Well, Pride Month is over. Now it’s Wrath Month. Just kidding… mostly. Anyway, I bring that up because I read exclusively queer books this June (with one exception). I’m really proud of my reading because I feel like I really read diversely as well. As a cis white lesbian, it’s important to not just read about people like me but about my fellow LGBTQ folk.
In June, I read six books. Four were novels, one was a novella, and one was a memoir. Of the novels and novellas, one was YA and four were adult. I read mostly fantasy, but one was a romance novel. I also read and reviewed one ARC this month. Honestly, I’d say I had a great reading month because I also didn’t rate anything below 4 stars.
Here’s what I thought about everything I read in June!
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young
Summary: For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to breathe in America is enough to induce a ceaseless state of angst where questions such as “How should I react here, as a professional black person?” and “Will this white person’s potato salad kill me?” are forever relevant.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him.
It’s a condition that’s sometimes stretched to absurd limits: creating the farce where, as a teen, he wished for a white person to call him a racial slur just so he could fight him and have a great story about it; provoking the angst that made him question if “being straight” was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble; and generating the surreal experience of watching his Pittsburgh neighborhood gentrify from predominantly Black to “Portlandia . . . but with Pierogies.”
And, at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white.
From one of our most respected cultural observers, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a hilarious and honest debut that is both a celebration of the idiosyncrasies and distinctions of Blackness and a critique of white supremacy and how we define masculinity.
My Thoughts: I picked this book out when I saw it at the bookstore and the title caught my eye. This is the kind of memoir, I imagine, that feels familiar to those who’ve shared experiences with the author (in this case, the Black community) and opens the eyes of those of us who haven’t.
Young balances humor, vulnerability, and seriousness beautifully. I cried reading “Living While Black Killed My Mom.” I enjoyed watching Young acknowledge times he’d been wrong, grow from them, and do better. And I saw a bit more intimately what life is like for a Black person in America.
My only criticism is that some of these essays feel like they go on too long or like Young jumps around too much before weaving threads together to make his ultimate point. Overall, this was an engaging read and definitely one of the better memoirs I’ve read.
Queer Rep: None
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (ARC)
Summary: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I just didn’t connect with it as fully as I have with Shades of Magic and Villains. It could be because I had to read it on my phone. It could be because it isn’t as dark or eventful as I’d expected. I don’t know. I’d actually really like to reread it when it comes out to see if I like it better the second time.
As a thematic read, it’s incredible. As a character study, it’s really good. But it’s just missing that special something. I hope rereading it as a physical book will make me fall head over heels for it. Full review here!
Queer Rep: MC and her love interest are both bisexual; lesbian side character; gay side character; author is gay
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
Summary: Yetu holds the memories for her people— water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners— who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one— the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities— and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past— and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity— and own who they really are.
Inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping for the This American Life episode “We Are In The Future,” The Deep is vividly original and uniquely affecting.
My Thoughts: This was a wonderful and layered story about generational trauma and what it means to hold that trauma. Inspired by the song of the same name by clipping., which was in turn inspired by a song by Drexciya, Rivers Solomon creates a world born of tragedy and grief but molded into something beautiful and hopeful. It’s also super queer, featuring same-sex relationships and a non-binary character (Solomon is non-binary themselves, as well). I only wish this book were longer so it could’ve explored the interpersonal relationships a bit more. Other than that, this novella was a joy to read.
Queer Rep: Budding F/F relationship; asexual-coded character; author is non-binary
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Summary: Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for… and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after— the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable— she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
My Thoughts: This story is pretty standard fare for YA, but still good. Though many of its bare bones have been done before, the world Ngan creates, the topics she tackles, and the romance she writes makes it fresh. And yes, I will freely admit the main reason I enjoyed this book was the F/F romance. But I also appreciate how Ngan subverted some of the usually tropes we see in YA fantasy. All in all, this was a good read and I will be continuing the series.
Queer Rep: MC has F/F relationship; author is queer
Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner
Summary: Hollywood powerhouse Jo is photographed making her assistant Emma laugh on the red carpet, and just like that, the tabloids declare them a couple. The so-called scandal couldn’t come at a worse time— threatening Emma’s promotion and Jo’s new movie.
As the gossip spreads, it starts to affect all areas of their lives. Paparazzi are following them outside the office, coworkers are treating them differently, and a “source” is feeding information to the media. But their only comment is “no comment”.
With the launch of Jo’s film project fast approaching, the two women begin to spend even more time together, getting along famously. Emma seems to have a sixth sense for knowing what Jo needs. And Jo, known for being aloof and outwardly cold, opens up to Emma in a way neither of them expects. They begin to realize the rumor might not be so off base after all… but is acting on the spark between them worth fanning the gossip flames?
My Thoughts: I like this book, but I don’t love it. While I appreciate the conversations about power imbalances and all that, I just wanted to get to the romance. And the banging. I expected way more smut out of this than I got, which I guess is on me.
I enjoy Emma and Jo as characters and liked how we see them grow as people first and as a relationship second. I just really wanted to get to the romance part quicker. It’s a cute story overall, though. Full review here!
Queer Rep: One MC is bisexual; one MC is a lesbian; author is sapphic & uses they/them pronouns
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
Summary: Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.
But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.
My Thoughts: You know those books that speak to your very soul? This is one of them for me. The magic system and concept is weird in the best way. I love everything about this book, from the writing to the plot to the characters. My favorite relationship was the mother-daughter dynamic Bronca and Veneza have. Every time I put this book down, all I could do was think about how incredible it is and that I couldn’t wait to pick it back up. This is some of Jemisin’s best work yet and all this woman writes are masterpieces. I absolutely cannot wait for the next book in the series. Full review here!
Queer Rep: Gay man, two queer men, lesbian, & trans man
What did you read in June? Have you read any of these books? Let’s discuss in the comments!
3 thoughts on “June 2020 Reading Wrap-Up”
I’m glad that you liked The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue! Shame it wasn’t as good as Villains, but I’m super curious about the character study aspect of it. I’m looking forward to getting to pick it up, too! I actually listened to The Deep, and I highly recommend the audiobook. I couldn’t get into it reading (it’s not a genre I normally read), but having Daveed Diggs read it to me was fabulous. xD
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I didn’t know Daveed Diggs narrated the audiobook. That’s so cool!