Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

I recently came across this 2019 middle grade fiction book, Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow, and I honestly can’t recommend it enough. It covers heavy subjects (content warning: including miscarriage) and doesn’t shy away from hard feelings and uncomfortable situations, but it does these things with incredible gentleness, authenticity, and hope. If you’re looking for a warm and wholesome read about family, friendship, and personal growth, you may like Hazel’s Theory of Evolution.

The main character of this book is Hazel, a thirteen-year-old going into 8th grade at a new school, thanks to local redistricting. She refuses to be open or optimistic about this development, determined to keep her head down and “hibernate” her way through one last year before being reunited with her best friend in high school. Unfortunately for her, her best friend grows increasingly distant and mysterious, befriending Hazel’s longtime bully and trying out for cheerleading (which Hazel has always deplored as a ridiculous and sexist activity). Meanwhile, in her new school, a green-mohawked classmate starts pushing his way into her self-isolation, and she makes an unexpected connection with Carina, a fellow transfer looking for a fresh start. At the same time as her social life grows increasingly confusing, her moms announce that one of them, Mimi, is pregnant again…after suffering two miscarriages. Unable to face the agony of hope and loss again, Hazel tries to live in denial: the baby isn’t real until its born safe and healthy. But painful or not, some things can’t be denied or ignored, and Hazel will have to find her way through her new realities.

There are many good things about this book, as mentioned above, including positive representation of multiple identities (ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual identities), and positive parenting: Hazel’s moms do a good job talking to her about her feelings as well as their own, while giving her space to process what she’s going through. I also appreciated reading a modern and well-formed school Health class, complete with discussions of family relationships and positive and comprehensive sex ed. The book is also peppered with Hazel’s articles for the Encyclopedia of Misunderstood Creatures she’s writing, which make delightful educational asides. I recommend this book for a wide range of ages (though be prepared to cry); Hazel has something to resonate with anyone who’s struggled with change and feeling misunderstood or alone in the world.

The Love Study by Kris Ripper

I’ve got two ways out of a reading slump: sweet, fluffy romances and children’s chapter books. Since I got into a bit of a slump as winter turned to spring, I went for a fluffy romance – that I liked – The Love Study by Kris Ripper. This book is a win for portraying happy endings, casual positive representation, and the power of friendship!

The main character and narrator is Declan, a temp with a great group of friends and major commitment issues. His friends love to introduce him by saying he left his last boyfriend at the altar, which he did. Since then, he’s sworn off romance, but now he’s starting to wonder if it’s time to try again. Enter Sidney, the group’s newest friend, who’s looking for someone to come on their YouTube show for a series called The Love Study. Declan agrees to go on a series of blind dates arranged by Sidney, and then to discuss them on the YouTube show, both to explore his relationship issues and to give dating advice to the viewers. The dates go okay, though he doesn’t really connect with any of them. That’s probably because the only person he is connecting with is Sidney — but since Sidney also doesn’t date, can they overcome their respective relationship fears and make something work for them?

I really loved how self-aware Declan is; he never tries to be macho or hide his feelings. He cares a lot, and he expresses that care in long, endearing rambles. He never stops apologizing to his former boyfriend, now good friend, Mason, who he left at the altar, but instead acknowledges how horrible it was for him to do that to someone he cared about and never fails to drop in a sincere “So sorry for that, again” every time it comes up. He’s always aware of his own faults and tries to make other people comfortable and put their feelings first. Frankly, I’ve never read a romantic hero like him before and I found it so refreshing. I also loved Sidney because they were such a distinct character with their own personality, their own fashion sense, and their own approach to things. They’re more reserved and thoughtful, but don’t hesitate to voice their honest and transparent opinion when asked. Two romantic characters that can and do communicate with each other? Shocking (and delightful)! Of course, their communication isn’t perfect, and Declan has some mental health issues to work through — or there wouldn’t be a story — but as these kind of issues, resolutions and happily-ever-afters go, I think this book did a good job of presenting a unique and realistic scenario.

The whole book was beautifully wholesome and transparent; I’ve never read a less problematic romance (or book in general) for adults. Sidney’s gender and pronouns are treated casually and with complete acceptance; no inappropriate or invasive questions were asked. Declan’s group of friends is loving and supportive, even though they don’t hesitate to roast Declan mercilessly; the group also includes a range of personalities, ethnicities, and gender identities which again receive full and unquestioned support.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone for a gentle read, a utopian view of the world, and a sweet romance.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

A vital work of queer Latinx fiction, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas is full of vibrant culture, real emotions, and the triumph of self-knowledge.

