Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 12th September 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honour roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgement and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

I am feeling so blessed this year.

It seems for me that 2018 is going to be a good year for books; I keep reading hit after hit, and Autoboyography is no exception. I am actually trying really hard in recent months to only read LGBTQ+ novels that are written by LGBTQ+ individuals. I like to promote #ownvoices novels but for obvious reasons, this can be a bit tricky when it comes to finding LGBTQ+ work that’s actually written by people from said community.

First of all, just because someone is not ‘out’ or public about their sexuality, does not mean that they are not allowed to write about LGBTQ+ experiences. Therefore, every time I pick up any LGBTQ+ books, I tend to check whether it is #ownvoices. If it isn’t? Fine. I can live with that; I might end up being more critical about the portrayal of the characters (especially if they’re cis bi girls) but other than that, I’m just happy that I get to read it and it’s out there in the world. If it is #ownvoices? Then I’m jumping for joy and promoting it everywhere.

This has been the case for a long time, but since the rise in popularity of mlm (Man loving man, meaning cis men, trans men, gay men, bi men. Any male identifying person who is attracted to male identifying people) ships in media, it’s become normal to find a mlm book written by heterosexual women. And hey, like I said before, it’s fine. But of course, I would argue that I would rather read mlm books written by queer men. When I picked up Autoboyography, I was a little sceptical; it was another mlm story written by women (though after a little more reading, not straight women) about coming to terms with your sexuality and falling in love. It was kind of dripping with mlm experiences, as opposed to a story with mlm characters as the focus but not about being mlm. I just didn’t want to drown out mlm voices by reading and supporting novels about them that weren’t written by them. But, after hearing praise from mlm readers, however, I was intrigued by the story about a teenage Mormon and a bisexual boy falling in love in a writing class.

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And boy, was it beautiful.

Tanner’s life, despite being completely different from my own, had so many relatable points in it that I’ve never seen them surface in other books about bisexuals. Firstly, even just seeing the words ‘bisexual’ and ‘bi’ made me feel all giddy, but then Tanner dealing with things that I barely see covered in books about bisexual characters? MIND. BLOWN.

The plot is ultimately, about Tanner and Sebastian’s relationship, however there are so many other secondary plots that are worth mentioning that resonated with me so much. The most impacting one being the relationship between Tanner and his parents. They are sweet, accepting, ex-religious liberals who move the family from California, where Tanner can be as open as he wants, to Provo, Utah near to his mother’s home town where his mother tells him to…basically go back in the closet for his safety. A lot of the interactions Tanner has with his parents are, most of the time, uncomfortable. While I’ve seen many bloggers drop stars from their reviews because of the parents, I see it completely differently.

Tanner’s parents, despite being open and accepting of Tanner, are actually problematic as heck. However, it is all a part of the process of learning to be a better parent for their LGBTQ+ son. There were so many times where I felt for Tanner, where he asked himself questions like while my parents are accepting in theory, will things change when I actually bring a guy home? (Not a direct quote). I’ve thought about that constantly, and while I’m out to my parents and they are accepting, they still refer to my future partner as always a ‘he’, and never have problems about me talking about boys in a romantic way. But, like Tanner, while they still support me (for Tanner, it’s rainbow coloured aprons and motivational bumper stickers) I do think to myself, what would happen if I dated a girl, married a girl, or even mentioned just fancying an actress on TV? It’s all personal, of course, but then again is my liking of boys personal? Or is it just the norm? Are they accepting of me, but like to think that in the end, I will ‘choose’ a boy? Tanner really struggles with his family throughout the book with these feelings of insecurity, and how sometimes he even goes as far to think that his parents are just as bad as Sebastian’s.

It’s the same with Tanner’s friend, Autumn, too. She makes comments about how she doesn’t understand, because he’s dated girls in the past. It’s a part of the whole misunderstanding and blatant ignorance surrounding bisexuality. It’s actually quite an easy concept, but people still confuse it with greediness, indecision, promiscuity, attention-seeking or just hiding the fact that you’re gay. And while I have read books with bi characters, Autoboyography has been the only book where they’ve actually said the stuff that a lot of us bi folk deal with.

Boy, this review is getting long now. I think it’s time to wrap it up. Overall, this story was a mixture of fluffy and super cute, to a real dissection of what it means to be bisexual in today’s supposedly progressive society. Of course I’m gonna be gravitated towards a book about an LGBTQ+ couple falling in love in a writing class, it is the perfect contemporary novel, and there were many times where my heart fluttered delightedly and watching this quiet and gentle relationship form. I’m sure people will say it’s insta-lovey, but they amount of books I’ve read with heterosexual insta-love and adored, I have no problem with making room for this trope but for LGBTQ+ people. Let us have our romantic fluff!

