Review: The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (9781368048088)

Lyric, Maine was the ancestral home of Violet’s family, established by her great-great-great-grandmother who survived a shipwreck. Now Violet has been sent there after a wreck of her own, created when she partied too much and almost lost her brother Sam to suicide. Stuck in the small town, she finds a volunteer job at the local aquarium. That’s where she meets Orion, a gorgeous boy her age who knows all about marine life and how to run the cash register, skills that Vi can only dream of having. Orion’s best friend is Liv, who happens to be obsessed with the Lyric shipwreck and can’t wait to meet Violet, a direct descendant. Things get more complicated as Violet tries to help Liv and Orion move forward in a romantic way, Violet tries to avoid romance herself and along the way makes the best friends of her life.

I must admit this was one of the hardest books to summarize. There is so much here that all fits so beautifully into the novel but can’t be easily explained. There is the power of music, the impact of nature, the importance of dreams, the vitality of connection to one another, and the continued reverberation of loss and grief. All of that is here in these pages, written so beautifully that it aches. There are some cliches like Violet shaving her head, but those disappear into the richness of the book, becoming references and anchors to other stories rather than taking up too much space here.

The writing is exquisite, the emotions on the page are allowed to be raw but also often are hidden from view behind banter or fights about other things. Violet’s bisexuality is shown organically and openly, something that is simply there and innately understood by the reader. Mental illness is treated much the same way with panic attacks, depression, and anxiety all included in the story, important to the plot, but never gawked at.

Beautiful, powerful and full of feeling, this book is amazing. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy

The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy

The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy (9780062866417)

Rahul just wants to be the best at something, anything. But he’s skinny and the target of Brent, one of the biggest bullies at school. He’s also carrying the secret that he’s gay. Brent taunts Rahul into trying out for the football team, which ends up with Rahul not making the team and nursing a hurt ankle. Meanwhile, Brent has figured out Rahul’s secret when Rahul looks a bit too long at Justine in class. Rahul’s best friend Chelsea tries to get Rahul to understand how amazing he is, even if he’s not the best at something. As Rahul searches for his niche, he finds himself getting more anxious and his nightly rituals are less soothing. Whatever Rahul discovers about himself he also realizes that his Indian-American family and his friends will be there to cheer him on, no matter who he is.

Pancholy, an Indian-American actor, has written a compelling and heart-wrenching middle grade novel that deserves applause. He captures the angst of a kid who is different from the straight white kids in his school and who is trying desperately to fit in with them. Pancholy grapples in this book with many large themes, all of which fit with Rahul’s story. There is the bullying of LGBTQIA+ children at school. He addresses racism in casting and racism towards anyone brown-skinned or non-white. He takes these issues on directly, showing how standing up to bullies and racism is the best course of action.

Rahul is a great protagonist. He has support from an extended family as well as a best friend. It is a joy to see a middle grade book with a gay protagonist who is supported and loved by his family and friends. In fact, the book shows that sometimes it is the child who is torn up about coming out while their family and friends may have known for some time.

A great read from a multi-talented debut middle-grade author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Review: ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing

ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing

ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing, illustrated by Paulina Morgan (9781786037428)

From the very first page, this board book grapples with social justice issues and demands that even tiny children start to think about our world in a more open way. A here is for ability. This book doesn’t stop with just the associated word though, it offers a definition that is accessible for small children, taking each concept and building on it throughout the book. Ewing uses great skill in distilling large and complicated subjects such as race, gender and xenophobia. Her text is uplifting and inspiring to read.

The illustrations are filled with characters of different races, religions, abilities and genders. They are small and friendly, clambering around on the letters and shapes and bringing a bouncy and joyous energy to the entire board book.

A board book that advocates for diversity and inclusion. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt

Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt

Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt (9781452172880)

This verse novel takes a heartfelt look at a high school romance between two girls. Beginning with a fire being set, the book then takes readers back to the beginning as Kate and Tam first notice one another. Kate is a cheerleader with a perfect ponytail. She is angling to be squad captain, but when she agrees to fill in as mascot at the first few games, she discovers she loves being in costume and being funny. Her mother though has high expectations for Kate and isn’t amused. Tam is a tall volleyball player who moves through life being exactly who she is, never veering from that. Her mother is supportive and warm, sometimes too much so. When Kate and Tam admit what they feel for one another, it feels easy and simple, but it’s not for everyone else.

Holt’s verse is expertly written. She gives each of the main characters their own unique voice and feel. Their words at times dance and overlap with one another on the page, but the characters are distinct from one another always. Holt also adds in a Greek chorus of sorts, watching along with the reader and commenting on the story in just the right tone and verse. Holt gives the romance time to really grow, not jumping forward quickly to a full relationship, but allowing them time to linger in liking one another first. It’s a tender way to explore a new relationship on the page.

I love any LGBTQIA+ book for teens that allows love to win in the end. This book is full of hope, brimming with acceptance even as it explores having family members who don’t understand. It is not saccharine or sweet, offering clear reality but also managing to surround our protagonists with the support they need.

A book to cheer for! Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Chronicle Books.

