Category: LGBTQ+

I Wish You All the Best

Cover image for I Wish You All the Bestby Mason Deaver

ISBN 978-1-338-30613-2

“Everything looks so bright and new and put together. Like everything here has a place and that’s exactly where it belongs. And I’m the extra piece that doesn’t fit in.”

It is New Year’s Eve, and Ben has finally worked up the courage, with a little help from their best online friend, Mariam. They are going to tell their parents that they are nonbinary. But they never expected to find themself barefoot on the winter streets after their parents throw them out when they won’t take it back and pretend that it was all a joke. Fortunately, Ben’s estranged older sister Hannah is willing to take them in, and Ben has to start their last semester of senior year at a new high school where Hannah’s husband is the chemistry teacher. But they decide not to come out at the new school, a decision that is made even more complicated by Ben’s growing feelings for their first new friend, the handsome and ebullient Nathan Allan.

Despite its centrality to the story, the romance between Ben and Nathan is quiet and slow moving. Honestly, Ben’s mental energy was so tied up in recovering from trauma and trying to figure themself out that they just didn’t seem like they had a lot of mental bandwidth for a romantic entanglement. That said, Nathan was a vibrant, joyful character, and I could totally see Ben becoming wrapped up in his light and energy, and becoming extremely invested in keeping his good opinion. The possibility of a deeper relationship feels more tangible by the end of the book, but of course it is hard for two people to truly connect when one of them is keeping a big secret that is like a wall between them.

One thing that I Wish You All the Best does really well is highlight just how unnecessarily gendered language can be in small, quotidian ways that creep into everything. From binary checkboxes on forms, to endearments like “little bro” or “dude” and “my prince,” gendered language is a minefield that is slowly killing Ben with a thousand thoughtless cuts. There are dozens of cringe inducing moments where Ben is casually misgendered because they can’t face coming out at their new school after being brutally rejected by their parents. It only hurts the more because these are people who would not deliberately harm Ben, but simply do not know better because this is just normative language.

I love sibling stories, so I was really interested in the relationship between Ben and their sister Hannah. The history of family abuse and their age difference makes their interactions at once loving and fraught. Ben’s arrival on her doorstep resurfaces Hannah’s own traumatic history with their parents, and emphasizes the differing traumas of the one who left, and the one who was left behind. I liked the way their sibling bond grew over the course of the book, especially once Ben got up the courage to openly confront their feelings of abandonment and betrayal. I would have enjoyed exploring this more, as well as Ben’s online friendship with Mariam Haidari, the YouTuber whose videos helped Ben figure out their identity. Together, Hannah and Mariam represent Ben’s past and future, and the hurdles they will have to overcome in order to get there. I would recommend this as a quiet contemporary about relationships and acceptance.

No Ashes in the Fire

Cover image for No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell L. Moore

ISBN 978-1-56858-940-4

“Like so many other black boys who would grow up to love and lust after other boys, I would have died if I had not found safety in my imagination. I maneuvered through my days smiling, even as I suffocated in a world that refused to let me breathe.”

Darnell L. Moore was raised in Camden, New Jersey, a predominantly Black and Hispanic city across the river from Philadelphia. When Moore was born in 1976, Camden was a formerly prosperous industrial city that had developed a reputation for violence after a civil uprising against the murder of Horacio Jiminez by two police officers in 1971. But as Moore grew up, facing a fraught relationship with his father, a difficult relationship with the church, and deep denial about his own sexuality, he was largely unaware of that cultural history. Camden was merely home, a place full of his family, but also full of dangers for a boy who didn’t quite fit in. No Ashes in the Fire is an intersectional memoir at the confluence of being a gay Black man in the United States that recounts Moore’s long journey to self-acceptance.

In his portrait of his youth, Moore characterizes himself as a smart but not exceptional child, albeit one who drew the attention of his peers for his subtle failures to fit in. Moore points to the value of his education even as he critiques the system in which it took place. As a boy, he took his report cards to the guidance counsellor, and demanded to know why he wasn’t in the school’s gifted and talented program. He was admitted, but “unfortunately my individual ascension would be of no consequence for all of my peers who still had to return to the overcrowded classes I left.” Rather than casting himself as exceptional, he critiques the inevitable inequality of per pupil funding that relies heavily on local property taxes. Moore admits that “the better story would be one where I am portrayed as an exception, a student more worthy of better schooling than others,” but rather than giving into this narrative impulse, he firmly states, “I was no more gifted than they were.”

Moore is the son of young parents, who welcomed him into the world when they were still teenagers themselves. But his father, who had once defended his mother from beatings at the hands of her own father, eventually became her abuser. The violence in their home drove Moore deeper into himself, and into denial, and he notes that “the real tragedy of living with routine acts of violence is the way each act deadens emotions.” When his mother finally left his father for good, their relationship was essentially severed, even as his ghost haunted Moore’s choices. Yet “the selfish ambition to outshine my dad was not enough to spark self-transformation.” One of the most aching bits of prose in the entire book describes a chance encounter Moore had with his father as an adult: “To say I hated him would only reveal a surface truth. I hated my need to be loved by him. And I hated the way my heart opened in his presence because I knew he wouldn’t enter even if invited.” His absent father is a constant presence as he struggles to define and differentiate his own manhood.

Church had always been a feature of Moore’s life. He was attending a Catholic university when he suffered a heart attack in his first year, after which he “leapt into the depths of a shallow faith,” becoming deeply involved with youth ministry at the expense of his schoolwork. But while he “poured my love into a god I worshipped while slowly denying love to myself,” he secretly hoped to be cured of his desire for men. Eventually, he found that what the church was really instilling in him was self-hatred of the gay part of himself, even as it bolstered his “attraction to patriarchal rule” through its emphasis on masculinity and authority. For Moore, the church proved to be a false respite, and he eventually came to the realization that “the first, and most important revolution I needed to push was an upheaval of the systems within myself.”

No Ashes in the Fire is a story of the complex collision of multiple identities in a world that defaults to straightness and whiteness, and chooses to see some identities as inherently better or more worthy than others. Too many people are consumed by the twin fires of self-loathing and persecution. The fight for justice and equality continues.

You might also like Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Charles Blow 

Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5)

Cover image for Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireby Seanan McGuire

ISBN 978-0-7653-9930-4

“Have you noticed that the doors come for us when we’re young enough to believe we know everything, and toss us out again as soon as we’re old enough to have doubts? I can’t decide whether it’s an infinite kindness or an incredible cruelty.”

In the fifth installment of the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire continues the story of Jack and Jill, twin sisters who found a doorway to another world in a trunk in their attic. The door opened onto the Moors, a world under a crimson moon where dark powers hold one another in a constant battle for balance. In Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we followed Jack and Jill through their door, and to their eventual expulsion from the Moors. In Every Heart a Doorway, we witnessed their bloody return to that world, and were left wondering about the consequences. Now Jill has snatched Jack’s body, and the twin sisters are locked in a battle for the future of their world.

At the heart of Come Tumbling Down is the nature of evil and monsters. Meditating on Jill’s deceptively innocent appearance, Christopher reflects that “Something about the way she’d wrapped her horror movie heart in ribbons and bows had reminded him of a corpse that hadn’t been properly embalmed, like she was pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside. Terrifying and subtly wrong.” Jack finds herself trapped inside this “charnel house” of a body, ostensibly identical to her own, and yet terrifyingly different. Coping with her OCD proves to be a particular challenge in these unique circumstances, and yet the battle must go on. Returning to Eleanor West’s school, Jack recruits several of her former classmates to help stop Jill before it is too late.

Thanks to the events of Beneath the Sugar Sky, it is great to have Sumi back amongst our adventurers. We know that sooner or later her door will come for her, and she will go back to Confection, but for now she joins her school friends on yet another forbidden quest. As a character who travelled to a Nonsense world, Sumi gets a lot of the best lines, coming out with bizarre yet accurate comparisons and strikingly observant insights. As someone who would almost certainly find a Logic world behind my own door, I always find her peculiar forthrightness strangely refreshing.

The other adventurers are Cora, mermaid heroine of Beneath the Sugar Sky, and Christopher, lost love of the Skeleton princess, and Kade, Goblin Prince in Waiting, and heir to Eleanor West’s school for wayward children like himself. They are none of them suited to the world of the Moors, but as heroes who once answered the call of their own doors, they are no less ready to answer the call of friend in need. It also hints at a school that might be very different under Kade’s management. Eleanor tries to persuade them from the quest, lamenting “I should have reminded you of the rules when Rini fell out of the sky. No quests. It’s so easy to become addicted to them, and so hard to break the habit once it takes hold.” But heroes are not so easily dissuaded.

Come Tumbling Down also draws some parallels to the previous installment, In an Absent Dream. Just as Lundy and Moon’s friendship is slowly poisoned by inequality and debt, Jack keeps saving Jill, even at a terrible cost to herself, and those around her. True, Sumi “got over” being dead at Jill’s hand with a little help from her friends, but Lundy and Loriel are never coming back.  Alexis will never be whole and healthy again, despite her resurrection. The outcome of Chester and Serena Walcott’s petty insistence on differentiating their twin daughters and pitting them against one another plays out on a grander and more terrible stage than those wayward parents could ever have imagined, leading the sisters into a final, fateful confrontation with inevitable casualties.

You might also like Temper by Nicky Drayden

Red, White & Royal Blue

Cover image for Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonby Casey McQuiston

ISBN 978-1-250-31677-6

“June, I’m the son of the President of the United States. Prince Henry is a figurehead of the British Empire. You can’t just call him my archnemesis… Archnemesis implies he’s actually a rival to me on any level and not, you know, a stuck-up product of inbreeding who probably jerks off to photos of himself.”

As the son of the President, Alex Claremont-Diaz, his sister June, and their best friend Nora Holleran are America’s golden children, beloved by the press, and the perfect political surrogates for President Claremont and Vice President Holleran as they pass through the 2018 midterms and aim for re-election in 2020. But Alex commits a very public faux-pas when he gets into an altercation with his long-time rival, Prince Henry of England, at the wedding of Henry’s older brother, Prince Philip. As the White House and Buckingham Palace fly into damage-control mode, Henry and Alex are forced to fake a public friendship for the press, even while the sparks that are flying behind closed doors are of an entirely different sort. But if they ever want to really be together, they’ll have to come to terms with themselves, their families, and their place in history.

Red, White & Royal Blue is told from the perspective of Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of America’s first female president, Ellen Claremont, who is divorced from his father, the senator for California, Oscar Diaz. Although college-aged, Alex lives in the White House with his mother while he attends school at Georgetown, and his sister June has returned home after graduation as she attempts to start a journalism career with the baggage of not being taken seriously as a result of her status as First Daughter. Alex is mouthy and over-confident, with a laser focus on going straight into politics after college and becoming the youngest Congressman ever elected. So it maybe isn’t surprising that coming to terms with his sexuality has been on the back burner. After all, “he’s absolutely sure that guys who kissed a Prince of England and liked it don’t get elected to represent Texas.”

The Claremont-Diaz family is, of course, entirely fictional, a made-up successor to the Obama administration, although certain real political figures are mentioned in passing. Ellen Claremont is finishing out her first term, and heading into the 2020 election as her son undertakes a liaison that could provoke an international crisis. The British Royal Family is semi-fictionalized, drawing clear comparisons to the real monarchy without directly copying the family members as characters. McQuiston’s fictional version of the firm is headed by Queen Mary, whose daughter Catherine has withdrawn from public life since her husband, the film star Arthur Fox, died an early death due to pancreatic cancer. Her three children, heir Philip, and younger siblings Beatrice and Henry comprise the family’s younger generation of the Mountchristen-Windsors.

This book is at heart a light, fluffy romance, but one that also cheekily sends up the problematic aspects of the trope at its center. For example, early in the book Alex complains to his sister June that “royal weddings are trash, the princes who have royal weddings are trash, the imperialism that allows princes to exist at all is trash. Its trash turtles all the way down.” June shoots back, “you do realize that America is a genocidal empire too, right?” I suspect that some people won’t like politics intruding into their fluffy romance in this manner, but I personally found it helped to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance rather than simply ignoring the problems inherent in the trope. Your mileage may vary.

As the book goes on, Henry and Alex develop into frenemies, then lovers, and launch a snappy epistolary romance as they exchange text messages and emails, and try to sneak across the Atlantic to see one another as often as their duties will allow. The sex scenes are a bit more explicit what you would generally find in a YA novel—Red, White & Royal Blue is marketed into the New Adult category—but not actually that graphic overall. It will certainly appeal to fans of m/m YA tales such as Carry On or The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. Most of all, however, this was a perfect bit of fluffy, swoony fun, which was exactly what I needed in the current moment.

Dark and Deepest Red

Cover image for Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemoreby Anna-Marie McLemore

ISBN 978-1-250-16274-8

 “Well-crafted seams and delicate beading gave my family a trade and a living. But red shoes gave us a name. They made us infamous. Until they came for us.”

Strasbourg, 1518: A plague of uncontrollable dancing sweeps through the independent city of Strasbourg, rousing suspicions of witchcraft and demonic activity. Lala and her aunt Dorenia have been living in the city since Romani were driven out of neighbouring countries by order of law. The laws eventually came to Strasbourg as well, but the two women have lived quietly, hiding their true ethnicity behind rumours of illegitimate descent from an Italian lord. But when rumours of witchcraft begin to swirl in earnest, the unspoken suspicions of their neighbours loom large. In the present day, Emil and Rosella live in Briar Meadows, a town that is entirely normal fifty one weeks out of the year. But every autumn, the glimmer arrives and settles over the reservoir, precipitating unexpected events that fade as quickly as the autumn leaves. This year, it is the legendary red shoes made by Rosella’s family that seem to have become truly magical, but Rosella worries that the taint of witchcraft will haunt her family long after the glimmer fades. Meanwhile, Emil tries to understand the connection between the glimmer and a family legend about long ago ancestors who were tried for witchcraft after a dancing plague swept through the region.

In their fifth book, Anna-Marie McLemore turns their talent for magical realism to the realm of fairy tales, and history, combining Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes” with the documented la fièvre de la danse that ensnared the city of Strasbourg in 1518. In their Author’s Note, written from the city of Strasbourg in 2018, McLemore notes that there is no known connection between the two, but they “still wonder if perhaps Hans Christian Andersen had, at the back of his mind, a little piece of history that mentions red shoes, and an Alsatian city gripped by dancing as though it was a plague.” In Dark and Deepest Red, McLemore makes the suspected connection explicit, casting Emil as a descendant of the women who were accused of causing the plague.

Dark and Deepest Red is structured around three alternating narrators, beginning with Rosella, whose family, the Olivas, are known for their exquisite handmade shoes. Next is Lala, who goes by Lavinia outside her family, because it is essential that they hide their Romani heritage. Finally, we have Emil, a modern day Romani boy who has supressed his heritage in order to fit in. Briar Meadows has a touch of magic, true, but it is not otherwise so accepting of things that are out of the ordinary. Emil’s parents are scholars, and their family history is well-researched and documented, but Emil doesn’t really want to know the stories his parents have so painstakingly saved for him. The chapters alternate in quick succession, and indeed this might be the book’s greatest weakness; while it keeps all of the plots moving, it also means that the reader never has time to really settle in and connect with one character.

Dark and Deepest Red orbits around two central romances. Lala has long been in love with Alifair the orphaned trans boy who appeared mysteriously appeared out of the Black Woods one day when they were both still children. He has since become her aunt’s apprentice in their dyeing and ink-making business, his uncanny talent for slipping among wasps unstung further adding to his mystery. But Lala constantly worries that if she and her aunt are exposed as Romani, Alifair will be tainted by association. Emil and Rosella were friends when they were children, finding a unique bond in the fact that they didn’t quite fit in among the other children of Briar Meadows. But they slowly grew apart, until the dancing shoes bring them back together unexpectedly. Rosella tries to hide her affliction, desperate for the glimmer to pass, while Emil’s denial of his heritage means that unbeknownst to them both, he may hold the key to the answers Rosella seeks. Only together can they solve the problem. The two relationships mirror one another, showing how secrets complicate our every attempt to connect.

While this book has much of the magic of McLemore’s previous reads, and deals with many of the same issues, the structure makes it difficult to sink into and revel in that magic in quite the same way as The Weight of Feathers or Wild Beauty.

You might also like When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

A Pale Light in the Black

Cover image for A Pale Light in the Dark by K. B. Wagers by K.B. Wagers

ISBN 978-0-06-288778-5

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “Look. You’ve stumbled into trouble beyond recall. You can’t run far enough away from this. I could give the lot of you more money to just walk away right now—more than you’ll see in your entire military career. You don’t know what you’re messing with.”

