Great LGBT novels

Aristotle & Dante discover the secrets of the universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz

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What I loved: The friendship between Ari and Dante and Ari’s dad’s story arc.

English Animals – Laura Kaye

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What I loved: The love to hate relationship I had with the characters and that they had with each other.

Kiss – Jacqueline Wilson

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What I Loved: This is a good pre-teen novel about a girl whose crush/ best friend is coming to terms with his homosexuality.

Maggie & Me – Damian Barr

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What I Loved: I really enjoyed the working class background to this memoir of growing up gay in the time of Thatcher, as well as all the devastation caused to many working class communities in that era.

Man’s World – Rupert Smith

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What I loved: I think the time frame of this book to be set during mandatory National Service of the 50s was really interesting and made for a more romantic but tense story.

Rainbow Boys – Alex Sanchez

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What I loved: This is the first book I read where I remember there being a bi character. Although in the sequels Jason is described as gay, I did love the bi rep in the first novel.

The God Box – Alex Sanchez

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What I loved: This novel looks at how gay people from the Christian faith struggle with their sexuality, but I loved the acceptance the character comes to gain of himself as a whole.

Book Thoughts: Everything I Never Told You

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Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng – 2014 – Contemporary Adult Fiction

Goodreads Summary:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. 

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My Thoughts: (Mild spoilers)

The story is told from Lydia’s four family members (her parents, brother, and sister) and it is very fluid. I’d have thought each chapter would be told from a certain character’s perspective, but instead each event in the book is told from multiple characters’ perspectives in short periods, which gave me the feeling that Lydia was travelling through their mind in spiritual form seeing glances of how her family were coping with her death. Ng did a great job making the characters feel believable and the feeling of loss was very eminent throughout.

I think it was interesting to read this book as a white person, as it’s a topic I’ve never had to think about. For example, there is a part where the mother, Marilyn, says she doesn’t “kowtow” to the police, and her Chinese husband James gets upset by this because it has connotations for him that Marilyn, a Caucasian, doesn’t really think about – to her it’s just a word. It definitely showed that there are words that as a non-“opressed” person you don’t really consider, but that can be quite offensive in certain contexts.

The time period was also very important to the story. Ng did an interview on BBC World Book Club’s podcast (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cswssf) and she went into great detail on this question, but I do think that if the book had been set in this decade the situation with the family would be very different.

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When I bought the book I read the summary and thought it was going to be a thriller. I realised as I looked over Goodreads after purchase that it wasn’t a thriller, but instead a look at how people deal with bereavement and loss. I think if I had read the book still expecting it to be a thriller I’d be a bit disappointed as the book never resolves Lydia’s killer.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the relationship between Nath and Lydia. There is a really sweet part of the book where it describes a three legged race they were once in, and how “[the handkerchief] didn’t loosen… and it didn’t come undone, even when they jerked in opposite directions and tumbled face-forward onto the soft, damp grass.” It’s a great metaphor for how a lot of siblings can go in different directions in life and even have some difficulties, but are still tied together.

Although there is very little plot in this book, I really enjoyed the characters, especially Nath. He wasn’t always likeable but he felt the most real to me and the one I could relate to most. He’s just about to go to university, which is already one of the hardest things a young adult deals with, when this tragedy happens to his sister. I’d have liked to explore his and Jack’s relationship a bit more after the secrets are revealed.

I think my criticism of the book would be that the ending felt a bit rushed. We had this massive build up and desire to know what really happened to Lydia, and then that just never really happened. There were also certain parts of each character’s story that weren’t really finished but I feel that was a stylistic choice by Ng

I gave this book 4/5 on Goodreads. I would definitely recommend this book if you like character studies, but avoid if you need to have a firm plot.

