Category Archives: Alex Reads

The Best Books I Read in 2021

2021 was another categorically Really Weird Year, but gosh there were some good books! This is my personal list of favourites, ranging from chaotic coming-of-age comedies to mythical urban fantasies to mecha battles to portal fantasies to time-hopping romances and back again. Take a look and see what catches your eye—and as always, let me know what your favourite reads were! There are always, always more novels to add to the pile.

(A title like “Best Queer Books I Read in 2021” would be superfluous—basically, assume these have queer protagonists or at least main ensemble cast members. It is the sensible option at this point on this blog)

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Alex Reads

Queer YA Spotlight: The Girl From the Sea

Premise: Fifteen-year-old Morgan nearly drowns one night, but is saved by a beautiful selkie. Convinced that she’s dreaming, Morgan smooches her right on the mouth—and is shocked when said selkie then turns up on her doorstep the next morning, very real and ready to confess her love. This throws a spanner in Morgan’s plans to lay low and stay firmly closeted until she can graduate and leave her tiny island town. But maybe the magic seal-girl from the sea isn’t the only one able to undergo a transformation…

Rainbow rep: an f/f romance, a lesbian protagonist coming to terms with her identity

Content considerations: characters being outed (in a low-stakes, ultimately supportive environment); characters nearly drowning

Molly Knox Ostertag’s graphic novel The Girl From the Sea is absolutely gorgeous, visually and emotionally. It’s a sweet supernatural romance that, despite its magical aspects, stays very grounded in the emotional reality of being fifteen: ducking your head and trying to get by while expectations hover over you like a flock of hungry seagulls.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Alex Reads

General Feminist-Friendly Manga Recommendations

Want to take a break from watching and find something to read? Here’s a piping-hot batch of feminist-friendly titles hot out the oven for our dear readers!

Read why I think you should check out Witch Hat Atelier—and read the rest of my team’s hard work—here!

Leave a comment

Filed under Alex Reads

Queer YA Spotlight: Gearbreakers

It makes sense that, when the times were desperate enough, when the people were frenzied enough, at a certain point we went past praying to deities and started to build them instead.

Premise: Godolia maintains its military might with the Windups: giant mechs piloted by cybernetically-enhanced soldiers, capable of wiping out entire towns should they not comply. But godlike robots are still made of nuts and bolts, and their greatest threat remains the rebel Gearbreakers who can climb inside and take them apart. Eris is a Gearbreaker, and thinks she’s met her mortal enemy when she comes face to face with Windup pilot Sona. But Sona is a war orphan like Eris, and has infiltrated the pilot program to try and dismantle Godolia from within.

Rainbow rep: a central f/f romance, queer side characters

Content considerations: non-detailed torture scenes; parental death; child soldiers; copious injuries described in fairly gnarly detail; the horrors of war in general

Gearbreakers kicks ass. That is really the only adequate way I can convey the impression that Zoe Hana Mikuta’s debut novel left on me. I’m talking gorgeous, evocative writing. I’m talking complex, vicious, and lovable protagonists. I’m talking metal-wrenching ass-kicking heart-stopping fight scenes. I’m talking girls falling in love. I’m talking giant robots. Giant robots. I was initially sceptical that mecha, as visual a genre as it is, would translate into prose, but not only did it translate, but the high-octane action was relatively easy to follow, and conveyed a fantastic sense of scale, terror, and unrestrained Cool Factor.

Gearbreakers kicks ass.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under 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.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Alex Reads

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.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Alex Reads

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.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Alex Reads, Fun with Isms

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.

Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Alex Reads

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!

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Alex Reads

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.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Alex Reads, Fun with Isms