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This was a blessing to read. This is a historical literature short story collection, showcasing LGBTQIAP+ characters. And all of the authors that contributed to this collection are LGBTQIAP+ and that is something that I don’t even have words for. I am forever thankful that Saundra Mitchell curated this, that Harlequin published this, and that kids and teens everywhere are going to be able to pick this up and know that they are never alone and that they have never been alone, throughout history.
These stories also are set all over the world, even though the majority of them do take place in The United States. I do personally wish that we had a little more variety, but the stories themselves are super important and I feel very privileged that I was able to read them. My only other minor complaint is that I also wish that there was a pansexual character. I get no titles were used in many of these stories, but I still wish there were bigger hints and/or possibilities that would have personally made my pan heart happy.
My personal favorite was The Inferno & the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson. It was so beautifully written, the messages were expertly woven in, and the characters are two that I won’t forget anytime soon. Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore and Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake were super close to also being my favorite. And both of these stories are ones I will carry in my heart forever. And I truly believe, without a doubt, that these three short stories are worth the entire price of this anthology alone!
I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!
➽ Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore – ★★★★★
“I wanted them to know that I was my abuela’s granddaughter, that carried the blood of poison girls.”
1870 Mexico – I wish every anthology that I will ever read for the rest of my life started with a story by Anna-Marie McLemore. The beauty, the power, the magic in her words. It is something I can’t find words for, but it makes me feel everything. Absolutely everything. This story centers around an ownvoices Latinx main character, who is trying to get her trans lover out of jail. This story discusses trans issues and does it so damn well, and even though I am cis, I was still blown away at what this author was able to accomplish with this masterpiece of a short story. And the w/w romance in this is so awe-inspiring and just damn heartwarming. I loved it. And I loved this so very much. There is also so much beautiful magical realism in this, that deals with poison, and it has me super hyped to read more about it in Blanca y Roja this fall!
➽ The Sweet Trade by Natalie C. Parker – ★★★
“Clara Elizabeth Byrd had been married twice by the age of sixteen and she had decided she had no taste for it.”
1717 USA, Virginia – I enjoyed this one, I just didn’t love this one. Clara is a runaway bride, who is sailing away for a getaway, when she comes across another girl that is running from the same future that neither one of them envision for themselves. Obviously a really cute w/w relationship blooms, and both girls have hopes and dreams of ruling the seas together as pirate queens disguised as kings. And this makes me excited to read this author’s LGBTQIAP+ pirate story, Seafire, this summer!
➽ And They Don’t Kiss At the End by Nilah Magruder – ★★★★
“I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t. I have nothing to apologize for.”
1976 USA, Maryland – This was so smartly created for this anthology. From the title, to Pride & Prejudice, to skating, to the music, to the amazing rep; this was nothing but a joy to read. This was a gift sent from above. This story features an ownvoices black main character, who is trying to figure out her sexual orientation, but she knows she’s on the ace spectrum. Hell, it’s hard enough for aro and ace kids to figure out their sexual ID even in 2018, and in the 70s there isn’t even a name for it. But this was the sweetest story, that even made me shed a few tears. Also, there was the Filipino boy in this who was a confirmed cinnamon roll. But, please, I want a full-length story of Dee!
➽ Burnt Umber by Mackenzi Lee – ★★★★
“I am the boy most accomplished at not becoming distracted by the first naked woman we draw. Which is something, I suppose.”
1638 Netherlands, Amsterdam – Okay, this one was actually super funny. I was having a dang giggle while reading this one. And I felt like the main character talked a lot like I would in his situation, and, Lord, help me, I loved it. This one stars a boy in a prestigious painting class and, from the quote above, you can probably tell what they’re painting next. There is minor bullying in this, and an important discussion on how dangerous coming out was back then (and still can be). But the story really gets started when the main characters crush is the next subject they are about to draw.
➽ The Dresser & The Chambermaid by Robin Talley – ★★★
“Susanna was accustomed to creeping about the palace in the dark.”
1726 England, London, Kensington Palace – This wasn’t my favorite story in the anthology, but I loved the setting so much. At this point, I think Robin Talley is the queen of atmosphere, and she proves it again in this short story. This is about two girls who are both servants to a very demanding young princess. One has lived her entire life in the castle, and the other is brand new and needs the assistance of the other to know how the princess likes her hair. This is a cute w/w romance, and I’d love to read more. Also, this was super sex positive, and I always appreciate that!
