Category: Young Adult

Vampires Never Get Old

Cpver image for Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. ParkerEdited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker

ISBN 9781250230003

“There is no one way to write the vampire. After all, a being with the power to shape-shift should wear many faces and tell many tales.”

Vampires Never Get Old brings together a variety of stars from the world of young adult fiction to provide fresh takes on the vampire story, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. The collection consists of eleven short stories, each with their own spin on the vampire mythology. To each story the editors add a quick note on the aspects of the vampire tradition used, transformed, or subverted in that tale. The stories include a wide variety of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC protagonists, as well as a fat slayer and a vampire with a disability.

For unique form and dark and creepy vibes, I want to call out “Mirrors, Windows & Selfies by Mark Oshiro. The story is written in the form of an online diary or blog, but the commenters perceive it as a work of ongoing fiction, which gains in popularity over time. The writer is a young vampire who was born, not made, and although I really hate this trope, I still enjoyed Oshiro’s execution. Cisco has been moved around the country his entire life by his vampire parents, but as he nears adulthood, he begins to question the secrecy and the rules, and wonders why exactly his parents have been keeping him hidden and isolated from vampire society.

Perhaps the most chilling tale is “In Kind” by Kayla Whaley, a dark revenge fantasy in which a disabled teenage girl is murdered by her father, an act which the press dubs a “mercy killing.” Grace then faces the choice about whether to use her new powers to punish her father for what he has done. The story is also notable in that while becoming a vampire makes Grace stronger and more powerful in many ways, it is not able to restore her ability to walk. Her vampirism is empowering, without being a miracle cure for her disability, which is a core part of her identity.

The funniest story belongs to Samira Ahmed, who contributes “A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire.” A brand new vampire wakes up alone in a dark warehouse, and has to undergo Vampire Orientation 101 by Vampersand, a newly minted vampire tech start up for young Indian vampires who have been unexpectedly turned by careless British vampire tourists. Filled with snark and anticolonial bite, this was the only story that made me laugh out loud.

Most of the stories stand alone well, but several had strong potential as novel starters. In particular, I would definitely read a f/f novel with a vampire and a slayer, something that Julie Murphy explores in “Senior Year Sucks,” and which Victoria Schwab also features in her tale, “First Kill.” However, the stand out in this regard was absolutely “The House of Black Sapphires” by Dhonielle Clayton, in which the Turner women return to New Orleans’ Eternal Ward after centuries away. Descended from vampires, but distinct, Eternals can only be killed by Shadow Barons, but none of the Turner girls have ever met one until they return to their mother’s home in New Orleans, and discover that their mother was once in love with a Shadow Baron herself. This story had atmosphere and world-building potential galore, and I would dearly love to read an entire novel set in this world.

Vampires Never Get Olds marks a delightful return to the mythology of vampires, filled with unique tales and fun little extra nuggets. Read through the author bios to find out each contributor’s favourite vampire, and check out the copyright page for a vampire-themed book curse! If like me you’ve been missing vampires, this collection might just quench your thirst, at least for a while.

For more vampires, you might also like:

Urban Fantasy Vampires

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Certain Dark Things 

I Kissed Alice

Cover image for I Kissed Alice by Anna Birchby Anna Birch

Illustrated by Victoria Ying

ISBN 978125021986-2

“The fact that life is just throwing us together should feel like fate, but instead all I have is an impending sense of doom.”

Friends. Lovers. Competitors. Rhodes, Sarah, and Iliana are all students at the Alabama Conservatory of the Arts and Technology, a speciality high school. Rhodes is the award-winning model student, and Sarah is her roommate. Sarah and Iliana have been best friends since childhood, and they transferred to the Conservatory together, even though they don’t share the privileged background of most of the school’s students. But their friendships are challenged by one complicated fact; Rhodes and Iliana hate one another, and they are in fierce competition for the Capstone Award, which includes a scholarship to the local college of art and design. Hard-working Iliana is furious that rich, talented Rhodes might snatch the scholarship she so desperately needs. What she doesn’t know is that Rhodes is battling depression, and a creative block that is threatening to destroy her academic career and her future. Unbeknownst to them both, they share a secret online life on Slash/Spot, a fanfiction site where Curious-in-Cheshire and I-Kissed-Alice are co-creators of an Alice in Wonderland-inspired comic. But their feelings for one another might go beyond creative collaboration, if they were ever to meet in real life…