Book Thoughts: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli – 2015 – YA LGBT

Summary:

Simon Spier is sixteen and trying to work out who he is – and what he’s looking for. But when one of his emails to the very distracting Blue falls into the wrong hands, things get all kinds of complicated. Because, for Simon, falling for Blue is a big deal…

My Thoughts:

The book is told from Simon’s point of view, in first person which I tend to prefer. I liked Simon’s character and I felt he was quite believable (not being a gay teenage boy) but I could identify with some of his issues while he was chatting with Blue, and also some of the crap he goes through when he’s outed. I thought it was great he was so close to his drama teacher, but I imagine most LGBT+ kids don’t have that sort of support at school.

Also, a lot of people say they don’t like Leah but I felt a bit sorry for her when Abby and Nick just decided not to invite her to things. I wish that the story around that had been explained, so I’m hoping the sequel will go into that a bit more. I really didn’t like Abby though – I think because she was the antithesis of the sort of girl I was at school, yet people seem to identify much more with her when you read reviews. I’d have also liked more development of the other characters like Nick and Garrett. Nick is supposed to be Simon’s best friend, but he just feels so flat.

Some of my favourite scenes from the book (spoilers!) include the part of the email where Simon tells Blue that “I don’t think my heart can handle waiting a full week for an email from you.” I mean, how cute! And also where Simon finds Blue’s phone number in the t-shirt Blue gave him. Cute, but not sickly. I also really liked the reference to some of the Brit culture things in the book. You so often hear in YA books Brits referring to American culture, but here I was reading in an American book about Harry Potter and Dickens – made a nice change! 

I did have problems getting into the book though – and it wasn’t until I read other people’s reviews that I realised others had the same issue. I’m not really sure when I started enjoying the book, rather than reading it because of the hype, but I found as I went on I really liked the prose just as I’d expected to.

I really enjoyed the ending of the book. I feel like it could just be a one-off (I’m not a fan of series), but there are enough questions to make a sequel worthwhile, and I’m looking forward to reading Leah on the Offbeat, especially because it’s a book where the main character is bisexual – there aren’t enough bisexual characters out there who are portrayed properly.

I really like the cover too – it feels quite iconic, and Hank Green did a video talking about this cover amongst others that you may find interesting if you like the cover too.

I gave Simon… 4/5 on Goodreads. I’d definitely recommend this book if you are even later to the party than I am! And I can’t wait to see the film adaptation – I think I’ve missed it in cinemas (my local never seemed to get it) but looking forward to it on DVD.

Book Thoughts – Freakboy

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Freakboy – Kristin Elizabeth Clark – 2013 – YA LGBT

Summary:

Told from three viewpoints, seventeen-year-old Brendan, a wrestler, struggles to come to terms with his place on the transgender spectrum while Vanessa, the girl he loves, and Angel, a transgender acquaintance, try to help.

My thoughts:

The story is told from three points of view – Brendan, Angel and Vanessa. It’s easy to tell the three voices apart, and although a few reviews have said Vanessa isn’t necessary, I like hearing the voice of someone affected by Brendan’s story. I didn’t really care about the main character, Brendan. There was too much repetition of how much he hated wrestling, and loved his girlfriend but also wanted to look like her, and loved his little sister but hated his step dad. It got boring reading the same problem over and over. My favourite character was Angel, and I’d actually have preferred a book about her story – at least she didn’t go round just feeling sorry for herself!

This is the first book I’ve ever read about a gender fluid character. Unfortunately I can’t say I understand that gender identity much more than before I read the book. I tried to do a little bit of research on gender fluidity while I was reading the book, but the stuff I found on the internet (both through Google and Youtube) was so discriminating and hurtful (even as a cis- person looking in) that I just stopped trying. I can’t believe that in this age of people being relatively open about gender identities – on the internet at least – I can’t find people talking about a positive story of being gender fluid. Although this doesn’t directly affect the novel, I think it would have been great if it had told more of a story of what it’s like to be gender fluid. On one page Brendan googles and sees the word transgender. He automatically starts labelling himself as transgender, even though it doesn’t feel like an identity that fits him. It’s not until near the end of the book that Angel brings up being gender fluid, so there really isn’t enough information or time spent on the identity in the novel.

There were a few quotes in the book I really liked. For example,

“I wake up to flat chest, morning wood, nauseous.” I think this just sums up the sickness that Brandon feels with his body some days.

