ARC Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

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: Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents’ wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls … opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he’s trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he’s in the spotlight—on everyone’s terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.

Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents’ disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she’s painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van’s life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she’ll have to choose between the one thing she’s always loved … and the person she never imagined she could.

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book review - pink

★★★★.5

This is a book that surprised me because of its unique format: the two POVs aren’t the MC and the love interest, but two MCs who happen to be (somewhat) friends.

Vanessa is a Korean-American actress and the protagonist of a TV show. All of her moves are monitored by the media and regulated by her publicist Jade. When Jade’s daughter Brianna gets close to Vanessa things get confusing for Vanessa, who’s always thought she was straight.

Josh is the son of an actress who’s down on her luck and wants him to be on a reality show about her family, something Josh reluctantly has to do unless he wants his Malibu house to be taken away from him.

I started out not really liking Vanessa and almost hating Josh, but I knew I’d end up loving both of them, and I have to say that even when Josh was at his worst I got attached pretty much right away and I wanted to keep reading and get that sweet character development.

There’s three main aspects to this novel:

• Vanessa’s story: her life as a Hollywood star, how this affects her relationships, and what it means to be a Korean-American actress and what it might mean for her career when you add “gay” to the equation. I loved Vanessa’s whole arc from denial to questioning to finally accepting her attraction to a girl and to being okay with coming out publicly. I also loved the romance between her and Brianna, it was very cute and the chemistry and communication between them was great.

• Josh’s story: his (non-)relationship with his family, his wild parties, the not really knowing what to do with his life or even who to be. I think Josh’s development was amazing especially considering there’s no romance for him in this book. Usually one way to show a character’s growth is to give them a partner and show how they are with them, how they become better people. With Josh, he does this on his own and with the help of his friends, and I think that’s a nice and important message that should be in more YAs.

• Vanessa and Josh’s friendship: in an alternate universe, Vanessa and Josh have a beautiful enemies-to-friends-to-lovers arc. Here, they get a beautiful enemies-to-friends arc that was incredible and rare to see. I love how they had to forcibly spend time together at first but then because of different circumstances they spent more time together, mostly helping each other out, and from that a feeling of friendship bloomed. This was one of the few books where it’s clear that friendship is a feeling before it becomes a type of relationship between two people, and although it kind of served Josh’s character arc the way a romantic relationship would have, I feel like it was much more than that and it’s just as important as the actual romance that happens within the book.

Overall I’m so happy with this book. I don’t really care for Hollywood and celebrity stuff so sometimes at the beginning I was a little bored with it, but that never made me want to stop reading. All I can say is: come for the f/f romance, stay for the beautiful variety of relationships and themes portrayed here.

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ARC Review: Odd One Out by Nic Stone

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:

Courtney “Coop” Cooper
Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

Rae Evelyn Chin
I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

Jupiter Charity-Sanchez
The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move. . . .

One story.
Three sides.
No easy answers.

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book review - pink

★★★✩

It was messy but I feel like the message it was trying to give is very important. I just didn’t love the execution.

This is a book about how complicated it is to navigate personhood, relationships, past trauma, identity, social pressure, and basically everything else you might find yourself having to deal with in addition to your daily life as a teen. Books like this are the reason I, in my mid twenties, love reading YA. Because sometimes this “typically teenage” struggle doesn’t stop, or (some of it) is delayed until later, and seeing things through the eye of a teen can be both refreshing and healing.

We get three point of views in this book, not in alternating chapters but in three blocks. I wasn’t sure about this choice at the beginning but it ended up being both the best and worst thing about the book.

🐣 Courtney “Coop” Cooper – Black teen in love with his best friend, deals with past trauma and loss, intends to keep a promise he made as a kid even though it seems impossible that the conditions will ever be right for that to happen.

🐣 Rae Evelyn Chin – biracial Irish/Korean new girl at school, people-pleaser, abandonment issues, not as straight as she thought.

🐣 Jupiter Charity-Sanchez – Black out and proud lesbian, adopted daughter of two dads, caught between new and old friendship, number one fan of Queen.

First off, I thought that the POVs served their part of the storywell, they also were distinct enough and didn’t feel like an excuse to reveal things that the previous POV character didn’t know. But as things got messy (more on this later), I couldn’t help but feel that, a) I liked each POV less than the previous one; b) things had to be told instead of shown, and I couldn’t detect character agency for the previous characters.

Every main non-POV character felt like a plot device that served the current POV character. It was as if only because the focus had shifted on someone else, the other two’s ambitions and personalities were forgotten.

