I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, after continuing it earlier this year! In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
Today, I’m focusing on three brilliant stories that I was lucky enough to read early, all of which come out this month. Firstly, I’m starting with Camp by L. C. Rosen, which the lovely Simon at Penguin sent me in exchange for an honest review.
Sixteen-year-old Randy Kapplehoff loves spending the summer at Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. It’s where he met his best friends. It’s where he takes to the stage in the big musical. And it’s where he fell for Hudson Aaronson-Lim – who’s only into straight-acting guys and barely knows not-at-all-straight-acting Randy even exists.
This year, though, it’s going to be different. Randy has reinvented himself as ‘Del’ – buff, masculine, and on the market. Even if it means giving up show tunes, nail polish, and his unicorn bedsheets, he’s determined to get Hudson to fall for him.
But as he and Hudson grow closer, Randy has to ask himself how much is he willing to change for love. And is it really love anyway, if Hudson doesn’t know who he truly is?
I really liked this entertaining but insightful contemporary LGBT+ romance. Rosen once again proves that he is willing to push boundaries in order to discuss relevant topics in a powerful story.
I absolutely loved Rosen’s sex-positive, openly celebratory debut and as soon as I heard about Camp, I knew I needed to read it. Luckily for me, it surpassed my expectations, with another memorable and likable main character & thoughtful discussion of really important topics.
The setting of Camp Outland was like an LGBT+ paradise, full of open and proud people living the true lives. This made me so happy to read and imagine this place of acceptance and celebration. However, there are elements of pervasive internalised homophobia which Rosen breaks down and interrogates with such skill. The Masc4Masc community is torn to shreds here, with its damaging implications and a really good discussion around feigned acceptance.
Rosen’s writing style is easy to be caught up, as it’s so readable and entertaining. You feel engaged in the witty banter between characters, all of whom are fleshed-out and fully realised. His teens speak and act like teens, allowing me to really connect with them. I empathised with Hudson’s personal journey and struggle, but fell in love with musical-loving, hopeless romantic Randy. He was such a good protagonist, though I was initially uncomfortable as he changed every aspect of himself to fit this claustrophobic mould, even though I knew eventually it would be deconstructed. Neither Hudson nor Randy are perfect, which allows for some really good character arcs to be drawn out and for both of them to learn and adapt from their mistakes.
Next up, I’m discussing Clique Bait by Ann Valett, which was sent to me in exchange for an honest review by Harper 360.
Chloe Whittaker is out for revenge. Last year her best friend Monica’s life was unceremoniously ruined by the most popular students at their high school, so this year Chloe plans to take each and every one of them down. She traded her jeans and T-shirts for the latest designer clothes, deleted everything on social media that would tie her to Monica (and blow her cover), and carefully devised a way to befriend the members of the popular clique. Now all that’s left to do is uncover their deepest, darkest secrets and reveal them to the world.
Chloe has the perfect plan…that is, until she begins to fall for one of the people she’s determined to destroy.
From the cover and synopsis, I instantly got Mean Girls vibes and so I requested it, loving the revenge aspect and possible conflict of interests. It delivered all of this and more for me.
Reading during lockdown is a surreal experience and Clique Bait provided me with some glossy escapism for a day or so. It has a dark edge and undercurrent to the story which was so alluring for me. Breaking down the clique and all of its corruption was so entertaining, as was slowly unravelling the web of lies surrounding them. You gradually gather the pieces of what they’ve all done and particularly what happened to Monica, something which Valett keeps close to her chest for most of the book. This mysterious air kept me glue to the pages.
There’s plenty of gossip, action and intrigue to keep you hooked, but for me, a big draw was the clique itself and the messed-up people who formed it. They’re all deeply flawed and vulnerable, though some of them are completely irredeemable. Those who are truly bad are not excused, but you do get a sense of why the other characters did what they did. Will was a really likable love interest, who felt layered and enjoyable to read about.
I really liked how the dialogue crackled with tension and little swipes at each other. It felt really realistic and flowed really well, never feeling stilted or overly cliché. Valett’s writing shines and easily one of the strongest parts of the book.
Finally, I’m going to talk about Out Now: Queer We Go Again! This is the spiritual sequel to the anthology All Out, which I enjoyed. I received this from the publishers via Edelweiss.
A follow-up to the critically acclaimed All Out anthology, Out Now features seventeen new short stories from amazing queer YA authors. Vampires crash prom, aliens run from the government, a president’s daughter comes into her own, a true romantic tries to soften the heart of a cynical social media influencer, a selkie and the sea call out to a lost soul. Teapots and barbershops, skateboards and VW vans, Street Fighter and Ares’s sword: Out Now has a story for every reader and surprises with each turn of the page!
Overall, I really liked this anthology and how it centres LGBT+ stories in a range of genres. It definitely didn’t help my TBR pile, as I discovered even more amazing authors, as well as some established favourites.
Anthologies are always tricky to review, so I’m going to talk a bit about my favourite stories. Victory Lap by Julian Winters was a brilliant, heart-warming tale about first love and parental support & acceptance that made my heart glow. I also loved Star-Crossed in DC by Jessica Verdi, Lumber Me Mine by CB Lee, A Road of One’s Own by Kate Hart, One Spell Too Many by Tara Sim and Once Upon A Seastorm by Fox Benwell. The way that this anthology celebrates LGBT+ youth and places them centre stage in any story is so beautiful to see. They’re just allowed to exist and tell their own story in a multitude of genres, which aren’t always centred around queer pain. Instead, their experience is normalised and soft and this range of experiences really enriched my enjoyment.
Overall, it felt like such an enjoyable, authentic and interesting anthology. Each story transported me to a completely different world and continued to surprise and delight me. It’s an emotional anthology, ranging from tear-jerking to a soft smile of joy. I loved how diverse the collection was in terms of sexuality, racial identities, gender identities, disability representation and discussion around mental health. I definitely felt like this was an upgrade on All Out.