Am I Afraid to Read Fantasy?

Hello, and welcome back to my blog! Today, I’m bringing you another bookish discussion.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite a while. Coming back to the book community after a long hiatus, I see a lot of hype around new and upcoming YA fantasy/sci-fi books. And while I grew up on Harry Potter and became obsessed with The Lord of the Rings and later A Song of Ice and Fire, I definitely read less fantasy now than I did when I was younger. Even when I intend to read outside of contemporary genres, it still seems like I avoid delving into fantasy worlds. I started asking myself, am I afraid of fantasy stories? and if so, why?

I’ll be the first to admit that contemporary is my comfort zone.

No matter the age category, contemporary fiction is incredibly easy to jump into. I don’t have to know anything beforehand; it doesn’t require a map or a glossary or even (usually) a family tree. Contemporary is safe (mostly).

I’ve been reading contemporary fiction, without really thinking about it, as long as I can remember.

The fantasy stories I read as a kid are technically urban fantasy: they’re based in the real world, with some fantasy elements thrown in. As a kid, though, I craved the kind of stories I could easily insert myself into—and shied away from stories where I couldn’t picture myself. As a teen, I read a lot of Sarah Dessen books, with sweet romances and relatable main characters whose shoes I could easily step into.

As I got older and entered college, I abandoned even contemporary in favor of a mountain of classics. This wasn’t so much a choice as the dictatorship of my English degree. By the time I graduated, I was reading on average a book a week, all of which fell into the category of classics.

After earning my English degree, I felt a lot of pressure to read things that were Important, things I Should Read rather than books that drew me. I spent a lot of time forcing myself through the great literary authors of the past that I’d missed in school, as well as more current writers of important.

I spent way too many years reading a bunch of middle-aged white guys. In order to break up the monotony of these stories, I indulged in YA contemporaries and romances, books that helped me escape the desperation of my life for the hopefulness of someone else’s.

It was only when I discovered book blogging for the first time back in 2017, when I learned about the push for diverse books, that I began to really embrace my love of YA.

I discovered that I wasn’t actually the only 20-something who was still clinging to YA like a lifeline. I learned how many amazing YA authors wrote diverse stories, often about their own experiences with being marginalized in wider society. I discovered book bloggers who were actively promoting these books. And…I realized how many diverse fantasies were out there that I just hadn’t encountered before.

So why exactly am I afraid to read fantasy?

One of the biggest reasons—or rather, my biggest excuse—is that I read for character above all else. I’ve said this a million times, but if a main character can draw me into their world, I don’t care what that world is or what genre I’m reading.

Fantasy and sci-fi, in my experience, tend to be more plot-driven.

Yes, characterization is important, because that’s the entry-point to the story. But I find that often fantasy can get away with having characters who don’t really have much going on, aside from the fact that they’re out there fighting monsters, or demons, or vampires, or ghosts, or whatever the case may be. Especially in the YA fantasies I’ve read, there’s a tendency to leave the main character a little flat, since that’s the presumed reader’s point of entry into the story, and thus it’s easier to imagine yourself in the character’s shoes.

Another reason I struggle to read fantasy is because of the time investment.

Most of the fantasy books I see recommended are incredibly long series of books that are 500+ pages each. Because I’m the type of person who will forget what happens between books, I’d need to binge the whole thing. As a book blogger, I don’t feel that I have the time to devote to one series of books like that. Hell, I haven’t even finished reading the two sequels to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before! I’m awful at committing to a whole series, even though I know I’ll enjoy the process.

But the biggest reason I’m afraid of fantasy? World-building scares me.

