I am back with another one of my occurences where I talk about books dealing with topics I deem important! Truth be told, I’m trying my best to read only books with those topics, and also, I want to be endlessly screaming about books, but anyway. I’m back with three new contemporaries today, and they are all wildly different, but also super awesome. Just like I love it, these books feature queer characters and/or deal with mental illness. And without further ado, let’s get into it!
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (2016) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (2020) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman (2020) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Radio Silence is one of Alice Oseman’s previous works, and was released in 2016, but Harley in the Sky as well as The Henna Wars were both released this year, and I’m also rally happy about the fact that I get around to reading recent releases.
Radio Silence, just like the rest of Alice Oseman’s work, features a highly diverse cast. *insert that EVERYBODY GAY song from TikTok that I just can’t get out of my head*. The main character, Frances, lives with her mother. She is head girl at her school, and gets excellent grades. She working hard on getting a spot at Cambridge University. But one night, when she is out with her friends, she meets Aled. Quickly, she realises that she can be herself when she is with him. And that will change her life and her perspectives forever. No, this is not a love story. It’s a story about friendship, and that’s even better.
Warning: Radio Silence deals with parental abuse, and depression. (And I thought it did so excellently)
I loved that this book was unapologetically queer. Frances is bisexual, and we know it pretty much from the get go. Some other characters are gay, and one is questioning his sexuality. There are some great discussions revolving around asexuality, and the need for labels (or not). As someone who suffered from depression, this book felt like a warm, accepting hug.
I LOVED the fact that Frances was obsessed with a Podcast from the Internet, and had a complete other life there. At school, she’s all business, and a serious student. But at home, she’s on tumblr, and wearing fandom t-shirts. It’s not always easy to be a teen, between real life and expectations, whether those expectations come from yourself, your parents, or your peers, and I thought that she portrayed that really well. I also loved that she had a really wonderful relationship with her mother.
After reading Alice Oseman’s graphic novel Heartstopper, I knew that I wanted to check out novels she had written eventually, and I’m so glad I finally got started with them. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of them, and especially her upcoming release Loveless.
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar was just released at the beginning of May, and was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. I started it on the day of its release, and finished it on the next day. It’s a beautiful story about friendship and sisterhood, first love, and also cultural appropriation, which is a very important topic.
Potential trigger warnings for: racism, islamophobia, homophobia and cultural appropriation. Bare also in mind that someone is outed in the book.
Nishat’s family moved from Bangladesh to Ireland when she and her sisters were younger. She is attending an all girls high school, and just trying to get by until she gets to college. Although her sister has always been supportive of her, when she comes out to her parents after attending a beautiful wedding, they act like nothing happened. But when Flàvia, the girl she has a crush on, decides to open a henna shop for a school project, simply because she saw it and liked it, Nishat can’t just stand by. Not only is it cultural appropriation, but it is also the very idea Nishat had.
The Henna Wars is a wonderful coming of age story, that navigates the complexities and difficulties of not only being a teen, but a queer POC. Nishat can be very stubborn, and she is full of angst, but rightfully so. I’ve seen reviews blaming her for that, but honestly? After all she’s been through, I totally understand, and really admire her. The only thing that saddened me was the miscommunications with her best friends, but hey, it’s okay to be a teen and mess up.
Overall, this was a really great book. If you’re looking for new releases for pride month, then I’d really recommend this one! Nishat is really unapologetic about who she is — as she should be! — both as a queer teen, and as a woman of colour. She is proud of her culture and heritage. I loved her discussions with her grandma over Skype, about henna, and about her family. I absolutely loved her relationship with her sister. And of course, I have to admit that the romance aspect of the story was also really cute! Full of angst, but I loved it.
And finally, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman was released in March, and was also a book I was highly anticipating because I absolutely loved the author’s previous works. I was surprised by the setting at first, but once again, was swept away by the story.
This one is possibly triggering if you have depression and/or anxiety.
Harley in the Sky is the story of a girl who runs away with the circus… But she actually rans away FROM the circus. Harley’s parents are the successful owners of a circus in Las Vegas, but want their daughter to go to college. Except she wants to be an aerialist. So since her parents won’t give her the opportunity to train, she takes off with Maison du Mystère, a rival circus whose ringmaster has questionable morals.
The romance aspect of the story was hella predictable, but it was also super cute so I’m not complaining. What I didn’t expect was how it delved into mental health and mental illness — although having read Akemi Dawn Bowman’s previous works, I should have seen it coming. Although it is never explicitely stated, it is pretty clear that Harley has OCD, or at least, something very similar to it. And I really liked how it was dealt with throughout the book. As usual with the author, the mental health rep is SO ON POINT.
Just like The Henna Wars, it’s a book about how teens can mess up, but also how it’s okay to mess up, as long as we work on fixing our mistakes. I thought that this book was very powerful, and I could barely put it down so of course, I’d definitely recommend it. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit different, if you have ever considered running away with the circus (I know I have!) then Harley in the Sky is definitely the thing for you! And if you’re looking for more queer reads for pride month, then you should go check out Akemi Dawn Bowman’s previous book Summer Bird Blue which has amazing ace rep!
And that’s it for today! This has been my segment where I talk about books with queer and mental health rep, because both are deeply personal to me. That being said, I also just fell in love with Elizabeth Acedevo’s latest release Clap When You Land which is a book about two teenage girls who just lost their dad in a plane crash. As usual, I’m trying to read more and more diverse reads. And of course, that does not only include queer books (although I do love them with all my heart!) I’m also trying to read books with POC protagonists, and support Black authors more than ever. And I’ll try to have it show on my blog, so hopefully I can get my words together to write a review for this one, because it’s definitely making it to the top best books I have read this year!