The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

A woman with long dark hair embraces a man who is looking away amid leafy plants. The colors are all night-time blues and purples. Her face is pensive.

by Ash B.

[Content warning: sexual assault, PTSD, bullying, homophobia, and racism] 

“If I don’t pull apart things I actually did wrong from things that weren’t my fault, I’ll never really be able to really apologize for anything. Deciding everything is your fault is, in the end, as meaningless as deciding nothing is[…] I need to apologize for what is my fault, for what I did wrong, but not for the wrong that was done to me. 

Ciela Cristales just might be my favorite protagonist of 2021. 

The story begins with her dropping off an unconscious boy at the hospital on the night that changed her life – the night that she and this boy, whom she does not know, were both assaulted at the same summer party. She drops the boy off and intends to seal off the memories of the event as if they never happened.  

However, this proves difficult when the trauma she experienced results in the loss of the magical gift she inherited from her grandmother: the ability to sense exactly what type of pastry someone wants before they even know it themselves. If this doesn’t sound like a big deal, then consider how this ability, “the most precious thing my bisabuela could ever have left me,” has passed down for generations and is part of the success of her family’s pastelería business. For Ciela, losing this magic is losing a part of herself – but it wasn’t just lost, it was taken through the cruelty of her peers. 

I’ll be honest, I was a bit hesitant to read this one because of the intensity of the storyline’s subject matter. I personally tend not to read heavy books, as they can leave a significantly negative impact on my mental health. However, I knew from reading their social media that McLemore put a lot of care into this story, purposefully including hope and healing along with an emotionally accurate representation of trauma. (McLemore themself is a survivor.) 

This information from the author, combined with my pre-existing love of their writing style, was enough to motivate me to give The Mirror Season a try… so I threw myself into reading it, and wow, did it devastate me in the best type of way. Honestly, few books have ever made me cry as much as this one did, and it provided me with some much-needed catharsis. 

Ciela is gradually forced to confront the extent of her trauma – including specific details of the event that she represses through most of the book – due to the development of her relationship with Lock, the boy who was assaulted at the same time she was. They are able to form a unique friendship due to their shared experiences of sexual violence, connecting to each other in ways that other folks might not understand; for example, making jokes out of their trauma as a coping mechanism. McLemore crafts these characters, and their world, so well and with so much care. They truly felt like living, breathing people with real, raw, messy lives that are worth learning about and empathizing with. 

Stylistically, McLemore combines elements of YA contemporary fiction with what they do best: magical realism written in lush, atmospheric prose. It’s the type of writing where the reader is left with some uncertainty regarding “is this all literally happening, or is this metaphorical?” during certain passages. For much of the book I questioned whether Ciela was perceiving some of these things as an expression of her trauma, or if real objects were legitimately turning to mirrored glass – and I believe that this uncertainty is well-suited for the representation of Ciela’s experience of reality after such a traumatic event. McLemore does not shy away from portraying the difficulties of PTSD, including nightmares and flashbacks, which can cause challenges in discerning between one’s past and present realities. 

I haven’t been through anything anywhere near what these characters have been through, but reading this book honestly helped me process my own feelings of the sexual harassment I have experienced as a queer trans person: the shame, the anger, the visceral disgust when remembering the event, the internalized victim blaming, and the sense that other people are entitled to disrespect the bodies and the personhoods of Othered individuals. In the case of Ciela, her Latina and pansexual identities create intersections in the ways she is objectified and harassed by her white, straight, cisgender peers. 

One aspect of this representation that I appreciate so much is that while this is a story about a queer person experiencing trauma, this is not a Queer Struggle story. Her struggle is not about being queer specifically. The classmates that assaulted her throw the word “lesbian” at her in a derogatory manner, but Ciela is not struggling with coming out or coming to terms with her sexuality. She is open about being pansexual (i.e., attracted to people regardless of gender) and her prior same-gender relationships, and she is accepted for it by herself, by her loved ones, and by Lock. Personally, I felt like the vibrant queer world around Ciela far outweighed the homophobia, so the overall tone of the book is queer pride, resistance, and joy. This, combined with the arc of Ciela of coming to terms with how to cope with her trauma in a healthy way, makes for an ultimately empowering story of growth and courage. I honestly could see this taking the place of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson in future high school classrooms. 

So yes, this is a very emotionally challenging book, and no doubt will be highly triggering for some readers, but it is very healing. I really encourage anyone interested in this book – teens and adults alike – to give it a try, while being mindful of what you need to care for yourself. Check in with your current mental health and support system as you find the space and time to process this story in whatever way you need. I truly hope this book reaches as many readers who will benefit from it as possible. Copies of The Mirror Season can be requested through HCLS here.

For resources regarding sexual violence, visit www.rainn.org. For local support, community engagement, and more, check out HopeWorks of Howard County (formerly the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County) by visiting hopeworksofhc.org. 

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Ash is an eternal lover of coming-of-age stories, especially those that center queer and trans joy.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

The cover, in shades of pink and lavender, shows the two main characters looking at each other; Jane is on the subway, dressed in a black jacket, torn jeans, a white t-shirt and orange sneakers; August is walking alongside the subway station, wearing a white t-shirt and black jumper and boots, carrying a cup of takeaway coffee with a purse slung over her shoulder.
Book cover of One Last Stop.

by Ash B.