Stay with me now. I know this sounds like a pathetic excuse, and it totally is. But think about it: how much world-building or description really goes into a contemporary novel? Not much. The author just has to describe things well enough to relate to what you, the reader, experience in your everyday life. In a fantasy novel, though, the writer has to describe what the world looks like, how it works, and give you enough to go on so that you can imagine what the character sees.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read world-building that blew me away. As a writer, description is definitely my weakness, so I can certainly appreciate when its done well. I know that world-building is so necessary to a good fantasy story, so it’s not that I think it should be left out. It’s just that, for me, knowing I’m going into an unfamiliar world stresses me out, rather than makes me excited for the adventure.

Now that I’ve come clean, though, I’d like to commit to reading more fantasy books in the coming months.

Just because contemporary is my comfort zone doesn’t mean I should be content to stay there. Just because (I think) I want to write contemporary doesn’t mean I have to only read contemporary either. The best way to become a better writer is to read—everything. So here are some non-contemporaries I’m looking forward to reading soon.

What is your go-to genre? What genre are you afraid of, or would you like to read more of? Do you have any amazing fantasy books you can recommend (especially to someone who avoids fantasy)? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

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Artist’s Way: Week 7 Check-In

Welcome to Week 6 of my ongoing series on The Artist’s Way with Erin @ Flappers and Philosophers! In case you missed it, here is my intro post, explaining what the project is, why we’re doing it, and what you can expect.

The short version is, Erin and I are both going through The Artist’s Way, a 12-week course in self-discovery and creative recovery. Throughout the next three months, we’ll be sharing weekly updates on how it’s going, what we’ve learned, and how this process has affected our creative lives.

Week 7 focuses on Recovering A Sense of Connection.

In this week’s chapter, Julia Cameron talks a lot about creating the right attitude for creativity. So often as artists, we’re incredibly hard on ourselves; we expect perfection on the first try, when part of being an artist is learning to play. We also tend to become jealous of other artists because we mistakenly believe that there’s not room for all creatives to live and achieve success.

This week’s tasks focus on self-care, which is exactly what I needed. It’s hard for me to take care of myself, to do nice things for myself without coming up with some excuse. I never feel that I deserve nice things, and that’s something the artist’s way has reminded me to work on in my morning pages.

Week 7: The Check-In

How many days this week did you do your morning pages? Have you allowed yourself to daydream a few creative risks? Are you coddling your artist child with childhood loves?

While I’ve continued with daily morning pages, I definitely need to use them more effectively to tap into my daydreams. I’m great at listening to my logic self, but not great at letting my artist child speak to me. I know that I need to do more nice things for myself, that I need to be generous with myself in order to grow. It’s just…hard to overcome my inner critic that says I don’t deserve anything nice. Because Depression.

Did you do your artist date this week? Did you use it to take any risks? What did you do? How did it feel?

I finally did a real and unproductive artist date! There’s a park in my neighborhood, so I walked through the park and did some mild exploring in the woods surrounding it. As I walked, I listened to the playlist I made for my WIP and thought about my characters. I hope to revisit this kind of artist date soon, as it was both relaxing and inspiring. I also really want to find a good climbing tree—my artist child really wants to climb a tree with a book, like old times.

Did you experience any synchronicity this week? What was it?

If I did, I didn’t recognize it when it happened. Sometimes it’s easier for me to see synchronicity in hindsight, especially when I read back over my journals. Right now, though, I’m not supposed to be reading my morning pages.

Were there any other issues this week that you consider significant for your recovery? Describe them.

For some reason, I was really busy this week, and I ended up neglecting most of my artist’s way tasks this week—which is pretty telling considering each task basically amounts to self-care. However, I did finally address a major issue I discovered through morning pages; it’s an issue I’d been putting off taking action toward, and I finally bit the bullet this week.

Have you ever participated in The Artist’s Way? How was your week? Let me know in the comments, and that’s for stopping by! Until next time,

Backlist Review || Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Note: This is a backlist review from my previous blog. To see more of my reading life, add me on Goodreads!

Genre: YA Contemporary
Diverse Rep: Chinese-American + bisexual
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Noteworthy through NetGalley in exchange for a review. This did not in any way affect my joy in reading this book.

