MMGM and #IMWAYR: This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us, edited by Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby
Before we get started, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving—ours was very peaceful, and it was when I actually finished reading the book I'm reviewing today!
Also, I want to quickly mention an album of music I've been enjoying lately. Aimee Mann, who I first started listening to around 2 years ago, just debuted a new album called Queens of the Summer Hotel, and it is awesome! You can go read this interview to learn about it, but just know that it's brilliant and worth a listen (or several)! (And especially a listen in order, since the order really matters.)
Finally, I have the winners of the Holiday Picture Book Giveaway to announce! The first winner is...
Danielle will be receiving a copy of Eyes That Kiss in the Corners. The second winner is...
Carlo will be receiving a copy of A Map into the World. The third winner is...
Patricia will be receiving a copy of A Big Mooncake for Little Star. And the final winner is...
Jess will be receiving a copy of The Rabbit Listened. Thank you all so much to everyone who entered, and winners, I hope you enjoy your books! And if you did not enter, stay tuned for future giveaways.
OK! Now we can move into the review, and y'all, I am SO EXCITED to talk about this book: This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us, edited by Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby.
And I apologize that this post is so long—I cut the general blithering down substantially and dropped an entire mini-review, but I didn't have time to trim the other mini-reviews, so buckle in for a pretty long ride!
It's easy to think that LGBTQ+ individuals are a pretty small minority in this world. But the numbers are higher than you think—according to the Washington Post, about 1 in 6 adults in Generation Z identify as LGBTQ+, and according to to Newsweek, it's more than 1 in 3! And yet, for all of these budding LGBTQ+ individuals in the world, media representation is still moving sluggishly toward even having any LGBTQ+ characters at all, much less characters across the full spectrum of identities and experiences. And MG literature in particular has a problem with this—even as LGBTQ+ representation has become more and more common in YA literature, it's still pretty rare in MG books, although that is improving. People seem to have this idea that LGBTQ+ identities are "mature" topics that kids should get to when they're "ready," forgetting that (a) kids actually know who they are at any age, (b) gender identity isn't a mature topic at all, and (c) sexual orientation is only a mature topic when romance is a mature topic—and considering that crushes are practically the definition of the MG experience, it shouldn't be a shock that kids start considering their sexual orientation as soon as they find themselves having crushes on others of the same gender! And that brings us to today's book, This Is Our Rainbow, which helps fill a much-needed void for LGBTQ+ representation in MG stories!
So what is This Is Our Rainbow? It's a truly splendid collection of 16 short stories (including 1 in verse and 2 that are comics), all starring LGBTQ+ kids! This happens to be the third diverse anthology of short stories I've had the chance to read, following Once Upon an Eid (which was so good, it inspired me to try these other anthologies) and another anthology that I didn't finish because I unfortunately wasn't enjoying it. I was nervous after that anthology that I was maybe outgrowing these MG stories and wouldn't like this book either—but, lo and behold, This Is Our Rainbow was SPECTACULAR (possibly even better than Once Upon an Eid, although that's a tough call), with excellent story after excellent story after excellent story! Before I dive into some mini-reviews of my favorite stories, here's the publisher's description, which handily summarizes some of the stories AND lists off the extreme star power in this book (Lisa Bunker! Molly Knox Ostertag!):
A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true--but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend's mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.
From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aida Salazar, and AJ Sass.
|The back cover, which is every bit|
as good as the front cover! Both
feature all 16 protagonists (if
this article is any indication), but
even after looking up the pride flags,
I still can't figure out the last 5 or 6—
let me know if you do any better!
Intrigued yet? I sure hope so! Like with my review of Once Upon an Eid, I plan to discuss this book using mini-reviews of my favorite short stories. Let's dive in!
