Hello and welcome to the September edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have a teen with a lot of secrets, a nonbinary professor finding romance through karaoke, and an asexual prince finding love through reality TV.
Title/Author/Artist: The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret. She can't wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She's desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends ... who don't understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan's biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.
Genre/Sub-genre: Young adult graphic novel
Book Format: Print
Length: 245 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Sapphic
Content Warnings: Forced outing (addressed on-page)
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes
Personal thoughts: I really enjoyed this! Ostertag’s art is captivating. Her use of color and design draw you right in. No two characters looked alike. You can tell she put a lot of detail into every aspect of them, from how they styled their hair to what they wore. She includes a bit of her thought process at the end of the book and I loved getting a glimpse into how the book and characters developed.
No one in Morgan’s small hometown knows that she likes girls. She doesn’t want to deal with the drama of coming out and besides, she has a whole plan for what her life will be like when she finally leaves home. While I could appreciate where Morgan was coming from in not wanting to go through the drama of coming out while still living in her small hometown, I didn’t totally understand her decision. She had a family and group of friends who had never suggested that they would be anything less than supportive of her identity. With her family, I can see it a bit more because her brother has been occupying quite a bit of her mom’s attention and Morgan doesn’t want to add to that, but her friends seem genuinely interested in her life and supporting her. There were quite a few times in the book, actually, where Morgan behaves like a bad friend and though it is kind of addressed, there is never really the heart-to-heart that her friends deserve.
The romance in this book is super cute! I think Ostertag perfectly captured what it’s like to exist in the bubble of a budding relationship. Keltie, the love interest, is a selkie, which means that she is part-seal and typically lives in the water amongst the other seals, only able to step on land every seven years or after a kiss. Keltie—now human because of Morgan’s kiss—gives Morgan her seal skin, allowing Keltie to remain human as long as she does not transform back. The two spend all their time together and start falling for each other, even as Morgan’s other friends and family feel her pulling away. However, Keltie has ulterior motives for wanting to be on land and when Morgan and her other friends get caught in the middle, Morgan might risk losing the first romantic love she’s ever known.
Overall, this was deeply enjoyable and the characters were wonderful. Ostertag’s art is so accessible and expressive, adding to the enjoyment of the plot. I loved the incorporation of the selkie mythology and the way that it brought the different parts of the story together. I definitely recommend this to our QFB readers.
Title/Author: Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly
Summary: Sam Bell, a nonbinary history professor, has had a lifetime of failed relationships and doesn’t believe there’s anyone out there for them. Then, at karaoke night, all of Sam’s friends abandon them to sit alone at their group table. For Lily Fischer, karaoke at Moonie's is the only time she can step outside of her quiet shell. When there’s a mic in her hand, Lily can pretend to be someone bold who takes what she wants. Tonight, what Lily wants is the way Sam looks at her, like they see her exactly as she wants to be seen. As the night progresses, both of their personal fears are tested, and the real world outside of Moonie’s looms. It's not always about knowing all the right words or having the perfect voice. Maybe all Sam and Lily need is a little courage to pick up the mic, and sing anyway.
Series/Standalone: Moonlighters #1, but can be read as a standalone
Book Format: eBook
Length: 124 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Nonbinary, pansexual, bisexual, though these terms are not explicitly stated.
Content Warnings: None
Ratio of Sex/Plot: This is heavy on the plot, but there is some graphic sex here.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written.
Would I Re-Read?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: This is ADORABLE. If you’re looking for a light, fun, but realistic, queer romance this is the book for you! There were so many things I liked that I literally started making a list as I read it. First off, the music representation was wide ranging and fun. Lily’s trademark karaoke song is "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood and Sam has two cats named Simon and Garfunkel. Second, I appreciated the realistic conversation Lily and Sam had about buying clothing that doesn’t fit fat people. There is no fat shaming here! Lily calls herself fat and describes Sam as “adorably chunky.” Third, I also appreciated that they were not in their mid-20’s like so many romance novel characters. Lily is 32 and Sam is in their 40’s. Fourth, I love it when romance characters call each other by their respective job titles as terms of endearment and Lily calls Sam “Professor Bell” several times. And fifth, Lily and Sam respect each other a whole heck of a lot. Lily makes sure she asks Sam what their preferred pronouns are and they each take care not to belittle the other's hobbies and interests.
I can't recommend this super sweet, fun romance enough! And as a bonus, there are excerpts at the end for more upcoming stories in this series!
Title/Author: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
Summary: Is the set of a reality dating show the best place for Dev to be as he recovers from a breakup with his longtime boyfriend? Probably not, especially since Ryan works on the show, too! But Dev loves love, and he's determined to help the latest "prince" on Ever After find his soulmate. The more time he spends with sweet, awkward, desperately anxious Charlie, the more it seems like Charlie's happily-ever-after isn't going to involve any of his potential princesses ... because maybe it will be Dev, instead.
Genre/Sub-genre: Romantic Comedy
Book Format: eBook (also available in digital audiobook format)
Length: 368 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay and asexual/demisexual
Content Warnings: Both Dev and Charlie suffer from mental illness and experience workplace discrimination due to their mental health. The book contains epistolary interludes framed as the producer's notes on the ongoing reality TV show filming, and they are often casually bigoted on multiple levels.
Well-written/Editor Needed: The prose gets a little purple at times, but well within the expected parameters for a romance novel.
Would I Recommend?: If you like romance, absolutely yes. If you don't like romance, probably no. And that's okay!
Personal thoughts: This is an absolute delight of a book that I stayed up late to finish. It's a good read-alike for Queer Fiction Blog fave Red, White & Royal Blue. The exact circumstances of the setting are different, but you have the secret relationship, the socially conscious protagonists, and the endearing cast of friends.
I picked The Charm Offensive up because I heard there might be ace rep, and there is! Charlie, the "prince" of the reality TV show at the center of the book, is unexpectedly attracted to his handler, Dev. "Unexpectedly," not because he's never been attracted to a man, but because he's never been attracted to anyone. The words "asexual" and "demisexual" and the concept of the spectrum between asexuality and allosexuality are all on the page. A side character talks about her experiences being a sex-repulsed asexual. I was absolutely blown away to see this in a book coming out of a mainstream traditional publisher.
I hope that the book is equally empowering for folks seeking mental health representation on the page. Charlie has OCD and a panic disorder, and Dev suffers from clinical depression. These challenges are not glossed over at all, and they are not magically cured by sex or a romantic partner.
I felt the ending was maybe a little rushed, but that's really my only criticism. I had such a wonderful time reading this book, and I'm excited to have another author to add to my to-watch list!