The guys kick off with a preview of biographies coming this spring, including books by Harvey Fierstein, Grace Ellis & Hannah Templer, Alexandra Billings, Randy Rainbow, Nyle DiMarco, Rob Kearney & Eric Rosswood, Tom Daley, and Colton Haynes. Will also reviews the V.C. Andrews biography The Woman Beyond the Attic: The V.C. Andrews Story by Andrew Neiderman.
Next it’s a look at upcoming young adult books from authors Erik J. Brown, Steven Salvatore, Julian Winters, Adib Khorram, Kosoko Jackson, F.T. Lukens, Robbie Couch, Shaun David Hutchinson, and Jordan Greene. Jeff also reviews Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes, Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters, and talks about his latest reading in the Superman: Son of Kal-El series.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Equality Texas
- Equality Florida
- Spring Biographies
- I Was Better Last Night by Harvey Fierstein on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Flung Out Of Space: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith by Grace Ellis & Hannah Templer on Amazon | Kobo
- Patricia Highsmith on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- This Time for Me by Alexandra Billings on Amazon
- Playing with Myself by Randy Rainbow on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Deaf Utopia by Nyle DiMarco on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Strong by Rob Kearney, Eric Rosswood & Nidhi Chanani on Amazon
- Coming Up for Air by Tom Daley on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Miss Memory Lane by Colton Haynes on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Biography Review
- Spring Young Adult Releases
- All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- And They Lived… by Steven Salvatore on Amazon | Kobo
- Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore on Amazon | Kobo
- Episode 324 – Creating Pride Book Fest with Jacob Demlow & Steven Salvatore on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Kiss and Tell by Adib Khorram on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Darius the Great series by Adib Khorram on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales & Cale Dietrich on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson on Amazon | Kobo
- Under the Dome by Stephen King on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- So This is Ever After by F.T. Lukens on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Blaine For the Win by Robbie Couch on Amazon | Kobo
- The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Episode 301 – Robbie Couch Mixes Rom-Com and Mystery for “The Sky Blues” on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Howl by Shaun David Hutchinson on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Every Word You Never Said by Jordon Greene on Amazon
- YA Reviews
- Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes on Amazon | Kobo
- Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Running with Lions by Julian Winters on Amazon | Kobo
- Superman: Son of Kal-El series by Tom Taylor on Amazon
- Nightwing #89 by Tom Taylor on Amazon
- Episode 350 – Holiday Movie Matinee: “Dashing in December” on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, not only do we have reviews for you, but we’re also going to take a look at some of the biographies and young adult titles coming your way this spring.
Will: Welcome to Episode 365 of the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast,” the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, Rainbow Romance readers, it’s great to have you back with us.
As always, this podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. If you’d like more information about what we offer to our patrons, simply go to patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Now, before we get into recommendations and reviews, I want to take a moment to talk about something that’s very important to us. We generally try to keep the show a place that’s free of life stress, after all, you certainly don’t need us to tell you how bad it is out there right now. But as we’re talking about young adult books this week, I feel it’s important that we take a moment to acknowledge legislative efforts that are targeting LGBTQ young people, as well as young people of other marginalized communities. The last few months have not been kind to these kids or their parents.
Book bannings are up significantly across the country. A statistic I read just this morning from “The New York Times” reported that according to the American Library Association, there were more than 300 book challenges last fall. That’s a number of the ALA calls unprecedented. These challenges went after books about race, gender, and sexuality, all targeted by conservative groups. It’s been gratifying to see many high school students pushing back to have access to the books, protesting what’s happening in their communities, and even going out to buy banned books for themselves and their friends.
A 17-year-old Florida student, Jack, said to the Times, “As a gay student myself, those books are so critical for youth for feeling there are resources for them.” He also noted that the books that portray heterosexual romances are rarely challenged, and felt the bandings are discriminatory.
We hope you’ll pay attention to what’s happening in your local area, even if you don’t have school-aged children. There’s got to be pushback against these book banning so that young people can read, learn, and form their own opinions, and so that anyone can find themselves represented in the pages of a book.
It’s not just with regard to books that LGBTQ youth are under fire. In Texas, trans youth and their families are being targeted by the state attorney general and the governor who have said that parents should be investigated for child abuse if their teens are undergoing gender-affirming health care. One family was already under investigation when the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal got a temporary restraining order on the law.
