currently? Pretend that she and Seeley are dating (Lou is bisexual and Seeley is a lesbian). In Lou’s mind, this will let her somehow get closer to Nick, her crush. How? Well, they could all go on double dates! And Nick seems a little jealous, or something, when he misinterprets something he overhears and thinks Lou and Seeley are dating. So, sure, solid plan (she typed sarcastically): pretend to date someone else and your crush will fall for you and you’ll end up together!

 

It’s not a great plan. It’s not even a good one. In fact, it’s pretty terrible. It’s made worse by the fact that poor Seeley is kind of forced into this farce and it’s clear she hates it. It’s clear to the reader that Lou is being oblivious and self-centered when she makes this plan. Their fake relationship gets in the way of their real one, with the scheme making everything confusing and complicated, as well as revealing some truths. The publisher’s summary bills this as a queer romance, so you can probably guess what the complication is and where the story goes. But even if it’s obvious where the plot is going, it’s still great fun (if somewhat frustrating at times) watching it all unfold. The unique setting, workplace drama, and changing relationships all make for a cute story that will be the perfect summer read. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516255
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/30/2019

Book Review: Love and Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

love and otherLove & Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford (ISBN-13: 9780062791207 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/09/2019)

Gr 9 Up—Sam Weyward, a gay teen in rural New York, knows that if he falls in love before his fast-approaching 17th birthday, the generations-long family curse will kill his love interest. Living with his magic-practicing grandma, great-grandma, and great-great-grandma (the Grands) and his 1980s metal–loving father, he can never forget about the curse. But he finds distraction with drag queens at the gay bar Shangri-La, the family ice cream stand, mysterious phone calls, and Tom Swift, a trans boy staying at the lake this summer. As his friendship with Tom, who is straight, grows more complicated, Sam wonders if the curse can be broken. While there is a lot to enjoy about this book, like the vivid setting and appealing premise, the unhealthy relationship between Sam and Tom, and the often-unchecked transphobia make this a troubling, offensive, and potentially harmful story. Tom is repeatedly deadnamed, misgendered, and outed (with Sam, among others, committing these offenses). The fixation on Tom’s body and transition feel voyeuristic and turn him into a one-dimensional character just used for Sam’s own development. Sam and the rest of the cast get to be vibrant and complex, with Sam supported and loved both by his biological family and his chosen family of drag queens who are helping him find his drag identity. Tom is miserable, angry, rejected, lacking support, and ultimately forced to present as female—a painful trajectory without much hope. VERDICT Though this novel is funny and highly readable, the tragic trans narrative makes it one to skip.

National School Climate Survey results about LGBTQ students’ experiences in school

2017 surveyGLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released its biennial National School Climate Survey, which documents the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in schools from across the country, in the fall 2018. The 2015 survey results showed slight improvements for LGBTQ kids in schools. This newest report shows that progress in schools has slowed and transgender and gender-nonconforming students face more hostile environments than before.

196 page report (which is available as a PDF) looks at discrimination, harassment, assault, biased language, school resources and support, and more, and examines how these factors affect educational performance, safety, and mental health of LGBTQ teens. The report is filled with statistics, charts, and graphs that drive home the point that LGBTQ students face a lot of opposition at school and frequently don’t feel safe or supported.  Being knowledgeable of the potential struggles and understanding where they (and you!) can go to find useful resources (books, websites, helplines, etc) is a major step in the right direction.

As GLSEN reports, “The survey has consistently indicated that specific school-based supports are related to a safer and more inclusive school climate, including: supportive educators, LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, inclusive and supportive policies, and supportive student clubs, such as Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs).).” For the first time, “This installment of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey also includes insights on LGBTQ-inclusive sex education, student activism, parent advocacy, experiences of LGBTQ students with disabilities, and experiences of LGBTQ immigrant students.” (See here for the media release, where this quote came from, for more quick facts.) 

GLSEN2

This report should be required reading for anyone who works with students of all ages. 

