The Stars and the Blackness Between Them Book Review

Summary: Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Thoughts and Themes: I listened to this book on audio as I followed along with it through the physical book. I have found this is a better way for me to read and be able to keep up with everything.

I love that you get a scene that is packed with emotions right from the start of the book. I thought that Audre’s feelings as she is taken from Neri and forced to move to the U.S. were raw and real. I think that each scene that is included in this book that is meant to be emotional is realistic and you feel the characters emotions along with them. There is never a moment in which I question how Audre or Mabel are feeling as the author is transparent with the reader regarding their feelings.

I think it was impactful that this book included the complexity of having a relationship with God and being queer. It wasn’t until I started picking up queer books written by people of color that I started seeing the intersection of religion and queerness come into play. I always felt that it was a large piece that was missing in things that I read and I felt that queer people couldn’t have a relationship with God. I always felt that we had to choose one or the other so seeing characters who manage to hold both a religious identity and a queer identity really speaks to me and helps me re-examine my relationship with religion.

Something else that this book touches upon is health and what it means for a high school student to have poor health. I also thought that it was important to include that the doctors didn’t have a definitive answer to what was happening to Mabel. I thought that was a good way to show the disparity in the medical community when it comes to treating Black patients and how often times they are overlooked. I thought that the questioning of this illness and Audre’s thoughts on medicine are included and her distrust of the medical system in the U.S. I thought this was another good way to show the reasoning behind why Black people and other people of color have this distrust of the medical system and where it stems from.

Something else that I thought it was important to see was the way Mabel’s poor health affects those around her and see her perspective on this illness that is killing her. I thought it was important that Mabel asks for her space as she comes to terms with her illness and that her friends respect her boundaries in this time.

I like how you get an idea of what Trinidad is like and how you get a comparison of that country and the United States. I like how you also get commentary about how the schooling is very different. I also really enjoyed the conversation that Audre has with her friends about queer people back in Trinidad and how different it is to be queer back at her home and the U.S.

Characters: At the start of the book you get slowly introduced to Audre and the people who are important to her. I like how you see the relationships that she has with other people around her. I love that they show her close relationship with her grandmother, Queenie, and how accepting her grandmother is of her relationship with her girlfriend.

You also begin to get an idea of who Mabel is right from the start as well. I love that they include her questioning her sexuality through her relationship with a previous boyfriend. As you meet Mabel, her friends, and family you begin to understand her more and see why her thought process is the way it is.

Writing Style and Narrator: This book goes back and forth between Audre and Mabel’s perspectives. What I enjoy about this back and forth between the two characters is that it isn’t one chapter for Audre and then one for Mabel. It reads more as one moment for Audre and then one for Mabel, and sometimes those moments span over one chapter and sometimes it takes more.

Something else that I found interesting was that this book includes pieces of poetry from each of the different zodiac signs as it transitions between different portions of the book. I really enjoy all of the astrology references that are included through each of the characters.

I also liked how over halfway through the book as Mabel begins reading Afua’s book, the author included pieces of that book. I also enjoy how there’s parts of other books or poetry included as Audre does assignments in school.

You can get this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn Book Review

Summary: There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

Thoughts: Thank You to FlatIron Books for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my review.

I only recently realized how much I love fantasy and sci-fi books. I just rarely read them because it takes me longer to get through them. It takes me a while to get all the characters straight along with getting the lay of their world. I didn’t let that keep me from reading this book though and I am glad for that. This was an original story and I loved that it borrowed from Persian culture which was something I had yet to read about.

At only 50 pages in I couldn’t put this book down because I already loved the princess, Soraya, and the div, Parveneh, that she was meeting with. I love the relationships that are built throughout the book and how those relationships change Soraya. Each relationship she forms adds to her past knowledge, or it adds to the person she is trying to be.

I really enjoyed watching as you find out not only about Soraya but about the mysterious boy who seems to come to her rescue. I like seeing the similarities in the two and watching as Soraya decides what she is going to do with her life. I found that he was an instrumental part in the decisions that Soraya makes and the way that she leans into who she is meant to be.

As you read along you find out more about Soraya and the curse that she has on her. I like that you are finding out her history along with her and are learning about this world she lives in along with her as well. Its great to see how while she isn’t naive to the world there is so much she has yet to learn about her surroundings and the people she thought she knew.

I love how descriptive each scene is as if you are there with Soraya. I can picture myself going along on this adventure which is all I want from a fantasy book. I really enjoyed the world building in this book as it was easy to follow, and there was no point at which I was confused about what was happening or where they were at.

The twist in this book is so unexpected and I love how it is done. It adds to the story and makes the characters even more lovable. This is a love story like no other that I have read in the past and I love that it wasn’t about a girl who needed to be rescued but about her rescuing herself and those that she loves.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy fantasy, are looking for bisexual mcs, want action and adventure, or are looking for a young adult fantasy with a female lead.

You can pre-order this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library coming July 7th.

LGBTQ+ Books by Asian Authors

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (Goodreads Author), James Patterson (Foreword) 

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall 

A desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial daughter find a connection on the high seas in a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic.

Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, as the pirates prepare to sell their unsuspecting passengers into slavery, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is en route to a dreaded arranged marriage with her own casket in tow. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian.

Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood, which causes men to have visions and lose memories) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, and the all-encompassing Sea itself.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar 

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.

For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu 

Peter Huang and his sisters—elegant Adele, shrewd Helen, and Bonnie the bon vivant—grow up in a house of many secrets, then escape the confines of small-town Ontario and spread from Montreal to California to Berlin. Peter’s own journey is obstructed by playground bullies, masochistic lovers, Christian ex-gays, and the ever-present shadow of his Chinese father.

At birth, Peter had been given the Chinese name Juan Chaun, powerful king. The exalted only son in the middle of three daughters, Peter was the one who would finally embody his immigrant father’s ideal of power and masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he is certain he is a girl.

Sensitive, witty, and stunningly assured, Kim Fu’s debut novel lays bare the costs of forsaking one’s own path in deference to one laid out by others. For Today I Am a Boy is a coming-of-age tale like no other, and marks the emergence of an astonishing new literary voice. 

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan 

High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own. 

LGBTQ+ Books by Black Authors

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum 

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus 

Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.

Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo 

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance – and Papi’s secrets – the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Papi’s death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Camino and Yahaira are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive.

In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann 

Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera 

Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye 

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

Kevin van Whye delivers an uplifting and poignant coming-out love story that will have readers rooting for these two teens to share their hearts with the world–and with each other. 

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow 

Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.

Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.

Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.

Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.