Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
As some of you may know, last week (March 20-27) was when the #TransRightsReadathon was hosted in response to a dangerous increase in anti-trans legislation across the U.S. Created by Simi Kern, the goal of the readathon was to give the spotlight to as many trans books and authors as possible to bring them awareness and support in light of the rampant transphobia across the country and beyond. It’s been frightening and heartbreaking to see what’s happening in other states, and I want to support my trans siblings in any way possible. So I’ve decided to include shorter reviews of all of the trans books I read this week—all of which were good!
PLACES TO DONATE (U.S.):
- Trans Health Legal Fund
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project
- Trans Lifeline
- National Center for Transgender Equality
Enjoy this week’s mini reviews!
A Million Quiet Revolutions – Robin Gow
For as long as they can remember, Aaron and Oliver have only ever had each other. In a small town with few queer teenagers, let alone young trans men, they’ve shared milestones like coming out as trans, buying the right binders–and falling for each other.
But just as their relationship has started to blossom, Aaron moves away. Feeling adrift, separated from the one person who understands them, they seek solace in digging deep into the annals of America’s past. When they discover the story of two Revolutionary War soldiers who they believe to have been trans man in love, they’re inspired to pay tribute to these soldiers by adopting their names–Aaron and Oliver. As they learn, they delve further into unwritten queer stories, and they discover the transformative power of reclaiming one’s place in history.
TW/CW: transphobia, dysphoria, misgendering/deadnaming, homophobia, off-page sexual assault, religious bigotry
Novels in verse always get me when they’re done well, and A Million Quiet Revolutions was no exception. The story of Aaron and Oliver is one that was essential to be told, and it resulted in a beautifully poignant piece of verse!
The growing relationship between Oliver and Aaron felt so genuine, and the combination of pseudo-epistolary format (oh god, that sounded pretentious…) with verse emphasized the way that their relationship transcended barriers of both place and time. The interweaving of the past with the present gave me an insight into a queer part of history that I’m almost embarrassed that I didn’t consider until reading this—better late than never, I suppose. Their voices both leapt off the page, and the easy flow of Gow’s verse made the reading experience feel effortless, drifting like wind—good poetry, to me, doesn’t quite feel like poetry; the rhythm remains, but it doesn’t feel like going line by line in such a rote way.
Above all, the message of this novel in verse is one that’s so important, especially in a time where the narrative of LGBTQ+ people being trendy and new is being pushed so often—queer people have always been here, and we will always be here. Aaron and Oliver’s journey of researching their trans namesakes—cross-dressing soldiers in the Revolutionary War—was one that’s so necessary for understanding our own roots. The key to belonging is realizing that you have always been a part of history, no matter how many pains historians have taken to ignore or deliberately erase the queerness and transness that has always been there. For me, that’s why A Million Quiet Revolutions is such an important read.
Brimming with history and rich verse, A Million Quiet Revolutions is an ode to discovering your own roots, and finding solace in hidden histories. 4 stars!
The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester – Maya MacGregor
In this queer contemporary YA mystery, a nonbinary teen with autism realizes they must not only solve a 30-year-old mystery but also face the demons lurking in their past in order to live a satisfying life.
Sam Sylvester’s not overly optimistic about their recent move to the small town of Astoria, Oregon after a traumatic experience in their last home in the rural Midwest.
Yet Sam’s life seems to be on the upswing after meeting several new friends and a potential love interest in Shep, the pretty neighbor. However, Sam can’t seem to let go of what might have been, and is drawn to investigate the death of a teenage boy in 1980s Astoria. Sam’s convinced he was murdered–especially since Sam’s investigation seems to resurrect some ghosts in the town.
Threatening notes and figures hidden in shadows begin to disrupt Sam’s life. Yet Sam continues to search for the truth. When Sam discovers that they may be closer to a killer than previously known, Sam has a difficult decision to make. Would they risk their new life for a half-lived one?
TW/CW: transphobia, ableism, self-harm, homophobia, biphobia, misgendering, anaphylactic shock, hate crimes (past), murder
…why does Goodreads still list the title wrong 😭
My ultimate hope was that this book would be as well-crafted as its cover, and for the most part, it lived up to my expectations! The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester deftly toes the line between a coming-of-age story and a decades-old mystery, buoyed by a diverse and lovable cast.
Sam Sylvester has a batch some of the most diverse representation I’ve seen in a realistic fiction/mystery novel in a while—aside from having a nonbinary, asexual, and Autistic protagonist (more neurodivergent protagonists, please!!), there were so many different characters that were incredibly intersectional—queer, POC, and disabled characters all across the board, and not just the teen characters too! All of these identities were woven so well into the story, and I loved the journey of self-acceptance and reckoning that Sam experiences throughout the novel as they unravel the mystery of the boy who died in their room 30 years ago.
