30 Days of Pride: Memoirs

Hi everyone,

I really haven’t been a big memoir or nonfiction reader in the past (like….really not at all), and it’s something I want to remedy in 2020! Whilst the first half of the year I’ve completely failed at that goal (I’ve read a grand total of 1 and that was two weeks ago), I’m going to be making a big effort to fix this over the next 6 months. So I thought I’d give a shout out to some of the queer memoirs and biographies that I’m aiming to read in the next few months!

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House is the memoir I’ve read, and I just read it a few weeks ago! I am in awe of Carmen Maria Machado and the strength it must have taken to live through this, but also to relive it when she wrote this book. In the Dream House is a memoir about living through an abusive queer relationship. It is so powerful, every single sentence has been written so carefully. I was absolutely blown away.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

This was a very recent purchase so I haven’t quite had time to read it yet, but I’m so excited to! This is a collection of essays by LGBTQIA+ activist George M Johnson. All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, family and Black joy.

Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno

Releasing on August 1, Tomboyland is an essay collection about gender and identity in the American Midwest, following Melissa’s journey through life and questions gender, queerness and class, and how our upbringing impacts these.

When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

Patrisse Khan-Cullors is one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is her memoir, about her life growing up as a queer Black woman in America, and the hashtag that birthed the BLM movement.

We Have Always Been Here by Samira Habib

We Have Always Been Here is a queer Muslim memoir. Samira Habib tells of her childhood in Pakistan as an Ahmadi Muslim, a small sect that faces threats from Islamic extremists who believe them to be blasphemous. She talks of her move to Canada, the bullies and racism she faced there, and her journey exploring sexuality, faith and love.

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

The only biography on this list, The Trauma Cleaner is a book about the life of Sandra Pankhurst, a trans woman, drag queen, sex worker and founder of a trauma cleaning business, who faced a lifetime of transphopbia and hate but fought through to create a business that would help people at their worst.

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

From award-winning poet Saeed Jones, this is a coming-of-age memoir about a gay, Black, Southern man. How We Fight For Our Lives is both a love letter to Jones’ mother and an examination of race and queerness in the US.

Sissy: a Coming of Gender Story by Jacob Tobia

I just picked up a copy of this at my local library and can’t wait to jump in! (Update at time of scheduling: okay I’ve actually jumped into this and so far it’s so good, and is very confronting in the way it reveals the horrific impact of enforcing gender norms on young kids). This looks like it will be both amusing as well as a blueprint for transinclusive feminism. It’s described as a memoir about growing up wondering if “you’re (a) a boy, (b) a girl, (c) something in between, or (d) all of the above”.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Sister Outsider is a collection of speeches and essays from Black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde. This collection examines class, racism, sexism, homophobia, and ageism.

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

And last but very much not least is the only graphic novel on this list, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. I won’t lie, I was highly intrigued over this graphic novel from one sentence in the blurb “bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction”. I’m already sold. But if you need to know more, this autobiography started as a way to help Maia come out to eir family as nonbinary and asexual, and is a guide to the meaning of gender identity and how to think about it.

I hope you’ve found a few books to add to your TBRs! Do you need memoirs often? If you have any recommendations, do let me know in the comments as I’m keen to read a lot more!

30 Days of Pride: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Title: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Publication date: 4 February 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary | Romance

Page extent: 314 pages


Goodreads blurb: As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

The Gravity of Us is YA for space nerds. It was a fun and enjoyable read but lacked substance for me. It felt very familiar to K.Ancrum’s The Weight of the Stars, with just a bit more focus on the space science and a little less focus on the excellent character development. Which is probably why I thought The Weight of the Stars did gay space YA better.

The Gravity of Us follows teen journalist Cal as his family is uprooted from his home in Brooklyn to Texas, after his dad gets a job as the last astronaut on a mission to Mars. But when they get there, Cal’s journalism reveals unhappy truths about the project, and he needs to find a way to tell his family without hurting them.

The Gravity of Us very much hearkened back to the 60s era space race. The energy and passion in the book brought that era into a modern day setting, with new reality TV show ShootingStars following the drama in the astronauts lives. This felt so realistic and I could 100% imagine exactly this book happening if we ever did start a mission to go to Mars. I liked the emphasis on the fakeness of reality shows, it felt like a (lighter) version of Unreal, a show I absolutely adore for the way it utterly takes down reality shows like The Bachelor. It also started a journey to exploring the reasons behind space travel, thanks to the focus on the less central employees (i.e. not the astronauts) at NASA and their reasonings for joining the program. But I wish it had gone deeper. There’s a few vague ‘but what if this could change the future for the better’ lines but nothing that goes beyond surface level arguments for space travel, which I think would have made this more interesting.

There is also both anxiety and depression rep in this book, which is really great to see. However, both of these felt a little surface level 101 representation. Leon was sad. Cal’s mum didn’t like parties because she’s anxious. And….that was about the entirety of their mental health rep. Cal’s anxiety was better handled, it felt more fleshed out and delves deeper into the real impacts of living with anxiety, such as the way Cal always feels the needs to fix things, to want to be seen as a normal family etc. I wanted the secondary characters to be more fleshed out. Which leads to my main issue with the book: everything felt very surface level, except for Cal himself. It felt like the Cal show. I appreciated The Gravity of Us shows Cal fucking up multiple times, and him trying to change and realising his mistakes. But I couldn’t quite forgive the time he spent trying to change Leon. The way Cal handled Leon’s depression just felt….yeah not good. I don’t know how to put it into words. It felt like he didn’t understand (and didn’t really try to understand) how Leon’s depression appears. Cal spent a lot of time thinking about his mum’s anxiety, and about situations that would make her uncomfortable (the aforementioned parties), which is great to see a kid taking that kind of care with their parents! But why didn’t he do that with Leon as well? It made Leon’s depression seem less important, and less life-impacting, than anxiety.

But despite my issues with the book, as this isn’t a particularly deep book, my problems with it are therefore not particularly deep either. It was fun and cute, the romance was sweet, it was cool reading about a modern day space age and I liked the focus on the scientists and their passion in this book. I feel like most of my issues probably stem from the fact I went it knowing this had a very similar pitch to The Weight of the Stars and subconciously thinking I would get something similar. And K.Ancrum is particularly brilliant at writing difficult, sometimes dark, and deep discussions into her work so I think I expected a bit more of that, rather than all cute, sweet romance. But that’s my fault!

If you’re looking for a fun, light gay romance, or looking for a contemporary book with a bit of a space geek edge, then I totally recommend this book to you! If you’re looking for particularly deep discussions about space exploration or detailed mental health representation, this isn’t for you. But it does cute romance well.

Book review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Title: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication date: 3 March 2020

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romance

Page extent: 288 pages


Goodreads blurb: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease.

Summer love…gone so fast.

Ollie and Will were meant to be a summer fling—casual, fun, and done. But when Ollie’s aunt’s health takes a turn for the worse and his family decides to stay in North Carolina to take care of her, Ollie lets himself hope this fling can grow to something more. Dreams that are crushed when he sees Will at a school party and finds that the sweet and affectionate (and comfortably queer) guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.

Will is more than a little shocked to see Ollie the evening of that first day of school. While his summer was spent being very much himself, back at school he’s simply known as one of the varsity basketball guys. Now Will is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: follow his heart and risk his friendships, or stay firmly in the closet and lose what he loves most.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

All I have to say is HOLY F*CK, THIS IS EVERYTHING. 

Only Mostly Devastated is an incredibly brilliant, all consuming, 90s rom-com film in book form and it is amazing. Described as Simon vs the Homosapiens meets Clueless, by way of Grease, I can say with 100% confidence it is definitely that. This is a brilliantly fun, contemporary romance with reminiscent ties to all my favourite rom-com films of the 90s. In other words: this is my childhood and it’s super gay.

I fell in love with this book from the very first page:

It was late afternoon, on the very last Wednesday of August, when I realised Disney had been lying to me for quite some time about Happily Ever Afters.

The protagonist, Ollie, has been ghosted by the person he had been hooking up with over Summer. And now, instead of returning to his home and friends in California, his family will be staying in North Carolina to help out with his Aunt’s family, as his Aunt has cancer. Uprooted, and to top it all, late to his very first day of school, he probably doesn’t quite expect to see the very person he’s been hooking up with all summer at his school. But of course, this is a book reinvigorating the 90s romcom genre and so of course that’s exactly what happens. The only problem is that Ollie’s Prince Charming isn’t out at school. And thus pretends he has nothing to do with Ollie at all. What follows is a rapid whirlwind of teen romance, showcasing the trials of love and the fear and anxiety that comes with owning up to who you are. 

The writing style is utterly to die for. Ollie’s voice is exceptionally strong, he is snarky, sarcastic and completely hilarious. It felt like taking a walk through my own brain. I loved him so much.

I loved how overly dramatic he was (“after finding an appropriately melancholy playlist on Spotify”).

I loved his hidden throwbacks to the books’ comps (“I’d end up pining over him, all hopelessly devoted and hurt”).

I loved the hilarious honesty in admission of his own flaws (“It totally went against my personal philosophy of overanalysing everything and only taking risks when there was a 5 percent or less chance of failure”.) I mean, what a mood.

But most of all, I adore Ollie’s strong viewpoint on the most important issues impacting us all: “A sweaty red skittle is worth three green skittles.” A truer line has never been spoken.

The romance was a slow burn, angst filled, and yet somehow totally and utterly joyful mess of love. The book discusses themes around coming out and the difficulties of doing so. It also does so well at picturing the struggles of those on both sides: of the pain and hurt of those needing to stay hidden, who feel ashamed their partner doesn’t want to be seen with them; but also the fear and terror of those not yet out, of their panic at upending their lives and not knowing how to do it. 

Only Mostly Devastated is beautifully queer at its core. Alongside Ollie and Will are a host of characters, queer and not, who make this book the dazzling queer masterpiece it is. From the testosterone filled jock standing up for his bisexual crush, to Lara’s coming to terms and acceptance of her sexuality, this book is just heaven. I personally admired Lara’s struggles, and the discussions of the validity of bisexuality. Lara keeps herself, hidden behind this incredibly tough exterior, but as she opens up, you see how vulnerable and loyal she really is. She is an absolute gem of a character and I need to embody her sassiness way more in my day to day life. 

Alongside the romance, is the heartbreaking story of cancer and the impact it can have on entire families. It speaks of the strength of those fighting the disease, and the strength their families have to continue on and it was so emotional – please do take note if this is something that might particularly affect you, as these scenes do get incredibly emotional. 

All in all, I found Only Mostly Devastated to be the queer romcom I needed in my youth. It makes me think of all my favourite movies as a teen from Grease, to 10 Things I Hate About You. The writing style is fantastically deadpan and sarcastic and there were so many moments to laugh at, I absolutely loved this one!

Book review: The Library of the Unwritten by A.J Hackwith

Title: The Library of the Unwritten by A.J Hackwith

Publisher: Ace Books

Publication date: 1 October 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Adult

Page extent: 384 pages


Goodreads blurb: In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth.

This book is SO. FUN. I went in thinking wow, what a cool concept, and then it nailed everything and I’m so happy that a book I was anticipating lived up to all my hopes and dreams! Not only is this a fun, queer fantasy about angels and demons and librarians, but it is funny and snarky and I loved it.

Claire is Hell’s Librarian. Controlling the Unwritten Wing, Claire manages the collection of unwritten books, those ideas that an author has not yet written. But sometimes the books come to life. Claire must then hunt down the characters who escape and bring them back to the library. When she visits Earth to track down Hero, a character who escaped to go find his author, she encounters a scrap of paper that claims to be the Devil’s bible, which of course sets off a fight between heaven and hell.

I was immediately entranced with this library and the world. The writing is beautifully detailed and made for a wonderful experience just in the prose. It felt so immersive and I often find that detailed writing like this was brings me out of a story, or makes me struggle to connect – but this definitely didn’t. It was the perfect balance between detail and drama/tension. The story is immediately mysterious and throws out several questions to keep the reader interested and reading on: What’s up with Leto’s random appearance? Why was Brevity kicked out the Muses? Why is Claire so mysterious about the previous Librarian before her? What is the Devil’s Bible? It makes for such an exciting read.

I really enjoyed the exercepts from the Librarian’s handbook at the start of each chapter. Giving insights into the workings of the library as well as hinting at past and future events, much like many more of my recent favourite reads, I love the power these give me! I love knowing things the character might not know about what’s about to happen.

One of my favourite elements was the snark. Oh my god there’s so much snarkiness, I found the writing really funny. I adore snarky, sarcastic characters and there were so many sections I laughed at, then read it immediately aloud, completely out of context, to my partner.

“Lucifer’s our ruler, not a dark wizard, Leto. You can say his name,” Claire muttered.”

I also adored, of course, how inherently queer this world and these characters were. Queerness just existed. It was brought up several times so easily – the word pansexual is used in relation to the main character ( which I think might be the first time I’ve seen that actually written and acknowledged in fantasy?!? Which is awesome?!?), then the fact Hero just openly flirts and blushes with everyone, the way Leto’s back story hints at him being with a guy, it’s just all so wonderfully done. The world also very subtly portrays an Earth that sounds like it actually improved from where we are now. Little things, like the way there’s no guns in the library because humans stopped imagining them, just made it seem a more joyful and hopeful world which I really appreciated.

Our main characters are just as fun and engaging as everything else. We have:
♥️ Claire, our no-nonsense, calm and collected (outwardly…), Librarian, who’s seemingly hiding something about her past relationship with the previous Librarian, as well as her past as an Unwritten Author herself
♥️ Leto, the demon (possibly) who delivered the instruction to go to Earth in the first place, teenage boy who doesn’t know who he is or why he’s here
♥️ Brevity, short bundle of joy in a blue skinned, green haired bundle who must learn to have faith in herself to save the library
♥️ Andras, who of course is going to be odd and eccentric and creepy when he’s called the Arcanist, the mentor figure who trained Claire after the mysterious disappearance of the previous Librarian
♥️ Hero, who I think might be my favourite because I love his sass, the escaped character from the book, who blushes when people flirt with him and learns how to love others across the book, gosh he is such a precious bean and no one must hurt him

We then have the angels, those heaven bound creatures determined to gain control of the Devil’s Bible themselves:
♥️ Ramiel, fallen angel who’s trying to use this quest to get back in the good books with God and get let back inside of heavens gates
♥️ Uriel, the face of God, justice and righteousness, and all around bitch

This unlikely ragtag team must save the library! And the world of course….that too!

The Library of the Unwritten is an absolute joy to read from start to end. I absolutely loved it (can you tell?!) and I feel like this is going to be the novel I spent all year trying to push other people to reading. It’s unashamedly queer and fresh and funny and brings a new story and twist to the library setting. Bring on the sequel!