 

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Tin Man by Sarah Winman

PUBLISHER: TINDER PRESS
PUBLICATION DATE: July 27th, 2017
RATING: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
GOODREADS

It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.

And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael, who are inseparable.
And the boys become men, and then Annie walks into their lives, and it changes nothing and everything.

If only I could erase my memory and appreciate this story for the first time all over again.

This story was absolutely beautiful, and just how I like it, the blurb doesn’t tell you much about the plot. Sometimes, this can indicate what type of story it’s going to be – it’s going to be character-based, atmospheric, told over decades, feeling timeless and almost dreamy. And it was all those things. But for some of you who like to know a fair bit about a book for dipping in, I’ll elaborate on the blurb.

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The story is set over 4-5 decades, with two perspectives, Ellis and Michael. They both tell the story of their lives, with events intertwining, as well as events spent apart. To me, one narrator came across as more truthful and reliable, while the other definitely left parts and feelings out. I love unreliable narration, and the fact that these characters are telling the same story with wildly different perspectives. The story unfolded so beautifully, without giving anything away until it did and you realised everything about what had happened and cried your eyes out alone on a Monday night.

I would highly recommend Tin Man if you loved Call Me By Your Name, which is a book that’s getting a lot of publicity at the moment because of the film adaptation that just’s come out (and is amazing!). I didn’t enjoy Call Me By Your Name as much as Tin Man, but it’s similarities are not ones to ignore. Both are set (and partly set) in hot countries, depicting a fleeting romance between two men. They are both told during a time when homosexuality was illegal in said countries, and yet not considered ‘historical’ fiction because the sixties/seventies/eighties are not that long ago. So, there’s your comparison.

Please read this book. It’s just shy of 200 words and will stay with you for a really long time.

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They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

Publisher: Simon & Schuester
Release Date: 7th September 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

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When Mateo receives the dreaded call from Death-Cast, informing him that today will be his last, he doesn’t know where to begin. Quiet and shy, Mateo is devastated at the thought of leaving behind his hospitalised father, and his best friend and her baby girl. But he knows that he has to make the most of this day, it’s his last chance to get out there and make an impression. 

Rufus is busy beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend when he gets the call. Having lost his entire family, Rufus is no stranger to Death-Cast. Not that it makes it any easier. With bridges to mend, the police searching for him and the angry new boyfriend on his tail, it’s time to run.

Isolated and scared, the boys reach out to each other, and what follows is a day of living life to the full. Though neither of them had expected that this would involve falling in love… 

This is the first Adam Silvera novel where I haven’t cried, which is sad in itself because I love it when I cry at Adam Silvera novels. You’re supposed to cry; you’re supposed to have emotion pouring out of you. So while I enjoyed They Both Die At The End, there was always a small voice in the back of my head wondering why I don’t have butterflies in my stomach and my eyes not on the verge of tears.

I loved both Mateo and Rufus and how distinct their voices were. They definitely complimented each other and would have loved to see their relationship evolve, but I think it would have felt a little more realistic if maybe there was a bit more time in between them meeting and falling in love? I already had to suspend my disbelief with Death-Cast which, I really couldn’t, and it glared out at me while I was trying to concentrate on other part of the stories.

I want to point how happy I was when I found out that Rufus was bisexual. This isn’t a spoiler, a character’s sexuality isn’t a spoiler or a plot reveal, but it was so lovely to see the word used, to have a character to say that they are bisexual and to be proud and wear the label on their sleeve without any ‘I don’t use labels’ or ‘I’m just fluid’. Sometimes, people are bisexual, and characters who allude to be don’t say it enough in canon. So thankyou Adam Silvera. BISEXUAL VISIBILITY! *raises fist*

Great third novel by one of my favourite authors. But not my favourite novel by one of my favourite authors.

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The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins)
Release Date: 27th June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

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Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

So this book was not what I expected, which, is kind of disappointing. But it doesn’t stop it from being a really fun adventure that made my need for LGBT+ Historical YA to sore through to the sky.

Judging from the synopsis, I imagined a ‘romp’. I think maybe that word was used once or twice in one lined reviews slapped on some promotional material. Yeah, ‘romp’ and ‘raucous’. I love, and I mean LOVE, cheeky male characters with soft hearts and giant smiles, and that’s definitely what Monty was in the beginning, in the very beginning, however. He’s just woken up after a huge piss up and he’s seeing the antiques from the night before. But, while I understand that character development and change are a thing in books where the character has to learn a lesson,I was disappointed that Monty was kind of carried through by his sister and his best friend, Felicity and Percy.

I expected a lot more laughs and silliness from a rather naive-to-the-world rich teenage boy going on a Grand Tour (which were quite an important thing for a young man before he became ‘responsible’), but what we got was a lot more serious and a bit boring.

