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

More of my book reviews

Book Review: "Ash" by Malinda Lo

I picked this book at the book store from the shelf marked as "lgbt teens". I had never heard about this writer, but both the cover (which is pretty) and the blurbs ("Cinderella retold" and "It's not the fairy tale you remember") got me curious.  So, I dived into the book with rather high expectations.

The book is said to be a retold story of Cinderella, but to be honest the only connection to the original is in the fact that Ash's parents die and she has to live with her stepmother and stepsisters who are mean to hear and treat her like a servant, and later she meets the fairy who grants her wishes and she goes to a ball. This is it. These are the all connections. Otherwise the story is quite different.

Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. The book is raw and not in a good way. The style is quoted to be dreamy and enchanting, but it rather cliched and uneven at times jumping from rather trite to more exciting passages. I loved the main character, but often her actions didn't resonate with me as she seemed to be very confused about what she wanted. I wanted intense emotions and conflict, but sadly the emotions felts washed out to me. I felt that the ending was a bit rushed too (and too easily resolved).

I had an issue with the world building as well. There are several paragraphs at the beginning of the book explaining how there were people who believed in fairy folk and witchcraft/magic and how there were philosophers who thought that it was fiction. Ash's mother used to be an apprentice to a greenwitch and she believed in fairies, while Ash's father did not. There was a potential for the conflict between other characters in the book who followed one or another beliefs, but it was really never addressed again in the book (except for few very feeble mentions that didn't influence the plot whatsoever).

The book is split into two parts: The Fairy and The Huntress. That division didn't make much sense to me as both the fairy and the huntress are throughout the book. I think the author wanted to mark the role those characters played in Ash's life, but it was not very reflective in the narrative itself - at least not to the extent that would require it to be marked in the book.

I had a feeling that it was a debut novel (which I confirmed later visiting the author's page) which would explain the weak narrative and some style blunders. Those small things, like, for example, the mix of theme and rheme ("She wrapped her arms around herself and felt the chill of the early morning."), and an abundance of colons. Seriously, Malinda has a thing for colons. I don't mind it. On the contrary, I like when writers use colons and semi-colons. Unfortunately, in "Ash" I found the use of long sentences and colons and semi-colons to be a bit unnecessary. More so, either Malinda (or her editors) are not particularly sure about whether the first word in the clause following the colon should be capitalized or not - I saw both. So let me tell you: it is not necessary because those sentences are connected in meaning.

While reading "Ash" I kept thinking that I really want to give this book at least 4 stars out 5, because the idea was very interesting and I liked the fact that it was not a usual romance, but a queer romance. There are quite interesting fairy tales in it, and overall the book has a lot of potential, which was not realized. It is a very easy read though and it is pretty short, so it may be attractive to some of you.

It is a lgbt young adult book written by a female author (or colour), so I feel that it should be praised just for the diversity of it (I really need more books like that in my life!), but the style didn't work for me. I am sorry, but I found it hard to fall in love with the story as I was trying to ignore the weak language. I will definitely check out "Huntress" by the same author though, as I have a feeling it will be set in the same world, and I am excited to learn more about the huntresses and their hunt and fairies. I am also hoping that Malinda's style has improved with years.

This book is a solid 3 out of 5 stars. Wish I could give it more, but alas. If you like fairy tales and if you are not as particular about the writing as I am - check it out. You might love it. I was slightly disappointed.