Category: LGBT+

The Cursed Queen (The Impostor Queen #2)

by Sarah Fine

ISBN 978-1-4814-4193-3

“Thyra is not an eager fighter like I am, but when she commits, she is a thing of absolute, cutting beauty, and I hunger for the sight.”

Taken as a raid prize as a child, and passed from tribe to tribe, Ansa has no idea of her origins, but she has made a place for herself among the Krigere, earning her rank as a warrior with blood and plunder. She is loyal to her chieftain, Lars, and most of all, to his daughter and heir, Thyra. Spurred by the victory Lars’ brother has won over the city of Vasterut, the Krigere set their eyes on crossing the Torden to conquer Kupari. No one truly believed the Kupari witch queen was anything other than a myth until she called down the storm that destroyed the Krigere fleet. Ansa and Thyra are among the few survivors, and Thyra will need Ansa more than ever as she fights to unite the Krigere under her leadership, even as she must convince them that they will need to change their way of life in order to survive. But with her dying breath, the witch queen cursed Ansa with ice and fire that threaten to devour her, or turn her into a weapon against the people she has claimed as her own. Her loyalty will be tested at every turn as she tries to control the curse or find a way to rid herself of it forever.

Sarah Fine’s companion novel to The Imposter Queen largely takes place simultaneous to the events in the first volume. The first three-quarters of the book retreads the same timeline, from the battle on the Motherlake/Torden and through to the fight for the Temple on the Rock. The last hundred pages of The Cursed Queen continues on past the end of the first book to set Elli and Ansa on a collision course. Known as the Soturi to the Kupari people in The Imposter Queen, they call themselves the Krigere. They largely appear as a typical invading barbarian race in the first novel, but here Sarah Fine takes the unusual step of turning to their perspective for the second installment in her series. The Krigere are divided into two groups; the warriors and the andeners. The warriors are the leaders, and they protect the andeners and go out raiding to provide for those under their care. The andeners in turn supply the warriors, crafting and repairing weapons, maintaining the camp, and caring for the children while the warriors are away raiding. Each group relies on the other for survival.

Fine sets up an interesting cultural dynamic with this system of raiders and andeners. The warriors are both men and women, and after their first raiding season, they are generally expected to make a partnership with an andener. The partner may be either male or female; what is unheard of among the Krigere is for a warrior to partner with another warrior. This poses a problem for Ansa, who is in love with Thyra. In order for them to be together, one of them would have to give up warrior status. Ansa is the natural fighter of the two of them, but the Chieftain must be a warrior. Thus Sarah Fine creates a conflict that keeps the two apart which is rooted in the Krigere culture, but does not rely on either sexism or homophobia, which I found refreshing. The situation only grows more complex when Thyra becomes Chieftain, and begins proposing changes to the Krigere way of life that Ansa has adopted so thoroughly as her own. Lars’ brother Nisse hews more closely to the old ways which Ansa has been taught to uphold, but what she does not see at first is that he values andenders for little more than their reproductive function, to replenish their diminished fighting force.

The Cursed Queen is related from Ansa’s point of view, and unfortunately I found myself more interested in getting Thyra’s perspective. Ansa has a hot temper and is always ready to fight to try to solve any problem that comes her way. Thyra is a skilled fighter, but one who prefers to think first, and pursue other options before drawing blood, so I was able to relate to her more of the two. Ansa’s confusion and divided loyalties are completely understandable, but as a result her relationship with Thyra becomes so antagonistic over the course of the book that it was hard for me to imagine them making up and getting together. I think this will need to be addressed in the final volume in order for me to really get aboard this ship. However, I am still very interested to see how Sarah Fine will bring Elli and Ansa together in The True Queen, due in in Spring 2018.

___

You might also like Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Juliet Takes a Breath

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Riveraby Gabby Rivera

ISBN 978-1-62601-251-6

“If you don’t know my life and my struggle, can we be sisters? Can a badass white lady like you make room for me?”

Juliet Palante has just come home to the Bronx from her first year at college, and she is trying to figure out how to come out to her Puerto Rican family before she moves across the country for a summer internship. She will be spending the summer in Portland working for Harlowe Brisbane, author of Raging Flower, the book that sparked Juliet’s feminist awakening. But when she arrives in Portland, Juliet quickly feels out of her depth. Her girlfriend Lainie isn’t returning her calls, Harlowe doesn’t seem to have a clear plan for her internship, and everything is unfamiliar. The longer she is in Portland, the less sure Juliet is about Harlowe’s brand of feminism. But the summer nevertheless introduces her to people and experiences that will open her mind in ways she never expected.

I was sucked into Juliet Takes a Breath right from the first page. The story opens on Juliet’s letter to her hero, who is a famous feminist writer. It is a heart-felt outpouring, and it is the missive that scored her the internship in Portland. By the end of those five pages, I was already in love with Juliet’s voice, as well as her passion and curiosity about the world beyond the place where she grew up. Her character really is the linchpin of the story, and her voice kept me with her even through some of the slower parts of the book.

Harlowe was not at all the character I expected. I was picturing a hard-charging corporate white feminist when I first heard about the book, but instead Harlowe is a mild hippie feminist who is all about auras and the power of the female body. If you are familiar with feminist literature at all, you will probably quickly realize that Raging Flower is a clear analogue for a real book. Indeed, Rivera thanks the author in her acknowledgements, since she in fact did an internship with her, and some parts of the book are based on Rivera’s own experiences. Harlowe, though a bit weird, is generally a likeable character. This contributes to the gut-wrenching awfulness of the climax of the story when she reveals just how deep certain prejudices can run even in people with the best intentions.

Juliet isn’t the only one who struggles with Harlowe’s brand of feminism. On page three of the book, I wrote myself the following note: “Are we going to challenge the connection between feminism and vaginas?” The answer is, eventually, yes, but not until page 197. Juliet is a naïve character, and there is a lot she is learning over the course of the book. Consequently, it takes nearly two hundred pages before her cousin points out to her that not all women have vaginas, and that centering feminist discourse around them can be exclusionary. Rivera generally does a good job of circling back around to eventually address Juliet’s misconceptions. However, I would encourage you to check out Weezie Wood’s review of the book, which critiques a statement Julie makes about Native Americans, which is never revisited. Indeed, while there are many Black and Latina characters, Native women are noticeably absent.

If this book has a difficulty, it is striking the right balance between educating and story-telling. It would also have benefitted from at least one more proof-reading pass; I caught many places where an extra word belied the fact that a sentence had been changed or rephrased. Rivera has crammed a lot of information into the book, and some sections can get a little bit didactic. However, integrating this material into a story will be far more accessible for many people than a Women’s Studies text book. Juliet also struggles with the language of the social justice movement. This is a good reminder for readers who are fluent in this vocabulary that they didn’t always know the terminology, and that there can be a big learning curve that can make people feel excluded. And for readers who are also new to this language, it introduces the concepts while also showing that it is okay to still be learning. So while this book is far from perfect, I don’t doubt that I will be recommending it often.

Audiobook Memoir Mini-Reviews

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I’ve written before about all the awesome ways they make my life better. However, I don’t usually write reviews, because driving, cleaning, cooking, or walking while I listen means that I don’t usually take any notes, which is a key part of my regular review writing process. But this year I’m trying out short reviews that will share my quick impressions of the books I’ve been listening too. These are admittedly not as in-depth or analytical as my usual reviews, but rather a quick record of what I thought about my latest listens.

Scrappy Little Nobody

Cover image for Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick Anna Kendrick

ISBN 9781501117206

This memoir features a series of funny essays about Kendrick’s rise to fame read by the actress herself. She is best known for Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect, and forgotten for, but financially supported by, her bit part in the Twilight franchise. Scrappy Little Nobody shares Kendrick’s stories about being a theatre nerd, the weirdness of appearing on red carpets in borrowed dresses that cost more than your rent—which you can barely pay—and yet having everyone assume that you are rich because you’re famous. I especially enjoyed the story about the first time she realized she was being followed by a paparazzo, and her strategy for avoiding stakeouts of her apartment (use your introvert super powers to stay inside, watch Netflix and eat take-out until they go away).  Kendrick was both funny and relatable and this audiobook made for enjoyable company while getting my chores done.

Being Jazz

Cover image for Being Jazz by Jazz JenningsJazz Jennings

ISBN 9780735207448

Being Jazz is a sweetly earnest memoir by a trans girl who realized her identity at a very young age, and was blessed with the rare support of her family despite the difficulty they faced in finding any information about raising a trans child. Jazz has now featured in several TV specials, a children’s book, and a reality series, in addition to her own memoir. Honestly, I felt like a bit of a creepy snoop for getting this intimate look into the life of a very young person, who will probably be embarrassed by some of these stories down the road. Apart from her advocacy work, Jennings’ life is pretty normal, and while that is important for people to see, it isn’t terribly interesting, especially if you’ve already been a teenage girl once yourself. Jennings also touches on her struggles with depression, and evinces a sex-positive attitude with little room for shame. Her straightforward message focuses on self-love and acceptance.

In Other Words

Cover image for In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri Jhumpa Lahiri

ISBN 9781101875551

After completing her 2012 novel, The Lowland, award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri largely gave up reading and writing in English, and moved to Rome to pursue her passion for the Italian language. After studying it sporadically for more than twenty years, she wanted to immerse herself in it to become truly fluent, something that she felt was impossible in New York. In Other Words was written in Italian (In Altre Parole) and then translated back into English by Ann Goldstein. The audiobook is read by the author, first in English, and then again in Italian. I was absolutely fascinated by these layers of mediation, as well as the process of learning another language, and I listened to the entire English half of the audio book during the January 24 in 48 readathon. Lahiri explains why she felt she had to give up English, the reason she chose to have someone else translate her book into English, and meditates on the experience of trying to express herself in a language she has only just begun to grasp with any fluency. The collection includes two of the stories she wrote during her time in Rome. One is the first story she wrote in Italian, and the other is one that came later. She also reflects on how her three languages—Bengali, English, and Italian—relate to her identity as the child of immigrants. If you find languages or the writing process interesting, or are curious about the relationship between language and identity, you absolutely have to check out this memoir!

Kushiel’s Dart

Cover image for Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey by Jacqueline Carey

ISBN 978-0-7653-4298-0

“Such a small thing on which to hinge a fate. Nothing more than a mote, a fleck, a mere speck of color. If it had been any other hue, perhaps it would have been a different story.”

Abandoned by her parents on the doorstep of the Night Court—home to the courtesans of Terre D’Ange—Phèdre is groomed for a life of service to Naamah in the City of Elua. But a red spot in her left eye marks her unfit to officially serve in the Night Court, so her marque is sold to the courtier Anafiel Delaunay, who raises her up to be a spy as well as a courtesan. Delaunay is also the only one to recognize what the red mote in her eye betokens; Phèdre is marked by Blessed Elua’s companion Kushiel, and she is an anguisette, doomed to take her pleasure in pain. Without knowing the depths in which is swimming, Phèdre stumbles upon the key to a plot that threatens the Crown, and indeed Terre D’Ange itself.

Jacqueline Carey has built and elaborate world and religious system in Kushiel’s Dart, one that defies quick explanation. Indeed, the first hundred or so pages of the book have very little plot, and mostly contain exposition and world-building, which may be a hard sell for some readers to get past. The tone can also be somewhat baroque, as Phèdre is formally relating her adventures sometime after the fact. Carey’s world has very clear parallels to our Europe, but the story of Elua and his companions makes for a unique culture in which to set the story. Of those cast down from heaven to follow Elua, Naamah served by selling her body, and so in Terre D’Ange, courtesans are something akin to priestesses, practicing a holy art that is governed by custom and contract. Despite the information dumping to set this all up, I admire the way there is such a logical structure behind D’Angeline culture being kinkier, more sex-positive, and more accepting of open relationships than our own world—it is literally built into their religious system, and their way of life is logical extension of that. The sex scenes also tend to tie into the plot, as Phèdre seeks out information for Delaunay.

This isn’t our world, so it is difficult to label the characters in our terms, but most D’Angelines are what we might term bisexual. Once she enters the service of Naamah, Phèdre accepts assignations with both men and women, as does her foster brother Alcuin. This is not merely a matter of the Night Court and courtesans, however; Delaunay is also known to have loved both men and women, though some characters clearly have a preference one way or another. And of course, the great houses must make marriages to perpetual their lineage. Though both of Phèdre’s main romantic interests are men, she is captivated by her patron Melisande Shahrizai, a descendant of Kushiel’s house who understands and appreciates what it means to be an anguisette in a way that neither of the men do. But Melisande is also a wily and untrustworthy political player, to whom Phèdre cannot really give her heart.

Once the world is established, the narrative itself is a potent mix of sex and politics. King Ganelon de la Courcel is old, and his heir is his granddaughter Ysandre, who is as yet unmarried, though many have bid for her hand and failed. The succession was destabilized by the death of Ysandre’s father, Rolande, who was a killed in a famous battle driving back the Skaldi from the D’Angeline border. As Ganelon ails, the nobility are quietly skirmishing to upend the succession for their own gain. Anafiel Delaunay is somehow mixed up in the intrigue, and Phèdre and Alcuin spy at his bidding, but he does not reveal his full hand to them. This will lead Phèdre into adventures she never could have imagined when she pledged herself to Naamah’s service. Even as the succession is imperiled, Terre D’Ange is on the brink of war with Skaldia once more.

In many respects, this will be a series that is not for all readers. It is a romantic fantasy, but the sex scenes are explicit, and many of them are also violent; god-touched as she is, Phèdre is not so much kinky as we would recognize it as she is an utter masochist who takes pleasure in being subjected to violence that would be beyond the pale in reality. And while being a courtesan is a respected role in Terre D’Ange, this is not the case in other countries, and once Phèdre starts to travel, the situation gets a little murkier. I would recommend caution for anyone who has experienced sexual abuse or rape. But those who are up for it are in for a twisty, sex-positive political fantasy with many intricate layers.

___

You might also like Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Of Fire and Stars

of-fire-and-starsby Audrey Coulthurst

ISBN 978-0-06-243325-1

“Princesses don’t play with fire.”

Princess Dennaleia of Havemont has been promised to Prince Thandilimon of Mynaria since childhood. The marriage will seal an alliance that will help the two countries defend against their mysterious and powerful Eastern neighbour, Zumourda. Denna has an Affinity for fire, one of the elements tied to worship of the Six. But magic is strictly forbidden in Mynaria, so she must hide her ability when, at sixteen, she is sent south to finally make her marriage vows. In Mynaria, Denna meets Princess Amaranthine, better known as Mare, who is the elder sister of her betrothed. Mare is charged with teaching Denna to ride a horse before the wedding, but soon sparks are flying between the two girls. When the assassination of a member of the royal family threatens to destabilize Mynaria, Denna and Mare must work together to solve the mystery before Mynaria is plunged into war.

Of Fire and Stars will have definite appeal for readers who hate love at first sight. The relationship between Denna and Mare is a bit of a slow burn. Denna appears to be the perfect princess, while Mare has rebelled against all of her family’s expectations, spending most of her time training horses. Her hobby is tolerated because the royal family breeds some of the best horses in the world, and horses are an essential part of Mynarian culture. Mare has no desire to teach a green novice how to ride, and the two get off to a rough start. But after the assassination, Denna feels sidelined by the Directorate, and Mare seems to be the only person who shares her concerns and suspicions about what is going on.

Whether it is because she is nervous in an unfamiliar place, or unusually emotional due to her unexpected feelings for Mare, Denna struggles to control her magic in Mynaria to an extent that never occurred back home in Havemont. She has succeeded in hiding her power, but her arrival in Mynaria nevertheless becomes controversial when it becomes public that the alliance will mean that Havemont will restrict access to the High Adytym, a key place of magical worship for Mynarian pilgrims. Audrey Coulthurst weaves religion and magic together, creating separatist factions, borrowing the term Recusant from the Reformation period. The political and religious conflicts are less well developed than the romance, and Zumourda in particular is a blank slate onto which anything can be written.

While a strong taboo against magic exists in Mynaria, and a slightly less stringent disapproval is noticeable in Havemont, same sex relationships are relatively free of stigma in the world Coulthurst has created. The tension in Denna and Mare’s relationship comes from the threat of upending an important political alliance between their two countries. Denna also feels guilty about breaking the promise she made in her betrothal, despite the fact that she had little choice in the matter. Mare and her brother do not enjoy a close relationship, so Mare feels less guilty about coming between them, and more angry about the fact that her brother doesn’t seem to appreciate Denna’s intelligence or respect her as an equal. There is plenty of complication in their romance, without the need for the shame of homophobia. This dynamic is very similar to the one Malinda Lo created in Ash, and indeed Coulthurst thanks her in the acknowledgments. Interestingly, however, gender roles and expectations still pose a problem for both Denna and Mare, even in a world where a woman can be captain of the guard, a woman is Queen in her own right of a neighbouring kingdom.

Of Fire and Stars is a slow-burn forbidden romance laced with magic, highly recommended for fans of Malinda Lo’s Ash.

Ash

Cover image for Ash by Malinda Loby Malinda Lo

ISBN 9780316040099

“But even if magic was so rare it was more like myth than reality, the people of that country still loved their fairy tales.”

