Edited by Annie Harper
Published June 23rd 2015 by Duet, an imprint of Interlude Press
Review copy provided by the publisher
This collection of bright and bold short stories offers an optimistic glimpse of young LGBTQ+ life, from coming out, first romances, summer flings, bad break ups, and everything in between. It's pure escape from the doom and gloom that so often lines the shelves, and a blissful Summer retreat. From authors with a huge variety of personal perspectives and experiences, this anthology is a welcome addition to readers looking for an intro to LGBTQ+ YA and well worth picking up. Its joyful outlook avoids sugar coating yet offers escapism whilst putting the under-represented at its front and centre.
In Beautiful Monsters we get an insight into the trepidation of coming out, both to yourself and to others. Cody likes to keep invisible, but when his work sends him to help the local GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) run their Pride parade, he finds himself spilling his soul to André, their young leader. A line about the GSA being a place for the kids to come and chat about clothes, music, games or whatever they wanted really strikes home: ‘this is the place they come to not to talk about all that other shit.’ Rachel Davidson Leigh creates a myriad of people and experiences all linked with a sense of belonging. The electric connection between Cody and André drives this story, as well as gorgeous character detail: Cody has a hobby of painting figures for a game he doesn’t play, with his favourite character Kaelyssa doubling up as confessional. The writing is full of life and the nerves of taking that feared first step are felt with each word.
The Willow Weeps for Us by Suzey Ingold has Jack and Richard engaged in a summer romance set against a pre-WWII back drop in England, reminiscent of Michelle Magorian. It's a tale of the calm before the storm. This gentle romance has the depth and grandness of the era imbued in the glorious scenery and decadent descriptions. With a river punt, pallets of strawberries and piano song, this is a gay Little Love Song and a step out of time.
Amy Stilgenbower's The Fire Eater's Daughter had me hooked from the first lines, deftly setting the scene with the scent of fried foods at the carnival. An illicit love story set in the 1950s, our young Polish descended protagonist finds herself having well and truly fallen for the fire eater's daughter. My favourite aspect of this story was the incredible mother figure, who has a real sense of personal history that encourages a seize the day attitude. I feel this is a story that could well be expanded into an entire novel.
Surface Tension by Ella J Ash is an introspective look at the pressure of labels versus passing and the chance for a summer of escape, only to be left with 'a belief in the present, not just the imaginary future.' Exploring social circles within a band of teen camp volunteers, and what happens when a crush disrupts the hope to keep things low key. I loved the real sense of friendship and summer fun here, with such a sense of camaraderie in unexpected places. An insightful exploration of what happens when you confront your own internalised stereotypes and assumptions.
My Best Friend has a nostalgic look back at a platonic friendship through the years. An epistolary communication on the event of a wedding, this story is Brokeback where they really are just good friends.
My personal favourite from the anthology is What The Heart Wants masterfully written by Naomi Tajedler. This sumptuous heart in your throat awakening is exquisite and delivers a truly diverse snapshot of life across sexuality and race. What The Heart Wants asks 'perhaps I'm Ambersexual' offering pansexuals and demisexuals representation (though without stating labels explicitly.) There is also an established asexual character that defines themselves thus and enters a happy romantic relationship. Taking place in a summer extra credits art class, it looks into the friendship of Noam and Charlie who are polar opposites in looks and temperament. Charlie worries that Noam is not putting herself out there until she falls for Amber, the art class model. Meanwhile they form a firm friendship with quiet artistic Peter. I could read an entire novel about the dynamics of this little group of friends, the characters are complex and unique with a fully rounded sense of individuality and uniqueness that sets this story apart. Fully realised and utterly enchanting. It's a heart thudding tale of first desire. The family dynamics at play are also very interesting, with supportive parents strained by a fraught sibling relationship.
S.J. Martin's The Most Handsome shows another side to the idea of labels within this collection, as a young transgender protagonist finds a sense of belonging in the pages of a book at Oliver's Bookshop in Provincetown. The bookshop experience lays the groundwork for Carter's acceptance of who he is, discovering the experiences of other transgender people. The tale reminds readers of the power of words and representation and has a heartfelt and uplifting conclusion.
Something Like Freedom by Caroline Hanlin has bisexual Eli meeting his best friend's cousin Gabe. Recovering from the break up of his two year relationship, Eli is a sympathetic ear to Gabe who has run away from his religious parents after they discovered he was gay. This quiet, layered little story has shades of darkness but carries a sunrise of hope and connection with music and reflection.
On the Shore by Rachel Blackburn is the perfect end to the collection, what better way to end Summer Love than caught in the rain on a beach at night with the restorative promise of a new romance after nursing a broken heart.
Overall the collection has some strong gems and some lovely first steps for new authors. It's a great read for anyone looking for somewhere to start reading LGBTQ+ stories, or for anyone who wants a diverse array of experiences. I look forward to seeing what else Duet Books have to offer.
4 out of 5 Stars!
Preorder a copy of Summer Love here or at your local store.