Things I did love; Percy and Felicity defying expectations, stereotypes, and social norms of the time. Considering when you read historical fiction, authors don’t bother including POC characters at all and only have female characters as speaking mains if it’s a bodice ripper and they’re sleeping with a king/prince, so it was nice just to have them there, with plots and personality and futures! Oh my!

I did thoroughly enjoy this novel, despite the fairly critical review, and the fact that it took me a while to even write one. But, I think the synopsis could be worded a little differently just so you’re not surprised that you’re not laughing as much.

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The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
Goodreads

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Apparently this year’s running theme is ‘being disappointed by my anticipated reads’. Because boy, am I getting disappointed by my anticipated reads.

I came across The Love Interest and begged every single gatekeeper to give me an early copy. Not only was it LGBT, it also seemed to be a funny self-deprecation at the genre and how many YA novels have the same romance tropes which are tired and clichéd.

When I was ignored, I waited for the Kindle edition and impatiently downloaded it on the release day (for £6.50, for God’s sake). I prepared myself for a full day of reading the whole thing; just me and this book, which I already knew I loved.

Oh. My. God.

This book is bad, which I hate to say about a book that I had such good expectations for. It does not read like a polished, traditionally published novel by a top publisher where editors have fine tooth combed it to perfection. This is a book that was clearly not looked at enough. Not read out loud to understand truly how badly structured and paced this whole thing is.

We’ll start with the writing, which I can only describe as written as bad stage directions. Every single thing is described, things that do not matter to the plot whatsoever. It’s not even purple prose, it’s just listing everything a person does or what a place looks like to the point where we are forced to shut down our imagination because everything is covered. But there’s no creativity; it’s just straight up describing and explaining. Here’s one mind numbing paragraph:

“”If it’s not too much trouble, can you chop up this celery for me?” A gigantic piece of celery is sitting on a wooden chopping board. I walk toward it and pick up the silver knife. I cut off the head, the slice the body into thin slivers.”

Apparently a reader cannot possibly know what chopping celery is, and so is taken through every step the main character goes through in order to fully understand this scene. Now, imagine this throughout the entire book. I felt like I was being talked to like an idiot. The protagonist walks into a room, the character smiles and breathes in and then breathes out. He then walks 30cm to the North West of the room and reaches for a pen, he picks up the pen……and it goes on. There is even a scene where two characters are out for a meal and nothing happens. We just get told that they lift up their forks and put food in their mouth and chew. AM I GOING CRAZY? I KNOW WHAT EATING FOOD IS.

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The dialogue is also just…not dialogue. It doesn’t sound authentic or real. I’m not expecting a book to write speech so accurately that it becomes a transcript, but to have characters talk as if they’re reading from a teleprompter is so bizarre. They don’t pause for breath, they just keep saying ‘oh also,’ and ‘anyway enough about that’ and just keep going. They have answers without thinking about things, like they’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. And even though the love interests in the novel do sometimes have rehearsed lines, not everyone does! They all sound like robots! The only way I can explain it is if you and a mate got the book and acted a scene out. Hear the dialogue out in the open, and then you’d realise it sounds like a bad amateur play.

The characters? I don’t know. Caden, from the beginning, we are told does not feel like he is a Nice because he doesn’t fit the mould. He says he’s selfish and is out for himself, and I understand it’s supposed to be a commentary on unrealistic characterization and that real people aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ but more of a mixture of the two with some leaning more one way than the other. I got that. But Caden isn’t much of anything? He says that he thinks a certain way but we don’t actually see it? He’s just a bit of a wet mop. They all are; even Dylan, the ‘bad’ who at first came across as a manic pixie dream boy, but then becomes like that character Summer from 500 Days of Summer. He’s wishy-washy and both of them just stand around and say stock sentences.

The premise, the plot that there’s this place where they create perfect people to be spies and make target’s fall in love with them is…I get it. It’s a sci-fi aspect to the common tropes in YA. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I physically couldn’t. There’s not enough exposition for this concept to land properly. We’re not given enough. After reading this, and someone asked me to explain exactly what the Love Interest Compound (LIC) is, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Is it a prison? Is it a nice place? Is it awful? How do they find love interests? How do they raise them? Why do they kill them? Where has all this money come from to spend on giant robots and cool holograms that people can conjure up with a flick of a finger? If they deal in secrets and information from their targets, how has that information not caused world war three? Or the collapse of society? I DON’T KNOW. I felt like it could have been something a lot smoother and polished and clever, but instead there just wasn’t enough. You were in there, and then suddenly you were made to forget about it and plopped into a YA contemporary, where the threat of death is still there but no one is that bothered. It doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I’m so disappointed. If this was a gripping story with humour mixed in with a thoughtful message, it would have been so much easier to look past some of the hammy stuff. But a badly written book is a badly written book, and I hope that the author continues to write and gets better editors.

