“Normality was contagious, and exposure to the infection was necessary to keep up with it”.
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata is an #OwnVoices Japanese fiction novel by acclaimed author of Convenience Store Woman. The story follows a young lady named Natsuki who as a child was an outcast in the eyes of her parents and sister, and whose only friend was a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut. Piyyut explained to her that he was a visitor from a far away planet named Popinpobopia on a very special quest to help Natsuki save Earth. Shortly afterwards, Natsuki begins to ponder as to whether she could be an alien as well and thus does not belong with the family that she cannot find common ground with, musings that become a bit more clearer (and stranger) once Natsuki matures into a grown woman.
What makes Earthlings such a fascinating feat of fiction is how absolutely absurd it is whilst dissecting some vital constructs of the modern era, particularly where the concept of being “normal” is concerned, along with the various ways that the human brain copes with trauma stemming from abuse and exploitation. Couple that with a surrealistically straightforward and terse prose, readers can expect some of the most innovatively bemusing literature to hit shelves yet.
Natsuki is a kid who is faced with an intensely lonely and alienating childhood that is laced with both verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. When she makes any attempt at seeking help for what is happening to her, she is met with disbelief and more ostracization. Her method of coping involves disconnecting from everything that is happening, causing her to become further disenfranchised from “fitting in” with people around her; an aspect that follows her well into adulthood.
The first half of the novel is a slow-burn build-up of the events that will work to formulate the mind-blowing climax to arrive in the second-half, and it is done in a marvellously meticulous yet chilling manner. The compiling sense of tension that begins to envelope the reader with each new atrocious encounter or experience that Natsuki undergoes creates an almost skin-crawling sensation. It is penetratively disturbing yet phenomenally cerebral, so much so that when everything implodes later on, the reader is left feeling utterly stunned.
My favourite element of the novel, aside from the insidiously psychological examination of how the psyche develops to protect against trauma, is the precise probe into the outrageous notion of normalcy. Individuals who reside within a perfect cookie-cutter existence are rarely able to view the many fallacies of the world, particularly if they are constantly unaffected by them. However, the outsiders and the oddballs who reside on the outskirts of this perception of perfectness—usually individuals that are neurodivergent or disabled—are the ones who truly comprehend just how awful a place the world can be; an infection to mental and emotional stability. When the grave catastrophes created by constructs such as capitalism or exploitation go unquestioned or uncontested, then the worst of consequences can occur, as depicted by the last one-third to one-fourth of the novel.
Earthlings is not for the feint-of-heart. There are some severe scenes of violence, brusque self-deprecating dialogue, on-the-page sexual molestation and rape, sexual exploitation of a child, many scenes of familial psychological and physical abuse, intense representations of anxiety and depression, social and sex-related awkwardness, and suicidal ideation, and the grotesque ways that normal able-minded and able-bodied folx perceive neurodivergent and disabled individuals. So, if you do find yourself intrigued by Earthlings, I recommend that you proceed cautiously. Even with the heavy subject matter and content, Earthlings is one brilliant novel, cementing Sayaka Murata as an up-and-rising author who has so much to offer the literary world.
Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Grove Atlantic.
One of the best parts of a brand-new month is being able to visit the New Releases shelves of my local bookstores (virtually during this time of pandemic proportions) and gazing upon the latest book releases! Not only does my To-Be-Read list mutate like a virus-ridden plant (I am looking at you Plant 42), but it also helps me to keep an eye on the diverse nature of those releases. Being able to discover fabulous new POC/BIPOC/QPOC authors or freshly minted stories from old-time beloveds helps me to feel inspired and hopeful about diverse voices and representations in publishing and literature. While we still have quite a long ways to go in the realm of equality within the industry, I still love to celebrate the little victories along the way.
For October, there are five books specifically that I have been eagerly anticipating for the better part of three to four months, and I was blessed with the opportunity to read half of my most-anticipated list via ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies). These titles are truly brilliant works of creativity and human emotion, and I cannot wait to share my reviews of these fantastic upcoming releases with you all.
Until those reviews go live, here is the list of top five October book releases that you all should definitely keep an eye out for, whether at your local bookshops or libraries! At the very least, please consider adding them to your own TBRs if you have not done so yet. You can visit their respective GoodReads pages by clicking on the titles.
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata: This is an #OwnVoices Japanese literature novel by the acclaimed author of Convenience Store Woman and follows a young woman named Natsuki who as a child was an outcast in the eyes of her parents and sister, and whose only friend was a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut. Piyyut explained to her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth. Natsuki begins to wonder if she is also an alien and thus does not fit in with her family as such, ponderings that become a bit clearer once Natsuki matures into a grown woman.
Reading this book was an incredible ride. It is such a deeply psychological experience and explores a plethora of themes that concentrate on the impacts of childhood abuse and exploitation, and the various ways that people cope with their traumas and phobias. My full spoiler-free review shall go up later this week, however, if you are an avid reader of complex narratives and the beauty of slow-burn Japanese fiction, then I highly recommend that you check out Earthlings, more so if you enjoyed the author’s previous work. The book released on October 6th.
This is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi: This young adult LGBTQIA+ contemporary via the author of Tell Me How You Really Feel, follows a trio of young ladies who put their heads, hearts, and eccentricities together to save their local bookstore and place of employment, the Wild Nights Bookstore from closing shop permanently.
This amazing story has three fierce young women, each from a different diverse background and each with a fun and unique persona that you cannot help but adore. If that were not enough to warrant glee, toss in some book-saving theatrics and a spot of sweet romance for that extra kick of pleasure. My full spoiler-free review for this title shall go live next week. In the meantime, if you are a fan of female-centric stories full of friendship and empowerment, then I highly recommend this YA contemporary to you! The book releases on October 13th.
Come On In: 15 Stories About Immigration & Finding Home edited by Adi Alsaid: This anthology of young adult stories all centre on the diverse nature of immigrant experiences, including the heartbreak of leaving behind family for a fresh start in a strange new land, trying to acclimate with clashing cultures that come with second and third generation identities, returning to a native land after a long period of time, and much more. Each story shall incite laughter, warmth, heartbreak, and the triumphs that come with being an immigrant
I had the honour of reading and reviewing this title a couple of weeks ago and I can say with one-hundred-percent certainty that it is the best young adult anthology that I have read to date. The cultural richness of each story and the multi-dimensional nature of each separate experience and identity is absolutely astounding. Fans of multi-cultural literature and readers looking to better understand the vastness of the immigrant experiences should not miss this collection! A few of the contributing authors include Nafiza Azad (The Candle and the Flame), Maurene Goo (The Way You Make Me Feel), Zoraida Córdova (Incendiary), and Sona Charaipotra (Symptoms of a Heartbreak). My full spoiler-free review can be found on my sibling blog, BiblioNyan. The book hits shelves on October 13th.
To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu: This #OwnVoices Chinese science-fiction short story collection by the brilliant author of The Three-Body Problem centres on the various ways technology helps to make and/or break the world and universe from the use of physics to prevent alien invasions to the very collapse of the universe itself. It implements visionary allegories for the intense era of change during China from 1999 to 2017 from one of the most talented writers of the modern era.
As an avid aficionado of science-fiction, Cixin Liu has become somewhat of a celebrity icon for me in terms of scientific creativity and multi-faceted storytelling with relation to cultural and political exposition. While I tend to struggle with reading short stories, every time I pick up a piece by Cixin Liu, I am enthralled from start to finish. If you are a reader of hard science-fiction, especially in translation, then this collection should not be missed. The book shall hit shelves on October 20th.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee: An #OwnVoices Korean, #OwnVoices LGBTQIA+ adult fantasy novel following a person named Gyen Jebi who has a passion for painting. When they find themselves jobless and desperate, they are recruited by the Ministry of Armour to paint mystical symbols that animate the occupying government’s soldiers. But when Jebi learns of the government’s horrifying crimes, they know that they can no longer stay out of the politics. Instead, they become determined to steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton in order to stand up and fight.
