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Book Review: No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives and Secret Loves by Lee Wind

Publisher’s description

“History” sounds really official. Like it’s all fact. Like it’s definitely what happened.

But that’s not necessarily true. History was crafted by the people who recorded it. And sometimes, those historians were biased against, didn’t see, or couldn’t even imagine anyone different from themselves.

That means that history has often left out the stories of LGBTQIA+ people: men who loved men, women who loved women, people who loved without regard to gender, and people who lived outside gender boundaries. Historians have even censored the lives and loves of some of the world’s most famous people, from William Shakespeare and Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Cary Grant and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Join author Lee Wind for this fascinating journey through primary sources—poetry, memoir, news clippings, and images of ancient artwork—to explore the hidden (and often surprising) Queer lives and loves of two dozen historical figures.

Amanda’s thoughts

This book is a great and rather unique addition to the growing field of books on LGBTQIA+ history. It’s absolutely packed full of information about people throughout history who were, generally speaking, not out as queer. The book includes letters from the subjects and people in their lives, autobiography excerpts, interviews, articles, and other excerpts from writing (for example, some of Shakespeare’s sonnets), which provide “proof” and historical context. One of the big draws of this book, beyond the content, is the format, which includes lots of pictures, text boxes, bits of primary source materials, subheadings, and little explanatory notes about parts of the materials. Instead of opening the book and finding long blocks of text, these busy and lively pages will engage readers who may otherwise find this kind of historical stuff intimidating.

While certainly interesting and educational as a whole, and worth reading all of, this is also the kind of book that encourages readers to dip in and out, reading about someone who may interest them more than others, or an identity that may be more of interest. The book includes extensive source notes, recommended resources, and an index. At the beginning, Wind helps set the scene for the book by talking about hidden histories, how he decided who to include in this book, some general notes (like on the term “in the closet” bi erasure, acronyms, info on primary and secondary source materials, and more.

A really interesting read with a conversational tone, vibrant format, and so much historical information. A necessary addition to collections.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541581623
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Series: Queer History Project
Age Range: 12+

Queer Joy, Pain, and the Other Side of Silence, a guest post by Steven Salvatore

Pen tips scratching the surface of notebook paper; fingers clacking against keyboards; ideas bursting into eager young minds like popping corn, unleashing sighs of relief as the clock ticks: these are the sounds of silence that fill a creative writing classroom.

I wasn’t planning on beginning a new book during a standard freewrite at the start of a creative writing class I taught Spring of 2018. But my students had a way of taking my prompts and creating magic, and that day, I couldn’t resist joining in on the exercise.

One image flashed in my mind: a red-haired teen standing in front of their high school locker staring at a pair of destroyed ruby red sequin heels.

Immediately the scene shifted; I saw this same teen in their therapist’s office. It was raining as they stared out the window, telling their therapist that the shoes had been destroyed, likely by a bully who had it out for them, and that they needed the heels as a good luck charm to audition for the school musical.

I didn’t know the plot yet, but in that twenty minutes freewrite, Carey Parker, the central character of CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, was born. Not yet by name, but in spirit. They were a voice in the back of my mind for a long time but until that day I wasn’t quite able to see them clearly. This scene still exists, making it past querying, submissions, editorial acquisitions, and multiple rounds of developmental edits once it sold to Bloomsbury YA. With some key differences, as readers will soon spot. That day in my classroom, whether my students at the time knew it or not, was the beginning of something life-changing for me. It was the beginning of me admitting to myself that I was genderqueer.

I wrote the first full draft CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, which was originally titled DIVA and sold under the title THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE, in forty-six days that summer. When I finished, I knew it would be the book that would lead to me realizing my dream of becoming a published author. How? Because it was the first time I was completely honest in my writing.

The best writing advice I’ve ever received was from a fellow writer who once told me that if something in a draft isn’t working, it’s because somewhere along the way in the writing process, you told a lie. Maybe it was a forced plot point, or uncharacteristic move by a character. Or maybe it was something you feared writing, so you avoided it entirely. I never knew how afraid I’d been.

My life has been weighed down by fear.