When Aisling’s mother dies, she is heartbroken. Her father remarries quickly and unexpectedly, bringing his new wife and her two daughters to live with them in the house in Rook Hill, at the edge of the Wood. Then her father dies as well, and Aisling is left alone with her strange new family. Abused by her stepmother, Aisling loses herself in fairy tales, reading and rereading her favourite stories. Defying all caution, she takes long walks in the Wood, hoping to be stolen away by the fairies. But a powerful fairy lord who calls himself Sidhean makes himself her protector, denying her desire. Thus able to pass safely in the Wood, she meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress. Aisling owes Sidhean for the wishes he has granted her, but with Kaisa in her life, she is suddenly reluctant to pay.

Malinda Lo’s Ash uses many of the elements of the various versions of the Cinderella story, while also incorporating a magical wood, a common set piece in many other fairy tales. Lo’s world-building exceeds what you might normally find in a fairy tale, incorporating the role of the King’s Huntress and fleshing out the kingdom that surrounds the story. And Lo’s fairies have the bite of the older tales, rather than the fluffier friendliness of Cinderella’s Disney godmother. Sidhean has long protected Aisling from the other fairies, telling her it isn’t time, but he seems to constantly struggle with the temptation to take her himself, complicating matters.

By tweaking the traditional narrative, Lo also interrogates the idea of marrying for money. Both Aisling’s father and her stepmother marry with this high on their minds. Aisling’s father because his business is in trouble, and her stepmother because she cannot offer her daughters the advantages she thinks they deserve with only her inheritance to live on. Each is bitterly disappointed and Aisling pays the price. Her oldest step-sister Ana is under tremendous pressure to marry well in order to remedy the situation. There are several interesting exchanges between Aisling and her younger stepsister, Clara, who is caught up in the romantic idea of marrying a prince, serving as reminder to Aisling that some people want the things that hold no appeal for her.

Throughout the tale, Ash explores the theme of home, and how home is not a place, but the people who love you.  Aisling finds herself following the paths of the Wood back to Rook Hill several times to visit her mother’s grave. But of course, her mother isn’t really there, and the house in Rook Hill is empty. It is no longer home without her parents, but nor is Lady Isobel’s house home, because the Quinn family does not love her. This theme is especially apt for a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, since many LGBT people are rejected by their family of origin, and end up making their own family. Aisling’s world does not seem to share this stigma, but nor has her home been a loving one since her mother’s death.

Ash is an understated retelling of Cinderella, made up of a good blend of the traditional fairy tale and Lo’s own reinvention and additions. But it is the sweet, slow-burning romance at the heart of the tale that gives this retelling life.


Cover image for Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuireYou might also like Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

When the Moon Was Ours

Cover image for When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemoreby Anna-Marie McLemore

ISBN 978-1-250-05866-9

“She had seen him naked. Almost naked. And she understood that with his clothes off, he was the same as he was with them on. ”

When the people of the town tore down the old water tower, out came Miel, soaking wet but otherwise unharmed, aside from her deathly fear of pumpkins. This unusual appearance is the least of her oddities; roses grow unbidden from her wrist, and the hem of her skirt is constantly wet, even in the heat of summer. Always half-regarded as a witch, her only friend is Sam, a boy with secrets of his own. He paints and hangs beautiful moons from the trees, and he is maybe the only boy in town who has never fallen in love with one of the Bonner sisters, four more suspected witches because of their great beauty and even greater heartlessness. But when the Bonner sisters seem to be losing their power, they decide that Miel’s roses hold the key to restoring it. And if she doesn’t give them up, neither her secrets, nor Sam’s, will be safe.

As the story opens, Sam and Miel’s long friendship—dating from the time that Sam was the first person to approach her after she emerged from the water tower—has just begun to transform into something more. Young adult narratives commonly build up the romance slowly, making readers wait for so much as a kiss, but Anna-Marie McLemore boldly depicts Sam and Miel in bed together in chapter two. In interviews, McLemore has said that she had to rewrite the book “four times just from the ground up”, chasing her own fear of honestly portraying “safe consensual queer sex” in a young adult book. But the result is a very tender scene that becomes a necessary foundation for the further development of Sam and Miel’s relationship in the rest of the book.

Carved pumpkin adapted from the cover of When the Moon Was Ours
When the Moon Was Ours themed book-o-lantern. Happy Halloween!

Sam is a trans boy who has latched onto the concept of bacha posch, a practice in some parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where families who have no sons dress their daughters as boys so that they can fulfill the role temporarily. As adults, they are expected to return to living as women, and marry. Sam, or Samir, learned about the practiced from his Pakistani grandmother, and seizes on it as a means to live the life he wants, while also hoping that when adulthood arrives, he will somehow be able to become the woman that society expects. Sam’s mother, and Miel’s guardian, Aracely, have hidden Sam’s secret from everyone else for years, but now the Bonner sisters are threatening to expose him in a town not known for its tolerance.