Jordan Sun is a junior on scholarship at the prestigious Kensington-Blaine Academy for the Performing Arts. She’s just been locked out of a role in the school musical for the third year running. Why? Because she’s an Alto 2, while most parts require a higher Soprano range. What’s a girl to do? Cross-dress and audition for the elite all-male a cappella group, the Sharpshooters, obviously! (And nail it.) Now, she’s living a double life, pretending to be a boy while watching her girl self fade into the background. But how long can she keep it up? You’ll have to read to find out.

It’s going to be really hard for me to write a review of Noteworthy that isn’t completely gushing because I absolutely loved this book. Jordan’s slightly sarcastic, highly observant, constantly questioning voice sucked me in from the very first chapter. Her internal monologue sounds exactly the way I felt as a teenager. I was really intrigued by the idea of a modernized cross-dressing plot that addresses gender as a social construct.

As she tries on a masculine identity, though, Jordan struggles with feelings of guilt: she wonders if she’s being disrespectful toward the trans community by using their advice to put on what’s essentially a costume for her.* Riley Redgate doesn’t shy away from these conversations, but shows how Jordan’s desperate transformation isn’t that far off from what any of us would do to get what we want. Isn’t high school all about trying on different identities and personalities, performing the part you think will help you fit in?

It’s made even more interesting by the detailed way Redgate constructs the Kensington-Blaine boarding school environment. Jordan is surrounded by rich kids constantly so she finds it hard to relate to them. She hasn’t made a lot of friends, since she spent the last two years isolated in her relationship with her ex—even more reason that she longs to belong with the guys in the Sharpshooters.

Part of why this book is so amazing to me is the grace with which Redgate tells a story that’s all about (say it with me!) intersectionality. Jordan is Chinese-American and from a working-class family; her dad is a paraplegic who recently got totally screwed by the health care and disability benefits system. She’s also figuring out her sexuality: she thinks she’s bisexual, but she’s never had the opportunity to figure it out, as she was involved in a long-term heterosexual relationship through the end of the last school year. Even the side characters are diverse, from her childhood friend Jenna to her new friend Nihal.

There’s a lot going on with this book, but Redgate manages to make all the pieces fit together and feel natural. The various side characters are fleshed-out with their own personalities and quirks. Even Jordan is surprised at how complex each of the Sharpshooters are in real life, and she realizes just how quick she is to judge rich kids by their clothes and status objects rather than who they are inside. This isn’t a political book, though, but a reflection of the complex diversity of humanity—it’s beautiful.

*For a more in-depth discussion of the cross-dressing conversations in this book, I highly recommend you check out Shenwei’s review.

I don’t have anything negative to say about Noteworthy, but I do have a few caveats for any potential readers:

This is not a bisexual “coming out” story. While Jordan does identify as bisexual, this is not the crux of her story. As someone who discovered my own bisexuality at the ripe old age of 22, I really appreciated the nuanced way Redgate handled this. So many stories with bisexual protagonists fall into the trap of “proving it.” As a girl who’s only ever had heterosexual relationships, it’s easy for people to say “well how can you really know if you’ve never been with a girl?” and while Redgate addresses this, she doesn’t spend half the book making a big deal out of Jordan needing to have a relationship with a girl to “prove” her bisexuality. It’s how Jordan identifies, and that’s enough. Even better? None of the other characters make Jordan feel bad about this. This is like some sort of bi paradise, let me tell you.

This is not a really romance-heavy story either. Jordan is dealing with a lot of stuff—namely, pretending to be a dude—so she’s not really wandering around having feelings all over the place. When she does have feelings, she works really hard to push those down. A lot of the early backstory deals with her ex-boyfriend, Michael, and the other romance takes a while to build.

The plot is music-heavy. As a former music nerd (and long-time fan of Glee—there, I said it), Noteworthy really struck a chord with me (teehee). The musical camaraderie is real and tangible and heartwarming, but if that’s not your thing, this might not be the book for you.

Ultimately, Noteworthy is about the age-old quest to find where you belong. Sometimes that place does fit into neat categories of boy-girl or gay-straight. Sometimes in order to find where you belong, you have to take big risks and let yourself transform. In the end, for Jordan, it’s worth it—and so is reading her story.

find this book
Goodreads | AbeBooks | Book Depository

Have you read Noteworthy? Do you have a favorite book set at a boarding school? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

Please Stop Romanticizing Toxic Relationships!! || A #MentalHealthMonday Discussion

Mental Health Monday is a (sometimes) weekly discussion series I discovered through Wendy @ what the log had to say. To see more of these posts, check here.

Hello and welcome to another rant discussion post! Today I want to talk about something that gets me really fired up: the way toxic and abusive relationships are viewed as sexy and romantic.

First, a little bit of background. When I was 18, I fell in love with an older guy. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he was insecure, and he took advantage of my feelings for him and lack of experience. What followed was one of the most tumultuous, on-and-off again, secretive, destructive relationships I’ve ever experienced. This relationship affected my self-esteem and my ability to have effective relationships for years afterward—and plunged me into multiple depressive episodes.

Recently, a series of New Adult romance books by “Wattpad sensation” Anna Todd gained a massive following.

Until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of After. As one does, I picked up the book and read the back cover… and let me tell you, I don’t need to read this book to know it’s about a toxic relationship. Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from the blurb:

“With his tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, tattoos, and lip ring, Hardin is cute and different from what she’s used to. But he’s also rude—to the point of cruelty, even. For all his attitude, Tessa should hate Hardin. And she does—until she finds herself alone with him in his room. Something about his dark mood grabs her, and when they kiss it ignites within her a passion she’s never known before. He’ll call her beautiful, then insist he isn’t the one for her and disappear again and again. Despite the reckless way he treats her, Tessa is compelled to dig deeper and find the real Hardin beneath all his lies. He pushes her away again and again, yet every time she pushes back, he only pulls her in deeper.

Goodreads Blurb (emphasis mine)

As a bookseller, I’m well aware that people have different taste. I never read Fifty Shades of Grey either, but that series still draws a huge audience. People are entitled to their own taste in reading material; if we all liked the same things, the world would be incredibly boring.

So what, exactly, is the problem with a series like After?

I mean, if adults want to read a book about a college girl in an on-again, off-again toxic relationship with a “bad boy” with a “dark past,” isn’t that their prerogative? Absolutely. My issue with the book, however, is that it’s not just targeted to adult women; teens are showing up in droves to devour the series, along with the movie that recently came out.

I was a teenager once. Back in my day, the YA genre had hardly even been born (and certainly not in the capacity that it is now). By the time I was 16, I’d pretty much run out of books written for teens and was well into steamy adult fiction. At 16, I probably would’ve eaten After right up, in spite of the apparently shoddy writing style.

At 16, I would’ve read this book and learned that true love is worth fighting for—even if he treats you like absolute shit.

Even without After, I gained plenty of unrealistic expectations of relationships by the time I met my first love at 18. I was already stubborn about sticking to my guns when I liked someone; I never gave up, regardless of how unlikely the romance really was. And I firmly believed that love comes at a cost, that sometimes you had to go through the hard times to get to the good.

Fortunately, I’m a lot wiser now, and I’ve finally found a solid, happy relationship with a basis in mutual respect. But it took years of therapy for me to rebuild a sense of self that wasn’t defined by someone who treated me like dirt. It took me years to retrain my brain that just because you love someone doesn’t mean they’re the right one for you. It took me years of my healthy relationship with my now-husband to stop flinching every time we disagreed about anything—because I had learned that everyone leaves.

Books like After have very real consequences when they’re praised as amazing romance stories.