I’ve been writing since I was six years old when, after becoming obsessed with animated Disney films like Aladdin and The Lion King, I wrote what was essentially fan fiction of those stories. I created stories in my head for years but never thought I could turn writing into a career until I got to Ithaca College. I majored in writing and latched onto my professors, telling more than one of them that I wanted to become them one day. Thankfully, they encouraged me, and I did become a composition professor.

Years were spent honing my craft. I wrote my first novel as a sophomore in college at the age of twenty. That manuscript will never see the light of day, but the main character in that story will finally get a chance to shine with my sophomore novel AND THEY LIVED… publishes from Bloomsbury YA in March of 2022 (who, originally, was a hopelessly and delusionally straight character.)

I wrote six more manuscripts and queried more than three hundred agents over a nine-year period. Those manuscripts were all about characters who couldn’t quite confront their own queerness much the same way I couldn’t confront my own queerness: I was gay. I knew that. I came out as gay at twenty-three. But there was more to me that I couldn’t grapple with. And it took me years of enduring depression, suicidal ideations, and therapy to untangle that and accept all facets of my genderqueer identity.

In 2018, I signed with my first agent for a different manuscript that never sold and has since been shelved and stripped for parts. We eventually parted ways because we weren’t a good match. Meanwhile, I was writing and revising what would become CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY as a way to work through my genderqueer identity. I was finally able to tell the truth. I was finally able to pierce through the silence, all the things I was afraid to say, and shout them for the world to see through Carey Parker’s voice. As Carey found their voice, I found mine. My current agent, Jessica Regel of Helm Literary, found Carey in the slush pile of her inbox and gave both of us a chance. She believed in my truth, and it sold two weeks after going on submission.

Still, there was this voice in the back of my head telling me that I wasn’t genderqueer enough. That I would never be enough. That readers would scoff at it, or worse, hate me and Carey for who we are or because this story isn’t their story or because it isn’t a shiny bucket of rainbows, despite all the joy on the page. After it sold, I was told by an LGBTQ+ author that nobody wanted to read anything that wasn’t utopic queer joy, that “pain has no place on the page.”

So I asked myself: Is this joyful enough? Realistic enough? Too realistic? Too painful? Am I letting queer readers down somehow? Can joy and pain coexist?

Over the last five or six years there has been an explosion of new queer writers, and I’ve seen a shift in discourse about what queer books “need” to accomplish to satisfy readers. The discourse mainly centers around the shift from the “solely queer pain” narrative to the “necessary queer joy” narrative, and it’s inspiring to see more and more joy-filled queer books by #OwnVoices authors get published. There also exists in these conversations a didactic line of thought that posits new queer books as needing to only be about Queer Joy, and that queer books exist within a limiting binary of either Queer Pain or Queer Joy. Queer trauma should never be a selling point for queer narratives, and if pain is written as shock value or a central plot point for a straight character, it’s incredibly harmful. But not all pain on the page is harmful.

Without pain, how do we understand joy? Or triumph? How do we measure love? Maybe that’s a little “chicken or egg,” but as far as I know, true utopias don’t exist even in the fantasy genre, and the world I live in is one where LGBTQ+ persons continue to face discrimination, whether in small ways like microaggressions from “well-meaning” people (many of whom are relatives or friends) or actual physical pain.

With Can’t Take That Away, I wanted to highlight, emphasize, and showcase joy and all the ways in which Carey discovers their voice and shines in the spotlight they deserve. I wanted to depict supportive family and friends and underscore the love—self-love and otherwise—that surrounds Carey. How Carey got there matters.

There is so much queer joy in Can’t Take That Away. There are also moments of real pain. I detail my own struggles in the Author’s Note at the end of my book, and unfortunately these are persistent truths for too many queer youth. As an openly out college professor and a volunteer at my local LGBTQ+ center, I constantly hear hardships from queer youth. The reality is that, for queer folks, microaggressions are a near daily occurrence. Bullying is a major problem. Physical and emotional pain is unavoidable, regardless of who you are. To ignore reality would be disingenuous and do a disservice to myself, Carey, and queer youth.

The point is that there is life on the other side of pain.

And as a gay, genderqueer person, I shouldn’t have to remain silent or write around that. Nor should I have to fear the truth in my writing anymore. I also try to remember that one story does not represent all stories. My genderqueer experience is not the only one. But it is mine, and there’s power in that realization. Carey taught me that.

