February has come and gone, yes, but here to stay is a whole slew of phenomenal queer reads you need to get on your radar, stat. From coming-of-age Young Adult to sizzling Romance, nail-biting Mystery to Anthologies and Collections chock full of big name authors, the best of last month’s reads are a fantastic mix of subgenres that will leave you desperate for more once you hit that final page.
YA and New Adult
Prep school hijinx swiftly and deliciously turn to dead bodies and blackmail in Donna Mele’s People Like Us. When Kay finds the dead body of her classmate, Jessica, in the lake of the exclusive Bates Academy, it’s just the start of a downward spiral into lies and deceit as she hopes to keep her own past out of the spotlight. However, as police question Kay and fellow students, mysterious emails begin to arrive, seemingly from Jessica, that demand for Kay to out her classmates and air their dirty laundry for the whole school. If she refuses, she risks having her own secrets made public. The tenuous links between Jessica’s death and Kay’s own dark past are slowly revealed as bisexual Kay navigates all the social and academic minefields of prep school. While readers may think they know what will happen, it’s a testament to the author’s writing chops that I can assure them now: they don’t.
With its sensitive yet unflinching examination of domestic abuse and the long lasting effects it can have on a family, Amber Smith’s The Last to Let Go is not a book that shies away from difficult subject matter. When teenage Brooke arrives home to find her father dead, her mother arrested for his murder, and her younger sister Callie in complete shock, it takes all her strength to hold it together. With their mother in prison, Brooke and Callie move in with her mother’s best friend. However the younger sister’s refusal to speak forces Brooke to demand that they be allowed back home to regain some semblance of normal life.
Once there, they must come to grips with their new reality. The aftermath of abuse and death are not easy to understand or deal with, especially for children, but Brooke handles every day as it comes—sometimes happily imagining a relationship with a girl from school, and other times in deep depression. Her story is a dark one. However, the ups and downs she faces are one hundred percent relatable and demonstrate that, even in the face of pain and anger, hope is the one thing that cannot be taken from us.
A young women’s writing conference hardly seems the place to do much more than learn writing craft, but in the capable hands of Tom Wilinsky and Jen Sternick, it becomes a microcosm of reality—a place to meet new friends, establish relationships, grow, come of age, and oh yes, even fall in love. Sophie is a privileged socialite growing up in the ultra rich and insular upper echelons of Manhattan. Tess is her polar opposite: an aspiring servicewoman from New Hampshire.
Though they have seemingly nothing in common, both are aspiring writers, and both are queer. While Sophie is a vocal proponent of the latter, Tess chooses to hide it. After the girls meet and begin to hone their writing skills, their motivations and attraction to each other slowly begin to surface. Readers are given an in-depth and intimate look into the main characters’ lives, along with the lives of several other conference goers through personal interactions, nuanced reflection, and the written word. It’s a heady way to discover new characters that will leave itching to get your hands on more from these two authors.
Bold colors and playful artwork dominate this new queer offering from cartoonist Jen Wang. After one of her provocative gowns catches the eye of royalty, seamstress Frances is brought to the castle to create dresses for a mysterious client. The client is none other than the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom, Prince Sebastian himself. But why does the Prince need a dressmaker? Especially one who is not only innovative, but also discreet? The crux of the novel is discovering this, and the resulting relationship between the prince and his dressmaker is pure magic.
Zack is detail oriented and organized to a fault. He already has a regimented idea of how his life will play out, and that idea doesn’t include a partner until later—much, much later. His business, a climbing gym, is in need of a little saving, however, and that’s where entrepreneur Isaiah enters the picture. Isaiah shakes up the structure of Zack’s plans and the very fiber of his carefully ordered life. Zack wasn’t supposed to fall in lust and didn’t want to be in love with anyone for years, but Isaiah is making that impossible.
When the inevitable sparks fly, Zack must decide if Isaiah is what he wants and if he can be happy … even when his best laid plans are forced to adapt and, finally, change. Kris Ripper has a skilled eye for crafting believable and relatable relationships. The characters are never perfect—they have myriad tics and quirks that make them so very human—and it’s that realism that gives this particular story its edge. With a deft hand, Ripper is able to delve into the fundamentals of their relationship and give these two men a happily-ever-after that truly befits them.
Years ago, when American speed skater and notorious bad girl Blaze Bellamy encountered unassuming Canadian figure skater Maisy, it was love at first sight—or drunken lust, at the very least. Years later, the two find themselves together again and eager to pick things up where they left off. But is positive and open-minded lust enough to kickstart a relationship? The answer is a resounding yes! Tamsen Parker is well known for her hot, often erotic, romances. So with a sexy storyteller like her at the helm, it comes as no surprise that Fire on the Ice most definitely lives up to its name! The two main characters may be polar opposites, but their personalities temper one another, and the fragile balance they find both off and on the ice is enough to make them give a chance to something more.
Featuring original stories from Malinda Lo, Mackenzi Lee, Robin Talley, Kody Keplinger, Elliot Wake, Anna-Marie McLemore, Shaun David Hutchinson, Dahlia Adler, Tess Sharpe, Kate Scelsa, Natalie C. Parker, Sara Farizan, Nilah Magruder, Tessa Gratton, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Alex Sanchez, and Scott Tracey, this collection is jam-packed with queer retellings of age-old tales and brand new visions of times long gone. Crossing the boundaries of time and location, race and socio-economic status, readers can expect poignant and nuanced takes on heavy subject matter such as falling in love, redemption, grief, hope in the face of pain, and many more. Ultimately, the overall tone is a happy one, with characters getting their happily-ever-afters, whatever that looks like, and however that feels, for them.
With a stellar author line-up including Margaret Atwood, Gerard Way, Dana Simpson, Cecil Castellucci, Gabby Rivera, Valentine De Landro, Amy Chu, Sfé R. Monster, Michael Walsh, and many (many!) more, this particular collection focuses on the hidden love lives of geeks throughout the ages. Through mixed media—poetry, prose, comics, drawings—this collection explores the difficulties of growing up, falling in and out of love, becoming self-aware, and coming to terms with who you are and ultimately will be as a person.
Twenty-four intimate and unique narratives make up Hope Nation, a new collection of essays from some of the top names in YA. Running the gamut of social issues—race, religion, sex, identity, mental health, and more—this anthology asks a seemingly simple thing: for the reader to find hope in the face of adversity, to hold on to expectation where none should exist. Honestly, it’s a big ask, but these writers are more than up to the challenge. Through detailed, introspective prose, their message of hope unfolds organically and promises a bright future for all readers.
Featuring the talents of: Atia Abawi, Renee Ahdieh, Libba Bray, Howard Bryant, Ally Carter, Ally Condie, Christina Diaz Gonzales, Gayle Forman, Romina Garber, I. W. Gregario, Kate Hart, Bendan Kiely, David Levithan, Alex London, Marie Lu, Julie Murphy, Jason Reynolds, Aisha Saeed, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Jeff Zentner, and Nicola Yoon.
Judith is an avid reader and overly enthusiastic book pusher on her site, Binge on Books. In addition to writing for the The Mary Sue, you can also find Judith talking the latest in queer reads on Teen Vogue and HEA USA Today.
(images: respective publishers)
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