I Kissed Alice is told in alternating first person chapters, switching perspectives between Rhodes and Iliana. The chapters occasionally conclude with a comic by Victoria Ying, capturing the story of Alice and the Red Queen that Iliana and Rhodes are unknowingly collaborating on. The comics were amazing, and would have loved to see more of them included in the book, preferably in colour! Birch also uses, chat, the Slash/Spot comments, and text messages to flesh out the story. I enjoyed the fandom aspect of the book, and the intense connection Rhodes and Iliana both feel to Alice in Wonderland, as well as their f/f take on it in their comic.

The tone of this book was a little bit heavier than what I expected from the publisher’s summary and the cover art, all of which suggested a light enemies-to-lovers romp. However, the book deals with complex themes including unhealthy relationships of various types, and a protagonist who is battling with significant depression. Rhodes is wealthy and seems to have everything Iliana wants, but beneath the well-polished surface, she is dealing with a mother who is a functioning alcoholic determined to control her future, and stifling a depression that has choked off her ability to create any art other than her comic with Curious-in-Cheshire. She is drowning in the expectations of others. Meanwhile, Iliana has lost out on one scholarship after getting into trouble with Rhodes and Sarah, making for a bitter competition for the Capstone Award, which she desperately needs to afford college. Both Iliana and Sarah work part-time at a diner in addition to their studies, struggling to purchase the necessary art supplies for all their classes. Studying art at college seems even further out of reach.

Although I Kissed Alice is an enemies-to-lovers story, it is lacking in sizzle, tension, and banter. Iliana and Rhodes mostly make themselves, and Sarah, miserable with their bickering and in-fighting. The narration alternates between Iliana and Rhodes, but the perspective I felt was really missing was Sarah, who is the real life bridge between the two, and often caught in the crossfire of their arguments. Given the significant role she plays in the story, I really wanted to understand her point-of-view better, particularly towards the end of the book. Friendship is just as important to this book as romance, so Sarah not having a voice in the narrative somewhat limits that exploration.

Nonbinary and Genderqueer Reads

Today I’ve got mini-reviews four books by and about nonbinary and genderqueer people, including two young adult novels, and two memoirs, including one graphic memoir. I’m part of a monthly bring your own book club with other library workers, and this month’s theme was “read a book by an author whose gender is different than yours.” Having read a lot of books by men already in my life, I decided to focus on books by nonbinary people instead!

I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver (they/them)

Cover image for I Wish You All the BestThis YA novel is a classic coming out narrative, but for gender rather than sexuality. Ben is thrown out by their parents after coming out as nonbinary, and is taken in by their estranged older sister, Hannah. Ben starts the last semester of senior year at a new school, where they decide not to come out as nonbinary because of the fallout from the fight with their parents. At the new school, Ben falls for their first new friend, the handsome and ebullient Nathan Allan. This quiet contemporary focuses on relationships and acceptance, including Ben’s growing feelings for Nathan, reconnecting with their sister, and their decision about whether or not to forgive their parents. 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.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (he/they)

Cover image for Felix Ever After by Kacen CallenderWhereas I Wish You All the Best is a coming out story, Felix Ever After follows the story of Felix Love, who has already transitioned to male, but is still exploring their gender identity and coming to terms with some of the nonbinary options. Felix has never been in love, but has a deep romantic streak, and this novel sees him caught between an enemies-to-lovers epistolary romance via Instagram messages, and the possibility that one of his oldest friendships is actually romantic. Next to the romances, my favourite element of this book was the way it explored the complicated forms of homophobia and transphobia that can exist within the queer community where Felix is supposed to feel safe, such as his ex-girlfriend Marisol, and the anonymous bullies causing trouble at school and online. Felix’s best friend Ezra is the light of this book, and he reminded me a great deal of Nathan from I Wish You All the Best.

