Queer Lit Review: May 2024

Hello and welcome to the May 2024 edition of the Queer Lit Review blog! This month we have a botanically made daughter falling for her gay dads' housekeeper, queer Samoans telling their life stories, and an ace teen hoping to abolish the Valentine's Day school dance.

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Happy Reading!

Title/Author:A Botanical Daughter by Noah Medlock 

Reviewer: Laura B. 

Summary:  In order to complete their family, Simon (a taxidermist) and Gregor (a botanist) create a daughter out of a body, a strangely intelligent fungus, and a variety of plants. Of course, their creation ends up becoming more self-aware and independent than they ever could have imagined, especially once she begins bonding with their housekeeper. 

Series/Standalone:  Standalone 

Genre/Sub-Genre:  A little bit science fiction, a little bit horror 

Book Format: Print

Length: 375 pages 

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay and lesbian 

Content Warnings: Murder, mutilation, all the stuff you would expect from a Frankenstein-inspired book. 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written 

Would I Recommend?: Yes! 

Personal thoughts:  I really enjoyed this, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes slightly weird fiction! I feel like I have been in a bit of a reading slump lately and haven’t had a ton of 4 or 5 star reads, but I read this entire book in a day — once I got started, I couldn’t put it down. I think Medlock does a great job of creating a weird little story that feels like it could happen if you suspend your disbelief a little bit.  

In addition to being well-written, I found this book to have the perfect mix of characters. Gregor and Simon are both flawed but likable main characters, and even as their experiment starts to spiral out of control you cannot help but root for them. I also thought it was very smart of Medlock to include Jennifer (the housekeeper) as a point of view character. Since Jennifer sees Chloe (the botanical daughter) as a potential friend and then a potential lover, she helps to humanize Chloe in a way that Gregor and Simon’s POVs cannot. And despite knowing the truth of what Chloe is, she does become a character that the reader will humanize and empathize with. 

I’ve seen this book described as Frankenstein meets Little Shop of Horrors meets Mexican Gothic but queer, and that does get to the heart of what to expect from it. If you like even one of those pieces of media, I think you would love this book! 

Title/Author: Samoan Queer Lives edited by Dan Taulapapa McMullin and Yuki Kihara.

Reviewer: Puck

Summary: “Samoan Queer Lives is a collection of personal stories from one of the world’s unique indigenous queer cultures. The first of its kind, this book features a collection of autobiographical pieces by fa`afafine, transgender, and queer people of Sāmoa, one of the original continuous indigenous queer cultures of Polynesia and the Pacific Islands. Featuring 14 autobiographical stories from fa`afafine and LGBTIQ Samoans based in Sāmoa, Amerika Sāmoa, Australia, Aotearoa NZ, Hawai`i and USA. Includes a foreword and introduction by co-editors Dan Taulapapa McMullin and Yuki Kihara. Each story is accompanied by a portrait.” -Little Island Press website

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Region: Oceania

Genre/Sub-Genre: Nonfiction

Book Format: Physical book

Length: 197 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: A variety of queer experiences

Content Warnings: Discussions of anti-queer sentiment both societal and personal, bullying, domestic violence, drug use, and sexual content.

Well-Written/Editor Needed: For the most part it was well-written

Would I recommend?: Yes!

Personal Thoughts: I’ve known about fa`afafine and other indigenous queer identities of the Pacific Islands for a while, but this is the first time I’ve read such a variety of narratives in the words of the folks who hold those identities. This book features thirteen personal narratives and one play written by queer folks from all over the Sāmoan diaspora. The people represented are artists, politicians, community organizers, and others. They speak to their experiences with families of origin and of choice, with discovering their queerness or knowing about it from the start, with assimilating into and pushing against colonial structures in the Pacific and the rest of the world.

My only real critique of this book is that the way some of the personal narratives are structured occasionally creates lack of clarity that could have been solved either in including the question the interviewee is responding to or perhaps editing their words a little just to make it clear what they’re talking about. That said, I think the minimal editing of participants’ words is mostly a strength, because each speaker’s personality really shines through.

More people should read this and learn more about a community that is largely underrepresented on the world stage.

Title/Author:Wren Martin Ruins It All by Amanda DeWitt 

Reviewer: Morgan 

Summary:  As student council president, asexual high school senior Wren wants to abolish the Valentine’s Day Dance and use the money for campus repairs. But when his annoyingly-perfect nemesis — and student council vice president — Leo suggests funding the dance through a partnership with a friend-making app, Wren is outvoted. For research, he downloads the app himself…and after awhile starts crushing on his anonymous match.  

Series/Standalone:  Standalone 

Genre/Sub-Genre:  Teen Romance 

Book Format: Print 

Length:  392 pages 

LGBTQ+ Orientation:  Asexual, gay 

Content Warnings: Past death of a parent, mentions of a loved one with cancer, grief, underage drinking 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written 

Would I Recommend?: Yes! 

Personal thoughts:  I absolutely adore this book! Wren is a hilarious narrator who has dealt with quite a bit of grief, and his character development is wonderful. The entire cast — from sweet, loveable Leo to Wren’s ride-or-die bestie Ryan to chaotic himbo Archer — was such a delight. Adult writers of teen fiction often struggle with writing realistic dialogue and text conversations, but Amanda DeWitt handled both expertly. All the characters are both funny and believable. 

This book also has a lot of heart to it. Wren is still grieving the loss of a family member (see content warnings above) while simultaneously deciding if he wants to go to college and navigating what it means for him to have a crush while asexual. DeWitt is ace herself and included several nuanced conversations about ace-erasure and -phobia. As a queer person who is not on the asexual spectrum, I deeply appreciated learning even more about what this portion of the community goes through. Ace representation has been hard to find in the past, and I’m thrilled that the publishing industry seems to have noticed. It’s especially nice that we’re seeing more romances with ace characters. Not all asexual people are also aromantic!   

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