I wrote this book to heal myself and process my pain. I wrote this book for the queer teens who desperately need Carey’s story. Had I had a book like Can’t Take That Away in high school, I might have found inner peace—and my own joy—much, much sooner.

Can’t Take That Away no longer belongs to me, but it did for a short time. I’m grateful Carey came to me when they were ready.

I hope you find the joy.

Meet the author

Steven Salvatore is a gay, genderqueer author, educator, Mariah Carey lamb, and Star Wars fanatic who spends most days daydreaming and making up stories. They have an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. They were formerly a full-time Assistant Professor of Composition and Director of the Writing Center at The College of New Rochelle. After the college permanently closed in 2019, they took a step back from teaching full-time to focus on their writing, though they do still teach at a few colleges while running a writing workshop at The LOFT, an LGBT resource center in White Plains, NY. Steven currently lives in Peekskill, NY, with their amazingly patient husband, whose name is also Steve. stevensalvatore.com • @StevenSSWrites

About Can’t Take That Away

An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice. 

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights—and they refuse to be silenced. 

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s Can’t Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.

ISBN-13: 9781547605309
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Pages: 384
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

Publisher’s description

An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice. 

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights—and they refuse to be silenced. 

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s Can’t Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s what’s beautiful about this book: Carey is surrounded by so much love. If only all teens could have the amount of love, support, and complete acceptance Carey receives. This is such a lovely look at what parent-child relationships can be, what deep and loving friendship can look like, what teachers can mean to teens, and so much more.

The publisher’s summary up there hits all the broad strokes of the story. Mariah Carey-obsessed Carey, who is genderqueer, is a wonderful singer and decides to try out for the school musical, Wicked. They try out for and are cast as Elphaba. New friend Phoebe (who is Black and pansexual) is cast as Glinda and Carey’s new maybe-boyfriend Cris (who is Filipino, Greek, and bisexual) is cast as Fiyero. With new friendships cropping up, old friendships on their way to being repaired, the musical, and a cute boy in their life, it seems like things are starting to go well for Carey, who is also dealing with frequent panic attacks and their beloved Grams ailing from Alzheimer’s.

But it’s not all great. Carey is being bullied and blackmailed by a classmate as well as discriminated against and verbally attacked by a teacher who is out to ruin Carey’s role in the musical (readers may want to know going in that there’s suicidal ideation, lots of misgendering, and vicious bullying). Then things with Cris get really complicated. And the bullying and discrimination Carey is facing at school grow beyond anything they can try to ignore. Before long, Carey is at the center of a movement to increase the safety and support of queer kids at their school, eventually leading a protest, starting petitions, addressing the school board, and gaining national attention.

Through it all, Carey is surrounded by love and support. They have a great therapist, a fantastic mother who is 100% there to support and love her kid, and far more friends than they initially feel like are in their corner. Throughout the story, Carey needs to learn to be brave, feel safe, and trust others (you know—just really tiny and simple things—ha!) in order to be seen as they truly are. Carey comes to really understand that the reality of people is that they’re complicated and messy, but those that are there for you will be there for you no matter what. This book will leave readers with the powerful and affirming message that you are worthy, loved, perfect, important, and deserve to be seen as yourself, whatever that may look like. And while many upsetting and completely unacceptable things happen to Carey over the course of the book, Salvatore makes sure Carey always sees the love and support, ultimately leading Carey to a much happier place than they start the story in. Carey’s road is not easy—in fact, it’s very painful to read about—but the crying I mentioned up there in my tweet? It wasn’t for the all-too-realistic trauma Carey goes through—it was for the beautiful expressions of love, support, solidarity, and acceptance. All teens should be so lucky.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547605309
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan

Publisher’s description

An accessible and beautifully written middle grade novel-in-verse by award-winning Irish author Meg Grehan about Stevie, a young girl reckoning with anxiety about the many things she has yet to understand—including her feelings about her friend Chloe. Perfect for fans of Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, Star Crossed, and George.

