Queer Fiction Blog: March 2020

Welcome to the March Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have a young woman confronting loneliness and loss, two young men falling in love over shared meals and cooking lessons, and a group of queer friends making terrible decisions in their lives.

Title/Author: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Reviewer: Allison

Summary: Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-genre: Young Adult

Book Format: Print

Length: 234 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual

Violence: No physical violence

Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes

Personal thoughts: I, mistakenly, read this book while on a beach vacation. Which means that I ended up crying on a beach while on vacation. This book was touching. It was gentle, it was creeping and beautiful and loving. LaCour’s prose is syrupy in the best way—slow-moving, but sweet.

As someone who lost her grandfather during her college years, this book resonated deeply with me. Though Marin’s loss is more complicated than mine was, I still remember feeling exactly how she felt. Marin is a realistic character entrenched in her own grief even as she struggles to move forward with her life. I was rooting for her every step of the way.

The book moves back and forth between Marin’s life with her grandfather and present day, when her best friend from back home, Mabel, comes to visit for the first time since Marin’s grandfather passed. Marin doesn’t know how to be around Mabel anymore. She’s crushed by the guilt of not responding to Mabel’s texts and calls and also the uncertainty of what they are to each other. Before her grandfather died, Mabel and Marin had become more than friends, spending nights down at the beach falling in love. Now, Mabel has a boyfriend and a new life at her college and Marin isn’t sure how she fits into that picture anymore.

Their time together is messy. They say too much and also not enough, but the ending is so deeply satisfying. It is worth every tense and awkward silence between them.

Title/Author/Artist: Our Dining Table by Mita Ori

Reviewer: Jordan

Summary: Eating around other people is a struggle for salaryman Yutaka, despite his talent for cooking. All that changes when he meets Minoru and Tane—two brothers, many years apart in age—who ask him to teach them how to make his delicious food! It’s not long before Yutaka finds himself falling hard for the meals they share together—and falling in love!

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-genre: Contemporary romance, graphic novel

Book Format: Paperback

Length: 236 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay

HEA/HFN: Yes

Abuse/Rape: None

Violence: None

Ratio of Sex/Plot: No sex

Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written!

Art/Illustrations: This was done with standard manga art, but it was well-done and the artist was able to differentiate between the two similar-ish leads so that I could tell them apart, which doesn't always happen for me in manga. The younger brother is just plain cute!

Would I Recommend?: Yes

Personal thoughts: This was an adorable manga depicting two young men slowly falling in love over food with a younger brother (he's four-years-old) constantly being cute and getting in the way. (AKA helping the boys get together without realizing what he’s doing.) Minoru’s father is so clueless about everything, and yet, he has wisdom to share, open arms for Yutaka, and a general kindness that makes me wish I could know him in real life. Everything about this was sweet and good and realistic, right down to Yutaka's fears of losing loved ones and his need to move on from his troubled past. Even Minoru has something in his past keeping him from finding love, but over time he re-learns how to cherish the small things in life, like sharing a simple meal with someone. I appreciated that there was no sex, which sometimes ends up as the non-consensual variety in manga. But not here. This was a beautiful, gentle love story centered around friends, family (found family!), and food. I can’t recommend it enough.

Title/Author/Artist: Grease Bats by Archie Bongiovanni

Reviewer: Veronica

Summary: Andy, a slutty genderqueer dirtbag, Scout, a useless grunge lesbian, Gwen, an outgoing and newly out bisexual, Taylor, an inexperienced lesbian grad student, and Ari, a trans ace anti-capitalist, make up the queerest bunch of friends in comics since Dykes To Watch Out For. Follow their adventures as they make a lot of realistically terrible decisions about money, alcohol, and relationships!

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-genre: Graphic novel

Book Format: Print

Length: 303 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: All of them

Violence: No physical violence; some microaggressions including misgendering are portrayed

Well-written/Editor Needed: Needed an editor

Art/Illustrations: I get the aesthetic this collection is going for (early Dykes To Watch Out For crossed with early Hark! A Vagrant) but I don't actually like it. The art is just ... extremely bad? Like, the quality and effort look approximately equal to something a not-very-talented middle schooler doodled on the back of their math homework. So that's something to be aware of.

Would I Recommend?: There aren't a lot of stories like this out there, so this collection definitely has its audience and that audience will love it! The cast is authentic and charming, so if you're willing to overlook a somewhat lo-fi zine quality of both art and writing, I’d say give it a shot.

Personal thoughts: As context, this collection was originally posted as standalone comics on Autostraddle. As throwaway doodles on a queer-focused pop culture website, they’re fun and entertaining. As a book put out by BOOM! Studios, which is a well-regarded publisher of graphic novels responsible for beloved hits such as Lumberjanes and The Woods … (how to put this?) ... I think whoever was responsible for editing this volume should be ashamed of themselves. They didn’t bother to clean up the artwork, make the lettering more legible, or even fix the most basic spelling errors. These are issues that could be overlooked when dealing with a small press that doesn’t have a lot of experience printing graphic novels, but BOOM! has been in this business for a long time, and it feels like a slap in the face that someone (maybe several someones) looked at this particular book with its particular audience and said, “You know what, that’s all fine, it doesn’t need to be fixed.” What value has the publisher added by printing this volume? You could just as well print out the comics yourself and staple them together.

Issues of quality control aside, this is an entertaining read that perfectly achieves Dykes To Watch Out For read-alike status! It can be frustrating to read about the characters acting stupidly and making bad decisions, but in the way that it's frustrating to watch your own friends date people who don't appreciate them or waste their money on things that you think aren't going to work out in the long run. The cartoons feel real and they're a spot-on portrait of a circle of queer friends in their early twenties—unnecessary drama and all.

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