“This report should serve as an alarm bell for advocates and a call to action for anyone who cares about students’ wellbeing,” said Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director.

The following data is taken from the survey results. Though the report in quite long, it’s important reading. The report does offer summaries of survey points. All infographics are from GLSEN and available to download and share.  They also have posters you can download for your classroom or library, too. The summary points from this report includes offensive slurs. 

Findings of the 2017 National School Climate Survey include: 

GLSEN1

Anti-LGBTQ Remarks at School

• Almost all  LGBTQ students (98.5%) heard the word “gay” used in a negative way often or frequently at school.

• 95.3% of LGBTQ students heard homophobic slurs such as “fag” or “dyke” at school.

• 94% of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks about gender expression at school.

• 87.4% of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks specifically about transgender people (e.g., “tranny” or “he/she”)

• 56.6% of students reported hearing homophobic remarks from their teachers or other school staff, and 71.0% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff.

School Safety, Harassment, and Assault at School

• Close to 9 in 10 (87.3%) LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school.

• Sexual orientation and gender expression were the most common reasons LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school.

• Nearly three quarters of students reported being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation (70.1% ); more than half (59.1%) were verbally harassed because of their gender expression.

• Over a quarter of students (28.9%) reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation; 24.4% were physically harassed because of their gender expression.

• 12.4% of students reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, 11.2% because of gender expression, and 10% because of gender.

• 48.7% of students reported experiencing some form of electronic harassment (“cyberbullying”) in the past year.

• Over half of students (57.3%) were sexually harassed at school in past year.

The high incidence of harassment and assault is exacerbated by school staff who rarely intervene on behalf of LGBT students.

55.3% of students who were harassed or assaulted at school did not report these incidents to school staff.

• The most common reasons that LGBTQ students did not report incidents of victimization to school staff were doubts that effective intervention would occur, and fears that reporting would make the situation worse.

• 60.4% of students who had reported incidents of victimization to school staff said that staff did nothing or told them to ignore it. 

GLSEN5

School Climate by Personal Demographics

• Pansexual students experienced a more hostile school climate than students of other sexual orientations.

Transgender students experienced a more hostile school climate than all other students. Genderqueer students and those with other nonbinary gender identities experienced a more hostile school climate than cisgender LGBQ students.

• Cisgender students whose gender expression did not align to traditional gender norms had worse school experiences than LGBQ cisgender students with more “traditional” gender expression.

• Native American/American Indian/Alaska Native students were more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to experience anti-LGBTQ victimization and discrimination.

• White students were less likely than all other racial/ethnic groups to feel unsafe or experience victimization because of their racial/ethnic identity.

The report goes on to discuss: 

*absenteeism (“LGBTQ students were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable if they had experienced LGBTQ-related discrimination in their school.”)

*academic achievement (“Over half of LGBTQ students (59.8%) explicitly reported a hostile school climate as being factor in their decision or doubts about finishing high school. In particular, students noted issues with harassment, unsupportive peers or educators, and gendered school policies/practices, such as restrictions on which bathroom they are allowed to use”)

*psychological well-being (“Previous research has shown that being harassed or assaulted at school may have a negative impact on students’ mental health and self-esteem. Given that LGBTQ students face an increased likelihood for experiencing harassment and assault in school, it is especially important to examine how these experiences relate to their well-being.”)

Additionally, it looks at discriminatory policies, discriminatory discipline, restrictions, and prohibitions regarding public displays of affection, attending dances, forming a GSA, writing about LGBTQ topics, etc. It breaks the data down by race, ethnicity, school type, location, region, and more.

GLSEN offers many recommendations for turning these statistics around, such as giving students more access to LGBTQ-related information (literature, history, etc), forming GSA groups, providing professional development to increase the number of supportive teachers and staff, ensuring school policies are not discriminatory, having anti-bullying and harassment policies that make it clear that they provide safety for LGBTQ students, and teaching an inclusive curriculum.