11-year-old Stevie is an avid reader and she knows a lot of things about a lot of things. But these are the things she’d like to know the most:

1. The ocean and all the things that live there and why it’s so scary
2. The stars and all the constellations
3. How phones work
4. What happened to Princess Anastasia
5. Knots

Knowing things makes Stevie feel safe, powerful, and in control should anything bad happen. And with the help of her mom, she is finding the tools to manage her anxiety.

But there’s one something Stevie doesn’t know, one thing she wants to understand above everything else, and one thing she isn’t quite ready to share with her mom: the fizzy feeling she gets in her chest when she looks at her friend, Chloe. What does it mean and why isn’t she ready to talk about it?

In this poetic exploration of identity and anxiety, Stevie must confront her fears to find inner freedom all while discovering it is our connections with others that make us stronger.

Amanda’s thoughts

This is a lovely, heartwarming, achingly honest book and I just want to jump into the story and tell Stevie that I love her and she’s perfect.

The summary up there tells you everything you need to know, plot-wise. Unsurprisingly, this is a character-driven story with a small plot, but that hardly detracts from how wonderful and necessary this book is (and, as I always prattle on about, I don’t care how tiny a plot is—tiny-seeming plots cover HUGE ground, like here, where Stevie is worrying about what it means to maybe, possibly, like girls. THAT IS HUGE!). But it doesn’t fully convey the heart this story has. Stevie is so dear, her heart so tender. Her own anxiety looms large, but she’s often concerned about making her mom worry and feel anxious (something her mom tells her is not her job to be concerned about). Stevie’s anxiety manifests as stressful dreams, stomach aches, a “noisy head,” and lots of overthinking. She suspects she knows what’s behind the “fizzy feeling” she gets around her friend Chloe, but needs to know more to be sure. Stevie loves knowing things, which is actually another manifestation of her anxiety. She’s overwhelmed by how much she won’t ever know/understand/see, and she really likes to know things because she can feel in control that way, she can feel prepared for anything. Hello, totally relatable aspect of anxiety! I see you, Stevie.

A clandestine trip to the library to seek out answers proves to be the opening she needs to finally talk about what she’s feeling. My notes just say, “Oh, the librarian! <3” and “Oh, her mom! <3.” At the library, Stevie learns the most important thing: she’s loved, she’s accepted, and while there’s plenty in life to worry about, her mother’s reaction to her revelation is not one of those things.

A gorgeous, heartfelt, affirming story perfect for upper elementary students. I want to hug sweet Stevie.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780358354758
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 02/16/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Publisher’s description

The author of The Gravity of Us crafts another heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding the people who become your home—perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli.

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life—where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval. 

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, Marty. This kid is a mess. Right now I’m imagining the book that would come after this one, where Marty is getting the help he needs and starting to figure out how real friendships work etc. That’s not to say I didn’t like this book—I did. But Marty is having a ROUGH time and as a reader (particularly as an adult reader and as a mother) I just wanted to help him realize faster that he needs help and to really find better people to surround himself with. He’s doing that, in this story, but it’s a mess. So if you love mess, this book is for you.

Marty has lots of issues with anxiety, including panic attacks, but appears to be undiagnosed and untreated. I hope he can fix that. His relationship with his parents is mostly based on lies at this point. Guess what? I hope they can fix that (“they” being his parents, because I think it’s on them to repair that relationship and learn to love the son they have, not the one they may want). His best friend at home in Kentucky is one of the meanest and least supportive “friends” I’ve encountered in YA in a long time. She repeatedly outs him and just really sucks as a person. She’s awful, which Marty is finally beginning to see, and he IS fixing the friendship situations in his life. And when he starts dating Pierce, Marty also develops issues with food and weight (reader, beware, if that’s triggering for you), eventually going so long without food that he faints. He’s super self-conscious of his body, how Pierce views his body, and talks a lot about BMI and weight loss and food restriction (and thankfully there are characters who try to help him, point out the flaws in his thinking, and even Marty himself acknowledges BMI is garbage—but that doesn’t stop him from fixating on it or from talking about “normal” weight and using a slur for fatness).

Instead of focusing on developing some music contacts and his career while in England, he focuses on relationships with all these new people. He is SO painfully 17, floundering, and trying SO hard. He says that his new life, new friends, and potential new boyfriend make it all feel like he’s finally home and fits in, but it’s pretty clear that that’s not really true yet. He’s always felt out of place, but this new place is still new and can’t really be a home to him while he’s still dealing with so much STUFF. He’s so grateful to finally feel like he fits in that he’s overlooking a LOT of things right now, including one very huge thing with someone he’s newly close to.

