2016 Top Ten: #2, Drag Teen

02dtWow, I can’t believe we’re so close to the end of my Top Ten for 2016!

So far this list has included a lot of great books! But the final two were chosen, not only because they’re great books, but because of my immense connection to them (more on that in a bit).

Coming in at Number 2 is Jeffery Self’s Drag Teen!

Here’s the blurb for this awesome book:

JT feels like his life’s hit a dead end. It looks like he’ll always be stuck in Florida. His parents are anti-supportive. And his boyfriend, Seth, seems to be moving toward a bright future a long way from home.

Scholarship money is nonexistent. After-school work will only get JT so far. There’s only one shot for him — to become the next Miss Drag Teen in New York City.

The problem with that? Well, the only other time JT tried drag (at a school talent show), he was booed off the stage. And it’s not exactly an easy drive from Florida to New York.

But JT isn’t going to give up. He, Seth, and their friend Heather are going to drag race up north so JT can capture the crown, no matter how many feisty foes he has to face. Because when your future is on the line, you have to be in it to win it, one fraught and fabulous step at a time.

Okay, so like I said, I really related to this book and that’s a big part of why I’ve chosen it to be #2 on this list.

But first, full disclosure: I have never watched RuPaul, I’ve never been in drag myself, I don’t go to drag shows or anything like that. It’s just not my thing. But also, I am definitely not brave enough. And I have no problem admitting that.

JT, on the other hand–he is brave. He decides he’s going to take off on a road trip and enter a drag contest to try and win a scholarship. Joining him on this adventure are JT’s friend, Heather, and boyfriend, Seth. I really related a lot to JT and Heather especially. Both struggle with their body image, something I have also struggled with for pretty much my whole life. I used to have absolutely zero self-confidence a lot of the time, and while I think I’ve gotten better in the last year or so, I’m still a long way from being brave like JT, who enters this drag race despite the lack of confidence he has for himself.

But also, I really related to JT on another level too: he feels like his boyfriend, Seth is almost too perfect and is constantly wondering when Seth will realize he can do better. I tend to avoid dating and relationships like the plague because I always worry that if I do open up to someone, it will only be a matter of time before they realize they can to better too. Thankfully for JT, Seth really loves him; he just needs to wake up and realize that. As for me, I too will need to realize that once I find a Seth of my own.

Anyway, like I said, this book is high on my list for this year because in so many ways, I felt like JT was a character I could really, truly relate to. Drag Teen is a hilarious book, with a rich cast of characters and some situations that can border a little on farfetched, but it’s all in good fun. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.

Check back tomorrow for my #1 book of 2016, as well as a few honourable mentions!

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2016 Top Ten: #3, We Are the Ants

03wataWe’re getting close to the end of my favourite LGBTQ+ young adult novels of 2016!

And as I promised yesterday, today’s book is a sci-fi story!

Coming in at Number 3, it’s Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants.

This book is out of this world! (Pun intended!) Here’s the blurb:

There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

I loved this book! And while I’m not usually a big sci-fi fan, this book is totally different. Yes, it has aliens who are threatening to destroy the planet, and you may think the idea of aliens repeatedly abducting the main character is funny, but at times this book is very heavy.

Henry Denton doesn’t know if the world is worth saving. Over and over again, he is abducted by aliens and they keep giving him the chance to press the big red button and save the planet. But he can’t, because he isn’t sure saving Earth is the right choice just yet. And this is because of everything he is going through.

This book is insanely human and focuses on all the things that make us human: grief, and fear, and loss, and pain, but also love, and happiness and the relationships we share with those around us. Shaun David Hutchinson has really given a remarkable gift of a book here. All of the characters are just so real. And that’s the thing: despite the fact that this book has aliens, it is otherwise very real and honest and emotional and raw and this book will make you feel all the things.

“The universe may forget us, but it doesn’t matter. Because we are the ants, and we’ll keep marching on.”