By the third and last POV, having previously been in the head of the other two POV characters, I couldn’t recognize their actions as their own and they felt only driven by what Jupiter wanted, and worst of all, most of it was just for the sake of drama. Now look, I know everyone makes bad choices and I’m not against that at all. I feel like I need to point this out because I’m aware that there’s a tendency to be less forgiving of POC characters as opposed to white ones when they do shitty things. But their actions, combined with the fact that the only POV I was reading from at that point wasn’t giving me any reason to sympathize with any of them, made it really hard to enjoy reading the last third of the book, as opposed to the first one which made me laugh and love Courtney so much.

It’s kind of hard to explain myself without spoilering anything so I’ll leave it that: this book got messier and messier and if you’re easily frustrated it could affect your enjoyment by a pretty big factor

A list of things I didn’t like paired with things I did like:

• I think having two questioning queer people in one YA book is amazing. The questioning queerness was the strongest point of this book and the reason despite all of its flaws this is a three star for me.

○ While it’s great to have different people question and explore their sexuality in different ways, some of the surrounding queerness (in side characters) was sometimes something that didn’t sit well with me. For example, a lesbian girl says she doesn’t mess with bisexual girls who have “touched the D” or something like that. This is something that might be called out later but not right away and I didn’t see the point of this. Another example of something that was personally a bit hurtful to see was the assumption from Jupiter’s part that every girl who wanted to “experiment” with her was actually straight. For being so openly against heteronormativity, she sure assumed that straight is the norm.

• The talk about labels came late but it was powerful and important enough to somewhat fix that ending for me. Labels can change and it can be scary to change them or to go without for a bit, regardless of your experiences with your previous labels.

○ This might be me overthinking things, but at some point I felt like a correlation was made between being attracted to one specific gender through attraction to their genitalia, and even discovering said attraction because of uhh…having seen their genitals. This felt cisnormative and I think too much focus was put on body parts.

• All books need as many Queen references as this one.

○ This is not exactly a thing I didn’t like (at least until some point) but I need to point out that this is a love triangle, and not the best one I’ve read, but it’s a love triangle among queer teens of color, which is something that I’m glad got its own spot in YA.

So overall, would I recommend this book? It depends on what you’re looking for and your tastes (who would have thought?!), and I hope my review gave you an idea whether you might like this or not.

ARC Review: Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi // not very Greek but nicely sapphic

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: The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

Release date: November, 27th

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book review - pink

★★★✩

I liked this book and especially for a debut I think the author did a great job, but there were also things I was looking for in a book set in ancient Greece that simply weren’t there, and that’s the reason why this isn’t a five star, but let’s slow down a little.

The book is narrated from two alternating POVs, Atalanta’s and Kahina’s. I think this type of narration was the best choice for it, but one problem I had with it is that the two voices weren’t distinct enough. I think it makes some sort of sense, because the two characters are kind of similar on many levels, but that made it difficult to differentiate their internal monologues. But other than that, I think they were both well-written, just like well-written was the whole book. Sometimes, dare I say, a little too well written. This might make no sense, but I don’t know how else to put it. I just felt like every sentence was thought over meticulously, with great attention paid to the show, don’t tell and other rules, but sometimes that made the narration a little dry and perhaps impersonal. That’s obviously a very minor thing and it’s not really something I even thought about until writing my review, and it didn’t influence my rating negatively.

My favorite aspect of the book was probably the f/f romance, and not just because it’s f/f. It honestly wasn’t even a huge part of the book, it’s just something that happens within the book, but that’s what made it special. I don’t really want to say much about it because it should be experienced while reading the book.

The plot was at times a little slow and I think a few elements could have been removed or made less relevant in order to focus more on other aspects. Something else I didn’t necessarily agree with is the characterization of Artemis and Apollo, but I respect the author’s choice, and it’s true that Greek mythology isn’t always consistent and that there’s not two versions of a god or a Greek hero that are the same.

But speaking of ancient Greece, I didn’t find it in this book. If you replaced the names of places and people with random ones, this would read as a generic fantasy. I didn’t see Greece in the culture, in the way gods were worshipped, in the way men and women related to each other, I simply didn’t see it anywhere. The author note explains that liberties were taken, since the mythological Atalanta belongs to the first generation of heroes, even before the Trojan war, and not a lot is known about many aspects of life back then. This, in my opinion, resulted in a worldbuilding that’s not here nor there. You could tell me it’s set in the same universe and time period as Cinderella and I’d believe it. I think that a retelling of a Greek myth loses a lot of its value if it doesn’t transport the reader back to ancient Greece, and that’s truly what bothered me most about an otherwise above-average book.

