REVIEW #72 | CIEL by Sophie Labelle (eARC)

Title: Ciel

Author: Sophie Labelle

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: 15 September 2020

Synopsis:

Ciel is excited to start high school. A gender non-conforming trans kid, Ciel has a YouTube channel and dreams of getting a better camera to really make a mark. Ciel can always rely on their best friend, Stephie, a trans girl who also happens to be a huge nerd, but their friendship begins to feel distant when Stephie makes it clear she wants the fact that she’s trans to be more invisible in high school. While navigating this new friendship dynamic, Ciel is also trying to make a long-distance relationship work with their boyfriend Eirikur, who just moved back to Iceland. When Ciel befriends Liam, a new trans boy at school, things become more complicated by the minute.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • transphobia
  • misgendering
  • xenophobia
  • homophobia (slurs)
  • parent death (mentioned)

Representation:

  • Brazilian-Canadian non-binary trans MC
  • multiple side characters of color (I don’t have the exact races because I somehow lost all my notes, I’m sorry 😭)
  • trans boy side character
  • bi trans girl side character
  • multiple queer/LGBTQ+ side characters (identities not specified)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

*I received an eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

So I normally don’t read Middle Grade books — not because I’m disinterested, but because I usually completely forget about them — but I’m so, so glad I was able to snag this up on NetGalley! It was unbelievably cute, and we need all the happy, uplifting trans/non-binary books for younger readers.

Ciel is about this young non-binary trans kid, Ciel, who is just starting high school. They’re also a small YouTuber, making videos about their day, family, friends, etc. The book follows them and their friends as they come to terms with high school life and the up’s and down’s that come with it.

Lemme be upfront with all y’all and say that not a lot happens in terms of plot: the whole book spans only the first two weeks of high school for Ciel, and it isn’t even 300 pages long. If you’re much more action-oriented, this book may not be for you.

However, this is part of the reason why I fell in love with it: it was basically just a slice-of-life story that focused on Ciel and their issues with their new friend group, their boyfriend, and how to express themself and their gender at a new school. I finished it within about three or four hours, and it was everything I wish I had when I was younger, even though I didn’t know I was genderqueer until much later in life.

Ciel spoke to me as a main character, in more ways than one. I completely empathized with their issue regarding what to wear as a non-binary person, especially because they didn’t want to stand out too much at first. While I usually don’t wear too many overtly feminine things (I’m AFAB), I still have a look where if you saw me on the street, you would probably code me as a woman. However, I wish wish wish I could dress more overtly masculine, maybe even bind. But where I live right now, I don’t want to stand out like that, mostly because I’m not out to barely anyone IRL. So Ciel’s issue? I totally understood them.

And their anxiety regarding friends! Going into high school was so scary for me because I didn’t know a lot of people, even though I was in stuff like band and cross country. I kinda just lumped together with folks from band, and called it a day, even though I felt they were just putting up with me and not because they wanted to be my friend. Seeing that paralleled with Ciel’s experience validated my experiences from so long ago, in my first year of high school.

Oh! And the fact that Ciel wasn’t the only trans person in the book! Their best friend Stephie is a trans girl who, upon entering high school, doesn’t want to make it known that she’s a trans girl, which causes a bit of friction between her and Ciel. There’s also a trans boy character as well, Liam. I just really enjoyed seeing the three of them interact with each other because of how different they come at their trans/non-binary identity. It’s different for each of them, and seeing that variety should make it clear that there’s no specific “right” or “wrong” way to be trans, which I think will be awesome for both trans and non-trans kids alike.

The only thing I wish we got more of was more of the side characters. Understandably, you can only fit so much into a middle grade novel, but damn, I would have loved to see this book spread out over the course of the year, seeing the side characters and how they developed throughout the course of it. That would’ve honestly made it a 10/5 star read for me, really.

I think Ciel is a perfect book for non-trans kids who want to learn more about trans/non-binary experiences, and (first and foremost) for the trans/non-binary kids who are either questioning if they’re “trans enough” or who want a happy, hopeful representation of kids like them. Because that’s what Ciel is: even though it has instances of transphobia and homophobia, it is ultimately a hopeful, positive book about trans kids and their lives. I hope when a trans kid reads it, they see themselves in it, like I did.

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REVIEW #55 | THE STONE RAINBOW by Liane Shaw (e-ARC)

Title: The Stone Rainbow

Author: Liane Shaw

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Publishing Date: 17 September 2019

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“Seventeen-year-old Jack Pedersen is finding life complicated ever since he came out to his mom. Even though she’s been doing her best to be understanding, it’s obvious to Jack that his mom still wants to cry every time she says the word gay. Complications go into hyperdrive when a new student arrives at school, and Jack starts experiencing feelings he’s never allowed himself to feel before. When a near tragedy turns life upside down, Jack realizes it’s time to stop hiding from himself and everyone around him, and he decides to organize his small town’s first Pride Parade.”

Trigger/content warnings:

  • drowning (possible suicide attempt? It isn’t clear)
  • homophobia, including homophobic slurs
  • ableism

Representation:

  • m/m relationship
  • mixed race side character
  • side character with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair

⭐ .5
1.5/5 stars

*I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Hoo boy, this book….This book. Hm. I had issues with this one, so much so that I DNF’d it about a third of the way through. Could not stand it at all.

The Stone Rainbow by Liane Shaw is a young adult contemporary novel that follows Jack, a closeted teenage boy that lives in a small, conservative town. The reader follows him and his life as he goes to school and hangs out with his friends. One day, a new boy shows up at school, and Jack finds himself crushing on him. They both eventually agree to design and create their town’s first ever pride parade.

Let me start this off by saying that I do not have a ton of positive things to say about this novel. Since I did DNF it about 30% through, so maybe it got better, but I did not want to stick around to find out. I…basically had issues with nearly everything about the novel, including the characters, the plot, and the writing.

Almost all the characters are unlikable. Maybe it was just me, but I could not connect to any of the characters, including the protagonist Jack. I just couldn’t stand him; in general, I thought he was annoying. However, specifically, I was fed up with Jack quite early in the novel (even compared to when I DNF’d). He has a friend — whom I forgot the name of, we’ll call him Tom — who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He constantly says that he doesn’t care that Tom uses a wheelchair and that Tom shouldn’t feel bad about it or anything, but like. His actions say the complete opposite. Jack gets annoyed when Tom doesn’t let him touch his wheelchair, but he keeps trying to push him around anyway. On top of that, he gets almost offended at the fact that Tom allows their mutual friend (we’ll call him Zeke because I forgot his name, too) to push his wheelchair sometimes. I don’t know if he ever learns that these actions and thoughts are super ableist, but I didn’t want to stay around to find out.

On top of that, I was utterly confused as to why any of these kids were friends with each other. Like I said, from the amount of the book that I read, Jack does not respect Tom’s boundaries and, along with that, plays into the “wow, he’s disabled, he’s ~so inspiring~” inspirational bullshit. On the other side, Tom doesn’t seem to care that Jack is having issues when it comes to his sexuality and having to stay in the closet. Along with that, their mutual “””friend””” Zeke constantly says homophobic things around the both of them even though he knows Jack is gay. I mean, I understand that it’s a small school and that Jack may not have many options for friends, but still. It didn’t make me feel great at all.

Of course, we also have Jack’s mom, who is that kind of mom that “accepts” her son’s sexuality, but is actually just low-key passive aggressive and homophobic towards him. She doesn’t want him to talk about his sexuality at all around her because it’s ~simply too hard~, and ugh. Y’all. I couldn’t stand her. On top of that, we have the narrative choice in Jack defending her because she “has to get used to it” and that she is “better than before,” which is…an interesting take. But yeah, I pretty much disliked or downright hated most of these characters. I think some of that has to do with the writing itself, though.