Then in Florida, there’s the Don’t Say Gay Bill, which is moving through the Florida legislature with the support of the state’s governor. This bill, which has already passed the Florida House of Representatives, prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity, which might essentially silence an entire community of students. It’s been great to see this past week that students across Florida and the country staging walkouts in protest of this bill.
It makes me equal parts sad and angry to see LGBTQ young people targeted for who they are by hateful adults who happen to be in power. We hope if you live in Texas, or Florida, or any state where legislators are taking up any kind of anti-LGBTQ legislation that you’ll push back against these acts. We’ve made donations to both Equality Texas and Equality Florida to help them lead the fight against these actions in their states. You’ll find links to these organizations in the show notes if you want to lend support.
All right, that’s the end of my soapbox moment. Let’s get into some book talk now.
Will: Yeah, last week, we spent an entire episode talking about some of the great fiction titles coming out in March.
Jeff: Such a good list by TBR still burgeoning from those. So do me some more damage and give me some more books to read because there can never be enough.
Will: So let’s begin by talking about some of the biographies that are coming our way soon, including the recently released, “I Was Better Last Night” by Harvey Fierstein. This is the new memoir from the gravelly-voiced icon activist, and four-time Tony Award-winning actor and playwright. Now, you know, Fierstein has got some stories to tell, because his life and career have run in parallel with key turning points in New York’s theatrical scene and the gay rights movement. This is one title I’m definitely looking forward to.
Jeff: Like you said, he’s got stories to tell. And just, you know, the body of work that he’s amassed with his plays and everything that he’s done, this is going to be an amazing thing to read and most likely listen to him on audio because I think he’ll speak his story so very well.
Will: Coming out on March 15th is “Flung Out of Space: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith” by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templar. This one is unique because it is a fictional biographical graphic novel. And in this the author and artist look at the complicated life of Highsmith and what influenced her to create works that are still being talked about today. If you don’t know, she wrote “The Price of Salt,” the lesbian classic that would later be made into the film “Carol.” She wrote “Strangers on a Train,” which was, of course, made into the Hitchcock classic, and she also created the sociopath anti-hero Tom Ripley whose story began in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” also made into the film of the same name. Now, to be clear, Highsmith herself was a truly despicable person, and in the intro to “Flung Out of Space,” Grace Ellis explains that they’re not trying to excuse her or her actions but are trying to contextualize Highsmith as a person and as an author and the classic stories that she told.
Jeff: First of all, I think this is an amazing title for a book, it just sounds interesting by title alone. I think I’m gonna have to pick this up because I’ve always been fascinated by Patricia Highsmith. Every time…usually when a movie is coming out, either the Ripley movie when it came out, or “Carol,” or every now and then they talk about making more things based on Tom Ripley, and you find out little nuggets about her as they started talking about the movies and the books. She obviously led a very interesting life, even though as you noted, she was a horrible person. To understand her creativity, and some of her motivations, I think, would be fascinating to read maybe, particularly, in this format.
Will: “Flung Out of Space” is releasing on March 15th.
And coming out on April 1st is “This Time for Me” by Alexandra Billings. In this brand new memoir, trans actor and activist Billings gets to tell the story of her personal and professional journey from a time when there were no role models for her to emulate to performing on Broadway. And like Fierstein in the book that I just mentioned, her life and the history of the queer rights movement seem to go hand in hand.
Jeff: I so wish we would have been in New York to see her run in “Wicked.” She recently wrapped up her role that she had pre and post-pandemic playing Madame Morrible. Her Twitter feed is a fiery thing to watch because she does not take crap from anybody. So I think this is going to be a really fascinating book, and I’m excited to learn more about her.
Will: That memoir comes out on April 1st, and on the 19th is the new title from Randy Rainbow. In “Playing with Myself,” the viral internet sensation explains how he went from his humble musical theater nerd beginnings to his current online life as a comedian, singer, songwriter, and social commentator.
Jeff: Randy really seems to do it all. And you know, from his humble beginnings, becoming, you know, kind of the superstar that he is, I’d kind of rather read this just maybe for marketing tips, if nothing else to learn how he did what he did.
Will: Also coming out on April 19th is “Deaf Utopia: A Memoir–And a Love Letter to a Way of Life” by Nyle DiMarco. Now, Nyle, as you may or may not know, is an actor, producer, advocate, and model who won both “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing with the Stars.”
Jeff: What’s the abbreviation when you win enough of those? Because that’s not an EGOT, but there might be some other things there to get eventually.
