This anthology is a series of coming out/coming of age short stories and novellas that all center around finding that first someone special. They range from futuristic fiction to fantasy to contemporary, and the characters are part of the diverse spectrum of humanity, that also happen to be LGBTQI. Because this book is geared toward teens, the stories are all written about teens and have teen-levels of heat. So, essentially none. Which is FINE, IMHO. Proceeds from the sale of this anthology will be donated to The Trevor Project that aims to provide crisis intervention and counseling to reduce suicide in LGBTQI-identifying teens.
TruNorth by Alexis Hall
This is a futuristic tale of two members of a world famous boyband, TruNorth, coming to terms with who they are and whom they love. It’s told from the perspective of 17-year-old Noah. Along with four other boys, Noah was selected to join this power band and has been touring for two years. He’s got an attraction for one of his band mates, Callum, but has never acted on it. His sexuality is something that needs to be managed by the handlers of their band. They are willing to let Noah have a discreet arrangement with a hanger-on, if he wants.
Well, Noah doesn’t want. He follows Callum one night after a show in New Berlin—right out past the checkpoints and off the grid into Old Berlin. He’s overwhelmed by the place he finds himself, an all male cabaret, featuring cross-dressing entertainers. What flips his lid, however, is Aisling one of the revue performers. Through their meeting in this unlikely spot, Noah and Aisling are able to find a truth about each other.
I really enjoyed the futuristic elements of this one: the mods people had and the elements of setting—mobile amphitheaters and glass-walled hotels—and the new age drugs and how it all boils down to the same things that we value now: love, autonomy, being true to one’s self. Noah and Aisling have some difficult choices to make, and it would be easy—and lucrative—for them to go along with the script that’s been written for them. The way this plays out is impetuous and teen and excellent. Noah has such a true heart, and his awakening is more a rebirth than an acknowledgement, which is felt real, and similar to Aisling’s experience. I liked them bunches and wanted them to strive for a real life together.
Unexpected Dragons by Delphine Dryden
This is a dragon-shifter fantasy featuring two 14-year old boys who aren’t living up to the potential others place on them. Zev is the son of two prominent dragon shifters, his father is a gold-counter and his mother is the battle chief of their clan. Zev is agonizing over the lack of shifting happening in his life, knowing that he’ll be ejected from the clan if he doesn’t make his first shift by the end of summer. He also fears that his good friend, Rook, son of the clan leader, will not change either. He’s so torn over this, he has a stress shift in the midst of a clan gathering, and it’s humiliating. Rook has to talk Zev back into being a human before Zev burns the place down. While Zev struggles with his new status being the biggest dragon in the clan, he’s faced with choices he doesn’t like, like people he trusts telling him he should be a warrior, when he doesn’t want to go into battle. Plus, Rook! Will he ever shift?
This is a bit message heavy, but I liked the primary message of being true to one’s self. Zev’s parents are awesome. They want his happiness above all things and have no expectations that he’ll follow his mother’s path into battle, even though his dragon form is far bigger and stronger than hers. Zev’s burgeoning romance with Rook is also sweet. They are a good support system for each other. The author notes that she wished to create a world where there was no stigma for same-sex love, and also a book her young kids could read. I think she hit the mark. I liked the sweetness and also the uncertainty of both Rook and Zev. They are 14 and act like it. They don’t pretend to know the answers and seek the approval/counsel of their peers and elders before making their decisions. It was a very affirming story.
A Song For Sweater-Boy by Vanessa North
This is a contemporary YA romance between two high school seniors: a closeted high-functioning autistic genius, Jamie, and Ash, the out-bisexual goth musician. Jamie has loving parents who work, a lot. His primary caregiver is his aunt, Melissa, who runs a knitting store and assists in prison outreach, teaching knitting to inmates. Jamie, the “sweater boy” has been at her side since birth, essentially. Ash is a student in Jamie’s school, and they meet because Ash was arrested for criminal mischief and is serving his probation by assisting Mel and Jamie with the prison outreach.