“This stunning debut novel from Thomas is detailed, heart-rending, and immensely romantic. I was bawling by the end of it, but not from sadness: I just felt so incredibly happy that this queer Latinx adventure will get to be read by other kids.” – Mark Oshiro, author of Anger is a Gift

The story centers on Yadriel, a trans boy from a family of brujx, a magical community that lives in a cemetery and takes care of the souls of the dead. Traditionally, brujas focus on healing and brujos help spirits cross over to the afterlife. Unfortunately for Yadriel, his family is very traditional and can’t really accept him as a boy and a brujo, although his magical abilities lie firmly in brujo territory, with no skill for healing. Since his mother passed away, Yadriel’s only sources of support has been his best friend Maritza, a vegan bruja, and his uncle Catriz, whose magic isn’t strong enough to use, and neither of them have been able to convince his father to give him his quinces coming-of-age ceremony, which would confirm his identity in the community as a full brujo. But Yadriel isn’t giving up – he performs the ritual himself, and tries to summon the spirit of his murdered cousin to prove he can release a spirit to the afterlife. Unfortunately, the summoning instead produces Yadriel’s classmate Julian, the resident bad boy who isn’t going into the afterlife without knowing exactly what happened and tying up his loose ends. Without many options, Yadriel agrees to help, only to find that the more time he spends with Julian, the less he wants him to leave. In the meantime, Yadriel and his family must still find out exactly how and why his cousin was murdered, all before Dia de los Muertos, Yadriel’s first chance to see his mother since her death.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and I appreciated the steady pacing that kept the plot moving and new revelations every few pages. The portrayal of the rich culture was fascinating and informative, and the characters and their relationships were realistic with emotional pathos. Moreover, the depiction of being trans in a conservative family was heart-wrenchingly real. I definitely think this is a groundbreaking work, and an excellent read for anyone who either identifies with or wants to build understanding for Latinx culture and/or trans identity.

ICYMI: 2021 Honorees from ALA’s Rainbow Round Table

Every year, the American Library Association (ALA)’s Rainbow Round Table (RRT) releases booklists which honor quality publishing on LGBTQ topics. The Rainbow Book List collects titles for children and teens, and the Over the Rainbow Book Lists (Fiction and Poetry, Nonfiction) collect titles for ages 18+. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from the three lists, released earlier this year.

Rainbow Book Listsee the full list here

The Every Body Book by Rachel E. Simon and Noah Grigni (juvenile non-fiction): an inclusive guide to bodies, gender, relationships, puberty, families, and more.

Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit by Lilliam Riviera (juvenile fiction): in the 1960s, a hotel detective in training investigates a missing swim cap during the filming of a movie at the hotel, with the help of many entertaining characters including her parents, a Hollywood megastar, the hotel’s official detective, and Goldie’s crush Diane.

Troublemaker for Justice by Jacqueline Houtman, Michael G. Long, and Walter Naegle (middle grade non-fiction): details the life of Bayard Rustin, a lesser-known figure in the civil rights movement whose work was repressed because of his sexual orientation.

Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass (middle grade fiction): a young figure skater sorts through gender identity while preparing for a big competition.

Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens edited by Leigh Finke (YA non-fiction): a compassionate and informative guide to living an authentic and fulfilling LGBTQ life in Christian community.

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett (YA fiction): when her family plunges into sleeping sickness unexpectedly, Ekata finds herself thrust into the role of duke, marrying her brother’s warrior bride and struggling to wield her family’s magic and power.

Over the Rainbow Book List, Top 10 – see the full fiction and poetry list here and the non-fiction list here

Here For It: Or, How To Save Your Soul In America by R. Eric Thomas: a collection of biographical essays on being an outsider in many arenas of life.

Homie: Poems by Danez Smith: highlights the struggles of modern queer life and the ways they’re counterbalanced by the saving grace of friendship.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor: an emotional novel about an African-American gay man coming to terms with his identity in the context of his university community.

Homesick: Stories by Nino Cipri: a collection of stories highlighting the longing for home, representing a broad spectrum of characters and situations.

A History of my Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt: a memoir of coming-of-age in a First Nation community exploring memory, gender, shame, and more.

The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels: the story of a man coming back to his hometown to live out the final days of his battle with AIDS.

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland: a chronicle of the author’s journey into the life and living spaces of noted author Carson McCullers.

What’s Your Pronoun: Beyond He and She by Dennis Baron: a historical look at the evolution and usage of gender neutral personal pronouns, with recommendations for best and most sensible usage today.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth: a story of queer women, historical and modern, and the eerie goings-on that threaten them all at an all-girls’ school.

