reflections on aspects of books
Last Friday I wrote what was supposed to be the introductory paragraph to today’s post but then thoughts and words on general female LBTQ+ representation in YA happened. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback over that post and genuinely want to thank all of you. You’re amazing. Today I’m going to discuss some of the books about/involving queer girls that I’ve read more recently. I’m going to divide these into two groups. The first will be books in which female characters have been established as canonically queer, and of this group, only Girl Meets Boy and the Kate Daniels series are not YA. The second group contains characters of which I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to be read as straight, but the issue is left a bit more ambiguous, though not as ambiguous as the Han Alister example I gave Friday. Reminder that I don’t believe in sexuality as a spoiler, so consider yourself warned.
Althea and Robin | Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the Iphis myth but it’s what Girl Meets Boy draws and builds on. Iphis is a character from Graeco-Roman mythology who was born a girl. Her father wanted a boy, so her mother disguised her as one to keep her from getting killed. Iphis falls in love with Ianthe and they decide to get married. Iphis gets increasingly nervous about being unable to please Ianthe because she doesn’t have a penis, so the evening before their wedding, her mother takes her to the temple of Isis, who then transforms her into “a man”. (Seriously not a fan of this terminology because penis doesn’t equal male, sex doesn’t equal gender, etc.) In the modern world we have Althea, who falls in love with Robin. Robin is gender fluid, occasionally identifying as male, though she’s more often referred to with the pronouns she/her. Her sexuality isn’t really expounded on, though she’s definitely into Althea. Althea has had a few boyfriends before and she doesn’t erase them, but she makes a point of mentioning she hasn’t ever felt about any of them the way she does about Robin. So both in gender as well as in sexuality terms, this is a book about fluidity. One of the parts I absolutely adore is when Smith takes an entire page to show Althea orgasming because what an absolutely amazing way to rebuke Iphis’s main fear.
Talia and Pearlie | The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima onwards
Talia belongs to the group of soldiers tasked to protect crown princess Raisa. She and her girlfriend Pearlie are referred to as moonspinners, which is explained as “women who cho[o]se other women over men”. Not the smoothest way of going about it, and UNFORTUNATELY *cough* Han Alister *cough* they’re the only canonically queer characters in this series. On a general note, female agency is pretty on point in this series. The character in question can be queer, a single mom, a woman of colour, raised in the clans, part of the lower class, or a combination of two or more of the above, and it will not effect her agency and general levels of ass-kicking at all.
Maeve and Lucent/Windwalker | The Young Elites by Marie Lu
Maeve may or may not be the character that first gave me the idea for this post, though I’d hoped she’d play a larger role in the overall book. Unfortunately, she doesn’t put in an appearance until the epilogue, but her actions and station definitely imply a much larger, POV-holding role in the sequel. She’s the crown princess of Beldain, a northern country that’s practically a queendom. She’s also ruthless and definitely into girls. The fact that we might get a queer warrior queen is too much for me to handle. The “might” applies to the queen element, since in this series, it’s very likely she might die before that. NO ONE IS SAFE. Lucent is a member of the Dagger Society, a faction of the Young Elites that likes to revolt and plan coups, and goes by the name of Windwalker, since her power is defined as “she can do anything the wind can do”. Also into girls, though, like Maeve, she’s had way too little page time for my taste. And they’re not even the only LGBTQ+ characters in this series.
Jenna | Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
I love Jenna, the only vampire currently residing at Hex Hall, a whole lot and her friendship with Sophie is one of the many things I adore about this series. When the topic of Jenna’s sexuality comes up, Sophie doesn’t react à la “oh no this means I have to change behind a triply stacked brick wall because otherwise she’ll fall in lust with me”. Sophie’s just like “cool, so you got a girlfriend?” Cue sad backstory where Jenna was turned by her vampire ex-girlfriend and spoilers tragic spoilers, but she’s got some happiness coming her way later on in the book and its sequels. There’s also a hilarious conversation she and Sophie have at some point in the series, where they’re trying to decide which one of them has the most tragic, dramatic, unbelievable life and which one is the sidekick. I’m not really sure how that resolved but I think Jenna said Sophie was so obviously her sidekick and yes, I like the fact that we’re shown a queer girl/straight girl friendship that never gets awkward because one of them happens to be into girls (though lbr Sophie/Elodie was a missed opportunity), and also they are fabulous.
Lexi and Carolyn | The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi
I’ve heard this being compared to The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, which is a book I definitely need to check out. Lexi likes girls, but she lives in a very religious community and her mom ends up sending her to a de-gaying camp. Carolyn, on the other hand, grew up in a very accepting home and had a great relationship with a girl, until she got dumped. Her way of dealing with this heartbreak is by pretending she’s solely into guys after all, because at least that way she can’t be hurt, right? It’s a bit of weird reasoning if you ask me, but she learns that that’s definitely not how sexuality works. The camp is disgusting (no surprise there) and that particular story line needs to come with a trigger warning for abuse. The f/f ship is adorable, but I have some issues with the fact that every positive same sex sexual interaction is of the fade-to-black variety, while the scene(s) involving sexual assault are described more explicitly.
Julia | 99 Days by Katie Cotugno
Julia Donnelly is a good illustration of how hilariously heteronormative some people can be. I don’t think Cotugno ever intended her sexuality to be this big secret. Just like her brothers, Julia invites her girlfriend to the Donnelly barbecue. Just like her brothers, Julia takes her girlfriend to their version of Burning Man, shares a tent with her, and spends large part of her day lying in a hammock with her. But because they’re two girls, everyone assumes they’re “just friends”. Wrong.
Fire | Fire by Kristin Cashore
Fire, both the book and the character, is amazing. All Cashore’s books are pretty casual about (female) sexuality and I love them for it. Fire is a Monster, which in Graceling Realm terms means she’s almost otherworldly and her looks are so stunning and overpowering that she’s objectively beautiful and more or less has everyone, regardless of gender, fall in love with her. At one point, Archer, the guy she has a friends with benefits relationship with, teases her about a girl who once shared her bed. He brings it up to almost mock her because girls loving girls is so preposterous, amirite. Well, Fire is completely unconcerned about his implications that she should be embarrassed about having had a relationship with another woman. I love how non-issue Cashore was about that. More, please.
Taryn and Sylvia | Being Friends With Boys by Terra Elan McVoy
This book was annoying and never really convinced me it wasn’t defending the “guys are so much easier to be friends with because there’s way less drama” stance, even though both the guy friend group and the girl friend group come with LOADS of drama. The same dynamics are reflected in the treatment of LGBTQ+ characters. Whereas Fabian is lovely and cute and polite and supportive and perfect in every way, Taryn and Sylvia are played off as these huge drama queens who ruin everything with their jealousy. The fact that they’re such theatrical messes doesn’t even make me dislike them as characters. It’s the general UGH GIRLS sentiment I got from Charlotte (the main character) that put me off, as well as the fact that at one point, Taryn is dating a guy, which is INCONCEIVABLE because she’s into GIRLS therefore she is a LESBIAN THERE ARE NO OTHER OPTIONS, according to Sylvia, who’s been in love with Taryn since forever. She already had major jealousy issues whenever Taryn was dating another girl, which was always, but her dating a guy is so obviously a ploy to get under Sylvia’s skin because there is no other possible motivation for it. So yeah, some casual biphobia as well as gay = good/lesbian = evil dichotomy and nooo thank you.
The Bouda Clan | the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
I’m not incredibly fond of the fact that the m/m relationships in this series are (named) characters with more prominent roles, while the ladies get grouped under this denominator of Clan Bouda, a Pack faction that, by the way, is seen as “sexually depraved” by many of the other clans. However, I don’t feel like the narrative condones this way of thinking, which is great, as is this series in general, but how about a female love interest for Dessandra, hmmm? Not that I have given up on my Kate/Andrea, Kate/Dessandra, and Kate/Jennifer headcanons, but um, circumstances have prevented some of those.
Arriane and Tess | Fallen in Love by Lauren Kate
I hate this series but Arriane was one of the more bearable things about it. I’m glad Kate decided to go for an f/f pairing in her midseries novella collection, though their story ends pretty tragically, which has more to do with one being an angel and the other a demon and I think Arriane’s wings do something to Tess’s skin? I’ve honestly tried to block out most of this series, so don’t quote me on any of the details. Okay, so I see the hugely problematic subtext here, and this is a hugely problematic series in general, but their love being of the doomed variety has more to do with Lauren Kate setting up this entire story of doomed love about boring Lucinda and first class jerk Daniel than with the nature of Arriane and Tess’s relationship. I think. I’m not sure of anything when it comes to this series, to be quite honest.
Parker’s mom | Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally
Parker’s mom leaving her family because she’s a lesbian is one of the major points of internal conflict for Parker. Her family are church people, and their church pretty much excommunicated Parker’s mother because she came out as lesbian. In the beginning, Parker deals with this by almost outright rejecting her mom’s sexuality, which is partly because of her anger towards her mom and partly out of fear because she saw how the people she’s considered friends for most of her life just cast her mother out because she didn’t fit their idea of what the norm should be, and she’s afraid they might do the same with her if they supect she isn’t straight either. (New, actual friends is the obvious solution here.) I think Kenneally has a great way of openly handling teenage sexuality, but it is still always f/m action. I think there’s one more queer side character besides Parker’s mom, but for such a long series, it would be great to also have at least one main LGBTQ+ romance. I was really hoping the sixth book would have been called Jessie’s Girl.
Leeda’s grandma | Love & Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
In this series ender, Leeda one day finds her grandma’s old love letters and starts reading them sporadically. It’s heavily alluded to in the rest of the book exactly who wrote these letters to grandma Cawley-Smith but the actual page that reveals their relationships wasn’t in my copy of the book. I’m genuinely hoping this was a printing error, because while there’s a thing to be said for the power of suggestion, in this case it would have been erasure and that would be incredibly harmful. All in all, this is an f/f romance that mostly takes place off-page and also ends tragically, with one of them leaving town, and the other being forced into a safe marriage.
Lucy | Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay
Lucy is Fiona’s lesbian best friend, and in their small town, that’s pretty much what she’s known as: either the lesbian or the scarred girl’s best friend. Sometimes both. Her friends and family are super accepting and supportive, and more importantly she is 100% okay with who she is, but she hates that she’s so often reduced to her sexuality and openly reacts against it. She’s a lot happier once they move on to college, because people no longer use her sexuality as her only identifying factor, and also because she no longer seems to be the only lesbian in a 5-mile radius.
Liraz | Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Liraz (queen of my heart) is a complicated case. In Days of Blood and Starlight she’s referred to as having “asexual armour”. The problem with this series is that all the POVs are third person, but they’re often focalised through one of the characters. In the case of Liraz’s armour description, Akiva was the character currently speaking/thinking/being sentient and I’m not a fan of him being the authority on his sister’s sexuality without any input from her. However, I’m inclined to believe this was Taylor’s (admittedly awkward) way of establishing her as asexual, since in the third book she has an emotional awakening of sorts and makes it a point to mention that she’s never experienced these kinds of feelings before. There’s no doubt that Liraz cares for Ziri, but I’m hesitant to define it in terms of being in love etc., even though part of the Tumblr fandom (quelle surprise) saw this as an attempt to “straighten her out” after all. To those I say: look up the difference between aromantic and asexual. And to the people complaining about there being no satisfying resolution (read: kissing) to their ship: you realise there’s a very high possibility of her being asexual? In spectrum terms, I think Liraz falls between asexual and gray asexual.
Anna and Elise | Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
I went back and forth several times on whether I should put these two in the first or second category, but I’m going to mention them here, because again, complicated case. Tatum wrote a super smart paragraph (4. Blurred Lines) on it that explains their dynamic much more eloquently than I ever could. It’s very clear that they’re into each other, and I was very into them ever since Elise took that shot off Anna’s neck. They never really define it in explicit terms (though MILES AND FUCKING MILES amirite) and they don’t have to, of course, but I’m only half kidding when I yell about them being the greatest love story of all time. (The half in that has to do with Elise dying.)
Vanessa and Linnéa | The Circle by Sara Elfgren Bergmark and Mats Strandberg
The only reason I’m listing them here is because I haven’t made it far enough into the Engelsfors series to know if they get together EVEN THOUGH THEY CLEARLY WANT TO. They might be another case of the blurred lines relationship, with Vanessa making herself an invisible (literally. Girl is magic.) though very interested onlooker while Linnéa is hooking up with a guy, and honestly getting quite a bit turned on by the whole situation. At the moment, they’re still in flirtation/teasing/challenging-the-other-to-admit-it-first territory and only ever get involved with guys, but I’m going to read the sequels this year and I’ll update this post if my bisexual witches headcanon becomes reality.
Edit: Vanessa Dahl and Linnéa Wallin are the purest of canon and frequently reduced me to (happy) tears. The only reason I’m leaving them in this category is because I have to start messing around with graphics otherwise.