Welcome to the March edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have a gay teen stumbling into a world of dreams, two furniture store employees rescuing a grandmother from another dimension, and a slice-of-life manga about two people in love.
Title/Author: Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Summary: While recovering from an attack that leaves him without his memory, gay teenager Kane Montgomery stumbles into a world where dreams known as reveries take on a life of their own. It is up to Kane and a few unlikely allies to stop them before they spill over into the waking world.
Genre/Sub-genre: Teen Science Fiction/Fantasy
Book Format: Print (also available as eBook and digital audiobook)
Length: 397 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay
Content Warnings: Talk of suicidal ideation
Well-written/Editor Needed: Editor needed
Would I Recommend?: No
Personal thoughts: The premise of this book was incredible! Dreams can manifest themselves in the real world, creating real danger to those who get trapped in them. Only a few select people remain lucid in these dreams and have to do everything they can to ensure the dream goes smoothly and that everyone survives. Unfortunately, the world-building behind the premise was too weak to support the big dreams (pun intended) of the author. This book was choppy, wordy, and to be honest, all over the place.
Kane, our main character, was largely unlikeable or unrelatable. Much of that has to do with the pacing of the book, which did not really allow time for any real exploration into character or growth. There was a lot of potential for Kane to grow as a character and to draw attention to that growth because the story begins with him having lost his memory and we keep seeing glimpses of who he used to be throughout the novel. Instead, it felt like everything around the characters was rushed.
The relationships Kane is working to rebuild following his memory erasure are one-dimensional at best. His love interest Dean reappears and, though they spend barely any time together, they almost instantly get back together. I was especially disappointed by this because it felt like there had been some real conflict before Kane lost his memory. It was conflict Dean was obviously still working through, but La Sala rushed this, too. I truly think that if this had been a duology, I would have enjoyed it because there would have been time to flesh everything out and create more meaningful relationships between the characters.
Title/Author: Finna by Nino Cipri
Summary: When an elderly customer at a big box furniture store slips through a portal to another dimension, it’s up to two minimum-wage employees to track her across the multiverse and protect their company’s bottom line. Multi-dimensional swashbuckling would be hard enough, but our two unfortunate souls broke up a week ago. Can friendship blossom from the ashes of a relationship? In infinite dimensions, all things are possible.
Series/Standalone: FINNA #1
Book Format: Paperback (also available as eBook)
Length: 134 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Nonbinary/Transgender
Content Warnings: A brief encounter with carnivorous furniture, a store that only accepts payment in blood, and an angry mob of clones!
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes
Personal thoughts: This was a super-fast and a super-fun read. The world-building here is familiar, yet unique and inventive at the same time. If you’ve ever been in an IKEA furniture store, or worked retail, then you’ll feel right at home… or lost in a maze, here at LitenVarld. Just make sure you don’t find yourself extra lost in a wormhole! And if you do find yourself in another dimension, I’d also advise you to stay far away from the carnivorous furniture. I really loved the names of the little display rooms: Her Majesty’s Romper Room, Newly Retired Swinger, and The Nihilist Bachelor Cube to name a few.
The main characters, Ava and Jules, were great and made me want to root for them all the way. Jules is a Black trans teen of immigrant parents, going by they/them pronouns and Ava is their ex-girlfriend. The two have just broken up from a short relationship, and get stuck going on an adventure to find a customer’s lost grandmother. They argue a lot, as recently broken up couples are wont to do, but they do help each other out when the going gets tough and toward the end, Ava is wondering if they can’t still be friends even though they didn’t make a great couple. I would have liked it even better if their adventures had been longer and more in depth only because I wanted more fun. I also think their drama could have been drawn out a little bit more.
The ending of this novella is positive and hopeful though. It's good just as it is. It also leaves a lot open for a sequel that could follow Ava and Jules into another adventure. I would totally be up for that. The second book in this series is set to release later this year, and going by the description, it does not look like it will focus on these characters. I can only hope we get to see them again, at least in passing, to know that they’re still out there somewhere having fun adventures without us.
Title/Author/Artist: My Androgynous Boyfriend, vol. 1 by Tamekou
Summary: Wako’s relationship with beautiful, ultra-fashionable Meguru seems to confuse a lot of people. His Instagram followers assume he’s gay, her coworkers assume she’s a lesbian, and strangers make intrusive guesses about both of their genders. Other people’s opinions don’t matter to Wako and Meguru, though – they know they’re deeply in love!
Series/Standalone: First in an ongoing series
Genre/Sub-genre: Slice-of-life manga
Book Format: Print
Length: 164 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gender nonconforming
Content Warnings: None
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written and well-translated, but I could have used some footnotes to explain cultural context
Art/Illustrations: The art in this series is really lovely. Meguru's outfits and makeup take center stage, as they should. I only wish there were more full-color spreads, because the front cover is a whole other level of gorgeous.
Would I Recommend?: Yes, especially to fans of other manga series that play with gender expectations like Princess Jellyfish and Ouran High School Host Club or slice-of-life stories like What Did You Eat Yesterday?
Personal thoughts: This is a very fun, not-at-all-serious book, which is exactly what I needed as we come up on an entire year of pandemic living. It was a delight to settle into a low-stakes story about making dinner, going to IKEA, and wanting to be beautiful for the person you love. There may be little dramas, but none of them revolve around the security of Wako and Meguru's relationship, which is rock-solid. Is it a total fantasy to imagine that a twenty-something social media influencer and editor can live in a spacious apartment in Tokyo without constantly worrying about money? Probably! Am I willing to embrace that fantasy in my slice-of-life rom-com? You bet!
I do very much wish that the publisher had added endnotes to explain some of the context of the story, because as an American who's never been to Japan, I'm sure I'm missing quite a bit. The English editions of Princess Jellyfish and Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku both do a fantastic job of glossing the references an English-speaking audience is likely to miss, and now I want that for every contemporary series I read. In this particular case, I would really appreciate some clues about how Meguru's gender nonconformity is meant to be read. The Japanese title of the series translates literally to something more like "I'm loved by a genderless boy," but Meguru is explicitly not trans and doesn't appear to identify in the text as nonbinary, genderqueer, or agender. The word that's translated as "androgynous" or "genderless" seems to refer mainly to his fashion sense, which is of course a very important part of gender expression. And his fashion confuses other people who are eager to slap a label on him. I would love to know more about how his gender play is interpreted in a specifically Japanese context.
That minor quibble aside, I really loved this first volume and will definitely be picking up the second. Hopefully I can learn more as I go along!