As a Nonbinary person, I have such a deep and unrelenting appreciation for Yoon Ha Lee’s works. Being able to see Nonbinary characters who are brilliant and fierce and full of layers that make them both fallible yet relatable make my heart warm and excited. Couple that representation with fantasy works of epic proportions, then I have something tantalising and irresistible on my plate. Phoenix Extravagant is an incredible novel full of contemplative musings on imperialism, the spirituality and nationalisation of art, as well as a supremely adorable dragon you cannot help but fawn over. If you are a fan of Asian literature, specifically Asian-inspired fantasy stories, then Phoenix Extravagant is definitely the book for you. My full spoiler-review shall go live in a couple of weeks. The book shall release on October 20th.
Those are my top five most-anticipated book releases for October and I honestly cannot wait to share reviews for them with you all over the next few weeks. If you are able to, please do visit the GoodReads pages and consider pre-ordering these titles or requesting them and/or placing them on hold at your local libraries. Let’s all uplift diverse voices together!
Seven by Farzana Doctor is an #OwnVoices Indian fiction literature novel about a woman named Sharifa who travels to India with her husband with the hopes of learning more about her great-great-grandfather who was an immensely successful businessman and a philanthropist. During her research, however, instead of discovering a tale of rags-to-riches, Sharifa learns that her grandfather had four wives, all of whom had been omitted from the family’s lore. As she becomes more and more engrossed in the enigma surrounding these women, Sharifa also becomes entangled in a powerful familial debate regarding khatna—an age-old ritual of female genital cutting, one that shall force her to face her own reality and choose a side.
One of the most intriguing characteristics about Seven is the subject matter of female genital cutting (FGC) as it is one that I have never seen discussed in literature before. My own personal knowledge of this ritual is extremely limited and for all intents and purposes, it has always been a topic that has existed within my own cultural circles, but one that is never openly discussed. While I was curious to learn more about FGC, I was wary of the sensitivity with which it would be broached in the book. Ms Doctor not only discusses this vital issue with accessibility and evocativeness, she also does so with great care and consideration, which is what truly makes Seven such an incredible title.
The writing style is simple and rather straight-forward, making it easy to get utterly consumed within the pages, more so when the emotions surrounding the subject matter are portrayed with authenticity and thoughtfulness. Each side of the debate is given attention and respect, and provides an insightful, educative, and captivating reading experience. The tone while discussing the roots of these rituals and why some family members still believe in the practise is never spiteful or accusatory, which is an incredibly challenging feat given the nature of this matter. Her exposition is careful and considerate from beginning to end, even when it leans a bit more towards one side versus the other.
The superb use of emotions to illustrate the tensions within Sharifa’s family as they discuss this practise draws the reader further into the complexities of olden traditional Indian culture that most would consider to be highly outdated. There are layers of complexities that go beyond simple right and wrong that create a plethora of reactions and responses as the story unfolds, making the book practically impossible to put down.
The focus on FGC plays parallel to some of the other issues that Sharifa is battling in Seven and that helps to formulate an even more elaborate narrative filled with multi-dimensional themes on gender roles (particularly where sex is concerned), self-acceptance, the intricacies of cultural identity, marriage, female relationships, and much more. Sharifa’s husband, Murtuza, was a pleasant surprise whilst reading. He was a compassionate and understanding man who always valued his wife’s thoughts and feelings, highlighting an equity in their marriage that is rarely depicted in books showcasing more culturally inflexible gender-centric functions in South Asian communities, especially with respect to her inner turmoil regarding her sexuality and mental fortitude.
While Seven is not an easy book to read, it is vastly important, and I highly recommend it to readers that are searching for a unique story with fallibly relatable characters. With writing that is supported via excellent research, a respectful approach to an intensely delicate subject matter, a sensitive exhibition of sex and romance amid rigid Indian traditions and gender roles, and beautifully sincere use of emotions, there is very little within these pages that shall disappoint.
Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Dundurn Press.
This year has been a strange reading year for me. I have either been finding excellent books one right after another or ending up on the receiving end of a streak of one-star disappointments. Most of this can be accredited to stress and discomfort with processing through the constant flow of uncertainty that 2020 has been igniting and reigniting time and time again. The rest can be blamed on my rather finicky reading moods that seem to change with the quick shift of the wind.
If there is anything particularly positive about my reading habits for 2020 thus far, it would have to be how consistently I have been engaging with diverse own-voices books, as well as how wonderfully I have been staying loyal to my goal of reading more nonfiction titles this year.
Since the midway point has come and almost gone, I wanted to share my favourite books from the year with you. Each one of these has either brought me a great sense of joy or insight or was just a marvellous feat of creativity and I wanted to bring more attention and adoration their way. Normally, I like to do a humongous wrap-up of the best books across twelve months during the final week of December, however, this year I wanted to break them into two segments so that the lists are a bit less daunting and exhaustive. It also works as an experiment to see which way jams better with my overall comfort zone.
For each listed book, I have included the genre, links to their GoodReads pages via the title, and any relative reviews that I may have written for it. Please note that if there is a review, some of them may be on my sibling blog, BiblioNyan.
When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur: An own-voices Canadian-Punjabi poetry collection with wonderful prose and poems that discuss the diasporic experience, battling sexism and racism within own cultural communities, being fetishized and sexualised by White people and how that impacts self-identity, and so much more. The collection really resonated with me as a brown-skinned South Asian who has (and continues to) deal with all these things to one degree or another in my life. The portions that hit the closest to my heart were the writings that explored what being Othered by one’s own cultural community feels like because one does not fit the mould of how they perceive that individual should be as a South Asian gender-specific person. I highly recommend this to readers who enjoy poetry, specifically intersectional-focused work.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: This collection of short stories written by the superbly brilliant Roxane Gay is indescribably powerfully. Originally read in celebration of Black History Month, the anthology is filled with stories about womxn who take back their own narrative, oft times by partaking in difficult living situations in order to survive, while also knocking back their oppressors and abusers (both figuratively and literally) to stand tall and proud, with a sprinkle of various experiences in between the two extremes. It exemplifies the diversity of womxn, indicating that womxn’s experiences do not equate to a monolithic gender identity. Recommended for readers of short stories and nonfiction intersectional feminist essays.
Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire: An adult portal fantasy novel that is the fifth instalment in the Wayward Children series. It is by far my favourite volume thus far as it has incredible representation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is a condition that I have. My personal experience with OCD pertains to the need to stay extremely clean and hygienic at all times. If I am unable to do so, then I quite literally feel like I shall lose my ability to function normally. An example of how I cope is how I wear gloves whenever I leave my house, similarly to the main character of this specific title. The novel portrays the difficulties of living with extreme OCD in an accurate manner without being hurtful or disrespectful, which I wholeheartedly respected and appreciated. For some, this level of OCD may appear to be unrealistic, however, as an individual who lives quite comparably to the character in the novel, I can assure you that it is very real and authentic. Additionally, the story deals with abusive relationships and how validating abusers is the only way to survive in some situations, which was also written with sincerity. I recommend this to readers of fantasy, especially portal fantasies, who appreciate accurate mental health/illness representations.
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty: An own-voices Islamic epic fantasy book, and the first instalment in The Daevabad Trilogy, this title is an exceptional example of methodically crafted, cultural-rich, politically charged fantasy storytelling at its absolute finest. The depiction of morally grey characters and how vast the shades of faith can be, even within a particular creed, were remarkably written. The world-building and all-encompassing atmospheric exhibition of the setting of Daevabad is breathtaking in both scope and execution. One of the finest first instalments in a series that I have ever read. I highly recommend this to readers of adult fantasy who have a keen interest in political intrigue, amazing action, and multi-dimensional characters. My full spoiler-free review.
The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty: The sequel to the above title, this novel takes everything that The City of Brass did swellingly and contributes to the storyline and character plights by focusing on specialised character development and growth, tightening the suspense as it relates to the political machinations, and elaborating on complex themes of individuality, subjugation, abuse, and much more. By far the best sequel novel in a series that I have ever read. My full spoiler-free review.
