Alice Austen Lived Here: A Review

Alice Austen Lived Here by Alex GinoSam and TJ love being best friends and they love being nonbinary. Sam knows they’re lucky to have a family that gets it and is supportive and even luckier to have cool neighbors like femme Jess (who is fat and fabulous like Sam) and her family right in the same building.

Even at twelve, Sam already knows that not everyone is going to be as supportive which is why it’s no surprise that Sam and TJ’s history teacher is way more interested in teaching about Dead Straight Cis White Men (DSCWM for short) than anything really interesting. When they have to work on a presentation to create a new statue for Staten Island, Sam and TJ are determined to find someone outside of the DSCWM spectrum. Someone like photographer Alice Austen who lived right on Staten Island for years with her female partner.

When the kids find out that Alice Austen lived right in Sam’s very own apartment, the two become even more committed to their project. In researching Alice Austen and preparing their contest entry Sam learns more about the queer history surrounding his own friends and neighbors like Jess and 82-year-old lesbian Ms. Hansen as well as the larger history found throughout New York City.

Sam has never felt more connected to the queer community but as the contest deadline looms Sam and TJ worry their passion for representing Alice Austen might not be enough in Alice Austen Lived Here (2022) by Alex Gino.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gino’s latest novel taps into the moment as Sam and TJ become part of the movement to create monuments throughout New York that are more representative of the city’s diverse population. Be sure to check out the audiobook to hear Gino read their own words but check out a print copy for an author’s note about Gino’s connection to the story (and Alice) as well as some pictures of Alice Austen.

Sam is described as pale and blonde while TJ is described as having dark hair and tan skin. Most of Sam’s neighbors are presumed white. In addition to immersing readers in Sam and TJ’s ultra supportive community, this story also introduces readers to both Alice Austen and (later on) Audre Lorde–both real people whose work had lasting impact in New York, in queer communities, and beyond.

Alice Austen Lived Here is a gently told story about queer community, found family, and standing up for what you believe in. While Sam and TJ aren’t always sure their statue will win, their commitment is unwavering and an object lesson in staying true to yourself.

Possible Pairings: A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner, Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker, Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement by S. A. Caldwell, Twelfth by Janet Key, Ciel by Sophie Labelle, Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff, A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

You Truly Assumed: A Review

You Truly Assumed by Laila SabreenIn the wake of a terrorist attack three Black Muslim teens find unlikely comfort online.

Sabriya is close enough to the attack in DC that her father picks her up from the dance studio; close enough that Bri, her younger sister, and their father all hold their breaths until Bri’s mother walks through the door. With the news cycle stuck on the attacks, on the terrorist with a name that sounds just Muslim enough for people looking for an excuse, Bri doesn’t know what to do with all of her big feelings about the attack and the aftermath and the way her perfectly planned summer of conservatory auditions is impossible now. Usually she’d write it all down in a notebook but this time she goes to a blog instead. Which changes everything.

Every Muslim in the US feels the ramifications of the attacks, worries about the Islamaphobia it will help justify. But it all feels far away for Zakat in the idyllic Muslim community she has always known in her town in Georgia. Until a childhood enemy is hired at the bookstore alongside Zakat and her best friend. While Aafreen is quick to trust and offer second chances, Zakat can’t help but wonder if this new addition to their social circle has anything to do with the vandalism at their mosque and other hateful incidents. Contributing her artwork to a new blog called You Truly Assumed should be a refuge and a distraction. But it becomes anything but as hateful commenters find the site.

Farah’s summer pushes her way out of her comfort zone. Instead of spending it with her mother, Farah is sent across the country to get to her father and meet her step-mother and half-siblings for the first time. The trip is a chance to explore college options on the east coast and test the waters of a long distance relationship. Farah doesn’t expect to also find community as a co-runner of You Truly Assumed much less as someone helping to plan a vigil after another attack.

As the blog gains momentum and attention Sabriya, Zakat, and Farah will all have to deal with the fallout as they try to make a place for themselves and other Black Muslim teens in You Truly Assumed (2022) by Laila Sabreen.