➽ New Year by Malinda Lo – ★★★★
“Tommy Andrews, the male impersonator, brings something different in nightclub entertainment…”
1955 USA, California, San Francisco– This is a story about a (ownvoices) Chinese-American girl discovering who she is, and what her sexuality is, growing up in Chinatown. It also happens to be the Chinese New Year, and someone catches her eye when they walk into her friend’s restaurant. And I need this full story now! Ahhh, especially with that ending! But this was a great read, even though it was romance free, and it discussed so many important topics about immigration, and deportation, and how badly we treat immigrants, even in 2018. It also was a very feminist and empowering short story, and I loved the author’s note at the end of this one. I desperately need to read more by Malinda Lo.
➽ Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler – ★★
“She’ll never love me like she loves a man she’ll never meet.”
1994 USA, Washington, Seattle – This had everything that I should have loved. I love everything 90s, especially grunge music, and the entire aesthetic just seemed like something I’d enjoy, as morbid as that probably sounds. This is a story about two girls grieving the death of Kurt Cobain, in the place where grunge music was born. And I loved the writing style, I just thought the story left a lot to be desired. I love me a good w/w best friends to lovers story, and I love the message that music truly has healing powers, but this one was just a bit boring for me. Which kind of breaks my heart, because I do really love Nirvana.
➽ The Coven by Kate Scelsa – ★★
“It was Gertrude Stein who first introduced us to the coven.”
1920s France, Paris – This is about a girl grieving the loss of her brother and dealing with the depression that no doctor is able to diagnose. She then finds a coven with her girlfriend, that helps young girls like her. And I guess the w/w romance was cute, but this one just read so very boring for me personally.
➽ Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake – ★★★★★
“If I must lie to the world to be true to my heart, then I’ll lie. I’ll cheat, I’ll steal and I’ll do it with a smile. Love is the only higher power I answer to, and my love is no less for being chaste.”
1300s England | – I thought this was going to be good, but it ended up being perfect. This is an awesome Robin Hood retelling. And Robin in this story is a trans boy, who is in love with our main protagonist, who ran away from a father that didn’t accept him. And this m/m romance had me swooning. Also, our main protagonist is hearing impaired and seeing him sign on page was something so magical to me. And the ending? I still feel absolutely gutted. But the heart of this story is about love; the love we have for others, but also the love that we must find in accepting ourselves for who we are. This was so brilliantly done and was honestly perfection in every way, and I loved it more than any combination of words I can come up with.
➽ Willows by Scott Tracey – ★★
“That is the secret to survival. Teach fear to those who taught you to be afraid.”
1732 USA, Massachusetts | – This just didn’t work for me in the slightest. Maybe it was me and my reading comprehension, but this felt so incohesive to me and was super hard to follow. But it had witches in it? And being scared because of the way witches were dealt with back in the 1700s Massachusetts. But it was sort of like an exploration of a person that has been different people in different lives, while exploring gender, too. And in the end, they are in a relationship with a guy, and they run away together. But this just was so not for me in any way.
➽ The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe – ★★★★★
“And I am yours […] always.”
1839 USA, Northern California | – This was everything I wanted. This was whimsical, this was lyrical, and this was perfect. I would buy and read anything, and everything set in this world, and in those woods. Also, this is one of the few stories in the anthology that felt like a full story. This was beyond words good, and I had full body goosebumps at the very end of the story. This story centers around a young girl, with an abusive father, that lives in a town that fears going into the woods. Well, one day, after her dog escapes into said woods, the girl ventures in to find him and meets a girl who is not human (and there is no confirmation, but I want to yell at you all “FAE GIRL!”) And I was so damn invested in this tale. And I was so into the friendship, turned into something more between these very different girls, who both bond over feeling alone. This is easily one of my favorites in this entire collection.
➽ The Secret Life of a Teenage Boy by Alex Sanchez – ★★★★
“…Ready to tell Mom and Dad the thing they already know.”
1969 USA, Virginia | – This is about a boy who loves his family dearly but doesn’t know how to let them know that he is not straight. Him and his sister are really close, which I love, because my brother has always and will always be my best friend. And one day, a car breaks down outside their home, and our main character spends time with the young driver, while waiting for someone to repair the vehicle. Okay, I really liked this one, because even though this was set twenty years before I was born, I still remember a lot of the homophobia that went on in this story. Like, growing up, boys that only had one ear pierced were always considered gay, which makes me feel gross even to type. And just seeing this boy finally seeing someone that is happy and confident with their sexuality, and wanting to run away and be that too? That evoked some emotion from me. And this just felt like such accurate representation of all the thoughts you have when you’re young and discovering your sexuality (at least for me, personally) and I really enjoyed this one.