Japanese Fashion Cultures: Dress & Gender in Contemporary Japan by MasafumiMonden: This is an own-voices Japanese nonfiction book that examines fashion trends in Japan as it specifically relates to mxn’s fashion. Some of the topics of interest include, but are not limited to, fashion as a form of gender identity and surpassing the binary, the evolution of mxn’s interest in fashion styles in Japan, and the projected future of the fashion industry as it relates to masculine identities. It is marvellously written, with in-depth research and a plenitude of information, as well as additional resources for further reading. The book manages to avoid being intensely dense, which was a welcome reprieve considering the subject matter. Highly recommended for readers who have an interest in multi-cultural fashion industries and surveys of gender identity in Japan.
Kawaii: Japan’s Culture of Cute by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson: Another own-voices Japanese nonfiction novel, this one is a brightly coloured, glossy-paged reference guide to Kawaii culture in Japan. The book offers in-depth yet accessibly succinct chunks of the origins of kawaii culture, its historical influences and evolution, a list of the major artistic creators and influencers of the concept of cute within Japanese society, and how it became a world-wide phenomenon. There are interviews with manga creators as well as specialists and historians within the field that make this book highly informative and vastly fascinating. The beautiful design and presentation along with the layman’s vernacular make the title a must read for all Japanophiles, especially for ones interested in modern kawaii culture (i.e.: anime, Lolita fashion, maid cafés, etc.).
The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar: An own-voices Islamic, own-voices Syrian American story about a girl named Nour who moves back to Syria with her mum and sisters shortly after her father’s passing. Before she has the time to fully acclimate to her new surroundings, her town is bombed, forcing her family to flee across numerous borders in order to fight for their very existence. It is magnificently compelling and emotionally riveting. The story is not an easy one to digest as it portrays the harsh reality of loss in multiple layers and dynamics, with the loss of home, loss of loved ones, loss of individuality, and even loss of faith, but that is also what makes it one of the most important books out there. My full spoiler-free review.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto: An own-voices Japanese fiction novel that is considered to be a revolutionary work in modern Japanese literature, it follows a young woman who moves in with her grandmother’s friend upon the grandmother’s passing. Whilst living there, the young womxn harnesses the healing powers of cooking and friendship to grieve and find a way to move forward amid life’s unpredictability. Even though the novel has its sad moments, it is ultimately a story of inspiration and hope, making it perfect for anyone that needs a little of both in their lives. Highly recommended for folx that like to read contemporary literary fiction or are interested in Japanese literature but are not quite sure where to begin.
Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender: An own-voices Caribbean, own-voices Queer story for middle-grade readers about a young girl that is faced with feelings of abandonment, and the people who lie to protect her. Callender’s prose and exploration of complex feelings with regard to the uncertainty that follows the loss of a parent, even at such a young age, is powerfully insightful and stunningly evocative. It showcases how children are not the only ones that have to grow up and oft times it is because of their sincere perspective on life that so many adults finally figure it out for themselves. Recommended to readers that like middle-grade books, books with Queer romances, and books that explore the more hurtful aspects and complexities of cultural-specific communities. A full review for this title shall be on the blog shortly.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu: An own-voices Sri Lankan and Tamil, own-voices Queer adult literature novel about a womxn named Lucky. She is a lesbian that married her gay friend from college so they could maintain their personal Queer dating excursions safely hidden from the judgemental gazes of their conservative Tamil parents. However, when Lucky is invited home to attend her childhood friend’s wedding, emotions start to run high as she questions what she wants from her life and future. This was such an excellent novel with raw, unfiltered emotion about being in an abusive relationship with a closeted individual, and how the fears and insecurities of such a person can create an extremely toxic relationship. It also examines the challenges of coming to terms with one’s identity amid strict, traditional familial environments and oppressively rigid gender-enforced rituals. It is not an easy book to read, but it is phenomenal, nonetheless. Highly recommended for readers searching for an authentic Queer literary novel centring on Sri Lankan experiences and representation. A full review for this title shall be up on the blog shortly.
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell: This own-voices Black nonfiction book takes a look at systemic racism and oppression of BIPOC and POC through the pages of history so that we may understand what those two constructs entail, which better equips us to break them down. My favourite part of this collection is how it tackles each element with grace, centring on positive discourse. There are also activities at the end of each main section so that we can truly examine White supremacy and privilege around us in our daily interactions and environments, which further emphasises prejudice and discrimination against all BIPOC and POC individuals. I recommend this to folx interested in learning about and understanding the roots of systemic racism and those who truly wish to unravel the very pillars that maintain the status quo of oppression of marginalised peoples.
Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali: This own-voices Islamic young adult contemporary romance book is the best book I have read in all of 2020 so far. It follows two teenagers who meet by happenstance and formulate a friendship during some of the most difficult tribulations of their life thus far. It is an immensely beautiful book about the joys of faith and the comforts of learning to be oneself, unapologetically so. It is feminist, romantic, fierce, and so wonderfully full of wisdom. Highly recommended to readers that enjoy sincere, wholesome romances, intersectional feminism, and young adult narratives. A full review for this book shall be up shortly.
That does it for my bi-annual round-up of the best reading experiences that I have had in 2020. I am eager and excited for what the next six months shall bring my way. Until next time, happy reading to you!
With the sudden arrival of quarantine, I have become reunited with my Kindle app on my iPad so that I may read e-books. With libraries and bookstores being shut down, the safest and oft times cheapest means of acquiring diverse titles has been via daily deals for digital novels. Between that and Amazon’s free trial of Kindle Unlimited (a subscriber can read an unlimited amount of e-books for $9.99 per month, with ten checkouts at a time and no expiration date), my appreciation for cybernated reading has deepened tenfold.
May and June (thus far) have proved to be quite invaluable with regard to diverse books authored by writers of colour. With titles being offered for lightning-timed prices of zero dollars to approximately a couple bucks here and there, so many brilliant novels from my TBR (to-be-read) list, across subgenres of young adult to adult and historical fiction to fantasy, have fallen conveniently into my Kindle library. As such, I now have a decent collection of things to read and review on The Djinn Reader for the remainder of 2020.
Please check out my latest digital haul down below. Respective links to GoodReads pages shall be linked after the synopses of each title, along with the sale price that I acquired the books for.
The Rise of Kiyoshi by F.C. Yee: A young adult fantasy novel that is the first instalment in a prequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender. The story delves into the story of Kyoshi, the Earth Kingdom–born Avatar. The longest-living Avatar in this beloved world’s history, Kyoshi established the brave and respected Kyoshi Warriors, but also founded the secretive Dai Li, which led to the corruption, decline, and fall of her own nation. GoodReads. $2.99
The Golden Hairpin by Qinghan Cece: This #OwnVoices historical mystery is about an investigative prodigy named Huang Zixia. At thirteen, she proves herself worthy as an investigator by aiding her father in solving confounding crimes. When she turns seventeen, she ends up going on the run after being accused of murdering her family to escape an arranged marriage. Driven by a single pursuit, she uses her skills to unmask the real killer so she may clear her name once and for all. However, in order to make that happen, Huang shall have to make a deal with the Prince of Kui while bargaining her freedom and life in order to save them both. GoodReads. $0.99
The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo: An #OwnVoices Korean Contemporary novel about a teenager named Clara Shin who lives for pranks. However, when she takes a joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck with her uptight classmate, Rose Carver. What Clara expects to be an utter disaster turns into a summer of self-discovery with new friendships and a fresh romance. GoodReads. $2.99
The Lost Vintage: A Novel by Ann Mah: A fiction literature story about a woman named Kate who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy, where she discovers a lost diary and an unknown relative that shall unveil a family secret held closely since the Second World War. As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? GoodReads. $3.99
The Perfect Nanny: A Novel by Leila Slimani: This is an #OwnVoices Franco-Moroccan book about a woman named Myriam. When she decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, her and her husband look for the perfect nanny. They find Louise, who seems to be an utter dream come true. She is quiet, polite, and devoted. She sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, and stays late without complaints. But as the nanny and the couple become more co-dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicion start stirring, threatening to shatter the idyllic tableau crafted. GoodReads. $2.99
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak: An #OwnVoices Turkish-Islamic adult fiction story set over an evening in contemporary Istanbul, following Peri, a married and wealthy Turkish woman. On her way to a seaside mansion, a beggar snatches her handbag. While she wrestles to retrieve it, a photograph falls to the ground—an old polaroid of three young women and their university professor. A relic from the past and a love of Peri’s that she had tried desperately to forget. GoodReads. $1.99
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim: An #OwnVoices Chinese young adult fantasy story that is a sweeping tale about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor. To do so, she shall have to embark on an epic journey to sew three magic dresses from the sun, the moon, and the stars. Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise. GoodReads. $2.99
Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang: This historical occult fiction book takes place in New York City in 1899 and follows Tillie Pembrooke. She’s a ravenous reader and a researcher that is determined to unravel the mystery of her sister’s death. Will Tillie be able to look past the haze of her opium addiction and the hysteria caused by the murder in order to catch the culprit behind her sister’s demise? GoodReads. $1.99
A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian: An #OwnVoices South Asian novel that revolves around a tight-knit community known as Heaven—a ramshackle slum hidden between luxury high-rises in Bangalore, India—five girls on the cusp of womanhood forge an unbreakable bond. Muslim, Christian, and Hindu; Queer and straight; they are full of life, and they love and accept one another unconditionally. Whatever they have, they share. These marginalised women are determined to transcend their surroundings. When the local government threatens to demolish their homes in order to build a shopping mall, the girls and their mothers refuse to be erased. Together they wage war on the bulldozers sent to bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that wishes that families like them would remain hidden forever. GoodReads. $1.99
No More Heroes by Michelle Kan: This urban fantasy title. The peaceful nights are kept under the clandestine and watchful eye of young, gifted Vigilantes around the world. But a sudden rash of Vigilante deaths foreshadows the arrival of a new and unfamiliar enemy—one whose motive is as unclear as their identity. Someone or something seems determined to disturb the peace, and they are going straight for the watchmen to do it. In a city where those who are gifted make up their own rules, who will step forward when the threat of a swift end is real and there stands so little to gain? GoodReads. $3.50
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: An #OwnVoices Vietnamese historical fiction title that has received sweeping acclaim across the globe, it is a multigenerational tale about the Trần family, set against the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, born in the 1920s, is forced to flee with her six children during a period of severe land reform. Years later, her granddaughter comes of age as her family is headed down to Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore her country and family apart. GoodReads. $1.99
Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier: This is an #OwnVoices Pacific Islander (Guam), young adult historical fantasy novel. Eighteen years ago two princes of the island kingdom of St. John del Mar were kidnapped and murdered in a deadly plot by the rival kingdom of Mondrago. Everyone knows the story. Yet for Elias, Mercedes, and Ulises the aftermath of that terrible day is deeply personal. Elias grew up without his father, who was killed trying to protect the princes. Mercedes is half-Mondragan, leaving her to grow up in the shadow of del Mar’s hate. And Ulises, as the youngest and only remaining prince, inherited the throne meant for his older brothers. Now, the three friends just want to move on with their lives. But when two maps surface—each with the same hidden riddle—troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young princes? And why do the maps look like they were drawn by Elias’s father, whose body was never found? To discover what really happened that fateful day, Elias, Mercedes, and Ulises must follow the clues hidden in the maps, uncovering long-held secrets and unimaginable betrayals along the way. GoodReads. $1.99
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh: This historical fantasy young adult story is loosely inspired by Arabian Nights. Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. GoodReads. $1.99
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore: This is a young adult historical fantasy novel. Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumours of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves. Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there is more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes. GoodReads. $1.99
Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith: A young adult contemporary following Divya and Aaron. For them, it is all about the world of online gaming. While Divya trades her rising status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay rent, Aaron plays as a way to fuel his own dreams of becoming a game developer. After a chance online meeting, the pair decides to team up, but soon find themselves as targets for a group of internet trolls that begin launching a real-world doxxing campaign, threatening Aaron’s dream and Divya’s actual life. They think can drive her out of the game, but Divya’s whole world is on the line and she shall not go down without a fight. GoodReads. $1.99
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera: An #OwnVoices Puerto Rican young adult contemporary title about Juliet Milagros Palante, who is a self-proclaimed closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx. Then Juliet comes out to her family the night before flying out to Portland, Oregon for an internship with her favourite feminist writer. When her coming out completely crashes, she is not sure her mother shall ever speak to her again. Hoping her internship shall give her the answers, Juliet realises that it will be much harder as Harlowe is White, not from the Bronx, and does not have the answers Juliet seeks. GoodReads. $1.99
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron: A young adult fantasy about Arrah, who is the heir to two lines of powerful witchdoctors. She yearns for magic of her own yet fails at bone magic and calling upon her ancestors, as well as living up to her familial legacy. Under her mother’s disapproving eye, Arrah is afraid that she shall never be good enough. However, when the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, Arrah becomes desperate enough to turn to a forbidden and dangerous ritual. If she does not have her own magic, then her last resort is to buy it but trading away years of her own life. GoodReads. $1.99
Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown: This book is a young adult novel that is heavily autobiographical novel and infused with magical realism about a girl named Echo Brown, who is a wizard from the East Side, where apartments are small, and parents suffer addictions to the white rocks. Yet there is magic everywhere. New portals begin to open when Echo transfers to the rich school on the West Side, and an insightful teacher becomes a pivotal mentor. Each day, Echo travels between two worlds, leaving her brothers, her friends, and a piece of herself behind on the East Side. There are dangers to leaving behind the place that made you. Echo soon realises there is pain flowing through everyone around her, and a black veil of depression threatens to undo everything she has worked for. GoodReads. $2.99
Asian Tor.com Original Short Stories (GR Links in Titles)
Beyond the Dragon’s Gate by Yoon Ha Lee: This #OwnVoices Korean science-fiction short story is about former Academician, Anna Kim. Kim’s research into artificial intelligence cost her everything. Now, years later, the military has need of her expertise in order to prevent the destruction of their AI-powered fleet. $0.99
Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Neon Yang: An OwnVoices Singaporean science-fiction short story about Xin, who is an ansible that uses her song magic to connect the originworld of the Imperial authority and its far-flung colonies—a role that is forced upon magically-gifted women “of a certain closeness.” When a dead body comes through her portal at a time of growing rebellion, Xin is drawn deep into a station-wide conspiracy along with Ouyang Suqing, one of the station’s mysterious, high-ranking starmages. $0.99
This year has been incredibly eventful with a vast majority of the occurrences being tragedies or mass failings by our government, bringing about intense uncertainty. However, the one takeaway from 2020 that can bring relative comfort are all of the fantastic books that have been hitting shelves. Books for me have always been a source of escapism as well as a means of understanding political strife from as many perspectives, beliefs, understandings, social standings (and more) as possible. They have also been a refuge for me with regard to gender and sexual identities and trying to navigate the frightening lanes of dysphoria, more so within the confines of cultural and religious capacities.
As such, this Pride month I wanted to celebrate and bring attention to all of the Queer books that have been published thus far and that shall be releasing in the coming months by POC and BIPOC authors. These novels share stories of hope and faith, as well as of tragedy and heartbreak, with everything in between. From fictional and fantasy narratives to memoirs and candid revelations, the novels listed herein have something to offer just about every sort of reader out there and I highly encourage you to pick some of these up, whether via personal acquisition or non-profit sources like local libraries. If ever there were a time where understanding, acknowledging, and respecting Queer identities—especially of POC and BIPOC—was of great importance, it is now during one of the largest humanitarian, and human and civil rights movements in existence.
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumours of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves. Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there is more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes. Released.
Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim: When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she has been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide. Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception-and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she is plotting to bring down-the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realises she must trust no one. Released.
Real Life: A Novel by Brandon Taylor: Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern University town where he is working uneasily toward a biochemistry degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, Black and Queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defences while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community. Released.
dayliGht: Poems by Roya Marsh: Growing up, Roya Marsh was considered “tomboy passing.” With an affinity for baggy clothes, cornrows, and bandanas, she came of age in an era when the wide spectrum of gender and sexuality was rarely acknowledged or discussed. She knew she was “different,” her family knew she was “different,” but anything outside of the heteronormativity was either disregarded or disparaged. In her stunning debut, written in protest to an absence of representation, Marsh recalls her early life and the attendant torments of a butch Black woman coming of age in America. Released.
Fiebre Tropical by Juli Delgado Lopera: Uprooted from her comfortable life in Bogotá, Colombia, into an ant-infested Miami townhouse, fifteen-year-old Francisca is miserable and friendless in her strange new city. Her alienation grows when her mother is swept up into an evangelical church, replete with Christian salsa, abstinent young dancers, and baptisms for the dead. But there, Francisca also meets the magnetic Carmen: opinionated and charismatic, head of the youth group, and the pastor’s daughter. As her mother’s mental health deteriorates and her grandmother descends into alcoholism, Francisca falls more and more intensely in love with Carmen. To get closer to her, Francisca turns to Jesus to be saved, even as their relationship hurtles toward a shattering conclusion. Released.
The Gospel of Breaking by Julian Christmas: Befitting someone who “speaks things into being,” Christmas extracts from family history, queer lineage, and the political landscape of a racialised life to create a rich, softly defiant collection of poems. Christmas draws a circle around the things she calls “holy”: the family line that cannot find its root but survived to fill the skies with radiant flesh; the body, broken and unbroken and broken and new again; the lover lost, the friend lost, and the loss itself; and the hands that hold them all with brilliant, tender care. Released.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson: 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. Released.
All My Mother’s Lovers: A Novel by Ilana Mosad: Intimacy has always eluded twenty-seven-year-old Maggie Krause—despite being brought up by married parents, models of domestic bliss—until, that is, Lucia came into her life. But when Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home only to discover a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and, along with Iris’s will, five sealed envelopes, each addressed to a mysterious man she has never heard of. In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris—who made no secret of her discomfort with her daughter’s sexuality—Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother. Maggie quickly discovers Iris’s second, hidden life, which shatters everything Maggie thought she knew about her parents’ perfect relationship. What is she supposed to tell her father and brother? And how can she deal with her own relationship when her whole world is in freefall? Released.
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta: Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he has navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican—but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough. As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs—and the Black Flamingo is born. Released.
Fairest: A Memoir by Merideth Talusan:A memoir about a precocious boy with Albinism, a “sun child” from a rural Philippine village, who would grow up to become a woman in America. Coping with the strain of parental neglect and the elusive promise of U.S. citizenship, Talusan found childhood comfort from her devoted grandmother, a grounding force as she was treated by others with special preference or public curiosity. As an immigrant to the United States, Talusan came to be perceived as White. An academic scholarship to Harvard provided access to elite circles of privilege but required Talusan to navigate through the complex spheres of race, class, sexuality, and her place within the gay community. She emerged as an artist and an activist questioning the boundaries of gender. Talusan realised she did not want to be confined to a prescribed role as a man, and transitioned to become a woman, despite the risk of losing a man she deeply loved. Released.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callendar: Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he is painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it is like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What is worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he is one marginalisation 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 did not 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. Released.
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar: Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled―but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back. As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance. Released.
Belladonna by Anbara Salam: Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella. In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school on the grounds of a silent convent. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and her Egyptian mother as outsiders, Bridget discovers she can reinvent herself as anyone she desires, perhaps even someone Isabella could desire in return. But as that glittering year goes on, Bridget begins to suspect Isabella is keeping a secret from her, one that will change the course of their lives forever. Releases June 9th
Neotenica by Joon Oluchi Lee: A novel of encounters: casual sex, arranged-marriage dates, cops, rowdy teenagers, lawyers, a Sapphic flirtation, a rival, a child, and two important dogs. At the centre of it are Young Ae, a Korean-born ballet dancer turned Ph.D. student, and her husband, a Korean-American male who inhabits an interior femininity, neither transgender nor homosexual, but a strong, visceral femininity, nonetheless. Releases June 23rd
On the Enemy’s Side: Forbidden Love in an Iranian Prison by Hamour Baika: In 1980, as the world is captivated by the Iranian hostage crisis, aspiring doctor Hesam drops out of medical school in Rome and returns to Iran to serve his country. A member of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, he becomes a prison guard in Ahwaz, assigned to investigate and interrogate political prisoners. The more he learns about ethnic and religious tensions, however, the more he finds the concept of revolutionary justice questionable. Hesam finds solace in speaking with a defiant young prisoner with whom he develops a passionate bond. But when Hesam discovers damning evidence about the detainee, he has to choose between his political ideals and his conscience in a country where same-sex love is violently condemned. Releases June 16th
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat:On a hot day in Bethlehem, a 12-year-old Palestinian-American girl is yelled at by a group of men outside the Church of the Nativity. She has exposed her legs in a biblical city, an act they deem forbidden, and their judgement will echo on through her adolescence. When our narrator finally admits to her mother that she is queer, her mother’s response only intensifies a sense of shame: “You exist too much,” she tells her daughter. Told in vignettes that flash between the U.S. and the Middle East―from New York to Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine―Zaina Arafat’s debut novel traces her protagonist’s progress from blushing teen to sought-after DJ and aspiring writer. In Brooklyn, she moves into an apartment with her first serious girlfriend and tries to content herself with their comfortable relationship. But soon her longings, so closely hidden during her teenage years, explode out into reckless romantic encounters and obsessions with other people. Her desire to thwart her own destructive impulses will eventually lead her to The Ledge, an unconventional treatment centre that identifies her affliction as “love addiction.” In this strange, enclosed society she will start to consider the unnerving similarities between her own internal traumas and divisions and those of the places that have formed her. Releases June 9th
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson: Liz Lighty has always believed she is too Black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it is okay—Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down, until she is reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There is nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she is willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington. The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She is smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams, or make them come true? Released.
