June 2021 Reading Wrap-Up

Normally, I’d open this particular wrap-up with a jovial tone and Pride jokes but… June was intense for me this year. Not necessarily in a negative way, but it was a lot and I have eight books to talk about. So no preamble this time.

In June, I read six books and DNF’d two. Of those, four were adult fiction and four were YA (two fiction, two non-fiction). Overall, I’d say I had a great reading month. I read two or three books that will probably be favorites of the year. Sadly, I also read a real dud. I gave ratings from two to five stars. 

Because it was Pride Month, every book I read was written by LGBT+ people about LGBT+ people. I’ll include what specific types of representation each book offers as we get to them.

Anyway, let’s talk about all the books I read in June!

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Summary: For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

Representation: Bisexual MC, gender non-confirming lesbian, two gay men, trans man, drag queens, & nonbinary author 

My Thoughts: Though I don’t absolutely adore this book the way I thought I would, I still really enjoyed it! I’m not quite as in love with August as a character, but she’s not bad by any means. But I love Jane and all of August’s friends. And the sex scenes are very steamy and hot, especially one which I’m not going to reveal and expose my kinks on Lil Nas X’s internet. Ultimately, I think I prefer RWRB but this was a really good follow up.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Summary: In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.

Representation: Author is a gay/queer (he uses both terms) man

My Thoughts: This is the kind of book I want in the hands of young readers, especially those who are Black and queer and need a voice like Johnson’s. Hearing his story to self-acceptance and the hardships along the way was powerful.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Summary: An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heart wrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.

Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves— now protective, now hedonistic— move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.

Representation: F/F relationship (minor to story, but includes MC), gender non-confirming/suggested genderfluid MC, & nonbinary author

My Thoughts: This book is a powerful exploration of identify and trauma. Emezi’s prose is lyrical and stunning. But, if you decide to read this, please look up a detailed list of trigger warnings. Off the top of my head, there’s sexual assault/molestation, self-harm, and a suicide attempt. This is not an easy read by any means, but is a beautiful one.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

Summary: When Paul and Julian meet as university freshmen in early 1970s Pittsburgh, they are immediately drawn to one another. A talented artist, Paul is sensitive and agonizingly insecure, incomprehensible to his working-class family, and desolate with grief over his father’s recent death. 

Paul sees the wealthy, effortlessly charming Julian as his sole intellectual equal— an ally against the conventional world he finds so suffocating. He idolizes his friend for his magnetic confidence. But as charismatic as he can choose to be, Julian is also volatile and capriciously cruel. And admiration isn’t the same as trust.

As their friendship spirals into an all-consuming intimacy, Paul is desperate to protect their precarious bond, even as it becomes clear that pressures from the outside world are nothing compared with the brutality they are capable of inflicting on one another. Separation is out of the question. But as their orbit compresses and their grip on one another tightens, they are drawn to an act of irrevocable violence that will force the young men to confront a shattering truth at the core of their relationship.   

Exquisitely plotted, unfolding with a propulsive ferocity, These Violent Delights is a novel of escalating dread and an excavation of the unsettling depths of human desire.

Representation: Gay men, M/M relationship, & trans/gender non-conforming author

My Thoughts: I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did, but hoo boy did I! It’s a deep exploration of the way an obsessive, co-dependent relationship can bring out the best and the worst in both people and how the isolation in queerness can exacerbate that. The reader can’t help but want Paul and Julian to just be happy together, but that would require them to be completely different characters than they are. This book is so damn good and I’m so damn glad I read it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman

Summary: Not too long ago, Cass was a promising young playwright in New York, hailed as “a fierce new voice” and “queer, feminist, and ready to spill the tea.” But at the height of all this attention, Cass finds herself at the center of a searing public shaming, and flees to Los Angeles to escape— and reinvent herself. There she meets her next-door neighbor Caroline, a magnetic filmmaker on the rise, as well as the pack of teenage girls who hang around her house. They are the subjects of Caroline’s next semidocumentary movie, which follows the girls’ clandestine after-school activity: a Fight Club inspired by the violent classic.

As Cass is drawn into the film’s orbit, she is awed by Caroline’s drive and confidence. But over time, she becomes troubled by how deeply Caroline is manipulating the teens in the name of art— especially as the consequences become increasingly disturbing. With her past proving hard to shake and her future one she’s no longer sure she wants, Cass is forced to reckon with her own ambitions and confront what she has come to believe about the steep price of success.

Representation: Queer MC, sapphic former love interest, gay couple, lesbian, & queer author

My Thoughts: I was really let down by this book. It doesn’t offer meaningful commentary or feminist themes like it claims. Instead, it is tonally confusing and filled with problematic content. Though I like Silverman’s writing style, I can’t say it makes the novel worth reading. Check out my full review here!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon

Summary: In Beyond the Gender Binary, poet, artist, and LGBTQIA+ rights activist Alok Vaid-Menon deconstructs, demystifies, and reimagines the gender binary.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Beyond the Gender Binary, spoken word poet Alok Vaid-Menon challenges the world to see gender not in black and white, but in full color. Taking from their own experiences as a gender-nonconforming artist, they show us that gender is a malleable and creative form of expression. The only limit is your imagination.

Representation: Author is nonbinary & NBLM

My Thoughts: I picked this book up because I’ve been exploring my gender recently and know that Vaid-Menon is a well-known nonbinary writer and activist. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get anything new out of this book I hadn’t already gotten from other sources. That said, it’s well-written and a good introduction to gender non-conformity and nonbinary identities. I especially appreciated the sections where Vaid-Menon refutes common arguments against the community. If you’re new to gender discussion, definitely check this book out. It’s a quick read with good info!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Summary: Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Representation: Trans boy MC, M/M relationship, & trans man author

My Thoughts: Technically, I’m only tentatively DNF-ing this one. I’d like to give it another chance soon. I just find the writing style to be very YA contemporary, which isn’t a style I tend to like. That said, I’ve only seen four and five star reviews for this book. I’m sure it’s good, it just may not be for me. But I hope to try it again soon.

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Summary: When Ekata’s brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family’s icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.

In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother’s warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without— and within— her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love… or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family’s power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.

Part Sleeping Beauty, part Anastasia, with a thrilling political mystery, The Winter Duke is a spellbinding story about choosing what’s right in the face of danger.

Representation: F/F relationship & several nonbinary characters

My Thoughts: I wanted to fall in love with this, but I figured out pretty quickly I was going to have the opposite experience. I found the writing very clunky and the characterization forced. I knew within the first chapter I wasn’t going to have a good time with this one, so I gave up rather than finish and give it a low rating.

What did you read in June? Did you do anything to celebrate Pride Month? Tell me about it in the comments!

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