Queer Lit Review: January 2024

Hello and welcome to a new year with the Queer Lit Review! First off, let's introduce the librarians blogging for QLR this year! We would like to extend a warm welcome to our newest librarian, Logan, and a fond farewell to Veronica who has been reviewing queer books with QLR since 2019. 

Jordan - Reader Services Specialist, Central Library (she/they)

I am looking forward to the third book in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Between Earth and Sky trilogy to be released in June (fingers crossed!) so that I can finally dive into reading the whole series all at once!

Fast Facts:

  1. I use tarot cards a lot for self-reflection and will be using an old favorite deck of mine, The Spacious Tarot (and its expansion pack!), as my main deck this year.
  2. I am getting back into practicing Tai Chi regularly.
  3. I read and write a lot of fanfiction.

Puck - Cataloger & Classifier, Central Library (ve/ver/vis/verself or they/them/theirs/themself - example sentences at link!)

Two favorite queer titles:

  1. When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb
  2. The Water Outlaws by SL Huang

Fast Facts:

  1. I’m a published short story author with the fabulous Duck Prints Press!
  2. I have visited every continent except Antarctica.
  3. I love learning new languages! Currently I’m studying Mandarin and Spanish while trying to maintain my Japanese skills.

Morgan - Youth Services Librarian, Chinatown Branch (they/them)

Queer books I’m looking forward to in 2024: 

  1. Daniel, Deconstructed by James Ramos 
  2. One Killer Problem by Justine Pucella Winans 

Fast Facts:  

  1. My favorite genres to read are horror, mystery, and (of course) queer romance. 
  2. At the time of writing, I am just about seven months on testosterone! 

Allison - Children's Librarian, Brighton Branch (she/her)

Two queer titles I’m looking forward to: 

  1. The Pairing by Casey McQuiston (Adult Fiction, August 2024) 
  2. True Love and Other Impossible Odds by Christina Li (Teen Fiction, May 2024) 

Fast Facts: 

  1. “She is small, only five feet tall. She is loud, she is also out and proud.” - a poem by a library coworker. 
  2. I have two cats that I’m fully obsessed with. One of them is fluffy and smart and the other one is small and not smart. 
  3. Outside of work I’m part of a dance company and love to do escape rooms. 

Laura - Collection Librarian, Central Library (she/her)

Two queer titles I’m looking forward to: 

  1. This Is Me Trying by Racquel Marie 
  2. Escaping Mr. Rochester by L.L. McKinney 

Fast Facts: 

  1. I have a cat named Coffee who lived at the shelter for 4 years before I adopted her because she was so shy. 
  2. I also have a cat named Yorkie who was a menace at the shelter and then crawled into my lap the second I took him home. (He’s also still a menace.) 
  3. Mothman was my favorite cryptid before it was cool. 

Logan - Reader Services Librarian, Central Library (they/them)

Two queer titles I’m looking forward to in 2024:

  1. Interesting Facts about Space by Emma R. Alban
  2. Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly

Fast Facts:

  1. I have a very cute but shy 11-year-old cat named Satin whom I got from the shelter when she was just three months old.
  2. I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for ~8 years.
  3. Three of my tattoos have names; Sheldon, Maggie, and Kellan.

And now for our first three book reviews of 2024! For January and February we are reviewing queer titles you may want to read for the BPL's annual Winter Reading Challenge. This year's challenge asks you to read six books, one from each of six continents where the author of the book needs to have been born there or have lived there for a time. Each of the three reviews for January and the upcoming three reviews for February's blog post will list which continent the book fits into.

This month we have a young man exploring his gender identity in Cuba,  a gay teen meeting new friends at a queer youth center in Japan, and a multigenerational story where a gay teen returns to Iran to visit his dying grandfather.

These titles may be available in other formats or languages. Check our catalog for availability.

Happy Reading! 

Title/Author:Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala

Reviewer:  Jordan

Summary: Ten-year-old Rauli lives in a world that is often hostile. His intelligence and sensitivity do not endear him to anyone, including his family or the other children at school. He loves to read, especially Greek myths, and knows three things to be true: First, that he was born in the wrong body. Second, that he will die, aged 18, as a soldier in the Cuban intervention in Angola. And third, that he is the reincarnation of the Trojan princess Cassandra.

Winter Reading Challenge Region: Americas/Cuba

Series/Standalone:  Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre:  Literary Fiction

Book Format: Hardcover

Length:  224 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Transgender/gender fluid and asexual

Content Warnings: Physical abuse, sexual abuse/rape, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism.

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: If you like literary fiction, can handle reading about sexual abuse, and aren’t in the mood for a happy ending, perhaps you’ll like this one!

Personal thoughts: This was well-written, almost lyrical in a way. Gala did an excellent job alternating the timeline between Cassandra’s unforgiving childhood in Cuba, the even more unforgiving teenage years within the Cuban Army, and the years as Cassandra in ancient Greece. The switches come around mid-chapter, sometimes even mid-scene, which is usually frowned upon, but is handled well here, and I had no problems following along.

That said, it was very hard to get through, in that there are very few pages that don’t include some form of hatred or abuse. Knowing that this novel is set in Cuba and Africa during the 1970s & 1980s, I went into it expecting there to be some homophobia and transphobia, but there was much more than I expected. It’s told in a straightforward manner as well as being a short and fast read, which does help to lessen the pain of it all, somewhat. 