- "The Makeover" by Shing Yin Khor: In case you've literally never been to my blog before, I'll inform you that I'm a huge fan of graphic novels. And that unsurprisingly extends to short comics—and there's two of those in this anthology, one of which is "The Makeover!" And it's by Shing Yin Khor, whose National Book Award-finalist graphic novel The Legend of Auntie Po is waiting on my shelves (it might actually be what I read next now that I've read this story!). "The Makeover" is a short, delightfully uplifting comic starring Jes, a nonbinary kid expecting to be totally alone at their new school when, suddenly, a group of "spiky and cute" LGBTQ+ students called the Porcupines take them under their wing—and for a makeover! Now, I was bracing for a change-everything-about-yourself-to-fit-in kind of makeover, but this makeover is about Jes discovering and expressing themself exactly as they want to. Clothes are such a ridiculously gendered part of society, and seeing Jes (with the help of their friends) learning to wear what they feel best in, regardless of if it tempts people to assume their gender, is so heartwarming. And I also loved that Jes doesn't know everything about themself and what they want to wear at first glance—they have to try things on (metaphorically and literally) and figure themself out as they go, which I think is true for literally any human on this earth trying to make sense of who they are. There's plenty of that youth-of-today spunk to make this a fun read for any age, but there's also a profoundness to this comic that made it one of my favorite stories in the book!
- "Paper Planes" by Claribel A. Ortega: As I read this anthology, my favorite short stories kept fluctuating—I'd see a great one, but then I'd keep going and the others would be so good it would fall off my radar! But this story, just #4 in the book, still stands out as one of my favorites. With parents whose Spanish is much better than their English and bill collectors sending stressful letters all the time, it's up to Flor to send letters back on behalf of her family—and she sends them in quite the unconventional manner... When someone with glamorous clothes and furniture moves into the apartment across the window from Flor's, she gets a hunch that this person might have answers for her...including whether it's OK for her to have a crush on another girl. I truly adored this story! I cared so much about Flor and was so frustrated that she had to act so mature and care for her family just because of their circumstances. And readers also get a sense of how difficult it is to deal with your identity when you have no one to talk to about it—if it wasn't for Flor's new neighbor, she'd be grappling with her crush all in her head, an overheard conversation keeping her from being ready to share with her family. Imagine caring so much for a family you can't even trust to care for you back—it's heartbreaking, and Flor shouldn't have to rise to such heights, but she does. But thankfully, there's the neighbor—and I won't give away all the details, but suffice it to say that she's a truly wonderful ally to Flor, and Flor is able to be a wonderful ally to her in return. The theme of two characters accepting each other by also accepting themselves is such a powerful one. Ortega's wonderful writing further cements this story as a meaningful one with a protagonist who stays with you.
- "Petra & Pearl" by Lisa Bunker: Lisa Bunker has captured my heart twice now with her iconic MG novels Felix Yz and Zenobia July, both stories of LGBTQ+ kids with good hearts, the gentlest touch of snark (it's never mean, just slightly exasperated with the world—and aren't we all), and plenty of other wonderful LGBTQ+ individuals to learn from. And now she's done her thing yet again with this short story! When our protagonist makes a friend in Pearl through writing fanfiction online, the two kids find themselves conveniently discussing the transgender characters they write, and being transgender in general. And it's a good thing they've found friends in each other, because our protagonist is dealing with bullies and adults who exemplify the worst of gender norms for men, and Pearl is dealing with an alarmingly unaccepting family that hopefully won't find out she's trans... When things go awry (as they do), it's up to our protagonist to be there for Pearl, but Pearl might just be what our protagonist needs to...well, I'll let you see what happens. In a book about accepting and celebrating LGBTQ+ identities, it's hard to cram in discussion of what happens when families aren't accepting, but Bunker threads a delicate line between depicting the hardship that LGBTQ+ kids can go through and still making clear that their identities are oh-so valid and worth expressing! It's also so important for kids and adults alike to see how their be-a-man mentalities (which I've yelled about in posts like this one and this one) keep kids from expressing their feelings and identities and being well-adjusted people! There's a horrible quote from a moment of bullying that stuck with me: "I looked over at Mr. Sullivan, and he just looked back at me like, 'I'm not going to help you at all.'" It's sickening, but important to hear about. And on a lighter note, the voice in this story is every bit as endearing and quick-witted as in Felix Yz and Zenobia July, making it a story that kids will click with as much as the older readers who also need to hear this stuff!
- "Devoyn's Pod" by Mariama J. Lockington: I've never read anything by Mariama J. Lockington before, but after reading this short story of hers, I just might have to! This story revolves around Devoyn Parker, or Dev for short, who is looking forward to spending time with her friends Ella (or El for short) and Marcel over the summer. They've been so close for years, she calls them her "pod" (the term for a group of whales that stick together—Dev wants to be a marine biologist, so we get plenty of undersea facts that cleverly connect to the events of the story itself). But this summer, things might be a little different—crushes (and even dating) within the friend group make things super-complicated, especially as Dev realizes that her feelings about El might be more than just friendly feelings... And it also doesn't help that Dev's mom is away quite frequently for her job as a flight attendant. But with the help of her Nana Billie, Dev starts to realize that her friendships (and her summer) might not be over after all...and her identity might be perfectly valid too. I absolutely adored this story—first of all, Dev is such a delightful protagonist, with a defined voice and plenty of relatable middle-grade feelings, as well as interests in marine life (and in her position helping the other kids at her marine biology camp) that flesh her out into a fascinating character. It's also wonderful to see racial diversity in this anthology too, and this story is a major contributor. Dev is Black, and it plays into her attitudes and how she expresses herself in a variety of ways—as one example, her love of marine life extends to a love of swimming and the pool too, and before she swims, she has a profound inner monologue about how Black people were excluded from pools and thus from swimming in the time of segregation. Nana Billie is a wonderful character as well who has such a meaningful impact on Dev, and Lockington's descriptive yet readable writing style means that all of the depth in this story is conveyed clearly and impactfully!
- "The Golem and the Mapmaker" by Molly Knox Ostertag: Molly Knox Ostertag is one of my best author discoveries of 2021—this year, I've had the chance to read her MG graphic novel trilogy (The Witch Boy, The Hidden Witch, and The Midwinter Witch) as well as her YA graphic novel The Girl From the Sea! And they've all been totally, utterly fantastic, so I was pumped to see that she has a short comic in this anthology as well. In "The Golem and the Mapmaker," a golem makes a trek through the forest to find the princess and escort her to her wedding with the Emperor (who the golem is bound to be a servant of). The golem is happy to be fulfilling the Emperor's wishes, and the princess is happy to be marrying the Emperor, and the golem and the princess totally aren't falling in love along the way... You can read between the lines. It's sort of astounding how Ostertag tells such a compelling and squee-worthy romance in such a comically short amount of time (get it? comic-ally?). The story is told from the perspective of the golem, who gradually opens up to the idea of love in a way that many LGBTQ+ individuals gradually open up to the idea of who they love too. Ostertag's art is action-packed and expressive—because it's in black-and-white, it's ever-so-slightly harder to follow, but you can figure it out with just a few seconds of attention. What I think is most wonderful about this story is that it's not about MG-age characters, so MG readers get to feel like they're reading this elusive, mature story—but it's perfectly appropriate for MG readers, so parents or teachers don't need to worry either! This story is totally different from the other comic in this book ("The Makeover"), and really from all of the other stories in this book, but that's not a bad thing at all—it helps this story stand out as one of my favorites!
- "Splinter & Ash" by Marieke Nijkamp: Wow—I'm impressed that you've almost made it to the end of this wall-of-text that I call a book review! This is the last mini-review that I have the time to cram in (or that you have the time to read), but it's a great one. Splinter lives in the town of Haven, a town of knights, royalty, corrupt politicians (including Splinter's awful uncle, who wants to send them to a convent because they won't act like a "proper lady"), and plenty of expectations. Splinter just wants to become a knight (and to go by the name and pronouns they want to go by), but it's not looking like that's going to happen. But when there's a chance for Splinter, with the help of a friend, to wear what they want to wear at a masked ball, they find themselves in the company of Ash, a mysterious character who just might hold the key to Splinter's dreams coming true. This story comes in the second half of the book, along with some other less-contemporary, more fantasy/fairy-tale kinds of stories, and it's wonderful to see LGBTQ+ representation in those contexts where it tends to appear least of all. Splinter is a delightful, headstrong character who's easy to root for—the opening passage of the story sums up their lot in life so well, and so amusingly, that I would include it here if it wasn't several paragraphs! There's a ton of backstory for the city of Haven that is alluded to or included in the story, and it definitely leaves you wanting more—I feel like this story could be expanded into a book set in this world. Ash is an excellent character as well, although I won't give too much away—I will mention that Ash uses a crutch but defies stereotypes of disabled individuals, and that seems to be a theme in Nijkamp's work (I actually have an anthology edited by them specifically about disabled teens). Nijkamp's descriptive, enjoyable writing style brings this story to life and makes it one of my favorites!
- And just a quick note—there are SO MANY other stories in this book I wanted to comment on but didn't have time to, so don't go into the book thinking there are only 6 good stories—I literally enjoyed all 16 stories in this anthology!