Review: Proud (Anthology) by June Dawson // all the happy queer feelings you need in your life

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Summary: A stirring, bold and moving anthology of stories and poetry by top LGBTQ+ YA authors and new talent, giving their unique responses to the broad theme of pride. Each story has an illustration by an artist identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Compiled by Juno Dawson, author of THIS BOOK IS GAY and CLEAN.

A celebration of LGBTQ+ talent, PROUD is a thought-provoking, funny, emotional read.

Contributors: Steve Antony, Dean Atta, Kate Alizadeh, Fox Benwell, Alex Bertie, Caroline Bird, Fatti Burke, Tanya Byrne, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Frank Duffy, Simon James Green, Leo Greenfield, Saffa Khan, Karen Lawler, David Levithan, Priyanka Meenakshi, Alice Oseman, Michael Lee Richardson, David Roberts, Cynthia So, Kay Staples, Jessica Vallance, Kristen Van Dam and Kameron White.

Following A CHANGE IS GONNA COME, winner of the YA BOOK PRIZE SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 2018

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★★★★.5✩

I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did, but holy crap this really was a great anthology. And this is coming from someone who usually has the hardest time getting into anthologies and reading them fast, but I just couldn’t put this down.

All stories are set in modern day UK with the exception of one set in Ireland and one set in fantasy China. Apart from being queer I feel like they were pretty diverse although I can’t help but feel like they could have been more. One thing I found particularly lacking was the representation of aro and ace (and aroace) characters. There were exactly…zero? unless I missed something, and in an otherwise diverse anthology when it comes to sexualities and genders it was very noticeable.

All stories come paired up with art. The ARC also had them but I don’t know if they were all final versions, they were also pretty small and had to be zoomed in which of course made the quality suffer, but I’m confident in the final version this will be fixed. In any case of course I liked some pieces better than others but I’m not going to rate them.

I changed some of the immediate ratings I gave to each story as I was writing reviews for them, which now makes an average of 4.3, rounded up to 4.5 because of the mostly very positive feelings I have about this. Generally speaking, this is probably my favorite queer anthology I’ve read so far (not that I’ve read many). I loved the theme of pride and I loved that there was no queer pain or even where there was discrimination and hardship it was always challenged and always overcome.

I hope this book gets more hype because it’s really everything it promised to be (with the exception of the lack of aro/ace rep) and more.

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Here’s my individual ratings and reviews!

⮚ Dive Bar by Caroline Bird – no rating

I’ve read this three times and I still don’t understand it. I’ve never been the best at reading poetry and I’ve never learned to read it in English so maybe that’s why, but I just have 0 idea what this is about.

⮚ Penguins by Simon James Green – 5 stars

We’ve all heard of those gay penguins successfully hatching an egg, right? This story was featured here and it follows a gay boy whose coming out to his family is interrupted by people being excited about gay penguins. Also, prom night! I loved the humor and the cuteness in this.

⮚ On the Run by Kay Staples – 4.5 stars

Two teens won the lottery and are trying to run away. As I was reading this I was a bit anxious that they wouldn’t get the money but when I realized that of course this would have a happy ending. The POV character is trying to figure out their gender identity and we don’t know their pronouns (I’m only using “they” here for clarity).

⮚ As The Philadelphia Queer Youth Choir Sings Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’… by David Levithan – 4 stars

This was very short and mostly just the messy internal monologue of a queer teen as he sings with his queer choir and thinks about people in his life. I feel like for such a short story a lot of meaning was packed into it and it was cool to see.

⮚ The Phoenix’s Fault by Cynthia So – 4.5 stars

This was set in a fantasy-Chinese setting where dragons and phoenixes are real and symbolize (heterosexual) marriage. The MC “owns” (=was chosen by) a phoenix, and all girls who have one have to go to the Emperor’s palace and if her phoenix and the Emperor’s dragon choose each other, the girl will have to get married to him. The MC doesn’t want that because she’s in love with another girl and I’m not spoiling it but I loved all the symbolism and how fucking gay everything was.

⮚ Almost Certain by Tanya Byrne – 3.5 stars

This was kind of sad and I felt like it didn’t fit much with the other stories. It wasn’t the “queer pain” kind of sad though, and I actually really liked the queer theme in it, just not the story itself.

⮚ The Other Team by Michael Lee Richardson – 4.5

This is about an all-queer football team from the perspective of a trans guy who’s just joined it. I loved how everyone on the team was fleshed out even with so few pages.

⮚ I Hate Darcy Pemberly by Karen Lawler – 5 stars

This is a modern Pride and Prejudice retelling with two lesbians as Lizzie and Darcy. I’m not a huge P&P fan but I seriously loved this so much that after finishing it I had the biggest smile on my face and I immediately went to watch the P&P 2005 movie for the first time because it put me in such a mood. I also LOOOOVED what it did with the Lydia/Wickham storyline. Anyway, this is easily my absolute favorite out of all these stories.

⮚ The Courage of Dragons by Fox Benwell – 4.5 stars

This was a story without romance and about a queer found family / D&D group who become modern day heroes. The protagonist is a trans nonbinary person and he with the help of his group hack the school to genderneutralize it. I didn’t get all the D&D references but it was still cool to read and the plot was my favorite. It’s also probably the story that made me feel the most sense of pride.

⮚ The Instructor by Jess Vallance – 4 stars

I liked this and its writing style a lot but I wish there had been a little more balance between the plot (driving lessons) and the romantic plot line. I do understand why it was structured like this though and maybe it’s just a matter of wrong expectations from my part. Anyway, I still loved it and it made me smile so much when I least expected it!

⮚ Love Poems to the City by Moïra Fowley-Doyle – 3 stars

The lowest rating out of all these stories (even though it’s still a good rating). I don’t know, I didn’t really connect to it and I felt like it was more about a single event (legalizing gay marriage) and about a city (Dublin) than about the single people in the story. Which might have been the intention of the author I guess, but I still didn’t find myself caring a lot (even though I loved Dublin and it made me nostalgic of the city!).

⮚ How to Come Out as Gay by Dean Atta – 5 stars

This was a poem (I like how the anthology was bracketed by poems) and it’s pretty self-explanatory if you read it so yeah just look at my rating for it.

7 thoughts on “Review: Proud (Anthology) by June Dawson // all the happy queer feelings you need in your life

  1. “I have no idea what this is about” = me with 90% of English poetry (not that I was that much better with the Italian version, but)

    Let’s say that I’m not surprised there was no aro and/or ace representation at all (…I would have actually been very surprised if there had been aro anything).

    Anyway, I’m glad most of this was good! Ohh and it’s great to see Cynthia So here, she writes amazing short-form stuff but she’s not that well-known even for a short fiction author and her stories and poetry deserve better.
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was pleasantly surprised that some stories weren’t about romance at all and that some had it but it wasn’t the main focus, but yeah I can’t say that canonically there was any actual rep.

      I didn’t actually know any of the authors here (aside from Levithan, even if I hadn’t read anything by him) but now I’m so curious about some of them! I’ll definitely look into Cynthia So.

      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

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