Book review: “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” edited by Saundra Mitchell

All Out: an anthology

I came across “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” - which I will be calling “All Out” in my review for the sake of simplicity - at the beginning of this year. It is a collection of short stories by an ensemble of young adult authors. All of the stories have queer teen characters, as it is evident in the title, and the stories themselves vary in genres and settings.

Synopsis

Take a journey through time and genres and discover a past where queer figures live, love and shape the world around them. Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens.

From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.

Review

I was extremely excited to get my hands on “All Out”. I admit that I was hesitant to buy my own copy, although I was tempted to, as the book was proudly (pun intended) displayed as a Pride Month pick at Indigo stores. I was cautious, as I had not read the books by all of the authors, so I was not sure if I am going to enjoy all of the stories.

As I expected I enjoyed some stories more and some stories less, so I will go through the list with my ratings for each one of them.

“Roja” by Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: It seems like there is going to be a full novel, “Blanca & Roja”, about the same characters, and I am very excited! It is coming out in October!

“The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: We have a girl who wants to sail away and another one who runs away as well. Not sure the ending worked plus I was not really feeling the characters. It was my first time reading anything by this author and I was slightly disappointed. (I read “Seafire” after I read "All Out".)

“And They Don’t Kiss At The End” by Nilah Magruder

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: Excellent writing and description of asexuality. I enjoyed it, but the skating rink and contemporary YA feel are just not my thing.

“Burnt Umber” by Mackenzi Lee

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: Loved every bit of this story. Excellent descriptions and characterizations. A painter’s studio in Amsterdam was an unusual setting. It was my first time reading a story by this author, and I can not wait to read more of her books!

“The Dresser & The Chambermaid” by Robin Talley

Rating: 2 stars
Notes: I did not like anything about this story. I couldn’t get behind the characters and their actions. Everything seemed a bit too exaggerated and boring.

“New Year” by Malinda Lo

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the background of the story and Chinese New Year traditions and the discussions of immigrants life but I am not a huge fan of Malinda’s writing style, and there wasn’t much of a plot either.

“Molly’s Lips” by Dahlia Adler

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: Once again, I am not a fan of contemporary YA, however, all of the grange music and Kurt Cobain references were on point, so this story is getting an extra star for that.

“The Coven” by Kate Scelsa

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I expected this story to be more engaging than it was. It was confusing at times, and not much was happening. It was okay.

“Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: A transgender Robin Hood retelling? Holy crap! Yes! Give me a whole book like that!! Excellent writing and now I am dying for the author to write more! (I know that there are books by this author written several years ago under a different name, but they are not exactly what I would read as they are NA romance novels.)

“Willows” by Scott Tracey

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: I loved the dreamy quality of the writing style. The ending was intense! Now, I want a sequel! It was my first time reading a story by this author, and I can not wait to read more of his books!

“The Girl With The Blue Lantern” by Tess Sharpe

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the premise of the story, and it was relatively well written, but there was not much of a plot, to be honest.

“The Secret Life of A Teenage Boy” by Alex Sanchez

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I was not entirely on board with the plot of this story. But I liked the descriptions and how well developed all characters were. Will be definitely reading more by this author!

“Walking After Midnight” by Kody Keplinger

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: It was a bit too Hollywood like and sugary for me, but the descriptions were well done. I was just not a fan of either characters or plot.

“The End of The World As We Know It” by Sara Farizan

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I am not a fan of contemporaries or love stories set on New Year’s Eve, but I loved the references to historical events (e.g., the mention of the mass shooting) and I think more stories should talk about such things.

“Three Witches” by Tessa Gratton

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the setting of the story, but I did not like the characters, and the only thing that worked for me was the ending. The rest was just dull.

“The Inferno & The Butterfly” by Shaun David Hutchinson

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: A story about two apprentices serving two rivalling magicians was adorable. I loved the plot and the characters, and I wanted more! It was the first story by this author that I read, and I can’t wait to check out his books!

“Healing Rosa” by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I liked the writing style in this story, although there was not much of a plot, to be honest.

Even though I was not in love with all of the stories in “All Out”, I enjoyed most of them, and some of them were so good that I can not wait to get my hands on those authors’ books! I consider it to be time very well spent. I am not sure I would want to re-read any of the stories (except for, maybe, stories by Mackenzie Lee and Elliot Wake). Therefore I am giving this book only 4 stars.

I wish we had more anthologies like "All Out", as it is an excellent opportunity to give LGBTQ+ authors more exposure and for readers to discover new favourites.

Overall rating: 4 stars

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Book review: “Seafire” (Seafire #1) by Natalie C. Parker

Seafire

I heard of “Seafire” months ago, and the plot of a new Young Adult fantasy book with all female pirates appealed to me greatly. I was dying to get my hands on it early and jumped on the opportunity to ask the publisher for the ARC. (Meaning, I begged. More than once.) I was so excited to receive it in the mail from Penguin Random House Canada and immediately put it on my ARC August TBR.

Synopsis

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armoured fleet.

But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to the help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Review

Before I got to “Seafire”, I read a short story “The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker in the anthology “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” (edited by Saundra Mitchell). It did not click in my head immediately that I was reading the story by the same author, whose book I was anticipating so much (yes, I am that bad with names), but once I did, I felt a surge of uneasy. Because “The Sweet Trade” was not one of my favourite stories. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even be able to recall its plot now.

That did not make me very happy. I am a demanding reader, and I expect short fiction to be of the same quality as novels.

Nevertheless, I started “Seafire”.

Oh well.

Let me start by saying that I liked the world and the idea behind the book and ultimately gave the book 3.5 stars, which is not a bad rating. But I was very underwhelmed.

My biggest problem with “Seafire” came from the prologue. The prologue should not have been written. It gave us the background to the novel, explained why the characters were who they were, etc. The whole prologue was just a huge chunk of exposition. Instead, it would have been better to weave in that information into the plot through flashbacks - even that device would have been better. The readers would have been left to guess why Caledonia Styx was the way she was and why she hated Bullets so much.

Instead, everything was laid out in front of us in the prologue. More so, Caledonia is not that young in the prologue to make a mistake that big. If someone kept telling you all your life that those people were not to be trusted, would you have trusted one of them after five minutes of meeting them?

I don’t think so.

The prologue of “Seafire” annoyed me so much, I was getting stressed, thinking that the book would be like that as well. Thankfully it was not.

I do not think that Pisces would have been as trusting as we were led to believe in the book. Her insistence to trust someone who saved her life was valid but a bit too exaggerated. I even was confused by the timeline between she was off the ship and then back on it as it felt as if it was minutes but obviously could not have been. That was a weird timeline.

Certain parts of the book are really well developed. For example, everything that has to do with the navigation and running the ship was described in much detail and fabulous to read. There were certain things though, like running water in showers on board of the ship that seemed a bit too out of place, when everything else was just bunk beds and wooden furniture. (Well, I get that the author wanted to keep her girls clean, but it stuck out to me.)

The world building was intriguing, but very few things were explained. I went into the book thinking that it was a piracy age book, a colonist era, so to say. But there were mentions of the old world, and some of the technology was apparently inherited from a different time period, so the book should be classified as more of a dystopian adventure book, rather than fantasy. There were no fantasy elements in it, no magic, no supernatural abilities. Can’t say I was too let down by the lack of those, but “Seafire” turned out to be not what I had expected.

My second pet peeve with the book - besides the unfortunate prologue - was the love plotline. “Seafire” is full of teen girls, who live and fight side by side. Some of the same sex relationships were implied, but almost nothing stated outright. I was entirely sure that Caledonia was in love with her best friend and was in the relationship with her until another person came into the picture. The way the author kept throwing Caledonia together with another person felt as if she was trying to create a love triangle on purpose. But since nothing that Caledonia did or said reflected her true feelings - except for her eternal guilt for what had happened - it was really frustrating.

Do not get me wrong - I did like other characters and other pairings, but I assumed that the book written by a queer author would have more queer relationships in it. Big, visible, spelt out relationships, and not just a hint here or there. I think there was only one same-sex kiss in the book, but even that was not between lovers. I know that it can be argued that “Seafire” is not about sexuality or coming out - and I agree with that and would love to have any book in any genre with characters who just naturally happen to be in love, regardless of gender or sexuality, and not a coming of age story in a contemporary setting - but when you have the plot where all prerequisites of it exist, but the book still goes like “Nah, they are just BFFs who have been through a lot”, that is a tad upsetting.

I do want to stress that I adored the concept of “Seafire”, and all the action in the book. I was there for epic sea battles, and we got them. I did have some problems with the execution, but the way the book left off, I am very excited about the sequel. I want more books like “Seafire”. I am just sad that it did not fully live up to my expectations.

Overall, “Seafire” was a fun read, and I am very grateful to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an ARC.

“Seafire” is coming out on August 28, 2018.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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