Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

H.E. Edgmon’s The Witch King: All Hail the Kings!

The Witch King, by H.E. Edgmon, (June 2021, Inkyard Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335212795

Ages 14+

Wyatt Croft is a witch on the run. Originally from the fae kingdom of Asalin, Wyatt – a transgender 17-year-old boy – escaped a past loaded with trauma and abuse, finding home and family in our world. That all changes when Wyatt’s fated mate, the fae prince Emyr, shows up and demands that Wyatt return with him to fulfill his role as Emyr’s husband and take the throne of Asalin. Wyatt reluctantly returns to Asalin, with his best friend, Briar, in tow, and learns that relations between witches and fae are heading toward revolution – and Wyatt, who’s trying to resolve his own conflicted feelings about Emyr – is right in the middle of it. An anti-fascist, queer fantasy with incredible worldbuilding and characters you’ll love – and love to loathe – The Witch King has it all: romance, high fantasy meets contemporary fiction, and a wicked sense of humor. There’s powerful storytelling throughout The Witch King: being trans isn’t at the heart of the hatred toward Wyatt; transgender and nonbinary characters are major characters in the story, but Wyatt’s being a witch is the issue. The abuse and abandonment of witches takes the place of being LGBTQ+ in our society here, allowing readers to both see a functioning society where diversity is embraced in theory, but in practice, it’s very different. Sound familiar? Revolution, reform, and the idea of burning everything down to rebuild make The Witch King one of the most readable, relevant novels you’ll read this year.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction

The Derby Daredevils are rolling into action!

The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team, by Kit Rosewater/Illustrated by Sophie Escabasse, (March 2020, Amulet Books), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4197-4079-4

Ages 9-13

I love that roller derby is back and appealing to middle graders. In recent years, we’ve had Dorothy’s Derby Chronicles from Meghan Dougherty, Jessica Abel’s Trish Trash bringing roller derby to Mars, and Victoria Jamieson’s monster hit graphic novel, Roller Girl. For the teens, DC Comics’s Harley Quinn is taking to the rink, and the girls from Slam! had a derby-centric title. As a kid who always wanted to try derby but was (still) too chicken, this is vicariously glorious.

Enter a new middle grade series, The Derby Daredevils. Kenzie and Shelly are BFFs who love roller derby: Kenzie’s mom is even a derby girl, and Kenzie can’t wait to be old enough to try out for a league. She and Shelly have it all figured out: their superstar moves, their secret handshake, their big rink entrance. Luckily for the girls, their local rink is starting up a junior league and are holding tryouts! But unless they have a team to try out together, the two besties risk being split up if they try out separately. Kenzie’s answer: recruit friends from school and make a team! The have one week to recruit and train a whole team, and Kenzie has a hard time reconciling what’s in her head with reality, which threatens to cause some friction: Shelly and shy classmate Tomoko start becoming friendly, which upsets Kenzie. Isn’t she supposed to be Shelly’s best friend? When Shelly invites Kenzie’s secret crush, Bree, to join the team, Kenzie flips out, but inviting the risk-averse Camila and the way-enthusiastic Jules isn’t helping much. Can the girls get it together in enough time to make the tryouts?

This is SO much fun. There’s so much to work with here: a fully realized cast of characters from different cultural backgrounds, each with a distinct personality. Massive “OMG!” moments involving Kenzie and her crush, Bree, that every middle grader will recognize and empathize with. The relatable feeling of wanting something so bad, that you’ll take that square peg and pound it into a round hole to make it work. And black and white illustrations throughout, to really make readers feel like they’re part of the action! Derby Daredevils is a positive LGBTQ+ series, not only giving us a main character who experiences a crush on another girl, but a transgender dad in a loving marriage. I love the way the author explains Kenzie’s understanding of her dad: “Since her dad was transgender, that meant in some of his stories he looked more like a girl, and in other stories, he looked more like a boy. Actually, he was a boy all along, her dad had explained. But before he told people, they thought he was a girl. In his ‘before’ stories, Kenzie’s dad was like an undercover agent, with a secret only he knew.” It’s a straight-forward, commonsense way to explain gender to kids that respects them and respects the adult. I love it.

