Welcome to the October 2020 edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have a transgender Latinx Brujo solving the mystery of a classmate's death, a memorysmith falling for the Autistic man who appears in his fantasy memories, and two young ladies coming out as lesbian in Japan.
Title/Author: Cemetery Boys by Adian Thomas
Summary: Yadriel, a trans boy, summons the angry spirit of his high school's bad boy, and agrees to help him learn how he died, thereby proving himself a brujo, not a bruja, to his conservative family.
Genre/Sub-genre: Teen Fiction
Book Format: eBook
Length: 352 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Trans boy & gay boy
Content Warnings: Deadnaming; transphobia; homophobia (all addressed on page)
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: YES
Personal Thoughts: What a debut! Cemetery Boys is a wonderful read about identity, acceptance, and the (sometimes) recklessness of young love. Yadriel, our main character, is a trans boy who simply wants his family to see him as he truly is. After the loss of his mother, his biggest support, Yadriel struggles to find his place amongst his family. It’s further complicated because his family are brujxs, tasked with helping restless dead spirits crossover and keeping them from becoming malignant. Within the brujxs, there are specific roles to be played by the male and female members. Our story really starts when Yadriel sets out to prove that Lady Death sees him as the boy he is, even if his family doesn’t.
When the ceremony Yadriel performs goes wrong, he accidentally summons the spirit of Julian, a newly deceased classmate with some unfinished business. Yadriel agrees to help Julian cross over as long as they can keep it a secret from his family. The two work together to figure out what happened to Julian the night of his death, but the more time they spend together, the less Yadriel wishes that Julian would have to cross over.
With believable characters and the kind of representation that has been long missing in the genre, Thomas deserved their spot on the NYT Best Sellers List and more. (Thomas is the first trans author with a trans main character to make the list.) This debut is stunning—a glimpse into Latinx and brujx culture through the eyes of someone making a place for themself within it.
Title/Author: Remember Tomorrow by Jordan Castillo Price
Summary: Daniel was a hotshot memorysmith—a major innovator in the field of recreational memories known as mnemography—until his father, Big Dan, suffered a freak persistent memory that sent their business into a tailspin. Now Daniel labors behind the scenes, seeking only to cure the persistent false memory and salvage their failing shop. Elijah is the most talented mind in the memory industry, but because that mind is far from neurotypical, his potential is wasted teaching beginners at the mall. When his cobbled-together gear projects him into one of Daniel’s memory programs, a colorful but challenging relationship sparks to life.
Series/Standalone: This is the complete Mnevermind Trilogy of novellas.
Genre/Sub-genre: Science Fiction/Romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 482 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay
Content Warnings: Ableism, fat-shaming, homophobia, and harassment
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Heavy on the plot
Well-written/Editor Needed: Very well-written
Would I Re-read?: This is my second read of this trilogy!
Personal Thoughts: Reading this a second time, I was able to really look into the subtle details of this world-building and the story within it, and my perspective has shifted. Where I initially liked it just fine, I now see what makes this a truly outstanding book. What I appreciate here is how realistic it is. I mean that if Mnemography was real, I think Jordan has given us a pretty realistic view of how it would fit into our current society in the United States. The technology is believable without overloading on terminology and information that would confuse or bore the reader. I've also not seen anything like this in fiction yet, so major kudos for a unique idea. With the memory tech, you'll be unsure what's going on at times—whether you're in mnem or reality—so you'll stay on your toes for this one!
All of the characters stand apart from the group and were entertaining to read about, from aging Aunt Pipsie to goofy Larry, and even Big Dan who can't remember he divorced his wife five years ago. I rooted hard for the small business of Adventure Tech to survive and have their chance to finally make it big. The one major downside is the cast of side characters who are less than pleasant to Elijah, going so far as to harass him for being gay. Their plot lines are never resolved, so we don't get any sort of justice. I really wish we had.
Elijah is on the Autism spectrum and I thought this was handled really well. His relationship with Daniel is realistically awkward, including the sex scenes, as he works to navigate in a neurotypical world he doesn't always understand. Daniel accepts him as he is right from the start, even going so far as to research Autism so that he can understand Elijah better. The three novellas are told in first person, alternating between Daniel and Elijah's points of view. I think seeing both viewpoints helps to understand exactly what each character is going through and what they're feeling. It also lends more authenticity to Elijah's character.
Lastly, the ending is realistic as everything comes together in a satisfying way, even if it wasn't what I'd been hoping for. If you like contemporary romance with light sci-fi and a neuroatypical character, give this a try!
Title/Author/Artist: How Do We Relationship?, Volume 1 by Tamifull
Summary: Miwa knows that she’s a lesbian, but before she got to college she never had a chance to date another girl. When her new friend Saeko comes out to her, they decide to give a relationship a shot—but they’ve got a lot to learn as they go!
Series/Standalone: First volume in an ongoing series
Genre/Sub-genre: Romance manga
Book Format: eBook
Length: 206 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian
Content Warnings: It is mentioned, although not in explicit detail, that Saeko’s first girlfriend was subjected to homophobic harassment because of their relationship. Several friends make thoughtlessly homophobic remarks (such as “How do two women have sex?”) that are not challenged in the text when Miwa and Saeko reveal that they’re dating.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written and well-translated!
Art/Illustrations: As is typical for manga, the art is fully black and white and flows from right to left. I found the style very charming and more cartoonish than realistic! The character designs, and especially the costume choices, are distinctive and really look appropriate for college students, which I appreciated. Bear in mind that the cartoon-y style does not imply a lack of adult content! Like the Kase-san... series (reviewed in June 2019), this is a portrayal of female desire that manages to be realistically messy without tipping over into voyeuristic or titillating.
Would I Recommend?: Yes, and I also intend to keep reading the series as it becomes available in English.
Personal Thoughts: It’s always a pleasure to find a romance manga that isn’t set in high school! I was interested to read in the author’s note that this was very much an intentional choice, and that Tamifull wanted to tell a story that they didn’t often see: one where the romance begins with the decision to go out together, rather than ending there. After all, lots of people start dating to see if they’re compatible, hoping to fall in love but not sure it will happen. And relationships can be romantic, but they’re also hard work! I found it refreshing (if occasionally frustrating) to read about Miwa and Saeko fumbling their way through deciding to date, telling their friends, and coping with their different reactions to conflict and different comfort levels with sexual activity.
It’s also interesting to read what seems to be a realistic take on the experience of coming out and being in a lesbian relationship in a different country. How Do We Relationship? is definitely not didactic about “gay issues in Japan” the way that, for example, My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame can be, but reading between the lines is a fascinating exercise. Saeko’s mother is welcoming to her daughter’s new girlfriend, for instance, but Miwa is deeply stressed every time she has to come out to a new person. And Saeko is still traumatized by the bullying her first girlfriend suffered because of their relationship. The overall narrative does nothing to contradict the fact that Miwa is grateful to be received with only small microaggressions rather than flat-out rejected by her friends. I’m very curious to see whether their social circle will expand to include other queer people in future volumes.
If you’re interested in reading other realistic manga about being queer and out in Japan, try Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani and My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata, as well as My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame!