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Read This Book

A Love Letter to Libraries and the Freedom They Represent

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Kendra Winchester

Contributing Editor

Kendra Winchester is a Contributing Editor for Book Riot where she writes about audiobooks and disability literature. She is also the Founder of Read Appalachia, which celebrates Appalachian literature and writing. Previously, Kendra co-founded and served as Executive Director for Reading Women, a podcast that gained an international following over its six-season run. In her off hours, you can find her writing on her Substack, Winchester Ave, and posting photos of her Corgis on Instagram and Twitter @kdwinchester.

Welcome to Read this Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that needs to jump onto your TBR pile! Sometimes these books are brand new releases that I don’t want you to miss, while others are some of my backlist favorites. This week, we’re talking about a debut young adult novel perfect for Pride Month!

a graphic of the cover of Gay the Pray Away by Natalie Naudus

Gay the Pray Away by Natalie Naudus

Valerie Danners and her family belong to a conservative Christian community. She’s homeschooled as her parents prepare her to one day be a stay-at-home wife and mother. But even with her parents and everyone else in her community telling her what her future will look like, Valerie isn’t so sure. Valerie finds a book at the library that features a love story between two young women. She’s drawn to the story in a way she never knew possible, and Valerie steals the book and hides it at home. This starts a series of events that leads Valerie to realize that she’s bisexual — and she has a crush on the new girl at church.

Naudus’s debut is partially inspired by her experience growing up in a conservative Christian cult (think Shiny Happy People). This gives Gay the Pray Away an authentic feel, brimming with tiny details that ring true to folks who come from a similar background. Valerie must abide by strict rules, like wearing very modest clothing and listening only to approved (mostly religious) music, but — above all else — she must never question her parents. Valerie loves her parents, and they love her, but is their love strong enough to put her above their strict beliefs?

Gay the Pray Away is a love letter to libraries and the freedom they represent for their patrons. A helpful librarian looks the other way as Valerie steals her first queer book, and later he recommends queer books with generic-looking covers so her parents won’t find out what she’s reading. Without the books she reads at the library, she might never have been able to imagine a different future for herself.

Natalie Naudus is an award-winning audiobook narrator, so it’s no wonder that her performance of Gay the Pray Away is a masterclass in young adult audiobook narration. Naudus’s voice embodies Valerie’s anxiety as she tries to be as perfect as possible for her parents. With every pause, with every line of dialogue, Naudus captures the novel’s complex characters and brings to life Valerie’s inner world as she struggles to carve out a place for her to be her authentic self outside of her parents’ stifling and limited vision for her future.

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