My favourite quote from Angel was “Not my fault the world just isn’t ready to stop defining gender the way it always has.” I think it’d be great if everyone who faced discrimination was able to have the confidence Angel has, not just with gender but other minority groups.

Another favourite scene in the book was when Brandon tried to go to the LGBT young people’s session. He talks about how scared he is to go in and face that part of himself, and I definitely identified from the times as a teen when I would go to a similar group in my local area.

Another part in the group that really made me cringe was when Brendan’s friend walked in on him while he was wearing a bra. The way the verse was written at this part just helped to heighten that “oh-no” feeling as he gets closer to being ‘caught’.

I really enjoyed the free verse style of this book. Despite the book being over 400 pages, I read it in a couple of days (not normal for me!) The free verse was so easy to read, and I’d really like to read more novels in the style.

I didn’t enjoy the ending of the book particularly. There are about 10 pages where Brendan decides he wants to kill himself. It doesn’t even seem very legitimate, and as soon as he decides that’s what he wants to do, he changes his mind because he sees his sister. That’s not how mental health works, and it feels shoe-horned into the story to add  bit more drama. The ending is so quick for all the build up through the book.

Another thing I didn’t really like was at the end of the book when Angel said she was glad Brendan didn’t tell his parents about his gender identity, because they then might not pay him through university. While I’m sure some trans- people go through this situation, if I was a gender fluid person reading this book, I don’t think that would give me any confidence about my future.

I gave the book 2 stars on Goodreads, although I’d probably give it 2.5 stars if I could. I did really enjoy the free verse style, but it probably wouldn’t be a book I’d recommend. Despite it being an original premise I don’t think it’s a particularly memorable book

Book Thoughts: My Sister Milly

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My Sister Milly – Gemma Dowler – 2017 – True Crime

“My name is Gemma Dowler. On 21 March 2002, a serial killer named Levi Bellfield stole my sister and sent our family to hell.”

As the description says this book is a memoir of the killing of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who went missing in 2002 and was later found murdered. I was only 9 when she went missing, so I don’t really remember the initial news coverage, but I do remember the coverage of the trial and this book looks at that case from the point of view of Milly’s older sister Gemma.

Gemma was motivated to write this book to share her memory of her sister, and the first part of the book definitely does that. I’d have liked a bit more focus on Milly throughout the rest of the book as well, just because I’m left with a lot of questions about the case. I knew the basic story of this crime from watching documentaries on the case, and as I said I remember when the trial took place, but I felt it lost a bit of the aspect of Milly throughout the story – I don’t think this is Gemma’s fault though, I think it’s probably an accurate representation of the fact that the police had seemingly forgotten this all started because of something that happened to Milly.

This is a really interesting view of the police that I haven’t seen in other true crime books before. Usually in true crime families focus on the police is only with the FLO’s, so it’s sad to hear the Dowler family felt so let down by an organisation that should have protected them. I was expecting more details about Milly’s case and although there was obviously some information it felt like a book more focused on the social injustice they faced as a result of the crime, rather than the crime itself.

I don’t think you can help but admire Gemma’s bravery and courage. I can’t imagine going through even one event she has gone through, and yet despite her sister’s abduction and murder, the way Gemma was treated by police and CPS, and the hacking scandal she continues to pick herself up and live her life for her sister and her parents too.

I would recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the case. There’s definitely enough background even if you’ve never heard of this case before, although I’d imagine most British adults have at least a small recollection of the crime. However, it’s not an easy read. It’s emotional and there is a lot of deep content about the impact on Gemma’s mental health, as well as other difficult topics to read. It’s a fascinating book, and probably one of the most well-written true crime books I’ve read. I gave the book 5 stars on Goodreads. Although it was co-written by a professional author, it never lost the feeling of being almost like a diary. Very moving.

Book Thoughts: Weetzie Bat

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Weetzie Bat – Francesca Lia Block – 1989 – Fantasy

Book Summary

This could be a book about cheap cheese and bean burritos, slinkster dogs, lanky lizards and rubber chickens …Or strawberry sundaes with marshmallow toppings, surfing, stage-diving and sleeping on the beach …It could even be a book about magic. But what it’s definitely about is Weetzie Bat, her best friend Dirk and their search across L.A. for the most dangerous angel of all …true love.

My Thoughts:

Weetzie is the main character of the story. It is difficult to give an opinion on her because the book is so short we never really get to know who she is. The book is part of a seven part series, so if I continue reading them I might get more of an idea of her as a character, as well as the other secondary characters. I’d like to see more of the characters because they felt a bit one-dimensional, but this also suits the style of the novella. The story is told from the third person, but it’s in a really impersonal way which again feels like a deliberate move to make the story a bit ‘weird’. The characters all have very odd names, and I think one of the strengths of the book is actually how fantastical and magical it feels, as if you’re watching aliens on another planet.

Apart from the lack of characterisation I quite enjoyed the book. It was a quick read, at just over 100 pages. I really enjoyed the last line of the book which was “I don’t know about happily ever after… but I know about happily.” I can’t really understand why this isn’t some sort of Facebook meme, it applies to so many situations in life.

I’m not really a huge fan of the cover. I really don’t like the colours together, and it’s a little bit boring. In fact in one of my reading challenges I used this book for the prompt to read a book with an ugly cover. To be honest, that’s probably my biggest criticism I could find.

I think if you want a short fantasy book that you can get through quite quickly I’d recommend this. It’s not brilliantly written or full of plot, but there are some cute quotes that made me feel a little bit more philosophical. On Goodreads I gave this book 3 out of 5.

Book Thoughts: Hollow Pike

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Hollow Pike – James Dawson – 2012 – Fantasy

Before you read, please know there’s some spoilers in this review. Thanks!

Book summary:

She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she’s being paranoid – after all who would want to murder her? She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark – and a twig snaps… Hollow Pike – where witchcraft never sleeps.

My thoughts:

The story is told from the point of view of Lis, who has just moved from Wales to Hollow Pike in Yorkshire. I really couldn’t stand Lis. I’m not sure if you were supposed to like her or not, but she was very shallow and seemed to change her friendship group based on very little reasoning. One minute she wanted to be friends with Lauren and the cool girls, the next she wanted to be friends with the unpopular kids. I could sort of understand why she’d felt the need to move from Wales because she was being bullied because she seemed like a bit of a bitch. I’d have liked to see more character development from Lis, because she just remains a little bit self-absorbed throughout the book. To be honest though I didn’t really warm to any of the characters in the book. I’m not sure you were supposed to, as I feel like the book was more about the story line than the characters but it’s a bit disappointing not to find one character I actually liked.

My favourite scene in the book is either the part of the book just before Laura is killed – sounds a bit morbid but it was one of the more action-driven parts of the book. Although you know Lis and her friends are messing around with Laura, this throws it into sharp contrast when she is killed just minutes later.

I also really enjoyed the climax of the book. There were a few surprises as to the characters true intentions, which I definitely didn’t see coming. I think the best thing about this book is when the action parts are. There is a lot of suspense building, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’m maybe a bit old for the target audience – I just didn’t care about the little ways the author was trying to make you guess and they seemed a bit forced. Although I didn’t expect the ending, I’d rather have had more witchy death scenes and suspense built that way that Lis just not trusting her friends with little evidence.

I think this book would be really interesting if it was made into a TV programme for teens. All the way through reading the book I couldn’t help thinking that it read like it would be great as a script, because there was a lot of suspense and visual imagery. I’d really like to see the book adapted by CBBC for example.

I also absolutely loved the cover of the book. I really like the colours, and the way that you don’t know where Lis’ hair ends, and the blackness of the cover begins.

I rated this book 3/5 on Goodreads. I think if you enjoy fantasy and you want an easy read you should check it out. It’s not the most memorable book I’ll read this year, but it wasn’t a bad book either.

Book Thoughts: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell – 2017 – Short Stories

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Book Summary:

Stories of family and magic, lost souls and superstitions. Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.