Will: Now, his book is a celebration of what makes deaf culture unique and beautiful, as well as what it’s been like for Nyle to navigate a world built for hearing people.
Jeff: I got to know Nyle when we watched his season of “Dancing with the Stars” and he was such a magnetic personality who just didn’t let anything stop him from what he wanted to do. I follow him on Instagram, it’s a very inspirational and honestly fun Instagram feed that he’s got. I look forward to reading more of his story.
Will: Coming out later this spring on May 10th is a new children’s book called “Strong” and it’s written by Rob Kearney, Eric Rosswood with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani. Jeff and I have been fans of Rob for a while now. But if you don’t already know, Rob is the world’s first openly gay professional strongman. And this adorably illustrated kid’s book serves as part biography, part introduction to the sport of strongman, and part inspiration for kids to explore ways in which they themselves are uniquely strong.
Jeff: We got an advanced copy of the book, like Will said, it is so ridiculously cute. The opening title page is Rob pulling a fire engine, which if you don’t know strongman competition, there’s always something ginormous that they’re pulling, could be a fire engine, could be a train locomotive, could be a plane, it’s a very cute illustration. And this book really carries such wonderful messages about truly being able to be yourself and how your life can open up when you are able to be yourself. It’s so good. Can’t wait for everybody to see that come out.
Will: “Strong” releases on May 10th.
And coming out just one week later is another sports memoir, this one by Tom Daley called “Coming Up for Air.” And in this one ultimate cutie pie Olympic diver.
Jeff: And knitter.
Will: In this one, Tom talks about competing at an elite level as an out athlete and how married life has changed his perspective on family. The blurb for this one says, “‘Coming Up for Air’ offers an intimate window into the life and mindset of an athlete and advocate who has left an indelible imprint on sports.”
Jeff: I think Tom’s gonna have a very interesting perspective on things because he certainly had an interesting trajectory, having already been an Olympic diver and then coming out and getting together with Dustin Lance Black. And, you know, moving on into the most recent Olympics, depending on how far this book goes into current times. I’m looking forward to this one. I kind of like sports memoirs overall. I’ve read some by gay athletes, I’ve read some by straight athletes, and they’re always an interesting mix, where you really get to learn how they tick as elite athletes and being able to keep the mindset and all that stuff. So looking forward to that one.
Will: Another memoir we want to mention is “Miss Memory Lane” by Colton Haynes, best known for his roles on TV shows like “Teen Wolf” and “Arrow.” This new book looks at the difficulties Colton faced as a teen model and later as a closeted actor. He’s been pretty open about the struggles he’s faced in the past. So I think this book is sure to be a brutal but honest take on what it took for him to go through all of that and come out on the other side stronger and truly himself.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m with you. I’m looking forward to that book for the same reason because he will have a very interesting story to tell about what he went through because when he came out a few years ago, he was certainly in the press a lot with all the various pressures he felt around whether he should come out or not and the impact that had on him, so looking forward to tackling what I think will be a more difficult biography, but it’s still a powerful one nonetheless.
Will: Colton Haynes’ “Miss Memory Lane” is going to be coming out on May 31st.
Review: The Woman Beyond the Attic: The V.C. Andrews Story by Andrew Neiderman
Will: And to wrap up the biographical section of this week’s show, I’m going to talk about a book that I recently read, “The Woman Beyond the Attic, The V.C. Andrews Story” by Andrew Neiderman, and if there’s any author who could tell the complete and unabridged story of Virginia’s life, it’s Neiderman. He’s the guy who’s been writing under the Andrews name since her death in 1986. V.C. Andrews was a fascinating, creative powerhouse and this book tells the complete story of her life, and it also dispels some long-held misconceptions, one of those being the extent of her personal disability back when “Flowers in the Attic” became a runaway bestseller.
There was an article that ran and “People” magazine that painted an incredibly unflattering portrait of her, a withered old crone locked away in a dilapidated mansion, pecking away at a typewriter, writing her controversial family stories. It genuinely pissed her off and made her distrustful of the press for the rest of her career, though she understood that talking to reporters was an important part of the promotion of her books. A lot of times when it came to the questions of her health, she would either downplay or dodge those questions, and sometimes she would even wildly exaggerate just to fuck with them.
Jeff: Good for her.