GLSEN3

LGBTQ students experienced a safer, more positive school environment when:

– Their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) or similar student club.

– They were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history, and events through their school curriculum.

– They had supportive school staff who frequently intervened in biased remarks and effectively responded to reports of harassment and assault

– Their school had an anti-bullying/harassment policy that specifically included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

– Transgender/gender nonconforming students in schools with official policies or guidelines to support trans/GNC students had more positive school experience, including less discrimination and more positive school belonging.

GLSEN6

Previously at TLT:

Many posts for collection development and ways to support and affirm LGBTQIA+ students can be found by searching the tag LGBTQIA+ on the blog.

Also check out:

The Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools Project, which “is one of the few LGBT and gender-inclusive programs in the country that has a K-5 focus with resources to help elementary schools and educators address bias-based bullying—including anti-LGBT slurs and gender put-downs.”

Unfamiliar with GLSEN?

From their site: GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN’s research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.

@GLSEN on Twitter

Monsters united can never be defeated: sentimental queer horror YA, a guest post by Hal Schrieve

The year I turned fourteen, I came out to my parents as transgender. In 2010, as a young teenager, with Gender Identity Disorder still written into the DSM as a disease, I knew that my eventual medical transition would require doctors’ notes and assessments in order to proceed. But my parents, wearing a look of inscrutable fear, initially took me to therapists with the stated hope that we as a family would work something out that didn’t involve me actually ever transitioning.

 

Eventually, all the doctors my parents took me to, even those most sympathetic to my parents, began to reach the consensus that I was in fact a transsexual. That, the doctors and therapists agreed, meant my parents had to move to the next healthy stage in raising a trans child: mourning my death.

 

This is standard advice, advice that the parents of trans children have gotten from well-meaning therapists for decades. My inexpert Cut Rite haircut, abbreviated name, the desire to to put testosterone into my body and surgically modify my chest, and, not least, my expression of my desire for romantic and sexual contact with gay men—meant that the child my parents had raised was dead. My parents had lost their shot at something. Therapists phrased it in different ways, describing the dead girl who I was not as a child of expectations, or dreams, as someone who had existed and as someone who had never existed. But again and again, the living teenager in front of my parents was ignored in favor of the theoretically dead girl I had replaced.  My parents were given permission to ignore my distress, the bullying I was facing, the discrimination I faced from my school, the lack of information I had about what my future might hold, so they could grieve and adapt slowly to life without their daughter—though I was alive, and their real daughter, my little sister, was right in front of them and living too. For a period of just over a year, and maybe long beyond that, I became undead, unknowable, invisible to the people who were supposed to protect me.

 

Caption: Intervening in each others' lives when we start believing we are dead or deserve death is more important than anything.

Intervening in each others’ lives when we start believing we are dead or deserve death is more important than anything.

 

Just as I died to my parents, my parents also disappeared to me. They were no longer role models, because they believed, at least for a while, that the me that existed should not exist. There were people who could see and understand me as alive, but they were not my parents. I still don’t know what I was to my parents during this time, exactly, but it’s safe to say I was something monstrous, a portent. For me, the result of being discussed and treated as dead was a temporary frozenness in my emotional development, a deep depression, and a lack of ability to fathom or connect to the cisgender and straight people around me. My sense of self esteem and empathy towards others ultimately grew enormously during my transition, but the things that prompted this had little to do with medical change in my own body. What replaced my family unit’s emotional ties was contact with punks and sex educators and old gay and trans people and young teens in my city and online who were like me and count see the beauty in one another. Over and over again, I watched small-town gay and trans people take care of each other, drive to one anothers’ houses late at night to intervene in suicide attempts, house each other, give one another jobs, get in professional hot water to protect each other, build up our mutual sense of safety in the face of horror. As my parents realized I was a monster, I was realizing I found their world monstrous.

I wanted to have a character like Mrs. Dunnigan, who sees and understands younger LGBT people who other adults fear.

I wanted to have a character like Mrs. Dunnigan, who sees and understands younger LGBT people who other adults fear.