Find it on Bookshop.

You Truly Assumed is Sabreen’s debut novel. Chapters alternate between Sabriya, Zakat, and Farah’s first person narrations. While the three start as strangers in different areas their growing connection brings both the characters and their divergent stories together. These protagonists also help break down the idea of the Muslim or Black experience as a monolith. Zakat, a hijabi, is an aspiring artist attending a Muslim school who is very active in her local mosque. Farah and her mother are Muslim but Farah is spending the summer with her Black father and his family who are Christian while she considers STEM college options on the east coast.  Sabriya comes from a inter-faith household and is weighing the pros and cons of attending college or a conservatory ballet program after high school before the blog takes off.

While the advent and maintenance of the blog is what initially starts the story, each girl has their own arc as the novel progresses with navigating new family dynamics, micro-aggressions, friendships, and romantic relationships. Sabreen balances these multiple plots and protagonists well giving each girl adequate page time to stand out. Questions of how each girl negotiates being Black or Muslim enough in spheres that try to treat the two as mutually exclusive also lead to empowering moments as each heroine comes into her own. Unfortunately the writing doesn’t always do as much work to distinguish between the narrators with the voices sometimes blending together. (I listened to the audiobook and even having three different voice actors as narrators didn’t help.)

You Truly Assumed offers an authentic perspective on what it means to navigate online spaces showcasing both the highs–as Sabriya, Zakat, and Farah form a real friendship thanks to running the blog together–and the lows–when a conservative, alt right site lists the blog for a targeted harassment campaign. The girls’ families are also refreshingly present and, as situations escalate, involved in the resolution including some hard conversations about what happens next. Although Farah is in a relationship for the entirety of the novel, the story remains firmly focused on friendship and community rather than romance.

You Truly Assumed is an empowering story about finding your voice and your community. A must read in these disconnected times.

Possible Pairings: Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali, Girls Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake, Love Times Infinity by Lane Clarke, Does My Body Offend You? by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt, Until We Break by Matthew Dawkins, Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Seton Girls by Charlene Thomas

Last Chance Books: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Last Chance Books by Kelsey RodkeyMadeline Moore is counting the days until she can take over at her aunt’s beloved bookstore, Books & Moore. Her family has owned the store for generations; it’s always felt like a second home to Madeline. Her family stubbornly insists she has to go to college first. But Madeline knows after that she can come home and pick up right where she left off making her bookish dreams come true.

At least that was the plan until a chain bookstore opened across the street. With cheaper books and multiple locations, Prologue is a big threat to an indie like Books & Moore. Especially when Jasper Hamada starts scoping out the competition under the guise of flirting with Madeline. Flirting well. But still.

With her long-absent mother back in the picture and threatening to move home for good, Madeline’s personal life is a mess. She misses her brother who is spending more time at his dad’s to avoid the drama at home. She doesn’t understand why her aunt is always taking her mom’s side. Madeline needs one thing she can control and she’s pretty sure saving Books & Moore is it. She is definitely not going to let Assper Hamada distract her by being super cute and sort of . . . nice to her?

With help from her reluctant family, her BookTuber best friend Zelda, and the store’s community, Madeline hopes she can save the store and win an escalating prank war with Prologue. Turns out Jasper is as good at pranking as he is at flirting and more than prepared to give as good as he gets.

As sparks–and barbs–fly, Madeline will have to decide if connecting with Jasper Hotmada is worth risking her entire future. All’s fair in love and books (and prank wars) but that might not mean Madeline can have it all in Last Chance Books (2021) by Kelsey Rodkey.

Find it on Bookshop.

Last Chance Books is Rodkey’s debut novel. The story is narrated by Madeline who is white as is her mother and aunt. Her brother and his father are brown skinned. Jasper and his family are Japanese American.

Rodkey presents a well-developed cast and tackles a variety of side plots against the main focus of Madeline’s feud (and flirtation) with Jasper. Madeline has been raised by her aunt with a lot of help from her younger brother Benny’s father. Madeline and Benny’s mother, an aspiring actress and bit of a flake, has been absent for years leaving both Madeline and Benny to wonder about the ulterior motives–and permanence–of her return this time around. While Madeline has to deal with the possible upending of her clear plan for her future (taking over Books & Moore), Jasper faces a different challenge in getting his family to accept his dream of going into design–a passion he currently feeds through cosplay.