Will: But this, unfortunately, led to decades of misunderstanding of why Virginia herself spent her adult life in a wheelchair. This book helps clear up any of those lingering questions. It also answers whether any of Virginia’s books were based on personal experience. Primarily, there’s always been great curiosity about the relationship between Virginia and her mother who served as her primary caretaker. This book also makes sure that is understood that while she and her mother had a complicated relationship, her books were, in fact, 100% fiction.
I really love this biography, and I’m glad that the world gets to know a little bit more about this amazing creative woman. If you’re a fan of V.C. Andrews and her books and are a true completest, you’ll most definitely want to pick this book up because it also contains the only incomplete manuscript that before now has gone on published. The book she was working on at the time of her death, called “The Obsessed,” is printed here and its entirety. Unfortunately, just a few short chapters, but still very much indicative of the kind of stories that she loves to tell.
Now, if you’re interested in “The Woman Beyond the Attic” or any of the other biographies on this week’s list, be sure to check out our show notes page at biggayfictionpodcast.com.
Jeff: We will have all the links there for every single thing you could possibly want to click related to what we’re talking about in the show this week.
Young Adult Books Preview
Will: So in addition to some wonderful biographies, there are a ton of great young adult titles coming out this spring, and we wanted to take a moment to talk about a few of them, some that you just might want to add to your TBR.
Coming out on March 8th is “All That’s Left in the World” by Erik J. Brown. And this one, when Andrew and Jamie meet, they decide to navigate the hostile post-apocalyptic landscape together. The road ahead of them is long and to survive, they’ll have to rid themselves of secrets, face the consequences of their actions, and find the courage to fight for the future they want together in this queer YA adventure romance from debut author Brown.
Jeff: Yeah, just give that to me. I mean, the blurb is so simple, but coming together, you know face the adversity of the post-apocalyptic thing, absolutely, bring it on. I’m here for it. I might have already pre ordered it.
Will: I think it’s going to be interesting to see how authors tackle these particular themes. I think dystopian and post-apoc fiction pre-pandemic is going to be a very different thing to anything that’s been written after the last few years that we’ve all experienced.
Jeff: Yeah, I think we tread closer to post-apocalyptic more and more every single day. There could be some interesting differences here, and depending on when this was written, we could start to see some of those changes start to creep into this book.
Will: Erik J. Browns’s debut comes out on March 8th, and on the same day is the new title by Steven Salvatore. It’s called “And They Lived.” College freshmen Chase faces several challenges, the least of which is whether he can pull together his short film for the animation showcase. When he meets Jack, Chase drops everything for the pragmatic poet who’s still discovering sexual identity. If Chase is going to make it through his first semester, he’ll have to learn to love and be enough for himself while discovering what it truly means to live.
Jeff: Steven’s debut last year with “Can’t Take It Away” was really all over the place last summer. You know, we had Steven on the show, and he teased about this one just a little bit. I’m really interested to see this because that first semester at college, you’re kind of feeling your way through a whole bunch of stuff, and then…
Will: It’s a trial by fire.
Jeff: It really is.
Will: It’s a lot of stuff you got to deal with.
Jeff: And a story about a filmmaker and a poet, I mean, that in and of itself sounds delightful. This one’s already on pre-order. And for this one audio too, because Kirt Graves is doing the audiobook. So between the story and Kirt’s narration, it was a must-have.
Will: “And They Lived” is coming out on March 8th.
And coming out on March 15th is “Right Where I Left You” by Julian Winters. Before heading off to college, Isaac plans an epic summer with his best friend Diego. This includes snagging tickets for a huge comic convention and attend his first-ever Teen Pride. Though an unexpected run-in with Davi, his old crush, throws a wrench into their perfect summer plans. As he struggles to make it up to Diego, things with Davi start heating up putting their friendship on thin ice. Isaac assumes he’s upset about missing the convention, but could Diego have other reasons for avoiding Isaac?
Jeff: I can assure you that he does. Everybody, this book’s amazing. And I’ll actually be talking about it with an advanced review coming up later in the show. So just hang on for that.
Will: Coming out on March 22nd is “Kiss & Tell” by Adib Khorram. Hunter is the only gay member of the band Kiss & Tell and everyone expects him to play the perfect queer role model for teens, though Hunter isn’t really sure what being the perfect queer kid even means. When his label finds out about Hunter and Kaivan, the drummer for the band opening for Kiss & Tell, it spells trouble for their relationship, for the perfect gay boy he plays for the cameras, and most importantly, for Hunter himself.