If you’re at all aware of contemporary LGBTQ romance fiction, then you’ve no doubt heard about Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. I’ve honestly yet to read it, but I can confirm there is no sophomore slump for McQuiston with their second novel One Last Stop. 

One Last Stop follows August, a cynical 23-year-old college student, as she adjusts to life in New York – trying out yet another college in another city – complete with quirky roommates, a job at a pancake diner that she may or may not be qualified for, and a subway route that she happens to share with the most attractive girl she’s ever seen. The aforementioned “Subway Girl” goes by the name Jane, she is equal parts kind and fierce, and… well, her existence may defy reality as we know it. 

I leave this intentionally vague for a reason: I likely would have found the book even more enjoyable if I had no idea of the plot before I started reading, given that McQuiston spends quite some time building up the mystery of who – or what – Jane actually is. Therefore, I will refrain from going into detail about the book’s premise. Honestly, if this review piques your interest in the title, then I recommend that you simply dive into the book for yourself without reading the summary! 

However, I will divulge that, in my opinion, One Last Stop is an example of speculative fiction at its most accessible, and I absolutely loved it. In a recent interview, Casey McQuiston explains how they “have always loved that genre that’s sort of one step away from sci-fi, one step away from magic or fantasy. It’s a type of romcom that I think was really popular in the late ‘90s and early 2000s,” referencing films such as 13 Going On 30 and Freaky Friday. These are not stories typically considered sci-fi or fantasy – at least, not in the same way as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings – but they absolutely exist within the realm of speculative fiction, incorporating fantastical elements while allowing the author to set the story in an otherwise ‘normal’ contemporary world. The reader can take comfort in the familiarity of the overall setting but can be surprised, or at very least entertained, by the circumstances that arise from the speculative elements employed.  

Whereas these elements are often used for comedic potential in Hollywood movies, McQuiston is able to use them in a way that enriches One Last Stop with queer history and profound examinations about social differences between the past and present. And, of course, the situations created by the speculative elements are also well-suited for romantic tension and drama, which makes for a very engaging story.

I’ve found that a book is a particularly good read for me personally if it reminds me of other books I’ve loved, automatically encouraging my brain to go into “let’s compare these parallels!” mode while simultaneously being an enjoyable narrative on its own. One Last Stop is a perfect example of this! At the beginning, I found myself thinking of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green, as both of these novels feature mystery-loving bisexual female protagonists in their early twenties, living in present-day NYC, that end up being caught in the middle of seemingly unreal circumstances. McQuiston’s lovable cast of characters, development of a queer found-family trope, and flirtation with the “star-crossed lovers” trope (but with a happy ending!) reminded me of Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. And by the end, as hidden family histories and unexpected connections between characters are revealed, I excitedly reminisced about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Other than being some of my favorite reads in the past few years, I would not think to compare any of those three titles with each other… yet they fit perfectly in comparison to One Last Stop. 

In its best moments, One Last Stop is so tenderly written that it makes me yearn for a life in New York City – and that’s saying something, considering I’m a lifelong suburbanite who’s always been more drawn to the countryside than the city. McQuiston crafts likable characters who speak realistically about life in their city, honoring both the beauty and the struggles of the world which they inhabit. Not only that, but the city itself – and certain destinations within it, such as August’s apartment and the pancake diner where she works – feel like characters too. McQuiston writes them all with such care, I couldn’t help but feel connected to them, want to visit these places, want to be friends with these people and experience life alongside them. This makes for a wonderful book to escape into, and I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a feel-good read about falling in love, finding one’s community, and growing into the best version of one’s self.

One Last Stop is available to request from HCLS in print as well as an eBook and eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive.

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Ash is an eternal lover of coming-of-age stories, especially those that center queer and trans joy.

JOUST!

This photograph shows the cover of Cosmoknights and has the 3 main characters, Cass, Pan, and Bee in the foreground. Cass and Bee are wearing their jousting armors and carrying their weapons. In the background is presumably the hand of a princess grasping their favor which is an electronic pendant carried by the princesses of each planet and is given to the winner of each joust.

For this ragtag band of space gays, liberation means beating the patriarchy at its own game.

By Peter N.

Did you know that jousting is the state sport of Maryland? Chalk this up as a fact I was surprised to learn as an adult. The sport that involves horses, lances, and two knights? What you see at the Renaissance Festival? Cool! But I digress. Jousting usually is a competition between the aforementioned two knights for the hand of a fair princess or maiden – but this book, this clever and action-packed book, takes it one step further. 

This photograph shows an intergalactic joust in progress with a jouster in the foreground wearing predominantly white armor and sporting several jet boosters and a large lance surrounded by other jousters. The king is shown on screen in the background shouting "JOUST" to begin the games.

 

Cosmoknights was a sleeper hit for me. I’m always beefing up my reader’s advisory arsenal; in the course of my usual day of helping customers find new reads and old favorites, I decided to dive into an article recommending 20 MUST-READ LGBTQ COMICS FOR TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS, where I ran into a recommendation for this.

