Sunday, 8 January 2023

Short Story Spotlight 8th January

Summer Love: An LGBTQ Collection, published by Duet Books

This book shows various aspects of love in a feel-good collection of nine stories. I just reread this for perhaps the third or fourth time and it never fails to make me happy. There's a delicious mix of characters, settings and stories here, ranging from 1930s England on the eve of war, to contemporary tales, via a carnival in the 1950s. In addition to the romances here, we also have a beautiful platonic love story - "My Best Friend" by HJ Coulter. All of the stories are happy ones overall, although a few are a little bittersweet, and it's great to see a lot of supportive parents here (I especially loved Ruth's mother in The Fire Eater's Daughter by Amy Stilgenbauer, and the parents of trans boy Carter in The Most Handsome.) Overall, really high recommendation as a superb collection for all fans of queer fiction.

Personal favourites:

"What The Heart Wants" by Naomi Tajedler

Noam and her best friend Charlie take a figure drawing class, both finding love. This is the story I've described on various occasions as my absolute favourite YA short of all time, and rereading it has done nothing to change my mind there. As well as an absolute delightful girl/girl romance between inexperienced Noam and the slightly older Amber, there's a super sweet side story as sexually confident Charlie falls for 'hyper-romantic, asexual' fellow artist Peter. I also adore how supportive Noam's mom is as she comes out to her here. 40 pages or so of pure joy and superbly-written characters.

"The Willow Weeps For Us" by Suzey Ingold

In the summer of 1939, as England waits for a seemingly inevitable war to break out, a greengrocer's son who expects to be called up soon falls for another young man in the same position. This is beautifully written, a rather slow and languid story in many ways - if it wasn't for the shadow of the war, and conscription, hanging over the lead duo, it would be an incredibly sweet story. The contrast of the looming war, though, is an element which puts everything into perspective, and really adds to it, as it builds to a touching and hopeful ending. 

"Beautiful Monsters" by Rachel Davidson Leigh 

A shy teen who volunteers for a political campaign is assigned to go and represent them at a Gay Pride Parade, where he meets the leader of the Gay Straight Alliance, and they open up to each other. There's amazingly great chemistry between the leads here and the contrast between them - Cody so timid, and Andre so forceful - and the way in which they care for other people, is gorgeously sweet. 

High Spirits by Camille Gomera-Tavarez, published by Levine Querido

I really enjoyed High Spirits by Camille Gomera-Tavarez, a debut author. In this collection of interconnected short stories, she looks at members of a family from the Dominican Republic, following their lives both in their home country and in the US.

The family tree at the start was great - it's really interesting to see how the characters in each story are connected - and I loved seeing characters I'd enjoyed reading about in one story pop up again in another, as well as the repeating themes of gender roles, legacy, and even a little magical realism. Each of the eleven stories here is short - the entire collection is under 125 pages - but they're all both thought-provoking and satisfying. Definite recommendation, and I'll be eagerly awaiting more from this lyrical author.

Favourite stories:

"B├írbaro" - Yoanson's rarely seen older brother visits him, taking him to the barber for the first time. I loved this one, with the argumentative way in which the men in the barber's shop talk about politics giving way to real empathy from Tony, the barber, as he realizes that Yoanson and his brother have different views on a suitable hairstyle, and backs up the younger boy.

"Skipping Stones" - New Yorker Ana returns to the Dominican Republic for a fuenral, and sees her friend Zahaira - but her feelings for the other girl aren't just that of friendship. This is gorgeously romantic, really impressive considering it's only about nine pages in total - it brings the two girls to life wonderfully despite its brief length.

"Domino" - Two girls desperate for money for travel to a free concert sign up for a dominoes tournament to try and win what they need. Loved how tense the final game was here!

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