Queer Lit Review: March 2024

Hello and welcome to the March 2024 edition of the Queer Lit Review Blog! This month we have an autistic high school senior dealing with an awkward crush, a Jeopardy! champion's memoir, and a Chinese immortal falling for a French elf.

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Happy Reading!

Title/Author: Daniel, Deconstructed by James Ramos 

Reviewer: Morgan 

Summary: Daniel, an autistic high school senior, prefers staying behind the scenes. When he meets Gabe, an attractive and talented new classmate, he knows they’d be perfect for his just-as-cool best friend Mona. But Gabe doesn’t seem interested in Mona. They’re interested in him, and Daniel doesn’t have a script to follow for this. 

Series/Standalone: Standalone 

Genre/Sub-Genre: Teen Romance 

Book Format: Physical 

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Pansexual, non-binary 

Content Warnings: Internalized ableism, overstimulation, disassociation, misgendering, past bullying 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Editor needed 

Would I Recommend?: Yes if you’re looking to learn about autism, otherwise no 

Personal thoughts: Daniel, Deconstructed has truly excellent autism representation! I felt seen from the very first paragraph. It reminds me of how important it is to let autistic authors tell autistic stories; there's just no way an allistic writer could capture nuanced feelings like squashing the urge to info-dump or knowing you need to watch your facial expressions. Everything Daniel describes is so, so relatable (particularly being hyperempathetic, not understanding the purpose of wedding showers, and assuming that everyone either dislikes or is ambivalent toward you) — it genuinely felt like getting a hug to see my own experiences on the page. I really hope more books continue to get published about people who don't feel like the main character in their own story. 

The only part I didn't love was Gabe. They felt like such a manic-pixie-dream-them. As an enby myself, I don't enjoy having to admit to disliking a non-binary character. Although I sympathize with their dysphoria and admire that they aren't shy about being themself, they're also just...cringey. Every time Daniel observed that Gabe is different in some way, I found myself rolling my eyes. And I have to admit to having mixed feelings about readers being told Gabe's assigned gender at birth. On one hand, it's always nice to have a character explain misgendering, and the brief plotline about the homecoming court nomination was cool. On the other hand, that plotline only lasted a chapter or two, which to me seems too irrelevant to justify revealing such sensitive information. If 1) Gabe had come out over the course of the book, 2) it was dual-POV so we also got to see all of their interactions, 3) it featured sex scenes, 4) Gabe chose to medically transition, or 5) it was more about the trans experience, I would agree with including that. But that's not the case. We're told Gabe's full name, the features on their body, and the exact ways in which they're misgendered. It's tricky because of course that's something they'd complain about — I do too in real life to people I trust. For the purposes of a book, though, I feel like there might have been slightly better (but still meaningful) ways to include that type of conversation without revealing Gabe's biological sex. 

However, the author is non-binary just like I am, and we aren’t a monolith! There isn’t one correct way to portray non-binary characters, nor do I make all the rules. It was overall a sweet story with a wonderfully diverse cast: Daniel and his family are Afro-Cuban and his dad is also autistic, Gabe is Black and has two moms, Mona is bi and an unspecified BIPOC person, one side character is gay, and another is trans and autistic. Even when I think a book isn’t the best, it still makes me happy to see it filled with characters who reflect the diversity of real life. 

Title/Author: In the Form of a Question by Amy Schneider 

Reviewer: Laura 

Summary: This memoir by Jeopardy! Champion Amy Schneider is centered around questions that she has been frequently asked throughout her life, ranging from her experience as a transgender woman to her time on the show to her mental health journey.  

Series/Standalone: Standalone 

Subject/Topic: Memoir 

Book Format: eBook 

Length: 271 pages 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Editor needed 

Would I Recommend?: No 

Personal Thoughts: Amy Schneider was, presumably, given a book deal because she is the most successful woman to have competed on Jeopardy! However, she spends very little time in her memoir discussing the show. I expect that most people picking this book up are doing so because they want to read about the experience of being on such a beloved gameshow, so naturally it is a bummer to really get no content about the actual process of competing.  

I expected this book to be an even mix of stories about growing up queer/coming out as transgender and about competing on Jeopardy! Instead, the book is filled with chapters about things like the 90s’ cartoon Daria, the meaning of every single tarot card, and why Schneider thinks everyone should be polyamorous. Schneider also mentions in numerous chapters that she’s sure her editor is just going to be glad that she turned something in. That sentiment really comes across with how disjointed the chapters are from each other, how abrupt the ending is, and how random many of the topics are. It felt like she had a word count to hit and hitting that word count was more important to her than writing an interesting book.  

It is cute that each chapter of the book has a question as the title, since that ties into Jeopardy! However, I found it odd that Schneider and her editor decided to format them as regular questions (“What is the greatest animated television show of all time?”) instead of as Jeopardy! answer-style questions (“What is Daria?”).  

Overall, I’m not sure who the target audience is for this book. It won’t appeal to Jeopardy! fans because of how little she discusses the show, and I’m not sure why anyone who doesn’t like the show would care about a book of mediocre essays by someone they haven’t heard of. I wish I had anything nice to say about this book, but it was a disappointment! 

Title/Author:  Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai

Reviewer: Puck M.

Summary: As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs. Half-elf Luc, the agency's top security expert, has his own secret: he's responsible for a curse laid from an old assignment. To heal them, he'll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss. When Elle saves Luc's life, they begin a dangerous collaboration, but their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre: Urban fantasy/romance

Book Format: eBook

Length:  324 pages (in the physical form)

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual main character; side characters with various queer identities


Content Warnings: Physical violence, workplace abuse, family estrangement, several instances of transantagonism and racism from an employer

Ratio of Sex/Plot: Two explicit sex scenes, but that’s it

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes!

Personal thoughts: I love urban fantasy in concept, but it’s been a long time since I found a book in the genre that excites me as much as Bitter Medicine. Mia Tsai’s take on the “every mythology in the world is real” subgenre is refreshing in its diversity of the myths she draws upon – Chinese gods, xianxia magic, fairies straight out of Midsummer Night’s Dream, sphinxes, and Norse svartalves fill the pages of this book and bring the world into three-dimensional life.

Elle and Luc are great characters and their alternating POVs do a great job of gradually revealing the decades-old secrets they both hide and which keep them, at the start of the story, tightly contained in boxes one can’t wait to see them break out of. As the plot unfolds, it’s extremely satisfying to watch them help each other do just that.

You can definitely see the Cdrama influence on Tsai’s storytelling because a lot happens in the pages of this book, certainly enough to fill the thirty-to-fifty episodes that tends to be standard in these dramas. There’s three distinct arcs in the book, and since I was reading on eBook I didn’t have a sense of how far in the book I was at first, so I was surprised at the end of the first arc to find that I was only about halfway through the book. That said, I applaud Tsai for keeping this as a standalone rather than padding it out into a trilogy, because there is nothing in the story that doesn’t belong there. It’s an excellent book.

Finally, no review of Bitter Medicine would be complete without a mention of Tsai’s use of language. Luc is French, specifically Alsatian, and Elle is Chinese, originally from Hubei. They both have home dialects, speak the standardized language of the country they’re from, and primarily communicate in English with each other and in their workplace. The way Tsai handles this linguistic mélange is masterful – both the untranslated bits of French and Chinese when they speak with their families of origin (sort of, in Luc and Maryam’s case) and the times when their English language skills briefly fail (which often happens with nonnative languages, even once you’ve achieved fluency). It was honestly one of my favorite parts of the book (and Mia Tsai agrees with me!)