so let’s chat about IRON WIDOW
We interrupt our regularly scheduled aesthetic posting with a special message about the upcoming science-fiction YA novel IRON WIDOW by non-binary cosplayer, history buff, and YouTube sensation Xiran Jay Zhao (links to their website in the next post)
I have a longer, more formal “review” of this book scheduled for the release date (September 21st, 2021) but I really, really want to hype this book up as much as possible as early as possible to encourage people to pre-order it. I haven’t been this excited about a YA book in quite a while. Let me tell you why!
- It was pitched as PACIFIC RIM meets THE HANDMAID’S TALE in a world inspired by Chinese folklore and history, where boy-girl teams pilot giant mecha to fight alien monsters -- but the psychic strain usually kills the girls. But only the girls....hmmm...something fishy is going on here...
- The main character is a reimagining of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor of China, who decides she’s going to assassinate the boy who murdered her older sister by volunteering to be his next co-pilot. She assassinates him so well that she kills him through their psychic link and becomes a dreaded IRON WIDOW!
- This makes her very interesting to the government, which would really prefer to make her disappear, but can’t afford to waste that kind of psychic power -- so they pair her up with a ~dangerous criminal~ to pilot a new mecha, confident that he will be psychically strong enough to overpower her
- This backfires spectacularly, and suddenly Wu Zetian and her co-pilot have to manipulate both pop culture and the government just to stay alive.
- Plot ensues.
Why should you read this book?
Go back and re-read that plot summary until you understand why BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!!
- We have a polyamorous F/M/M mutual relationship, I repeat, we PRE-EMPTIVELY SOLVE a LOVE TRIANGLE with POLYAMORY
- Wu Zetian is an amazing anti-hero and I mean that with all my heart. She is constantly doing stuff in this book that made me go, “Wait, can you do that?” She WILL cut a bitch. Also, she uses a cane or wheelchair because she has bound feet, and you can tell that Xiran really went the extra mile to think about how to portray this and how it affects the character. A lot of YA protagonists can start to feel “same-y” after a while to me, but Wu Zetian REALLY stands out.
- The world is really, really cool? There is SO MUCH going on with the aliens and the mecha and the world they’re living in which I cannot spoil except to say that your primary emotion through the third act will be “?!!!?!!?!!?!!!” AND even outside of the meta plot, there is so much thought and detail put into the rest of the setting, it is so beautiful and it feels like you’re really there. Plus every character is a reimagining/reference to a historical or folklore figure and it was really neat to go on a little scavenger hunt of “Oh! I recognize that name!”
- IRON WIDOW will do for YA sci-fi what CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE did for YA fantasy -- if it gets support. Xiran has talked about how they couldn’t get an American publisher to even consider publishing this book because publishers didn’t think American audiences would be interested in Chinese folklore or idol culture or a story about giant mecha, which?? Have they MET the internet?? They were also told that schools and libraries will be reluctant to stock IRON WIDOW because of the polyamorous romance. BUT that is why I really hope people show up for this book because it is SO DESERVING OF SUCCESS and it could open so many doors for other writers and for the whole YA landscape
- Xiran Jay Zhao is a really cool non-binary author and their writing is as charismatic and entertaining as their other content. I just think they’re neat!
- And one more thing? The cover looks like this:
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Read these 10 YA books by Trans Authors instead of HP
There's a rule I have (that I took from author Emery Lee) that says that every time someone mentions JKR, I have to rec 2 books by trans authors. Here are some of my favorite YA recs if you ever felt like adapting the same rule in your friend groups.
As always, the pictures and jacket copy are from publishers’ sites! If they didn’t have info available, I used info from author sites! :)
If any of these interest you and if you are able, please support your favorite independent bookstores when purchasing these and other books!
Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee
Emery's book isn't out until 05/04/21, but because I saw this rule from em, I couldn't NOT rec eir book!
Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.
When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.
In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle....
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.
TW for a forced outing.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?
Acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi makes their riveting and timely young adult debut with a book that asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.
TW for discussions about child abuse.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can't get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school's resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He's determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
Deep and Darkest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.
Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.
Who I Was with Her by Nita Tyndall
There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school's cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn't ready for anyone to know she's bisexual.
But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa—Maggie's ex, and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling.
As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life...starting with herself.
Between Perfect & Real by Ray Stoeve
*This book comes out April 27, 2021 but I'm excited enough about it that I'll share it a week before it comes out.
Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?
Can't Take That Away by Steven Salvatore
An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.
Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother's spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice.
Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey's tormentor and others in the school. It's up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights--and they refuse to be silenced.
Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore's Can't Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.
But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
L E T M E B E C L E A R : I never intended to raise my brother from his grave, though he may claim otherwise. If there’s anything I’ve learned from him in the years since, it’s that the dead hide truths as well as the living.
When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.
In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha—one who can wield magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.
And that wraps up this week's list! What books by trans authors are you excited about? Any recs for me?
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