Welcome to the 2021 edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! We are three librarians who enjoy reading and reviewing LGBTQ+ fiction for all ages. More specifically, who are we and what new books are we looking forward to in 2021? Allison is the Children's Librarian for the Brighton Branch and she is looking forward to reading One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. Jordan is a Reader Services Librarian at the Central Library and is looking forward to reading Fugitive Telemetry, the 6th book in the Murderbot series by Martha Wells. Veronica is the Reader Services Specialist at the Central Library and she is looking forward to reading Black Water Sister by Zen Cho.
To start the year off, our January reviews include one lesbian trying out for prom queen in order to win a college scholarship, an autistic vampire hunter falling for a vampire, and last, but certainly not least, a nun joining a ragtag crew of thieves.
We hope you find something to start your year off in the right book. Happy Reading!
Title/Author: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Summary: Liz Lighty has always done her best to avoid the spotlight in her small, wealthy, and prom-obsessed midwestern high school. After all, her family is black and rather poor, especially since her mother died. Instead, she has concentrated on her grades and her musical ability in the hopes that it will win her a scholarship to elite Pennington College where she plans play in their world-famous orchestra and study medicine. But when that scholarship falls through she is forced to turn to her school's scholarship for prom king and queen, which plunges her into the gauntlet of social media and leads her to discoveries about her own identity and the value of true friendships.
Genre/Sub-genre: Young Adult Fiction
Book Format: eBook
Length: 324 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian
Content Warnings: Homophobia (light), death of a parent (off-screen), chronic illness
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: 100% Yes!!!
Personal thoughts: This might be my most recommended book of 2020. If we speak for long enough, I’ll inevitably find a way to bring the conversation around to Leah Johnson’s debut novel. (And then I'll rave about the author talk she did for BPL, soon to be available on Youtube!) This book had everything I could ever want—well-rounded, believable characters, former childhood friends rediscovering their friendship, a competitive plot—and more!
Liz has big dreams. She’s going to go to Pennington College (her mom’s alma mater) and play for their orchestra while she studies pre-med. Then, she’s going to go to medical school to help treat people with sickle cell, the disease that took her mother from her and that her younger brother has as well. To do this she’ll need a scholarship, but when the college itself isn’t able to offer her one, she decides to run for prom queen and win a scholarship that way. What ensues is a whirlwind school year of charity work, promenading around town, and even a cooking competition. Liz has never been one to stand out at her small, mostly white school, but she now finds herself doing anything she can to stand out.
Also in the competition is Mack, a redhead who makes Liz feel dizzy whenever she’s around her. As the two grow closer and their friendship becomes more, Liz finds herself torn between doing what it takes to win the competition and coming clean to the world about her feelings for the new girl. All the while, Liz is reconnecting with her former best friend, Jordan, who she’d had a falling out with freshman year. However, there’s more than meets the eye concerning the reason they’re not friends anymore. The more Liz learns about the way her life has been manipulated (no matter how good the intention), the less she wants to play by the rules when it comes to winning prom queen.
This is a wonderfully inspiring and lighthearted read that still manages to be serious where it counts. Leah Johnson has become one of my favorite authors with just a debut. Her second book is due out in 2021 and I will be first in line to read it!
Title/Author: Human Enough by E.S. Yu
Summary: When Noah Lau joined the Vampire Hunters Association, seeking justice for his parents’ deaths, he didn’t anticipate ending up imprisoned in the house of the vampire he was supposed to kill—and he definitely didn’t anticipate falling for that vampire’s lover. Six months later, Noah’s life has gotten significantly more complicated. On top of being autistic in a world that doesn’t try to understand him, he still hunts vampires for a living … while dating a vampire himself. But when Noah starts looking into the wrong intel they’ve been getting on vampires supposedly guilty of killing humans, he begins to suspect someone on the inside is fabricating evidence to kill innocent vampires.
Genre/Sub-genre: Paranormal Romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 199 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: gay, grey-asexual, pansexual
Other Diversity Factors: Asian, Autistic
Content Warnings: Ableism, hate groups, mentions of past emotional abuse, abduction, and corrupt law enforcement.
Ratio of Sex/Plot: One sex scene was not on page but got a brief mention.
Well-written/Editor Needed: A well-written but simple story.
Would I Recommend?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: This was a very relaxing, sweet read. But for a book about a vampire hunter who works in an elite squad of vampire hunters, falls for a vampire, and uncovers corruption in the ranks, it was almost too sweet and mellow. This is also following on the heels of my reading Blue on Blue by Dal Maclean, which is a very serious, gritty, gay romance about police corruption that included a lot of detailed police procedure. They are two very different books and maybe I was expecting too much of this one in terms of the lack of complexity and predictability of the case. However, even with the simplified plot, the use of two timelines six months apart worked really well to bring together the two major events that changed Noah’s life in a way that would have been drawn out and boring otherwise.
Both main characters, Noah and Jordan, were sweet and clearly meant for each other with their insecurities and hang ups meshing together pretty well. Far from perfect, they were realistic and believable, as was their romance. While Noah’s educational info dumps are in-character with his Autism, they can seem a little too preachy at times for a mostly light read. At the same time, go Noah for standing up for himself in a world where most folks don’t think he’s qualified for his job.
I would love to see more stories set in this world, where vampires are out to the general public, can go to support groups, and can get blood from free blood banks rather than killing humans.
I think my biggest issue was that this book is set in Boston and surrounding towns, but I didn't feel like I was in any of these places. They were simply name drops without any supporting details. I wanted to know what train stations Noah used when taking the T, for example, or how the annoying crush of too many bodies during rush hour might have been different for him with his Autism, or even what the neighborhoods looked like at a quick glance. It wouldn't take much to make the setting feel more real and relatable. Maybe I noticed this more as someone who has lived in Boston for the last 15 years. I was excited to see where this character went, what places I was familiar with, and was disappointed that I didn't get any of that.
Despite its simplicity, this was a light, fun read with good minority representation. I do highly recommend it. But if this sounds too sweet for you and you’re into dark and gritty police procedural mysteries with a heavy dose of gay romance, I also highly recommend the Bitter Legacy series (of which Blue on Blue is the third book). Start with Bitter Legacy by Dal MacLean. Sadly, there are no vampires, though it will keep you up past your bedtime for sure.
Title/Author: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
Summary: A bandit walks into a coffeehouse and picks a fight on behalf of the nun working as a waitress ... and then ends up facing the unexpected consequences of his chivalry when she decides to join his ragtag crew.
Genre/Sub-genre: Historical fantasy
Book Format: eBook (also available in audio and on paper)
Length: 158 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: a main character is trans; a supporting character is gay
Content Warnings: Several fight scenes, some including guns
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes, constantly, to anyone who will sit still long enough
Personal Thoughts: I absolutely loved this novella. The first time I read it, I turned the last page and immediately went straight back to the beginning to read it all over again. Every aspect of the book—the worldbuilding, the character development, the prose—is beautifully polished, and to top it all off, it’s both deeply moving and screamingly funny. Zen Cho could teach a masterclass in writing dialogue that simultaneously flows in English and captures the rhythm of another language. From the very first chapter (”In these times justice is hard to get,” said the waitress sagely. “Better you take the money, sir.”) the writing had me rolling on the floor with unexpected, perfectly phrased zingers.
The next paragraph contains spoilers, so stop here if knowing what happens in the book will ruin your reading experience!
Despite the frequently humorous tone, The Order of the Pure Moon … deals with heavy subjects with grace. Cho describes the book as inspired by both the wuxia genre (think vaguely historical and semi-mythical martial arts stories like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and the Malayan Emergency, a real anti-colonial guerilla war fought in the 1950s. The two main characters, Tet Sang and Guet Imm, wrestle with the devastation that war has brought to their country and to their own lives. Guet Imm, the waitress-nun of the plot synopsis, came out of secluded meditation to discover that her entire monastery had been senselessly slaughtered. Tet Sang, the bandit, is eventually revealed to be the last survivor of another nunnery, doing his best to carry on the legacy of his sisters and continue existing in the world. But for all of that, it’s a very hopeful story, and I love the final image of Tet Sang and Guet Imm going out into the world together.