Moments of humor (and more than a few hijinks) add levity to the story and help flesh out the main characters as well as their authentically quirky retail settings. Madeline’s snappy narration and satisfying banter with Jasper make Last Chance Books a real treat. Recommended for readers with a soft spot for books about bookstores, enemies to lovers romances, and stories that will have them laughing out loud.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, It’s Kind of a Cheesy Love Story by Lauren Morill, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail

A Dark and Starless Forest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah HollowellDerry has been living in a secluded house in the woods with her siblings and their protector, Frank, for years. They don’t have luxuries like cosmetics or snack foods or even new books and DVDs. They’re not spoiled at all. But they’re taken care of. They’re safe.

Which Frank has told them is much more important in a world that fears their magic. It’s the same reason he calls them alchemists instead of that more dangerous word: witches.

White, fat, sixteen-year-old Derry and her siblings dislike Frank and fear him even as Frank reminds them that he took them in when no one–not even their parents–wanted them. Derry and her siblings–eldest Jane (who is Black); Winnie (who is fat and white); Brooke (fat, Deaf, Mexican-American); white twins Elle and Irene (Irene is trans); nonbinary, Mexican-American Violet; and the youngest identical Black twins Olivia and London–have fierce bonds between them. Which makes it so much worse when first Jane and then Winnie disappear.

Frank says the girls must have died in the dense forest surrounding their home. But as Derry explores the forest she wonders if the disappearances might be tied to Frank himself.

As she learns more about Frank and her own magical affinity for growing both real and imagined plants Derry will have to decide how far she is willing to go to keep her loved ones safe in A Dark and Starless Forest (2021) by Sarah Hollowell.

Find it on Bookshop.

Despite each sibling having distinct magical abilities, this element of the story is largely set dressing for the novel’s plot which is a blend of horror and suspense sprinkled with hints about a dark moment in Derry’s past that makes her reluctant to re-enter the forest in her search for Jane (and later Winnie). The novel is also notable for its focus on the bond between Derry and her siblings with a total absence of romance subplots.

Derry’s first-person narration amplifies the siblings’ isolation with a palpable fear of Frank and his punishments, including the dreaded time out room whose horrors are honed to each sibling’s worst nightmares (blaring lights and erratic, staticky noise for Derry). The restricted narrative works to amp up the tension but leaves many questions about how the siblings’ magic works and, more importantly, the implications of said magic in the outside world.

Hollowell is at pains to create an inclusive cast with some elements (Violet being nonbinary, Irene’s trans identity, everyone’s use of ASL–designated by single quotes around signed dialog–to communicate with Brooke) integrated into the narrative better than others. Derry’s quest to find her missing siblings and save all of them from Frank drives the story but leaves little room for character development of the other siblings who are often absent from the action and remain little more than names and attributes.

Derry’s moral ambiguity is unresolved by the end of the novel as she embraces darker choices to save her siblings heedless of the consequences. Questions about world building and what will come next for all of the siblings are also up in the air. A Dark and Starless Forest is a dark, inclusive blend of horror and extremely light fantasy. Ideal for readers looking for a slightly supernatural tale of suspense.

Possible Pairings: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, Half Bad by Sally Green, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Across the Green Grass Fields: A Review

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuireRegan was seven years old when she learned that the most dangerous thing a girl can be is different. It’s the reason her former best friend, Heather, is a social pariah on the playground. It’s the reason Regan knows to stay on her other best friend Laurel’s good side even if it means keeping herself in a very specific box.

As Regan gets older it becomes more and more obvious that she won’t fit inside that box for much longer. Her love of horses is only barely acceptable to other girls as their interests start to shift to boys. While all of the other girls seem to be maturing, Regan wants everything to stay the same. When her parents tell Regan that she is intersex a lot of things start to make sense. Her friendship with Laurel is not one of those things as she rejects Regan in the cruelest way possible.