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron: It is 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again. Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step-sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all—and in the process, they learn that there is more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew. Releases July 7th
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust: There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it is not just a story. As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she is willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison. Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming—human or demon. Princess or monster. Releases July 7th
My Favourite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog by Legna Rodriguez Iglesias: A novel told in fifteen stories, linked by the same protagonist, our narrator, who—in her own voice and channelling the voices of others—creates an unsparing, multigenerational portrait of her native Cuba. Though she feels suffocated by the island and decides to leave, hers is not just a political novel—nor just a queer novel, an immigrant novel, a feminist novel—but a deeply existential one, in which mortality, corporeality, bureaucracy, emotional and physical violence, and the American Dream define the long journey of our narrator and her beloved pet dog, who gives the book both its title and its unforgettable ending. Releases July 14th
Love After Love: A Novel by Ingrid Persaud: After Betty Ramdin’s husband dies, she invites a colleague, Mr. Chetan, to move in with her and her son, Solo. Over time, the three become a family, loving each other deeply and depending upon one another. Then, one fateful night, Solo overhears Betty confiding in Mr. Chetan and learns a secret that plunges him into torment. Solo flees Trinidad for New York to carve out a lonely existence as an undocumented immigrant, and Mr. Chetan remains the singular thread holding mother and son together. But soon, Mr. Chetan’s own burdensome secret is revealed, with heart-breaking consequences. Releases August 4th
Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara: When the Virgin Mary appears to Cleopatra, she renounces sex work and takes charge of the shantytown she lives in, transforming it into a tiny utopia. Ambitious journalist, Quity, knows she has found the story of the year when she hears about it, but her life is changed forever once she finds herself irrevocably seduced by the captivating subject of her article. Releases August 25th
Thrown in the Throat (National Poetry Series) by Benjamin Garcia: In a sex-positive incantation that re-textures what it is to write a queer life amidst troubled times, Garcia writes boldly of citizenship, family, and Adam Rippon’s butt. Detailing a childhood spent undocumented, one speaker recalls nights when “because we cannot sleep / we dream with open eyes.” Garcia delves with both English and Spanish into how one survives a country’s long love affair with anti-immigrant cruelty. Rendering a family working to the very end to hold each other, he writes the kind of family you both survive and survive with. Releases August 11th
Broken Jade by Paul Chan:One family, two very different worlds. When same-sex marriage is approved in Australia, Sydney’s lawyer, Justin Wong, calls home and turns his mother Madeline’s world upside down. Madeline is a respected society matron and a church elder in her hometown, Tenangan. Born into poverty, she is a Malaysian success story. Meanwhile, Justin has fought his own battles as a gay Asian man, who rose to the top of his profession and finally found love. When Madeline sets off on an urgent mission to save her son’s soul and her family’s reputation, Justin must stand up to the mother whom he had grown up idolising. Releases September 1st
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas: When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true 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 is determined to find out what happened and tie off 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. Releases September 1st
Everyone Was Falling by Js Lee: On the weekend of July Fourth, shots are fired at a twentieth high school reunion in a small US town, killing fifty-six. Three survive. Lucy—a queer, Asian adoptee whose past trauma hypervigilance leads them to safety—is dubbed the hero. White, blond town treasure, Christy, is the star—using YouTube to garner fame. Donna—the only former Black student of Bixby—becomes the suspect, despite what her wealthy father has done for the town. The three women navigate PTSD and the differences that long ago drove them apart. They are targeted by racists, opportunists, and violent exes. As the police department fumbles, it’s up to the survivors to lead them to justice. Releases September 1st
How it All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi: Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy—he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right? Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature, until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom. Releases September 22nd
Polar Vortex by Shani Motoo: A novel about a lesbian couple who left the big city, where they had both lived for many years, to relocate to a bucolic countryside community where they knew no one and no one knew them. It seemed like a good idea to both Priya and Alex to cement their newish, later-in-life relationship by leaving the past behind to create a new life together. But there is leaving the past behind—and then there is running away from awkward histories. Priya seems totally committed to her relationship with Alex, but she has a secret—a long-standing on-again, off-again relationship with a man, Prakash. In Priya’s mind Prakash is little more than an old friend, but in reality it is a bit more complicated. And, she has never told Alex about him. Prakash has tracked Priya down in her new life, and before she realizes what she is doing, she invites him to visit. Alex is not pleased, and soon the existing cracks in their relationship widen, not least because Alex has her own secrets. Releases September 15th
This is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi: Rinn Olivera is finally going to tell her long-time crush AJ that she is in love with him. Daniella Korres writes poetry for her own account, but nobody knows it is her. Imogen Azar is just trying to make it through the day. When Rinn, Daniella, and Imogen clock into work at Wild Nights Bookstore on the first day of summer, they are expecting the hours to drift by the way they always do. Instead, they have to deal with the news that the bookstore is closing. Before the day is out, there shall be shaved heads, a diva author, and a very large shipment of Air Jordans to contend with. And it will take all three of them working together if they have any chance to save Wild Nights Bookstore. Releases October 13th
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi: Spanning three continents, the book tells the interconnected stories of three Nigerian women: Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Kambirinachi believes that she is an Ogbanje, or an Abiku, a non-human spirit that plagues a family with misfortune by being born and then dying in childhood to cause a human mother misery. She has made the unnatural choice of staying alive to love her human family but lives in fear of the consequences of her decision. Kambirinachi and her two daughters become estranged from one another because of a trauma that Kehinde experiences in childhood, which leads her to move away and cut off all contact. She ultimately finds her path as an artist and seeks to raise a family of her own, despite her fear that she will no’t be a good mother. Meanwhile, Taiye is plagued by guilt for what her sister suffered and also runs away, attempting to fill the void of that lost relationship with casual flings with women. She eventually discovers a way out of her stifling loneliness through a passion for food and cooking. But now, after more than a decade of living apart, Taiye and Kehinde have returned home to Lagos. It is here that the three women must face each other and address the wounds of the past if they are to reconcile and move forward. Releases November 3rd
The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar: Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighbourhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his long-time crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighbourhood known as Little Syria. One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting the birds of North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z’s past is intimately tied to his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z’s story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Releases November 3rd
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo: The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover―a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty―and discover how truth can survive becoming history. Releases December 8th
If there are any #OwnVoices Queer books by POC and BIPOC that I have missed on this list, please let me know in the comments and I shall add them so long as they were (or are) released in 2020. Once again, I highly encourage you to visit some of these reads upon their release and support diverse Queer books whenever you can! Thank you.
Japanese literature is one of my favourite genres to read, so much so that I have been engaging with it (including the in-depth study of) for the better part of a decade. It is what I tend to gravitate towards the most, especially since it has taught me an incalculable wealth of information on how to critically analyse various literatures, the stories that they tell about the psychology of people including cultures, histories, and social and economic upheavals, and how to write magnificently crafted narratives in general. There has not been a single genre of Japanese literature that has not left me feeling more enlightened and passionate about reading and writing.
Since I receive a lot of questions from people about Japanese literature and how best to begin reading from it, I thought it would be neat to share recommendations that are perfect for an array of readers, whether the preference is for mysteries to contemporaries and even magical realism and fantasy. All of these books are translated fiction that is authored by women, who are some of my favourite writers from the modern age.
If you find a novel that catches your fancy, click on the titles to visit their respective GoodReads pages. Any pertinent reviews shall also be linked after the snippet, where available, just in case if one desires more in-depth information. Please note that all books shared are adult fiction titles, even though a few of them have kids or teenagers as protagonists.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa: This fiction literature book is perfect for readers that are searching for wholesome narratives about families, including single motherhood and discovering a familial bond in kindred spirits rather than blood relatives. It also has excellent representation of a degenerative illness. The novel itself is short and has a straightforward yet evocative prose to it that captivates from the first page.
Revenge by Yōko Ogawa: An anthology of short stories that are loosely interconnected, Revenge is for readers who appreciate Gothic ambiance amid the macabre with a terse yet grimly seductive writing style. The details of each story is what helps to create an all-encompassing and deeply contemplative collection of tales that explore the darker parts of loneliness, grief, jealousy, and desire. For a more in-depth psychological exploration of indulging in grief and loneliness, please check out her other book, Hotel Iris.
Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe: A fairly large and chunky novel that is part-magical realism and part-fantasy about a young boy who has many struggles at home. Feeling overwhelmed, he ends up embarking on a journey into a magical realm with the hopes of being able to resolve the things that plague him. This is an excellently crafted and superbly imaginative examination of a troubled childhood with themes of abandonment, abuse, and mental health illnesses, to name a few. It can be a difficult book to read at times, but it tells such a powerful and awe-inspiring story that I cannot recommend it enough. Miyabe is also known for writing grossly invigorating mystery thrillers that critique the toxicity of dysfunctional relationships, such as Shadow Family and The Devils’ Whisper. Other fantasy works she has written include The Book of Heroes and its companion novel The Gate of Sorrows, both of which can be read by young adult readers.
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami: Kawakami’s brilliant novel is one of the truest creations of feminist fiction that I have read coming out of Japan. The novel explores contemporary womanhood via the intimate journeys of three women as they face their oppressive mores and uncertainties while trying to navigate a future to call their own. Kawakami’s stunning use of multiple prose styles, sardonic humour, and intensely mesmerizing emotional depth makes Breasts and Eggs one of the finest pieces of contemporary literary fiction. For a smaller taste of her work, I recommend Ms Ice Sandwich, which is a novella about the woes of unrequited first loves of adolescence.
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami: This is one of my favourite Japanese novels of all-time. A fiction contemporary (also known as The Briefcase) that is told with a seemingly simple and quiet prose, it follows a woman in her thirties who reconnects with an old high school teacher happenstance. The bulk of the story is a marvellously intricate and multi-layered examination of what it means to get older. From the eyes of the thirty-year-old woman, there is the fear of growing old and dying alone, whereas the lens of the elder gentleman shows us the fear of leaving nothing behind, no legacy for remembrance. The dualities intertwine in bittersweetly fascinating ways as the story progresses. When coupled with the author’s careful yet unfiltered prose, the psychologically thought-provoking aesthetic can leave one breathless. For a book that uses her embracing writing style to discover the sensuous, comedy of human desire, I recommend The Ten Loves of Nishino. [Review]
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto: One of the most famous translated novels to come out of Japan, Kitchen is a short fiction story about a woman who must learn to process the grief of losing her grandmother so she can move forward and live for herself. While most Japanese literature novels are about the debilitating constricts that grief can have on a person, Yoshimoto’s small tale is the opposite. It beautifully portrays the motivational power that can stem from losing loved ones while building precious bonds with others. The novel also has positive Trans representation, which was a bit uncommon in the 1980s, when the story was first published. This is a superb feel-good story. For a more serious and magical realism take on grief and the uncertainty that follows, the author’s novel Moshi Moshi would be a great title to visit.
Out by Natsuo Kirino: A feminist noir about working women who go to the extremes to help a victim of domestic abuse. Kirino’s sharp and biting prose with critical portrayal of how co-dependent and toxic female relationships can be, particularly where male dominance is concerned, is absolutely jaw-dropping. Unveiling the darker parts of female relationships as well as the unbalanced gender roles of Japanese society and the impact it has on the female psyche is essential reading for anyone interested in diving into Japanese literature. Where Out focuses on older women in their twenties to early forties, Grotesque offers the same sort of provocatively piercing insight into teenage relationships with keen focus on nurture versus nature.
Confessions by Kanae Minato: Psychological thrillers that penetrate so deeply beneath the skin as to send chills through the whole body many hours after reading are my ultimate indulgence and they do not get any better or terrifying as Minato’s Confessions. A tale that shows us the inherent lack of limitations that a loving mother has when it comes to avenging the death of her daughter, while being a fierce scrutiny on Japan’s bullying atmosphere. The story is nonlinear and strips away layer after layer of the elements that influence a child’s chances of being a bully or being bullied. Another of Minato’s works takes the same principles of revenge and applies them to adult relationships in Penance. [Review]
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (Translated by Royall Tyler): Credited with being the first full-length novel to have ever been written, anyone with an interest in Japanese literature should most definitely read this engrossing original, that from which most modern literature as we know it today stems. Royall Tyler’s translation is positively stunning and captures the lyrical style of the classic text while still making it accessible for present-day readers. The epic is about insecurities and validation through interpersonal relationships as much as it is about seduction and politics. An extraordinarily timeless piece of writing that can be overwhelming by its size yet shall prove to be a valuable resource for all other Japanese literature to various degrees.
All the novels stated herein are wonderful places to begin one’s Japanese literature journey. As I mentioned earlier, it is my favourite genre. With a personal library of over 400 English-translated Japanese titles, I have plenty of recommendations to go around for various genres. If there is a specific genre that you are interested in, please let me know in the comments and I shall pass on more specialised reading suggestions.
At the end of June 1969 a series of demonstrations occurred by members of the LGBTQIA+ community at the Stonewall Inn located in Manhattan in New York City. The actions taken herein would go on to become the defining moment of the Gay Rights Liberation movement and would pave the path for contemporary LGBTQIA+ rights in the US. This entire movement would not have been possible without Marsha P. Johnson, who was a Black trans woman, and Stormé DeLarverie, a Black lesbian. They were the first people to rise up against the gross oppression of the Queer community’s rights during the era, particularly where police brutality and abuse are concerned. If not for them, then modern LGBTQIA+ rights would not exist.
To honour this profound moment in the community’s history, a month-long commemoration was enacted in June, known as Pride Month, so that we may never forget where these liberties come from, how much change has occurred, and how much of the battle for equality remains.
As a disabled Trans Queer Person of Colour, I wanted to show my support and respect for this community to the best of my ability. Every week on Tuesday during the month of June, I shall be highlighting books by and about Queer individuals, all of whom are Authors of Colour.
Additionally, I shall also be reading and reviewing Queer books exclusively for the next four and a half weeks as well. To help focus my reading, I have created a tentative To-Be-Read list with books I either already own or was able to obtain with relative ease via my local library, all of which are shared below with direct links to their respective GoodReads pages via the titles.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan – A YA Contemporary about a young girl named Leila who has avoided harbouring feelings for anyone at her school, Armstead Academy. Being an Iranian-American ostracises her enough as it is. However, when a beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up at her school, Leila begins to live a little bit more. Confiding in her dearest confidantes about mixed signals that she receives from Saskia, Leila is surprised to learn that many of her classmates are far more complex than she ever dreamed as they have secrets of their very own they are protecting.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan: A YA Contemporary about seventeen-ear-old Sahar who is in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They have shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, and even executed. So, they carry on in secret until Nasrin’s parents suddenly announce that they have arranged for her marriage. Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution: homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. Sahar will never be able to love Nasrin in the body she wants to be loved in without risking their lives, but is saving their love worth sacrificing her true self?
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust: A YA fantasy, fairy tale re-imagining that follows sixteen-year-old Mina who is motherless and a victim of abuse from her magician father, thus preventing her from every harbouring love for another—something she perceived to be normal. However, when her father cuts her heart out and replaces it with one of glass, she’s astounded. When she moves to Whitespring Castle, she realises she has found an avenue for escape, so long as she can seduce the king into marrying her. The only catch is that Mina shall have to become a stepmother. Meanwhile, fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother. When she discovers why, Lynet realises that instead of being a duplicate of a dead woman, she would much rather be fierce and regal like her stepmother, Mina. When Mina starts looking at Lynet with something akin to hatred, Lynet must figure out to win back the only mother she’s ever known or to defeat her once and for all.
The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde: A YA contemporary about a teenage drummer in a popular rock band, Emmy King has what some would believe to be the perfect life until an evening of partying lands her in the tabloids as a train wreck. Her bandmates and friends help her clean up the pieces, including the devilishly handsome Alfie. Even though Emmy knows that hooking up with a bandmate is a terrible idea, her and Alfie cannot seem to keep their hands off one another. Will Emmy fall victim to another clickbait scandal, or shall she have the strength to stand on her own?
The Fever King by Victoria Lee: A YA science-fiction novel that takes place in the former US. Sixteen-year-old Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed as the sole survivor of a viral magic outbreak that killed his entire family and turned him into a technopath. His unique new abilities attracts unwanted attention from the minister of defence. Meanwhile, the son of undocumented immigrants, Noam, has spent his entire life fighting for the rights of refugees trying to flee magical outbreaks. Sensing a means to make changes, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind the magic, with the goal of secretly using said information in his fight against the government.
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan: In this richly developed YA fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it is Lei they are after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumoured beauty has piqued the king’s interest. Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable: she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she is willing to go for justice and revenge.
Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman: Rumi Seto is a young lady who faces a lot of uncertainty in her life. The only thing she knows for sure is that she wants to write music with her young sister, Lea. Then Lea dies in a car accident and her mother sends her away to live in Hawai’i with her aunt. Thousands of miles away from the only place she ever called home, Rumi must confront her struggles with the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother during a time of great grief, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the boy next door, Kai, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe who succumbed to his own grief years ago, Rumi attempts to find her way back to music so that she may write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu: Lucky and her husband, Krishna, are gay. They concoct this illusion of marital bliss for their conservative Sri-Lankan-American families, while dating other people on the side. Then Lucky’s grandmother has a terrible fall, and she returns to her childhood home, where she connects with her first lover, Nisha, who is preparing to get married to a guy. As their connection deepens, Lucky tries to save Nisha from doing something that goes against what she believes in. But can Nisha be saved? Does Lucky have the right to help Nisha when she is in her own sticky situation, one filled to the brim with lies?
A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian: In the tight-knit community known as Heaven—a ramshackle slum hidden between luxury high-rises in Bangalore, India—five girls on the cusp of womanhood forge an unbreakable bond. Muslim, Christian, and Hindu; Queer and straight; they are full of life, and they love and accept one another unconditionally. Whatever they have, they share. These marginalised women are determined to transcend their surroundings. When the local government threatens to demolish their homes in order to build a shopping mall, the girls and their mothers refuse to be erased. Together they wage war on the bulldozers sent to bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that wishes that families like them would remain hidden forever.
