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Review: Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

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SYNOPSIS:

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.


This book seduced me with its promise of spooky times and long stretches of repressed miserable queer longings and subsequently hooked me—line and sinker—with the clarity of its prose, the gorgeous character work, and the musings on vampiric love and inheritance and masculinity and all the bleak many-faceted enormities of grief. I felt, moreover, compelled by the delicious and increasingly fraught tensions crisscrossing the cast of characters. The slow-burn is real, and I lived for it.

Above all, this book hugely impressed me with its deliberate indictment of the racism baked into academic structures, an aspect that is too-often conveniently omitted by writers dabbling in the “dark academia” sub-genre. Mandelo doesn’t flinch away from pointing out how their (white) characters thoughtlessly perpetuate the problem, through horrifically powerful gullibility or just callous apathy. There’s a particular thematic note in this book that still has my stomach roiling with angry acids: as a queer person of color, you really cannot rely on your white queer peers to understand the shape of your chafing and grappling against institutionalized racism, no matter how well-intentioned they are/claim to be. Being queer does not make our experiences navigating the wide world similar or even equal. I’ve had interactions with white queers to whom this concept remains utterly ungraspable, and this book validates that helpless frustration. I mean, you KNOW a book has struck deep chords in you when the words burst out of you in a faintly coherent voice note sent to a dear friend because you are angry and you want to be angry with someone who will understand, in a marrow-deep way, the shape of your anger.

That said, this is a debut, so it’s inevitable that it winds up with a few flaws: I found the mystery predictable and the plot, which involves a lot of dangling threads and dead ends, plods along for the first half of the book and the pace soon lapses into a repetitive, episodic rhythm. In hindsight, this aimlessness is somewhat justified—Andrew, our protagonist, is devastatingly, explosively lost. Grief, formless and rampant, is pounding at him at every turn until he can hardly feel his own edges, and that protracted process of grieving is central to the novel. It takes some work to get used to, but it’s worth it. If you’re more keen on character-driven stories, like I am, rest assured that this will not put a permanent dent in your enjoyment of this book.

Overall, SUMMER SONS is a lovely book and an impressive debut from an author I’m definitely keeping an eye on.


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“You gotta make your own place to belong”: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

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SYNOPSIS:

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.


McQuiston’s stories have a way of destroying my heart in all the best deepest ways. I still well up with unreasoning joy when I think about Red, White & Royal Blue, a book I still return to, from time to time, to scrape out some solace from the harsh, ugly world. And I’m happy to report that none of the author’s enchantment has ebbed away in this sophomore novel. If anything, One Last Stop only cemented for me that I will be reading every Casey McQuiston book for as long as they keep writing them.

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Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

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From Stonewall and Lambda Award-winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.


RATING: ☆★☆★☆

It is so intoxicating to be so clearly seen by someone else. To look at each other across a gap that had once felt unbridgeable and feel like your whole life is being brought into sharp focus by that moment, a perfect pocket of stillness. Even if that someone else is a book. A book that gives language for the things churning restlessly in your throat, so many little buzzing words that you can’t release and can’t swallow. A book that helps you build the kind of vocabulary that makes you feel less alone.

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Contact

If you’d like to contact me about a review copy, you can send me an email at: 1400ghost@gmail.com or find me on Twitter or Instagram.

I will read and review both physical or digital copies of either ARCs or finished copies on my blog as well as on Goodreads. My reviews will be honest and entirely my own.

I’m mainly interested in reviewing all genres of Young Adult and occasionally Adult Fiction, with a preference for books that are diverse.

My passion is getting people to read my favorite books, so if I love your book, I will make it my mission to recommend it to as many people as possible!