I did not feel that we adequately explored Rauli’s search for identity, as the book jacket states. Rauli goes by many names (Rauli, Cassandra, Nancy, and Wendy) and uses she/her and he/him pronouns interchangeably. These labels didn’t exist in the 1970s/1980s, but it’s not clear if Rauli may be gender fluid or transgender. On one hand he seems to prefer female identities, but he also lets himself be whatever others (from his mother to his Army Captain) need him to be. His mother needs him to be Nancy, her sister who passed away, and his Captain wants him to be a stand-in for the wife he left behind in Cuba. I think it’s also hard to thoroughly explore your identity when you know you’re not going to live past a young age. This may also be a failing of mine because not everyone’s identity works the same way, but I wanted to know Rauli’s preferred name and pronouns and we never get to know those things. This is why I’ve stuck to using “Rauli” throughout this review.

I have a feeling some things were left vague on purpose and the vagueness does bring a lot of discussion to a book group! For example, do the Greek Gods and Goddesses he talks to actually exist in the world of this novel or is he “seeing things?” As he’s the only one who can see and interact with them, it’s a tough question to answer!

In short, this was well written, but certainly not an enjoyable one for me.

Title/Author: Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani 

Winter Reading Challenge Region: Asia/Japan 

Reviewer: Morgan 

Summary: This four-volume series follows a gay high schooler named Tasuku Kaname and the people he meets at an LGBTQIA+ youth center.  

Series/Standalone: Series 

Genre/Sub-Genre: Manga 

Book Format: Physical Book 

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay, lesbian, trans, asexual, genderqueer 

Content Warnings: Suicidal ideation, homophobia and transphobia (including slurs and misgendering), microaggressions, bullying, death/grief 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written 

Would I Recommend?: Yes 

Personal thoughts: This is one of my favorite manga series, and with only four volumes, it’s extremely easy to binge-read! The artwork is breathtaking, and the story took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. It had me laughing out loud, feeling warm and fuzzy, and crying so hard my wife was worried; if that’s not a high recommendation in itself, I don’t know what is. 

I’m a big fan of the “found family” trope, and if that’s also your jam, you’ll love Our Dreams at Dusk. The characters are all complex and loveable and (at times) infuriating, and I want to give them all hugs. They make bad choices and act ignorantly sometimes, and I love that. I love that these teens and young adults get to act realistically. In my opinion, it makes the story more believable and helps you relate to the characters on deeper levels. While readers who prefer fast-paced action and epic fight scenes may not enjoy this, it’s an excellent choice for anyone who likes slice-of-life, character development, and a peek into queer life in other cultures. 

Title/Author: Only This Beautiful Moment by Abdi Nazemian

Winter Reading Challenge Region: The Middle East/Iran

Reviewer: Laura

Summary: This book follows 3 generations of an Iranian-American family as they share secrets and bond with each other. Bobby is a closeted teen in 1939 who moves to Iran to find his father. His son Saeed moves to America in 1978 to escape punishment for protesting the Shah. In the current day Saeed’s son, Moud, who is an out gay teenager, returns to Iran with his father to visit his dying grandfather.

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre: Teen Fiction

Book Format: Physical Book

Length: 390 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay

Content Warnings: Homophobia, drug use, sexual content

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes!

Personal thoughts: I wasn’t sure if I would like this book, because while I think Nazemian is a very good writer, I don’t tend to love this kind of generation-hopping story – I usually prefer a linear timeline. But I ended up really loving it. Since the chapters were fairly long, you got to sit with each character for a while and it didn’t feel like you were hopping back and forth between stories with a lot to keep track of. All three characters also had distinct voices, so it was easy to distinguish them from each other.

One thing I really appreciated about this book was how each storyline educated the reader on something without it being dry or preachy. In Moud’s timeline, the reader learns about modern-day queer communities in Iran. Moud’s boyfriend, Shane, thinks he is a great activist, but strongly believes that Moud should fully disavow Iran since being gay is illegal there. Once Moud arrives in Iran, his cousin Ava introduces him to the underground queer culture. Similarly, when Moud learns the truth about his grandparents’ sexuality, he discovers that they (and other queer elders) provide support for LGBTQ young people in the country. One of Ava’s friends even points out to Moud and Shane that the US isn’t as progressive on LGBTQ issues as Shane claims. Shane and Moud also had a lot of interesting discussions throughout the book about what types of activism are actually productive versus what is just virtue signaling.

In Saeed’s storyline, the reader learns about the Iranian Revolution, as he and his peers protest to overthrow the Shah. It was particularly interesting to see Saeed and other characters grapple with the fact that while they might not regret that there was a change in regime, the man they fought for to take over didn’t end up providing the freedom that they hoped for.

Bobby’s storyline was probably my favorite, since I love reading about Old Hollywood. While living in America, he is pursuing an acting career at MGM because of his pushy stage mom. Once he signs a studio contract, he begins going to Hollywood parties. At one such party, he meets Zip, a drag queen and performer who will become his mentor, but he also meets real celebrities. One of the real people Bobby meets is William Haines, who gave up his acting career and became an interior designer because he refused to go back into the closet or leave his long-term partner. I immediately went to the internet to learn more about Haines after he was mentioned!

Overall, I think this is a beautifully written book that obviously meant a lot to Nazemian based on the afterword. All three characters’ stories are worth reading, and you really grow to care about each of them. I definitely recommend checking this book out!