Category: LGBTQ+ Book Review

Running With Lions by Julian Winters

Running With Lions by Julian WintersI’m gonna be honest with you, full disclosure, I only started to read Running With Lions because I’d been told it was super queer. I’m not a soccer fan, am dubious about most team sports in fact, and wasn’t sure it would be my kinda thing at all. But I read it because I’m always here for the LGBTQ books, and I figured if it was good I could recommend it to others who might like it.

Predictable plot twist: I think this is one of the best LGBTQ YA novels I’ve read this year.

This book is getting a lot of love online, all of it deserved. I think one reason people are so passionate about it is that it speaks to its readers on so many levels. For those who read wanting to see themselves in a book, there is an outstanding range of people represented (sexuality, gender, religion, race, ethnicity – all are dealt with sensitively and effortlessly). For those who read wanting to be taken into a world that isn’t theirs, I guarantee you’ll finish the book wanting to play Soccer (admittedly very briefly, my consideration of team sports lasted a whole hour, but for that hour I was deeply passionate about my new love).

It’s one of those brilliantly written YA novels that is so subtle at drawing you in and getting you inside the minds of characters whose voices are so strong they seem like friends you’ve always known. I did love main character Sebastian and found him rather charming, but I totally fell in love with Emir.

This fantastic novel is the summer soccer camp romance between a bisexual American goalie and his gay British Pakistani former-best-friend-now-enemy YA novel that you’ve been waiting for. This is a funny, uplifting, sexy, romantic, and bloody excellent novel! I can’t wait to read what Julian Winters writes next.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher but I’ll be buying my own copy very soon and you should too – you won’t regret it!


Publisher: Duet
Genres: LGBTQ+, Contemporary, Young Adult
Published: 7th June 2018
Available to buy now

Noah Could Never by Simon James Green

Noah Could Never by Simon James GreenLast year Noah Can’t Even made us all fall in love with the chaotic and mostly hapless Noah Grimes (sorry Noah, we love you, but how do you get yourself into these situations?). This year, be prepared to launch yourself back into Noah’s whirlwind of drama and angst, with the brilliant follow-up Noah Could Never.

Now that Noah and best friend Harry are boyfriends, how is this going to change their friendship? What if Harry decides he’s actually not that interested in weedy Noah but would prefer the much sexier French exchange student Pierre? What disasters will befall Noah when his gran’s diamonds are stolen and he finds himself in the middle of an epic drag queen feud?

I adored Noah Can’t Even and had high expectations going into Book 2. I was worried it might not be as funny, I was worried that it might just be more of the same high-jinks chaos. I didn’t need to worry. Yes, it’s just as funny. Yes, it’s the same chaos you’d expect from Noah Grimes. However, there is so much heart to Noah Could Never. Noah’s life isn’t just a series of chaotic mistakes, they’re believable episodes in the life of someone unsure of themselves and trying to find their way.

I loved that characters we saw briefly in Book 1 (e.g. Bambi Sugapops) are fully realised and developed. I loved that Harry, who we know a bit from Book 1, is explored in greater depths as a person, not just in his relation to Noah. I love that there’s more Gran and I identify with her sassiness in so many ways.

Noah Could Never is the perfect follow-up to the first book. It’s full of emotion, drama, humour, and love. Plus, it made me cry lots, in a good way.

Book 3? I would very much love a book written from Harry’s perspective because I adore him so much, but anything featuring more of the adventures of Noah would be very welcome.  Another Book 3 suggestion – Bambi Sugapops, the Novel – you know it makes sense Simon!

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Publisher:  Scholastic
Genres: YA, LGBTQ+, Contemporary, Funny
Published:  7th June 2018
Available to buy now

Books That Made Me: LGBT Fiction

In the final part of my Books That Made Me series of posts, I’m going to be recommending some of the books I’ve loved that have had a big influence on my life and don’t fit into any of the categories I’ve looked at so far (Non-Fiction and YA Fiction).

In my first post I talked about the lack of LGBT voices in the literature I read growing up, and how desperate I was to find any characters I felt represented who I was. Since officially becoming an adult I’ve discovered many books that almost make me cry with how much they speak about who I am, and I’m discovering new ones every day.

Below are three recommendations of the books that I think have had the biggest impact on who I am and how I see the world:

The Story of the Night  – Colm Tóibín
This novel is a powerful tale of the conflict between who we are and who the world sees. Set in Argentina and moves from the Falklands war to the spectre of AIDS. It’s a story of secrets and fear but is ultimately a story of complicated love.

 

 

 


Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman

I think my goal in life is to be able to write something as beautiful as this novel. An exquisite romance between a teenage boy and a young man that blossoms during a hot summer on the Italian Riviera. Full of sensuality, obsession, passion, and intimacy it’s a perfect novel for hot summer days and cold nights when you want to pretend you’re basking in the sunshine.

 

 

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
This novel is one of those quiet, almost understated stories, that sinks deep without you realising. A mesmerising story of a young woman’s numerous conflicts: in the country she’s growing up in, with the society she lives in, with her mother, and with her own identity. A beautiful and hopeful love story unlike any I’ve read before.

 

 

 

 

 

Books That Made Me: YA Fiction

I’ve never cared much about getting older, and I try not to regret things from the past, but do I wish YA fiction had been available when I was a teenager, hell yeah!

There are many reasons that I read, write, and love YA: it pushes boundaries and explores topics other fiction is scared to go near, it gives a voice to teenagers who are frequently pushed to the side and their opinions dismissed. One of the things I love most about YA is the amount of LGBTQ+ that can be found among the pages, which makes it relevant to me, and speaks to me in a way that a lot of “adult” fiction never did.

I don’t think YA fiction is perfect or has it sorted in terms of representation. There is still a lot of trans characters being written by cis writers, there is a lot of gay and lesbian teenage characters being brought to life by straight writers, and there is still an under-representation of colour, bisexual, intersex, genderqueer, asexual YA characters. What YA does have is a passion for is pushing this forward and for getting better, and that seems something to be optimistic about.

Below are a few of my recommendations of YA books I think everyone should read:

   Simon James Green – Noah Can’t Even
I won’t go on and on and on about how much I love this book (you can read my review here) but my first recommendation is the very British, utterly cringe-inducing, hilarious life of Noah Grimes. I’ve read reviewers describe Noah as gay, I read him as probably bisexual, when my girlfriend read the book she wondered if he was asexual. I think this book is a brilliantly written exploration of a young man who is confused about his sexuality, wondering what it says about him and obsessed with what other people think.
 Meredith Russo – If I Was Your Girl
One of the few novels I’ve read with a trans character written by a trans writer, and it shows. A story of a trans girl growing up in America and trying to navigate the line between honesty, being yourself, and protecting yourself from the prejudice still so prevalent for all trans people.
 David Levithan – Two Boys Kissing
This novel is about more than just two boys trying to break the world record for the longest kiss, there are four stories interwoven into the novel, all related to boys coming to terms with coming out and the reactions of the people around them. The overall narrator is the voice of an older generation of gay men who have lost their lives to AIDS. It is these narrators that really start to pull the emotional punches as they lament the glorious possibilities the lives of young men have now, possibilities that were so cruelly denied to them.
   Nina LaCour & David Levithan – You Know Me Well
I couldn’t write a blog post to coincide with Pride month without including this fantastic novel. Told in alternating view points it follows the story of Kate and Mark who become best friends after one moment of bonding in a gay bar. It shows LGBTQ+ young people comfortable with their sexuality and receiving support from the people around them. We need more novels that explore LGBTQ+ friendships and that explore the importance of having friends.

What I want to read more of is books that feature more genderqueer teens, more bisexual teens, more non-white characters – and if these could be British that would be amazing. Give me your recommendations of the best YA you’ve read recently.

This post is part three of my Books That Made Me series. You can read part one here.

Books That Made Me: Trans voices

I often wonder what decisions I would make if I were a young adult now and had available to me the amount of information, in the form of blog posts, youtube videos, and books, that trans people are putting out into the world. So much of what we read about being trans comes from cisgender voices attempting to understand or diminish the lives of trans people.

In the last 12 months I have read some amazing articles and books that have helped me come to a better understanding of all the ways in which gender can be present and represented in a person and I want to share some of these with you.

Mark Gevisser’s 2014 article Self-Made Man is one of the more respectful articles I’ve found looking at the lives of trans young people. I’ve recommended it to many cisgender people who find the topics of gender-identity, and the terminology that comes with it, hard to get their head around. As a genderqueer person I found it a well written sympathetic piece that, at the very least, is a good start.

 

 

The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry
A fascinating insight exploring masculinity in the world today. Grayson Perry offers his own view on the damage that ideas of masculinity do to boys, men, and the rest of society. He offers, with intelligence and sensitivity, a vision of a different way that men can be. A thought provoking book that raises more questions than it answers.

 

 

 


C N Lester – Trans Like Me
An engagingly written book that deftly combines memoir, opinion, and academic research. It presents the journey for trans people from history (distant and recent) to current challenges, on to future hopes. Exploring the full spectrum of gender identity, this book offers the best explanation of trans I have ever read, challenging what we think we know and seeking a better way to live.

 

 

 

Juno Dawson – The Gender Games
In this no holds barred memoir Juno Dawson lays bare her life, thoughts, and hopes for the future as a trans woman. This is a personal story of Juno’s experiences and is told with humor, passion, and a clear love for all people to understand one another and support our journeys as we stand up against the ever-present forces of Gender.

This book is a fascinating look into the life of one trans woman, who is quick to point out she is not speaking for every trans person, and can only speak for her own experiences. It’s worth reading to understand how our experiences differ from each other, and the ways in which they’re similar. If you’re not a trans man or woman then I would urge you to read this book, it is definitely for you! It will make you look again at what you thought you knew about gender and reassess the bullshit way it affects all our lives.

 

Thomas Page McBee – Man Alive

A deeply personal memoir describing one man’s journey to discover what it means to be a man. Thomas Page McBee is a trans man who has written an honest, emotional, and oftentimes necessarily uncomfortable account. Through memories of child abuse and adult violence, Thomas talks with empathy and compassion about how he faced the journey for the truth of who he was and where he fitted into his family and the world. This memoir is beautifully written, with even the most harrowing events told with a light touch that makes the reader unable to do anything but sympathise with the circumstances that lead people to make the decisions.

Writing this article I was struck by how all these books are from white writers. These books aren’t difficult to find and are widely publicised by their publishers, so I wonder where the voices are from trans people of colour, are they being written? Are they being published? Please recommend me some if you’ve read any.

This post is the second of my BooksThatMadeMe series. You can find post three here.

The Books That Made Me

Coming of age and coming out in the 1980s & 90s, the books that I had access to consisted of the very small village library, and even smaller library in my Catholic high school – not so much queerness there. We didn’t have the money to buy books, and there was no internet, so I relied on librarians to provide me with a queer education.

I relished the opportunity to read anything that hinted at gender non-conformity, homosexuality, women’s sexuality (not for the male gaze), but my options were limited.

 

I don’t remember how I knew about Oscar Wilde and his history, but I was definitely already aware of his sexaulity when I found a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray tucked away in a corner of my school library.  I checked it out and remember reading it on the school bus, copying down into my notebook the lines that moved me deeply, even though I had no idea why. I don’t think I understood the book at all when I first read it aged 13, but I read it every year after that until it finally hit me just what story Oscar was telling.

 

When I was 15 I spent £1 on a book of short stories that, I’m not gonna lie, I totally bought just because it had a naked woman on the cover. I hadn’t heard of Anais Nin, had no idea what the book would be like, and oh my was I in for an education. Never before had I read stories from the perspective of a strong woman in charge of her own sexuality and desires. It completely changed my life and I realised that it was possible to be a woman and to be powerful when it came to sex.

A move to a bigger town when I was 16 meant I finally had access to a larger public library, but it was still hard to find books by LGBTQ authors or about LGBTQ characters. I spent hours scouring the shelves reading blurbs, desperate to find anything even vaguely not-heterosexual. My rescue came in the form of an amazing English teacher, and an introduction to Jeanette Winterson.

I remember watching Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit on TV, so when my A’Level English teacher gave us the book to read, I knew what to expect. I finished it in a day, and took great enjoyment from watching my fellow classmates uncomfortably try to discuss it without actually saying the L word. At the end of one class my teacher said to me, a throw-away comment as I exited the room, “the college library has a few other Winterson books”. I don’t think I’ve ever run towards a library so quickly.


Jeanette Winterson
was my first literary love. I’d never read books that I knew were written by a lesbian author, books that blurred the lines of sexuality, gender, feminism, and history. Every time I re-read one of the books I first devoured as a teenager, I find something new that I didn’t appreciate the first time.

 

I grew up at a time when it was illegal to talk about being gay in school, when the only LGBTQ representaions on TV or film were gay men or lesbian women, who usually ended up alone, miserable, or dead. Trans representations were restricted to men who wear women’s clothing and are the punchline of jokes. AIDS was a terrifying spectre used to demonise an entire community and keep us in our place.

One of the things that lead me to become a librarian was a passionate belief in the importance of libraries. If it wasn’t for my public and school libraries, I would never have been able to read these tiny glimpses into queer life.

There are so many more great works of LGBTQ literature and non-fiction that I could have read growing up, but many were deemed inappropriate, banned, or hidden away from the teenagers like me who desperately needed them.

I’m trying to make up for this now by reading as many LGBTQ books as I can, from those published in previous centuries, to not yet published future classics. I’ll be posting a lot more blog posts about these in the days and weeks to come and discussing some of the more recent additions to the #BooksThatMadeMe

This is the first post in my Books That Made Me series. You can read post two on trans voices now

Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green

33961524With his debut novel Simon James Green has written one of the funniest books I have ever read. I wouldn’t recommend reading whilst eating (I nearly choked) or whilst drinking (I nearly spat my tea all over the pages and ruined them) or whilst…sitting (I nearly fell off my chair laughing). I may be being too cautious, but the danger is real!

Noah Grimes is painfully awkward, socially uncomfortable, and has an amazing knack for getting himself (or talking himself) into the most ridiculous situations.

Noah’s life is already difficult enough, trying to stop everyone finding out his mum does a Beyonce tribute act, and trying to get Sophie to like him, but his world is turned upside down when his best friend Harry kisses him at a party. What follows is a turbulent journey through Noah’s path of self-discovery.

Noah is an incredibly likable character and is written with a distinctive voice unlike anything I’ve read recently. Funny, charming, emotional, and an outstanding exploration of a young man trying to understand his sexuality whilst also trying to just be as normal as everyone else. I love this book so much, and I really hope we get to read more of Noah’s adventures in future.

Publisher:  Scholastic
Genres: LGBTQ+, Contemporary, Young Adult
Published:  May 4th 2017
I bought my copy of Noah Can’t Even from Wordery

Where to start with: Sarah Waters

If I’m going to keep this post in line with other Where to start with posts then I shouldn’t be recommending the book everyone has probably heard of, Tipping the Velvet. But love affairs in music halls is not a bad place to start.

Sarah Waters is sometimes summarised as writing “historical lesbian fiction” but whilst that is true, her books are so much more then that sweeping generalisation would have you believe.


The Paying Guests
brings us to 1922, when the aftermath of the war is starting to change people’s lives. Frances and her mother can no longer afford their house without taking in lodgers and when Lilian and Leonard Barber move in, Frances is captivated by the modern style and attitude Lilian introduces. The effect the paying guests have on Frances and her mother is told with Sarah Waters’ typical sensuous and rich language, deftly creating drama and suspense through her portrayal of flawed but utterly real characters.

 

When I first read Fingersmith I was describing it to everyone as “Dickensian lesbians”. This flippant remark wasn’t only because of the setting of the novel, but the themes of poverty and desperation. The manipulation of women by men is a current that runs throughout the many twists and turns of this brilliant novel. Sarah Waters chooses each word so carefully that you can’t help but feel the tension and barely disguised sensuality present in most chapters.

 

 

Check out all Sarah Waters’ books on her website

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

It’s hard to know what else you can possibly add to a book that already has all the glowing reviews in the world. There is a reason some books are hyped, and everyone says “you need to read this”, because sometimes it’s true.

What Belongs To You tells the story of an American teacher living in Bulgaria who first meets Mitko in a public bathroom, where he pays him for sex. Throughout the subsequent years Mitko’s continued involvement in his life gives us a view into a relationship that is hard to define.

This is an intimate story detailing every minute aspect of a mans life as he tries to navigate his way between the deep sensual attachment he has to Mitko, and the undercurrent of violence and anger always present. Theirs is a relationship of obsession, lust, love, and dependence.

Garth Greenwell’s writing is effortlessly exquisite, building beautiful sentences that call out to be re-read and re-read time and again.

I love books that detail the small connections between two people and What Belongs To You is one of the most honest and human portrayals of that intimacy that I have read in a long time.

What Belongs To You is on the longlist for the Green Carnation Prize and I bought my copy from Wordery

 

How to talk about a plague

It was 1987 and my mum told me a story about her day at work. She’s a nurse and that day she was working in A&E, attending to patients waiting to go up to a ward. She tells me how she started her shift being told by another nurse “that patient has been asking for water, I’m not taking it to him, you do it.” Baffled, she asked why that nurse, and others, were refusing to take water to a patient. “He’s got AIDS”, my mum was told, as if this was answer enough for why a nurse would refuse to go near a patient. Mum thought, ‘well, I have no idea what that is, but I’m a nurse, so I’m going to help a patient’. She spent all night trying to get hold of the patients partner, a married man who was unaware his partner was possibly hours away from death.

I was 7 years old when my mum told me this story. It’s hard to imagine, for anyone who was born after the first cases of HIV were diagnosed, what it was like at the start. The lack of information on what this new disease was, the lies and rumours about how it was spread (even after it was known how, the denials that it was anything other than a gay disease).

There are some great novels and works of non-fiction that can educate and enrich your understanding of what life was like when this disease began to destroy lives, so I’m going to recommend a few you may want to start with.

If you want to learn more about just how horrific a time it was for those infected and their family and friends, you should start with How to Survive a Plague by David France. This book (and there is a documentary of the same name available) tells the story of a group of activists whose tireless campaigning changed forever the availability of drugs to combat HIV.

 

 

Paul Monette’s memoir Borrowed Time (which I reviewed a few years ago) is a devastating first-hand account of AIDS. Published in 1998 it is an intimate account of love and loss which has haunted me since the day I first read it.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt in a novel which brings HIV into the lives of young people through the eyes of a 14 year old who loses her beloved uncle to the disease. She has to confront prejudice and secrets caused by both HIV and homophobia within her family and her community.

The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín is a novel which doesn’t focus on AIDS as a central theme, but where the disease seeps its way into every aspect of the character’s life. Set in Argentina in the 1980s it tells the story of Richard, his family struggles, and relationship difficulties, set against a backdrop of political turmoil.

I’ve recommended the books above because these are the ones that I’ve read, but there are many more that explore the early days of AIDS and its effect on individuals, communities, and the world. Let me know your recommendations of any you’ve read. I really want to read some contemporary novels that deal with HIV so any recommendations are welcome.