Jeff: Of course, Adib is best known for the “Darius the Great” books. I’m excited to see about this one. Having read “If This Gets Out” about a band dealing with people coming out in its ranks, and liking that book so much, I’m super excited to read another one that kind of deals with the same kind of dynamics.
Will: You can find “Kiss & Tell” online and your favorite bookstore on March 22nd.
On March 29th comes another post-apoc adventure, “Survive the Dome” by Kosoko Jackson. Jamal, an aspiring journalist, packs up his camera and heads to Baltimore to document a rally protesting police brutality. But the city implements a new safety protocol, the dome, no one can get in and no one can get out. Jamal doesn’t know where to turn until he meets hacker Marco, who knows more than he lets on, and Catherine, whose parents helped build the initial plans for the dome. The city is corrupt from the inside out and it’s going to take everything they have to survive.
Jeff: It’s been quite the 2022 for Kosoko, having released the rom-com, “I’m So (Not) Over You,” and now releasing a post-apocalyptic young adult book within a couple months of each other. Way to go, man, that’s awesome. And I really want to read this one. First of all, one of my favorite Stephen King books is “The Dome,” which involves this dome dropping over a city, it wasn’t something the government had done but it was a dome thing. So I’m interested to see this take on the dome. And a journalist and a hacker, I mean, that’s right in my lane. So I’m definitely learning to read that one. And frankly, it’s already in my cloud as an arc. So yeah, that one’s coming up soon for me.
Will: “Survive the Dome” comes out on March 29th.
And on the same day is the new title by F.T. Lukens. This one is called “So This Is Ever After.” After saving the kingdom of Ere from its evil ruler, Arek is stuck as king, a role that comes with a magical catch. Choose a spouse by your 18th birthday, or die. With his birthday just three months away, Arek embarks on a desperate bid to find a spouse to save his life, starting with his former quest companions, but his attempts at wooing his friends go painfully and hilariously wrong until he discovers that love might have been in front of him all along.
Jeff: This is going to date me significantly, but the whole idea of, get the spouse by 18 or die, my brain went immediately to “Logan’s Run.” I don’t know why, it’s a way different tale, but you were gonna die if you were 30. But that’s where my head went when was seeing that. So make of that what you will. I have been wanting to read F.T. Lukens for a very long time. A lot of people have recommended books by F.T. to me, and I haven’t gotten off my butt to do it yet, but this one may finally drag me into it because not only is the cover gorgeous, but this story sounds quite interesting too, to be on that kind of a clock really puts a whole lot of pressure on the entire concept of marriage of convenience sort of thing. The fact that he’s just trying to get his friends to agree to it also kind of cracks me up a little bit because I can see the humor that can happen there.
Will: If this fantasy comedy romance sounds like your type of thing, “So This Is Ever After” comes out on March 29th.
Later this spring comes the new title from Robbie Couch, “Blaine for the Win.” In this one, high school junior Blaine Bowers has it all, the perfect boyfriend, a loving family, and awesome talented friends, except that aforementioned perfect boyfriend breaks up with him on their one-year anniversary.
Will: According to Joey, Blaine is too flighty, too unserious. Determined to prove that he can be exactly what Joey wants, Blaine decides to run for student council president. But is he willing to sacrifice everything he loves about himself to do it?
Jeff: I’ve been looking forward to this one since last year. Robbie Couch’ “The Sky Blues” was one of my very favorite YA novels last year. And seeing how Robbie wrote high school” in “The Sky Blues,” this is going to be extraordinary. I’m really looking forward to this one.
Will: “Blaine for the Win” is going to be coming out on April 12th.
And just a few days later, on the 19th comes the new book “Howl” by Shaun David Hutchinson. When Virgil is attacked by a monster, no one in town believes him. It could have been anything, definitely not some mysterious beast. Being the new kid in a place where everybody knows everybody is hard enough without being the guy who’s afraid of monsters. So Virgil keeps a low profile, except he knows it’s still out there. And if he isn’t careful, the monster will come back to finish them off, or worse, Virgil will become one himself.
Jeff: Just that makes me want to read it because I want to know why this creature is coming after Virgil. What did Virgil do? Why does Virgil smell so good to get somebody to come after him? I don’t know.
Will: He’s just a tasty werewolf snack.
Jeff: Plus it makes me think of “Teen Wolf” and I enjoy “Teen Wolf” so it kind of, you know, brings “Teen Wolf” vibes with it too.
Will: “Howl” by Shaun David Hutchinson is coming out on April 19th.