Character-driven readers will enjoy this book about one teen’s journey toward self and independence. And while Marty certainly feels like he’s on the way to all kinds of healing and hope by the end of the book, getting to that point involves a lot of drama and pain. There is nothing better than finding your people and being yourself. Marty shows how hard both of those things can be but offers hope that, even with a bunch of disappointments, it’s possible. Realistically messy and heavier than I anticipated.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600175
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Publisher’s description

Acclaimed author of Ash Malinda Lo returns with her most personal and ambitious novel yet, a gripping story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the 1950s.

“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. 

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

Amanda’s thoughts

This will be an illuminating read for modern teens who may not know much about what it was really like to be a queer teen in the 1950s.

It’s 1954 and Lily Hu lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She’s heading into her senior year alongside her lifelong best friend, Shirley, who is also Chinese American. One day in a class, Lily is put in a group with Kathleen Miller, a white girl she’s known for years but never really been friends with. Something sparks between them—maybe just a new friendship, maybe a bond over being the only two girls left in their upper-level math class, maybe something more, something Lily doesn’t really understand or have the words for. It takes reading a surreptitiously reading a lesbian pulp novel in the back corner of a store for it all to finally click into place for Lily. But now what?

For Lily, there is so much more going on in her life than just beginning to understand what she may feel for Kath. The FBI takes her father’s citizenship papers when he refuses to give information on one of his patients who’s being investigated for Communist ties. Lily’s friendship with Shirley is under pressure, too. Shirley doesn’t like Lily being friends with Kath (and “warns” her about Kath) and freezes her out until she needs her help for the Miss Chinatown pageant. Lily feels the push and pull between her various identities, always feeling singled out for all the ways she is “other.”

Through repeated clandestine trips to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar, to see a “male impersonator,” Lily and Kath come to understand more about their identity and the nearby lesbian community, especially when they are befriended by some of the older lesbians who frequent the club. But that hardly makes anything simpler—in fact, it just complicates things. How can Lily possibly live her truth in this era? And even if she and Kath feel the same way about each other, now what? More sneaking, hiding, being afraid of being seen?

This layered story also offers brief chapters about Lily’s mom, dad, and aunt from various points in time, helping flesh out more of what was going on, historically, at this time in the United States and specifically in Chinese American relations. Extensive back matter on the era and culture at the time provide additional insight. As can be expected of a historical fiction story set in the 1950s, there are plenty of racist and outdated terms used and the story is built on a foundation of the homophobia of the time (this is also discussed in the back matter.)

The way the story ultimately unfolds may be kind of predictable in the sense that it’s probably easy to guess how things may go for Kath and Lily—it’s hardly going to be an easy road for them. Though I would have liked to see some scenes or threads of the story fleshed out more and followed through with better, this was ultimately an enjoyable and thoughtful, personal look at one girl’s journey to self and identity. Pair with Robin Talley’s Pulp (set in 1955 Washington D.C.) for an even more comprehensive look at what it meant to be a queer teen in the 50s.

Review copy (digital ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525555254
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala

Publisher’s description

Project Runway goes to Comic Con in an epic queer love story about creativity, passion, and finding the courage to be your most authentic self.

Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making—for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything—and everyone—else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.

Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store—or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.

But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was a lot of fun. Yes, there was depth and drama and romance, but ultimately, it was the good fun that won me over. I was able to totally get wrapped up in Raffy’s world of crafting and cosplay and feel like I was right there at the con, witnessing everything unfold. What more can you ask for than for a book to take you away from reality and show you a different time and place?

There’s a lot going on in this story. Raffy’s super snobby artist/gallery director mom is horrible for most of the story. Never mind that he seems to mostly be raising and caring for himself while she disappears repeatedly to go do Important Things; she’s really awful because she actively does not support his interests and belittles his talent and ambitions. But Raffy doesn’t let her awfulness deter him—he continues to work in secret on all his builds and his social media. He’s hoping to get a sponsorship deal at some point to help pay for art school. His mother, of course, doesn’t think people should go to school at all, much less ART school—her being a snob extends to her looking down on formal arts education. Sure.

