Welcome to the August 2021 edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have a music festival that brings two girls together, a graphic novel featuring friendship and roadkill, and a memoir about an abusive same-sex relationship.
Title/Author: Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson
Summary: An encounter at a music festival brings together two strangers—Toni, who is grieving the loss of her roadie father, and Olivia, a hopeless romantic—changing both of their lives forever.
Series/Standalone: Standalone, though it exists in the same universe as Johnson’s first book You Should See Me in a Crown.
Genre/Sub-genre: Young Adult Fiction
Book Format: Print (also available in eBook and downloadable audiobook formats)
Length: 322 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian and bisexual
Content Warnings: Gun violence, death of a close family member, anxiety attacks, cyberbullying, nonconsensual picture sharing
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes
Personal thoughts: I didn’t think it was possible for me to love Leah Johnson and her work more, but Rise to the Sun proved me wrong! Johnson’s sophomore novel about two girls who meet at a music festival and fall in love across the span of a weekend is touching and heartfelt without being overly saccharine or unrealistic. It’s obvious when reading this that Johnson deeply cares for her characters and wants them to be good people, not just people with a good story.
Olivia sounds like she would be a nightmare to be friends with in real life. (Don’t worry. The other characters call her out for her bad friend behavior.) Still, I couldn’t help but root for her as she tried her best to be a good friend while still following her heart. It's hard trying to navigate the awful situation her ex-boyfriend has put her in at school. She’s just a young girl trying her best and Johnson gives her the space to do that; she’s allowed to make mistakes and learn from them throughout the novel.
Toni has always held the world at arm’s length, especially when it comes to love. The only person who has ever managed to get past her defenses is her best friend Peter ... until Olivia, that is. When Olivia agrees to help Toni win the festival’s talent competition, Toni has to trust Olivia with something as precious to her as her heart—her music.
This book wasn’t always easy to read – Olivia and Toni both engage in some self-sabotaging behavior that made me want to yell at my book and some pretty dark things have colored both girls’ lives. But their journey together is open, honest, and authentic. At the end of the day, this book oozes what I think Leah Johnson has more than most authors: heart.
Title/Author/Artist: Snapdragon by Kat Leyn
Summary: Rumor has it that Snap’s town has a witch. But in reality, Jacks is just a Crocs-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online. It’s creepy, sure. But Snap thinks it's kind of cool, too. Snap needs a favor from this old woman, though, so she begins helping Jacks with her strange work. Snap gets to know her and realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic—and an unlikely connection to Snap’s family’s past.
Genre/Sub-genre: Children's Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Book Format: Hardcover
Length: 236 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian, transgender, and the main character is possibly non-binary though it isn’t stated.
Content Warnings: Bullying
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Art/Illustrations: The artwork was perfect for this story, with a lot of fun colors and soft, rounded images that still radiated details.
Would I Recommend?: YES
Personal thoughts: This is such a captivating, heartwarming, and fun book. It shows a lot of acceptance and diversity, even including an adorable three-legged dog. A lot happens here, but everything flows seamlessly together for a fast read. I loved each of the main characters equally for everthing that made them unique. Snap has unapologetic ways that made her endearing. LuLu has spirit and warm heart. Snap’s mom is present in her kid’s life while realistically working as a firefighter and taking night classes. And Jacks displays a realness, wearing Crocs and helping Snap even though she’s a tired, old woman with a broken heart.
Warning: If your heart is two sizes too small, it may experience a magic growth spurt after reading this graphic novel. The ending may or may not bring you happy tears. I did not cry at all. ... sniff ... Nope. Not a single tear, I swear.
Title/Author: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Summary: After finally leaving an abusive relationship with her first same-sex partner, Machado writes a memoir in vignettes of her experiences addressed not to the reader but to the "you" of her own past self.
Book Format: eBook (also available in print and downloadable audiobook formats)
Length: 251 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual
Content Warnings: Domestic abuse (both verbal and physical)
Well-written/Editor Needed: Incredibly well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes, absolutely. It's a heavy subject but a beautiful book.
Personal thoughts: I don't read much nonfiction, but I had to read a "true story" for summer reading, so I picked this up more or less on a whim. (Side note: Sign up for summer reading! There's still time!) I was initially worried that, in addition to just not being my usual cup of tea, it would be too gimmicky. I'm not a fan of second-person POV. Every single chapter is a reference to concepts from literature or pop culture, and there are extensive footnotes referring to different folklore motifs that show up in the narrative. If someone had described this book to me before I read it, I would have rolled my eyes. But Past Veronica was proven wrong. This book completely knocked my socks off. I loved the erudite writing. I loved how Machado swapped registers constantly, pivoting from literary analysis to Doctor Who at a moment's notice. I even loved the footnotes.
Interwoven with her own tremendously compelling story, Machado writes about the history of queer domestic violence. How do we confront the idea of partner violence when it isn't committed by a man? Can queer solidarity lead us to embrace predators while ostracizing their equally queer victims? (Historically: badly, and yes.) At one point, Machado reflects on the fact that her abuser was also her first queer partner and the sort of fellow-feeling between them. She can't erase that feeling, despite everything that The Woman in the Dream House did to her. She wishes that The Woman in the Dream House hadn't abused her, because it makes queer women look bad. It's a hard thing to think about, the comforting solidarity that we feel with other queer people and how bad actors can abuse it.
I don't like to describe books as "important" but I think this one is. Machado has taken a deeply uncomfortable subject and made it impossible to look away, even as you're screaming for Carmen-in-the-past to GET OUT NOW. I probably won't re-read In the Dream House, but it's a tremendously impressive piece of writing. I'm glad I was forced to branch out!