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (e/em/eir)

Cover image for Gender Queer by Maia KobabeThis graphic memoir follows Maia Kobabe on eir exploration of gender, and how e came to understand that e was nonbinary, with colours by eir sister, Phoebe Kobabe. The book recounts eir confusion about increasingly gendered expectations in childhood, such as differences in acceptable swimwear for young boys and girls. As e gets older, there is an increasing focus on body dysmorphia, particularly body horror related to menstruation and gynecological exams. E confesses to secretly harbouring a guilty wish for breast cancer as an excuse for a mastectomy. Unaware of the nonbinary option, as a teen Kobabe wished for the ability to switch between genders at will, like in the cartoon Ranma ½. The memoir comes to an open ending, as Kobabe has realized eir nonbinary identity, but is still struggling with being open about it in various settings, such as the art class e teaches. The book concludes: “A note to my parents: Though I have struggled with being your daughter, I am so, so glad I am your child.”

Sissy by Jacob Tobia (they/them)

Cover image for Sissy by Jacob TobiaJacob Tobia is a gender nonconforming writer, producer, and performer based in Los Angeles. Sissy is their memoir about growing up in North Carolina, and their years coming into their gender identity and expression as a scholarship student at Duke University. Tobia is perhaps best known for their 2012 run in five inch high heels across the Brooklyn Bridge to raise money for the Ali Forney Center after it was flooded by Hurricane Sandy. Tobia has a loud love-me-or-leave-me style that you will either jive with, or not; in their conclusion they write “to this day, your divine conviction in your own self-love makes you kinda arrogant and a little bit of an asshole,” apparently aware of the inevitable dichotomy. Tobia likes humour and extended metaphors; for example, they propose that instead of the closet, the metaphor for coming out should be a snail coming out of its shell. Their tone is a whiplash combination of earnestness and irreverence, mixing insights about gender and socialization with jokes, dropping insights about toxic masculinity in the same breath as a dick joke. Tobia loudly pushes for more trans stories that go beyond the traditional gender binary, using their own struggles with their parents, their church, and their university to pave the way.

Browse more LGBTQ+ reads

Let’s Talk About Love

Cover image for Let's Talk About Loveby Claire Kann

ISBN 9781250138828

“I always did everything I was supposed to without complaining. It’s my life, but I’m still waiting for my turn to be in charge.”

After recently being dumped by her girlfriend Margot, Alice is starting to believe that being asexual and biromantic might mean that she is going to be alone forever. Except for her best friends Feenie and Ryan, but even they are a couple on the road to marriage, and Alice can’t help but feel like a third wheel. Then she meets Takumi, a new employee at the library where she works, who is so stunningly attractive that Alice has a twinge of doubt about her identity for the first time since she learned the word asexual. But after her complicated history of relationships with people who don’t share her ace orientation, Alice promises herself that she won’t get involved with Takumi, even though he clearly seems to like her. After all, she has bigger things to worry about, like the fact that her parents might stop paying for her education if she refuses to go to law school.

Let’s Talk About Love opens with Alice and Margot breaking up on page one. Contrary to what is in the publisher’s summary, Alice doesn’t actually tell Margot that she is asexual. In fact, she has been having sex with Margot to please her, but refusing to let Margot reciprocate, and refusing to explain why. After rattling off every ace stereotype in the book—all without ever actually using the word—Margot breaks up with Alice because “you could never love me as much as I would love you.” With the exception of Feenie and Ryan, in fact, Alice has never revealed her sexual identity to anyone, especially not her romantic partners, a fact that continues to end in heartbreak and misunderstandings.

Although written in the third person, Claire Kann’s style makes the narrative feel personal, and her chatty voice is filled with bracketed asides. As a character, Alice is well-defined beyond her asexuality. She loves television, and her hobby is writing critical essays about her favourite programs. She loves food, but can’t cook to save her life. She is still undeclared, because she doesn’t want to declare Political Science the way her parents want, on her way to becoming a lawyer. She would rather become an interior designer, a career that would take advantage of her “intense obsession with aesthetics.” But she knows that her parents would never pay for her to study something so frivolous.