There’s action, a little tween romance, and a strong bond of friendship in this book, and I can’t wait for the next book to pub later this year. In the meantime, I’ve dogeared (the horror!) and scribbled all over my ARC, in the hopes of writing a discussion guide for it at some point, so if I get that done, I’ll post it. In the meantime, this is a great choice for a book club and way too much fun for budding (and frustrated middle aged wannabee) derby girls.

The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Young Adult/New Adult

Essential Guides to Gender and Sexuality for Your Shelves

I’ve been working on my teen nonfiction and graphic novel collections lately. I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels and thinking about what’s currently on my shelves (lots of superheroes, lots of Big Two titles) and what I need more of (more indies, which I’d started right before the shutdown; more nonfiction and classics getting the graphic treatment). I read the Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns a couple of years ago, and was really happy with the no-nonsense, yet fun, explanation and the small, portable format. I did some wandering and found more Quick and Easy Guides from Limerance Press, the Oni Press imprint that includes sex education, and gender and sexuality studies comics. These are all good books to have available in your new adult/young adult graphic novel collections.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, by Mady G and JR Zuckerberg, (Apr. 2019, Limerance Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620105863

Ages 16+

Gender and sexuality explained by a series of adorable cartoon characters, including Iggy, a snail, who serves as a guide to other snails while his “dad”, Bowery, a queer educator, hangs out with students at a campfire, and forest creatures called The Sproutlings. Well-explained and illustrated sections on the big questions What is Queer?; What is Gender Identity?; What’s Gender Expression?; What Does Dysphoria Mean?; What is Asexuality?, and What Does It Mean to Come Out?, give detailed and easy-to-understand information. A Relationship Basics section encourages readers to be proud, safe, and engage in self-care, and there are empowering activities, including how to make a mini zine, at the end. There’s a list of further resources that would be good for you to add to your own references resources list, too.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, by A. Andrews, (May 2020 2019, Limerance Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620106945

Ages 16+

Snarky, self-described “totally queer, totally complete, incomplete paraplegic cartoonist” A. Andrews is our guide to embracing and enjoying disabled bodies. Andrews points out the sobering facts: disabled people are less likely to receive adequate sex education and sexual healthcare, are more likely to experience sexual trauma and stigma surrounding sex and sexuality, and deal with countless microagressions and misconceptions. The book defines disability and debunks the biggest (and craziest) myths about disabled bodies, and offers the best ways to communicate about sex. The book includes writing prompts to get readers thinking and speaking; a Goofus and Gallant way of what to say – and NOT to say – to a disabled person; and quick, helpful tips for self-care and having the best sexual experience possible. Important for everyone to read, with realistic cartoon artwork that depicts a diverse range of bodies, A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability contributes a great deal to the self-care, self-love conversation.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent, by Isabella Rotman & Luke Howard, (Oct. 2020, Limerance Press), $7.99, ISBN: 9781620107942

Ages 16+

Finally, we have an upcoming guide to consent, which is a HUGE word to know. Sargent Yes Means Yes, decked out in a dress uniform, gets in between a young couple to explain consent: what it is, nonverbal cues people use when they may feel bad about not giving consent, and how to communicate – verbally and nonverbally – with your partner(s) to create the best experience for each of you, together. There are helpful phrases, input from sexual educators, and red flags to watch out for (read: GUILT AND EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION ARE NOT WAYS TO GET CONSENT). There’s an important section on the ability to give consent, and about the age of consent, which can provide some uncomfortable moments for teens and college students just under the age of consent and dating someone just over the age of consent. Be informed, be safe, be responsible, and have fun. There’s a checklist to share with your partner(s) to get an idea of what flips your switches, too.

