Queer Lit Review: May 2023

Hi, and welcome to a very late May edition of the Queer Lit Review! This month we have a young transgender boy investigating a possible haunting at his grandmother's house, a psychic falling for his boss while dodging sexy double agents, and a young girl determined to become a mermaid.

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Happy Reading!

Title/Author: The House That Whispers by Lin Thompson

Reviewer: Morgan

Summary: Simon and his two sisters spend a week with their grandma in rural Kentucky while their parents work on their problems. But this isn’t like the siblings’ usual summer visit: there’s a strange smell, mysterious ceiling stain, spooky noises, and even a shadowy figure lurking. To complicate matters, Simon’s older sister spends all her time at the library, his grandma keeps getting more forgetful, and it’s starting to grate on Simon that he’s the only one who knows his true name and pronouns. As he investigates a possible haunting, he also learns more about himself and his family.

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre: Middle grade horror

Book Format: Print

Length: 327 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Trans boy, sapphic side characters

Content Warnings: Alzheimer’s, deadnaming/misgendering (unintentional; see personal thoughts), sibling disappearance, talks of divorce, minor stair-related injury, mentions of past homophobic actions

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend it?: VERY MUCH YES

Personal Thoughts: This book is a genuine delight that everyone, no matter their age, should read. Lin Thompson clearly put so much thoughtfulness and love into the story, and despite its marketing to middle schoolers, I couldn’t put it down.

Main character Simon is a trans boy who isn’t out to anyone. When the other characters speak to or about him, he corrects the name and/or pronouns they used in his head. What absolutely masterful writing! While he’s technically being deadnamed and misgendered (albeit unintentionally, since nobody knows his identity), his internal corrections put the ball back in his court. That gives him power and prevents the readers from deadnaming and misgendering him too. I think this shows the importance of having trans+ authors write trans+ stories. Thompson, who is nonbinary, describes Simon’s dysphoria and euphoria in ways I don’t think a cisgender writer could. It means the world to me to see so many of my own gender-related emotions and experiences mirrored. Another nice touch is that Simon and his younger sister are implied to have ADHD and autism respectively. I have both of these, and it’s always a treat to see representation.

If you’re not a horror fan, don’t worry: it isn’t actually scary. However, Thompson does a truly amazing job at worldbuilding and creating suspense. The atmosphere they build is impeccable. I’m already looking forward to re-reading this in the fall to kick off spooky season. And I think it benefits from not being too frightening; it IS middle grade, after all.

The House That Whispers does deal with some heavier topics, so I recommend checking the content warnings above. But, as with all the other elements, Thompson writes about them in ways younger readers can grasp and older readers can appreciate. Simon’s parents contemplate divorce, his grandma starts displaying signs of Alzheimer's, and his older sister ditches them for a new friend. Some of these are resolved, while others aren’t. And Thompson makes it clear that that’s OK. I like that not everything is solved quickly and tied up nicely, because that’s true to life. In my opinion, more middle grade books — or rather, books in general — should normalize the messiness of life, should let readers know that it’s fine not to have all the answers or know what’s coming.

TL;DR: This book is perfect, please read it.

Title/Author: Twisted Pretty Things by Ariana Nash, narrated by Cornell Collins.

Reviewer: Puck M.

Summary:  John “Dom” Domenici is a latent — someone with a psychic talent, sensitive to the power contained in artifacts that have been exposed to trauma. As the two-year anniversary of his employment at Kempthorne & Co Artifact Retrieval Agency approaches, Dom is put on the trail of an illegal artifact dealer and plunged into a world of glitzy illegal auctions, fast cars, and unforgivably sexy double agents. Dom can handle danger; he can keep a leash on his power when faced with extremely powerful artifacts; but his boss Alexander Kempthorne has some dangerous secrets, and someone is intent on exposing them, someone who doesn’t care if it endangers all of London.