A book that shows a girl in a healthy relationship who abandons it for a guy who’s rude and cruel teaches young women that good relationships are boring, that abusive behavior is just passion. A book that shows a male character who refuses to talk about his feelings is romanticizing toxic masculinity. Calling an on-again, off-again relationship “romantic” loses sight of the reality of how traumatic such turbulence is—and I’m speaking from experience.

Even if these types of stories are firmly categorized as adult romance, teens will still pick up these books—they already are. In fact, I had a Mom and her young teen daughter in a few days ago buying the entire series…after they’d been to see the movie together, twice. That’s the scary part: the average person doesn’t seem to see how harmful these types of narratives are.

I’m not suggesting that we take the fun out of romance, or that teens shouldn’t be allowed to read adult romance novels.

I love a steamy romance as much as the next person! As a teenager, reading these books was as close as I got to having a real relationship, honestly. But I have high expectations for my romance plot lines…and I think the book world, in general, has a right to expect more.

What I’d Like to See More of in Romance Plots

  • an open discussion of consent, where characters verbally talk about sex, what they’re comfortable with, etc.
  • guys who are called out when they treat women like dirt, rather than being rewarded for it
  • romantic heroes who don’t just fit into the traditional masculine stereotypes (more soft boys pls)
  • more queer romance, always (duh) & more romance with non-traditional bodies
  • toxic relationships that end with the girl realizing how awful that relationship actually was
  • realistic romantic obstacles: couples overcoming long-distance, different backgrounds, pregnancy scares (and talking about protection!!!), balancing real life with their relationships, etc.

Realistic Romances I Love

*This book actually shows a toxic relationship, with the lens that it is, in fact, toxic.

Have you read After – and do you agree with my opinion? Do you have any swoonworthy romances you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

The Artist’s Way: Week 6 Check-In

Welcome to Week 6 of my ongoing series on The Artist’s Way with Erin @ Flappers and Philosophers! In case you missed it, here is my intro post, explaining what the project is, why we’re doing it, and what you can expect.

The short version is, Erin and I are both going through The Artist’s Way, a 12-week course in self-discovery and creative recovery. Throughout the next three months, we’ll be sharing weekly updates on how it’s going, what we’ve learned, and how this process has affected our creative lives.

Week 6 was a rough one for me.

The theme—Recovering a Sense of Abundance—is one that I really struggle with. At the risk of getting incredibly personal, I inherited a sense that all that God/the Universe provides must be earned or paid for in some fashion. Believing in a God of abundance is something that it may take a long time for me to wrap my head around, but I’m willing to try.

Week 6: The Check-In

1. How many days this week did you do your morning pages? How was the experience for you?

I stuck to the morning pages like glue this week. I’ve reached the point where they are completely habitual. I need the pages to keep me sane. Of course, I’ve always been a journal-writer by nature, but sitting down to write three pages each morning really serves to keep me on track toward my goals. I don’t care as much about how repetitive I am these days. I’m just focusing on showing up and letting the Universe do the rest of the work.

2. Did you do your artist date this week? What did you do? How did it feel?

I really wanted to take a true artist date this week, but I defaulted to my working artist date at one of my favorite coffee shops. I intended to only stay for an hour or so to catch up on some blogging work, but right at the point I wanted to leave it started absolutely pouring outside, so I stayed.

It felt really good to catch up on blogging (finally)—it reminded me why I really do enjoy this silly hobby of mine, even when it’s writing about my personal musings as opposed to anything remotely bookish. Still, next week I hope to prioritize play time, as opposed to defaulting to a working date with myself.

3. Did you experience any synchronicity this week? Describe it.

One of the things I’ve discovered through my morning pages is that I’m really dissatisfied with my job at the moment. I love the job itself, but I’m not getting enough hours, and the pay is so low. I’m making less money than I’ve made since undergrad, when I was working less than 20 hours a week at minimum wage.

So this week, I applied to a job at a local coffee shop. I don’t know if I’ll get the job or not, but I’m proud of myself for putting my hopes out into the world. Even if I don’t get the job, I’ve learned that I am not trapped where I am, which is an important reminder.

4. Were there any other issues this week that you consider significant for your recovery? Describe them.

On the bright side: I met my word count goal for April, coming in at just over 25K for the month. Granted, it’s a flaming trash heap of a shit draft right now…which is what I’m planning on working on in May. More on that in future posts.

On the not-so-bright side: On Tuesday morning, I suffered a debilitating back spasm. I have scoliosis in two places, and my lower back tends to give me a lot of problems. On Monday, I was doing a lot of shifting of really heavy books at work, and I think that just sent me over the edge.

The back pain definitely put a damper on my week. I’d planned on doing all these fun things for the artist’s way, namely taking a long walk, but by Wednesday morning I could hardly walk without being in pain. I ended up calling out of work for the first time since winter of 2014, when I had the flu and a temperature of 102. That being said, my back problems served to remind me that I’ve been too hard on myself lately. Taking the day off of work reminded me the importance of focusing on self-care.

Have you ever participated in The Artist’s Way? How was your week? Let me know in the comments, and that’s for stopping by! Until next time,

Review || Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Genre: Contemporary Fiction | Diverse Rep: Jamaican-British (#OwnVoices) | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through my work. While I am grateful for the opportunity to review, this in no way influences my opinion of the book.

CW: racism, misogyny, unsafe sex, anxiety & panic attacks.

When her long-term white boyfriend decides he wants “a break” from their relationship, 25-year-old Queenie Jenkins struggles to keep her life together. She’s lost focus on her work as a journalist and she can’t seem to stop herself from engaging in unsafe, unfulfilling sex with a slew of hateful white guys. Through the support of her loyal group of friends, Queenie must dig deep inside herself to find the answer to who she really is and who she wants to become.

Queenie’s voice and the overall construction of the novel give her story a distinctly realistic and contemporary feel.

From the very first scene, when Queenie undergoes a sexual health exam and discovers that she’s had a miscarriage, I knew I was invested in this story. Not only is Queenie’s voice incredibly relatable, from her experiences with men to her struggles in friendship and work, but she’s also just plain funny at various points. This is one of those laugh-and-cry type books.

I really appreciated the way text message conversations and even emails were included throughout the story.

Rather than detracting from what’s going in the narration, these conversations serve to move the story forward in time and provide relevant details that the author would’ve had to tell the reader otherwise. I’ve read entire books told in this modern epistolary form, but I’ve yet to read a book that includes texts in such a productive way.

You get a real sense of each character’s voice through their messages as well. One of the most laugh-out-loud aspects of the book involved the ongoing text conversation between Queenie and her three best girlfriends, which she dubs “the Corgis.” Through these messages, we see the roles played by Queenie’s friends, from her two white friends, one from work and one from college, to her black childhood best friend. These friendships are complicated and occasionally even problematic, but that just adds to the realism of the story.

We also get glimpses into Queenie’s past in flashbacks related to her relationship with her boyfriend Tom.

Although at first these flashbacks threw me out of the story as I had to figure out where they took place in time, each of these scenes serves to further our understanding of Queenie’s character and her struggles in the present day. In the first half of the story, the flashbacks serve to reveal why Tom really wasn’t that great of a boyfriend to Queenie; in the second half, the flashbacks are clues to the puzzle of Queenie’s mental health.

It should be stated that Queenie can be an extremely frustrating character to read.

At 25, she’s screwing up her life left and right. Her boyfriend Tom wants a break (although it becomes clear early on that it’s more likely a break-up than a break), likely because Queenie pushed him away through the majority of their three-year relationship. As she mourns the loss of this relationship, Queenie loses focus at her job more and more, and her relationship with her friends becomes pretty much solely focused on Queenie’s problems. By far the most problematic aspect of Queenie’s character, though, is her sex life.