 

I am white, which limits how I have been dehumanized in the settler-colonial state I was born in. My family is middle-class. My cognitive differences are such that I was never deemed disabled. I have a body which is able to navigate the ableist infrastructure of our society with relative ease. But I have always related to monsters. This is a trend, among queer people, even those of us who are lucky. We didn’t start it, though—monsters never start our own monstrosity.

 

 

I could theorize about when and how being gay or trans became a monstrous threat in European civilization, and others have certainly discussed how this belief was used as a tool of violent imperialism. But it would take a long time. Instead, here is a page from Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

I could theorize about when and how being gay or trans became a monstrous threat in European civilization, and others have certainly discussed how this belief was used as a tool of violent imperialism. But it would take a long time. Instead, here is a page from Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

 

 

I remember the first stories I ever wrote, at age four, being about Ursula from the Howard Ashman version of The Little Mermaid running away from persecutors, escaping and starting a new life at the bottom of a deep well. I didn’t know then that the original Hans Christian Andersen story, queer in its own way, regards the mermaid herself as a sort of monster, who nobly kills herself when she is wounded by her prince’s lack of ability to love her. I just knew I sympathized with something unlovable but charismatic, with tentacles, that shouldn’t have died. Further stories I wrote involved noble, ugly troll girls locked into mill-towers, werewolves on the lam, haggard witches and dwarves living under bridges and stealing scraps. I knew, reading fairy stories, that the witches, pirates, and dragons I read about rarely deserved persecution. When I read the story of St. George and the Dragon, the dragon was the only face I could compute as relatable. Nowadays, when I watch a horror movie about a traumatized ghost or psychic evil type monster wreaking havoc on a living straight white family, I only care about what happened to the vengeful spirit, and why it is so important to the filmmakers that the revenge be seen as more horrible than the original violence. I know that monsters are made, and that we usually are less scary than the people that made us. Traumatized people aren’t why the world is violent. Abusive people in power who want to stay in power and refuse to empathize or love others is why the world is violent.

 

The horror I see in the world is the systems of capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and ecological destruction designed to divide and alienate us from our friends, our lovers, our children, and break us up so we are easier to break. This horror can come even from systems that are supposedly designed to help us, like doctors. Too many of my friends have been told that their physical or mental pain is imaginary, or given up parts of their lives to afford medical care. My own life has been shaped less than others’ by psychiatrists and their edicts, but I spent all of my adolescent years concealing the distress and mental illness that i knew might stop them from writing essential letters or mean they would disclose something that would cause my parents to institutionalize me. I have been helped by psychiatry. But it’s a strained affection. The closest friends I have have been abused by family members, police, psychiatrists, teachers. My best friend when I was eighteen, a trans boy named Sebastian, was killed by a combination of all these actors. All of whom were ostensibly supposed to protect him.

 

 

My characters Aysel, Z and Tommy are the kids you don't want to talk to at school who have a hard time relating to other people but who feel things really deeply.

My characters Aysel, Z and Tommy are the kids you don’t want to talk to at school who have a hard time relating to other people but who feel things really deeply.

 

In Out of Salem, I want to talk about the way that queer people and many others are seen as monsters acting as a threat to violent systems of control; I want to express as fully as possible the hope I have that we are in fact a threat, that we can break impossibly huge violent systems through survival and solidarity and love. I wanted to talk about the numbing horror of experiencing the world as marginalized, and how that makes it harder to trust people or show love. You have to talk about that in order to speak of the ways that we can survive the horror story that is our whole world by sticking together. My characters Chad, Elaine, Mrs. Dunnigan, Mr. Weber, Z, Tommy, Azra and Aysel are all at least mostly able to see one another’s personhood and personal dignity, even if people like abusive uncles or hostile teachers are unable to. Solidarity and contact between peers kept me and my friends alive during my high school years, as well as contact with sympathetic adults who couldn’t do everything for us we needed but could act as a model of long-term endurance of a hostile world.

