Welcome to the December 2020 edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have three delightful reads to share with you. The first is a secret teen romance. The second is a slow-burning, small-town, Australian romance between two cops. And the third is a graphic novel for kids involving tiny dragons that make tea!
We hope you find something to enjoy here. Happy Reading!
Title/Author: Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen
Summary: Codi’s never crashed a party and never stayed out too late. She's never even been kissed. And it's not just because she's gay. It's because she and her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, spend more time in her basement watching Netflix than engaging with the outside world.
So when Maritza and JaKory suggest crashing a party, Codi is highly skeptical. Those parties aren't for kids like them. They're for cool kids. Straight kids.
But then Codi stumbles upon one of those cool kids, Ricky, kissing another boy in the dark, and an unexpected friendship is formed. In return for never talking about that kiss, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and draws her into a wild summer filled with late nights, new experiences, and one really cute girl named Lydia. The only problem? Codi never tells Maritza or JaKory about any of it.
Genre/Sub-genre: Young Adult Fiction
Book Format: Print
Length: 297 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian/Bisexual/Gay
Content Warnings: Internalized homophobia (light)
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes
Personal thoughts: Kelly Quindlen’s Late to the Party is a breath of fresh air in the genre of young adult LGBTQ+ fiction. Main character Codi is wildly likeable, even as she makes the kinds of terrible choices you can only make when you’re seventeen and trying to find yourself. Codi and her two best friends Maritza (bi) and JaKory (gay) have been best friends forever; they do everything together including coming out to each other on the same night. The summer before their senior year, the three of them try something they’ve never tried before: dating.
The book is paced well and all of the characters are fleshed out. The dialogue is authentic; I could hear my friends at that age saying some of the things Codi’s friends were saying. Codi’s conflict about coming clean to her old friends about her new friends is as convincing as it is frustrating to the reader.
This book perfectly captures the feeling of being on the cusp of something and wanting to spread your wings, even if you don’t really know what that means. As the reader, you want Codi to make different choices, but it also reminded me perfectly of being young and feeling like you’d discovered something new in the universe that should only belong to you. Quindlen’s writing is fun, funny, and heartfelt and I’ll definitely be adding her future books to my to read pile!
Title/Author: Two Man Station by Lisa Henry
Summary: Gio Valeri is a big city police officer who’s been transferred to the small Australian outback town of Richmond with his professional reputation in tatters. Gio just wants to keep his head down and survive the next two years. Jason Quinn, officer in charge of Richmond Station, is a single dad struggling with balancing the demands of shift work with the challenges of raising his son. The last thing he needs is a new senior constable with a history of destroying other people’s careers. In a remote two man station hours away from the next town, Gio and Jason have to learn to trust and rely on each other. Close quarters and a growing attraction mean that the lines between professional and personal are blurring. And even in Richmond, being a copper can be dangerous enough without risking their hearts as well.
Series/Standalone: Book 1 of Emergency Services, but can be read as a standalone.
Genre/Sub-genre: M/M Romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 273 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual & Gay
Content Warnings: There is discussion of abusive relationships, though nothing explicit is on page. Also note, if you do not like kids if your romance, this may not be for you.
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Heavy on the plot.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Re-Read?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: This was a mostly quiet, relaxing story with a somewhat slow-burning romance in a small town, just what I needed to read in 2020! I found it difficult to put this one down at the end of the day and several nights I turned my light off a lot later than usual. This certainly won’t be for everyone though. It’s a rural cop story, with no one overarching case and a romance with a kid in the mix that ends on a happy-for-now note, rather than a strong happily-ever-after.
Sometimes I surprise myself and don’t mind having kids in my romance. Jason’s son is a great kid, but there were two things I wished would happen with him. A) I wanted to see him interact with other kids his age, at least to prove they existed, even though they did get mentioned a lot. And B) I wanted Gio to interact with him more, but specifically as a father figure would so that we could see how they might fit together as a family.