For much of the book, Queenie sleeps with all the wrong men—and she knows it.

Maybe I’ve just been reading too much YA lately, but I can’t remember the last time I read a book that talked this openly—from the beginning—about sexual health. Queenie finds guys through dating apps, and even through her workplace, that treat her like absolute trash. She somehow forgets to use protection every time. There are graphic depictions of one man in particular who refuses to be touched by Queenie after sex, treating her like a sex toy rather than a person. All of these (white) men are incredibly racist in their treatment of Queenie. It seems that they want to date white women, but fuck black women.

While I can’t relate to the racial aspect of these relationships, other reviewers have expressed the relatable nature of these experiences. As someone who made some pretty poor dating choices in her early twenties, my heart broke for Queenie because I remember what it felt like to respect myself so little that I let men treat me like dirt. I also remember how easy it was to let a guy convince me not to worry about protection—quite frankly, there’s so little at stake for them in that scenario.

Despite it being so hard to read, and despite her many horrible decisions, I don’t feel that Queenie is nonredeemable.

As the novel progresses, so does Queenie. She acknowledges her mistakes, both in how she’s treated her friends, how she’s lost focus at the best job she’s ever had, and how she’s allowed men to use and abuse her.

Most importantly, Queenie seeks help. She realizes that her anxiety symptoms are interfering with her life, that she can’t put her life back together on her own. She moves back in with her grandparents and she shows up for therapy—despite the fact that her family doesn’t acknowledge mental health as a real issue.

For a 300-page book, Queenie tackles a lot of major issues.

As a Jamaican-British woman, Queenie encounters a lot of racism. I can’t even fathom the reality of life for women of color in our world. Queenie is fetishized by white men, accused of being aggressive by strangers for merely speaking her mind, and constantly glossed over at work when she brings really solid ideas to the table. At one point, a white guy argues with her about the merits of the Black Lives Matter movement. Reading this, I was blown away by how frustrating it is for Queenie to just…exist in her space every single day.

I loved the complex portrayal of her family as well.

Queenie’s aunt is incredibly religious and judgmental, while her cousin is more supportive and understanding of Queenie’s struggles. Her grandparents have really strict expectations for cleanliness and don’t really express their love openly, but it’s apparent that everything they do comes out of love. Despite the fact that her family doesn’t believe in mental health issues, they ultimately come to support Queenie’s process, which was so beautiful to see.

The portrayal of Queenie’s slow slog toward recovery from her repressed trauma and anxiety was by far the most powerful element of this book.

This isn’t a book where things happen. It’s a book where a character grows and becomes stronger than before. I loved watching Queenie at first resist therapy before discovering that yes, coping mechanism for anxiety can help, and yes, she needs to repair the relationship with her mother and acknowledge the trauma she went through. Although my mental health experiences are quite different from Queenie’s, I was brought to tears by her conversations with her therapist.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this book, and it seems like a lot of people couldn’t get past Queenie’s reckless sexual relationships and other self-sabotaging behavior. For me, these elements were completely realistic, and although they were difficult to read, Queenie’s progress in the last third of the book made everything so worth it.

Overall, do I recommend?

Queenie isn’t just a book for black readers, or readers with anxiety. Queenie is the diverse 20-something journey we’ve all been waiting for. Regardless of your age, racial background, or country of origin, I highly recommend you check out this book.

Have you read Queenie, or do you plan to? Do you have a favorite 2019 debut? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

Top Ten Tuesday: Birthday Edition 🎉

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. Each week, bloggers come together to build a list on pre-selected topics. If you’d like to join in, check out That Artsy Reader Girl’s post for more info!

Today’s prompt lines up so perfectly with the fact that today is my birthday! What better day to share this post?

Top 10 Characters Who Remind Me of Myself

Matlida Wormwood – Matilda by Roald Dahl

I vividly remember the first time I read Matilda. I was about eight or nine and 10000% obsessed with books. I rarely wanted to do anything else besides read at that point, and I was slowly working my way through all the young readers books in the library. Reading Matilda was the first time I felt truly seen by a fictional character.

Anne Shirley – Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Anyone who knows me (and strangers at work who’ve ever asked) will recognize that Anne is my all-time favorite book. I discovered it two decades ago, and Anne’s been a constant source of inspiration through my life. Her sunny disposition in spite of everything she’s been through and her dangerous imagination remind me of my childhood self.

Tibby Rollins – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

This series was my introduction to YA at the ripe old age of 12 (when I’d literally read everything that even remotely interested me out of the young reader’s section and wandered into what was then just called “teen”). I’ll admit, some of the content of this series shocked me at that age (although it appears pretty tame by today’s standards). I related to Tibby in particular, because she’s rather spoiled and completely bitter about it, which was pretty much me as a teenager.

Molly Peskin-Suso – The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Although I’ve never really struggled with weight issues, I related to Molly on a deep level because of her anxiety, particularly as it relates to interacting with her peers. It honestly took me until age 24 or so to be really comfortable talking to my peers, much less flirting with them on purpose. I also had a long list of unrequited crushes that’s three times the length of people I’ve actually dated. Molly was the first character where I really saw that side of myself.

Lara Jean Song – To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Lara Jean was the second fictional character I encountered who took her crushes so damn seriously. I think as a teenager I was always pretty much told that I didn’t know anything about being in love, that I was just being dramatic when I actually mourned for my lost crushes. I wrote dozens of love letters I never sent, so I could relate to Lara Jean on that level. Reading this book last fall was so sweet because it reminded me of myself.

Annabeth – A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith

When I read A Sense of the Infinite, I was struck by the quiet nature of the story that, ultimately is about what happens when two best friends start to grow apart. Annabeth has this best friend, Noe, who wants to go off and do her own thing, leaving Annabeth relatively alone and confused about what to do. I went through something similar in my last year of high school, but I’d never seen that represented fictionally until I read this book.

Eliza Mirk – Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

I read this recently (ICYMI: my review), and I loved the anxiety rep in this book. It’s subtle, and very much tied up in Eliza’s creative life, which is how I feel about my own anxiety. There’s so much pressure as an artist of any sort, which is exacerbated the more people you allow to see your work. While I’ve never been exactly in Eliza’s shoes, I related to her experience of balancing sanity and creativity.

Grace – Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

I wish I had read this book ten years ago. The book follows Grace, a teen who’s in an emotionally abusive relationship. It’s dark reading, but I wish I’d read it so I could’ve avoided my own bad romance(s) in my late teens and early twenties. I think this kind of representation is so important, and it’s honestly really hard to write, but I think Demetrios nailed it.

Ava – I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, in part because I wasn’t all that fond of Gen as a character, whom I feel played into a lot of stereotypes of non-monosexual people. However, I did really relate to Ava, Gen’s best friend, who struggles to deal with the transition of college life. When I was in college, I felt like everyone else was having this amazing social life, but I was too afraid to leave my homework in my dorm room and actually have some fun. It didn’t help that I was (a) extremely depressed (b) working part-time and (c) ended up moving back home and commuting for most of college.

T.S. Garp – The World According to Garp by John Irving

I haven’t read this book in a long time, and I’m honestly a bit afraid to, since I’d probably judge it more harshly at the distance of almost ten years. When I read this book, I was blown away by the characterization of Garp, a half-struggling writer, and how he grows into his full artistic self. It’s really hard to write or read about writers, mostly because so often it comes across as cheesy, thinly-disguised autobiography, but John Irving really did this character justice.

Can you think of a fictional character that reminds you of yourself? Have you read any of the books I mentioned, and did they resonate with you the way they did with me? Let me know in the comments. Until next time,