The now/then format of the story shows us how he got together with Luca, a bisexual soccer bro who’s a secret nerd, and how it all dramatically fell apart. In the “now” time, we’re at the con with them, watching them compete against each other until—TWIST!—they team up to work together.

They’re an easy couple to root for. Raffy’s total Type A personality and obsession with working on his crafting gets in the way of having a really good relationship. Luca has to keep lots of things about his time with Raffy secret, mainly from his family. But they really are into each other and are so cute together. And once they end up working together at the con, it’s easy to see how they will be able to overcome their past problems.

Full of messages about hiding yourself, authenticity, identity, being in costume to really be seen, trust, creation, and accomplishment, this fun read has wide appeal. Make sure the cosplay fans in your life get their hands on this!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492682691
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: This Is How We Fly by Anna Meriano

This Is How We Fly

Publisher’s description

A loose retelling of Cinderella, about a high-school graduate who—after getting grounded for the whole summer—joins a local Quidditch league and finds her footing, perfect for fans of Dumplin’Fangirl, and everyone who’s read and adored Harry Potter. 

17-year-old vegan feminist Ellen Lopez-Rourke has one muggy Houston summer left before college. She plans to spend every last moment with her two best friends before they go off to the opposite ends of Texas for school. But when Ellen is grounded for the entire summer by her (sometimes) evil stepmother, all her plans are thrown out the window. 

Determined to do something with her time, Ellen (with the help of BFF Melissa) convinces her parents to let her join the local muggle Quidditch team. An all-gender, full-contact game, Quidditch isn’t quite what Ellen expects. There’s no flying, no magic, just a bunch of scrappy players holding PVC pipe between their legs and throwing dodgeballs. Suddenly Ellen is thrown into the very different world of sports: her life is all practices, training, and running with a group of Harry Potter fans. 

Even as Melissa pulls away to pursue new relationships and their other BFF Xiumiao seems more interested in moving on from high school (and from Ellen), Ellen is steadily finding a place among her teammates. Maybe Quidditch is where she belongs. 

But with her home life and friend troubles quickly spinning out of control—Ellen must fight for the future that she wants, now she’s playing for keeps. 

Amanda’s thoughts

First of all, OF COURSE J.K. Rowling is a disgusting human and her horrible TERF-y takes have made me divest myself of all my HP paraphernalia. I now have a visceral reaction of UGH whenever I see a HP reference (and somedays it feels impossible to get through a book without some kind of HP reference cropping up). So if you feel like me, here’s what I hope you will do: Understand that this book here is about playing quidditch, which, yes, is from the world of HP, but that’s it—it’s not some kind of love letter to a now VERY problematic franchise. I will totally admit to letting this book sit on my shelf for a bit because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it because of the simple fact that it’s something to do with HP. Please be better than me and just immediately get this book and start reading. This book is wonderful.

If you’re looking for a book that’s brimming with feminism and politics and messy friendships, this book is for you. Summer after senior year is supposed to be Ellen’s last chance to super bond with her friends before they all split up for college. Instead, her best friend Xiumaio basically cuts her loose on graduation day, claiming a need for more space. Combined with the fact that life at home is challenging—Ellen has a contentious relationship with her stepmother and totally feels like her family just wants her gone already—Ellen feels totally alone, like everyone thinks they’d just be better off without her.

Probably because she’s feeling so lost, she agrees to give playing quidditch a chance. Ellen has never been into sports of any kind and doesn’t exactly seem psyched, but Melissa, her other BFF, is into it, so at least they can spend a little time together. Once Ellen basically gets grounded for life (stepmom issues), quidditch practice and games become her only source of human interaction. Before long, she’s making new friends, trying new things, and finally maybe finding her people and her place. But it’s not all sunshine. Melissa seems to be pulling away now, too, ditching Ellen for a new quidditch friend. Ellen doesn’t know who to turn to as she experiences new things and has lots of feelings about what’s going on during this surprisingly eventful summer.