The villains of McLemore’s story are the four Bonner sisters, Chloe, Lian, Ivy, and Peyton. Their power was broken when Chloe left town to hide a secret, and even though she has returned, nothing is the same as it was before. Ivy takes up the mantle of power among the sisters, desperate to restore them to their former glory, claiming any boy they choose, and breaking his heart when they’re done. Their role as antagonists is founded on this villainized sexuality, then built upon by their sense of entitlement, and willingness to exploit other people’s secrets even as they guard their own.

When the Moon Was Ours also draws on the legend of La Llorona, a ghostly woman who haunts the river, crying for her drowned children. The ghost of a similar tragedy hangs over Miel’s past, and her unwillingness to speak about her life before she came out of the water tower, even with Sam, who has trusted her with his deepest secrets.  She is in the habit of consigning the roses that grow from her arm to the river where she hears her mother crying, until the Bonner sisters become determined to seize these “wasted” blooms for their own purposes. This myth adds one more layer to a love story suffused with magic realism, and haunted by tragedy.

___

Cover image for The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemoreYou might also like The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Find more of my book-o-lanterns from previous years

Jerkbait

Cover image for Jerkbait by Mia Siegertby Mia Siegert

ISBN 978-1-631630-66-8

“I didn’t dream of hockey. I never did. Maybe I would have if I weren’t always compared to Robbie. Instead, I dreamed of a Broadway stage and dancing. Of singing show tunes and making the audience feel. Of being a star, taking the final bow at curtain call.”

Twin brothers Robbie and Tristan both play hockey on an elite team for their private high school. But Robbie is the talent, the one who will be eligible for the NHL draft at the end of the school year. It is what their father has been working towards and dreaming of their entire lives. But then Robbie tries to commit suicide and, afraid it will hurt his chances in the draft, their parents refuse to get him help, pretending it was an accident. Suddenly Tristan finds himself sharing a room with his “identical stranger,” charged with watching him at every moment, and preventing another attempt. Saddled with this unimaginable responsibility, Tristan is also trying to throw off his parents expectations, looking beyond hockey to his own dreams of acting on stage.

Robbie and Tristan have never been the kind of twins who can read one another’s minds, or finish each other’s sentences. Aside from hockey, they barely have anything in common, and even there, Tristan’s love of the sport is dimmed by the constant comparison with Robbie. But over the last year, Robbie has changed, becoming distant and quiet. But when they are forced into close proximity, the wall between them begins to crack, and Tristan starts to see that the pressure placed on them by their parents has affected Robbie as surely as it has affected him. But their growing intimacy doesn’t change the fact that Robbie needs help, real professional help, and without it there is nothing to prevent him from trying again. And Tristan cannot watch him every second of every day.

The slowly shifting relationship between Tristan and Robbie is the stand-out feature of Mia Siegert’s debut novel, Jerkbait,  but friendships also play an important role. In senior year, Tristan has finally worked up the courage to enroll in theatre class, and the new friendships he forms there throw his old relationship with his long-time best friend, Heather, into sharp relief. Caught up in this new world, and grappling with his unrequited feelings for Heather, Tristan barely notices that his twin is struggling with his own sexuality until they are forced together. The intense pressure from their parents is bad enough, but Robbie is sure that he will be rejected by the league if anyone finds out he is gay, and hockey is the only thing he has ever dreamed of. Yet when rumours start to spread that one of the Betterby twins is gay, it is Tristan who takes the brunt of the bullying.

As Robbie and Tristan grow closer, the story begins to take some unusual twists, incorporating some of the tropes of twin fiction. These changes suggest that the unusual bond commonly depicted between twins is developed by their closeness rather than automatically endowed. While much of the story turns on emotion, and the evolution of relationships, the ending hinges on a twist in the action that results from the fact that—isolated in his real life—Robbie has been confiding in an older guy he met in an internet chat room for depression. However, the heart of the story rests not in these moments, but in the slow growth of Robbie and Tristan’s new, more honest relationship.

Note: Jerkbait is published by Jolly Fish Press, which will be closing on October 31, 2016. If you have been thinking about buying this title, it is only available in paperback and e-book form until that date. The audio version from audible.com will reportedly be available beyond October 31.

___

Cover image for I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonYou might also like I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson