The last two weeks I’ve been talking part in an amazing readathon hosted by Kitty. Her blog post about the readathon is here but it’s mostly been hosted over on Twitter under the @AspecApril. There are lots of discussions over there and also author interviews over on her blog.
The readathon spanned two weeks, the first of which was all about reading books with Asexual characters and the second all about reading books with Aromantic characters. These can obviously overlap and did in quite a few of the books I read during the last two weeks. In the end I managed to read a whole 8 books!!!! Okay, I’m cheating in multiple ways, a) I actually finished reading my first book the day before the readathon started and b) 4 of the books are short stories. Overall, I still think it’s an impressive amount (for me!).
There were two group reads. The Spy with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, which I read and loved. And Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman which I didn’t read for the readathon but only because I’d already read and loved it last month!
There were also lots of challenges to attempt and I did manage to mark off all of them (a lot of books ticked multiple boxes!). The challenge card can be found both on twitter and on Kitty’s blog. But for now, onto the reviews…..
Novels read: 4
A great book with creepy magical woods and intense trapped feeling.
Set on a posh old money island with a hidden monster at its heart three girls have to band together and harness their special powers to defeat it (and smash the patriarchy at the same time).
First off I think I have a thing for books set around posh old money communities because there’s something inherently evil and twisted about them. It’s so easy to believe there’s something hiding beneath it all whether that’s a monster, or a horrible secret (like We Were Liars), or both (like this book!). I loved Sawkill Rock as a setting and I loved that the three girls came from different backgrounds and bought their own insight into things. The rock seeming alive, the dangerous rocky cliffs, the horse paddocks, the creepy forests, the huge mansions…. It was such a vivid setting with an undercurrent of MORE.
As for the girls, they were all very different, they all had their insecurity and infights and mistrust of each other and yet the friendships and relationships (familiar and romantic) were so strong and believable. I loved Zoey whose best friend is one of the girls who went missing and so is dealing with heartache from that, but also with the fact her dad is the police chief supposed to be looking into it and struggling with her feelings for her ex who she broke up with because of her insecurity over being Asexual. And then Marion, the new girl on the island who is having to adjust to a new life while looking after her family who are grieving. Probably the most complicated of all is Val, the Queen bee rich girl, a little bit of a bitch, a little bit suspect but lovely and twisted and confused.
All three worked so well together and then of course, there’s the constant undertone of fighting the patriarchy with three girls who will not take shit from the men running around.
I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes creepy books and fierce but soft girls. I also loved the Asexual rep, the discussion about it was well explained and Zoey’s doubts about her relationship were so understandable and relatable (Trigger Warnings for Challenged Acephobia though)
Rep: black ace MC, f/f.
This YA contemporary is set at a high school and split across seven different characters, all of which have one of the seven deadly sins as a flaw. It’s very reminiscent of The Breakfast Club or One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus in the way they all come together so I’d recommend it to anyone who likes those things but, you know what? I loved this book so much more.
I was a bit worried about there being seven main characters, it’s always a little bit difficult to keep them straight in my head especially when it’s written in first person (Anyone else completely forget who is narrating when they always use *I*?} But I actually didn’t have a problem with any of these characters, they are all distinct, they all have separate lives and problems. And I liked and related to every single one of them at least in some way.
My favourite character was definitely Valentine. He’s aro/ace and autistic which can be problematic if not done well but I loved him SO much. I didn’t know going into this book that there was an autistic character and I kind of love how it’s getting to the stage now where I can pick up any book and find there is one of us in it (as long as it’s done well because otherwise that’s a whole different surprise!). Fair warning, the words are never used on the page but the autistic rep was amazing. I identified with him so much, he was so relatable and it was in all the little things he did and thought rather than anything overt (For example the way he couldn’t explain how to do something which made him annoyed and he ended up doing it himself, or the conversation about how conversations are always stressful even though when it comes to it he’d love to be able to chat to people more, or how he doesn’t realise he’s lonely until he spends time with people, or how anxious not knowing what to do makes him. I could go on but those are the ones that stood out the most….). I also loved how being aro/ace wasn’t a big deal to him, it never came across as something that made him feel broken or wrong which can so often happen in books (and is fair to explore because it’s a valid experience) but it was great for him to just be like….okay? I don’t get why people like that but whatever.
I realise my review is now basically just talking about how much I loved Valentine’s character but the whole book was great. I was actually loving it even before we got introduced to him…. Does anyone believe me? Oh well.
There’s also a pansexual character (word used on page) and I thought the his thoughts around it and what it meant to him was great (see the trigger warning at the end of my review about this though)
I’d definitely suggest it to anyone who loves YA books set around high school or likes the idea of a Breakfast Club-like book.
Rep: autistic aro/ace, half-mexican, pansexual.
Trigger warnings: Forced outing of the pansexual character
This is the second book in the Balloon Makers series but it’s more of a companion novel than a sequel. Both books are set in the same world with the same magic but are decades apart with completely different casts so they can be read in any order. The ‘first’ book was one of my favourite reads of the year so far and this book, somehow, matched and even bested that.
This time the timezone is towards the end of WW2 when the USA has got involved and the science behind the atomic bomb is being discovered. It’s dual POV between a pair of Jewish German-American siblings. I loved Ilse’s and Wolf’s relationship so much. It read true in the jealousy and love between them and the intense fear of being split up by war. The book also has a whole cast of amazing side characters. The girls Ilse works with to discover the science behind the magic, including a black woman who has to deal with segregation of the army base and a lesbian who Ilse develops feelings for (and let me tell you reading two girls flirting in fluent science was amazing!). On Wolf’s side he’s struggling with thoughts about a friend who joined up before Wolf could really figure out his feelings for him (Wolf is demisexual and the discussion and feelings were dealt with well but I would have loved more of an explanation/mention of his romantic feelings because as it was, it felt like the rep were conflated which isn’t great). Wolf, being army age also has to deal with using his magic while, you know, being at war and also returning to fight against something his family fled. They also both have to deal with the fact that being queer in the 1940’s isn’t widely accepted which affects their relationships throughout.
What I love about both of these books is that they deals with marginalised characters and societal issues so well and yet the story itself is such a fast paced adventure. It doesn’t let up. It doesn’t feel like I’m being taught but never shies away from real issues. I couldn’t put it down. I cared so much, I needed to know what happened next, and I was never disappointed. It simultaneously left me wanting more and yet knowing that if we do get another book it’ll probably be with whole new characters again!
The only thing I would say is there is some disability rep mentioned right at the end and yet we never really get to see it which was disappointing for me. I would have loved an extra chapter to show it on page rather than being told about it by another character.
I’d recommend these books to anyone who love fast paced adventures because simply as that they are amazing but they also centre a diverse cast and issues. I loved this so much!
Rep: bi Jewish German-American girl, gay demi Jewish German-American boy, gay and lesbian side characters, m/m, f/f, and a black female scientist side character.
Trigger Warnings: Holocaust, racism
A lower YA adventure with a diverse ensemble cast of teens.
The council that rules in the Citadel is corrupt, using their sway over those with the power to read minds and futures to keep the lower classes in line. The last of the rebels are dead but people who enter the Citadel are getting sick and going missing and somebody has to do something.
I really liked the magic system. From stealing people’s memories, reading their minds, possible futures and prophecies, they were all used in different and very clever ways throughout the book but the best part about this story is definitely the characters.
They’re a mix of teens trying to live with their parents legacies and fight for their own future and each other. I loved how fiery Cassa was. And how Alys dealt with anxiety and panic attacks. I also loved that she was asexual and her close relationship with her brother, Evander, who is her opposite in almost every way. But my favourite characters were Vesper, a conflicted but clever girl in a difficult position and Newt, the youngest, whose gay and also has what comes across as some kind of EDS/hypermobility though the negative consequences of this are only briefly touched upon.
Some things in the story did feel a little convenient (especially at the start), in the way the characters found things out, ended up in certain situations and in some of their backstories that set up what was happening. But once the story got past the first half it felt more realistic and stopped bothering me. I also felt like the world building was pretty nonexistent, it didn’t really affect the plot in anyway, it just would have been nicer to be able to imagine the world at large other than the fields outside the city and the rooms inside the Citadel.
I do think that as a lower YA this isn’t that much of a problem, the story definitely focused on the character’s present and the adventure they were going on. Not all books need so much time spent on building the foundations, and as an adventurous romp against the rules, monsters and magic this was a great book.
Rep: POC bi brother and ace sister with anxiety/panic attacks, POC MC, gay and disabled MC (EDS/hypermobility?)
Short Stories Read: 4
Help Wanted by J Emery *****
I loved the setting of magic university. It mixed the normal and magical really well and I fully believed and could envision this world existing. I loved the mundane plot of Em needing to get a job to pay for her friends birthday present. The characters, friendship and confusing dawning realisation as Em realises she likes Phineas were all really well done.
The questioning rep doesn’t have a resolution which is true to the real life experience of many aspecs but did leave me a little disappointed. Maybe because I would have liked an answer too! It also has gender questioning as Em leans towards some kind of non binary or agender identity.
Rep: Aspec & gender questioning, side f/f couple, side aromantic character
Some times short stories feel exactly the right length for the story being told but this just wasn’t long enough. I loved the world, it was all sea ships and Oracles, and I loved the characters and the plot but, because of the length, nothing was developed enough and the climax felt underwhelming. Which is such a shame.
It’s very diverse and I loved that the Autistic MC was captain of the ship. They were nonbinary and ace and I loved their QPR (?) with their trans female first mate. But because this is so short a lot of the rep isn’t developed. For example was the MC ace or aro/ace? Was the relationship romantic or a QPR? I don’t know and I would have liked to! I did like the glimpses we got into the autistic rep, the stimming of chewing their bracelet and the synesthesia but I would have loved the story to be a bit longer, be a bit more developed. I think the idea and characters would have held more weight. As it is I felt a little disappointed.
Rep: Can i just say lots? um, the MC is autistic, nonbinary and asexual (maybe aromantic) and may be in a QPR, the first mate is a trans woman, there are very minor mentions of queer couples, and other minor queer character.
This is a lovely little short story set in a wonderful and vivid Chinese setting. The story itself is set around a tea house opera where two immortal beings pretend to be human to live out their very long lives doing things they love. Their platonic relationship spans centuries and was so nice to read. It is very short, so while I loved the characters and the idea there wasn’t that much plot but I enjoyed reading it.
Rep: Chinese aro/ace characters
I loved the twist on fairy tales where dragons actually save the Princesses from towers to help them escape marriages they don’t want.
While the world was a pretty generic fantasy village the focus is definitely on the two main characters both of which I loved. It’s all about queer women escaping from the lives others force into them but wrapped up in a fun fantasy story.
Rep: Aro/ace MC, lesbian MC,
Phew, lots of reviews! I absolutely loved taking part in the readathon, which is surprising because I normally don’t do them. I’m a massive mood reader but there were so many amazing books with Aspec characters to pick from that I never ran out of things I was in the mood to read! Thank you so much to Kitty for running it.
I’m not sure I can pick a favourite book, which doesn’t bode well for me being able to pick a favourite book in my monthly wrap up! But it would have to be between The Spy with the Red Balloon and Seven Ways we Lie, Both VERY different books! But both had amazing characters with some great diverse rep.
How about you? Did you take part in the readathon? What’s the best book you’ve read with a character that is either aromantic or asexual? If you haven’t read any, are there any you want to read?