Here's the content you've been waiting for . . . my favorite young adult reads of 2019! As a reminder, these aren't all books that were published in 2019; they're books that I read this year. I also recommend that you follow me on Instagram, where I post a book rec every Friday.
Let's jump in, shall we?
Birthday by Meredith Russo (2019)
I really looked forward to this book's release, and it didn't disappoint! It's super beautiful and touching and I didn't want to put it down. It's about two best friends, Eric and Morgan, who were born on the same day and always celebrate their birthdays together. The story alternates narrators and checks in on them on their birthday every year from when they turn 13 to 18. Morgan is trans and figuring out how to tell people, especially Eric, and both characters are figuring out who they are. The story takes place in rural Tennessee and I really appreciated that - the setting plays a big part, and Meredith Russo addresses class more than a lot of YA authors do. Plus, there are so many feelings!
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (2019)
The Downstairs Girl is about Jo, an Asian-American teenager living in Atlanta following Reconstruction, who starts secretly writing an advice column for her local newspaper. And by "local," I mean that Jo and her guardian, Old Gin, live hidden beneath the printshop. Jo has a lot of secrets! I love Stacey Lee's writing and spunky characters, and Jo is no exception. She's clever, resourceful and radical, especially for the time. I love her relationship with Old Gin, and how the stories that Jo overhears from the newspaper staff upstairs helped raise her. She's a super memorable character, and an inspiration in how she finds ways to get ahead even though almost everything around her tries to keep her down. This book also contains a lot of interesting info about Atlanta society, hats, horses and about what it was like to live in Atlanta and not be white.
The Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017)
I chose this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt of "A book that takes place in less than a day." The story takes place over an elevator ride to the first floor, as Will decides whether to go after the man who shot his brother. As he rides, he's visited by the ghosts of several friends who were killed by guns. I listened to the audiobook, so I didn't realize initially that this book was written in verse. I did notice several lines that were beautiful and poetic, so learning that it was written in verse made a lot of sense. It seems like Jason Reynolds spent a lot of time choosing his words and picking just the right ones. It's a short book with a lot of emotion, tension and meaning. I recommend it highly!
Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard (2016)
This one was on my TBR list for a while, and I finally read it this year. I'm glad I did! It's a really sweet, super feminist story about Pen, a teenage girl in Canada who doesn't want to be feminine. She and her best friend Colby have a routine where Pen helps Colby get girls, but things start to change when Pen wants to get to know one of Colby's crushes for herself. She also befriends one of Colby's exes and learns more about how her best friend treats the girls he dates. I loved Pen's relationship with her older brother Johnny, and I really liked reading her journey to accept herself. I love books that remind us that there are lots of ways to be a woman. (note: I've seen some reviews criticize this book for promoting the "not like other girls" trope, like that Pen is superior for not being feminine, or that the book maligns femininity. I didn't feel that way, but I know it's a hard line to walk - how do you express that these things don't feel right for you without criticizing people for whom they do feel right? So just a heads up before you dive in, and I'd love to know what you think!)
Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle (2015)
I read this one for my Young Adult Book Club. It's about a future where the Church of America runs most things in daily life, like commerce and TV, as well as religion. The Church of America also predicts that rapture is coming, and that true believers will be taken to Heaven. Vivian Apple doesn't believe this, but when she comes home and finds her parents gone and two parent-sized holes in the roof of their house, she's not sure what to think. In the chaos following the disappearance of so many people, Vivian, her BFF Harpreet and cute boy Peter head out on a cross-country road trip to find some answers. I thought Katie Coyle did a great job of setting up the world and the religion, and there were a lot of really exciting twists in the last half of the book. I also liked the diversity of the characters. After I finished this book, I went right on to the sequel, Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle, which I also recommend!
Look, I love Pride season. I am a pretty critical person, and while I’m working on being less critical of myself and the people around me, I still think it’s possible to both love something and think it can be better. And I think Pride could be better. My day job is in HIV prevention, so I’ve tabled at Pride the last few years, and I love tabling. It’s fun to be surrounded by people with trans/ace/pan/bi flags slung over their shoulders like capes, rainbow stickers on their cheeks and shoulders. I love the baby queers holding hands with their partners in public like it’s revolution. I love the rainbows everywhere. But it’s not enough. I don’t just want companies to slap a rainbow on their logo during June, rent a booth for the weekend, or order matching t-shirts and march in the parade. I want us to recognize that capitalism isn’t going to sustain us and business can’t keep expanding forever. I don’t just want a world where I can marry a woman, I want a world where marriage isn’t the default. I don’t want cops marching in Pride parades, I want a justice system that doesn’t disproportionately target black and brown people, trans people, and poor people. I want true safety, where trans people aren’t murdered, where cops don’t get away with whatever they want, where white cis queers recognize and use our privilege to lift up others who don’t have the same privileges we do. I want companies to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians while they fly rainbow flags. I want to be more than a marketing demographic. I want all of us to support queer makers and small business owners instead of helping the rich get richer.
What do you want from Pride?
Now that Pride Month is well underway, I want to encourage you to queer up your social media feeds! I follow several pages of queer content, and I like learning about our history whenever I check social media. What are the best pages you've found? Let me know in the comments!
Here are a few of my favorites:
Do you follow any pages I should know about? Let me know below!
I made an author page on Instagram! Follow me for some photographic insights into my life and writing process, and probably lots of pictures of my cats. I'm starting out with the Author Life Month challenge, which is a month of themed posts for authors. My first day was something I've been wanting to post here for a while - a Shelfie! The picture above is the bookshelf I've been moving from house to house since I was a child, and it's full of all of my favorite books. I'll tell you about some of them below.
I used to go to the State Fair every year and buy a new Priscilla book from Colene Copeland. They're about pigs, and based on real pigs that Colene owned. When I bought new books from her, she would sign them "Pig out on books!"
Stir-Fry was my first Emma Donoghue book, which I bought at a library book sale. It was taken out of rotation because a dog chewed on the cover. I'd seen it reviewed in Sassy magazine, so I picked it up, and it became one of my early favorite lesbian novels.
I loved Christopher Pike in my early teens, and Remember Me was always my favorite. I remember so many little details about that story, like how the main character had such thick hair that she was always breaking hairbrushes.
Poppy Z. Brite is another favorite author that I discovered through Sassy magazine. The feelings of isolation that she described in Lost Souls really spoke to me, and I still can't hear about a muffuletta sandwich without remembering Drawing Blood. The muffuletta sandwich is only mentioned in passing, but it was the first time I'd ever heard of one. I bought both of those books new, so maybe you can tell how many times I read them. She did such an amazing job of describing first love in the stories in Second Line, and as I became less interested in horror, I really appreciated watching that love develop through the Liquor series.
The Graceling series are some of my favorite young adult books that I discovered as an adult. A feminist fantasy series full of badass women, queer side characters, magically colored animals and contraceptive herbs? Yes, please! Bitterblue is my favorite of the series, with her codebreaking and math love. Such good coming of age stories!
Annie on My Mind and Peter are two other favorite queer novels from my youth, but as you might have guessed by the flawless condition of these copies, I only recently purchased them. When I was growing up, I would just check them out from the library over and over. Peter is one that's kind of hard to find, and not many people I know have read it, but it's one of my absolute favorite books ever. I love how it shows that sexuality isn't black and white, and how sometimes it can take a while to figure things out.
A lot of these books sum up why I love YA literature. I absolutely adore the new rawness of the characters' feelings, and when I was young, finding my feelings written down in a story was one of the best feelings. As a writer, I can't think of anything better than giving someone else the experience of seeing their emotions in print. Hopefully, that's something I can accomplish with my writing.
Pride month is ending, and yesterday was the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (see the below blog post or this episode of Drunk History to learn more), but it's hard to feel proud as an American these days.
I tabled at Portland Pride this year for work. I have my share of complaints about Pride, mostly that these corporations come in and treat it like it's a fun rainbow outfit to put on once a year to make some money from the queers. But I actually like tabling. All the excited young people with rainbows painted on their cheeks and Pride flags in every color draped over their shoulders like capes are enough to melt even my curmudgeonly heart. I mean, that's a lot of why we fight, right? So kids today don't face the bigotry that we (and generations before us) faced? So they can have time to figure out how to make gender feel right, so they can make gender and sexuality fit them, instead of cramming themselves into a box that somebody else defined.
Queer Pride is important. It's necessary. But it doesn't feel right to celebrate when kids are being taken from their parents and locked in cages at the southern US border, when Republican politicians are swapping their "family values" for blatant xenophobia and racism, and Democratic politicians worry too much about being "civil" to fight back. How do I balance being proud to be queer with being deeply ashamed of my country?
Stonewall wasn't a party. It was a step in a long fight, and the fight is not over. This weekend, there are protests happening around the country against our government's inhumane policies toward immigrants and refugees, and I hope that those in power will listen when the people tell them what we want.
We have to fight together.
It’s June, and that means it’s Pride Month! I went to my first Pride fest when I was sixteen, but it wasn’t until I was older that I learned about the history of Pride. I think it’s really important to learn where we came from and celebrate the queer heroes that helped us get to where we are today. If you don’t know about Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (pictured on the left in the photo above), J.M. Ellison’s article is a great starting place. Pride marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when trans women of color led a fight against the police oppression and harassment that had become commonplace.
Sometimes Pride frustrates me because it’s turned into such an advertisement fest, a rainbow party that everyone wants to be at. And I get it – queers are fun! And we deserve a break from fighting and having our worth debated and worrying all the time. Will this person still be my friend once they find out I’m queer? Will I be able to use the bathroom without harassment? Will it be one of my friends who’s attacked at Pride this year? As a cis, feminine woman, I don’t have to deal with a lot of these worries, which makes me feel lucky. I think it’s important to prioritize the voices of people in the community who are more marginalized, to amplify trans voices, disabled voices, and voices of people of color. I don’t agree with people who want queers to be more “normal,” like if we can just act or look like straight people, then finally they’ll accept us. We need to be accepted as we are. Especially in a movement in which trans men and women, drag queens and kings, and sex workers played such a pivotal role, it’s disgraceful to now turn around and tell those groups that them being true to themselves is holding the rest of us back.
In my upcoming novel, Book Smarts and Tender Hearts, I struggled with terminology. I describe myself as queer because it feels more inclusive and easier to me, but my book takes place in 1996. I don’t really remember hearing or using “queer” as a positive term until I was in college, which was in the early 2000s. I used “GLBT,” knowing it’s dated, because it felt historically accurate to me – it’s a term I used and heard at the time. Today, I use LGBTQIA+, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual, PLUS. I like the plus because people use a lot of different terms to describe themselves.
I’ll try to post more Pride-related blog posts this month, and in the meantime, I recommend checking out Eli Haswell’s cute and informative comics on The People of Pride. Know your history!
I like cats, feminism, queers, making things and writing, apparently.