Surrender Your Sons – Adam Sass
This is Sass’s LBGT+ YA thriller debut, and I finished all 408 pages in three days because I could not put this book down. It follows Connor Major, a white boy sent to Nightlife Ministries by his religious zealot mother after he (unwillingly) comes out to her as gay. Nightlife Ministries is a conversion camp for children and teens on a private island, but Sass handles this incredibly sensitive topic with care and respect, and includes a content warning at the beginning of the book as there is one death within the novel. Surrender Your Sons unflinchingly deals with the reality of conversion camps and homophobic parents, which is an important topic many deal with presently. One of my favourite things about this book is that it begins a conversation about when (and if) it is safe for people to come out. At the beginning of the novel, Connor’s boyfriend Ario pressures him to come out to his mom before Connor is ready, and thus begins the plot of the novel. This thriller had me on the tips of my toes, but it’s not all jump scares and running. Connor finds love on the island with Marcos amidst a rebellion, as he gathers the other kids to band together to fight back against Camp Nightlife and expose the Camp for what it truly is. But there are no more spoilers here — you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out more about Connor’s harrowing journey and how exactly he manages to free himself and the other kids.
Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse
This is the first book in a series, with its sequel announced not too long ago and set to release in April 2022. This is an Adult LGBT+ fantasy novel that follows multiple perspectives, and is packed full of adventure, love (and some sex), and death. It follows Xiala, a Teek whose song can control the waters, but whom not many trust. She is tasked with getting the blind and scarred stranger Serapio across the sea and to the city of Tova in time for an eclipse. Unknown to Xiala are the kinds of powers Serapio holds within him as the reincarnation of the Crow God, so she agrees to set sail for a hefty earning, and thus the fate of Tova is sealed. In Tova, readers have the perspective of Naranpa, a Sun Priest and the leader of the Watchers, who faces a coup by another Priest. Finally there is Okoa, the son of Carrion Crow’s leader, who attempts to stop an uprising of the Odohaa cult and is then accused of attempted murder on the Sun Priest when the cult lashes out. Least to say, there is a lot going on in this novel. Roanhorse crafts a beautiful and descriptive world based on Southeast Asian, Native American, and Mesoamerican cultures, in which she did extensive research on. One of the things I most appreciate about this novel is that queerness and transness are not “othered” and are instead accepted as the norm in this culture, such as Xiala’s bisexuality and the non-binary characters who use neopronouns such as “xe” and “xir” rather than “she” and “he.” If you love fantasy novels that undercut the traditional European setting and “uncolonizes” fantasy literature, this is the book for you.
Dread Nation – Justina Ireland
As soon as I heard that this book was about zombies, I had to get my hands on it. It’s been one of my favourite YA reads ever since. A major theme of Dread Nation is racism and classism, as it takes place in the 1870s, right after the American battle of Gettysburg when zombies first began to walk the land. Jane McKeene, our feisty heroine, is a Black girl who trains at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore where she can wield a pair of sickle blades better than anyone there. Early on in the plot, Jane graduates from Miss Preston’s and becomes an Attendant for a wealthy white family, where her job is to protect them and kill the dead (known as “shamblers”). Soon after however, Jane and her Miss Preston’s rival, Katherine, are forced to work together to figure out why families in Baltimore are suddenly going missing. The writing within this book is dynamic and engaging, and truly kept me glued to the pages, as I couldn’t wait to read about the next twist in Jane’s world — from love, to rivalry, to mystery, and my favourite, fighting zombies. Jane’s character is spunky, tough, and she tells things as they are but to those she loves, she’s loyal as hell. When I finished this book, I honestly missed her for a while. This is a character who stuck with me, and as soon as I found out there was a sequel (and a novella of three extra stories) I couldn’t wait to jump back into Jane’s world and be with these characters once again. Dread Nation is one of the most memorable and entertaining books you will ever read.
The Belles -Dhonielle Clayton
Another dystopian YA that follows a strong Black protagonist, I bought this book at the same time as Dread Nation and loved it just as much (even though this one doesn’t have any zombies). In the world of Orléans, Belles are the only ones who wield the power to control beauty, to make people beautiful, and beauty is the most sought after commodity. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle (and unbeknownst to her, the strongest Belle of her generation), and while she loves being revered, she doesn’t want to live a regular life like her five sisters; she wants to be the Favourite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans. Yet once inside the palace, Camellia finds it hard to keep up with the requests from the Queen’s youngest daughter, Princess Sophia, who wants to be the most beautiful girl in Orléans. Soon, Camellia realizes she can’t please everyone, even though that’s what she’s trained for. And there’s another thing that nags at Camellia…the eldest Princess, who’s been asleep for years and losing strength, and the Queen has asked Camellia in secret to use her power to help her eldest daughter. But doing so could harm Camellia, maybe even take her life, and she has to decide if she’ll help the Queen and possibly give up her life, or save herself and her sisters. This is another engaging read that I couldn’t put down, as I had to know what happened to Camellia, and I also didn’t want to leave this beautifully crafted world (good thing there’s a sequel!). This book deals heavily with themes of beauty, perfection, and individuality, as the Belles use their magic to physically change the appearance of people in Orléans — an incredibly painful and exhausting process for all involved. It also shows the amazing power of sisterhood between Camellia and all her sisters, which is one of my favourite things about this book, as they all come together to help each other out even when they’ve been separated. You can trust me when I tell you that you’ll be returning to the store or library for the sequel after you’ve finished this book — it’s just that good!
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