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. 🙂

What works best for me.

I’ll start right off by saying this may be one of my most mega-personal posts.

Ok, so since I started this blog back in the summer, I’ve written some things. I like to write, and that’s why I created this blog. And I feel like some of the things I’ve written have culminated in this post. Here’s what’s come before that’s lead to this:

I’ve written about my love for LGBT YA novels, and in that post and this one about bisexual visibility,  I talk about my process of self-discovery–how I came out a bi at 17 and later came out again as gay, because that felt like the better label for me. In the bisexual visibility post, and in my recent double review of two of Bill Konigsberg’s wonderful books, I talk about labels and how we all have the right to choose our own no matter what anyone else tries to force on us.

And those things are things I’m going to touch on in this post too: my continual journey of self-discovery, and labels.

As I said above, I first came out ten years ago at 17. For the first five years post-closet, I called myself “bi”, for reasons I’ve already discussed in the posts linked above–basically, I was with a girl at the time, and bi felt like the right choice then. For the last five-ish years, however, I’ve called myself “gay”. That is the label I’ve chosen to use, because that’s felt like the best, most-accurate option.

However, something I don’t talk about very often (which I’m clearly changing right now) is that even “gay” has never felt 100% right to me. And there’s several reasons for this. As I said, “gay” has felt like the most-accurate option, but I feel like “gay” is limiting. Like, by calling myself gay, I close myself off to only being interested in other gay, cisgender males. But I’ve always said that I will never 100% tell you that I’ll never fall for a woman. After all, my first real relationship was with a girl; she’s the first person I came out to and we were together for another year after that.

However, I honestly don’t see that happening. But never say never. Furthermore, I feel like “gay” also implies that I’m not open to being with someone who is trans, genderqueer, non-binary, etc. I have always believed sexuality exists on a spectrum.

But even more important than that, I believe that when we fall for someone, it is the person that matters, not what parts they have/what gender they are. I don’t want to feel like my chosen label closes me off from anyone, because I believe in love, and I believe that love can transcend anything. You may think I’m naive, and that’s entirely possible.

So, you may be reading this and saying, “Ok, so is he actually bi? Is he pansexual?”. And believe me, I’ve wondered the same thing. However, to take things a step further, I feel like terms like “gay”, “bisexual”, “pansexual”, etc., all imply a sexual interest.

To be completely honest, I’ve never actually had sex with a guy. I’ve fooled around, but never more than that. And while I do think about sex, sometimes the idea of actually having it freaks me out. Which has caused me to wonder, does this mean I could possibly be asexual or demisexual? I don’t think I’m ace, because I do think about sex, and it’s definitely something I want to try at least once. But it has to be with the right person, I won’t just jump into bed with anyone because that’s not who I am.

So you can see, none of these labels make any sense to me. None of them feel completely right. And sometimes I’ve wondered, do I actually need a label? But then, without one, how do I identify myself?

I’ve said this before, and now that Donald Trump is President-Elect of the U.S., I’m sure I’ll say this again and again and again in the future: the reality is, being out in this world is sometimes still a dangerous and defying act. And in this defiance, I want a label. I am damn proud of who I am. And I want a term I can freely and easily use to describe who I am, and one that others can use to describe me. Because I have nothing to hide and I am perfectly all right with others knowing who and what I am.

And here is where my struggle to find the right label culminates in this post. “Gay” is pretty accurate, but still doesn’t feel 100% right. “Bi”, “pan”, “ace”, “demi”, etc. all don’t feel right either.

So I’ve chosen simply to use “queer”. Queer has, in my opinion, moved past the derogatory meaning of old. Our community has embraced the term again, and I frequently use LGBT+ and queer interchangeably. Like many, I see queer as the perfect catchall term to describe those that fall into the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

And going forward, “queer” will be my label of choice, because I think it’s finally the one that makes the most sense. It still lets me identify myself as being different, something I am damn proud to be. It still lets me be open and defiant and loud and proud. But also, it lets me feel like I’m not closing myself off into a label that has never fully felt right.

Queer just feels right. It’s the one I’m choosing, and I hope everyone in my life will respect this choice and use it from now on. If you still call me “gay”, I will probably correct you. Please don’t be offended if I do, and I won’t be offended by you saying “gay”. It’s still a mostly-accurate description, but going forward, queer is better because it’s what works best for me.

Thank you. ❤

You had one job, America!

When I first started this blog, I wrote that my point in starting this blog was, “to give me a place to say all I feel like saying, to stand up and shout my gayness from proverbial internet rooftop, to be loud and proud and to keep shouting until the world gets better or until I can’t shout any longer”. I also said, “I long for a world when there is no more homophobia, transphobia, hatred, discrimination, etc. of the queer community. But I know that day is still way, way into the future and there is still a long way to go before it gets here”.

Well, thanks to America, we now have an even longer way to go!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty-four hours, by now you surely know that the United States of America have elected a lying, racist, bigoted, groping, prejudiced, sexual predator, Cheeto-dust-orange buffoon to be their president.

I honestly did not see this coming. I did not believe for one single second that America would be stupid enough to elect Donald Trump. No way, no how. But yet, it happened. It’s a thing. And now, America and the rest of the world has to live with the consequences. To make matters even more fucked up, according to Google, while Trump won more Electoral College votes, Hillary Clinton actually beat him in the popular vote by more than two hundred-thousand votes. That’s how fucked up this is: more people voted for her, but he’s the one who gets to be president?! HOW IS THIS A FUCKING THING, AMERICA?! 

Regardless, nearly half of the people who voted still voted for Donald Trump. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that most of them were white. That’s what systemic racism looks like.

And y’all, it’s bad. BuzzFeed has some very important articles I’m going to link to. Like:

Read them. Read them all now, I’ll wait.

….

How about a few more?

So yeah, it’s bad. People are panicking. People are scared. And you know what? They probably should be. That’s the most terrifying aspect of this. People should be scared because the idea of Donald Trump as President and Mike Pence as Vice-President is fucking scary. So much so that Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Website actually crashed when Trump started getting strong results.

I’m going to share a few key Tweets from last night/today:

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These are just some of the reactions that really struck me. I’m so scared for the LGBT, female, Muslim, Latinx, black, and disability communities in America. And several times throughout the night, I felt so thankful that I live in Canada.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Canada is far from perfect, which I’ve acknowledged on this blog at least a few times before. Including the day before the election, when I wrote this post about how it seems like Donald Trump’s version of America is making its way into Canada. I talked about a few events that have happened recently that suggest a growing sentiment of anti-LGBT expression in Canada.

The last thing Canada needs is Trump’s values making their way north of the border, but now that he’s actually going to be president, it’s hard to ignore the possibility of this happening. I’d like to believe Canada is better than this, but recent events seem determined to prove me wrong. And you know what just had to be the icing on the fucking cake?

Kellie Leitch.

Leitch is a Member of Parliament who is running to be the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. And late last night she sent the following email to her followers, which one of her former staffers, Andrew McGrath, shared on his Twitter:

mcgrath

That’s right: Kellie Leitch wants to bring Donald Trump’s message to Canada. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, this does not necessarily mean Leitch is anti-LGBT. After all, she marched in Toronto’s Pride Parade this year. But still, here we have a woman who used to be the Minister for the Status of Women saying that Donald Trump’s message is exciting. Let us not forget: Donald Trump is the one who was caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women and has had numerous women come forward since to accuse him either assaulting, groping or kissing them without consent.

But no, let’s all just listen to Kellie Leitch and embrace Donald Trump here in Canada. From what I can tell, it’s mostly Donald’s anti-immigrant, anti-refugee message that Leitch is really embracing. In the email above, she says she’s “the only candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Part of Canada who is standing up for Canadian values”. During the fall election campaign last year, Leitch suggested setting up a snitch line for people to report “barbaric cultural practices”. And she wants to screen would-be immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values”.

So yeah, if Leitch gets her way, Canada might as well just start consider itself part of the United States. And you know what, if that happens… if anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric starts to spread even more in Canada, who’s to say Trump’s other values won’t as well? If Leitch wants to open the door to Trump’s message, how do we know that anti-abortion, anti-LGBT and racist rhetoric won’t follow?

That’s the thing: we don’t. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the course of the next four years.

The U.S. had one fucking job this election: to not let hatred prevail. And that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Florida–a state where not even six months ago, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history happened (which was also an attack on the LGBT community)–elected Donald Trump. If even Florida couldn’t see Trump for who he is, it’s no wonder he got elected.

America has now pretty much erased years of progress made under the Obama administration. Some have suggested the country has been set back fifty years. I’ve seen Tweets from people who (jokingly or not) have suggested that America could soon turn into the Hunger Games, that LGBT conversion camps could be coming.

My one hope is that America wakes the fuck up in the next four years and makes Trump a one-term president. But honestly, now that Trump has won, nothing will surprise me anymore. Who knows if there will even still be democracy in the U.S. in four years?

Anyway, I need to try to end this post on a good note, even though I haven’t felt very positive much of today. First, here’s a bunch of inspiring Canadians who are ready to welcome terrified Americans. And finally, here are people using Harry Potter for comfort after the election.

Like I said at the start of this post, the point of this blog is, “to stand up and shout my gayness from proverbial internet rooftop, to be loud and proud and to keep shouting until the world gets better or until I can’t shout any longer”.

Well, if there’s one thing I can promise you now, after this election went the way it did, you can bet your ass that I am never going to stop shouting.