Ash doesn’t want to go to college; he wants to tour with his band. He spends all his time working on his music, and (often) making out with his newest boyfriend/girlfriend. He’s currently dating Abbie, but he’s finding that tender-hearted and intelligent Jamie is a balm to his spirit. It’s not easy, though, because Jamie’s in the closet, and has enough trouble making it through the day without the pressure of a relationship.
This one is so tender and sweet. Ash is able to soothe Jamie when he most needs it, and Jamie gives Ash his kindness, and believes in him—which is so important for Ash. He’s struggling with not having support of either of his divorced parents regarding his music. This one has the usual high school angst and bullies, and one aspect is handled more than the other, but the story shines in it’s simplicity.
The Taste of Coffee and Cream by Amy Jo Cousins
Jude is a transitioning teen, living in a home that is opposed to anything irregular. Her phone calls, internet use, and texts are monitored, and her schedule is rigorously maintained, except for Saturdays when she can ride the bus into a nearby town and hang out at the library. The first thing Jude does when she gets off the bus is head to a safe place to don her pretty clothes and hair extensions. Owen, the goth skater-boy who works the café that Jude uses for her transformations, is friendly and kind. He introduces Jude to his mother, a social worker who may be able to help Jude find a safe path to transition. And, maybe more…
This is a short read and packs some intense scenes. Jude’s father is a war veteran and unhappy with his effeminate son—to the point of some levels of abuse. There is a definite control vibe throughout, and the terror Jude feels in her home is real. She can’t reveal her true self, and feels that the growth of biologic parts with which she cannot associate is killing the person she is meant to be. I liked how Owen was so persistent and recognizes Jude for who she is without judgment. Their budding relationship is very tender, and his assistance in her transition and stability cannot be downplayed. I liked TJ, Jude’s only other friend—an out, gay black homeless teen. He’s fantastic, and, like Jude, I hope he finds real shelter soon. Jude’s angst and anxiety regarding the real issues of her world were clearly translated and engaging.
First in Line by Annabeth Albert
This is a New Adult M/M coming out story, featuring Ethaniel, a brilliant, closeted farm boy and his first days on a college campus. Ethaniel hails from a small, western Nebraska town. He’s spent his teen years helping out on his family’s alpaca farm, and he’d like nothing more than to never return. He chose to accept a full scholarship to Cathia University in upstate NY because it has a great astrophyics program, and a strong GSA. Ethaniel has known he’s gay since he was in junior high but has never spoken the words aloud, because, where he is from, your folks ship you off to conversion therapy if you admit such heresy.
Ethaniel’s first two days of school are a culture shock of the first order; he’s overwhelmed by both population and free choice. He makes friends with his girl-crazy roommate, Will, and his out-gay hallway mate, an attractive and outgoing Filipino boy named Nesto. Despite it being the first item on his “getting into the campus scene” list, Ethaniel struggles to admit his sexuality. At first.
I really liked Ethaniel, and sympathized with his plight. He’s sure this is a safe space, but is he ever truly safe? Would Will hate him if he admits he’s gay? Will Nesto like him if he can’t come out? And coming straight off the farm into a dorm that’s more populated than his whole county is a huge transition that is well-described. This is a great start to what I expect will be another story down the road; one I’d like to read.
Extinction Level Events by Geonn Cannon
Cassandra is leaving her northern Washington state home to attend design school in Savannah, Georgia, but, before she goes, she’s going to check off the most important items from her to-do list. First, confess her attraction for her best friend, Natalie. Or, maybe that should be last.
This is a short read that is a F/F coming out story. Cassandra’s sure her attraction has never been suspected, but she’s, well, not right about that. While Natalie is not unaware, it doesn’t make anything different. I think I liked how Natalie handled that confession, even if she was desperately blunt. Cassandra has a whole new world opening up to her, hence the “extinction” theme, and the story ends on a positive note.
This whole anthology is built with stories that have strong messages of acceptance and love, even if that is not always coming from the families of the characters involved. I really enjoyed the letters of encouragement written by the authors featured here, and—like they do—I truly hope that these stories find readers who enjoy them, and kids who can experience a positive representation of themselves in literature.