I’ve got four reviews for you today: two MG contemporaries, a YA fantasy, and a YA graphic novel. Three of the four were books that I specifically picked up in an effort to read more LGBTQ+ books for Pride Month. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
After Zero by Christina Collins
Published by Dreamscape Media on September 4, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Narrator: Jesse Vilinsky
Length: 5 hours and 8 minutes
Cover Artist: Ellen Duda
My content rating: MG (Topics of death and mental health issues)
Elise carries a notebook full of tallies, each page marking a day spent at her new public school, each stroke of her pencil marking a word spoken. A word that can't be taken back. Five tally marks isn't so bad. Two is pretty good. But zero? Zero is perfect. Zero means no wrong answers called out in class, no secrets accidentally spilled, no conversations to agonize over at night when sleep is far away.
But now months have passed, and Elise isn't sure she could speak even if she wanted to―not to keep her only friend, Mel, from drifting further away―or to ask if anyone else has seen her English teacher's stuffed raven come to life. Then, the discovery of a shocking family secret helps Elise realize that her silence might just be the key to unlocking everything she's ever hoped for...
I discovered this book from AJ’s review @ Read All the Things. You should definitely read her review for an #OwnVoices perspective on selective mutism.
I immediately felt for Elise because of her anxiety about saying the wrong thing to people. I could completely understand how she gradually went from trying to relate to the people around her to feeling safer saying nothing at all. Her situation at home was heartbreaking—her mother was so distant, and Elise had never really learned to relate to the outside world all that well since she’d been sheltered (and homeschooled). There’s an interesting hint of either an unreliable narrator or magical realism going on that kept me guessing throughout the book, wondering what was actually going on. And then there’s also a slight mystery that gets introduced with Elise’s family. These elements kept me eager to find out where the story was going. There were a couple of small things that kept me from giving this my highest rating: I get a little frustrated when homeschooled kids are all portrayed as “strange” and desperate to go to public school so they can be normal (Cam’s family has the added stereotype of being weirdly religious but also mean—Cam and his sister are rebels by going to public school and not attending church). These stereotypes tend to frustrate me as a (Christian) homeschooling mom. Still, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives, and this book builds compassion for those kids who have selective mutism or even kids who simply suffer from social anxiety.
Jesse Vilinsky did a fantastic job with the narration of this one. I had to listen to this at 1x speed (because I got CDs from the library), which would normally drive me sort of crazy, but I really enjoyed the listening experience.
Breath of Flowers by Caly
Series: Breath of Flowers #1
Published by TokyoPop on August 20, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Manga, Shojo, Contemporary, LGBTQ+
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing)
Azami does not understand her friends' fascination with yuri and yaoi. She's only attracted to boys, especially the handsome Gwen, who she's had eyes on since the beginning of the year. Intelligent, sporty, attractive and just a little older than Azami, he's the ideal boyfriend. But everything Azami believes comes crashing down when she finds out that Gwen is actually a girl!
My review of this book is somewhat complicated. Overall, I enjoyed this manga–it’s pretty light and fluffy and mostly what I’ve come to expect from a manga romance. I did go into this with some expectations, though, that messed with my head a little.
I thought this was going to be a manga about a transgender boy. It is not. This is a f/f romance with a girl who dresses like a boy, but only because she plays basketball and got misgendered and just sort of went with it. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, even though I enjoyed the story overall and thought it was a cute romance.
SO, I passed the manga over to my daughter for an #OwnVoices perspective. It should be noted that she’s an avid anime fan and also reads manga from time to time. She read the whole thing, laughing all the while and then handed it back to me and said she really liked it! I asked her if the representation of a girl who dressed as a boy “just because” bothered her, and she told me that this is a very common thing in anime. Basically this is called a trap (honestly, just that name bugs me, but it didn’t seem to bother her at all). She was even sort of excited to see a reverse trap (a girl who people think is a boy instead of vice-versa). She enjoys these types of characters in anime and has no problem with them. She did say that what might cause more concern (from a representation point of view) is the fact that Azami isn’t gay and then suddenly is when the boy she likes turns out to be a girl.
So, in the end I decided to let my reservations go and just enjoy this as a fun (though typically-manga-angsty) romance. I still don’t think the representation is perfect by any means, but I let my daughter’s OwnVoices opinion count when it came to rounding up my rating. (By the way, the romance is angsty at least partially because of a third girl who comes into the picture and makes Azima jealous–it’s all a little overwrought, but I’ve yet to read a manga that isn’t.)
I ended up with a rating of Fed My Addiction. BUT I still wanted to make sure to point out some of my hesitations in the review so that people can decide for themselves if this representation would be an issue for them.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
George by Alex Gino
Published by Scholastic Audio on September 1, 2015
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, LGBTQ+
Narrator: Jamie Clayton
Length: 2 hours and 57 minutes
Cover Artist: Ellen Duda
My content rating: MG (No romance or violence; Slight bullying)
BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl. George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part...because she's a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte--but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
This is just such a sweet story, a richly realistic portrait of a little girl who the world doesn’t see that way. George was assigned male at birth, but she’s never really felt like a boy, and she doesn’t know how to tell anyone that. When her class does a production of Charlotte’s Web, she thinks this might be her chance to let the world see her for who she truly is. Unfortunately, her teacher says she can’t even audition for her dream role of Charlotte!
This story is so important because it will build empathy for kids who don’t fit the sex they were assigned at birth. And it shows how a perfectly average kid can be transgender—there are no tragic circumstances or angsty subplots to get in the way of the main point of the story. It’s also very realistic—my daughter was in the car with me while I listened to this (a long car ride home from the city), and she kept asking if the author was transgender because they captured the feelings of a transgender kid so perfectly (I had to double-check when I got home, but yes, Alex Gino uses they pronouns). Overall, this is a wonderful story that can enlighten many people about how it feels to know the world has your gender wrong.
Jamie Clayton does a lovely job with the narration as well, with a natural kid-voice.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Series: Simon Snow,
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on October 6, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQ+
Source: My Secret Sister!
Cover Artist: Anna Gorovoy, Jim Tierney
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing; Some violence)
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for so very long! I got it from my Secret Sister a couple of years ago, but (as often happens) I kept prioritizing review books first and it just sort of floundered on my shelf, waiting for me. With the combination of Pride Month and the fact that this book is on my Official TBR Challenge, this was the perfect time for me to finally pick the book up!
I LOVED Simon and Baz together, just like I knew I would. I’m actually not always a huge fan of the hate to love trope, but it definitely worked for me here—probably because we get Baz’s POV, and he’s a total marshmallow in his own head, even when he’s being a bit of a jerk to the outside world. The story was fun—there were some definite HP vibes that probably couldn’t be helped because of the way things were set up in Fangirl (when Rowell wrote that, this was supposed to be sort of derivative fan fiction, and she hadn’t planned to expand on it at the time). Still, Rowell managed to differentiate the story in some pretty major ways, and that made me happy. I’ll also confess that the book felt a bit too long for me, and it took me a while to get into it. The story is split into three parts, and things didn’t really pick up for me until part two, probably because I was anxiously waiting for Baz’s arrival in the story. Also, since this is supposed to be a continuation of a fake series, we got a lot of backstory in that first part, things that would have happened in those earlier books. It made the beginning of the book drag a bit. But once we got to part two, things really picked up. I LOVED where the story eventually took us and all the reveals about the villain (I kind of, sort of guessed what was happening, but I definitely didn’t have it all right). And it was impossible not to get wrapped up in these characters. I’m now very eager to read Wayward Son!