I adored the fiercely feminist conversations in this book, the great representation (Ellen is Mexican American and not entirely sure how she feels about gender things, identity-wise), the engaging look into the world of quidditch teams, and the super messy friendships, relationships, and family issues. I finished the book wishing I could hang out with Ellen and her friends. A super real look at the weird liminal space between high school and college. Don’t miss this one!

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593116876
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 12/15/2020
Age Range: 12 Years

Book Review: The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre

Publisher’s description

Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour, this #ownvoices romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley has something for everyone: backstage rendezvous, deadly props, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to True Love.

Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.

What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.

Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.

Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: there’s a lot going on in this great book, but ultimately, my review comes down to just simply saying THIS WAS ADORABLE. And while that statement may not have much depth, the book sure does. And I’ll talk about all that good stuff in a second, but for now, if this is all the further you read, know that the excellent romance as well as just the whole vibe of this book is ADORABLE. Goodness knows we could all use something this cute, sweet, real, and satisfying these days.

Mel, who is bi, LOVES theater. She takes her role as stage manager VERY seriously and hopes to go to college for stage management. I was never a theater person, but one of my high school BFFs was a stage manager and went to college for technical theater, and as a result so much of Melody’s taskmaster no-nonsense approach felt very real to me. Anyway. After Mel’s girlfriend, Rachel, breaks up with her at the worst possible moment, Mel’s crew team convinces her to maybe swear off relationships for the next play. They’re a very superstitious bunch and are worried that maybe Mel in a relationship is a curse (they are very big on curses and countercurses). Mel, who has dated a fair amount of people, agrees to this, figuring it can’t be that hard.

Obviously, enter someone she can’t help but fall for, right?

Suddenly, Mel is keeping secrets from her crew, hiding her relationship, not being totally honest with her new girlfriend, and wondering if the onslaught of accidents and mishaps are all because she’s in love.

Now, if you’re an adult reader, here’s what you need to do: remember being a teenager? Everything was always so intense, so significant, so meaningful. So you might read this and be like, wait, they’re really all taking this idea of a curse so seriously? Yes, they are. They’re teenagers. It makes sense. Everyone in this story really does get bent out of shape because of curses and their chaotic effects. Teen readers may just roll with this, but adults, we need to get past whatever issues we may have with that and remember wishing at 11:11, or pinning all your hopes on things like “if the next car that goes by is red, he totally likes me,” or feeling jinxed, etc.

I loved Melody’s dads and their support of her theater passion. I loved the relationship between Mel and Odile, her new girlfriend who is so much more than she seems (and is questioning what exactly her identity is–she knows she’s queer, but she’s figuring a lot out). And I loved the huge cast of diverse, interesting characters.

I read this book pretty quickly, as the countdown to the play format really keeps things moving. It was fun, cute, and completely satisfying. An excellent recommendation for all fans of contemporary fiction.

PS—Be ready to go down a Les Mis rabbit hole on YouTube once you finish the book. My poor family.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062409263
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

2019 GLSEN National School Climate Survey results about LGBTQ students’ experiences in school

Cover of The 2019 National School Climate Survey research report. The cover photo features three students marching in the 2019 World Pride parade, with their fists in the air. The student on the right is wearing a transgender pride flag, and the center student is wearing a jacket with a rainbow on the back and a Keith Haring illustration of a brown fist in a broken handcuff below the word Resist! in rainbow letters.

GLSEN, 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 October. 20 years of research shows that dedicated school support and resources for LGBTQ+ students works, leading to less verbal and physical harassment over that time period. Also, “LGBTQ+ students feel safer and more supported with: anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies, teachers and school staff who are supportive of LGBTQ students, gender and sexuality alliances, and an LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum.”

Against a black background, yellow and white text reads: 20 years of research shows that dedicated support for LGBTQ+ students works.  A chart labeled “Victimization based on sexual orientation has decreased over time” and shows indicators for verbal harassment, physical harassment, and physical assault varying from 1999-2007 and decreasing from 2007-2019. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

The 220 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).” Also, “In addition, this installment of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey also includes an extensive exploration of how school climate has changed since we began conducting this survey, including insights into how racist remarks and harassment, feelings of safety regarding citizenship, gender-based discrimination, and LGBTQ student identities have all changed over time.”