The plot mostly centers around Gio’s unexplained past, and I liked that it was all about getting to know both sides of the story before making judgements about someone. At the same time, it covered a lot of mishaps, small town crime, and natural disasters prone to the area. These were fun to read about and gave the reader a real feel for the locals and the landscape itself, which becomes a character in its own right. The romance is an enjoyable slow burn, but I do wish the novel had been longer so that we could have seen it develop more completely and solidly. Gio is only supposed to be at this remote station for two years and we don’t get to see what happens when his time is up. Also, I just wanted more story in general to keep the relaxing vibe going for as long as possible.
Despite the few setbacks I mentioned, I really enjoyed this book. I am looking forward to reading the second in the series as soon as it becomes available for the library to purchase.
Title/Author/Artist: The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O’Neill & sequels
Summary: What if tea came from tiny, adorable dragons? In Kay O’Neill’s imaginative, pastel-colored world, humans mix with creatures from fantasy, including—you guessed it—dragons the size of cats who grow tea leaves on their bodies. When Greta, a young apprentice blacksmith, rescues a tea dragon from stray dogs, she becomes entangled with her town’s tea dragons and their caretakers: retired adventurers Hesekiel and Erik and their mysterious protege, Minette.
Series/Standalone: The Tea Dragon Tapestry is a direct sequel to The Tea Dragon Society and includes characters from The Tea Dragon Festival as well. The Tea Dragon Festival takes place a number of years earlier in the same universe but could be read as a standalone. The series will be complete in three volumes when The Tea Dragon Tapestry is released next June. (This review is based in part on an advance reader copy received from the publisher.)
Genre/Sub-genre: Children's graphic novel
Book Format: Paper (The Tea Dragon Society and The Tea Dragon Festival are also available as eBooks from Hoopla)
Length: The Tea Dragon Society is about 60 pages; The Tea Dragon Festival and The Tea Dragon Tapestry are both around 130.
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Erik and Hesekiel, an older gay couple, play a prominent mentorship role in The Tea Dragon Society and The Tea Dragon Tapestry. Greta and Minette embark on a friendship that may become something more. Rinn, the protagonist of The Tea Dragon Festival, is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, which is established in the introduction to the book and never commented on otherwise.
The author is also nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. Although their books are published under the name "Katie O'Neill," they prefer to be called "Kay or K."
Content Warnings: There are a few moments of violence that might be scary for a sensitive young reader, but they’re quickly and reassuringly resolved.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written and beautifully drawn
Art/Illustrations: I love Kay O’Neill’s art, and I think they have consistently continued improving since they first came onto my radar with Princess Princess Ever After. Everything about their books is soft and gentle, and that’s mirrored perfectly in the artwork, which depicts both imaginary creatures and a diverse array of human characters with loving detail. O’Neill thoughtfully includes a wide range of skin tones and body types, as well as visible disability, in each book. The incorporation of sign language into the artwork of The Tea Dragon Festival is especially well done. And, of course, the tea dragons are extremely cute!
Would I Recommend?: Yes, both for children and for adults looking for a soothing, low-stress read.
Personal thoughts: I enjoy Kay O’Neill’s work on many levels, but especially for their creation of non-sexualized queer content. The Tea Dragon books in particular offer a window into a world where queer love is completely normalized, is present on almost every page, and is not the point of the story! They are “growing up” stories but not “coming out” stories. They’re also multigenerational, which is part of the truly all-ages appeal to me. I appreciate that Hesekiel and Erik are present as loving queer elders to provide support – and also that they have their own lives and struggles, completely independent of Rinn, Greta, and Minette!
I also appreciate the way the Tea Dragon books reassure their protagonists – and their readers – that it is not necessary to be extraordinary or make great sacrifices in order to deserve happiness and love. Greta, Rinn, and Minette all worry about whether they are choosing the right path or doing enough with their potential. Ultimately, they learn that it is all right to find fulfillment in doing what makes them happy, and that it’s also all right to change their minds. I would love to show Minette’s character arc and growth across The Tea Dragon Society and The Tea Dragon Tapestry in particular to anyone who has burnt out or is in danger of it. The tea dragons themselves, portrayed as high-maintenance but ultimately rewarding companions, also serve as a beautiful metaphor—needing help does not make you a burden. The whole series is a gentle validation of the importance of handicrafts, care work, and community.