 

Stonewall Youth, an LGBT youth organization in Olympia WA, helped me survive high school. Here is me (burgundy blazer) at age 15 in 2012 on their Pride float.

Stonewall Youth, an LGBT youth organization in Olympia WA, helped me survive high school. Here is me (burgundy blazer) at age 15 in 2012 on their Pride float.

 

When you are gay and trans and young, or marginalized in other ways, sometimes seeing the survival of your elders—your real elders, who are monstrous like you— is powerful. Touching someone like you is healing. Holding onto each other is hard but it is the only thing I know is good to do, which can help us survive.

 

 

Meet Hal Shrieve

Image credit: Micah Brown

Image credit: Micah Brown

Hal Schrieve grew up in Olympia, Washington, and is competent at making risotto and setting up a tent. Xie has worked as an after-school group leader, a summer camp counselor, a flower seller, a tutor, a grocer, and a babysitter. Hir current ambition is to become a librarian, and xie works as a trainee children’s librarian at New York Public Library. Xie has a BA in history with a minor in English from University of Washington and studies library science at Queens College, New York. Xie lives in Brooklyn, New York, and hir poetry has appeared in Vetch magazine.

Out of Salem is hir first novel.

Social Media links:
@howlremus on Instagram
https://soundcloud.com/haltalksmonsters (podcast about monster movies)

 

 

 

About Out of Salem

out of salem2The best Teen Zombie Werewolf Witchy Faerie fantasy murder mystery you’ve ever read—by debut author, Hal Schrieve.

Genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth has to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie after waking from death from a car crash that killed their parents and sisters. Always a talented witch, Z now can barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with their mother’s friend, Mrs. Dunnigan, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered by what seems to be werewolves, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to “monsters,” and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.
Rarely has a first-time author created characters of such immediacy and power as Z, Aysel, Tommy (suspected fey) and Elaine (also a werewolf), or a world that parallels our own so clearly and disturbingly.

ISBN-13: 9781609809010
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Publication date: 03/26/2019

Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

we set theIn this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I WANT THE NEXT BOOK! NOW! And after you read this, you will too.

 

Freshly out of the Medio School for Girls, 17-year-old Dani is now the Primera to a promising young politician from a wealthy and respected family. Dani understands her role as Primera, one of two wives in the household, means she will run the home and be her husband Mateo’s equal. She quickly learns that secretive and cold Mateo, who is being groomed to run for president, views her as little more than a personal assistant. She’s not thrilled to be placed with Carmen, an enemy from school, who is Mateo’s Segunda, the second wife. Together, they all live in the heart of the capital, where luxury abounds. Money and power are important in the inner island, and Mateo’s family has both. But not far away, things are very different. Long ago, a wall was built around the inner island, and those suffering on the other side know nothing of the riches afforded to those lucky enough to be inside the wall. Dani knows intimately what life is like there and the risk many take to cross the militarized border that has a shoot-on-sight policy. Now part of the island’s elite, she is appalled at the wealth and resources taken for granted here. Life as a Primera could be extremely dull—be responsible and think of nothing more than supporting your husband—but Dani never gets to experience that.

 

Dani becomes involved with La Voz, a resistance group. The road to her involvement is complex—first she’s blackmailed, then she’s spying, and eventually she has to choose were her allegiances are. Their repeated message of “if we’re not all free, none of us are free” begins to really eat away at Dani, making her think hard about her past, the wall, her role as Primera, and what action she could take to affect change. Dani is supposed to exist to bring order and stability to the home (with Carmen there for warmth and beauty), but with her eyes opened more than ever to the injustices and resistance movement, she knows she needs to act. Being a spy is a complicated enough idea on its own, but throw in the fact that Dani isn’t sure who she can trust, from La Voz to her new family to Carmen, and it’s a real mess full of potential spies, liars, and double agents. As she struggles with her place now, she discovers many surprising revelations about Carmen, not the least of which is that they both have feelings for each other that go well beyond just being a paired Primera and Segunda. But as Dani untangles all of the prejudice, privilege, lies, and hatred around her, she wonders who, if anyone she can trust. And as her roles both at home and within La Voz continue, she worries that every part of her life is now a lie. How and where is Dani the most useful? And what price for freedom?