And to wrap up our list of upcoming spring releases is “Every Word You Never Said” by Jordon Greene. Jacob expected the hate he got from his father when he came out over the summer, but he refuses to let it hold him back. He’s going to paint his nails, dye his hair, and strike a heavy rift on his guitar, even if it means being grounded most of senior year. But when the cute nonverbal transfer student Skylar wears a skirt to school prompting a sexist new dress code proposal. Jacob decides it’s time to take a stand no matter the risk to himself.
Jeff: I have to say that this cover is absolutely gorgeous. This and the F.T. Lukens cover were the covers that really caught my eye off of this list, but this one is just kind of has an ethereal quality to it that I really enjoy. This was also a book on your list that I had not heard of before. Most of these were at least already on my radar somewhere. And this was like, what’s this? Where’d this come from? There’s so many things here that I really want to read that story. So I’m definitely picking this one up.
Will: So those were some of the titles we’re looking forward to this spring.
Young Adult Books Reviews
Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes
Jeff: And now I’m going to talk about some young adult titles that I’ve been reading recently. And I’m going to start off with one that we talked about a couple of episodes ago in one of our previews, “Spin Me Right Round” by David Valdes. This book was so much fun with one of the best character arcs that I’ve seen for a main character in a while. Talk about so much growth for our lead in Luis.
But I will say upfront if you have a hard time suspending your disbelief, which I frankly had no trouble with, this book might not be for you. You see, this is a time travel story, which for me just added to the fun and really helped to drive home a lot of the themes in this book. So here’s how this plays out, Luis is a senior at a religious yet slightly progressive high school. He’s out, he is very out, and there are others in the student body who are out and spread across the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the school won’t let same-sex partners attend prom together. Of course, Luis and others want to be able to attend with the person of their choice. And for Luis, who’s been on the forefront of pushing for change at the school, this is a battle that he’s willing to wage. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get what he wants, which to be honest, he was going about completely wrong, as teenagers sometimes do.
Just as he’s about to seek help from the teacher he thinks can help him the most, he’s accidentally knocked out. When he wakes up, he’s in a field, he does recognize that he’s still on school grounds. It’s like, well, what happened? Turns out, he’s ended up in 1985, literally knocked backward some 35 years. And he’s in the field because the building he was in hasn’t been built yet. It’s a freaky time to be in for sure. His mom and dad are both students at the school and his favorite teacher is in her first year of teaching at the school. It’s also a much more conservative place with rules that will expel a student for being gay. 1985 also happens to be the year that’s been drilled in to Luis’s brain because that’s the year that Chaz Wilson committed suicide, something that hangs over his mom and the school decades later. Once Luis figures out where he is, he uses all of the knowledge he’s gained from time travel movies and books to form a plan. His first idea is to talk to that teacher that he liked so much. She’s been teaching “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” for years. And combine that with some of the things that Luis knows about her, she’s a good place to go, because she eventually buys the idea that Luis is in fact from the future.
Now, the big question here is, has he literally time traveled? Or does he have a concussion? I’m not going to go into that in this review. Part of the thrill along the way is to find out which one of these things that it is, and I’m not about to spoil that for anybody else. I will say the book was incredibly satisfying right through to the ending. Luis is smart, funny, sometimes way too cocky and bratty for his own good, but he’s very self-aware of the pitfalls of time travel too. Like, what happens if he meddles too much and he might, as he puts it, Marty McFly himself right out of his present? What a journey it is for him though, he actually meets Chaz and his parents and has to navigate making friends while trying to fit into the time. Sometimes, of course, it’s hilarious missteps as he makes 2021 references. He also gets an up-close look at what being gay was like in 1985, which really resonated with me because I was a junior for the part of 1985 that this book covers and the author really nails what it was like to be living in those times.
Like any good time traveler, Luis is trying to figure out what to do that will get him back where he belongs. Should he be helping Chaz? Should he be helping his mom? Does he have to make some change at the school? And is there some lesson that he needs to learn? He considers it all, and he pretty much touches on each of those things. Like I said, I love the growth that Luis had realizing that some of the ways that he approached his push for change in his modern-day school wasn’t the best approach, not for him or the friends he was trying to help. Too often, in fact, he was making it all about himself, and what he really wanted, rather than making change for the greater good, he also made some important realizations about the present, particularly how we’re all caught up in our phones too often, and that there’s a lot to be said for living in the moment. This particular moment where he was gathered with a bunch of friends preparing for the prom in 1985 really drove it home for him how they were actually standing there talking about things and not just looking at their phones.