There are three sets of relationships that make up Alice’s story. First is her long-standing friendship with Feenie and Ryan, who also become her roommates after her break-up with Margot. Unfortunately, this felt like a rather unhealthy triad, because Feenie is volatile and emotionally manipulative, and Ryan tended to go along with her more egregious behaviour. I also felt that Feenie and Ryan expected Alice to understand and accept that they were a couple, but seemed to expect that her asexuality would mean that she would never have an outside relationship that would be as significant to her as their friendship.

Although none of them ever make an in-person appearance, Alice’s family is also significant to her story and identity. Her parents are lawyers, with a fierce determination that their children will have the opportunities they did not, and that they will have all the advantages that they can give them that will help make up for some of the unfairness of racism and prejudice. Her older siblings Aisha and Adam are almost like another set of parents, because they are significantly older than Alice, who came along last, and unexpectedly. Although her family has money, Alice is trying to stand on her own, and claim the freedom that would come with paying her own way.

Takumi is the newest relationship in Alice’s life, but their connection quickly becomes intense, even as Alice continues to struggle with her promise to herself not to get involved. They meet at the library, but I’ll try to leave aside my professional nitpicks about the way the library is depicted, and the fact that they go around making googly eyes in the stacks when they are supposed to be working. Their relationship is indeed cute and swoonworthy, but I felt like the book ended before they really hashed out the inevitable complexities of a relationship between an allosexual person and an asexual one, partly because Alice can’t bring herself to tell him the truth for most of the book. As a result, matters still felt rather unresolved despite the epilogue.

Taking place largely over the course of a summer, with her future in flux, Let’s Talk About Love explores friendship, family, and romance, and how these different types of relationships contribute to our ideas about what it means to love.

You might also like Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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.

Most Likely

Cover image for most likely by Sarah Watson by Sarah Watson

ISBN 978-0-316-45475-9

“For Logan, this extra work resulted in first-place medals and broken records. For CJ, it barely made her middle of the pack.”

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha have been best friends since the summer before kindergarten, when they met at the Memorial Park playground. Now, as they enter their senior year, the park is scheduled to be torn down and replaced with an office building, and the girls will never get their chance to add their names to the jungle gym where graduates have carved their mark for generations. Now, in addition to the stresses of SATs and college applications, the four friends must fight to save the place where they met, and preserve the playground for the next generation. But what the girls don’t know is that one of them is destined to become the first woman elected President of the United States. This is her origin story.

Most Likely opens on Inauguration Day 2049, as the first woman elected to be President of the United States waits next to her husband, and prepares to take the oath of office. A couple quibbles up front; let’s hope that it doesn’t actually take another thirty years for a woman to be elected president. And let’s hope that she doesn’t feel the need to take her husband’s name for the sake of “tradition” and political expediency. However, in the case of the structure of this book, having the President Elect introduced to us by her husband’s surname preserves the mystery of which of the girls is destined to find herself looking out from The Capitol on a cold January morning in 2049, making it a logical stylistic choice.

Each with their own hopes and dreams for the future, any one of the four young women might actually be destined for America’s highest office. Ava dreams of applying to art school, but doesn’t know how to tell her adoptive mother. She struggles with her depression as she toys with the idea of finally finding her birth mother. CJ desperately wants to go to Stanford, but she just can’t seem to get her SAT score high enough. However, a new volunteer gig at sports program for kids with disabilities might just round out her application. Jordan runs the school paper and dreams of a career in political journalism, but she can’t get the city councillor who is sponsoring the office development that will destroy the park to give her the time of day, let alone a proper interview. Martha is the only one who still lives in the rundown neighbourhood around the park where they met. Perhaps the smartest of them all, she can’t figure out how she is going to pay her way through college, even if she does get into her dream school, MIT.