All in all, I would recommend it if you can look past the missing ancient Greece and are looking for a f/f romance that’s not the focus of the book.

Book Blitz: The Fever King by Victoria Lee — Excerpt & Giveaway

A few weeks ago I received an ARC of The Fever King by Victoria Lee, one of my most anticipated releases of next year, and weeks after having read it I’m still thinking about it. This is a book you can’t miss out on (YA political fantasy! all-queer cast! important and always-relevant themes such as intergenerational trauma!) and I’m so happy to be able to be part of the book blitz that Xpresso Tours organized, so thank you so much to them for the opportunity!

Read on to find info and preorder links, as well as an excerpt from chapter one and a giveaway for a chance to win one of five ARCs!

 

The Fever King
Victoria Lee
Published by: Skyscape
Publication date: March 1st 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 1:

He stood there for a second, staring woozily at the mess while sirens shrieked in his ears. He was sick. Magic festered in his veins, ready to consume him whole.

An outbreak.

His father, when Noam managed to weave his way back to his side, had fallen unconscious. His head lolled forward, and there was a bloody patch on his lap, yellow electricity flickering over the stain. The world undulated around them both in watery waves.

“It’s okay,” Noam said, knowing his dad couldn’t hear him. He sucked in a sharp breath and hitched his father’s body out of the chair. He shouldn’t—he couldn’t just leave him there like that. Noam had carried him around for three years, but today his father weighed twice as much as before. Noam’s arms quivered. His thoughts were white noise.

It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, a voice kept repeating in Noam’s head.

He dumped his father’s body on the bed, skinny limbs sprawling. Noam tried to nudge him into a more comfortable position, but even that took effort. But this . . . it was more than he’d done for his mother. He’d left her corpse swinging on that rope for hours before Brennan had shown up to take her down.

His father still breathed, for now.

How long did it take to die? God, Noam couldn’t remember.

On shaky legs, Noam made his way back to the chair by the window. He couldn’t manage much more. The television kept turning itself on and off again, images blazing across a field of static snow and vanishing just as quickly. Noam saw it out of the corners of his eyes even when he tried not to look, the same way he saw his father’s unconscious body. That would be Noam soon.

Magic crawled like ivy up the sides of the fire escape next door.

Noam imagined his mother waiting for him with a smile and open arms, the past three years just a blink against eternity.

His hands sparked with something silver-blue and bright. Bolts shot between his fingers and flickered up his arms. The effect would have been beautiful were it not so deadly. And yet . . .

A shiver ricocheted up his spine.

Noam held a storm in his hands, and he couldn’t feel a thing.

 

Author Bio:

Victoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her partner.

For exclusive updates, excerpts, and giveaways, sign up for Victoria’s newsletter at https://victorialeewrites.com/newsletter/

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

 

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!
(US/Canada only; ends November 15th)

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Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart // the biggest lie was the hype

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Summary:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

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book review - pink

★★

It took me a while to decide on a rating, I kept going back and forth between 4, 2 and 3 stars. After thinking about it I finally settled on a two and I feel like I’m satisfied with this rating. Also forgive the messy review but it came from the heart and also I didn’t feel like the book deserved any more of my time!

I liked parts of the book and I guess this is even a good book depending on how you look at it but personally? I like to think that after finishing a book, ANY book, I am a little bit of a different person, a better and more informed person, a more sensitive person, whatever. But this book didn’t make me grow. All I got was a story about something terrible that happened in a shitty privileged family and a protagonist who was certainly victim of her upbringing but who ultimately gets to enjoy her own privilege through and through and honestly I don’t think that’s the kind of story we need.

There was literally no point or no moral about this book, the only part I liked was the mystery and I guess the only point of this was about shock value but were the characters or the rest of the story interesting? No.

It was also racist and one of the many things that bothered me was how the racism gets pointed out to the MC by the only POC (why do POC always have to do the emotional labor FOR the privileged white people??), only for her stream of consciousness to be like “omg that sucks! well good thing I’m not racist though” like??????? What’s???????????? the????????? point????????? It also seemed that the family’s racism was one of the turning points that was supposed to convince the reader of how truly shit the family was. The romance was also boring.

This is not even a book about a villain or anything, I LOVE those, but no, this was all about making you feel pity for the MC which in my opinion doesn’t deserve it. It’s just a story about a shitty thing that happened to a shitty person/family and idk I guess that’s not what I read books for.

ARC Review: The Unbinding of Mary Reade

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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SummaryA swashbuckling, smart novel based on the true story of a girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to sail with the infamous pirates Anne Bonny and Calico Jack.

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mother, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where a girl could never be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a hired sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s profession—and her safety—depend on her ability to disguise the fact that she’s a girl.

