Tag Archives: YA

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)

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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.

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Playing with Genre and Queer Narrative in the Novels of Malinda Lo

I have a new scholarly paper out, published and free to read in the International Journal of Young Adult Literature!

Abstract:

Malinda Lo has been an invaluable voice in the emerging field of queer YA fiction, both for her accessible statistics on the representation of LGBTQIA+ identities in traditional publishing, and for the content of her novels. Her fictional works place sapphic protagonists into genre narratives – sci-fi, fairy tale, thriller – that are traditionally presumed to be the realm of straight heroes. But the queer rebellion in Lo’s writing goes beyond simply casting queer characters into genres and roles that have historically been considered heteronarrative: Lo’s work is an example of what I define here as ‘queer narrative play’, a process of deliberately and visibly troubling, tweaking, and upturning readers’ expectations of the roles and functions of queer characters within recognisable genre frameworks, deftly challenging the historical binary that has existed between ‘mainstream’ genre fiction and ‘marginal’ queer coming-of-age stories.

Following from Tzvetan Todorov’s suggestion that “genres function as ‘horizons of expectation’”, this paper will explore how Lo’s body of work playfully challenges the traditional representation of LGBTQIA+ characters in a variety of methods; from creating speculative worlds that remove the need for narratives such as the coming-out story, to drawing readers’ attention to tragic queer tropes in order to make later subversions of them visible. Queer narrative play is an example of the ways in which contemporary YA writers may enact a rebellious conversation between author and reader, creating playful and progressive new works by reshaping the pre-existing materials of literary expectations, and Lo’s work makes for a stellar example of the craft.

Read and download the full text here!

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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.

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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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Be Gay, Do Crime: The Revolutionary History of LGBTQIA+ Young Adult Fiction

Join my colleague Chloe and I for a brief introduction to the world of queer young adult fiction, from its historic beginnings in the 1960s all the way through to the new directions it’s taking now! Originally presented at the Great Writing Conference, 10th – 11th July 2021.

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“Socio-political Ragnarök”: The Trickster figure in queer YA fiction

How might the liminal, mischievous, underdog figure of the Trickster lend itself to stories about queer teens?

Take a peek into one of my thesis chapters in this short video! Originally presented at the Fresh From the Fight: Heroes, Villains and Tricksters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Culture conference held virtually at the University of British Columbia, 2nd – 4th July 2021.

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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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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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