It’s so good that I may just have to go read it again!

Check back tomorrow for book #2!

2016 Top Ten: #4, Of Fire and Stars

04ofasWelcome back to my 2016 Top Ten!

Up to now, the books on this list have all been contemporary stories, so it seems only fitting that we mix things up! So today we have a fantasy for #4, and tomorrow I’ll have a sci-fi story for #3. They’re both super amazing, obviously–that’s why they’re spots #3 and #4.

So, without further ado, coming in at number 4 is the fantastic Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this one in the summer ahead of its publication in November, and I just loved it. Here’s the blurb:

Two princesses fall in love with the wrong people—each other.

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

Seriously, this book is just so good. Here’s my original review from back in August.

But here’s the gist: Two princesses falling for each other. There’s also magic, forbidden love, danger and horses. You really can’t go wrong with this one!

BUT ALSO, THAT COVER Y’ALL! If this list was based solely on cover design, you bet your ass this book would be number one!

Check back tomorrow for book #3!

2016 Top Ten: #5, If I Was Your Girl

05iiwygAnd here we are, now entering the Top 5 of my 2016 Top Ten LGBT+ YA novels!

Let me tell you, today we have a spectacular and groundbreaking book that is just as amazing as it is important.

Coming in at Number 5, it’s Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl!

This book is just such a lovely story, but more on that after the blurb:

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself… including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

Okay, so as I said: super amazing and important book, and as I’m sure you can guess from the blurb, it’s because Amanda is trans. But not only that, the author Meredith Russo is trans herself as well, so here we have one of the first YA novels with a transgender character written by a transgender author. I wasn’t lying when I said this book is groundbreaking.

The story itself is just like what you’d expect to find in many YA novels: a girl starts at a new school, makes new friends, meets a new boy, etc. I’ve read some reviews that critique the plot as being too dull and boring. But you see, I think that’s kind of the point.

Russo has written a book that shows that Amanda is just like any other teenage girl. She just wants to fit in and make some friends. She meets a boy and she falls for him. And I like the simplicity of the story the way it is because, hmmmm, maybe it shows that trans people are… well, people. Duh.  This is a book about a girl just trying to live her life. She also just happens to be trans.

And I think that’s part of what makes this such an incredibly important story: because it shows that it is possible for someone who is trans to just live a normal, regular life. And while Amanda’s story is not without some conflicts (which I won’t comment on further, because spoilers–read the book!), this is still an incredibly heartwarming and wonderful story that should be read far and wide. It is a story of family, friendship, first love and self-discovery that anyone can enjoy.

But more importantly, it is also a book where transgender youth can see themselves reflected on the page. It is a book to let them know that they are not alone.

Check back tomorrow for book #4!

2016 Top Ten: #6, How to Repair a Mechanical Heart

06htramhWe’re now at the half-way point of my 2016 Top Ten LGBTQ+ young adult novels!

And of course, the half-way point seems an appropriate moment to include the one book on this list that wasn’t actually published in 2016.

So, coming in at Number 6 is How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis!!

Originally published in 2012, I’ve chosen to include this wonderful book on my 2016 list because it was new to me this year. I absolutely loved this book so much, which we’ll discuss more after the blurb:

Eighteen-year-old Castaway Planet fans Brandon and Abel hate bad fan fiction—especially when it pairs their number-one TV crushes of all time, dashing space captain Cadmus and dapper android Sim. As co-runners of the Internet’s third most popular Castaway Planet vlog, they love to spar with the “Cadsim” fangirls who think Cadmus will melt Sim’s mechanical heart by the Season 5 finale. This summer, Brandon and Abel have a mission: hit the road in an RV to follow the traveling Castaway Planet convention, interview the actors and showrunner, and uncover proof that a legit Cadsim romance will NEVER, EVER HAPPEN.