 

A tense cliffhanger that reveals secrets and sets up book two will leave readers (me!) desperate to see what happens. This well-written book has great world building, strong characters, and so much intrigue. A smart and engrossing read full of twists and turns. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

A Secret Corner, a guest post by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Tehlor Kay Mejia's debut novel.

Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut novel.

It was before a girl treated my heart like a catch- and-release fish. Before newly-blue-haired courage sent me across a parking lot to compliment the patches she’d sewn on her jean jacket. It was before I felt like myself, the awkwardness of sixteen still sitting heavy on my skin, and the house was empty, and the library was open until nine.

 

Back then, the teen section was upstairs and in the back, away from the computer banks and the prying eyes of people my mom might know. I dropped my heavy backpack next to the chair in the corner every day while cooler kids got in cars to haunt the steps of pizza places and their parents’ business-trip-empty condos. I looked for books that looked like people might kiss in them.

 

I watched people more than I talked to them, the way their hair fell in these intentional looking waves, the way they seemed to know what to do with eyeliner. The way they just locked together, effortlessly, like there weren’t a million tiny miracles between not-holding-hands and holding hands. Not-kissing and kissing.

 

So far, none of those miracles had happened to me.

 

I was obsessed with kissing, because I’d never done it. Not unless you counted that awkward “see what this is all about” thing in the backyard with my best friend on my thirteenth birthday. But I didn’t. I was a lifetime from thirteen now, taller and weirder and quieter. I pined after boys I would never talk to from afar. I waited for my miracle.

 

In the library, I browsed the sparsely populated teen shelf looking for something I hadn’t already read on a hundred other nights like this one. But on this particular day, I found a book with a perfect cover. It was a sunshiney thing, the main image two hands with their fingers interlocked. It looked cheesy and summery and I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading it in front of my debate team friends – who were on an Ayn Rand kick – but in the secret corner of the library no one knew I was haunting, I let myself take it anyway.

 

That night, the librarian had to tap me on the shoulder to tell me they were closing. But by then I had read enough. Empress of the World was about a girl like me. Smart, awkward, a little thorny, so the world believed she was mostly friendless and unkissed by choice. I had read other books about girls like her, but those girls had kissed boys in the end and I had been fascinated but not always moved.

 

This time, the awkward girl did not grow closer to a popular boy who sees her beyond her glasses. This time, the awkward girl kissed a blonde, beautiful preacher’s daughter. A dancer who was a friend before she was more. I read it with my heart pounding, this sleepy summer camp book, and when I walked out into the world again, fluorescent lights turning off in my wake, the air felt different on my face.

 

It was a book I couldn’t have picked up at the bookstore. A book I wouldn’t have been brave enough to read on the bus, or the cafeteria, or the living room, or even my bedroom. It was a book I left behind, my library card unused in my wallet. But I came back to visit. I learned the code words in the cover copy like they were a secret language. I found other books like it, and in the safety of that secret library corner I read until the lines around me were a little darker, the colors inside them more filled in.

 

There was a long way to go before I’d cross that parking lot to tell a girl with a mohawk I liked her jean jacket. Before I’d stop feeling left out and unkissable and weird (let’s be honest, I still feel that way sometimes). There was a long way to go before I’d realize the things I was scribbling in my notebook margins were poetry, or that I’d collected enough of the secret code to write a book of my own.

 

But when I finally found I had enough, I went back to that corner. I sat in the chair where I’d discovered Nicola and Battle, and two hands intertwined on a cover that my friends would have teased me for reading. I thought about the holes I’d fallen into in those stories, the patchwork of myself I’d tried to make out of all their pieces. All the things that had been missing from them that I’d had to find myself out in the world.