What can I say? The writing was…not good. First of all, and this is just a personal thing, the author falls into that trap of not knowing how teenagers today talk. There was just slang and phrases that were used that had me cringing or scratching my head. To be honest, this was the smallest issue I had with the writing.

This may sound a bit harsh, but my goodness, you can totally tell this was a coming-of-age gay book written by a straight person (if we strictly go by the author’s Twitter account, which says they are an “ally”). Here is an exact quote from my notes: “basically a walking, talking ‘be nice to The Gays™️’ pamphlet disguised as a book.”

Some of the things that were said or talked about in the book had me rolling my eyes. The best way to put it would be that if this were to come out in, say, 2008 or 2009 — when there wasn’t a lot of mainstream queer YA novels — it would probably would have been a decent book. However, it was published a decade later, in 2019, and even though we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to diversity, we are in a much better place. To me, this book just doesn’t cut it. It had these cheesy one-liners, such as: “Straight. As if everyone else is somehow crooked.” Like??? Nah, dude, straight just means heterosexual. It isn’t that deep.

This book is (presumably) written by an allocishet author for other allocishet people in order for them to dip their toes into ~gay teen literature~. To me, it is made to be a glaringly obvious “issues” book, and if it was published ten years, it might have been somewhat okay (thought it would still have the obvious issues with ableism). However, with it being published in 2019, it definitely missed the mark, and it falls flat. While I didn’t read all the way through it, I felt like the novel had no substance, and it was simply something to take at face-value. Was not a huge fan whatsoever, and this is all coming from a queer as fuck young adult, so. Make of that what you will.

Obviously, I was not a huge fan of it, and I would urge y’all to find another gay contemporary novel to read instead. But that’s just me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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REVIEW #46 | “We Are Okay” by Nina LaCour (Audiobook)

Title: “We Are Okay”

Author: Nina LaCour

Length of Audiobook: 5 hours 37 minutes

Narrator: Jorjeana Marie

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

“You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

“Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

“Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.”

Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:

  • death of a family member
  • grief and loss

Representation in the novel:

  • f/f relationship
  • sapphic characters
  • characters of color
  • Note: apologies, but I lost the list I had that had the rep on it, which is why it’s so broad

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

This is the first book I have read by Nina LaCour, and I am in love. We Are Okay is a tale of love, grief, loss, and how to let go. And honestly? I thought it was executed perfectly.

We Are Okay is about Marin, a young student who left her home in California for the New England college she attends. Her friend from California, Mabel, is visiting her for the holidays. Because of this, Marin has to face her grief and the reasons she truly left her home.

Oh my goodness, I love Marin. What the reader learns about her is heartbreaking, and I do not know what I would do in her shoes. She did what she thought was right for herself, even if the people around her were hurt by it. The book is told from her point of view, and I loved it. The reader has a front-seat look into Marin’s emotions, and they are often conflicting.

Mabel, on the other hand… Mabel, Mabel, Mabel. I did not like her. I understand why shou could have been upset with Marin, but she acts as if she could just up and be better again after everything that happened. And. No. That is not how grief works. Who knows, I am sure other readers love or like her, but I am not one of them.

Since the book is heavily focused on characters, there is not a huge action-packed plot. But every other chapter (or close to it), there are flasback scenes and chapters where the reader slowly learns about Marin’s past, including what happened with Mabel and what caused Marin to leave. Personally, I loved it. Seeing both of them interact in the present and how it differentiates from the flashbacks was really interesting for me. This format definitely worked. I do have to say, if people want more action that character introspection, this probably would not be the book for them. But wow, can it make the reader sad.

Overall? Loved this book. I thought grief and its effects on people were handled really well. If I come across another Nina LaCour book, I would probably pick it up. But, question, are they all this heart-wrenching?

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