A Brandon and Abel romance: also not happening. Brandon’s sick of his struggle to make “gay and Catholic” compute, so it’s safer to love a TV android. Plus Abel’s got a hot new boyfriend with a phoenix tattoo, and how can Brandon compete with that? But when mysterious messages about them start popping up in the fan community, they make a shocking discovery that slowly forces their real feelings to the surface. Before they get to the last Castaway Planet convention, Brandon’s going to find out the truth: can a mechanical heart be reprogrammed, or will his first shot at love be a full system failure?

Like, okay… this book is just so damn cute. I swear I actually squeeeed a few times when reading it. Brandon and Abel are just so nerdy and adorkable and I live for this shit.

This book was recommended to me because of my intense love for Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaAnd as anyone who has been on this blog before can likely attest, I really, really love Simon Spier. It also gave me some vibes similar to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, which is another wonderful favourite of mine.

I devoured How to Repair a Mechanical Heart in a day. I just could not put it down, and that’s part of why it’s included on my list for 2016.

This book manages to tackle some big issues, like religion and sexuality, identity, friendship and love, all the while remaining incredibly laugh-out-loud funny. This is one book that you don’t want to miss!

Check back tomorrow as we begin to countdown the Top 5!

2016 Top Ten: #7, Girl Mans Up

07gmuWelcome, welcome! My countdown of my Top 10 favourite LGBTQ+ YA books of 2016 continues!

Coming in at Number 7 is a wonderful gift of a novel…

It’s M-E Girard’s Girl Mans Up!

I had the pleasure last month of meeting M-E and hearing her talk about Girl Mans Up and how the book came to be. We even talked about my M.A. thesis that I’m currently working on and about some wonderful books that we’ve read and enjoyed. It was a pretty awesome day.

Her book is also pretty awesome, hence why it’s on my Top Ten! Here’s the blurb:

All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy—that she should quit trying to be something she’s not. If she dresses like a girl, and does what her folks want, it will show respect. If she takes orders and does what her friend Colby wants, it will show her loyalty. But respect and loyalty, Pen discovers, are empty words. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth–that in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up.

Girl Mans Up is about a queer teen named Pen who realizes the only way she’ll get people off her back is by standing up for herself–even if that means her relationships with her friends and her family get messed up in the process. It’s also about a gender-nonconforming teen who struggles to own her identity as a girl when she looks and acts like a boy and everyone around her expects her to be one or the other.

I wrote a full review of Girl Mans Up the day that I met M-E, so instead of reviewing it again, simply click here to read my original review.

But I’ll quickly sum up my feelings: Trust me, read this book. Yo won’t regret it.

Check back tomorrow for book #6!

2016 Top Ten: #8, This Is Where It Ends

08tiwieWelcome back to my Top 10 favourite LGBTQ+ young adult novels that I read in 2016!

Coming in at Number 8 is an intense book that was a #1 New York Times bestseller!

It’s Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends.

The tag line on the cover (since it’s so small in the picture) says, “Everyone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun.” AND YES THEY DO.

But first, the blurb:

10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

So when I first started this book, I didn’t know it was LGBT+. I just knew that it had buzz and sounded really good. And then I was pleasantly surprised to discover that two of the four main characters are a lesbian couple. Dahlia Adler included This Is Where It Ends on her Under the Gaydar feature over on LGBTQ Reads because it’s a book that you may not realize right away that it has queer content. But it does, and it’s amazing. So there’s that.

But also, the book is heavy.  It’s a heavy subject matter and it’s one of those books that will leave you thinking. Like, a lot. It is so intense. Like the blurb says, the whole story happens over the course of 54 minutes, and I found it so hard to put this book down.

Nothing is held back and this book is sometimes difficult to read, but we need books like this. Books that have things to say, and this book is one of them.

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from it:

“There are no words in that fleeting moment between hope and the knowledge. There is no way to express how a heart can burst and break at the same time, how the sun can cut through the darkness but will cast shadows everywhere.”