Distraught and desperate to get away, Regan runs to the woods and keeps running until she passes through a magical door into the Hooflands. In a world populated by centaurs and other horse-like creatures, every human is unique and no one thinks Regan is too different. Instead, for the first time, Regan feels at home.

But a human in the Hooflands only means one thing. The land needs a hero. Whether Regan is ready to be one or not in Across the Green Grass Fields (2021) by Seanan McGuire.

Find it on Bookshop.

Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway.

While Regan’s story is similar in tone and style to the other novellas in this series, her story is largely divorced from the rest of the series and functions entirely as a standalone. Regan and the Hooflands are odes to Horse Girls everywhere. Although Regan’s first encounters in the Hooflands are with the centaurs who accept her as part of their herd and the unicorns they tend, the Hooflands have many more horse-adjacent creatures including kelpies, perytons, and kirins like the current Hooflands queen Kagami.

Despite her awe and immediate love for the Hooflands, Regan knows she isn’t truly safe or home. Her centaur friends are quick to warn her that humans only come to the Hooflands when there is a great need bringing about changes that, while mythic in nature, are poorly documented beyond the fact that most humans are never seen again after embaring on their life-changing quest.

Regan’s story walks a fine line between menace and enchantment as readers come to love the Hooflands and her friends as much as Regan does. Even while waiting for the foreshadowed dangers to arrive.  Across the Green Grass Fields is a razor sharp commentary on the dangers of embracing the status quo and a perfect entry point for this long running series which promises more adventures to come.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Scwhab, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

Luck of the Titanic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic, six survived.

Valora Luck almost misses her chance to be one of those passengers when her entry is blocked thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act which restricts the admission of Chinese immigrants into the United States. Valora is used to obstacles, though, and isn’t about to let a silly policy stop her from getting on board and seeing her twin brother Jamie for the first time in years.

Jamie is traveling on the Titanic as a seaman on his way to Cuba with the rest of his crew but Val has bigger plans for both of them. Reunited for the first time since their father’s death, this is the perfect opportunity for the twins to revive their acrobatics act–an act that Val knows will be good enough to attract the attention of the Albert Ankeny Stewart. One look at their performance and Mr. Stewart will have to recruit them for the Ringling Circus. Then Val and Jamie can finally get back to being family again instead of near strangers.

Val’s plan is perfect. Until disaster strikes and, as the Titanic begins its last night as an ocean liner, Val and her brother will have to worry about surviving the present before they can plan for the future in Luck of the Titanic (2021) by Stacey Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Luck of the Titanic is narrated by Val as she struggles to board the luxury liner and secure passage into America for herself and her brother. The story is inspired by the real Chinese passengers on the TitanicYou can read more about Lee’s real-life inspiration to write this story in an essay she wrote for Oprah Daily.

Lee once again delivers a masterful work of historical fiction. Luck of the Titanic is carefully researched with front matter that includes a cast of characters and diagrams of the famous ship. The balances portraying the very real racism and intolerance Val and her fellow Chinese passengers would have encountered on the ship (or in attempting to travel to the United States) while also highlighting small joys as Val reconnects with her brother, befriends his crewmates, and as all of them discover the magic of this larger-than-life ship before it strikes an iceberg and begins to sink.

Val is an accomplished acrobat which adds a fun dimension to the story. Because of the novel’s setting, this aspect of Val’s life can never be the main point of the story but it still adds so much to her character as readers see her talent and joy in her work–and the contrast in how Jamie feel’s about the same performance skills.

Readers familiar with the history of the Titanic will recognize many key points including the iconic state rooms and grand stairway while the story also shows more of third class (steerage) where Jamie and his crew are located. The novel does include an attempted sexual assault which moves the plot forward (necessitating the separation of Val and some of her friends as the iceberg hits) but also feels excessive in a story that already has plenty of tension and strife for the characters.