GAYS IN SPACE

That made me laugh. But it also got me. Hook, line, and sinker. Without giving away too much, we meet Pan, who seems to be your ordinary teenage girl helping her cooped-up friend sneak out for a night of fun. We soon find out that her friend is their planet’s princess, who is to be offered up as a prize to the knight that wins the planet’s joust competition and wants out. She needs to get away but needs help. Pan helps her escape, but at the cost of becoming the planet’s pariah. Flash forward to five years later, when she’s living a mundane life working in her father’s mechanic shop. One night, two tough types show up at their door, and one is in need of medical attention. For what exactly? And why do they seem so familiar to Pan? Pan finds her way off-planet with these two strangers and is sucked into a battle to take down the archaic competition of jousting for the “prize” of the princess. There’s more to these warriors that showed up on her doorstep than she thought!

This photograph shows the characters Bee and Cass on Pan's front porch. Cass is injured and supported heavily by Bee and they are asking for help from Pan.

I positively loved this book. There’s action, drama, mystery, and a slight Star Trek-y/steampunk-y/sci-fi vibe to it. It’s set in the future with space travel and such, but with none of the future utopia. The characters are likable, witty, and unbelievably brave with a little bit of selflessness thrown in. The art flows well and is seamless, easy to follow, and easy on the eyes. As with so many others I’ve read lately, it’s a series that IS STILL GOING – so here comes the waiting game until there are updates or another volume is published. If you’re like me and can’t wait, then the author, Hannah Templer, makes updates Tuesdays and Fridays on their website. But I’d highly recommend checking out Cosmoknights from your local Howard County Library branch and you won’t be disappointed.

Cosmoknights is also available from HCLS as an ebook via Libby/OverDrive.

Peter (he/him/his) is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and needs to read the books he has checked out before grabbing new ones. 

The Unpopular Vote by Jasper Sanchez

The book cover shows a diverse group of teens dressed for school, one with a backpack.  The title is in bright multicolored letters of different fonts, against a pink background, with a blue check mark in the center of the "O" in the word "vote."
Book cover of The (Un)popular Vote.

by Ash B.

School may be out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hot new summer book releases that are set in school… 

If you enjoy contemporary YA fiction full of heart, humor, and drama, look no further than The (Un)popular Vote for your next summer read!

Mark Adams has grown up immersed in American politics, being the son of Graham Teagan, a prominent congressman. However, none of his new classmates realize who his father is, nor does the country realize Congressman Teagan has a son. Why? Mark is transgender, and has agreed to start at a new school and keep a low profile – as a cis-passing, straight-passing guy with no relation to Congressman Teagan – in order to maintain his father’s public image.  

However, between homophobic bullying of one of his friends and an upcoming student government election with candidates of dubious intent, Mark is spurred into action in pursuit of justice… by campaigning for student body president. Along the way, he must also navigate a burgeoning romance, unstable friendships, the disapproval of his father, and an investigative school journalist attempting to unravel his past for all the internet to see. 

This debut novel from Jasper Sanchez will appeal to teens and adults alike, especially lovers of The West Wing and The Politician, the latter being an especially fitting comparison given the precocious, serious, determined nature of the high school characters in both The Politician and The (Un)popular Vote.  

Sanchez does not shy away from having his characters show off their AP-level political and philosophical knowledge, and I will admit that many references went over my head. Nonetheless, I think the writing style makes this an accessible and engaging read. I truly struggled to put it down and always looked forward to getting a chance to read more, so I tore through it rather quickly and would happily read it again! 

The romance was even better than I expected, and I felt it was well-balanced along with the development of the student presidential campaign, Mark’s personal growth, and the rising tension between Mark and his father. Mark’s love interest was so sweet – honestly a standout character for me – and the dynamic between him and Mark was immaculate. I am always a sucker for the mutual pining trope, and Sanchez beautifully develops the bond between these two characters as they become closer while each grows as an individual. The (Un)popular Vote is both my favorite queer YA romance and my favorite trans-led novel since Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas! (Side note: our Reads of Acceptance book club will be discussing Cemetery Boys on September 20 and I’d love to see you there!)

Much like Cemetery BoysThe (Un)popular Vote is a refreshing example of a trans protagonist who has already transitioned before the first page of the book. Many mainstream representations of trans experiences, especially portrayals of trans youth, primarily deal with the questioning of one’s gender and the beginning stages of transitioning. Those stories are important, of course, but it is equally important to show trans people already living as their authentic selves.  

From the beginning, Mark is comfortable in his gender identity and is already out to himself, his parents, and his two best friends. Mark wears a packer and a binder daily, being mindful to bind safely, and this type of gender-affirming behavior is casual and normalized. His gender-related arc is not about the typical narrative of figuring himself out, or dealing with internalized transphobia, or even about coming out. Rather, and more interestingly in my opinion, it’s about the promise he made to his dad to remain ‘stealth’ in his transition; in other words, Mark is assumed to be a cisgender male by his classmates, and that’s how the situation should remain according to his father.  