Series/Standalone:  Book 1 in the Shadows of London series

Genre/Sub-Genre: Urban fantasy

Book Format: Audiobook

Length:  8 hours 18 minutes

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay men

Content Warnings: gun violence, police violence, human experimentation, abusive parenting, mentions of homophobic violence, some sexual content

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes, but...

Personal thoughts: I was between audiobooks and since I enjoyed Cornell Collins’ narration of books like Havemercy and KJ Charles’ Will Darling series, I went looking on Libby for other audiobooks narrated by Cornell Collins. I selected Twisted Pretty Things entirely at random and had no expectations whatsoever about what kind of book it would be. It turned out to be an action-packed adventure with a compelling mystery, enjoyable characters, and some excellent world-building.

I really like Dom’s narrative voice, particularly in Collins’ execution. I love the juxtaposition of his familiarity with violence and readiness to do violence with his dismay when people are hurt or killed and compassion for his fellow latents. Dom’s friendship with his coworker Gina is another high point for me; it’s so easy for authors to neglect friendships in favor of sexual relationships, so it’s good that in this book there is room for both. And as for the romantic/sexual relationships, the chemistry between Dom and antagonist/ally/antihero Kage Mitchell is electric. Dom’s ambivalent crush on his boss Alex Kempthorne adds an extra dimension to the constellation of factors tying Dom to Kempthorne & Co.

My only negative notes are as follows: First, while Collins can do a wide variety of UK accents, his US English accent leaves something to be desired. It didn’t completely break my suspension of disbelief whenever Kage Mitchell spoke, but it was definitely noticeable, so American readers should go in prepared.

Second, after finishing writing this review, I went on to listen to the next book in the series, and I found it underwhelming after the fun of the first one, with both events and character beats feeling somewhat repetitive. I got about halfway through the second book but ended up letting my loan lapse without finishing it. I still recommend this book, but perhaps treat it as a standalone.

Title/Author:  Chlorine by Jade Song 

Reviewer: Laura 

Summary: As she comes of age, Ren struggles to fit in with her peers. Her cultural references don’t land with them, her queer longing for her best friend sets her apart, and her dedication to swimming veers into obsession. Eventually, a childhood fixation on mermaids combined with a humiliating disqualification at a swim meet convince Ren that she'll never fit in because she herself is a mermaid. 

Series/Standalone: Standalone 

Genre/Sub-Genre: Horror 

Book Format: eBook 

Length: 256 pages 

LGBTQ+ Orientation: WLW 

Content Warnings: Sexual assault, body horror. 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: I thought this was beautifully written, and I’m particularly impressed that it is Song’s debut novel.  

Would I Recommend?: It’s complicated! I loved this book, but it is absolutely not for everyone. If you like weird, visceral horror novels with open ended conclusions, you’ll love this. If you think a coming-of-age horror story about a girl trying to turn herself into a mermaid sounds bizarre, you’d hate it. It’s a totally different story, but the overall vibes reminded me a lot of Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield, and I think people who liked that book will also like Chlorine 

Personal thoughts: I notoriously love what I call “atmospheric ocean horror” so this was right up my alley (even though it mostly takes place in pools, not open water). I think this book succeeds both as a coming-of-age story and as a weird little horror novel. Song’s descriptions of puberty and the experience of being a teen girl were raw and powerful, and I think that helped to ground the book despite the more fantastical elements.  

The horror subgenre that this book really falls into is body horror, which played off the coming-of-age aspect seamlessly. The book starts with Ren’s confusion and distaste with the ways her body is changing and how it affects her swimming, and it morphs into true body horror when she begins the process of becoming a mermaid.  I’m not generally a big fan of body horror in books or in movies, but my love of scary mermaid content won out here. However, once I got to the part of the book where Ren begins trying to make herself into a mermaid I did almost faint on the T because I got so grossed out. So big trigger warning if you are also squeamish!  

This is a relatively short novel, and it does have an open ending, so to enjoy it you definitely have to be okay with stories where not everything is explained. I think that open endings work best in stories like this, because explaining everything makes horror less impactful. To me, this is the type of book that you could read over and over and find new details in every time.