➽ Walking After Midnight by Kody Keplinger – ★★★
“I’m never gonna see the world or do anything people will remember.”
1952 USA, New York | – This one was super adorable, I just didn’t fall in love with it the same way I did some of the other stories in this collection. This is about an actress, that is starting to feel past her prime, and she misses her train connection in a small town. A girl who is closing up a nearby diner see’s the girl and offers her somewhere to stay. This is a cute story about knowing your worth, and knowing what you want from life, and not letting anyone tell you differently. Also, I believe the main character could possibly be on the ace spectrum, so that’s awesome too! But I wish we could have seen both of these characters a year from when they first met.
➽ The End of the World As We Know It by Sara Farizan – ★★★★★
“It’s kind of shitty to think that on the eve of the apocalypse, I’m wasting my last hours watching Carson Daly in Times Square awkwardly burgeoning pop star Mandy Moore the most banal of questions.”
1999 USA, Massachusetts, Boston | – You all, this one made me feel so… old… but so seen. Holy shit, so seen. Okay, I was a lot younger than the main protagonist in 1999, but I remember it. I was still in elementary school, but everyone was freaking out and I remember my parents being freaked out about the banks and them stocking up on bottled water and things like that! Also, me and my friends thought we were the absolute coolest, and we would always rush home after school to watch TRL, because we had to know if Blink 182 would actually beat Britney or Christina to number 1 that day. Also, this story mentions Aaliyah, who me and my best friend were obsessed with. Like, so obsessed with that she made it her daughter’s middle name when she was born a few years ago. And I also remember Matthew Shepard and what happened to him, and it being one of the first tragedies I actually remember happening. And it shook me, even as a little kid, to my very core. This is about a girl who is a senior in high school, and she is home on New Year’s Eve with her parents. Well, until her best friend who she hasn’t spoken to recently comes over. And a cute w/w romance brews. TL;DR – I’m giving this five stars because 1.) I loved it with my whole heart, but 2.) this was my very early adolescence, and around the time I started to realize that I wasn’t straight, so this story just really spoke to me.
➽ Three Witches by Tessa Gratton – ★★★★★
“The ease with which s beautiful girl can seduce Violante has been the core of her troubles all her life.”
1519 Spain, Burgos, Castile | – Tessa Gratton is such a talented writer, and when I read her writing it feels truly like I’m reading art. This story is a bit of a darker one, because it’s about a girl in conversion therapy that is being administered by the Catholic church. And we get to see a relationship with our main character, Violante, and one of the nuns. This was powerful, this was haunting, and it truly is something I won’t be able to get out of my head. And I will always choose love, and I hope you all do too.
➽ The Inferno & the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson – ★★★★★
“And it was in that moment that I understood what it meant to be loved.”
1839 London | – The last sentence of this story. God, I’m still weeping. This was such a masterpiece. I loved this with the sum of my entire being. This was the first thing I’ve ever read by Shaun David Hutchinson, and I promise it won’t be the last. This is a short story about two rivaling magician assistances, both learning to live with the pain from their pasts. Their paths cross, and they start to see that life doesn’t have to be all pain, and that everyone is worthy of love. I want more. No, I need more. I feel so in love with this world, this magic, and these two boys who completely captivated me and stole my heart. This was my favorite in the entire collection. This story alone makes the entire collection worth the purchase.
➽ Healing Rosa by Tehlor Kay Mejia – ★★★★★
“Rose was a summer girl, and I was a winter girl, but that fall we made magic.”
1933 USA, New Mexico | – This one was very powerful! This is an ownvoices latinx short story about a girl, whose grandmother was believed to be a bruja, and another girl who she can’t help but show her feelings for, regardless of what the girl’s father thinks, and regardless of what the demon inside her feels. And the magical realism in this was a blessing to my eyes and my soul. Beautiful, so beautiful. And this just was so unapologetically queer, and it just raised me up, and made me feel so happy, and reminded me to never feel shame. God, I just loved this one so much. And these two girls were my favorite couple in the entire anthology.
Overall, I loved this. And representation always matters, but it especially matters to kids that feel alone and feel like what they are feeling, or who they are, is wrong. LGBTQIAP+ isn’t a trend, or a theme, and it sure and the hell isn’t anything new. And no matter how much history books want to pretend we didn’t exist back then, they will always be wrong. I gave All Out four stars overall, because out of a possible 85 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 17 stories) this collection accumulated 66 stars (~77%).
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This is the group read for the biannual Prideathon that ran from April 2nd to April 8th! ❤🌈