Mermaids are on display at the local aquarium. A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island. And a couple are rewriting the history of the world in the middle of the night.

My thoughts:

I often watch Jen Campbell’s YouTube channel, and I’m a big fan of her. I particularly enjoy her videos about disability and its representation in different media. So when she said that she was writing a new book for adults, I was really interested to read it. It’s a really sweet collection of fairy-tale-esque short stories, many of which have aspects of disability or being “different”.

My favourite stories in the book were The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night, or Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel. The first was written in a script style and this made it really unique from the rest of the book. It was the easiest story to read and get absorbed in, and it was quite sweet to read about a couple having cute conversations in the middle of the night. Aunt Libby’s story was my favourite story for plot. It’s about an old lady who owns a hotel where the guests sleep in coffins to get closer to ‘the other side’. The hotel is supposed to be haunted and although it is supposed to be a scam, there is a spooky twist at the end.

My least favourite story was probably Margaret and Mary and the End of the World, or Bright White Hearts. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the writing, but I just didn’t really understand the references, as I’m not really into fantasy and fairy tales. The writing in the book is truly magical, so it was a bit of a shame I didn’t understand them. On Jen’s youtube channel she has talked about the stories a bit and some of the references, and I’d love to read the stories again and read them a bit more slowly to fully understand the references and be able to research them properly.

I really loved the cover of this book. I think it might be one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen. I think there was a day cover and a night cover when people talked about this on Booktube, but I’ve only seen the night cover so far – I prefer that one anyway!

I rated this book 3 / 5 on Goodreads. I would recommend the book to people who like fairy tales, and the writing is truly beautiful. I think if I’d understand the references more I’d definitely have given it a higher rating.

Book Thoughts: Lingo

Lingo: A language spotter’s guide to Europe – Gaston Dorren – 2014 -Language and Linguistics

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Book description:

Lingo takes us on an interesting tour of fifty-odd European languages and dialects, from the life of PIE (our common ancestor) to the rise and rise of English, via the complexities of Welsh plurals and puzzling Czech accents. Along the way, it explains the baffling ways of Basque, unlocks Ukrainian’s enviable grammar and provides a crash course in alphabets. We learn why Esperanto could never catch on, how to language of William the Conqueror lives on in the Channel Islands, and consider if English is like Chinese.

Lingo also looks at words that English has loaned from across the continent, and those we really should import, like the Norwegians’ utepils (lager enjoyed out of doors), the Germans’ gonnen (the opposite of envy), or the Frisian tafalle (to turn out better than expected).

My thoughts:

In Lingo, Dorren is attempting to look at some of the most interesting points of over fifty European languages, and in many ways he does this. There are a huge range of languages presented throughout this book from the larger languages (like English, Spanish and German) to smaller languages I’d never even heard of before (Faroese, Monegasque and Ladino). He presents each language from a different point for example, the alphabet, pronunciation, grammar, interesting vocabulary points, or its’ history.

Honestly speaking though I found the book didn’t really hold my attention. It was a bit dull in parts especially when it got more in-depth with a small language point such as Welsh spelling patterns or the Russian alphabet. The parts of the book where he looked at the language from a point of their history or social aspects are personally more interesting to me, and I found that these chapters didn’t happen often enough through the book to keep me engaged. My favourite chapter was the Belarusian language, where Dorren presented aspects of the language from the opposing aspects of people who were pro- and anti- Russian. For languages I have very little knowledge of (most of the smaller ones in the book) I’d rather he’d presented them in a similar way to this.

I’d also have liked a small glossary included in the book. Dorren uses a lot of linguistics-related jargon that, even with a degree in Linguistics, I wasn’t certain what they meant. I think if you were just someone with a passing interest in the subject you might be put off by the more specific references.

I gave the book 3 stars on Goodreads. My degree is in English Language and Linguistics, so although I’m not an expert in languages themselves, I have a keen interest in the sociological factors behind them. This is a great book I’d probably recommend for someone who is studying English Language or Modern Foreign Languages at A Level or university for something more educational but that still doesn’t require much concentration.