Leastways, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and right in the middle of the swashbuckling crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate. The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain and earns herself a spot among the pirates’ crew.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living life as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything—her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.

Release date: June 19th

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book review - pink

★★★.5

3.5 stars

This book is perfect for those who are a lot into romance and not that much into action.
I personally love books with pirates in them, but I also admit that I’m not the biggest fan of action scenes and all of the things you would expect from a book where everyone is a pirate. So, this overall worked for me, but it won’t work for you if you’re going into it expecting a lot of pirate badassery. I would have certainly liked a little more of that but I didn’t mind it this way either.

⚓️ What I liked: 
• Basically, all the “good” characters were bisexual or potentially bi.
• The two timelines showed the different struggles Mary faces
• I really liked the romance taking place in the first timeline and the trope of “forbidden love”
• I think the MC had enough depth and was well rounded.
• The happy f/f ending.

🛳️ Stuff I’m not sure what to think of: 
• There’s a lot of bad stuff in here. Homophobia, transphobia, sexism, abuse, sexual assault. I didn’t really love reading about that, but I also understand why they were there. Historical realism and all that. But… I just can’t help but wonder whether all of that was necessary. I think there should be a way to keep it realistic and accurate while not focusing the major part of the book around those things.
• I also don’t know how trans and genderqueer people are going to feel about the whole forced crossdressing thing. I legit don’t know, so I’m adding this point here. I’ve always enjoyed stories where the main heroine had to fake being a man but I’m a cis person and while I do think that this book had some depth when it comes to both gender and sexuality, in a few cases I wondered how a not cis person would feel while reading this.

⚓️ What I didn’t like (some spoilers ahead): 
• I found that there wasn’t actually that much romantic chemistry between Anne and Mary. Sexual, maybe, but I wasn’t 100% on board with the romance itself, and I didn’t like how Mary was shown to up to the very end still have feelings for Nat. It’s kind of dangerous territory for bi representation and while I wasn’t hurt by it because I understood Mary’s feelings, I can’t tell whether it won’t bother others.
• I felt like the last few chapters in the past were unnecessary. I don’t know if I’ve missed something, but I could have done without the story ending right where it began, since I don’t think this full-cycle thing really added anything to the story.

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018 and while it didn’t fully deliver I did enjoy reading it, and the main reason I did is because it used a lot of tropes that I’ve always enjoyed that kept me hooked to the page. If that sounds like something for you, you’ll probably enjoy it too, as long as you don’t expect too much action and are aware that the pirate theme is mostly in the background.

ARC Review: Running With Lions by Julian Winters

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: Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.

Release date: June 7th

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book review - pink

★★★★✩

SKSNSKSLDHDSS*

*translation for those who don’t speak Gay: THIS WAS SO SWEET AND GAY I’M SCREAMING

gay

Right from the description this book sounded right up my alley and it did not disappoint. It’s not a perfect book and you can feel that it’s a debut, but the characters were well rounded and I just wanted to keep reading to see what happened next, and I think the romance was believable. All these elements, paired with how diverse and how awesomely queer this was, made this book a four stars for me.

I want to start by talking about the queer elements in this, because it was my favorite thing ever. Right from the start we’re introduced to Sebastian, who is bisexual and not afraid to say it (well, except to his mom). His best friends are Mason, also bi, and Willie, who’s gay. Throughout the novel we meet at least two more queer side characters, one of which is Sebastian’s love interest (who is also a practicing Muslim), and also one of the coaches is gay and has a husband. This is also not a “everyone is queer and everyone is fully accepted” kind of world. People still have to come out and deal with everyday shit including homophobia, but the soccer team the book follows is open to all queer people and I think that gives a better, more welcoming feeling to the reader because it doesn’t erase our struggles while still delivering a very queer-positive environment.

This is introduction is just to say that this kind of representation was what every queer person deserves in their life.

Moving on to the plot, this is very much character driven and I think all main and side characters were given enough depth for the reader to be able to really feel a connection to them, both individually and as a team. Sebastian is kind of the peacekeeper and he always feels responsible for his team members, Mason is the troublemaker, and so on. I think something like that is really important to have in sport romances and this aspect was done very well.

The romance itself I only started liking after a while. I guess maybe I wanted more of the enemies element but the whole deal with why their former friendship ended was kind of underwhelming. I still enjoyed reading it though and I eventually started shipping it.

I really want more books like these because they feel real and positive and they’re truly catered towards queer people. Please support this book when it’s out!

TWs: Discussions of body shaming, bullying, Islamophobia, and a scene featuring homophobic taunting/language.