Most Likely is a book mainly about friendship and how it shapes us, but one that does put a bit more emphasis on the romantic subplot than I might have liked. Because we know the surname the President has taken in the prologue, once we meet the boy with that last name, the reader is watching his romantic choices with a careful eye. Watson has backed herself into the unenviable task of trying to set up a viable potential romance with any one of the four girls, without creating any kind of rivalry for his affections in order to maintain the suspense of her plot. As the end of the book approached, I was rooting for one girl to become President, and a totally different one to get the guy, so I still have to hand it to Watson for managing to end this in a way that left me satisfied.

An Enchantment of Ravens

Cover image for An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogersonby Margaret Rogerson

ISBN 978-1-4814-9758-9

“No one used their birth name in Whimsy. To do so would be to expose oneself to ensorcellment, by which a fair one could control a mortal in body and soul, forever, without their ever knowing—merely through the power of that single, secret word. It was the most wicked form of fairy magic, and the most feared.”

Although she is only seventeen, Isobel is the best painter in generations, and her Craft is coveted by all the fair ones who visit the artisan village of Whimsy to purchase human artistry. While the fair folk are masters of glamour and enchantment, they cannot truly create in the manner of mortals, but their appetite for human Craft is insatiable. So great is Isobel’s talent that rumour has it she will one day be invited to drink from the Green Well, and become a fair one herself—though it would mean losing her Craft forever. That dreaded possibility seems more real than ever when one day Isobel’s regular patron Gadfly announces that she can expect a visit from the Autumn Prince. Painting Rook proves to be an unexpected challenge; there is something about his eyes that Isobel can’t quite seem to capture, and worse, she finds his company dangerously captivating. In an unguarded moment, Isobel realizes that what she has been seeing in Rook’s eyes is a sorrow deeper than any expression of emotion she has ever seen from a fair one. When Isobel’s masterpiece is revealed before the entire Autumn Court, the weakness that has been painted plain for everyone to see is on display for all of Rook’s enemies and rivals. Refusing to let this insult stand, Rook spirits Isobel away to his Court to stand trial, presumably accused of fomenting rebellion amongst his courtiers.

I have to admit that I was a bit dubious about the premise of this book, particularly the trial,  which is how I ended up reading Sorcery of Thorns first, even though it is Margaret Rogerson’s second book. In the end, however, I was captured by the world Rogerson has created here. The village of Whimsy exists in a place between Faerie and the human World Beyond. It is a liminal space of perpetual summer, where human artisans exist to serve the capricious whims and ravenous appetites of the fair folk. They are paid in carefully negotiated enchantments, and the knowledge that the best among them may be offered the chance to visit the Green Well. But if they do not negotiate carefully enough, they may find that they pay the price, whether that is becoming unable to speak words that begin with vowels, or losing their very lives. And there are other dangers to living so close to Faerie; Isobel’s parents were killed by wild fae creatures that escaped the Wild Hunt and came out of the woods into Whimsy when she was a little girl.

We never do venture into the World Beyond, so the other half of Rogerson’s story takes place in Faerie, where we visit the realms of the Spring, Summer, and Autumn courts. For time untold, the courts have been ruled over by the Alder King of the Summer Court. But as they traverse the Summerlands on their way to the Autumn court, it becomes apparent to both Rook and Isobel that decay has taken root in the heart of the realm. Soon Rook is worried that Faerie has worse to fear than a rebellion in the Autumn Court. When their journey becomes unexpectedly dangerous, they seek refuge in the Spring Court, where Isobel hatches a clever plan that will perhaps save Rook’s reputation, and her own life.

Amongst the side characters, I particularly enjoyed Gadfly and his niece, Lark. Gadfly is an elder fae, accustomed to dealing with mortals, but in meeting Lark we catch a glimpse of the raw power and impetuousness of a nearly immortal being who has yet to truly grasp mortal fragility. I was also intrigued by Aster, the only fair one we meet who was once mortal. In her time, Aster was an acclaimed writer, but gave up wordsmithing when she drank from the Green Well and joined the Spring Court. Altogether, they make up the cast of this fantastic, standalone adventure into the heart of Faerie.

You might also like The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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