The artwork in each of these books is consistent; created by different illustrators, it’s got a nice sense of continuity with realistic cartoon characters (only Queer and Trans Identities has non-humanoid characters) and I appreciate the conversational tone that communicates so much information in a comfortable, real talk way. I hope my high school and college kids will find what they need here.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

March graphic novels look at the power of relationships

The Breakaways, by Cathy G. Johnson, (March 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626723573

Ages 8-12

This Bad News Bears of Soccer story stars Faith, a child of color who joins her school team at the urging of Amanda, one of the school’s popular girls. Thinking it’s a great way to make new friends, Faith signs up, only to discover that there are different soccer teams, and she’s been put on the Bloodhounds, which is made of up the lousiest players in the school. They may be horrible at soccer, but the group gradually comes together to form a tight friendship unit, and that’s the heart of the story.

There’s a fantastic diversity among the group. There are queer characters, including one who’s transitioning, and characters of color. The storyline is moved forward by each character’s quest for identity and acceptance within their families and the group, making for some deeply heartfelt moments. It’s a book about friendship, self-awareness, and acceptance, set in a middle school – often a battleground for kids who want to stand out without being “different”.

This one’s a must-add to your shelves. Talk this one up to your Lumberjanes fans.

The Mary Sue has a great write-up and preview of The Breakaways, and you can visit author/illustrator Cathy G. Johnson’s website for more info.

Kiss Number 8, by Colleen AF Venable/Illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596437098

Ages 12+

Mads is a Catholic school teen who whose dad is her best friend. They go to minor league baseball games together, watch TV shows together, and generally just hang out together. It rocks her world when she discovers that her dad is hiding a secret, and it couldn’t have come at a harder time: Mads is also discovering that she may be attracted to her friend, Cat.

Kiss Number 8 looks at a sexual awakening within a close Catholic family. Mads tries out different kisses with different guys, trying to feel something, because her wilder friend, Cat – the archetypal Catholic school bad girl – encourages it, and it’s because what Mads feels like she’s supposed to do. While she torments herself over what she thinks her father’s hiding, she and Cat fall out, and the rumor mill goes wild, leading Mads to admit to her feelings and attractions to herself, and to Cat. Once Mads accepts herself, she has to deal with her father’s secret, his reaction to her emerging identity, and his overall mindset; luckily, she has support from a place she never dreamed of.

I really enjoyed Kiss Number 8. The characters are real, and Mads’ struggle with her own identity and sexuality works seamlessly with the family secret, revealed in all of its emotional pain. Mads has to come to realizations about herself, her relationships, and her own father, in order to move forward, but she’s a smart heroine that navigates these challenges to come out on top. Kiss Number is an exploration of teen sexuality, families, and relationships. A necessary book for your collections.

Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw‘s websites both offer some sneak peeks at Kiss Number 8 and their additional work.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Unbinding of Mary Reade

The Unbinding of Mary Reade, by Miriam McNamara, (June 2018, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510727052

Recommended for readers 14+

Raised as a boy to take the place of her dead brother, Mary Reade spent her formative years as Mark, mainly to get her drunken mother money from her wealthy grandmother, who would never name a female heir. Eventually, Mary took to the high seas, where her life depended on passing as male. She joined pirate Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny after they raided a merchant ship she sailed with, finding herself fascinated with the fiery redheaded Bonny, who wore dresses and wielded weapons with pride and bravado.

This could have been so much more. I found the nonbinary, bisexual Mary Reade storyline brilliant, capturing the sheer terror of living in a male-dominated, homophobic society. Mary is constantly afraid for her life because of who she is, and the men around her shove their hands down her trousers and pull up her shirt, seemingly at will, to confirm rumors. She’s powerless to say or do anything, because in this society, different equals death, and it’s always over her head. She finds relief in living as a male, yet feels uncomfortable being gendered at all – despite the fact that the novel always refers to Reade as “she”. Anne is a study in frustration, appearing as a tragic, yet scheming, woman who attaches herself to any male – or male figure – that will help her navigate 18th Century society. Is she bisexual, or is she just using her sex to gain favor? There’s a lot of slow burn relationship work here between Mary and her childhood love, Nat, and some tumultuous relationship beginnings with Anne Bonny that never quite gain footing. I wish the book concentrated more on the two pirates’ adventures together, and that Anne emerged as a stronger female character. Mary’s gender confusion and self-doubt may resonate with nonbinary and trans readers, and engender empathy in all readers. It’s an add to consider for historical fiction and LGBTQ collections.