After a narrow loss at the 100th Boarding Games, Commander Rosa Martín Rivas and the crew of Zuma’s Ghost head back to Jupiter Station, where they are posted as part of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard, or NeoG, the solar system’s Coast Guard. The crew is still smarting from their loss at the Boarding Games, when Nika, their lieutenant, receives a promotion which means they will lose their best swordsman in exchange for a new officer they are worried will be more status than substance. Maxine Carmichael is a brand new officer in the NeoG. After defying her influential family’s tradition of entering the Navy—which focuses on science and space exploration—Max is determined to make her own choices, and find her own place in the universe. But she will have a hard task proving herself and winning over the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, especially Nika’s adopted sister Jenks.

The crew is comprised of a variety of interesting characters headed by Commander Rosa, a member of the Earth-Bound Church who has received a dispensation from her pastor to serve off of God’s Green Earth—provided she doesn’t leave the solar system. She has left a wife and two daughters behind at home, along with her extremely orthodox mother. Her Master Chief is Ma Léi, a retired Navy officer who also happens to be a friend of Max’s father. Instead of taking his retirement, Ma signed up for second career in the NeoG, fully enjoying the long life and health afforded by LifeEx, the revolutionary medical treatment invented by Max’s great-great-grandfather, Alexander Carmichael. They are joined by master hacker Ensign Nell Zika aka Sapphi, and Petty Officer Uchida Tamashini aka Tamago (they/them), and of course, Petty Officer Altandai Khan, aka Jenks, the brash but undefeated fighter and brilliant mechanic who loves fiercely but doesn’t trust easily. For future installments, I’d like to see more development for Sapphi and Tamago, who get short shrift in this volume.

Although not positioned as the main character, a lot of the heart of this story revolves around Jenks. One of the highlights is the slowly warming relationship between Jenks and Max, as Max figures out how to be the kind of officer and teammate a firebrand like Jenks needs. Meanwhile, Jenks has a longstanding friends with benefits arrangement with Luis Armstrong, a widow who is stationed back on Earth with his two young sons. They are positioned on the edge of something more, if only Jenks could stop trying to run away. While not the protagonist as such, Jenks is definitely the life of the party, and the heart of the crew.

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by this story, which takes military sci-fi in an unexpected direction. Far from focusing on closely described battles and military expansionism, A Pale Light in the Dark is instead tightly focused on the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, their found family relationship, and their commitment to being the best crew in the service so that they can fulfill their mission to help those who become lost or stranded in space. The timeline of the story is built around the countdown to the next Boarding Games, which Rosa is desperate to have NeoG win for the first time. There is also a slow-burning mystery surrounding a long-missing freighter that the crew reclaims from a mysterious band of smugglers. After simmering throughout the novel, this plot thread comes to a slightly rushed conclusion, but I think there is room to further explore the ramifications later in the series. I’d love a deeper dive into the economics and morality of LifeEx, which must either be paid for, or earned through military service.

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Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Covering

Cover image for Covering by Kenji Yoshinoby Kenji Yoshino

ISBN 978-0-375-76021-1

 “In the new generation, discrimination directs itself not against the entire group, but against the subset of the group that fails to assimilate to mainstream norms.”

Kenji Yoshino is a legal scholar of civil rights, known for his work on gay rights and marriage equality. Covering addresses what he perceives to be the next frontier for civil rights. Yoshino attributes the term “covering” to Erving Goffman’s 1963 book, Stigma, from which he quotes, “passing pertains to the visibility of a particular trait, while covering pertains to its obtrusiveness.” Despite the significant progress made for civil rights in general, and gay rights in particular, Yoshino was left feeling that the transformation was incomplete, and that there were gaps yet to bridge to achieve true acceptance. American culture has largely moved past the demand that gay people convert to being straight (conversation therapy) and even somewhat past the demand that gay people pass for straight within society (don’t ask, don’t tell). Today, the gay people who are most often penalized for their identity are those who act “too gay,” who refuse to cover behavioural aspects of their identity in order to make those around them more comfortable. In the legal sphere, Yoshino cites numerous cases in which “courts have often interpreted these [civil rights] laws to protect statuses but not behaviors, being but not doing,” thus creating a legal enforcement of this state of affairs.

Yoshino is arguing not only for our rights to our identities, but our rights to say and express those identities, and reject demands to convert, pass, or cover our differences. He identifies four areas where covering takes place, including appearance, affiliation, activism, and association. He also delves deep into the possible problems and potential pitfalls of protecting behaviour as well as identity. First, he acknowledges the complexity of identifying what counts as covering. For example, for some members of the gay community, gay marriage might be considered a form of covering because it asks them to assimilate to straight cultural norms by adopting a straight cultural institution that is not compatible with their values or preferences. Yoshino also stresses that rejecting covering cannot come with an inverse demand that minorities act “gay enough” or “black enough,” thus inadvertently reinforcing stereotypes. “My ultimate commitment is to autonomy as a means of achieving authenticity, rather than to a fixed conception of what authenticity must be,” he concludes.

As a gay Japanese American, Yoshino is able to personally touch on covering as it pertains to both race and sexual identity, and he weaves his personal experiences into these discussions, sharing how he continued to cover aspects of his identity long after he came out to his parents. However, he also addresses gender and disability, even though he does not personally experience these covering demands. He identifies a unique double-bind experienced by women in the workplace, where they are “pressured to be “masculine” enough to be respected as workers, but “feminine” enough to be respected as women.” Motherhood also offers a unique example of contextual covering. Outside of work, “mothers seems like paragons of normalcy,” but on the job they are “the queers of the workplace,” forced to downplay this aspect of their identity in order to avoid the mommy track.

Although Yoshino is a legal scholar, his style is literary. Because he integrates elements of his own story within the broader argument, it is possible to locate this stylistic choice in his earlier dreams of being a writer or poet. But he chose the law, because “a gay poet is vulnerable in profession as well as person. Law school promised to arm me with a new language, a language I did not expect to be elegant or moving, but I expected to be more potent, more able to protect me.” However, his command of language, both legal and literary, puts him in a unique position to articulate the gaps that remain, and the legal challenges that stand in the way of bridging them.

You might also like Speak Now by Kenji Yoshino

Juliet Takes a Breath (2019)

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath (Dial Books Edition) by Gabby Riveraby Gabby Rivera

ISBN 9780593108178

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “How could anything as huge as feminism be universal?”

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.

Originally published by Riverdale Avenue Books back in 2016, and hailed by Roxane Gay as “fucking outstanding,” Juliet Takes a Breath has been picked up and rereleased by Dial Books. As I noted in my original review back in January 2017, the book was a strong story marred by an unfortunate profusion of typos and extra words, badly in need of additional proofreading. Happily, the new edition has taken that story and polished it to a shine. Although I was reading an ARC, I spotted only one mistake. The new edition also removes some problematic lines that reviewers drew attention to at the time of the original publication.

Juliet Takes a Breath is a coming-of-age novel about finding your voice and discovering your identity. The book opens with the letter that Juliet wrote to famous feminist author Harlowe Brisbane in order to land her internship. As with my first reading, by the end of this five page introduction, I was fully invested in Juliet’s character, and mesmerized by her voice. She is in many ways a naïve character who learns a lot over the course of the novel, and the reader gets to go along with her on that journey. She is just beginning to grasp the language of the social justice movement, and readers can be educated alongside her, or if already fluent, reminded of what it feels like not to know or understand the terminology. While some sections are still a bit didactic, it is certainly more accessible than a textbook.

One of the most appealing aspects of Juliet’s character is her openness, and pure curiosity. Her hope for Portland is so bright, and her willingness to be open to new people makes the city her oyster. Although Harlowe isn’t exactly what she expected, she still connects with everyone from Harlowe’s primary partner Maxine to Kira, the “junior librarian” at Portland’s central library (professional quibble: I have never heard of a junior librarian. Nor do I know any librarians who go around flirting with their patrons while on duty, or making out with them in the stacks). We get to see the outlines of a true community growing up around Juliet, and her brief sojourn in Miami provides hope that her family will accept her and become part of that community in time.

In some ways, it was harder to read this book the second time around. The narrative builds towards Harlowe giving a big reading at Powell’s, during which she uses Juliet in an unforgivable way.  Knowing that scene was coming only made it more of a punch in the gut. Worse still is watching Juliet care for Harlowe’s feelings in the aftermath of her big fuck up, rather than the other way around. Harlowe is more interested in being forgiven than she is in fixing the harm that she caused. The impact of the story is increased by knowing what is coming, rather than reduced by removing the element of surprise. Juliet Takes a Breath stands up well to rereading, and I am happy to be able to recommend it going forward without the caveats I previously attached.

You might also like Brother by David Chariandy