Queer Lit Review: July 2024 (2024)

Hello and welcome to the July 2024 edition of the Queer Lit Review! This month we have a young lesbian girl with Crohn's Disease, a lesbian writer who's life is falling apart, and a gay journalist at the warfront.

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Happy Reading!

Queer Lit Review: July 2024 (1)

Title/Author: The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet by Jake Maia Arlow

Reviewer: Morgan

Summary: Twelve-year-old Alison (Al for short) has always had stomach issues, but after she nearly has an accident at school, her mom drags her to a doctor who diagnoses her with Crohn’s Disease. Now that’s all anyone wants to talk about. With her best friend spending more and more time with the theatre club, Al decides to join her hospital’s support group for kids with similar chronic illnesses…a group that includes a girl who might just like her back.

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre: Middle grade fiction

Book Format: eBook

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian (with bi, non-binary, gay, and aromantic side characters)

Content Warnings: Ableism, hospital visits, divorce, mentions of various bodily fluids

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes!

Personal thoughts: July is Disability Pride Month, making it the perfect time to read about disabled characters! The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet is both laugh-out-loud funny and mildly sad at the same time — I’m also disabled, so I really felt for Al. She is so sweet and caring, but also a very realistically-portrayed middle schooler. I have a lot of respect for Jake Maia Arlow for managing to write a character that age who feels true to life as well as relatable to adults.

Like the author, Al is sapphic and Jewish on top of chronically ill. Arlow includes a beautiful note at the end: “I thought when I wrote this book that a character being chronically ill AND queer AND Jewish would be too much, but I’m all three of those things and I am exactly the right amount.” With several other characters also being some combination of LGBTQIA+, disabled, BIPOC, and/or Jewish, this book manages to have conversations about intersectionality that are age-appropriate for middle graders. And it doesn’t come across as preachy! That’s a fine line to walk, and in my opinion, Arlow walks it expertly.

It’s also just a fun book. We’re never too old for fart jokes!

Queer Lit Review: July 2024 (2)

Title/Author: Perfume & Pain by Anna Dorn

Reviewer: Laura B.

Summary: At age 35, Astrid’s life is falling apart. She’s fed up with her Sapphic writing group, is being cancelled online for a comment she made during an event for her newest book, and has been forced to abruptly leave her apartment.

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre: Fiction

Book Format: Physical book

Length: 340 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian

Content Warnings: Addiction, stalking

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: No

Personal thoughts: I thought this book sounded interesting, and I don’t mind an unlikable protagonist (and I love the cover). However, I found Astrid to have almost no redeeming qualities which made it difficult for me to care about the story. I found her so unpleasant to read about that every time I started to get invested in the story, something irritating she did or thought took me right back out of it. She has major “not like other girls” energy and is judgmental towards everyone around her. Astrid also doesn’t seem to care about anyone in her life, even the friends that go out their way to spend time with her. I think part of the reason I found her so difficult was that she is clearly a stand-in for the author (she has written similar books to Dorn and has a similar career trajectory). Because of this, it was difficult to parse out what was satirical versus what offensive or problematic opinions Dorn shares with Astrid.

I also felt like there wasn’t much point to this story in the end. Astrid doesn’t have goals she’s trying to achieve, she doesn’t have a mystery to solve, she doesn’t have a relationship that you’re rooting for... so it is really just nearly 350 pages of no character growth.

I wish this had leaned more heavily into Astrid’s interest in vintage lesbian pulp novels. The book is named after a pulp novel that comes up a few times in the plot, and the book itself is certainly influenced by the genre, but I think Dorn could have woven that interest into the plot more effectively. Whether that was Astrid actively writing her own pulp, or connecting with a former author of the genre, or searching for a lost novel — just anything other than her doing drugs and hooking up with other toxic women in an endless cycle.

While I wouldn’t recommend this novel, I also wouldn’t let my bad review deter you if you’ve liked Dorn’s previous books or are very intrigued by this one. Other people seem to love this book, so even though I found very little about it enjoyable, that could be a me problem!

Queer Lit Review: July 2024 (3)

Title/Author:  A Country of Ghosts by Margaret Killjoy

Reviewer: Puck M.

Summary:  Dimos Horacki is a Borolian journalist and a cynical patriot, his muckraking days behind him. But when his newspaper ships him to the front, he’s embedded in the Imperial Army and the reality of colonial expansion is laid bare before him. His adventures take him from villages and homesteads to the great refugee city of Hronople, built of glass, steel, and stone, all while a war rages around him. The empire fights for coal and iron, but the anarchists of Hron fight for their way of life.

Series/Standalone:  Standalone

Genre/Sub-Genre:  Speculative fiction/Utopian fiction

Book Format: eBook

Length:  212 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay man, side characters of various identities

Content Warnings: War, colonialism, brief expressions of sexism and hom*oantagonism by some characters, injuries

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes!

Personal thoughts:  With A Country of Ghosts, Margaret Killjoy steps into the tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s speculative anthropology with a fantastic take on utopia. In the afterword, she says that the book is not a blueprint, and it’s not — it can’t be — because it’s fiction. It is, however, the clearest and kindest articulation of a society I want to live in; so much so that when I turned the last page of the book, I started crying.

That said, I think the term ‘utopia’ conjures up the image of a simplistic society, and the depiction in this book is far from simplistic. It’s also not a utopia in the sense that everyone’s life is perfect — even were it not for the empire of Borol trying to invade, the people of Hron still have their problems. It might, however, be the truest form of a utopia I’ve seen depicted — one that is always in the state of becoming.

Dimos Horacki is an excellent point-of-view character through which to discover Hron. He comes from Borol, a country very much like ours, where basic necessities must be paid for with money, so work is coerced through fear of poverty and death. He is assigned to write a series of propaganda news items about General Dolan Wilder who is fighting at the frontlines of the war of expansion because the assignment is dangerous and he is “the best writer we can afford to lose.”

What neither Dimos nor Wilder know is that the mountains the Imperial Army is trying to subjugate are the border of the first anarchist country in the world, less a country than a confederation of free peoples, and they find the unfree society Borol considers “civilization” to be incomprehensible and, once understood, abhorrent. Dimos has a fledgling sense of justice, but doesn’t begin to question the premises of Borolian society until the troop he’s with is killed and he gets to meet the people of Hron, so the reader gets to learn at the same pace as Dimos and is given the same opportunity to question their own assumptions about how the society works.

The characters Dimos meets throughout his journeys are also wonderful — an aging surgeon who is a terrifying militia fighter (as well as the mother of one of Dimos’ new friends), a farrier conscript turned deserter, and a small group of teenage militia members, some of whom we tragically watch grow up over the course of the war and some of whom we, even more tragically, do not.

Indeed, the world Killjoy has built here is far from simplistic, it is richly textured and well-populated, and I would be honored to live there myself. Since I can’t, I will use it as inspiration to architect a better world right here where I live now.

DISCLAIMER: We do not review books by author request.

Queer Lit Review: July 2024 (2024)
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