 

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Look Past: A Teen Hunts a Killer

lookpastLook Past, by Eric Devine, (Oct. 2016, Running Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-7624-5921-6

Recommended for ages 15+

A teenage girl is brutally murdered and left to be found. Mary was the daughter of a prominent pastor and was in love with Avery, a transgender teen. Shattered by Mary’s death, Avery is hell-bent on finding her killer, but it turns out that Mary’s murder was a message to Avery: repent, or you’re next. As the messages become more repulsive and the killer begins contacting Avery, letting him know that his every move is being watched, Avery has big decisions to make. Does he betray himself by doing what the killer wants? And will that really keep him safe?

Look Past is an intense, brutal book. Mary’s murder is the catalyst, setting everything in motion, and is relived throughout the book. Religious fundamentalism and the violence hate can breed play a big part in Look Past, as does identity and the importance of being true to yourself. There are points in this book where it’s almost too much to take. Avery is a character I wanted to scream at and root for; at the same time, the intensity of Devine’s writing made me want to put the book down and take a break to just breathe – and I couldn’t I finished this book in two sittings, broken up only by the need to go to sleep so I could get to work the next day.

Look Past is a gritty novel about murder in which the main character is transgender. That’s TREMENDOUS. Avery’s a strong, queer character with a supportive family that’s not without their struggles, but ultimately loves their son and supports him. Avery’s best friend and girlfriend stand with him, even when it’s a hard choice; even when it could mean their lives on the line. It’s an unputdownable novel that thriller readers will love and LGBTQ readers will embrace.

This is the second Eric Devine novel I’ve read, the first being Press Play, which looked at hazing and violence in team sports. Eric Devine attacks issues of the day with gusto and doesn’t shy away from grim details or uncomfortable situations. He writes compulsively readable novels that teens and adults alike should read – take a break from your run-of-the mill thrillers and give Look Past a shot.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Alex Gino’s George is wonderful, required reading for all!

georgeGeorge, by Alex Gino (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545812542

Recommended for ages 8-14

George looks like a boy. Her mom thinks she’s a boy; the kids and teachers at school see a boy, even if they bully her and call her a girl. Even her best friend, Kelly, thinks George is a boy. The thing is, middle schooler George is a girl, really. She knows it. It’s a painful secret that she has to keep.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

When her teacher announces that the class play will be Charlotte’s Web, George sees her chance to let a little of the real her peek through. She wants to be Charlotte. She wants to be Charlotte so badly. Will her teacher, her classmates, or her mom understand?

At last, a middle grade book with an LGBTQ character – and a positive, upbeat one, at that! George is a fantastic book. Every page is a delight. George is a sweet, introspective character who is self-aware at a young age and owns it. She keeps her real self a secret, but is always waiting for the chance to come out, and the class play provides that moment. She’s determined to be Charlotte, knowing that everyone will understand once they see her.

Kelly wins prizes for the best friend ever. She accepts and embraces George for who she is – you’ll tear up very happily as you follow their relationship’s progression to the end of the book.

Bullies aside – because bullies are inevitable – every character in this book offers a positive, realistic support system for George, a transgender tween at the beginning of her journey. Realistic, because we see that some have some difficulty, even discomfort, understanding George’s feelings and reality, but have enough love to work through it with her and come to a path they can all walk together.

I love this book. I want to buy copies for my home, my libraries, and to hand out to kids in every middle school. I’m thrilled that it exists. Not only do I think that this is this one of the most important books you’ll read this year, it’s one of the most captivating.

Author Alex Gino is a trans activist with a website that offers resources for youth that every parent and educator should bookmark. You’ll also find an author schedule and further information.