Lee also includes nods to common theories about contributing factors to the disaster including the lack of binoculars for crew working in the crow’s nest, the pressure on Captain Smith to drive at speed, and of course the lifeboats (of which there were too few) being launched without reaching full capacity. Other details (the lack of proper warnings from the Marconi operators, the confusion as Titanic tried to signal for help from nearby ships) are left off-page in favor of a focus on the characters. While Lee shows more behind-the-scenes areas of the ship, this novel is largely populated by fictional characters whenever possible leaving notable survivors like Molly Brown and crew member Violet Jessop out of the narrative entirely.

Luck of the Titanic is both gripping and melancholy as the novel builds to its inevitable conclusion. This story of survival and family is completely engrossing while also asking readers to consider whose stories are deemed worth telling in history–and how we can work to widen that scope. Recommended for fans of adventure and historical fiction novels.

Possible Pairings: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

Broken Web: A Review

Broken Web by Lori M. LeeThe Soulless is awake and recovering in the Dead Wood. The long peace between the nations of Thiy might be crumbling. And Sirscha and her best friend Saengo still have no idea how to fix any of it.

The world believes that Sirscha is a rare soulguide but she and Saengo know that Sirscha is actually a soulrender–just like The Soulless. Despite the dangers, Sirscha is determined to stop The Soulless and, if she can, save Saengo from the rot he infected her with that is slowly killing her.

With powerful allies and even more powerful enemies circling, Sirscha will have to risk everything to find–and fight–the most immediate danger in Broken Web (2021) by Lori M. Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Broken Web is the second book in Lee’s Shamanborn trilogy which begins with Forest of Souls.

Set two weeks after the explosive conclusion of book one, Sirscha and Saengo are still trying to understand Sirscha’s new powers and Saengo’s role in nurturing them as a familiar. Treachery is a constant threat hanging over the girls and their allies as they try to learn more about the Soulless and how to stop him once and for all.

Lee has created a nuanced and compelling world in this series although this book focuses more on action to move the series toward what promises to be a shocking conclusion.

Broken Web is a fast-paced, exciting installment in a singular fantasy series. A must read for fans of book one; a recommended series for readers seeking a new friendship focused fantasy adventure.

Possible Pairings: Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, The Reader by Traci Chee, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer, Fireborne by Rosaria Munda, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White, The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Realm Breaker: A Review

Realm Breaker by Victoria AveyardCorayne an-Amarat is a pirate’s daughter eager to embark on her own adventures at sea in Allward. But she is also the last of the ancient Cor bloodline and the only one who can use the ancient spindleblade to protect her realm and make sure the Spindles that can open destabilizing passages between realms are closed.

Reluctant to embrace this lineage, Corayne joins weary immortal Dom as he attempts to mount a second quest to succeed where the first failed in closing the Spindles. Aided by a mercenary assassin and Andry, a squire and the only mortal to survive the first quest, the group will face numerous obstacles as they struggle to work together to save the world in Realm Breaker (2021) by Victoria Aveyard.

Find it on Bookshop.

Aveyard follows up her blockbuster Red Queen series with this homage to high fantasy that works to make more space for women and offer a more inclusive cast. The realm of Allward features people with a range of skin tones and backgrounds–Andry is described as “honey brown” while Corayne has “golden skin.”

Shifting viewpoints, flashbacks, and changing locations cut through much of the novel’s potential urgency as the narrative pauses continuously to ruminate on the failed quest seen in the prologue and offer character backstories.

Aveyard creates a compelling world with ample space for female characters in a traditionally male genre. Despite its start and stop pacing, Realm Breaker is action packed with plentiful fights, chases, and other derring-do.

Possible Pairings: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Furyborn by Clarie Legrand, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser, Fable by Adrienne Young

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Happily Ever Afters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Happily Ever Afters by Elise BryantAs a shy introvert, there’s nowhere Tessa Johnson would rather be that sitting down at her laptop writing. Tessa rarely sees herself in the romance novels she loves to read. So instead she writes her own, creating love stories where she and her best friend Caroline can finally see themselves as leading ladies. Writing is the one place Tessa feels like she is fully in control of her life. Sharing her writing with anyone but Caroline is a different story.

While moving for her father’s promotion is hard, Tessa hopes that starting her junior year at an arts school with a creative writing program will make the transition easier. The only problem is that Tessa fails to consider that being in a writing program means people will want to read–and critique!–her writing. Suddenly Tessa’s dream school turns into a nightmare when she loses all of her inspiration and her confidence.

Without any other ideas, Tessa agrees to follow Caroline’s advice: find some real-life inspiration with romance-novel inspired ideas while getting close to the incredibly cute, romance-cover-worthy visual arts student Nico. Checking things off her list turns out to be easy, but Tessa isn’t sure if it’s really going to help her find her words again–or the right guy for her own perfect ending in Happily Ever Afters (2021) by Elise Bryant.

Find it on Bookshop.

Happily Ever Afters is Bryant’s debut novel. The story is narrated by Tessa.

Having a Black father and a white mother, Tessa was used to never fitting in at her previous school where she and Caroline (who is Filipina) initially bonded as two of the only students of color. In addition to the culture shock of a conservatory program, Tessa is thrilled to find a much more diverse group of students at her new school as she bonds with new friends on her own for the first time.

Although Tessa struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, the novel is imbued with humor even as things go wrong. This levity is much needed to counter heavier parts of the story as Tessa balances her own life with the responsibilities and expectations her parents have for Tessa to help with her older brother Miles who has athetoid cerebral palsy which has led to mobility challenges and mental impairment.

While Tessa tries, with varying levels of success, to get closer to Nico, readers can appreciate Tessa’s swoony moments with neighbor and culinary arts student Sam. Both Tessa and Sam struggle with impostor syndrome as Tessa wonders if her romantic stories really “count” as creative writing while Sam tries to justify baking as an art to himself as much as to anyone else.

Happily Ever Afters is an ode to romance novels, creativity, and fandoms. A sweet story about how sometimes you have to learn to love yourself–and your passions–without apology before you can learn to love someone else.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett; Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne; Blackout by by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon; I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Felix Ever After: A Review

Felix Ever After by Kacen CallenderFelix Love has never been in love–an irony that weighs heavily on him as he starts the summer before his senior year in high school. Felix is mostly happy with his life and loves who he is but he also wonders as a Black, queer, transgender teen if he’s ever going to find his happy ending.

Felix knows he’s lucky to be fully accepted by his best friend Ezra and his classmates. He knows not all fathers would pay for their son’s top surgery or support his choice to be his true self. Felix reminds himself of that every time his father stumbles a little when he tries to call Felix by his name.

But there’s no excuse when someone in Felix’s summer art program puts up an exhibit with photos of Felix as a kid before he transitioned along with his deadname. When he starts receiving transphobic messages on Instagram, Felix decides it’s time to fight back.

Creating a secret profile to try and out his harasser should be simple since Felix is so sure it’s his longtime nemesis, Declan. But when Felix and Declan start talking, Felix realizes nothing is exactly as it seems–especially Felix’s own feelings for Declan and for Ezra in Felix Ever After (2020) by Kacen Callender.

Find it on Bookshop.

Felix has to deal with some heavy topics throughout the book including the anonymous transphobic harassment and offhand comments from classmates as well as his father’s mixed efforts to support Felix. Callender presents all of this thoughtfully and, thanks to Felix’s first person narration, keeps the focus on Felix’s own experiences without giving extra page time to his traumas. (One example: Although we see Felix being deadnamed–with his childhood photos and captions using the name Felix was given by his parents before he transitioned–in the rogue art exhibit, we do not ever see the actual name used in the book.)

Despite being his story, Felix is not always an easy character to cheer on as he embarks on his own catfishing scheme for revenge. That said, Felix learns a lot and grows a lot as the story progresses and he begins to stand up for himself and more fully understand his own gender identity.

With a flashy, feel-good finale at the New York City Pride parade, Felix Ever After is a summery, romantic story that will leave you with a smile on your face.

Possible Pairings: Simon Vs. the Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver, Some Girls Bind by Rory James, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Birthday by Meredith Russo, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi