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 #50 | “The Shadow Girl” by Misty Mount (eBook)

Title: “The Shadow Girl”

Author: Misty Mount

Pages (eBook): 300 pages

Original Publishing Date: 29 December 2017

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

“Shy, thirteen-year-old Zylia has always known she was different. Most teenagers feel unnoticed and unseen, but for Zylia, it’s something much worse. She’s disappearing from this world and doesn’t know how to stop it. At times, she’s not sure she wants to. Until she stumbles across a family mystery surrounding the disappearance of her great-aunt Angelica years earlier. During her quest to unravel the mystery, Zylia discovers she’s able to cross the boundary and enter the ‘in between’ world. Now, it’s up to Zylia to save herself before she’s trapped ‘in between’ forever.”

Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:

  • panic/anxiety attacks
  • hospitalization
  • ableism
  • mentions of suicide and suicidal ideation
  • disordered eating

Representation in the novel:

  • N/A

⭐⭐⭐
3/5 stars

*I received a copy in exchange for an honest review*

So, uh, I was given this copy back in January…and I’m just now reviewing. Whoops. Anyway.

The Shadow Girl is an urban fantasy/supernatural novel following Zylia, a lonely thirteen-year-old girl, through her daily life at school and home. She is part of a large family and is often forgotten about. It is not until a new girl, Terra, comes to town that Zylia finally begins to feel seen. However, something is amiss: sometimes, it really feels like people not only forget about Zylia, but physically do not see or hear her, even when she is right in front of them. She has to figure out what to do, or else she might disappear forever.

As far as characters go, I really felt for Zylia. She is young and already feels so lonely. She feels left out by nearly everyone — her classmates, her teachers, her own family. It was a bit of a struggle to read through her thoughts, mostly because I felt what she did at her age. Not only this intense loneliness, but extreme social anxiety as well. It is not outright said that Zylia has social anxiett, but the signs are all there. At least, for me they are.

I liked Terra, too. While she seems a little brash at times, her head was in the right place. I think she and Zylia balance each other out: she gets Zylia (safely) out of her comfort zone, and Zylia cautions her when she is being headstrong. To be quite honest, I really thought Zylia had a crush on her throughout the novel, but I guess not.

Her family is pretty eclectic, too. She shares a room with Ivy, the youngest, who also seems to be the most introspective out of all of them. There are two twin boys who seem to be the trouble makers; Adonia, the teen sister wishing for more popularity, and Keane, the nerdy brother. She also has a grandmother with dimentia and both her parents. However, outside of these particular traits, the characters are pretty flat. The most nuanced one is probably Zylia’s mother, and even then, it mostly goes back to how she is stressed and worried over Zylia’s grandmother.

When it comes to the plot, it was alright. Nothing too spectacular, but nothing horrible either. Even thought the plot did not feel like it started moving until about 60% through the book, it was still a (mostly) enjoyable, easy read. For the most part, nothing much happens. However, I do have a few issues. The first is the ableism surrounding the grandmother’s dementia. I understand that the story is told from a young teen’s perspective and that she probably has absorbed a lot of society’s ableist ideas, but still. The grandmother was constantly described as “crazy” and was often dealt with as if she was a nuisance. I…was not fond of it.

On top of that, there is also a side plot of Zylia wanting to befriend a fellow classmate, mostly because she thinks she is the only one to understand her and, in turn, “help” her because she saw her grab a suicide/self-harm resource flyer from a bulletin board. The biggest issue I have with this side plot is the thought process Zylia goes through. She thinks this girl and her are similar in that they are both lonely, the girl to a dangerous extent if she picked up the resource page. Because of this, Zylia believes that she is the only one able to help “cure” this girl. Which…no. Befriending someone will not make them non-suicidal or non-depressed. the young protagonist coul think this, obviously, but the thought process is never challenged. It can be harmful, to both the mentally ill person and the person trying to “help”.

The ending also seemed a bit rushed, and I felt that there were a few things left without being wrapped up. However, overall, I still enjoyed the book, even if it did have its mishaps.

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