Queer Fiction Blog: April 2022

Welcome to April, where the days are getting warmer and we've hopefully gotten used to the time change! This month we have a guest reviewer, Laura, from our Collection Development team! Yay! So, what have we been reading lately? We have a teen struggling to understand her identity as she falls in love, a tea monk and a wild robot teaming up for an adventure, and a young man falling in love in a restaurant kitchen.

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Happy Reading!

Title/Author:Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie

Reviewer: Laura

Summary: As Ophelia nears her high school graduation, she just wants everything in her life to stay the same. But as her emerging feelings for a female classmate become impossible to ignore, Ophelia struggles with how acknowledging her crush will change her identity.

Series/Standalone:  Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre:  Young Adult Contemporary Fiction

Book Format: Print

Length:  352 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation:  Queer main character, supporting characters across the LGBTQ+ spectrum

Content Warnings: Characters deal with (and challenge) homophobia 

Well-Written/Editor Needed:  Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes!

Personal thoughts:  I finished this book in one day and it was my first 5-star read of 2022, so I clearly would recommend it to almost anyone! The characters are realistically flawed but easy to root for, the conflicts feel accurate to high school, and the prose is compelling.

The biggest reason the book is so enjoyable is because Ophelia is such a likable character. Whether she's struggling with how liking girls will affect her identity as "the boy crazy friend" or worrying about the changing dynamics in her friend group, Ophelia makes decisions that the reader empathizes with. Sure, she makes mistakes throughout the book (and some pretty big ones at that), but she's particularly relatable because she isn't perfect. Ophelia is a kind and passionate character who comes across as someone you would love to have as a friend, even when you're frustrated with her decisions.

I expected this book to be a standard YA romance, but was pleasantly surprised that it is really a coming-of-age story with romantic side plots. Ophelia starts the book out with a very strong sense of self: she's the boy-crazy aspiring botanist who always wears florals and always has a new crush. As she gets closer to graduation, it becomes impossible for her to keep hiding from the fact that who you were in high school is not who you'll be forever. The battle between Ophelia's desire to be true to herself and her fear of changing how people perceive her is the real driving force of the story.

This an early contender for my favorite book of 2022, so if you like YA novels about self-discovery and/or the tricky transition from high school to college, check this one out!

Title/Author:A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Reviewer:  Jordan

Summary:  It's been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend. One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of "what do people need?" is answered.

Series/Standalone:  Monk & Robot #1

Genre/Sub-Genre:  Science Fiction

Book Format: eAudiobook

Length:  4 hours

LGBTQ+ Orientation:  Nonbinary

Content Warnings: There is no transphobia here! 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?:  Yes

Personal thoughts:  I enjoyed this novella a lot, but I am not sure I loved it. Like Chambers' other series, Wayfarers (which I reviewed here), this is a gentle exploratory story with no real plot. Instead, we get to explore Sibling Dex’s world, their personal life, and their budding friendship with Splendid Speckled Mosscap, a robot that suddenly appears in the woods. A note on Dex’s identity as a nonbinary tea monk: I absolutely LOVE that Dex is known as Sibling Dex rather than ‘Brother’ or ‘Sister’.

Dex travels around Panga giving people the right tea for their problems. I really liked this set up and getting to see how their wagon was designed for this purpose. However, I do wish there had been more of Sibling Dex learning how to be a tea monk. Dex refuses an internship with other tea monks, insisting they will forge their own path. The story then skips to three months later and then a year later and we don’t get to see Dex stumbling more as they learn.

When Mosscap appears later in the story, they delve into deep philosophical questions which are somewhat fun and entertaining when you consider that they both come from very different backgrounds and are learning about each other's cultures and ways of being. They are each also very respectful of these cultures and their curiosities, which is a relief from real life! 

Toward the end, I thought this story was going in a direction it didn’t end up going. The two characters visit a monastery in ruins, and without giving anything away, I will just say that I wish they’d spent more time in the peaceful monastery in the woods as it’s slowly being taken over by nature. This is only book one of a series, however, and from what I understand, both the tea monk and the robot will continue their journey together in the next story. I’m intrigued to see where they go from here!

The narrator of the audiobook did a great job! 

Title/Author/Artist:Chef's Kiss by Jarrett Melendez 

Reviewer: Veronica 

Summary: Ben, a recent college graduate, has not had any luck getting a job in journalism or publishing. So he applies for the only "no experience required" position he can find: junior chef at quirky vegetarian restaurant Cochon Doré. Ben soon discovers that he actually has a real talent for cooking, and his cute coworker Liam is always encouraging him — but is his newfound home in the kitchen enough to make up for losing his dream of becoming a writer?  

Series/Standalone: Standalone 

Genre/Sub-Genre: Graphic novel  

Book Format: Print 

Length: 160 pages 

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay 

Content Warnings: None 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written 

Art/Illustrations: The art is the highlight of this book! Very clean lines, and excellent colors as well. The character designs are adorable and very expressive. I'll be keeping an eye out for Danice Brine's work in the future.  

Would I Recommend?: Maybe 

Personal thoughts:Buckle up, folks, I have many opinions. First of all, this book is clearly meant to be wish-fulfillment fantasy. I expect it will be very satisfying to anyone who's ever been caught in the post-college "oh-god-what-do-I-do-how-do-I-get-a-job" spiral. Truly, who among us who's ever been stuck in the conundrum that you can't get a job because you don't have job experience—which you can't get without a job—wouldn't dream of getting rescued from the hell of job applications by a hot blond who offers you an alternative career path in a creative industry? The publishing industry in particular is notoriously predatory and difficult to break into, and it's nice to see that affirmed on the page. The intended audience is going to see themselves and enjoy the book, and that's the most important thing.  

My main issue with Chef's Kiss is that it sets up a very relatable, real-world problem, and then offers an escape...to another notoriously predatory industry. The restaurant world gets a wish-fulfillment glow here that's jarring when contrasted with the realism of the job hunt scenes. I've seen the coffeeshop setting described as this generation's version of a pastoral fantasy, and I think that's what's playing out here. The Cochon Doré doesn't seem to employ waiters, dishwashers, or busboys, for instance — who is doing the unglamorous "entry level" work that sustains a restaurant while Ben gets to come up with creative recipes?  

Tying into that pastoral fantasy is the unaddressed classism underneath the main character's friends' and family's negative view of his new career path. In this book, four new college graduates—only two of whom are employed—are able to afford a very nice house. Nobody talks about student loans, and financial help is only ever a phone call to mommy and daddy away. Working in a restaurant is somehow more degrading than working as a copyeditor. We're dealing with a very specific worldview here. The romance (between the protagonist and the hot mid-twenties Danish chef who takes him under his wing) is likewise very idealized — Liam exists to be an attractive and supportive love interest and has no character development whatsoever.  

All of my criticism aside, however, the art is lovely, the food sounds delicious, and sometimes you just want wish fulfillment where everything turns out fine! If the tone-deafness about class issues is going to bother you, give this a pass; if you can ignore that, it's a cute little book.