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen: a comprehensive look at the diverse world of asexual individuals and experiences, with insight into the ways asexuality can and should reform societal values around sex and relationships.

Montague Siblings Series by Mackenzi Lee

The Montague Siblings series by Mackenzi Lee is an adventurous romp that has surpassed my every expectation, and I’m thrilled that the third volume is supposed to come out in April.

The first book is The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, and tells the story of Henry “Monty” Montague, a nobleman’s son embarking on his “grand tour” of Europe before he settles down to work on the family estate. Monty would rather party and have fun than do the serious, cultured work of a nobleman, so he’s excited to get one last hurrah with his beloved best friend Percy (and, to a lesser degree, his younger sister) before the drudgery begins. Unfortunately for Monty, his impulsive, fun-loving nature quickly gets him into trouble, and his respectable “grand tour” turns into a disaster-filled chase across the continent, featuring pirates, vengeful nobles, alchemy, danger, kidnapping, and lots of romantic misunderstandings.

The sequel is The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, featuring Monty’s younger sister Felicity. A powerhouse of intelligence, backbone, and independence, Felicity wants two things:  to be a doctor, and avoid getting married. Regrettably, university administrators unanimously believe only men can be the guardians of science and medicine. Her last chance is to meet with a renowned doctor in Germany and convince him to change her fate, but finances are a problem… until a mysterious woman offers to foot the bill, in exchange for traveling as her maid. With no other options, Felicity agrees, launching her on yet another perilous quest across the European continent in pursuit of life-altering secrets.

The final installment is The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks, set some years later and featuring Monty and Felicity’s much younger brother, Aiden. As sole heir, Aiden is set to take over the Montague estate, but with a diagnosis of hysteria and an embarrassing breakdown on the public record, he’s not viewed as terribly fit for the job. In desperation, Aiden sets out on a journey to find his long-lost older siblings and convince them to take over the estate in his place. To his frustration, Monty refuses point-blank, agreeing only to help him claim the last of their late mother’s possessions in the Caribbean. But in true Montague fashion, this seemingly simple errand turns into a race across the world to chase down an mysterious artifact with links to a family curse.

I love these books because they’re packed with action and adventure, period details, and modern sensibilities – especially in the portrayal of well-rounded, realistically diverse characters. Not all historical fiction (or fiction published in the period) acknowledges disabilities, racism, sexism, LGBTQ identities, or mental health, but this series acknowledges all those things, and still presents happy or hopeful endings for the affected characters. I recommend this series as a perfect escapist read.

LGTBQ Literature

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“Every Book” by Aspen May

In the past, LGTBQ voices were relegated to the fringes of society – invisible, ignored and often met with violence. In 1976, Jonathan Ned Katz endeavored to collect the stories and documents from 1566 to his present time.  Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A was, at the time, a radical publication, unearthing documents that had not seen the light of day in centuries.  It also gave voice to the rising gay right movement during the 1960-70s.

While the political and social culture of the U.S. has changed dramatically since 1976, it can still be difficult for LGBTQ authors, filmmakers or artists to join the mainstream, and those seeking LGBTQ works often times find themselves frustrated. The growth of the Internet has made access easier, but LGTBQ voices are still considered underrepresented in the mainstream.

The American Library Association created the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) in an effort to make finding LGTBQ  information and literature easier and to advocate for greater visibility in libraries across the U.S.. GLBTRT also established the annual Stonewall Book Award for books of exceptional merit relating to the LGBTQ community. And, of course, many blogs and websites have been created to collect and distribute LGTBQ books, films, music and art.

Below are a handful of websites where you can find reviews and news about LGBTQ media. If you’d like to see what DPL and the surrounding RiverShare libraries have, click over to this LibGuide : http://libguides.davenportlibrary.com/LGBTQ

Award Lists:

ALA’s Rainbow Book List for 2015

Stonewall Book Awards

GLAAD Media Awards

Green Carnation Prize (UK)

Reviews

Over the Rainbow Books – Monthly bibliographies of notable LGBTQ books

GLBT Reviews – Book and media reviews from ALA’s Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Round Table

Band of Thebes (on hiatus)

Lambda Literary

I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the Hell do I Read?

Children’s Book Council’s Diversity Committee’s “Great Diversity Blog”

Abe Books – Celebrating Pride in Literature

Flavorwire’s 50 Essential Works of LGBT Fiction

Huffington Post LGBT Literature (keyword news feed)
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Sources:

Mitchell, Mark. Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.

LGBT Literature: Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.” Daily Kos. Kos Media, LLC, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 6 June 2015.