Thumbnail of a poster highlighting the experiences of LGBTQ student of color, immigrant LGBTQ students, and transgender students, over time.

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

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.  The summary points from this report includes offensive slurs. 

Findings of the 2019 National School Climate Survey include: 

Illustration of a pensive femme person of color who has purple hair and wears a black turtle neck and blue earrings. Against a lime background, pink and white text reads: 86% of LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

Anti-LGBTQ Remarks at School

• Almost all  LGBTQ students (98.8%) heard the word “gay” used in a negative way often or frequently at school.

•96.9% of LGBTQ students heard the phrase “no homo” at school

• 91.8% of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks about gender expression

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

• 52.4% of students reported hearing homophobic remarks from their teachers or other school staff, and 66.7% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff.

Illustration of two people a femme Black person with locks who wears gold earrings and a gold eyebrow ring to the left of a light skinned person with shaggy brown hair wearing eyeliner. Against a blue background, green and white text reads: 2 in 5 LGBTQ students of color were bullied or harassed based on race or ethnicity. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

School Safety, Harassment, and Assault at School

• The vast majority of LGBTQ students (86.3%) experienced harassment or assault based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender expression, gender, actual or perceived religion, actual or perceived race and ethnicity, and actual or perceived disability.

• 32.7% of LGBTQ students missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, 8.6% missed four or more days in the past month.

• Nearly a fifth of LGBTQ students (17.1%) reported having ever changed schools due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school.

• 25.7% of LGBTQ students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year based on sexual orientation, 21.8% based on gender expression, and 22.2% based on gender.

• 68.7% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment (e.g., called names or threatened) at school based on sexual orientation, 56.9% based on gender expression, and 53.7% based on gender.

• 44.9% of students reported experiencing some form of electronic harassment (“cyberbullying”) in the past year.

• Over half of students (58.3%) 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.

• 56.6% 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 was because they doubted that effective intervention would occur or the
situation could become worse if reported.

• 60.5% of students who had reported incidents of victimization to school staff said that staff did nothing or told them to ignore it. 

Illustration of a white person wearing a black sleeveless shirt and yellow bandana in their light brown hair. Against a blue background, yellow and white text reads: Anti-LGBTQ discrimination means more missed school, lower GPAs, and lower self-esteem. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

Discriminatory Policies and Practices

Most LGBTQ students (59.1%) reported personally experiencing any LGBTQ-related discriminatory policies or practices at school. Specifically, LGBTQ students reported being:

• Prevented from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity: 28.4%.

• Disciplined for public displays of affection that were not similarly disciplined among non-LGBTQ students: 28.0%.

• Prevented from using chosen names/pronouns: 22.8%.

• Prevented or discouraged from participating in school sports because they were LGBTQ: 10.2%.

• Prohibited from discussing or writing about LGBTQ topics in school assignments: 16.6%.

Illustration of a Black person with short curly blonde hair wearing white glasses, red lipstick, pink earrings, and a black turtleneck. Against a magenta background, blue and white text reads: 84% of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

The report goes on to discuss: 

*absenteeism (“LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization based on their sexual orientation were nearly three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (57.2% vs. 21.7%))

*academic achievement (“Were nearly twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any post-secondary education (e.g., college or trade school) than those who experienced lower levels (9.9% vs. 5.8%);” and “Had lower grade point averages (GPAs) than students who were less often harassed (3.03 vs. 3.34).”)

*psychological well-being (“Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.”)

Additionally, it breaks the data down by gender, orientation, 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.

Against a yellow background, black and white text reads: LGBTQ+ students feel safer and more supported with Anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies, Teachers and school staff who are supportive of LGBTQ students, Gender and Sexuality Alliances, An LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum. Illustrated icons of books, people, an instructor at a chalkboard, and a court gavel are next to text. Source: 2019 National School Climate Survey. Learn more at glsen.org/nscs.

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.

Thumbnail of a poster highlighting the benefits of GSAs for LGBTQ students.

“Instituting these measures can move us toward a future in which all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed in school, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

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

I am thankful for the hard work GLSEN does to support and affirm LGBTQIA+ students to make sure they receive safe, supportive, and inclusive educations. I’m donating to them today to help fund their  programs, advocacy, research, and policy work and hope you will too.