Sometimes I get really sad that I can’t hang out with certain people. For instance, I’m utterly convinced that Jennifer Lawrence, Zachary Quinto, and I would be unstoppably awesome friends. My life would’ve been immeasurably better if Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Nicks, and Kate Bush had been my trio of magical godmothers.
I get especially sad when the person I can’t hang out with is Libba Bray. I love her so much it’s probably come across a little creepy at times on Twitter. If nerd-marriage were a thing, I’d totally want to make it happen with her. Less hyperbolically, I’d just like to have tea or coffee or pie (or all three!) with her and talk about writing and life.
When friends want good historical fiction they can get lost in, it is in her direction I lead them, enthusiastically, by the hand so they don’t get distracted. That’s where I’ll begin this reading pathway, with a YA series any lover of historical fantasy should be reading right now.
First of all, those titles, each from a different Greatest Poem of All Time, made my lit-major heart flutter. The books take place in a magic-filled Victorian England. There’s romance, but mostly there’s power and mystery, friendships and rivalries, madness, opium, and a complicated family situation. I liked the first one, loved the second, and felt empty when I finished the third. That, friends, is (to this gal) the mark of a fabulous series. Gemma is strong, smart, and witty, but she’s also flawed. Her friends are equally as compelling, sometimes more so. The loss of her mother, the powers she doesn’t understand, and her father’s deteriorating state reveal her vulnerabilities and make her susceptible to misplacing her trust. My favorite thing about the series might just be the way it ends, though I never wanted it to, on a bittersweet and hopeful note.
If leaving Gemma and company leaves you longing for more girl power, pick up Beauty Queens next. It’s a hilarious and badass feminist tome (that should be taught in schools to both boys and girls by, I don’t know, seventh or eighth grade) with dashes of Lost, Survivor, and Toddlers & Tiaras. Its cover would only be more amazing if the poor model had a head. There is literally no way to do justice to this book’s awesomeness. Just read it. If you are already a card-carrying feminist, you’ll feel empowered. If you’re hesitant to use the word “feminist,” it might empower you to do so. And if you’re a man looking to understand why so many women complain all the time, jeez about ridiculous beauty standards, well, here you go.
If you need a break from the girl power but want to stay in the offbeat realm, read this. It’s about a teenage boy with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of so-called mad cow disease. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions about it: I had just read a piece somewhere about how mad cow disease might be capable of setting off a zombie apocalypse, so I had zombies on the brain when I picked it up. Needless to say, I was much happier with what I actually found: a road trip, a sentient lawn gnome with an unexpected identity, an angel with graffitied wings, and a hilarious buddy comedy. A complete departure from Gemma and in no way a set-up for Beauty Queens.
The only reason I didn’t put The Diviners right after Gemma is because the longer you wait to read it, the less time you’ll spend dying of anticipation for the next in the series. Flappers and ghost stories, rakes and murder mysteries. I can’t wait for book two.
Bray is so good. Though her works all seem—and are—very different, they share two common threads: writing that moves effortlessly from snarky to soul-crushing and back again, and a super loving attitude toward LGBT issues.
Louder this time: LIBBA BRAY, I LOVE YOU.
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