That being said, although I liked most every aspect of this novel, this really feels like a novel that’s going to date itself. I enjoyed a handful of the references (always extra points for David Bowie), but a lot of the more recent ones—the references to Tumblr, Gen Z slang, internet culture, and a Steven Universe gag every other page, read as very hackneyed and stilted. As authentic as the rest of Sam Sylvester was, those parts dragged down what would have otherwise been powerful and realistic dialogue. Most of the writing did its job and did it well, but the attempt to ground it in the present day only ended up making a novel that’s going to date itself far quicker than it was probably intended to.
Despite that, I’d say that Sam Sylvester is still a must-read—for the excellent representation, for the mystery, and for the coming-of-age story. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!
The Thirty Names of Night, Zeyn Joukhadar
The author of the “vivid and urgent…important and timely” (The New York Times BookReview) debut The Map of Salt and Stars returns with this remarkably moving and lyrical novel following three generations of Syrian Americans who are linked by a mysterious species of bird and the truths they carry close to their hearts.
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 neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime 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 neighborhood 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. Realizing that he isn’t and has never been alone, he has the courage to officially claim a new name: Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare.
As unprecedented numbers of birds are mysteriously drawn to the New York City skies, Nadir enlists the help of his family and friends to unravel what happened to Laila Z and the rare bird his mother died trying to save. Following his mother’s ghost, he uncovers the silences kept in the name of survival by his own community, his own family, and within himself, and discovers the family that was there all along.
TW/CW: transphobia, xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, miscarriage, grief, sexual assault, animal death, loss of a parent
I didn’t go into The Thirty Names of Night with any expectations, but I was stunned by the writing! This novel is one of the best magical realism novels I’ve read in recent years, with writing as rich as a tapestry and a story that’s just as well-woven.
Joukhadar’s writing style was the star of Thirty Names; this is the first of his novels that I’ve read, but he has such a unique talent for finding unlikely comparisons and weaving them into the richest, most obvious but out-of-sight metaphors imaginable. I would never have compared the gray sky on a foggy day to the color of a kitchen knife, and somehow, it was right in front of me. His talent for metaphor suited the emotional depth of this story, as well as the almost fantastical element of the birds in New York—I will never claim to be the expert on him, but if there was any story that was suited for Joukhadar to tell, it’s this one.
That writing also made the emotional core of this story possible. There’s so much to Thirty Names: gender identity, grief, heritage, family, and the body itself, but all of it was handled with such grace and aplomb that made the story feel really, truly real. I might’ve even passed the aspect of the birds by as something that could feasibly happen with how this story was written. Every part of this novel is deeply moving, raw and beautiful, and the prose flows as smoothly as air over a bird’s wings.
All in all, a beautiful, literary tale of connections—to family, to gender, and to the world around us at large. 4.25 stars!
The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders
“If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams…And from there, it’s easy to control our entire lives.”
From the brilliant mind of Charlie Jane Anders (“A master absurdist”—New York Times; “Virtuoso”—NPR) comes a new novel of Kafkaesque futurism. Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace—though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below.
But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet–before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence.
TW/CW: animal attack/animal death, police brutality, body horror
Alright, so the only explicitly stated Latinx characters, specifically of Mexican ancestry, are named…Carlos and Maria? So most everybody else gets semi-unique names, but not them? It’s like Cho Chang all over again…[LOUD INCORRECT BUZZER}
If I hadn’t read Victories Greater Than Death beforehand, I would’ve been more suspicious, but it seems like Anders has gotten a lot better with diversity on that front, but…still iffy. Just saying.
That aside, The City in the Middle of the Night was one of the more inventive dystopias that I’ve read recently, but it fell victim to very convoluted writing. It’s obvious from every page that Anders put so, so much work into creating a fleshed-out world with an equally fleshed-out history—that was a riotous success on her part. The premise of society being divided by a tidally-locked planet felt eerily feasible, and I absolutely ADORED all of the alien life forms on the night side of January—the Gelet were obviously my favorites, but I would’ve liked to have seen more creatures. ALWAYS MORE CREATURES.
However, Anders’ writing choices ended up making parts of The City in the Middle of the Night something of a struggle. The story itself ended up being rather convoluted and tangled, and I found myself getting lost and confused about wait, which side of the planet are we on again? Why are we here in the first place? The additions of a boatload of characters that ended up having very little consequence to the plot at large didn’t help either. This story had the potential to be incredible, but it ended up getting so lost in itself that it became an ordeal to figure out where I was.
All in all, an inventively-conceived dystopia that excelled in worldbuilding but floundered in its writing. 3.25 stars.
Tell me what you think! Did you participate in the #TransRightsReadathon, and if so, what books did you read? What do you think of these books? Let me know in the comments!
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!