Category Archives: Alex Reads

Queer YA Spotlight: The Mirror Season

That night left each of us holding pieces of broken glass. And ever since, we have been gripping them. We have been clenching our fingers around them, the edges cutting into our palms, blood on the silver.

We may never be able to set them down for good. They may be in our hands forever, something we’re always holding. But we don’t have to grip them. We don’t have to hold them so tightly that they’re forever cutting our fingers.

Instead, we hold them as lightly as we can. We let them rest on our palms. We don’t help them do the work of drawing our blood.

We live with them. We learn the ways that broken things can catch the light.

Premise: after Ciela and a boy she hardly knows are sexually assaulted by classmates at a party, Ciela’s world begins to change. She loses the ability she’s always had to guess exactly what sweets and pan dulce her customers want and need. The seasonal winds are eerily still. Trees are vanishing inexplicably from the neighbourhood. And, most troubling, everywhere Ciela goes objects and plants are turning to mirrored glass. When the boy turns up at school, Ciela sees someone she needs to protect—and wonders if them helping each other recover is what might bring the magic back.

Content considerations: sexual trauma as a main theme, the act itself described in detail; systemic racism, internalised victim-blaming

Rainbow rep: a pansexual protagonist, her ex-girlfriend turned best friend, various queer side characters

This is a beautifully written book about a difficult subject, making it simultaneously really fun and really stressful to read. It’s also a book I really want to tell people about, but it’s difficult to write on. I want to sing to the skies how good The Mirror Season was, but I also find myself just… floating, haunted yet serene, in the waters of the feelings this story left with me. That’s a kind of magic in itself, I suppose.

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Queer YA Spotlight: This Poison Heart

Premise: Briseis has had power over plants for as long as she can remember: flowers bloom when she walks by, ivy tangles when she gets anxious, she can bring even the most shrivelled sprouts back to life with a touch, and she’s immune to poisonous weeds that should kill within minutes. It makes helping out in her mothers’ florist easy, but it’s also a struggle to keep the magic hidden. When Briseis finds out a long-lost biological relative has passed away and willed her a country house, she jumps at the opportunity to discover more about her power and her lineage, and finds herself quickly tangled in family secrets of mythological proportions.

Rainbow rep: a sapphic protagonist, a cool sapphic love interest, and the protagonist’s delightful two mothers

Content considerations: some gnarly descriptions of poison taking effect, brief discussions of systemic racism

Much of the joy of This Poison Heart is watching the mystery at its centre unfold. I like to keep these spotlight posts spoiler-free so they can intrigue and entice, so I’ll be saying very little about the deeper machinations of this book, but I do want you to know that I ate through it in two days because I got so swept up exploring this world and its secrets alongside Briseis. It’s a lot of fun, complete with spooky secret gardens, hidden compartments containing lost documents, and nefarious villains and twisty-twists. All that classic magic-adventure-mystery stuff, capping off with a glorious reveal about our protagonist’s Secret Legacy. It’s delightful to see some of these tried-and-true tropes given to a heroic Black, queer character. As author Kalynn Bayron herself discussed recently, these concepts are not “overdone” until everyone has had a turn, and there are still plenty of twists and takes on them to be tried before the well is dry.

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One Last Stop and the Magic of Queer History

Someone will remember us
I say
Even in another time

Sappho fragment

She lets Jane’s memories transpose over here, now, like double-exposed film, two different generations of messy, loud, brave and scared and brave again people stomping their feet and waving hands with bitten nails, all the things they share and all the things they don’t, the things she has that people like Jane smashed windows and spat blood for.

[…] August can’t stop thinking how much Jane would love to be here. Jane deserves to be here. She deserves to see it, to feel the bass in her chest and know it’s the result of her work, to have a beer in her hand and a twenty between her teeth. She’d be free, lit up by stage lights, dug up from underground and dancing until she can’t breathe, loving it. Living.

McQuiston 2021, p. 267 – 268

It’s very easy to become detached from a sense of queer history. 98% of my knowledge about queer theory and history is self-taught, following recommendations from supervisors and reading lists and otherwise diving down research rabbit holes. I know there are holes in my knowledge base, and I frequently think how impossibly cool and helpful it would have been to have been able to take a class on this. But even if we’re not talking strictly academically, I think it’s easy to feel like you’re scrambling to “catch up on the homework”, so to speak.

There are gaps in the mainstream understanding of queer history, of queer writing, of queer activism, of queer life. From censorship, of course, and from the tragic loss of an entire generation of people who might have carried that information into the twenty-first century. But also from it being cluttered away in the margins, posed only as something hypothetical and weird and over there and not for you. As many benefits as the Internet has, experiencing queer community entirely online (and through uniquely online Community Discourse, good heavens) can leave you without a tangible, humanised sense of what’s come before, and its significance. A lot is rendered invisible and intangible, falls through the cracks. It can all feel a bit… nebulous. Abstract. Ghostly.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a novel about history and memory. August, a cynical and practical twenty-three-year-old, moves to New York looking for a fresh start, and quickly develops a crush on Jane, the handsome and charismatic woman August shares a commute with. But Jane doesn’t just look like a cool butch punk-rocker from the ‘70s, she is a cool butch punk-rocker from the ‘70s: somehow unstuck in time, and trapped on the Q trainline for eternity. Jane doesn’t remember how she got stuck here, August doesn’t know how Jane is possible, yet here they both are in a metal tube speeding along electrified rails, their weird little liminal space where the past and the present collide.

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Pride Month Book Recs: Queer Manga

We’ve reached the final book recommendation post for Pride Month 2021. This time, I’m dipping into another medium I read a lot of, and which is yielding an increasingly varied and exciting platter of LGBTQIA+ storytelling: manga.

The distinction between “queer manga” and manga that falls into romance genres like yuri (which might feature close relationships between women, but don’t always touch on subjects like queer identity—and may even still be floating in the “close, pure, romantic friendship” tropes of the olden days) is somewhat blurry, but for the purposes of this post I’m combining them all under one umbrella. Some of these are more of the fluffy romance variety that brushes over what we might consider queer themes like coming out, and some of them deal with that more directly and poignantly. Some of them are fluffy romances that also talk about the realities of being queer in modern day Japan!

I’ve tried to gather a variety, though remember that this list is merely some of my personal favourites from my personal reading habits: there is plenty more manga with LGBTQIA+ content out there that I have yet to get to! So, as always, please do leave your own recommendations in the comments.

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Pride Month YA Spotlight: Contemporary Coming-of-age Stories

Earlier this month, I listed some of my favourite works of YA sci-fi and fantasy featuring queer protagonists. Now, we return to the real world for yet more! These are all set in a realistic, modern day and focus on the emotional ins and outs of growing up: first loves, figuring out your identity, navigating the many weird liminal spaces you might find yourself in as you teeter between what we call childhood and what we call adulthood.

As always, please leave your own recs in the comments below—I’m always looking for more!

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Pride Month Book Recs: Non-fiction, Memoirs, and Resources

Queer stuff can sometimes be hard to get your head around—take it from me, a person who has been on a deeply befuddling identity journey and been swimming in the deep pool that is queer theory for nearly four years. Academia on queer and gender issues is notoriously difficult for the everyperson to get into, often associated with stuffy and complex language and galaxy-brain concepts that may or may not resonate with one’s own day-to-day experience.

This is not universally true, and I promise not all academics are trying actively to make their work inaccessible as some sort of wicked ploy. Still, trying to Do Your Research and hitting a mental roadblock can be alienating and demoralising. Not everyone can pick up Judith Butler and immediately absorb that stuff into their brain (seriously, don’t feel bad—I have senior supervisors who admit to needing to read her work a couple times to “get it”!).

The good news is, you don’t have to! There are more accessible, beginner-friendly resource books on queer identity than ever before, and I’ve compiled a little list of some of the texts I’ve found most helpful, both for research and for fun.

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Pride Month YA Spotlight: Sci-fi and Fantasy

I read a lot of YA novels here on this blog. Certainly not as many as some other folks, but enough that I have a few excellent books up my sleeve if you ever ask me for recommendations. So this month, in honour of the celebrations of LGBTQIA+ activism and liberation that take place in June, I’m compiling some lists of favourites from the field of YA with queer protagonists.

Today, we look at sci-fi and fantasy: in the stories below we have swashbuckling pirates, ghost boyfriends, magic-thieves, teen witches, space wizards, and more! Queer readers are getting to see themselves in an immensely exciting variety of magical adventures, and this is merely a handful of my personal faves. Read on to see if any pique your interest, and leave any recommendations of your own in the comments!

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Queer YA Spotlight: The Falling in Love Montage

Premise: Saorise (and that’s “Seer-sha”, and she will fight you on this) has enough heartache to last her a lifetime. She doesn’t know how long her own lifetime will be, reeling from the knowledge that early onset dementia runs in her family, and she could end up forgetting who she is by age fifty. Her childhood best friend turned girlfriend broke up with her, fracturing their friend group and leaving Saorise angry and adrift. The path seems simple: no relationships, no close human connections, and no one gets hurt.

But then along comes Ruby. She suggests a relationship with a pre-arranged expiration date, and one that only involves all the fun parts: the cheesy falling in love montage from the middle of the movie, as it were. It’s no-strings-attached, Ruby’s cute, and as long as Saorise doesn’t open her heart and bear her feelings about anything serious it will all go off without a hitch. Right?

Rainbow rep: an f/f romance between two lesbian characters, queer background cast (mostly in the form of the ex-girlfriend)

Content considerations: depictions of parents in hospital, parents with deteriorating mental health, general existential dread

I will be 101% honest: I came for the self-aware, sapphic take on the classic clichés of romantic comedies. I came for the “oho, you say you’re not going to fall in love, but you totally are” romantic tension. And I did get both of those. But I also got hit upside the head with a narrative about how life’s impermanence is what makes it meaningful, and that we should always let ourselves live and be loved no matter the risks.

Which. Damn.

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Queer YA Spotlight: The Lost Coast

Premise: The Grays are a tight-knit coven of teen witches, until their most charismatic and talented member, Imogen, walks into the woods one night and comes back a shell of her former self. The Grays cast a spell to summon someone, anyone, who might be able to help, and into town wanders Danny, a girl with a strong sense of yearning but little sense of where it’s always been trying to take her. Danny is ecstatic to find the witches and win their approval, but as the mist thickens and the ancient redwood forest fills with dead boys and disappeared girls, time is running out to discover her inner magic and find what’s left of Imogen.

Rainbow rep: a queer ensemble cast, including a self-described queer lead, a bisexual witch, a non-binary ace witch, and multiple f/f romances; many explorations of queer themes like found family and the search for a place to belong.

Content considerations: discussions of homophobia, including a character being kicked out by her parents; brief discussions of terminal illness and parental death; brief (but often poetic rather than graphic) descriptions of dead bodies.

There is magic running through the heart of The Lost Coast. Every sentence feels like it was carefully crafted to create a certain atmosphere, sometimes warm and welcoming and sometimes otherworldly and haunting. Sometimes both. The words are woven like, well, a spell: light acts like liquid, silence falls like snow, and the settings—from scrappy rental cabins to the ancient looming haven of The Lost Coast’s redwood forests—come to life with such vibrancy you feel like you’re there.

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Podcast | Yuri Manga Variety Hour

I’m a true Millennial Content Creator now—I’ve co-hosted a podcast! Listen in to my debut on Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast, where I chat about manga where ladies fall in love with each other. We go through some recent series and recommend our favourite titles from the ever-growing catalogue of English licenses.

Listen to the full episode here!

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