Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

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Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (9780525555254)

Growing up in 1950s San Francisco isn’t simple for a Chinese-American girl who loves to dream of working on math that will send people into space. Even her best friend isn’t interested in the same things as Lily is. As Lily becomes more aware of her sexuality, she soon realizes that she is queer. She’s particularly intrigued by a male impersonator in San Francisco. As her love of math draws her closer to a white classmate at school, she realizes they may have even more in common. Soon the two teens are heading out to a club together to watch that same male impersonator that Lily was dreaming about. But remember, it is the 1950s and Chinese girls are not allowed to be gay, so Lily is risking a lot. It’s the time of McCarthyism too, so Lily’s family is threatened by the fear of Communism when her father’s papers are taken away. Lily must find a way to navigate the many dangers of being Chinese, queer and young.

Lo’s writing is so incredible. She creates a historical novel that makes the historical elements so crucial to the story that they flow effortlessly along. She avoids long sections of exposition about history by building it into the story in a natural and thoughtful way. That allows readers to feel Lily’s story all the more deeply while realizing the risks the Lily is taking with her family and friends. Lo also beautifully incorporates San Francisco into the book, allowing readers to walk Chinatown and visit other iconic parts and features of the city.

As well as telling Lily’s story, Lo shares the stories of Lily’s aunt and mother. They took different paths to the present time, making critical decisions about their careers and marriages. These experiences while straight and more historical speak to Lily’s own budding romance and finding of people who support her as she discovers who she is. They remove the simple look at who her mother could be been assumed to be and make her a more complex character.

Layered and remarkable, this book speaks to new, queer love and shows that intersectionality has been around forever. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalists

The finalists for the 2021 Lammy Awards have been announced. These awards celebrate the best in LGBTQ literature and have two categories that are focused on books for youth. Here are the finalists in those categories:

LGBTQ Children’s / Middle Grade

The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith

From Archie to Zack by Vincent X. Kirsch

A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

Our Subway Baby by Peter Mercurio

LGBTQ Young Adult

Camp by L. C. Rosen

Flamer by Mike Curato

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Sasha Masha by Agnes Borinsky

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

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The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe (9780593353806)

Nora grew up with a con artist for a mother and quickly became an integral part of the cons she would pull, cheating wealthy men of their ill-gotten wealth. Nora became multiple girls to do this, one after another as each con ended, she would reinvent herself. She is now Nora, a girl who escaped her mother but not without having to make some terrible decisions along the way. Rescued by her older sister, she is trying to live a new life. Then she finds herself caught up in a bank robbery where the skills she built in her childhood may be the only thing that will save her. She knows how to read desperate people, how to get them what they want, and how to manipulate them. It might just be enough to keep the two people she loves alive too: her ex-boyfriend and her new girlfriend, who he just found out about.

Sharpe has created a feminist thriller that is a dynamite mix of survival, intelligence, bravery and pure nerve. She sets the thriller in a taut situation of its own, a bank robbery gone very wrong. Add in the character of Nora, already a survivor and not willing to ever be abused again, and you have a dangerous and explosive book that you won’t be able to put down. Nora is a unique protagonist, fascinating with her brilliant mind, unique approach to others, and what she learned in a lifetime of cons. Readers will love her throughout the book as she is alight with her newfound freedom and not ever going to lose.

Sharpe’s writing is stellar. She uses fabulous metaphors throughout, using fire, weaponry and explosions to express emotions, creating a ticking timebomb of a novel. She also writes real sparks between Nora and Iris while also demonstrating the deep feelings that Nora has for Wes. This is a book where readers can see Nora’s mind work, feel the evolving situation, but also laugh out loud with pure feminist joy at times.

A gripping, stunning thriller for teens, this one a sharp knife of a novel. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar

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Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar (9781949528947)

Ayesha has been looking forward to the day of her favorite cousin’s wedding. Now it is finally here and her family is getting all dressed up to dance in the baraat. Tradition was that the groom brings the baraat to the wedding, so Ayesha’s parents are worried about what the response will be to Ritu leading her baraat herself. Once at the house, Ayesha discovers that many of her family aren’t going to attend the wedding, since it’s a marriage between two women. Soon the wedding procession began with Ritu on horseback, but they are met with anger and harsh words by the people along the route. People wanted to stop the procession, which was now silent and stifled. Even Chandni joining them could not lift their spirits when someone sprayed them both with water, ruining their outfits and hair. Ayesha could not stay silent, stepping forward to say that she wanted to dance all the way despite the angry people!

It is wonderful to see a book take a wedding tradition and show how a same-sex couple can make it work. This book doesn’t shy away from the fact that people’s attitudes have not changed about gay marriage, instead making it an opportunity to show exactly what being an ally looks like, especially if you are a child.

The art in this book has is a mixture of the flatness of folk art and a modern edginess that incorporates watercolor washes and vibrant colors. The deep reds of the wedding couple’s clothes, the golds of the bangles and backgrounds, the wash of teal water and leaves all combine into a vibrant world of love and standing up for acceptance.

Get ready to dance yourself with this LGBT picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Yali Books.