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Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 2013
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
Goodreads

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with a boy who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

In all honesty, this book was not what I expected.

41rr-qkuy2blWhile it was funny and romantic, I did not expect a genuinely thought out message which you don’t normally find in an LGBT story; the actual label of being ‘gay’ and how people perceive you as a person, even if it’s a positive perception. While the message does get tossed back and forth and Rafe’s opinion and thoughts about what he’s set out to do change throughout the book (ergo, a plot), I did find myself struggling with a lot of things that he was made to accept just because she should be ‘grateful’ that he as cool and welcoming parents.

A lot of the things that Rafe asks of his parents do not slide with them and, though that may be the case, they still should be accommodating even when they do not think that is the right thing for him. They express their concern, but still go out of their way to make Rafe uncomfortable. He’s a teenager; not only are things super uncomfortable and embarrassing for him anyway, going against someone’s wishes regarding their sexuality or identity opens a whole other can of problematic worms. But, because ‘other people have it worse’, he’s made to embrace it which, if I were him, would not slide. This is about Rafe, and his parents often made it about them.

However, I loved the dissecting of male friendships and relationships while Rafe is at the all-boys boarding school. I have read stories with male protagonists with male friends, but I hadn’t really read something that felt so organic and true (despite not being male with male friends). It can be a toxic environment, and Rafe definitely sees that dark side to being surrounded by just guys, but also sees the joy and openness of it, especially when it comes to Ben and how they both do away with toxic masculinity to just be themselves without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I’ve heard some not great stuff about Openly Straight’s sequel, Honestly, Ben. But if you’ve read it please tell me what you think!

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Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Publisher: MIRA Ink (Harper Collins)
Release Date: 3rd October 2014
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

It’s 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it’s Sarah Dunbar’s first day of school, as one of the first black students at the previously all-white Jefferson High. No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students – especially Linda Hairston, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. Sarah and Linda have every reason to despise each other. But as a school project forces them to spend time together, the less their differences seem to matter. And Sarah and Linda start to feel something they’ve never felt before. Something they’re both determined ignore. Because it’s one thing to be frightened by the world around you – and another thing altogether when you’re terrified of what you feel inside.

This was a damn hard book to read, and only because of how raw and real it is. Robin Talley has let nothing slip beneath us, and while I’m not a historian or even a history student, I can see the research done to write something so strong with a powerful message.

But at the same time, I want to talk a bit about authors and representation. It’s important to have stories such as these ones; where the struggles of POC throughout history aim to inform, teach and hold nothing back. The thing is, a lot of these stories get put in the slush piles and a lot of the authors who write these kinds of stories are POC. Considering Robin Talley is a white woman who managed to publish this novel while #ownvoices POC authors get rejected to me is not so great on the publishers part. It’s how problematic, unrealistic, and downright un-researched novels get published. I have a great problem with white authors writing POC struggle; there’s a difference between writing diversely and downright getting your novel about black people published over an actual black author.

lwto1I’ve read and been apart of many conversations about the context of these situations and how POC authors should be able to accurately portray POC stories in publishing without white authors using status or straight up privilege to write that story ‘for them’ (ick). Thankfully, I don’t think that’s the case here, and from Robin Talley’s author notes, she has taken care in portraying these characters and their lives as accurately and as considerately as possible.

So while the novel was heartbreaking and shocking (but not surprising), I loved Sarah and her sister’s perseverance and strength throughout dealing with this nastiness. I’d hate to say that society has not progressed in any way but sometimes it certainly feels that way, hence why Black Lives Matter exists. Racism hasn’t disappeared; it’s shifted, it’s changed shape to become sneakier, casual, swept under the rug rather than segregated schools and buses. But Linda’s father’s newspaper reminded me of newspapers and journalists today and the ‘facts’ that Linda spouted are definitely still things that some believe.

Speaking of the LGBT part of this story; while I’m a massive fan of the inclusion of LGBT characters and stories about LGBT topics in general, I was rather disappointed with this one. It felt rushed and shoved in as an after thought. The horribleness that was happening overpowered any LGBT plot that was trying to happen, and it was obvious that it was only the beginnings of something that neither of them understood, especially with prejudice and religion shoved in between them. But a part of me felt that this story could’ve carried on successfully without a romance plot, especially one that wasn’t going to be explored properly throughout most of the book. But then again, it was an interesting aspect to see a dialogue be opened about this, especially in this setting.

I’ve given Lies We Tell Ourselves five stars because of how chilling and frightening it was, how real and raw, but how full of life Sarah still was. I had to keep reading to find that happy ending and to see these characters not be down-trodden by the horrible society they lived in, but I’ll leave it at that without spoiling.

Trigger warnings for this book: A boat load of racists insults, liberal use of the N-Word, racial assault and minor sexual assault.

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