The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons Book Review

Author Information

Isaac Fitzsimons is the author of The Passing Playbook (Dial BFYR/PRH, 2021). He
writes Young Adult fiction featuring intentionally marginalized characters so that every
reader can see themselves reflected in literature.

His background includes performing sketch comedy in college, learning how to play
three songs on the banjo, and, of course, writing.

His dream vacation would be traveling around Europe via sleeper train to see every top-
tier soccer team play a home game. He currently lives outside DC and works for an arts
advocacy nonprofit in the city.

Social Media Links:

Book Description

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother and a Messi-in-training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy’s soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans – he’s passing.

So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him after he discovers the ‘F’ on Spencer’s birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even if it means coming out to everyone – including the guy he’s falling for.


Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This book is coming to shelves near you on June 1st.

Thoughts and Themes: I was a bit skeptical about starting this book because I don’t really like sports themed books but I’m glad that I kept reading on. There is so much more to this story than just the sports plot line.

I liked so much about this and my feelings were all over the place as I read this story. There are some heartwarming moments that I was just rooting for Spencer and Justice in, and then there were heart breaking moments too. There were moments in which I was angry along with Spencer but then sad for Justice. I just wanted to protect both of the main characters from enduring any harm, and give them the safe space that they longed for.

I liked how this book has being queer and belonging to a religious family. I thought it was good to see how Justice’s family being religious affected him being out and how that went into his relationship with Spencer. This was such a hard thing to read through and recall how my coming out experience was because of my religious upbringing.

I have so much to say about this book and all of the feelings that I had while reading it. This is definitely going to be added to my list of comfort reads as I loved it so much.

Characters: In this book you get introduced to several characters in their interactions with Spencer. You get to meet the love interest, Justice, the coach, another trans student, Riley, Spencer’s brother, Theo, Spencer’s best friend, Aiden, and several of the soccer team players.

I found each of the characters that you meet through this story to be lovable. I really loved the way the soccer team embraced Spencer when he comes out and how unexpected that is. I like how this shows a different side to sport team members, and how transphobia doesn’t have to exist in that space. I thought that was the most important thing that was shown, the book really shows that transphobia and homophobia have no place in sports, and that they don’t have to exist in sports.

I also really loved how supportive Spencer’s family is of him, I like how even if they struggle with the right thing to say or do they still support him. I liked getting pieces of Spencer’s brother in the story and seeing how Spencer tries to take up less space because of Theo being Autistic. I think seeing Spencer navigate being out and knowing how much attention that would bring to his family was good to see because we see him finally think about himself rather than everyone before him.

I really enjoyed Justice as our love interest and as a side character. I thought he was well developed and really liked the complexity he deals with being queer and having religion play a large role in his life. I thought this was really important to see especially as we see that both those identities can coexist, both peacefully but also negatively. I thought it was good to see the contrast between Justice’s families’ beliefs and what he believed. I also really liked how Justice just accepted that Spencer is trans and there was no dilemma with that.

Writing Style: This story is told in third person with a somewhat all knowing narrator. I tend to get frustrated with stories being told in third person but I actually liked this pov for this book. I liked that we got to read about so many different feelings and thoughts. I also liked that we got to follow different characters but I thought it was well done so that it didn’t feel like there was too many things going on.

Some Girls Do by Jennifer Dugan Book Review

Author Information

Jennifer Dugan is a writer, geek, and romantic who writes the kinds of stories she wishes she had growing up. In addition to being a young adult novelist, she is also the writer/creator of two indie comics. She lives in New York with her family, dogs, and an evil cat that is no doubt planning to take over the world.

Book Description

In this YA contemporary queer romance from the author of Hot Dog Girl , an openly gay track star falls for a closeted, bisexual teen beauty queen with a penchant for fixing up old cars.

Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer high schools late in her senior year after it turns out being queer is against her private Catholic school’s code of conduct. There, she meets Ruby, who has two hobbies: tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino and competing in local beauty pageants, the latter to live out the dreams of her overbearing mother. The two are drawn to each other and can’t deny their growing feelings. But while Morgan–out and proud, and determined to have a fresh start–doesn’t want to have to keep their budding relationship a secret, Ruby isn’t ready to come out yet. With each girl on a different path toward living her truth, can they go the distance together?


Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Teen for the advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: It took me a bit to really get into this story as I wasn’t really a fan of either of the characters or the plot when I first started reading it. Once I got to about 50% in though I was hooked and needed to know what really would happen to our two main characters, and not just to their relationship.

Something that I really enjoyed in this book is how it explores discovering queerness and being visibly queer. I really enjoyed the nuanced discussions that this book brings up about being out and what that means for different people. I thought it was important that the discussion about what it means to be out, and how being out may do more harm than good happened. I really liked how this book points out that queer people don’t have to be out in order to be valid, and how coming out doesn’t have to be the goal if you are queer.

I really enjoyed reading these characters be teenagers and have some of the typical teenage problems. I liked that we got to see them both in their classroom setting and also in their respective activities. I liked the setting for the story as it made sense to me, but sometimes I did wonder why those around them didn’t get more involved. I did wonder how some of the characters kind of faded into the background as you read on when they were important at the start of the book.

Characters: In this book you are introduced to a bunch of characters, but our main characters are Morgan and Ruby. You also get to meet both of their friends, and get a glimpse into their home lives as well when we meet their family members.

I have mixed feelings about the relationship between Morgan and Ruby, and was not content with the way that the story ended. There were moments that I just kept getting angry with either character as they kept hurting each other, and this doesn’t really solve itself in the end.

On the other hand, I thought that the two characters had great chemistry with each other and really enjoyed reading as they figured out their feelings for each other. I think their relationship with each other is so nuanced because of outside things that impact how they interact with each other. Morgan is so stuck on not wanting to have to hide her queerness and her belief that no queer person should be in the closet, that she doesn’t really see beyond that. Ruby is scared of what others would think if she pursues a relationship with a girl, and also knows what her mother’s reaction would be so she holds herself back from pursuing what she wants.

When it comes to the family units in this book, I couldn’t stand Ruby’s mother. She just was looking out for herself and blamed Ruby for so many of her shortcomings. I thought it was so sad that Ruby felt that she was living for someone else rather than for herself. I really did enjoy the relationship that Ruby has with Billy though and how supportive he is of her through the whole book. I liked that his support was more silent than vocal but he made it known that he loved her.

I really liked reading about Morgan’s family and seeing the contrast of her family and Rubys. I think this also really added to the complexity of their relationship and it was something that Morgan never really acknowledges. Morgan has parents and a brother who support her being queer and also are able to financially provide for her. I think it was important to see the divide between Morgan and Ruby when it came to socioeconomic status and how this also plays into the dynamics of their relationship.

Writing Style: This book is told in first person through dual perspective which I love. I can never decide if I prefer one POV or multiple POV because I think both work. I think that each book really calls for different styles and dual POV works for this book. I liked getting to see both of their perspectives of different events.

If this book did not include dual perspectives it would be really easy for you to sympathize with only one character and really hate the other. The way it is written, you start to sympathize with one as you read their section but then you get the other’s POV and realize that they both have their flaws. I think this was one of my favorite things in this book, neither of our main characters is perfect.

What’s Not To Love by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka Book Review

Author Information

mily Wibberley grew up in Southern California, but instead of working on her nonexistent tan at the beach, she spent her time reading, making music and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Shortly after falling for her best friend, Austin Siegemund-Broka, she attended Princeton University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2014 with a degree in Psychology. She and Austin now live and write YA contemporary together. Their debut, Always Never Yours, will be published by Penguin Books in Summer 2018.

Visit her website at and sign up for her mailing list to hear about exclusive giveaways and YA book news.

Also check out Emily’s and Austin’s new website at

Austin Siegemund-Broka cowrites YA contemporary with Emily Wibberley. His debut with Wibberley, ALWAYS NEVER YOURS, publishes from Puffin/Speak in 2018.

A former journalist in the entertainment industry, where he covered the courts and, yes, met a couple celebrities, he graduated from Harvard in 2014 with a degree in English and a focus on Shakespeare. When he’s not writing (or reading) YA, he enjoys combing every corner of contemporary music and watching Buffy with Emily.

He lives in Los Angeles.

Book Description

An academic enemies-to-lovers YA with all the nerdy drama, high school antics, and heartpounding romance of the Netflix original series Never Have I Ever

Since high school began, Alison Sanger and Ethan Molloy have competed on almost everything. AP classes, the school paper, community service, it never ends. If Alison could avoid Ethan until graduation, she would. Except, naturally, for two over-achieving seniors with their sights on valedictorian and Harvard, they share all the same classes and extracurriculars. So when their school’s principal assigns them the task of co-planning a previous class’s ten-year reunion, with the promise of a recommendation for Harvard if they do, Ethan and Alison are willing to endure one more activity together if it means beating the other out of the lead.

But with all this extra time spent in each other’s company, their rivalry begins to feel closer to friendship. And as tension between them builds, Alison fights the growing realization that the only thing she wants more than winning…is Ethan.


Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: I was actually pretty surprised with how much I enjoyed reading this one. I was a little concerned going in to this book because from the look at the cover it isn’t something that I typically read. I’m glad that I gave it a try though because I enjoyed remembering what it is like to be in high school.

Right from the start of this book you get the enemies to lovers story of our two main characters which is great. I really liked the competition between these two characters and how realistic it was. I liked how there was no outside pressure on these two students to be exceptional so it was was their own choice to do this.

I also liked how things didn’t quickly progress into these two characters being in love with each other. I liked how this was complicated for them to navigate and they struggled with these new feelings. I liked watching them not know how to interact with each other when it wasn’t something they were used to.

There were so many moments that I thought were hilarious and it really reminded me of watching people in my high school courses. I remember being in the school for advanced studies and watching everything be a competition for people. I remember the teachers fueling this competition so I really liked how this story made it so that the teachers and other students were frustrated by the competition.

Characters: In this story you are introduced to a few characters through the perspective of Alison. You get to meet Dylan, who is Alison’s best friend, and Ethan, who is Alison’s rival. I really liked the friendship that you see between Dylan and Alison and also liked how Dylan’s relationship with Olivia affects this. When I was reading this book it really made me want to hand it to my best friend as a like I’m sorry for the person I became when I was dating in high school. I liked how we see Dylan on her own and then Dylan with Olivia to point out the big difference there is.

I also liked watching the relationship that Alison and Ethan have with each other and how it affects those around them. I really thought it was hilarious to watch Alison’s parents mock her about Ethan and insist that something was there between them. I liked watching how those around them such as teachers and class mates got frustrated with the constant feuding.

Something that I wasn’t really a fan of though is how these characters weren’t too developed. I wanted to know more about them beyond their feud. I did wonder if that was intentional though so that we could see that there wasn’t much to them besides that. I really wanted to know if there was more to them than this fighting.

The only thing that I was a bit ehh about was the lack of diversity with out cast of characters. I loved reading them but they did seem like cookie cutter copies of each other.

Writing Style: This story is told in first person through the perspective of Alison which I really enjoyed. I like that this story is told through her perspective and we don’t get to see anyone else’s feelings. The fact that the story is told in her perspective keeps it in high school and makes the story feel right for the age it is written. I thought it being in her perspective made it funny when adults would get involved since she insisted she knew better than them. I liked how often people had to remind her to just be a teenager.

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon Book Review

Author Information

David Yoon is the author of the New York Times bestseller Frankly In Love, a William C. Morris Award finalist and Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature Honor book, as well as the YA novel Super Fake Love Song and adult thriller Version Zero. He also drew the illustrations for his wife Nicola Yoon’s #1 New York Times bestseller Everything, Everything. David grew up in Orange County, California, and lives in Los Angeles with Nicola and their daughter.

Book Description

When Sunny Dae—self-proclaimed total nerd—meets Cirrus Soh, he can’t believe how cool and confident she is. So when Cirrus mistakes Sunny’s older brother Gray’s bedroom—with its electric guitars and rock posters—for Sunny’s own, he sort of, kind of, accidentally winds up telling her he’s the front man of a rock band.

Before he knows it, Sunny is knee-deep in the lie: He ropes his best friends into his scheme, begging them to form a fake band with him, and starts wearing Gray’s rock-and-roll castoffs. But no way can he trick this amazing girl into thinking he’s cool, right? Just when Sunny is about to come clean, Cirrus asks to see them play sometime. Gulp.

Now there’s only one thing to do: Fake it till you make it.

Sunny goes all in on the lie, and pretty soon, the strangest things start happening. People are noticing him in the hallways, and he’s going to football games and parties for the first time. He’s feeling more confident in every aspect of his life, and especially with Cirrus, who’s started to become not just his dream girl but also the real deal. Sunny is falling in love. He’s having fun. He’s even becoming a rocker, for real.

But it’s only a matter of time before Sunny’s house of cards starts tumbling down. As his lies begin to catch up with him, Sunny Dae is forced to wonder whether it was all worth it—and if it’s possible to ever truly change.


Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for the advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: I read David Yoon’s first book, Frankly In Love and really enjoyed that one so I knew that I had to read this one. I winded up listening to this one and loved the audiobook version of it. This was just a cute rom com that I highly recommend for those of you who are looking for a light read.

