April has arrived and it’s not quite the spring we anticipated a few weeks ago. While being on lockdown isn’t as fabulous as we’d usually envisage our lives, it does come with some perks. Plenty of time to catch up on some seriously sensational literature that was released in the past year. Here are my book recommendations to elevate your quarantine.
Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
A YA novel about growing up HIV+ with adopted dads? I’m all here for this. Plus, the character is directing her high school performance of the musical Rent? Even better. This book could have easily felt like an ‘after school special’ from the early 90s, but it really brings this kind of story up to date to show how much (and how little) has changed for those living a positive life these days.
Touching on bullying, desire, ‘undetectable equals untransmittable’ and the persistent lack of education around HIV/AIDS, this is a great book for teens and adults to read. I really applaud Camryn Garrett for writing it.
Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen by Amrou Al-Kadhi
Growing up in a strict Iraqi Muslim household, it didn’t take long for me to realise I was different. When I was ten years old, I announced to my family that I was in love with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. The resultant fallout might best be described as something like the Iraqi version of Jerry Springer: The Opera. And that was just the beginning.
This was one of my top two books of 2019. Amrou has written an astoundingly insightful about their journey to date. I couldn’t believe they were so perceptive about the struggles they have experienced – until they mentioned their therapist. They must have an amazing therapist because they write with such clarity about the struggles they have encountered with their gender, sexuality, race and family.
I honestly think everyone should read this book because Amrou writes with profound wisdom and humour about such a range of intersecting experiences. Their friend Crystal Rasmussen published Diary of a Drag Queen (reviewed below) around the same time and these two books couldn’t be more different but are also equally infused with charm and heartbreak.
One winter’s afternoon on Hampstead Heath in 1980, Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden and quickly falls under her spell. Connie is bold and alluring, a successful writer whose novel is being turned into a major Hollywood film. Elise follows Connie to LA, a city of strange dreams and swimming pools and late-night gatherings of glamorous people.
I read this book because I had enjoyed The Miniaturist so much and was delighted to discover that this story starts with two women cruising each other on Hampstead Heath in the 1980s. That narrative is split between this era and the present day, as the daughter of one of the women tries to discover what happened to her missing mother.
It’s an exquisitely crafted story, with slow reveals that build towards the ending. The thing is though, I read this book 6 months ago and now can’t remember what actually happens at the very end, which is actually perfect because it means I can read it again. In fact, I would read anything by Burton and I can’t wait for her next novel.
Just outside a hotel in Bordeaux, Philippe chances upon a young man who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. What follows is a look back at the relationship he’s never forgotten, a hidden affair with a gorgeous boy named Thomas during their last year of high school. Without ever acknowledging they know each other in the halls, they steal time to meet in secret, carrying on a passionate, world-altering affair.
This is work of ‘autofiction’ is based on an experience that the author Besson had in his youth. Compared by many to Call Me By Your Name, I read it simply because I was still all over-hyped on on this film. This book covers similar territory, being focused around the longing of youth, but it is an entirely different story. No fruit was Hammered in the making of this story.
This tale is a little less bittersweet and a bit more tragic, making it more realistic I think. It’s definitely a wistful story that will appeal to queers aged 30+ as it takes a long, transportive look back at how much your formative years shape you. For additional campy points, the book was translated from French by Molly Ringwald.
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a lesbian best friend, makes zines, and is a flâneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter.
Not only was this one of my top two books of 2019, but it’s also one of my all-time favourite fiction titles. Yup, I loved it that much. I suppose because it combines alternative 90s nostalgia with a truly genderqueer character, I was always going to eat it up.
A truly imaginative take on queerness, with a character who traverses the binary to enjoy same-sex encounters. It’s sensationally sexy and ticks all my queer cultural high-points from the late 20th century. From cruising the Castro to Riot Grrrl music, I wanted to jump into the story and live it all myself. One of my top book recommendations – it holds a special place in my heart.
Until recently, Julia hadn’t had sex in three years. But now:
a one-night stand is accusing her of breaking his penis
a sexually confident lesbian is making eyes at her over confrontational modern art
and she’s wondering whether trimming her pubes makes her a bad feminist.
Julia’s about to learn that she’s been looking for love – and satisfaction – in all the wrong places…
This book was a lot of fun. A queer woman’s sexual awakening that sees her jumping right in the deep end with lesbianism, BDSM and polyamory – and finding herself a little overwhelmed. This book is very amusing and a little too spot-on, to the point that I thought it might secretly be a memoir. But it turns out, totally fiction and very frankly written.
I especially liked that it name-checked some of the LGBT+ spots I go to around East London, which is probably what made it feel so real. One of the most enjoyable book recommendations, especially for any millennial queers out there.
Stories like the one where you shagged a 79-year-old builder and knocked over his sister’s ashes while feeding him a Viagra. Or the time you crashed your car because you were giving a handjob in barely moving traffic and took your eye off the car in front. That’s the kind of dinner-party ice-breaker I’m talking about.
This book is everything you could hope for. Hilarious, acerbic, humble, tragic, witty, fabulous – it has it all. Not only is Crystal Rasmussen an incredible performer but they are also a fantastic writer. Honestly, it’s kind of hard not to hate them (unless you were already a total fangirl).
I devoured this book so quickly that it gave me heartburn. It’s not some shallow book by a z-grade celebrity with nothing to say. Instead, Crystal artfully utilises snort-inducing stories as a weapon to protect you from the heavier moments that seep through the cracks in some of the books more tender moments. Their friend Amrou Al-Kadhi (aka Glamrou) published Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen (reviewed above) around the same time and these two books couldn’t be more different but are also equally infused with charm and heartbreak.
Louis and Louise are the same person born in two different lives. They are separated only by the sex announced by the doctor and a final ‘e’. They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle. They both suffer one catastrophic night, with life-changing consequences. Thirteen years later, they are both coming home.
If you’ve ever wondered how different your life would be if you’d been socialised as another gender, then this book provides a clever insight. The author, Julie Cohen, takes an interesting approach, looking at the ways we are innately who we are no matter what gender we are assigned at birth and what ways society treats us differently and allows us (explicitly or implicitly) certain opportunities. This book doesn’t say anything particularly groundbreaking and takes a pretty binary look at gender but it’s still an interesting and enjoyable read.
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