 

There were so many people on my mind and in my heart when I wrote We Set the Dark on Fire, but first and foremost it will always be for that lonely, mixed up girl, looking for keywords in cover copy, jumping and hiding the book every time she heard feet on the library stairs.

 

The one who found a home in a library corner when the world wasn’t quite ready for her brand of magic.

 

The one who found her own words there.

 

 

Meet Tehlor Kay Mejia

tehlorTehlor Kay Mejia is an author and Oregon native in love with the alpine meadows and evergreen forests of her home state, where she lives with her daughter. We Set the Dark on Fire is her debut fantasy novel. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. Her short fiction appears in the All Out and Toil & Trouble anthologies from Inkyard Press, and her middle grade fantasy debut, Paola Santiago and the Drowned Palace, is forthcoming from Rick Riordan Presents/Disney Hyperion. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

 

 

 

About WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE

 

In this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

(SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

 

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

Book Review: The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

past and otherSix Feet Under meets Pushing Daisies in this quirky, heartfelt story about two teens who are granted extra time to resolve what was left unfinished after one of them suddenly dies. 

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

Critically acclaimed author Shaun Hutchinson delivers another wholly unique novel blending the real and surreal while reminding all of us what it is to love someone through and around our faults.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s been well established on here that I am a superfan of Hutchinson. I absolutely love his approach to telling a story and his always weird and thought-provoking mix of realism and science fiction. I read in order of publication date—it’s the only chance I stand of keeping my TBR piles and blogging ideas in check—but I always want to jump ahead and read his books the second I get them. If you’ve somehow missed out on reading him, get cracking. You won’t be disappointed.

 

This line up there in the description—A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up—should rope you in. We’ve seen plenty of books of grief, but what happens if the person you are grieving (or not really grieving because things went so awry in your relationship) came back to life? Or not-life. While Dino is helping prepare his former best friend, July, for her funeral (his family members are morticians and 17-year-old Dino is skilled at doing makeup on the dead), she suddenly sits up, alive. Or, more accurately, not-dead. July isn’t really ready to accept that she’s not living, and Dino is mystified how on earth she’s not-dead, but sort of just rolls with what is happening. Together, they spend the evening going around town, trying to keep July hidden from everyone (as it might be just a little unsettling for someone to see a girl who has been dead for a week, as one of their classmates discovers) while they attempt to figure out what’s happening, how to make July be dead-dead in time for her funeral tomorrow, and what exactly went on with their friendship. They talk a lot and do some really regular things—wander Walmart, hit up the gas station for Slurpees, go to a party—only July is not-alive, her skin is starting to fall off, and she smells terrible, like she’s decomposing, which she is. Meanwhile, in the wider world, people are not dying when they should be. The hospital is full of people who are not-dead as are places all around the world. Dino knows there has to be some answer here with July, whether rational or divine, and figures she is somehow tied into what is happening with death everywhere. And just when they think they’ve got it figured out, maybe, and July is ready for her funeral, she sends Dino a selfie from inside her buried coffin, and their plot is back up and running again. Will finding ways to wrap up unresolved issues in their relationship finally make July stay dead? Or is Dino doomed to hide his not-alive former best friend forever? 

 

I just loved this story. Dino’s mortician parents are great (Hutchinson describes his mother as a “Goth Peter Pan,” which I adore), their family profession is obviously unique and full of potential entertainment, and his soon-to-be-married sister is also a fun character. Dino’s boyfriend, Rafi, who is trans, and the other new friends he made after he had a falling out with July are lovely, diverse, and interesting. I wish we had seen more of them, especially Rafi, who patiently tries to work through their relationship with Dino, who is kind of freaking out about it while trying to unpack his other most significant relationship. I really love books that are weird (a word I only ever use as a compliment) and show me a story from a previously untold viewpoint. This book will give you a new outlook on the phrase “best friends forever.” A really readable, engaging, strange, poignant, and funny journey through a relationship autopsy. Highly recommended. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481498579
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/19/2019