The list became a bit ambitious as I was putting it together, however, I am excited for each of the titles shared. There is great variety here with Queer representations as well as with cultural and ethnic identities, and I look forward to discussing them on The Djinn Reader throughout the month of June. Whatever I am not able to finish, I shall add to my July TBR. If you have any Queer books that you are anticipating or have loved with all your heart, please share them in the comments! I am always on the lookout for new LGBTQIA+ books.
“The men watched with fascination as she opened a book and bowed her head in it. It looked like she was avoiding the crowd, and she appeared to want to blend in. It was impossible though since she’d already caught the attention of her audience by simply standing out in her red dress.”
The Name of Red by Beena Khan is an #OwnVoices South Asian contemporary romance about a woman known only as Red who frequents a local bar every evening where she drinks vodka and reads books. One evening an admirer begins leaving specific titles for her upon her favoured reading spot with notes tucked into the pages. Feeling intrigued by the gesture, she reciprocates the gift-giving with responses to said notes, thus starting a curious friendship. The novel is a debut release.
There were many attributes to The Name of Red that kept me steadfastly invested in the story between Red and her mystery admirer, such as the incredible descriptive writing and the slow-burn interaction between the two individuals, however the novel’s downfall was how unpolished and repetitive the prose became.
The strongest trait of the novel is the captivating way that the author is able to create atmosphere. It was marvellously easy to picture Red getting situated at the bar and trying to focus on her book, but then becoming wholly uncomfortable when men would gawk at her inappropriately. Another scene was when she receives her first book from the admirer and the caution that she felt along with a twist of curiosity and excitement was delightful and charming. These fantastic descriptives extend to character interactions and dialogue sequences, where details of facial expressions and emotional reactions were shared, providing the reader with a superb recognition of how everyone was reacting to one another. This tends to be a characteristic that is quite commonly overlooked in contemporaries during verbal exchanges and its presence here was immensely appreciated. Additionally, it further cements the heat of the slow-burn development of feelings between Red and her eventual love-interest, Kabir.
The second facet that makes The Name of Red so fiercely engaging is the aforementioned romance. The rapport is built on two individuals who get to know each other gradually through shared (and separate) interests and a natural inquisitiveness about one another’s past encounters and relationships. It helps create a foundation of trust and mutual respect that is splendidly genuine and empathetic. The establishment of familiarity when building a romantic relationship or even a platonic kinship is a great portrayal of how healthy bonds are forged and something that is vastly needed more of in adult romances.
The only true downfall of The Name of Red is the unpolished nature of the overall writing style. In the first half of the book, there are tons of repetitive words and phrases that make it feel tedious and overtly accentuated, mainly when describing Red’s beauty and the impact that it has on people around her. Rather than being allowed to gauge the reactions and formulate an opinion independently, it occasionally felt like the reader was supposed to respond with or think specific things, and that can become highly grating as one gets backed into a very precise corner. This is further reinforced if one is doing a single reading session for the book.
In later chapters, the quality of the writing takes a significant downturn as well. Rather than the carefully crafted sentences that is found in the first one-third of the narrative, the prose becomes riddled with many grammatical errors and inconsistent sentence structures that detracts from a smooth reading experience. I found myself stopping every so often to re-visit certain passages and paragraphs so that I could understand them fully, which further exasperated the repetitive element of the novel, but in a completely different manner. Suffice to say that the book needed a serious hand at editing as it reads like a second draft rather than a final product.
Writing titbits aside, there was one narrative element I also did not particularly care for and that was the amount of trauma that is introduced later on. Much of the trauma felt like contrived plot devices for shock value and it places a great amount of distance between the reader and the initial investment that hooks one into the plot and character plights. The suspension of disbelief utterly evaporates in the last one-third to one-fourth of the narrative, which then impacts the storytelling quality as a whole. However, I do feel the need to admit that I am not typically a reader of romance, so regulars of the genre may find these elements far more palatable than I did.
Overall, The Name of Red was a great debut. The author has immense potential to be a superb contributor to the genre. Having such a skill for crafting immersive settings and characters that are easy to root for, I am positive that she shall only get better with each new book she releases. I look forward to seeing what her next story shall entail. I recommendThe Name of Red for people who fancy diverse slow-burn romances.
“With every item she tossed into the washer’s gaping mouth, she dissected every sentence she could recall saying to Neela, analysing the implications of her words and how they might have been interpreted.”
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya is an #OwnVoices South Asian-Canadian contemporary novel about two uniquely separate musicians that formulate a friendship after one of them performs a cover of the other’s song and it goes viral. Their quick-formulated bond becomes a contrast of insecurities and miscommunication as the fame compounds into toxic envy. Then one moment of weakness and a startling subtweet later, careers are devastated, and friendships become utterly shattered.
The Subtweet was a novel that had a vastly unique premise and sounded unlike anything that I have ever read before, which is why I felt drawn to it. While it was extremely fast-paced and easy to consume in one sitting, by its finale I felt that the novel’s listed premise was inherently far-removed from its painfully one-dimensional execution.
Social media is the ultimate platform for networking in the modern day, however, it is also one of the swiftest ways to create havoc and chaos, particularly those built upon the recesses of miscommunication and missing facts. While I understood that this element would play a part in the conflict of The Subtweet’s story, as it does concentrate on virtually crafted camaraderie, what I did not foresee was it becoming the underlying foundation for every single ounce of harmfulness taking place in the book. Ultimately, this is one of my least favourite tropes of all-time, and I felt it became a tenuous excuse for uncertain narrative direction, more so when coupled with the thin level of critique on the subject matter and a severe lack of atmosphere.
Rukmini and Neela, the two protagonists of The Subtweet, are both incredibly unlikeable people, and one of the main reasons for this is that they are women in their thirties who behave like they are sixteen with their petty drama and consistent mistrust of one another’s loyalty to their outrageously fast-formed friendship. A handful of virtual messages and some poorly constructed face-to-face interactions later, they were best of friends, seemingly out of thin air. Not only did this feel entirely unrealistic, it also reeked of doubtful plot subtexts. If we look at them as separate individuals, then there is no development here either to assist in making them endearing, or to garner the reader’s empathy, or even sympathy, in the midst of the chaos that occurs when the hurtful subtweet goes live; a feat that astounded me given the heavy load of dialogue that takes place in the novel. They both provide monologues about the various aspects that make them feel invalidated and insecure in the friendship yet do absolutely nothing to remedy their concerns or allay their fears. This creates a stonewall of storytelling stagnation that sticks around from start to finish.
When the conflict occurs, as I mentioned earlier, it is based entirely on miscommunication. Rather than have an adult conversation to sort out the motives or anger that ultimately led to Neela’s string of hurtful words, Rukmini completely disappears from the picture, never to be heard of again. This was a terrible way to engage with a topic that is supposed to be under a critical lens and create the basis for a thought-provoking examination on the noxiousness that comes with having an online presence.
The Subtweet had a grocery list of themes that it wanted to explore. Some of these include the implications of diversity when a person of colour caters to White audiences’ fetishized perception of cultural content, or when White masses seek to wash away the nuances that separate diverse content as unique creative cultural installations; the vindictive dynamics that are prominent in female-centric friendships; critiques on how privilege plays a part in fame accumulation, especially when it steals credit away from original creators; and lastly, the harmful ways that social media can be manipulated to build overnight stardom, whether that was the desired effect or not. With so many various subjects to shine a decisive lens on, and then some, the book never touches any of it with more than a handful of lines referencing these things. Writing out a single statement admonishing a person for appeasing the White masses in lieu of cultural authenticity is not the same thing as having a crucial examination on the topic! If anything, all it does is admit a desire to do so but illustrate a complete lack of initiative to follow through.
The Subtweet was a book that was ambitious in scope, yet floundered into obscurity with the delivery, leaving behind an immensely frustrating and one-dimensional 200-pages of storytelling torpidity. One of the most fascinating novels of 2020 quickly turned into the most disappointing reading experience I have had in years. As such, I cannotrecommendThe Subtweet with good faith.