Review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman (9781512440003)

The author of As the Crow Flies returns with a queer western story that tells a different tale from the traditional male-focused guns-blazing westerns. This is the story of Flor, also known as the Ghost Hawk, a Latinx woman who steals from stagecoaches with the help of her trained hawk. On one of her heists, she takes a woman hostage looking for a ransom payout. But it turns out that Grace is not wealthy and many don’t understand that she is transgender. The two of them start talking and realize that Grace may be the key to one of Ghost Hawk’s biggest treasures, stealing some crucial documents from some rich confederates. Grace has a perfect Georgia accent, so all they need are some great dresses and plenty of courage.

I fell so hard for this thin graphic novel. I want to have the second book immediately so that I can continue to explore the West with these two amazing women. Gillman’s story is rich and masterful. She offers such empathy to her queer characters, many who are also secondary characters in the story and also pays homage to people of color in the West too. Her notes at the end of the book offer historical details for what she shows on the page, giving context to her characters.

Quite a ride! Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

Gender Queer A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (9781549304002)

This memoir is done in a comic or graphic format. It’s the autobiography of Maia, who uses the pronouns e/em/eir. It tells the story of eir childhood growing up being assigned as a female gender at birth. From loving snakes to peeing outside to taking off eir shirt to go swimming along with the boys, Maia never conformed to gender stereotypes. Eir parents didn’t either, but Maia’s need to not be identified as female ran far deeper. Growing older, Maia had crushes on both boys and girls, and wondered if e was bisexual. Still, Maia had to continue to explore what dating, crushes, love, and sex meant to em until e realized what it meant to be nonbinary and asexual.

Kobabe shares so deeply in eir memoir. It is such a personal journey, filled with moments of deep connection and joy, the agony of pap smears, the constant questioning of identity, and then ending with incredible hope. This memoir was at first written to help eir family understand em, and it will work that way for those wanting to understand being gender nonbinary. It also aids in understanding asexuality and how that impacts relationships. Sex is handled with a refreshing frankness on the pages.

Kobabe’s art is very effective. E does full-page pieces that feature family members and other parts that read as fluid story telling in a more traditional way. These different approaches blend together into a dynamic format that invites readers into Kobabe’s life.

Vital and important, this memoir is tender and impactful. Appropriate for ages 16-adult.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (9781250312846)

Freddy is dating the most popular girl at school. She is exactly the person you want to date, pretty, sexy, charming, and makes you feel like the center of her world. Until you aren’t, which happens pretty often. Laura keeps on cheating on Freddy, breaking up with her, and then asking Freddy to get back together. Freddy knows that it’s not ideal and so do all of her friends. When the two girls break up again, Freddy’s best friend Doodle encourages her to see a medium (who is also a great dungeon master too) to get advice. The medium agrees with all of Freddy’s friends, break up with Laura Dean. But it’s not that easy and as their relationship heats up again, Freddy risks her friendships to continue to be with the intoxicating Laura Dean.

This graphic novel beautifully captures a captivating but toxic romantic and sexual relationship. Tamaki has created several brilliant characters who avoid any kind of stereotype and are written as individuals. In particular, I appreciated Doodle, one of the only teen characters I have seen in a novel that avoids using a cell phone. As a parent of this type of teen, it is refreshing to see a character do this so organically. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop gaming will love the DM as a medium and the use of gaming as a way to connect on multiple levels.

The art is a great complement to the story line. Filled with touches of pink, the art takes small moments and tiny focal points to tell a robust story. Just the images of Freddy’s shoes walking alone after a break up speak so beautifully of loneliness. The characters themselves are also vividly depicted in the art, from Freddy alone on her rumpled sheets to Doodle’s body language when she is being neglected.

An exceptional LGBTQ graphic novel that talks openly about toxicity in relationships and the importance of friendships. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Review: Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (9781250196934)

Mads has two best friends, Cat who drags her to hear bands that she’s never heard of, and her father. Every Sunday, Mads joins her father for minor league baseball games and other evenings they watch their favorite TV shows together. Mads’ mother is often left out of their father-daughter time together and as the book progresses, it looks like Mads may be headed for her parents divorcing. But it’s all about a secret that her father is keeping from her, something to do with a large check sent to Mads and a grandfather she never met. As the secrets start to be revealed, Mads begins to learn more about herself as well and just who she really wants to kiss.

This graphic novel is amazing, particularly when one sees it was written by one person and drawn by another. The entire book is one cohesive whole with art that is both playful but also emotionally rich when the story calls for it. The writing is strong and the story is complex. Venable includes religion throughout the book, allowing space for questioning beliefs, particularly around LGBTQ issues. Those themes enrich the entire graphic novel, creating tension in the family, offering honesty to replace secrets, and giving sources of pride rather than disdain. Venable doesn’t offer easy resolution to these issues and the way that they impact generations of a family.

A stellar graphic novel for teens that is filled with LGBTQ pride. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Lambda Literary Awards Finalists

The finalists for the 31st Annual Lambda Literary Awards have been announced. The LGBTQIA+ book awards are given in 24 categories, including one focused on LGBTQ books for children and teens. Here are the finalists in that category:

LGBTQ Children’s & Young Adult

Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender