One of my minor goals for this summer is to read more– a lot more– and I finished four or five books in the last week or so. Let’s talk about a few of ’em real quick.
Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, was an impulse purchase at Barnes and Noble when I happened to walk past it on display while at the store looking for something else. I grabbed it because I’ve seen it showing up on a lot of banned book lists recently and so I figured that alone was enough of a reason to buy it. I ended up very cautiously recommending it to one of my trans students at school; I hope I don’t actually have to say that I’m against banning books but this one is explicit enough (and the fact that it’s in comic book format doesn’t help) that I can see at least understand why some parents might be uncomfortable with their kids having access to it even if I don’t agree with it.
Honestly, the fact that it’s a memoir called Gender Queer probably tells you everything you need to know about it; Kobabe grows up in a time where ey (eir pronouns are ey/eir/eirs) simply doesn’t have access to the vocabulary to describe how ey feel about eir body. Kobabe is born into a woman’s body, but fantasizes about receiving blowjobs while still not quite feeling like a boy or wanting a new name. Luckily, eir parents are more or less supportive and there is a group for queer students at eir high school, so there’s not the undercurrent of abusive behavior that you might expect from this kind of book. I’ve never read anything substantial written by a genderqueer person, so I’m really glad I picked this one up; you ought to read it.
Rebecca F. Kuang has now written five books that I’m aware of: a military fantasy trilogy, an alternative-history dark magical academia novel, and Yellowface, a modern-day fictional memoir with no fantastic or spec fit elements at all, and I’ve absolutely loved everything she’s read. Kuang’s talent is astounding, frankly; she’s still only fucking 26 years old and no one her age should be able to write this well. I read Yellowface in about a day; it’s written from the perspective of a young struggling white female author, June Rowland, who is friends (exactly how close they really are is never clear, and there are very good reasons to believe we have an unreliable narrator) with Athena Liu, a Chinese-American author and a phenomenal talent whose early works have taken the literary world by storm. The two are at Liu’s apartment after a night of partying and drinking and Liu chokes to death, but not until after showing her friend her latest manuscript, which she’s not told anyone about. And when June leaves her apartment, many hours later, after dealing with the police and the EMTs and the trauma of watching a friend die in front of her, she does it with the only existing copy of the manuscript in her purse. Which she finishes and gets published under her own name. And, well … shenanigans ensue.
Yellowface is one of the most savage works of satire I’ve read in a long time, and it’s definitely among the best books I’ve read this year, if not the best, and I really need someone else I know to read it so I have someone to talk to about it.
I picked up Rebecca Yarros’ Fourth Wing on the strength of a sudden blitz of wildly enthusiastic TikTok praise, which was probably my first mistake. My second mistake was assuming that damn near universal five-star ratings on GoodReads meant anything in particular. That said, I don’t really know how to arrive at a final verdict on this one.
Why? Well, I hated everything about it, for starters. It’s so goddamned tropey that it feels like an AI wrote it. The dialogue is astonishingly bad, with people having lengthy, exposition-filled, complicated conversations in the middle of battle or otherwise stressful solutions all the fucking time. Ever watched an anime where every bit of dialogue is a long speech? Imagine that in written form. The worldbuilding is atrocious; the book is about dragon riders, but it’s really unclear what value the actual riders bring to the battle as the dragons don’t really seem to need them and the humans don’t command them in any meaningful way. (It’s possible that I missed a bit of exposition somewhere on this, as the book overexplains everything else, but it’s absolutely not gone into in any depth.) The dragons are named after their colors and their tails, which, okay, calling a dragon a red daggertail sounds cool, but whoever decided that morningstartail should have been a word? Come the fuck on, especially since fighting with their tails doesn’t much appear to be a thing. The characters are flat, the action is predictable, and the writing is occasionally stunningly terrible– “He was more than four inches over six feet tall” was a sentence that I just stopped and stared at for a few seconds, for example.
Five hundred pages of this. I finished it in less than 24 hours. I gave it three stars on GoodReads because I have no fucking idea even how to think about a book like that. The sequel is coming out in November– ah, another sin; the series is called “The Empyrean Trilogy,” and I’m pretty certain the word Empyrean appears nowhere in the book– and I’m probably going to buy it. You shouldn’t buy or read this, but I did both and for some reason I think I’m going to do so again. I just can’t explain why.