I read two radically different books this weekend. The first was Kings, Queens and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteiu and the second, Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech. If you know Sharon Creech, even her “edgy books” are tame. Especially tame compared to drag queens and kings.
And there are kings, queens, and in-betweens galore in the book of the same name. Boteiu has characters that flow naturally even if some of them tend to be a bit of a cliché. But it works. This is a book that does not force the sexuality of the characters on the reader, even though one a woman who is a queen in every sense of the word except for being “legal” royalty. There is some exploring of overall of sexuality (one person is questioning their “not fitting their body,” while another is curious and kisses a girl, and another is a male who is a drag queen super-star, but likes girls). It is natural that our narrator Nima is a lesbian. That her friends are not gay. That is small town life for you. And Nima is mostly okay with her understanding of who she is. Her father is an “old hippie” who unironically wears muumuus occasionally for sheer comfort. She had a loving homelife and support system (even if she was unaware of it). And even a year-and-half after her mother’s leaving the family, Nima is doing well. No drugs or heavy booze (though there is a lot of drinking by underaged teens). She is not into destructive behaviors. She does not have to “come out” to herself. She just worries like her friends do. Have crushes. She wonders if she is “boring” and how to change that. And the results are funny, sad, and relatable. (While never having barfed in a hot tub, I know the “odd duck out” at a party.)
Overall, this is a smooth novel; easy to read and to like. I was not OMG BEST BOOK EVER but did find the “teen almost beach read” tone comforting. There is little in the “BOOM ACTION,” but the mental action works as characters do things and live. They get embarrassed, metaphorically fall on their faces, ride roller coasters, eat fair food, and try on pants in secondhand stores. They get kissed, use port-a-potties, and try drag for the first time. The drag aspect of the story is almost secondary, but at the same time important to the flow and the “getting okay in your skin” aspect of the theme.
If I have any complaints, I did not like three components, but at same time it works for who is doing them (no spoilers but deals with the cliched nature of one person and the drinking aspects). My biggest complaint is that I felt the story with Nima’s mom was not completely needed or should have taken that route. But that is just my opinion, and you might think otherwise. Ages at least 13 and up would be the best audience.