content by

Maya Gittelman

Emily Tesh Stuns with Anti-War Space Opera Some Desperate Glory

“This isn’t justice. This is just the same thing over and over.”

It’s rare to find an author who writes across genres to equal success, but Emily Tesh is that author. As a huge fan of the nature-rich prose and tenderness of her Greenhollow novella duology, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Some Desperate Glory, a hefty space opera.

What I got was one of my favorite books of all time.

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Drinking from Graveyard Wells: Yvette Lisa Ndlovu’s Unmissable Debut

The wretched of the earth are not meant to make art, we are supposed to be too busy surviving. (“Home Became a Thing With Thorns”)

The Wright Brothers were not the first to find flight. There are other histories, other sciences not recorded, but in this world when something is not written down, it does not exist. (“Plumtree: True Stories”)

There are some books that have weight beyond ink and page. They shimmer surreal yet carve a tangible space in their reader, deep enough to wound, or scar, or reshape. Not every enjoyable book has to be a marvel like this, but when one arrives, it commands attention, its impending impact evident. It’s a rare and precious find, this specific sort of experience, all the rarer for it to come in a debut story collection.

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Undomestic Queer Hunger: Lee Mandelo’s Feed Them Silence

Queerness often begins with yearning, and in Feed Them Silence, that yearning grows teeth. Many of us come to know our queerness first as a dissonance, between who we are and who we are expected to be, what we are expected to want. It haunts, the version of oneself and one’s life out of reach. With his debut novel Summer Sons, Lee Mandelo established himself an expert at excavating the ferocity of that dissonance. He approaches it from a different angle here, fresh and just as intoxicating to read. Yearning turned obsessive and, literally, encompassing. The result is a masterpiece of a novella. Mandelo delivers a style fittingly sparer than the sensory Summer Sons, no less textured, rigorously imagined, and triumphantly executed.  

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Queer Filipinos Save the World: Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin

Elisa A. Bonnin makes a powerful debut with Dauntless, a lush and emotive Filipino-inspired fantasy centered on three very different girls reimagining the entirety of their world. This is a book about reckoning with the humanity in our mentors, our heroes, our lovers, and ourselves, especially in times of great trauma and impossible choices. Bonnin weaves cinematic action with emotive sapphic romance and thoughtful friendships to craft a propulsive fantasy. 

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Aiden Thomas Makes Magic: The Sunbearer Trials Shine Bright

Yes, it absolutely is as excellent as the premise makes it sound.

Look, I had high expectations for The Sunbearer Trials. Given the summary, the commissioned art author Aiden Thomas has been sharing, and his previous work—I went into this expecting a marvel.

And it was absolutely everything I hoped for and more. 

So if you’re also coming to The Sunbearer Trials wanting to love it, I’d say there’s an incredibly good chance you are going to love the absolute hell out of it. And if you’re new to Thomas’s writing, this book is a perfect place to start. 

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The Joy that Kills, The Joy that Saves: Our Flag Means Death’s Mary Bonnet is Her Own Masterpiece

Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, Maya Gittelman looks at the lives of two widows—one the protagonist of a classic story by Kate Chopin, the other…Mary Bonnet.

“Free! Body and soul free!” 

So whispers Mrs. Mallard in Kate Chopin’s 1894 very short “The Story of An Hour” upon the revelation of her husband’s sudden death. Grief and shock come first. And then the fact of it sets in. The way the world has cracked open. As a widow, she at last has the right to her own life. She did her duty of wifehood, no one can fault her for the freedom that comes next:

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Series: Close Reads

Emily X.R. Pan’s An Arrow to the Moon Is an Elegant, Compassionate Reimagining

There’s a sort of tangible compassion in the best retellings. A sense that you’re sharing in a story that has transformed a part of the author’s heart, that they’ve loved enough to reimagine and build from within their own voice. You get to witness this dialogue, this conversation between a creator and a narrative that has helped shape what it means for them to create. The very love of story itself feels present on the page, as does the author’s fingerprints on a story that predates us by many generations. It’s a special thing when it’s done well, and Emily X.R. Pan’s sophomore novel An Arrow to the Moon does it extremely well. Weaving a distinctively Asian-American Romeo and Juliet with the Chinese folktale of Houyi and Chang’e, she crafts a tender and thoroughly thoughtful love story.

Luna Chang and Hunter Yee are literally star-crossed, born on the same day of a rising, splitting star, on opposite sides of a bitter rivalry. Their paths meet seventeen years later, at a crucial time for both of them. 

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Queer Meditations on Meaning in Becky Chambers’ A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

I am somewhere between an outdoorsy person and not, which is to say I feel profound joy and catharsis at the natural sublime while also being extremely prone to bug bites, sunburn, and anxiety. As someone who lives most of my life in a city, separate from the world in its more untouched state, I find myself simultaneously drawn to nature, and also often incapable of feeling truly present within it unless I really try. Especially in the midst of this fucking pandemic, which has scrambled my brain and heart with fresh heaps of that aforementioned anxiety. It’s hard to take it in. To set down the phone camera, the maps app, the terror and rage that everything beautiful I’m looking at is steadily being eroded by the hubris of a dozen-odd extremely powerful supervillains. But I have to, I have to, otherwise what’s the point of any of this? 

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The Galaxy-Rocking Romp of Charlie Jane Anders’ Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak

The second installment in Charlie Jane Anders’ Unstoppable trilogy is a wild, clever, galaxy-spanning romp sure to delight fans of Victories Greater Than Death. Picking up where the first book left off, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak meets Anders’ beloved found family with quite a lot on their collective plates. They survived unimaginable dangers, but at what cost? 

With much of the worldbuilding established in the first book—though she doesn’t miss any opportunities to deepen it satisfyingly here—Anders can delve into the business of how these teenagers actually navigate this universe. While Victories centered on Tina, Dreams hands the POV spotlights to Elza, her girlfriend, and Rachael, her best friend. We get “JoinerTalk” messages from Tina so we’re still inside her head a bit, which is wonderful because she’s a fantastic protagonist, but the other girls get to shine. This works really well, as all three of them have to confront the aftermath of “saving the day” and the complicated reality of what it means to live your dreams. Just because there are aliens, clones, and intergalactic technology none of them could have imagined as a kid doesn’t mean growing up gets any easier—in fact, they’ve got a whole set of new problems to balance on top of figuring out who they are.

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Act of Grace: Masculinity, Monstrosity, and Queer Catharsis in Our Flag Means Death

Queer heartache has never felt this good.

Every time there’s queer energy in an ongoing genre show it always feels like Schrödinger’s Queerbait—are they going to go for it or am I going to get hurt? Are they leaning into the story they’re telling, or are they going to tell a worse story by ignoring the character dynamics they chose to put onscreen and instead rely on lazy compulsory heteronormativity to take the show in the most predictable possible direction in what posits to be risk avoidance but which is really code for the boring fact of homophobia. Schrödinger’s Queerbait: Is the queer romance dead or alive? Mostly, it’s dead. There are notable exceptions that certainly deserve their due, like She-Ra and Black Sails, and a good amount of books that have swashbuckling canon queer vibes—check out Alex Brown’s excellent piece here for recs—but almost always for genre shows the answer is comphet and hurt.

So when I realized that Our Flag Means Death is actually telling the queer story it felt like it’s telling—fully, and tenderly—it was like the world cracked open in the best way.

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Folklore, Family, and First Love in From Dust, A Flame by Rebecca Podos

Rebecca Podos’ From Dust, A Flame is a lyric, deeply moving contemporary fantasy YA that digs into complicated relationships with Judaism, queerness, and becoming. 

Hannah Williams has never known her roots. Her father died when she was small, leaving behind a set of nice, distant grandparents in Canada, and her mother never talks about her family or where she came from at all. Instead, she moves Hannah and her brother Gabe across the country time and time again, never quite settling. Everything changes the day of Hannah’s seventeenth birthday, when she wakes up with a set of eyes she doesn’t recognize peering back at her in the mirror. This is only the beginning of a series of frightening mutations that sends their mother searching for answers. When she doesn’t return, Hannah and Gabe have to take the situation into their own hands—and those of the stranger who sends them an invitation to sit shiva for the grandmother they never knew they had. In Fox Hollow, they find an entire community and history kept secret from them, brimming at once with beauty and impossible ache. 

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