Gosh, gosh, gosh! This book, LC’s writing reminds me how reading a queer book by a queer author really does hit differently, in the best ways.
Tennessee Russo is a teen who’s been going on adventures with his dad to find ancient artifacts for his dad’s tv show since his bar mitzvah, but at fifteen he starts to see the way his dad sells the artifacts as unethical, which results in a fight where his dad abandons him in Japan. Two years later, Ten has just learned his boyfriend had been cheating on him and their whole friend group knew, but because they’re Good Upstanding Queers David doesn’t want Ten to cause any drama and everything to continue like it had. Ten’s response is to make out with one of the guys at the “bad” queer table and blocking David’s number. This also causes him to think more about how Good Upstanding Queers are just adhering to respectability politics and trying to be like “everyone else” maybe shouldn’t be the goal, but instead the goal should be celebrating how our queerness makes us unique and special.
When Ten gets home, he finds his dad who he hasn’t seen or heard from since Japan, and he wants to take Ten on a new adventure – to find the Sacred Band of Thebes, the (maybe magical) rings worn by the army of Thebes comprised of 150 queer couples. Tennessee is hesitant because this is a quest he’s wanted for so long, to show queer history and significance and power, especially as so much of queer history is in a constant state of being erased or straight-washed. But he’s got a lot of complicated feelings around his dad, and he’s not sure how to navigate those feelings and go on this new adventure with the hurt he still holds after being abandoned. But the allure of finding these rings, this history that is partially his own, is too great an opportunity, and he is quickly off the Greece. What follows is adventure and puzzles, but also emotional development and the ways community strengthens us.
This is truly a spectacular story and I cannot wait to read more of Tennessee Russo’s adventures. The Band of Thebes was a real army of men romantically bonded, and I love that this book helps bring that part of history more mainstream in that it is made accessible via fiction. I especially loved the discussions around queer history and how multifaceted it is, while also discussing the ways that history is often hidden or erased or ignored because to so many queerness is a new idea, so there’s no way it existed millennia ago. And yes, queerness today looks different than it would have thousands of years ago, but it looks different than it did even just five years ago because queerness is an experience, a community influenced by so many things, which is also why the language is constantly changing and shifting to be more inclusive and welcoming.
The other element of Lion’s Legacy I really enjoyed is challenging the ideas of what being a good gay person looks like. Tennessee from early on talks about feeling connected to all the queer people in The Village, from the grumpy drag queen to the butches in like for movies. But at school he’s become part of the Good Upstanding Queers by way of dating David, who always took him in nice dates and they did nice things together, but it was still assimilatory and heteronormative because the goal was to fit in, which was not was Ten was necessarily seeing from the queer people he passed on the street. Breaking up gives Ten an opportunity to explore his own queerness and what he wants that to look like for himself – including having sex with someone he’s just met and making connections and exploring his identity outside monogamy. This, I believe, is so important to see for teens because of the ways queerness is inherently vilified and sexualized without the nuance of how refusing to try fitting into heteronormative ideals is a resistance. We survive by showing queer people can be and are happy after 30, that our relationships don’t have to model husband-wife-two-point-five-kids ideal that is so often shown as the only acceptable way to be happy. And this book challenges that narrative and shows a queer teen having adventure, finding love, building community, and most importantly showing queer people have a history prior to Stonewall. I am so glad this book exists, and it gives me a lot of feelings, and I cannot wait to see what will be next for Tennessee (and what Lev AC Rosen will write next!)