Now, yes, I’ve been vague in a lot of this because I really want you to enjoy Luis’s experience with as little detail from me as I could possibly give you. As you could tell, I completely enjoyed this book, and want you to give it a try. But heads up, it’s not a romance in any way. I will put that out there. Luis already has a boyfriend that he adores so there’s not a romantic plot in this book. You should also know that the audiobook is really great, Anthony Rodriguez does a fantastic job as he voices Luis through many, many emotional states as he lives this time travel experience. I really hope you’ll pick up “Spin Me Right Round” by David Valdes. It’s a great clever story that carries some wonderful messages on fighting for what’s right and working with your friends to do it.
Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters
Now let’s talk about that Julian Winters’ book. Long-time listeners know that I’m a huge fan of Julian’s. Since “Running With Lions” came out in the summer of 2018, I am eager to get the latest from him because he writes some of the very best queer young adult characters. The summers of 2019 and 2020 brought more of his incredible characters into my world. And now after a nearly two-year gap, which felt so very long between Julian Winters stories, I’ve been introduced to Isaac Martin, and Julian has yet again rocked my world with “Right Where I Left You,” which as Will mentioned earlier comes out on March 15th. Julian’s magic happens because he creates such vivid, complex characters, people who could easily be your next-door neighbor. And then he lets you in on what makes them tick. Most importantly, they’re also relatable because with his characters, no matter who they are, we always find a little bit of ourselves in them.
“Right Where I Left You” takes place over a summer. It’s the last one before Isaac and his best friend Diego embark on the next phase of their lives. For Isaac, it’s about going away to college, while Diego is going to take a gap year to see if he can make something out of his love of video games. He really wants to be a game designer. Isaac and Diego are planning an epic summer, which of course, because it has to, goes very, very wrong early in the book. The summer hinges on two events, going to a big comic book convention, where they each have someone that they desperately want to see, and going to their first Pride. Now, getting these tickets to the Con is like trying to get tickets to “Hamilton,” there’s a lottery, a lot of instructions, and if you don’t act fast, you’re gonna lose out, and Isaac messed up big time. He got distracted by a boy, Davi, who’s a hockey player from his school that he knows and is a crush, but has never really given him the time of day before, until that crucial moment before it was time to get those Con tickets.
Isaac is shattered. He wants to see the creators of the Disaster Academy, which is his favorite comic book. And that comic book is actually hinting very slowly over several issues that two of the guys, Charm and Reverb, might actually have feelings for one another. Isaac wants to ask the question on if they’re going to become a couple or not to the creators who are going to be at the convention. For Diego, it’s a chance to meet one of his heroes in the game creation world, and that might help chart his course for his gap year. Of course, Isaac doesn’t immediately say that it was a boy that took his eye off the prize of the Con tickets. And things aren’t exactly right between Isaac and Diego either, especially as the triangle begins to form between Isaac, Diego, and Davi, both in terms of friendships, and possibly more.
Now, there’s a lot of history between Isaac and Diego. They’ve known each other literally forever and been there for each other through just about everything. They’re very unsure of what happens when they start being apart as Isaac leaves town to go to school. They also don’t know how to navigate the disruption that is Davi, plus there are more people starting to come into their friend group and suddenly more people seem to be flocking around Diego. They eventually all call themselves The Six, which is super cute, but all of this is very difficult for Isaac because he is such an introvert. Now, Isaac is really incredible, he’s introverted, he’s geeky, he is super into taking care of the people close to him, while at the same time really amazing at harboring huge grudges. For example, his older brother Iggy and their dad are absolutely not his favorite people. After dad left the family and Iggy seemed to take their dad’s side in all of it, even as their mom was falling apart from the separation. Isaac is very much team mom, as is his sister who in fact is about to make Isaac an uncle. Family is a huge part of this story and Isaac comes to understand so much more about his family dynamics, and what he wasn’t paying attention to while he held that grudge.
In true Julian Winters fashion, his characters grow and learn so much about themselves, which of course all reflects back on the reader, as we might take stock on our own worldview. One of the things that really struck me here is how important the relationship between Charm and Reverb in the comics was to Isaac, and what it was like for him to see himself a queer boy of color in those pages. Isaac wants that relationship to happen with his superhero favorite because he wants a relationship too and he wants to see it in his comics. It’s a very poignant part of the story that’s intensified all the more as Isaac sorts out his relationship to Diego and Davi.
I’ve got to call out Julian’s supporting cast here as well. Diego’s parents are really awesome, even as they navigate his choice about college and not going. Isaac’s family is dysfunctional, but also wonderful as Isaac really sorts out what is happening with all of them. And wow, that friend group, The Six, a diversely incredible group, that is really everything Isaac needed to help him get through the summer and beyond, even if he didn’t realize it when he first met them all. It can be a challenge to have such a large cast and to feel like you know them as a reader, Julian makes that so easy, and frankly, I want more stories about every single one of these people. So there’s a lot of sequels he could write if he wants to.
This book has absolutely everything, and the way things sorted out between Isaac and Davi and Diego was so perfect. I laughed, I cried, frankly, more than a little bit because Julian does that to me. I cheered for Isaac and yet there were also times I wanted to shake him so that he would see what was happening right in front of him. You should absolutely have “Right Where I Left You” on your spring reading list because Julian Winters has delivered excellence once again.
Superman: Son of Kal-El by Tom Taylor
And from a book about a comic book fan to a comic that I’m actually reading right now. Back in December in Episode 350, I talked about “Superman: Son of Kal-El,” which I had started reading because in this series, Superman falls for a guy and kisses him in the fifth issue of the series. I’ve continued on, which is now up to issue eight and also includes an annual where Lex Luthor entered into the story. I continued to love what the “Superman” team, led by Tom Taylor, are doing with this story and how they’re balancing the action with the still budding romance. Superman continues to struggle against the threat posed by the President of Gomorrah, who has essentially built his own superheroes to replace Superman and the Justice League. A recent confrontation with a huge sea creature, which is mistaken for a monster bent on destruction, has really left Superman, also known as Jon Kent, shaken because he’s not sure that he did the right thing with the choices that he made in that situation.
At the same time, Jon is fighting for right even when he’s not Superman as he begins to work alongside his boyfriend. Can we truly call him that at this point? I don’t think they’ve said that to each other, but frankly, I think they’re boyfriends at this point. Jay is actually part of a group and runs a group called the truth. It’s a group whose purpose is to uncover corruption, shine light on things like climate change, fake news, and honestly, all of the sorts of things that might sound exactly like what we’re facing in our real world. And it’s true, as I mentioned in my first review about this back in December, the issues in Superman’s world are very much aligned to what’s happening now for us. That might cause you to think twice about reading it but I find it actually kind of calming here because I know Superman’s got this at least in the world of the comics. Plus, he’s got a boyfriend and I am there for their glances at each other, and they’re kissing, and yes, there’s been more kissing since issue five, it was not a one-time thing. The artists are doing such an amazing job with the looks that they give each other. It’s really just amazing.
I’m also loving the guest cast that keeps showing up. Superman got an assist from Jackson Hyde, who is actually the current Aquaman. Batman’s making appearances alongside other members of the Justice League because Batman, believe it or not, is one of the people helping to look out for Jon while Clark is off-world. We’ve even got a crossover in progress right now. The story went from “Superman” number 8 over to “Nightwing” 89 because John went to talk to Dick Grayson about the events with the sea creature and to get some advice. Seeing the history between Dick and John was so awesome, tracking back to when John was a kid first discovering he had powers. It’s cool how Dick’s story now intersects with John’s and Jay’s as the evil forces of Gomorrah start going after the heroes. I’m super eager for “Superman” number nine, which comes out this week. So if you want some superhero action with a wonderful dose of romance right along with it, I continue to recommend the “Superman: Son of Kal-El” series. It’s really some great storytelling.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read our conversation and reviews for yourself, check out the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. The show notes page has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
And it’s also where you’ll find links to the audiobooks that are available on libro.fm, which includes most of the titles that we’ve been talking about. Libro.fm is where when you buy an audiobook, you’re also supporting a local bookstore of your choice. Listeners of the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast” have the opportunity to get a two-month audiobook membership for the price of one. For details and to take advantage of that offer, it’s a really good one, simply go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
All right, everyone, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next in Episode 366, Ariella Zoelle is going to be joining us and talking about her upcoming book, “Play by Heart.”
Jeff: I love talking with Ariella and finding out about the launch of her upcoming series “Harmony of Hearts,” which takes place inside her Sunnyside universe. That first book, “Played by Heart” took her 17 years to write, and it’s a great story that she got to tell about that. So you’re not going to want to miss it next week.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening. And we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories that we all love, the “Big Gay Fiction” kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.