2021 Rainbow Book List

Miss Meteor

The 2021 Rainbow Book List celebrates quality LGBTQIA+ books for readers from birth to age 18. The project is done by the Rainbow Round Table of the American Library Association. There were 600 eligible titles this year and 129 have been selected. Beautifully, the Rainbow Book List has two Top Ten lists this year, one for young readers and one for teens. Here are both Top Ten Lists:

TOP 10 TITLES FOR YOUNG READERS

Ana on the Edge by A. J. Sass

The Deep and Dark Blue by Niki Smith

Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Harding by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Josh Cochran

The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families by Rachel E. Simon, illustrated by Noah Grigni

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

My Maddy by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Violet Tobacco

My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal, illustrated by Art Twink

Our Subway Baby by Peter Mercurio

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

TOP 10 TITLES FOR TEENS

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Camp by L. C. Rosen

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

The Circus Rose by Betsy Cornwall

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson

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Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Qin Leng (9781536201475)

In this wordless picture book, a little girl lives with her grandmother at their general store. One day, the grandmother posts that they have an apartment for rent above the shop. Soon people are arriving to view it. But the apartment is worn out and ragged with shelves ready to fall off the walls, cracked walls and chipped tiles, boarded up windows and a bare lightbulb. Lots of people come to see it, but no one rents it. Then a young interracial couple sees the rental sign, but the grandmother doesn’t approve of them. The little girl points out that they should give them a chance. Soon the couple is hard at work transforming the apartment with the help of the girl. Their help doesn’t stop with their own space, they also smarten up the front of the store by giving it a new coat of paint and fixing the sign. Even the stray cat in the neighborhood benefits and finds a new home. As the acceptance of this queer interracial couple grows, their positive impact on the entire neighborhood does too.

I love the wordless nature of this book, allowing the illustrations to tell the entire story. Leng’s illustrations are done in watercolor and show both the loneliness of the girl and her grandmother and then the steady transformation and rebirth of the apartment and the general store. The queer nature of the couple is shown via Pride flags as well as mentioned in the dedication at the beginning of the book. I particularly adore the wild-haired grandmother, who is so stuck in her own ways and her own grumpiness that one almost loses hope, but this book shows that growth is possible, change can happen, and it can open one up to new possibilities.

This wordless picture book speaks volumes about acceptance and transformation. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Stonewall Book Awards

The first and most enduring award for LGBTQIA+ books is the Stonewall Book Awards, sponsored by the American Library Association’s Rainbow Round Table. Since Isabel Miller’s Patience and Sarah received the first award in 1971, many other books have been honored for exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience.

HONOR BOOKS

Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

WINNER

Beautiful photos of real-life families showcase all the wonderful forms of family, while poetic text builds both vocabulary and family connection.

We Are Little Feminists: Families by Archaa Shrivastav

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

Cover for Darius the Great Deserves Better

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram (9780593108239)

This second book about Darius takes place after he returns home from his family’s visit to Iran. A lot has changed since he made his first real friend in Iran, someone he still talks with often and considers his best friend. Now Darius is on the school soccer team and has a boyfriend. He works at a tea store that his boyfriend’s father owns, immersing himself in something he loves. But his family is struggling with money and with his father taking more jobs where he has to travel, his grandmothers move in to help. Darius can’t help but notice how different his grandmothers are than his mother’s family in Iran. He works to connect with them, but doesn’t make much headway. His relationship may not be as great as he though either, since Landon wants to move a lot faster than Darius is ready for. Plus a boy on his soccer team is becoming a closer friend, though he did used to bully Darius. Nothing is simple or easy in this second book, as Darius continues to learn about himself.

Returning to the world of Darius was amazing. Khorram’s writing is marvelous, exuding a natural warmth in his storytelling. His empathy for Darius is clear, as Darius struggles with what he is ready for, what family means to him, and who he wants to have in his life. Even his relationship with tea becomes problematic, as he may lose something he loves because he fears failure so much. And beware how much you will want to try some of the teas mentioned here, because Darius is passionate about them!

Darius is hero material. Thoughtful and sometimes depressed, he is complex and marvelous. From his best friend in Iran to his boyfriend to his new friendships on the soccer team, Darius is brave and manages to continue coming out through this new novel. He faces fear in ways that preserve what he loves, sets real boundaries to keep true to himself, and manages to be hilariously funny too.

Another great Darius book. Can there please be a third? Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Cover for Every Body Looking

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh (9780525556206)

Ada has grown up living with her Nigerian father, her mother a ghost moving in and out of her life because of her struggles with addiction. Ada was not a petite little thing, instead thick waisted and with a hairy upper lip, her clothes boyish, she didn’t make friends easily at school. Now Ada is off at college, the first time she has been able to make decisions on her own. Her time at a Historically Black College has her exploring her sexuality and looking more deeply at her childhood. She is also steadily being drawn into dance, helped by one of her only friends at college, a girl who isn’t a student there. Suddenly, Ada’s strong body makes sense as she expresses herself through dance, taking ownership of her body and her past.

Iloh’s verse novel is pure power. She writes so much truth in these pages, directly talking about sexual abuse, playing touching games with other children, and the expectations of conformity at young ages around appearance. She also shows through emotion, sex and introspection that there is a way forward, as long as you are true to yourself and what you want to do with your life. Her verses are searing at times, other times like a dream, and still others a call to action. She writes with such compassion and courage here that it’s incredible that this is her first novel.

Ada is a marvelous character, full of trauma from her childhood, cared for by a father who was doing his very best for her, which sometimes was not enough. Just the poems about therapy as a small child are insightful and achingly raw, full of such confusion. It is Ada’s triumph in finding her own path that is full of music and dance that offers hope to the reader and inspiration as well.

Powerful, honest and triumphant. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.