I loved that the main character of this story is a nerd who not only fakes who he is but is faking to be who his brother once was. I usually get frustrated with the whole “pretending to be someone you are not” to get someone to like you but I think this story was well done. I think that the ending of the story and how Sunny’s lie falls apart really adds to how I felt about this trope.

While this story was a rom com it felt like Sunny and Cirrus’s relationship was kind of in the background for me. I was not really rooting for them as much as I was rooting for his friendships, and relationship with his brother. I thought that Sunny and Cirrus’s relationship was cute and liked the funny moments between them. This book was a nice, light, read that is great when you want to distract yourself from the world.

Characters: In this book you get to meet Sunny who is the main character, his older brother, Gray, his two best friends, Milo and Jamal, and his girlfriend, Cirrus. Along with these characters you also get to meet his family, and the bullies at his school.

My favorite part of this book was the relationship that develops between Sunny and Gray through this lie that Sunny has told to get a girl. I know that this book is meant to be a rom com which it definitely is but I think it also shows how much of a difference someone’s support can make for someone.

I really loved getting to see the friendships develop in this story and how they fell apart once Sunny’s lie was revealed. I love that Gray points out how much Sunny should really value his friends because they have his back. I liked that we got to see how important friendship is even when other things aren’t going your way.

Something that I really liked about the characters in this story was that we got to see more about the bully than what I thought we were originally. I liked that we get to see the development of this character and watch his interests develop. I liked that he was much more than just a bully and a jock.

Writing Style: This story is written in first person through the perspective of the main character. I liked that we got to see things from his view and that we don’t get much from others. I think getting to see Sunny’s perspective through it all makes it so that we get to be in his head and also not see the way his actions affect those around him. I liked that we don’t get to see much about what others think of what he is doing beyond what they tell him.

Fat Chance Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado Book Tour Post

I am so excited to get a chance to be a part of this book tour hosted by HearOurVoicesBookTours . Make sure you check out the rest of the posts that are a part of this tour by looking at the schedule for the tour found here. 

Author Information

Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author with a lot of feelings. Her debut novel, FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA (Holiday House), will be released on Feb. 2, 2021.

By day, she is a social media manager working in higher ed, and by night, a writer who loves Beyoncé, shopping, the internet, and being extra.

She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog. 

You can find Crystal Maldonado at:

Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Website ~ Goodreads

Book Description

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Genre: YA Fiction

Book Info:

Coming of age as a Fat brown girl in a white Connecticut suburb is hard.

Harder when your whole life is on fire, though.

Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.

People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn’t help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.

But there’s one person who’s always in Charlie’s corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing–he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS.

A sensitive, funny, and painful coming-of-age story with a wry voice and tons of chisme, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega tackles our relationships to our parents, our bodies, our cultures, and ourselves.

You Can Find this Book at:

Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble  ~


Thoughts and Themes: I normally write my reviews as I read the book so that I don’t forget anything about them. I did this one differently though because I didn’t want to put it down even to take notes. I just highlighted all the important things in my kindle and most of my notes are exclamation marks or emojis.

There are so many themes that are explored throughout this book, weight issues, anxiety, self-esteem, jealousy, and friendship. I really enjoyed the way that each of these themes are tackled and how we get each of these themes through multiple characters.

I liked that this book focuses on weight issues and we have a fat main character who isn’t trying to change herself. I like that rather than lose weight through the course of this story or give in to what society and her mother wants, Charlie learns to love herself and immerse herself in the body positivity community online.

I also like the conversations that Charlie has with Amelia, and with Brian. I think we get to see a lot of her in those conversations and this is where we see her insecurities. I liked how we see those insecurities and we see both Amelia and Brian try to lift her but also struggle with the way she talks about herself.

I just want and need more happy ending for Latinxs, and stories that are just full of joy for us.

Characters: Throughout this story you are introduced to a wide range of characters who I really enjoyed. There is just one character that is really hard to love but in the end I like what they did with the character.

I really liked the complexity of Charlie and Amelia’s friendship and how Charlie waited so long to tell Amelia how she felt. I also like the way Charlie just assumed that Amelia had no problems because everyone thinks she’s beautiful. Their relationship reminded me of the relationship that I have with my best friend but thankfully we were never into the same people.

I had a hard time with Charlie’s mother because of how she treated Charlie due to the way she saw herself and the internalized fatphobia. It was hard to like her even at the closing of the story but what I did enjoy is that things didn’t magically get fixed between them. I liked that the mother and daughter relationship was complicated from start to finish because it felt real.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Charlie and Brian, with my favorite part being that the whole story wasn’t revolving around this. I loved that the book points out how important it is to find ways to love yourself and not only because someone else loves you. I thought it was nice to see the progression of their relationship and see the difficulties that they face due to Charlie’s insecurities.

Writing Style: This story is told in the first person through Charlie’s perspective which I love. I liked that through this whole story we are in Charlie’s mind and seeing what she thinks about everything happening around her and to her. I thought it was great that we didn’t get to know how Brian felt about Charlie’s actions or even how Amelia felt unless they shared with Charlie. I think because you are only getting her perspective it allows you to feel for her each time something goes wrong.

Bug Boys ARC Book Review

Goodreads Summary: Rhino-B is a brash, but sweet guy. Stag-B is a calm and scholarly adventurer. Together these two young beetles make up the Bug Boys, best friends who spend their time exploring the world of Bug Village and beyond, as well as their own – sometimes confusing and complicated – thoughts and feelings.

In their first adventure, the Bug Boys travel through spooky caves, work with a spider to found a library, save their town’s popular honey supply from extinction, and even make friends with ferocious termites!

What challenges will these two earnest beetles face? Whatever it is, you can be sure that Rhino-B and Stag-B will face it together — with the power of friendship behind them.

Thoughts: This is a book that I’m going to share with my 7 year old cousin because I think he would enjoy it. I’m always on the look out for books that my younger cousins could enjoy so I was pleased to get a chance to read this. Sometimes when reading a book meant for younger children I wind up not enjoying it for myself because it isn’t meant for me but still find the beauty in the story for the age it was intended for; this book was a different story though because I liked it for myself as well.

This book is a graphic novel with different stories about friendship. I really enjoyed the length of each story because I think each of them is the perfect length to hold the attention of younger children. I like how this is a book that new readers can read and can start with a chapter a day to ease into reading.

I thought that the drawings in this book were rather cute and the characters really drew me in. The relationships that these bugs had with each other were cute and endearing.

I recommend this to those of you looking for something that new readers will enjoy or those of you looking for something to read with children ages 6 and up. You can pre-order this book at Barnes and Noble or look for it at your local library. This book is coming February 11,2020.

Thank you to Penguin Random House and Shelf Awareness Pro for the advanced reader copies.

Author Interview: James Brandon

About the Author: James Brandon produced and played the central role of Joshua in the international tour of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi for a decade, and is co-director of the documentary film based on their journey, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption. He’s the cofounder of the I AM Love Campaign, an arts-based initiative bridging the faith-based and LGBTQ2+ communities, and serves on the Powwow Steering Committee for Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) in San Francisco. Brandon is a contributing writer for Huffington Post, Believe Out Loud, and Spirituality and Health Magazine. Ziggy, Stardust and Me is his first novel.

Hello James

Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to me about your debut novel Ziggy, Stardust, & Me.

Let’s start by hearing a little about Ziggy, Stardust, & Me, how would you describe your book to someone who hasn’t read it?

James: Ziggy, Stardust, & ME is set in St Louis in 1973 when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness and crime. Jonathan, the protagonist, is working really hard to fix his illness and believes he has fixed himself. He believes that he has fixed himself until Web comes into his life. The story then becomes about these two boys discovering love in a time and a world that won’t let them.

What was your inspiration behind Ziggy, Stardust  & Me?

James: A friend of mine showed me the episode of This American Life- 81 Words which tells the story about how the American Psychiatric Association (APA) decided in 1973 that homosexuality was no longer a mental illness. It was about a moment in time in queer history where the APA and the Gay Liberation Movement were fighting each other because the APA had classified homosexuality as mental illness. The Gay Liberation Movement was fighting because they insisted that they were normal and they didn’t need to be treated. In December 1973 the APA removed homosexuality from DSM, and now LGBTQ+ people were suddenly cured from this illness. I didn’t know anything about history after being out for such a long time and this woke me up. I think that without being taught our history LGBTQ+ people don’t feel a sense of rooted ness and they feel loss without that. I want to help teach our history and give sense of connectedness to LGBTQ+ people.

What are your 10 favorite books and why?


Ari and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz- is my classic go to.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson- has beautiful transportive writing

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian- is another beautiful queer historical documented piece of history

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi- is about a black trans girl and is a beautiful book.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong- is a spectacular book that has prose that is out of this world.

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante- is a beautifully written book.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens- is a beautiful book and extraordinarily written. It is a book that inspired me as a writer.

River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy- is her debut novel that is coming out in late October.

The Stand by Stephen King- his version wasn’t edited and is where I learned how to write character because his characters are so defined, rich, and full

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera- creates an immersive world that I loved getting lost in.

From those 10 books would you say that any one of those influenced your life greatly or is there a book you didn’t mention that has influenced you life?

James: I would have to say that all have to some degree. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was the first queer book I read. Before this I was not aware of queer books and I didn’t really seek them out but when this one came to me it inspired me to want to write a book. It really showed me the importance of having queer protagonist in a book, and gave me validity for someone who didn’t see that growing up. I would say that this book influenced my writing in a way too.

What would you say was the most surprising thing that you learned while writing your novel?

James: My editor, Stacey Barney is a genius, one thing she worked really hard on this book for a couple years, was pushing me on not believing the journey that Jonathan takes to self acceptance. After being out for over 20 years, this caused me to question my own journey towards self acceptance and question how much I really accept myself now. There’s a quote in the book “once the seed of shame is planted within it never goes away” that really is the journey into Jonathan and his soul, we have a choice to let that seed grow, strangle our soul and become miserable or acknowledge that seed and become better people because of it. This was a surprising realization to make and a beautiful surprise. Due to this realization and Stacey Barney’s notes, I am a more humble and awakened human.

What was something about Ziggy, Stardust and Me that you struggled to write or come up with?

James: There wasn’t anything easy about it, the struggle was really and something that me and Stacey worked on a lot was honing in on Jonathan and Web’s relationship. I wanted to create this bubble that their relationship stays in while the chaos of life goes on around them. I wanted to keep this bubble of love safe, pure, and for this to be their escape while they were not allowed to be gay and every faction of society was screaming to get their voice heard. It was important to pay attention and listen to the two boys and what they needed and wanted to make their relationships thrive.

Your story is set in 1973. Why did you choose that as the setting for your book? Do you think this book would have the same impact if it was set in a different time period?

James: If this was told in a different time period it would not have the same impact due to the APA decision occurring in 1973. In The American Life- 81 Words there is one doctor who changed his mind about homosexuality after meeting a gay boy who hugged him. I kept thinking about this and wanted to figure out who this boy was who was able to change the mind of an older males and this is how I created Jonathan. I wanted to show a time that younger people don’t recognize as an important part of our history. The Stonewall riots and this event marked a turning point for the current LGBTQ movement and more people of all ages need to know this was a real time and these are real things people endured just in their day to day existence.

How did you deal with the emotional impact the book might have had on you as you were writing the story?

James: There were intense moments in this book and intense moments when writing it. Jonathan experiences treatments that were experienced as a normality during this time period. I interviewed people who under went some of these treatments and I wanted to create a sensorial experience for the reader when Jonathan experiences these treatments. This was really the only way for the reader to feel some empathy as I felt empathy for these people. Because self-care and one’s own mental health is so important I was aware and clear of my boundaries when writing and made sure to separate my own identity from my characters. As I was immersing myself in these things, I let myself feel it and wrote through tears. Once words and tears pushed through I made sure to get away from the writing and come back to it later, allowing myself some space. It was important to feel those feelings, because as humans we have to do that in order to move through things we’re working on.

What do you hope your readers take away from reading Ziggy, Stardust, & Me? 

James: I want my readers to understand the importance of believing in yourself and embrace that which makes you different. The things that make you different, make you unique and that’s what we need in this world right now. Don’t be scared and don’t shy away from who you are and being you when people tell you you can’t, prove them wrong and be that. Recognize that uniqueness is why we are here.

Is there more in store for Jonathan or is there something else that you are currently working on?

James: There is currently no planned sequel to Ziggy, Stardust, & Me. I have written another book and what I do know is that each book I write will have some moment in LGBTQ history that has been lost or forgotten.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

James: There were so many times that could’ve given up and so many reasons why one could give up because writing is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY hard. If don’t go in knowing that it can feel daunting and overwhelming. It’s important to never give up, believe in what you need to say and don’t let anyone else tell you that what you are trying to say isn’t good enough because if you need to say it its important and we need to hear it.

About Ziggy, Stardust, & Me: In this tender-hearted debut, set against the tumultuous backdrop of life in 1973, when homosexuality is still considered a mental illness, two boys defy all the odds and fall in love.

The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal–at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

Click here to find more about James Brandon and you can get Ziggy, Stardust & Me at Penguin Random House.