Check back tomorrow for book #7!

2016 Top Ten: #9, Highly Illogical Behaviour

09hibAnd continuing my Top 10 LGBT+ YA reads of 2016, I bring to you today…

NUMBER 9, Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley.

As usual, here’s the blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But how can she prove she deserves a spot there?

Solomon is the answer.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa thrusts herself into his life, sitting through Star Trek marathons with him and introducing him to her charming boyfriend Clark. Soon, all three teens are far closer than they thought they’d be, and when their walls fall down, their friendships threaten to collapse, as well.

I haven’t read Whaley’s other books, but they are on my to-read list because of how much I loved Highly Illogical Behavior.

This books is just so good. It tackles some issues like anxiety disorders, self-discovery, identity, friendship and first crushes while also proving to be absolutely hilarious.

The characters are very real. Solomon is incredible. Lisa is… she’s ok. In some ways, Lisa’s ambition gets the best of her and she verges on the side of manipulative in a Rachel Berry-esque way.

SIDE NOTE: It is SO HARD  for me to type “behavior” because, you know, I’m Canadian. “Behaviour” is second nature to me. But the cover says “behavior” so that’s what I’ve used here.

Anyway, read the book. You’ll love it.

Check back tomorrow for book #8!

2016 Top Ten: #10, Symptoms of Being Human

10sobhAs mentioned in my last post, I’m officially launching my very first top 10 list, counting down my favourite LGBT+ Young Adult books that I read in 2016!

Coming in at Number 10, Jeff Garvin’s Symptoms of Being Human!

Here’s the blurb:

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is… Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

I really loved this book. Riley’s story was just so moving to me, and theirs was one of the first gender fluid stories that I’ve read. We know that gender is a social construct that exists on a spectrum. Gender is forced upon us at birth because we live in a society that has been designed this way. In my case, my gender has always (for the most part) lined up with my biological sex: I am a male, I was born male, and I identify as male.

The reason I say “for the most part” above is because I have always believed gender to exist on a spectrum, much like sexuality, and I think that it’s entirely possible for anyone to be even the tiniest bit fluid.

While Riley in Symptoms of Being Human feels like a boy some days and a girl other days,  I always feel male. But I do have days where I feel more feminine than others, if that makes sense. And I have days when I feel more masculine than others as well. But I still identify as male, because that’s how I feel and have always felt.

Anyway, enough about me.

Symptoms of Being Human is a lovely book about what it means to be human, and to discover that you don’t need to fit into a specific binary like society wants you too. It’s about a brave character who does what’s right for them. And it’s a story that you will love.

Check back tomorrow for book #9!

Coming Soon: My Top 10 LGBT+ YA of 2016

Wow, can I ever not believe that we’re almost into the last week of November! 2016 is soon drawing to and end. In some ways, I’m glad–2016 has been on hell of a year, and I mean that it’s been basically a living nightmare at times.

However, I read some excellent books this year, and a lot of great LGBT+ YA books, so I’ve decided to put together a list of my ten favourites that I read this year. It was actually so hard for me to narrow down the list, but somehow I managed to pull it off. I believe with one exception, all of the books I’ve included were published this year (the one exception was published in 2012, but it was too good to not make my top 10).

I’ve also been lucky enough to have gotten to read a few books this year that will be published in 2017, most notably Becky Albetalli’s The Upside of Unrequited, Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me, and Bill Konigsberg’s Honestly Ben. I also have Robin Talley’s Our Own Private Universe waiting for me on my bookshelf. While all incredible books, none of them will appear on my list because they’re not actually published yet (though I fully anticipate some of them will make my top ten for 2017).

Anyway, starting December 1st through the 10th, I’ll be posting one book a day, counting down from ten to one of my chosen Top 10. Then, also on December 10th, I’ll post the full list, as well as a few honourable mentions that almost made it. 🙂