Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
While I am a queer femme (on a fence between the hard and high varieties), skirts and dresses just don’t feel right on me. It’s not, as my mother assumed for years (and, let’s be honest, probably still assumes), a matter of “not showing skin”. It’s a matter of feeling wrong in your skin, especially when you know people are seeing through the actual you to what they think should be the correct you—which is all kinds of erasing and deeply insulting. While I think this Byzantine glitter dress is supercute, I know that putting it on will just make me feel like a sad queer kid in an ill-fitting burlap sack, while this hot pink pantsuit and a pair of towering wedges would make me feel like the Imperatrix of the Galaxy. Finding what makes you feel that confident is a major part of finding your own style, whether you’re queer or straight.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
read by Betty Harris
During the mid-aughts, my family spent two weeks in Seattle visiting my brother. (I’m not the first McBride who has gone west before returning east in glory. I am not even the second.) A little ways into the trip, my parents asked me if there was anything I wanted to do while we were there. Stunned by this rare opportunity to steer our course, I nevertheless had a ready answer: the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Steampunk got old fast, didn’t it? (Bad dum dum.) While it’s been around, in some fashion, since the Victorian era, the retrofuturistic genre exploded and imploded in the late aughts so fast that you can now purchase t-shirts mocking steampunk as “when Goths discovered brown”, there’s a Kate Beaton comic featuring Isambard Kingdom Brunel rolling his eyes at a time-traveler showing off his boots covered in gears and watches, and there’s even a song about how the aesthetic is being co-opted on a shallow level. Steampunk remains a thriving genre, especially when the imperialism, racism, and sexism of Victoriana is questioned, but there’s no doubt that steampunk’s moment in the mainstream sun is on the wain.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
In August, Marie Rutkoski, the author of next year’s The Winner’s Curse, posited that the reason adults read young adult fiction is that young adult fiction is necessarily fiction of change. “[R]eaders are drawn to stories about first experiences, and YA literature is rich with it,” she says at io9. Reading, as I’ve mentioned to Ana, gives us access to extra lives and lives that we cannot live, and what’s more inaccessible than first experiences? It’s the reason I cherish picking up a story without any spoilers, so my first experience with a text is entirely mine. I think there are more reasons for reading young adult fiction, but Rutkoski’s point is very true.
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
read by Richard Poe
I read in fits and snatches of time; ten minutes at breakfast here, twenty minutes at the doctor here, a glorious half-hour before bed. So whenever I have huge swaths of time to plunge into a book, it sticks with me. The Da Vinci Code was one such experience, back in the Wombat Years. I must have been twelve or thirteen, slowly wobbling towards bibliophilia. My mother had either borrowed from or been given the book by a friend. It had been left out with the rest of the books that swamped the house, so I nicked it and sequestered myself in my absent brother’s room during a rainstorm. I remember that reading very fondly. It was one of the first times I grabbed a great fistful of time for myself with a purpose.
Pity I didn’t spend it on a better book.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Stumbling across Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl via cover artist’s Noelle Stevenson’s tumblr filled me with trepidation. It’s an instinctive response for any fan—we’ve spent so much of our history working in the shadows due to antagonistic relationships between creators and fandom that we can’t help but side-eye the modern tumblrina for tweeting Jeff Davis about Sterek. (Tumblrina: noun. Anyone on tumblr who makes me feel old.) But this wasn’t just about visibility. The copy for the book explains the protagonist’s status as a Big Name Fan and then asks, “Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”
Groan. As I’ve said before, writing original fiction is not the logical progression of writing fanfiction. They are different, although related, impulses. Ana shared my concerns, but she got to the book first. She assured me that this wasn’t a story about a girl growing up by leaving “childish” fandom behind, although there were a few spots that might trouble me, the woman who wrote her undergraduate thesis on fanfiction as the ultimate form of a particular school of literary criticism. Despite the assurances, I still approached Fangirl tentatively.
Escape from Communist Heaven by Dennis W. Dunivan
There are a lot of good reasons for fictionalizing a true story. Historical fiction as a genre, when it concerns people who actually lived, derives from the fact that we simply don’t have access to the bulk of human history the way we do have access to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. When there’s plenty of empty space on the map, the adaptive writer runs riot. (Aja Romano counts historical fiction as fanfiction. I’m inclined to agree.) Jeanette Walls’ Half Broke Horses, which is sub-titled “A True Life Novel,” immediately leaps to mind. It’s the story of Walls’ grandmother, written from her grandmother’s perspective.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Before picking up The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I only had two impressions of Holly Black. The first was that “When You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way,” the short story she collaborated on in Geektastic, was a weak execution of a good premise. The second is that she’s friends with Cassandra Clare. (According to disgruntled whispers in the fan community, Black introduced Clare to her literary agent. Remember, dear readers, networking is important! And it doesn’t have to be all cold and impersonal, either!) Sure, her Tithe is on my reading list, but it was added so long ago that I don’t remember how. (I keep much better notes now.) Neither impression scared me away from her, but neither did I go out of my way to pick up Tithe.
Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien
Sometimes, I feel absurdly lucky that I was introduced to The Lord of the Rings via Peter Jackson’s films in the early aughts. The Lord of the Rings was, without a doubt, cool when I got into it. And not just in my circle of friends in middle school, who tried to teach themselves Elvish and wore ninja shoes to school—it was part of the pop culture vernacular. Return of the King won eleven Oscars on one of the greatest days of my twelfth year on this Earth. (To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of competition.) Obviously, mainstream approval isn’t necessary for me as a fan these days (witness my adoration of Plunkett and Macleane), but only something that glowed that brightly in could pierce the pop culture resistant bubble I grew up in.
If You Could Be Mine by Sarah Farizan
Two years ago, Malinda Lo, whom I consider a sort of personal saint of queer young adult fiction, crunched some numbers that revealed a lot about the young adult world. First, only one percent of young adult novels feature queer characters. Of that one percent, fifty percent focuses on queer cisgendered boys, twenty-five percent focuses on queer cisgendered girls, eight percent focuses on multiple queer characters, and a scant four percent focuses on transgendered and/or genderqueer characters. Obviously, this information is two years out of date, but it reflects the landscape that made me snatch up If You Could Be Mine as soon as I saw on NetGalley. And this information doesn’t even cover ethnic representation in young adult fiction, which was also a motivating factor for me.