And while Mark is repeatedly referred to by the wrong name and pronouns by his father – who is incredibly dismissive and toxic towards Mark – this book was ultimately a very feel-good experience as a queer, trans reader. There is no forcible outing and no transphobia from anyone within Mark’s circle (besides his dad). Mark’s friend group includes a neat variety of LGBTQ representation that felt organic, not tokenized, and these characters are nothing but supportive of each other’s identities. There are quite a few of them, and while I got a little confused at the beginning as I tried to keep track of names, I soon was able to distinguish each character from one another because they felt like individual people, not just words on a page.  

As for Mark himself, I found him to be a likeable and realistically flawed protagonist. He makes mistakes in his relationships that I found relatable and understandable, creating conflict to advance the plot and character growth without making me too frustrated at Mark. Themes regarding privilege, inequality, politics, and social change are woven throughout in a meaningful way as Mark experiences conflicting feelings regarding his own privilege, his ego, his family history, and his genuine desire to help the student body. Sanchez is also able to briefly yet poignantly integrate messages about toxic masculinity and feminism from a transmasculine perspective in a way I had yet to read in YA literature, and I very much appreciated it! 

Sanchez certainly gives weight to the issues that demand it, including instances of bigotry happening at the school in addition to Mark’s struggles with his dad. Ultimately, though, this novel is an uplifting pleasure to read, infused with plenty of queer joy, chosen family, resilience, and hope. The (Un)popular Vote is exactly the type of book I wish I had when I was in high school and am happy to read as an adult. I’m so grateful that it is available to teens today. Request a print copy today! 

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Ash is an eternal lover of coming-of-age stories, especially those that center queer and trans joy.

Youth and Heartache in Four Volumes: Our Dreams at Dusk

Cover of "Our Dreams at Dusk" manga with a monotone illustration of the main character looking disheveled and distraught, with a cityscape in the background.

Content Warning: Suicidal ideation

by Khaleel G.

Reading a multi-book series can be a bittersweet thing. On one hand, you get to spend more time in the world of the story, more time with the characters, seeing them grow and change with each volume. On the other hand, even the best series must ultimately end, or risk devolving into endless sequels with lesser and lesser impact. How does an author balance continuing a story versus ending it?

In the world of graphic novels, this is an eternal problem. For superhero comics, authors and illustrators can swap in and out, resulting in entirely different styles – sometimes, Batman is a gritty noir detective, and other times, he’s an ultra-genius rubbing elbows with omnipotent aliens. For manga, authors don’t often get replaced, but over the course of a long series, the authors themselves change, for better and for worse. Compare the first volume of Bleach with the sixtieth, and you’ll see an incredible difference in visual and narrative style. It can be jarring, particularly if you’re reading it after years (or decades) of publication.

This is why a short series can pack more impact in a few volumes. Our Dreams at Dusk is a perfect example. The author, Yuhki Kamatami, wrote twenty-three chapters, which are collected into a mere four volumes. You can hold the entirety of the tale in your hands.

And it is a tale to read, one that I didn’t want to end. Tasuku Kamane is a teen, hiding his sexual identity from his family and peers. He’s gay, and he loves his table tennis clubmate, Toma – but he can’t say anything, he can’t be himself. When his classmates discover some gay erotica on his phone, he’s driven to self-harm and worse. But at that darkest point, he meets Someone. 

Someone is a person who refuses to be identified, or even really known. At the top of the town’s highest point, they appear like a spirit to Tasuku, talking to him with a quizzical honesty. They guide him to the Drop-in Center, a local hang-out spot for LGBTQ+ people, those who can’t really be themselves out in the town. It is an oasis for Tasuku, exactly what he needed at the moment he needed it.

Tasuku realizing his feelings: illustrated as shards of glass reflecting a wide variety of images.



Haruko and Saki are a lesbian couple who haven’t made their relationship public to their families, but at the Drop-in Center, they can be together with a degree of comfort. Tchaiko is an older gentleman, who makes fine coffee and plays Tchaikovsky for the group, but quietly hides his long-term relationship with his partner. And over time, we meet Shuji, a middle schooler who is wrestling with how to identify, and others, all seeking some zone in which they can be accepted.

It is not a wholly happy tale. Tasuku and the others don’t always find acceptance among their family and friends – or even each other, at times. Feelings are stepped on, and feelings are crushed. Tasuku himself even hurts others, in his growing understanding of gender, resulting in some chapters that were incredibly hard to read. 

But by the end of the fourth volume, people have changed, mostly for the better. We see a small slice of each character’s journey, which will assuredly continue after closing the book. I put off reading the final volume for months, not wanting the story to end – partly because I didn’t want to discover an unhappy ending for anyone, and partly because I didn’t want it to be over. But it ends as best it can, and for that, I am grateful. Even Someone has their mystery revealed (but not the whole of it, just as they’d prefer). 

There is a certain aspect of Our Dreams at Dusk that feels like checking off the boxes of the LGBTQ+ experience, ensuring the story represents some major facets of gender and sexual identity. On one hand, it can seem a bit forced, but on the other hand, I wasn’t thinking about that at all – the art carried me along, finding ways to say what words couldn’t. This is the sort of illustration that captures youth and longing, commitment and family, those experiences that are universal and those that are entirely specific to one human being. The art is sometimes fragile, and sometimes harsh, but it always finds a way to visually speak to the interior experience, in that way only masterpieces of graphic novels do. 

Our Dreams at Dusk is an LGBTQ+ story, but to sell it as only that wouldn’t be right. It’s a coming of age story, and a love story, and a mystery, with comedy and tragedy laced throughout. I’ve not read anything else quite like it in manga. Its handling of its characters and LGBTQ+ issues, particularly from a Japanese perspective, are unique, and all of this is built upon an amazing art style that shows off what this medium can do.

I can’t recommend it enough – to readers of manga, of LGBTQ+ fiction, and of quality books of any stripe. Plus, as I said, it’s only four volumes! So if you’re a tad nervous about reading a graphic novel series for the first time, this is a great one to start with, if you can handle a bit of heartache along the way.

Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani is available in print from HCLS.

Khaleel has worked at the Miller Branch since 2015, though he’s been back and forth between HCLS and high school, college, and graduate school since 2003.

Celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month with #ELKReads

By Elkridge Branch Staff

For the past 50 years, June has been celebrated as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. The celebrations began with the first Pride march in New York City, on June 28, 1970. That date celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a six-day period of unrest, sparked by a police raid of a gay bar. Though not an uncommon occurrence, this particular raid did not go as planned and led the queer community to fight back against the targeting and tactics being used against them. As queer communities around the world continue to seek recognition, respect, and equal rights, we invite you to explore the books suggested below – and on our social media – for all ages. You can also learn more about the history of Pride Month on the Library of Congress website.

For Little Kids:

The image says "Pride! Picks for Little Kids" and has a collage of six book covers. The cover of And Tango Makes Three shows two penguin parents huddling with their chick. The cover of Pride Colors shows a toddler in striped shirt, jeans, and fisherman's sandals, standing next to a table with rainbow-colored legs. The cover of Love Makes a Family shows a variety of families of different genders, races, and ages, with rainbows, hearts, doves, and arrows among the symbols in the turquoise background. The cover of They, She, He, Me: Free to Be! has the title lettered in stylized fonts with geometric patterns in shades of turquoise, green, and yellow. The cover or Prince & Knight shows the prince surrounded by young maidens all giving him attention, while he gazes with head turned toward the knight, who leans against his horse and waves at the prince. The cover of My Rainbow shows a transgender girl wearing a rainbow-colored wig of leaves and flowers against a yellow background.

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer

This book celebrates the thing that all families have in common, which is love. All types of families are represented in this book. Families are shown engaging in happy activities together.

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack

In this beautifully illustrated modern LGBTQ+ fairy tale, a Prince Charming and a Knight in Shining Armor find true love in each other. The young men are celebrated as heroes for saving the kingdom from a dragon together, and their love is affirmed and embraced with a royal wedding in a delightful happily-ever-after. Be sure to also check out Daniel Haack’s Maiden & Princess

Pride Colors by Robin Stevenson

Celebrate Pride Month with your little one by enjoying this photographic concept book filled with the colors of the Pride flag. Artist & activist Gilbert Baker created the original Pride flag and each color in the flag has a special meaning, so be sure to turn to the end of the book to find out what each one represents!

For Big Kids:

The image says "Pride! Picks for Big Kids" and has a collage of six book covers. Better Nate than Ever shows the title character leaping into the air in front of a stylized New York City skyline which includes the Statue of Liberty, with the name "Nate" lit up with light bulbs resembling a theatre marquee. Be Amazing shows a character in drag, posing with hand on hip and one arm in the air as if on a catwalk, wearing a dress and hat in gold, orange, and black, with a blurry rainbow-colored background resembling butterfly wings. The cover of Witch Boy shows the purple silhouette of a dragon looking over the title character, who is reading by candlelight against a pink background. The cover of Queer Heroes depicts famous queer celebrities and artists, including Freddie Mercury, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, and Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. The cover of Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World shows the backs of two girls as they face a whirlwind rising up to the sky with words in cursive, presumably the contents of Ivy's letter, swirling within. The cover of Rick shows the title character with his back to the reader, wearing a grey shirt and a lavender backpack covered in stickers, including an alien, a spaceship, a smiley face, and a rainbow. The title is in rainbow letters against a white background.

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle (also available as an audiobook on CD,  an ebook and eaudiobook on Libby/OverDrive, and an eaudiobook on CloudLibrary)

Nate Foster has always dreamed of starring in a Broadway show, but he worries about how he’ll ever reach his dream while living in a small town in Pennsylvania. With the help of his best friend, Libby, Nate plans a daring escape to New York City when he hears of an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical. Nate knows this could be his big break, and he won’t let this chance at stardom slip away.

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

Aster’s family is magic: boys grow up to be shapeshifters, and girls grow up to be witches. But at age 13, Aster still hasn’t shifted, and he is captivated by the witchery that his family members who are girls get to learn. This beautiful graphic novel follows Aster as he makes a new friend, works to protect his family from a mysterious threat, and finds the courage to be true to himself.

Queer Heroes: Meet 52 LGBTQ+ Heroes from Past & Present! by Arabelle Sicardi 

From the heartfelt introduction by the author to the inclusive glossary at the end, this diverse collection of biographical snapshots is a great starting place to learn about real-life LGBTQ+ heroes from around the world. Vibrantly colorful portraits illustrate the incredible life stories and contributions of LGBTQ+ artists, athletes, inventors, activists, and more.

For Teens:

The image says "Pride! Picks for Teens" and has a collage of six book covers. The cover of When the Moon Was Ours shows the two main characters, Sam and Miel, silhouetted against the dark backdrop of a starlit water tower, with arms outstretched towards one another, and one climbing a ladder as if on a stage. The cover of The Best at It shows the main character in glasses and sports gear, with arm outstretched, against a teal background with scattered books, calculator, camera, football, pencil, triangle, photographs, and other school-related items scattered about. The cover of Cemetery Boys shows two boys back-to-back, one wearing a collared shirt and one wearing a hoodie, in front of a ghostly skeleton figure in red robes and a flowered crown silhouetted by the full moon. The cover of Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens shows the title extending from the top to the bottom of the book, in rainbow letters, with the subtitle in smaller white letters across the middle from left to right, all against a black background. The cover of The Great American Whatever has the title and author's name in black and red letters against a white theatre marquee background, The last "a" in "American" is missing and the first "E" in "Whatever" is crooked, as is the "D" in the author's last name (Federle). The final "E" in his name is substituted with the mathematical epsilon symbol. The cover of I'll Give You the Sun has the title in dark teal lettering with dashes radiating out from the center in rainbow colors.

Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke

This comprehensive guide supports teens who are – or think they might be – queer, as they navigate everything from coming out to standing up for their rights. Background about queer figures throughout history and personal stories from the authors’ lives are interspersed with guidance throughout. While the information included is general enough to cover a broad range of topics within the single volume, a list of resources can direct readers to more details about specific areas of interest.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Miel and Sam live in a small town where magic isn’t so out of the ordinary. But when the Bonner Girls decide they want the roses that grow from Miel’s wrist, and they threaten to tell the secret they know about Sam to get her to cooperate, Miel has to face her past and try to find the path forward. The lush, evocative language in this novel brings a lyrical beauty to this story of friendship, family, love, magic, and finding your true self.

The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy (also available in ebook and eaudiobook format on Libby/OverDrive)

Rahul Kapoor is an Indian American boy just entering seventh grade in a small town in Indiana. To help soothe his worries, his grandfather gives Rahul the advice to find one thing he does well and become the BEST at it! As Rahul searches for the special thing he can be the best at, he also confronts his anxieties and finds that he can count on his friends and family for the support he needs.

For Adults:

The image says "Pride! Picks for Adults" and has a collage of six book covers. The cover for Lot: Stories shows a silver fire hydrant emitting a rainbow of colored water against a white background, with the title in stark black lettering. The cover of Cantoras shows a setting on the shore, with a blue sky and ocean, and white waves crashing against a rocky beach. The cover for Untamed has the title in white lettering against a background of swirly colors: pink, red, turquoise, blue, and glittery silver and gold. The cover for Written in the Stars shows two women, one blonde and one with long red hair, embracing in front of a silhouetted cityscape and sky in shades of blue, lit up by white stars and constellations. The cover of Good Boy shows a brown retriever with a pink collar, seated against a white background, with the title in rainbow colors beneath his feet. The cover of Fun Home shows a pen and ink drawing of one adult and three children, framed as if in a traditional portrait, with a teal background.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

“Sometimes, when things were going well, I think my father actually enjoyed having a family.” As you might guess, Alison Bechdel had a fraught relationship with her father, a high school English teacher who ran their small town’s funeral home out of their Victorian-era home that he restored himself. During college, when Alison came out as a lesbian, she learned that her own father was a closeted gay man, but his death soon after left her searching for answers that he could not provide. Check out this critically-acclaimed graphic memoir that has also been adapted into a Tony-award-winning musical!

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan (also available in large print format and as an ebook and eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)

In a 2017 New York Times opinion column on rescue animals, Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote: “When you lose a dog, you not only lose the animal that has been your friend, you also lose a connection to the person you have been.” Here Boylan uses the memories of her beloved dogs to reconnect with, or at least fondly remember the many people she has been- a son, a father, a mother, a wife. Good Boy is at once a deeply personal reflection on Boylan’s unique journey as a trans woman and a celebration of the changes in identity we all experience as we grow up and grow older and the animals who we love along the way.

Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington (also available as an ebook from Libby/OverDrive)

Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington affords readers a front row seat to several aspects of life in a Houston, Texas neighborhood. The burdens and exhilarations of family dynamics, race, sexuality, economics, friendships, and societal influence all feature prominently in short stories connected through common characters.

The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. Our staff are always happy to help you with your questions about books, tools, technology, and more!

Introducing… Reads of Acceptance!

Horizontal rainbow stripes with an inset of triangle of white,

by Ash and Angie

C.S. Lewis once said that we read to know we are not alone, which is why many of us look to literature as a source of comfort. Years ago at the library, Angie helped a teen find young adult novels on coming out. The teen quietly said thank you, and afterwards, Angie could not help but notice that she went over to a woman whom she called “mom.” As she showed her the books, the woman hugged her and told her it was going to be okay.

One of the most rewarding opportunities while working in a library is being able to connect customers with reading materials that can make a profound impact in their lives. This holds especially true when dealing with potentially sensitive subject matter such as LGBTQ+ issues, which often come with fear of judgment. In Teri Gross’s All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists, she interviews Ann Bannon, one of the first writers of lesbian pulp fiction. In answer to Gross’s question about what it was like to be gay in the 1950s or to write lesbian fiction, Bannon responds:

The big thing was ‘Thank God, I’m not the only one.’
That’s how isolated people were then.
But also that it’s okay to open up a little bit. It can be healthy. It can be a warm, generous, wonderful way to spend your life.
It is scary to walk up to a drugstore counter with your arms full of lesbian paperbacks and survive the stare from the clerk,
pull yourself together, buy them, and walk out with your head held high.

Having your voice heard and knowing there are others out there, both through the books you read and the people you meet and sometimes befriend, can go a long, long way to helping you survive in a world not always friendly to LGBTQ+ people. No matter your age, your background, your outness or your in-ness, you can find comfort in the universality of knowing “you’re not the only one.” That is one reason, among many, it can be so good to find a sense of community.

Howard County Library System’s new LGBTQ+ book club, Reads of Acceptance, holds its first meeting on Monday, April 19 at 7 pm. This monthly book club aims at fostering social support, personal growth, and intergenerational learning for LGBTQ+ adults and our allies. Reads of Acceptance will encourage education, reflection, and respect for LGBTQ+ identities by hosting group discussions that connect literature with our lived experiences.

Pale blue color with the title at the bottom shows a man in a blue suit falling. He is busy writing and papers surround him.

At Reads of Acceptance’s first meeting, we will discuss the Pulitzer Prize-winning Less by Andrew Sean Greer (also available in eBook and eAudiobook format). Funny yet also sad, the novel follows writer Arthur Less while he travels the world on a literary tour to try and get over the loss of the man he loves. Turning 50, Less finds himself struggling with life, including his career as a writer not going where he had hoped it would. Even so, he could handle being a bad writer, but being considered “a bad gay”?

That is so much harder to grapple with. It also speaks to a constant fear for queer people: that your community will reject you on top of everything else. (Source: https://ew.com/books/2018/07/24/less-summer-breakout-essay/) Greer’s writing speaks to an experience so many of us, queer or not, can relate to in a way that says, “Yes, I have been there.”

Relating to media in a manner that resonates with and reassures one’s identity is part of what makes seeing ourselves reflected in art and literature so affirming and powerful. Being able to relate to real-life people can be even more so. Both older and younger people in the LGBTQ+ community have often suffered in silence or experienced ostracism, looking for safe outlets to share their feelings, thoughts, and what they have been through. Reads of Acceptance can be one of those safe outlets. We hope to see you there! Register here.

For a special preview of Reads of Acceptance and an opportunity to meet Ash and Angie, join Book Corner on Friday April 16th @ 11am. Register here.

Angie is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch of HCLS.

Ash is an Online Instructor & Research Specialist, also at Central Branch. Their favorite reads often involve magic, nature, queer and trans joy, coming of age, cultural traditions, romance, and cute illustrations.

Rainbow Reads for Children, Part Two

The cover shows two pairs, each with a rabbit and a chick. The chick in the most prominent pair is vocalizing the word "Neither" in a speech bubble, referring to the baby animal in the foreground, who is "neither" rabbit nor chick. but a blend of both, with the legs, beak, and wings of a chick and the ears and tail of a rabbit.

 Reviews by Laci R.

Welcome back! It may be July but I’m still thrilled to share some more of my favorite LGBTQ+ picture books with you. Please be sure to check out Part One of my suggestions so you can enjoy the full list.  

Maiden & Princess by Daniel Haack is a modern fairy tale about a strong and brave maiden invited to attend the Prince’s royal ball. She isn’t terribly excited about attending, but with a little nudging from her mother, she decides to go. The maiden makes quite the impression on the guests and even finds love when she meets the Princess. One of my favorite things about this book how it truly celebrates lesbian love, as none of the characters respond with “it’s forbidden” rhetoric. This bedtime favorite offers a lovely alternative to the predictable royal courting fairy tales. Pair with Prince & Knight by the same author.

We Love Someone We Sing to Them / Cuando Amamos Cantamos by Ernesto Martinez offers a heartwarming, bilingual story of a young boy who loves another boy. He shares this with his father and together they write the young boy’s crush a traditional serenata. The lyrical prose and whimsical art made me cry with beautiful depictions of supportive family relationships, cultural traditions, and falling in love for the first time. The lyrics to the songs are words you feel deep in your soul, as they solidify the undeniable power associated with expressing love through music (a personal safe haven of mine). “He says that gardens like mine, even through droughts, have persisted. He says that gardens like mine have always existed.” 

I’m always drawn to stories that celebrate not fitting into a certain mold based on societal views and perceived norms. A few great examples include: 

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall tells about a crayon who was labeled incorrectly at the factory and so is mistaken for the wrong color. This label confuses the crayon in question as he clearly draws every picture in blue. Many other crayons try to help him be red, but no matter how creative a suggestion, it doesn’t work. After a new friend arrives, things start to feel different for Red as he realizes he’s been blue all along and can live a fulfilling life just the way he is. A life where he doesn’t have to force himself to be something he’s not, just because of the packaging he was given. A great look at gender identity.  
 
Neither by Airlie Anderson takes places in the land of This and That, where the only two things that exist are blue bunnies and yellow birds. What happens when a green egg hatches revealing a new friend who isn’t quite a bunny or a bird? After struggling to fit in with each group, Neither decides to journey to find a new home and happens upon the Land of All – a place with many colors and shapes representing creatures of all kinds. This book does a great job at promoting diversity and teaching that differences can unite us. It’s also a wonderful way to introduce the topic of being non-binary.  

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian features two worms who are in love and excited to get married. As they plan the wedding, all the other bugs and insects in town are ready to help and give their opinions. They offer endless suggestions based on tradition. Who will wear the dress? What about the tux? It’s quickly decided that those details don’t matter. All that matters is that worm loves worm and, in their love, they create a new way of having a wedding that is right for them. Seeing a child cheering for these worms through the light in their eyes, alone, makes it worth reading aloud.  
 
I hope these titles help to introduce or continue the conversation about the LGBTQ+ community and all the reasons they should celebrate and be celebrated this month and always. Books that show LGBTQ+ characters in everyday settings diversify your reading collection while teaching compassion and love. I certainly wish more books like this were around when I was a kid, but I’m thankful to report that some of the mentioned books have helped me, as an adult, solidify layers of my own queerness. I’m learning every day how to embrace who I am and what it means to be me. I see myself in these books, and that is invaluable. There is so much joy to be found in being true to oneself, which is always something worth celebrating.  

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

Rainbow Reads for Children, Part One

The book cover shows a multicultural, multiracial group of adults and children holding up a rainbow sign with the title.

By Laci R.

June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, and it’s a time to celebrate all the beautiful identities and colors of the rainbow. Luckily, many vibrant books and stories can help you do so. Representation is incredibly important. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of getting to see yourself in books and stories, it promotes inclusivity and begins vital conversations with the children in your life about the history of the LGBTQ+ community and queer characters. Reading books with queer mention needs to be paired with open, safe, and informative conversation so compassion can flourish and curiosities can be sparked.  
 
I have chosen several books to share with you. It was difficult to narrow my list, but having many more resources available that feature characters in the LGBTQ+ community is such an amazing and liberating phenomenon.
 
I’ll start with some of my favorite non-fiction books:  

Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, a Revolution by Rob Sanders (picture book) gives us a unique perspective on an essential civil rights story. The building itself narrates the story of how the police raided the Stonewall Inn located in New York City early in the morning on June 28, 1969. This wasn’t the first raid that took place, but things were different this time. A protest occurred full of members of the LGBTQ+ community in and around Stonewall Inn as demands of equal rights and justice filled the air. This movement continues even now, as I type these words.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders (picture book) tells about social activist Harvey Milk and how the gay pride flag, designed by Gilbert Baker, came to be created. It shows Milk as he is elected as one of the first openly gay people in political office and follows his fight for LGBTQ+ rights and freedom. Together, Milk and Baker create a symbol of hope- the rainbow flag. It’s a symbol you still see today proudly displayed all over the world. 

Pair this story with Sewing the Rainbow by Gayle Pitman to see a different perspective and learn other details about the rainbow flag’s creation. Need a follow up activity? Ask the child in your life to make their own flag! One that represents them and what makes them special. Encourage them to share with you and be sure to do the same. 
 
Please note: These books should be shared with the understanding that they offer an introduction to these major events and should be supplemented with additional information and conversation around the topics.  
 
Be sure to also check out Gay & Lesbian History For Kids: The Century Long Struggle for LGBT Rights by Jerome Pohlen, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities by Mady G and They, She, He, Me: Free To Be by Maya Gonzalez. These books contain excellent information and guidance for understanding a wide variety of identities. 
 
When it comes to picture books, I wish I could write about every single one. I decided to share a sampling of those that are well loved and ones that became unforgettable from the moment I read them. Here are a couple for you to look into, with more coming in Part Two of my LGBTQ+ recommendations for children and families.

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman became an instant favorite. This rhyming story invites you to attend a Pride parade and meet all the wonderful people. Every page exudes joy and pure love. I absolutely adore the illustrations by Kristyana Litten. They are brimming with color and depict an undeniable energy bursting with flair. A note to parents and caregivers is included that provides information on how to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity with children in age-appropriate ways. You’ll also find a reading guide full of facts about LGBTQ+ history and culture.  

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff covers a lot of ground and will surely resonate with transgender children. It offers reassurance about becoming an older sibling all while celebrating some of the many transitions experienced by a family. When born, everyone thought Aidan was a girl. He was given a pretty name and his room and clothes looked like that of girls he knew. However, none of this felt right to him and changes were needed. Aidan’s parents offer endless support as he transitions to living in a way that allows him to flourish and thrive. In doing so, Aidan learns what it takes to be the best older brother he can be: the ability to love with your whole self. I also feel the need to mention that I wish I could share a wardrobe with Aidan because that little guy sure is stylin’.  

I hope these titles will make it into your home, classroom, gift list, or anywhere else that needs a bright rainbow. I invite you to continue learning about LGBTQ+ materials for children by joining me for Part Two, where we’ll take a look at more of my favorite picture books. Let’s keep this celebration going!

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.