The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes

Title: The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School
Author: Sonora Reyes
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Publisher: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Release Date: May 17th 2022

TW: homophobia, racism, deportation, suicide ideation, institutionalization of a character

      “Sixteen-year-old Yamilet Flores prefers to be known for her killer eyeliner, not for being one of the only Mexican kids at her new, mostly white, very rich Catholic school. But at least here no one knows she’s gay, and Yami intends to keep it that way.
      After being outed by her crush and ex-best friend before transferring to Slayton Catholic, Yami has new priorities: keep her brother out of trouble, make her mom proud, and, most importantly, don’t fall in love. Granted, she’s never been great at any of those things, but that’s a problem for Future Yami.
      The thing is, it’s hard to fake being straight when Bo, the only openly queer girl at school, is so annoyingly perfect. And smart. And talented. And cute. So cute. Either way, Yami isn’t going to make the same mistake again. If word got back to her mom, she could face a lot worse than rejection. So she’ll have to start asking, WWSGD: What would a straight girl do?
      Told in a captivating voice that is by turns hilarious, vulnerable, and searingly honest, The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School explores the joys and heartaches of living your full truth out loud.”

Sonora Reyes’s The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School chronicles the conflict Yami, a Mexican-American queer teen, feels when she is forced to keep an important part of herself hidden in order to protect herself from a bigoted world. Yamilet Flores is determined to reinvent herself at Slayton Catholic School. After being rejected and outed by her ex-bestfriend, Yami is looking for a fresh start. Her life is already complicated enough with her father stuck in Mexico and her mother always on her case about looking after her younger brother, who is prone to getting into trouble. Pretending to be straight is just something else she has to put on her shoulders. But then she meets Bo, who is the only gay girl out at her new school. Independent, unapologetic, and outspoken, Bo is magnetizing. The closer Yami grows to Bo, the harder it becomes to stay in the closet, especially when she starts catching feelings for her.

The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School explores queerness, religion, and the guilt that often follows those raised in a conservative church setting. Yami isn’t ashamed of who she is, but that doesn’t mean she is immune to the barrage of voices telling her she’s sinful and that God made her a lesbian just to send her to hell as a result. It doesn’t help that these views are often echoed by her mother. Like many queer teens, Yami has to factor in the potential negative reaction of her parents to her coming out. She has to prepare herself for the worst, both emotionally and financially. The book also addresses the toll this decision takes on teens’ mental health, whose options are limited when they are so reliant on the adults in their lives. Reyes captures emotion so well in this debut and as a reader, you feel every heartbreak, every moment of disappointment, and every moment of longing the characters have for the simple privilege of being themselves.

Yami is angry and frustrated with her life, but she doesn’t have the luxury of sharing these feelings openly. She knows she can’t be her full self, no matter how much she might want to. She’s weighed down by this and the knowledge that if she were to come out, her mother is likely to kick her out. Slayton Catholic turns out to be an exhausting experience. Between the microaggressions from her peers and the homophobia from school staff, Yami feels like she is barely hanging on. But Bo and her friends offer her refuge that isn’t used to. They make her feel like she could be herself, that it’s possible for her to come out and not be rejected by everyone around her. Yami is particularly drawn to Bo, her fierce independence, and how she is unapologetically herself. I really appreciated that Bo wasn’t just a love interest, but had her own issues she had to deal with herself.

Yami loves her family, but they are a constant point of frustration for her. As the older sister, she is expected to keep a close eye on her brother, Cesar, who is incredibly intelligent but who hasn’t learned how to keep himself out of trouble. Sometimes it feels like the only thing her and her mother talk about is her brother. Yami’s wants and needs are constantly taking a backseat. Yami is much closer to her father, but his deportation has made it impossible for them to ever be together again as a family. Having a parent-shaped hole in her life isn’t easy, especially when it feels like he is the only one who hears and sees her. I loved Yami’s relationship with her brother. Despite their differing dynamics with both of their parents, it’s easy to see how much they love each other. The moments they get to be honest with one another without fear of judgement were some of my favorite scenes in the novel.

Sonora Reyes’s The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School is at times heartbreaking, but also hopeful and healing; a stellar debut that celebrated queerness and acceptance.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann

Title: The Romantic Agenda
Author: Claire Kann
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April 12th 2022

TW: acephobia

      “Joy is in love with Malcolm.
      But Malcolm really likes Summer.
      Summer is in love with love.
      And Fox is Summer’s ex-boyfriend.

      Thirty, flirty, and asexual Joy is secretly in love with her best friend Malcolm, but she’s never been brave enough to say so. When he unexpectedly announces that he’s met the love of his life—and no, it’s not Joy—she’s heartbroken. Malcolm invites her on a weekend getaway, and Joy decides it’s her last chance to show him exactly what he’s overlooking. But maybe Joy is the one missing something…or someone…and his name is Fox.
      Fox sees a kindred spirit in Joy—and decides to help her. He proposes they pretend to fall for each other on the weekend trip to make Malcolm jealous. But spending time with Fox shows Joy what it’s like to not be the third wheel, and there’s no mistaking the way he makes her feel. Could Fox be the romantic partner she’s always deserved?”

The Romantic Agenda, Claire Kann’s adult romance debut, is an absolute delight infused with both humor and hard lessons. Joy has been in love with her best friend, Malcolm, since they met in college. After years of unrequited love, Joy is finally ready to tell him how she really feels. Then he mentions Summer, who he swears may be the One. Torn between wanting to be supportive and getting her own shot at Malcolm’s heart, Joy agrees to accompany him, Summer, and Summer’s friend, Fox, on a weekend trip, where she is tasked with keeping the latter company. When Fox proposes that Joy and he pretend to start dating, it’s a win-win for them both. Malcolm will finally realize his true feelings for Joy and Fox will prevent Summer from ending up in another failed relationship. It’s a solid plan right up until Joy finds herself no longer pretending to like Fox’s company. When her interference begins to sow negative feelings between her and Malcolm, Joy is forced to confront some hard truths about their relationship.

Joy is charming and clever, who is always ready with a quick retort. She can be snarky and maybe a little petty, but is attentive and loving as well. She is also Black and asexual; these identities inform how she moves about the world. She is never not conscious of how she is seen by others. It doesn’t matter what she does, she is always judged unfairly. As a Black woman, she is overly sexualized and because she’s ace, she is expected to act a certain way and if she doesn’t, she is labeled a tease. Aside from her family, Malcolm has been one of her only constants. Because they are both asexual, Joy has always felt like he is one of the very few who can truly understand her. This mindset helped solidify this idea in her mind that Malcolm is the only one who could fill the part of her who longs for a romantic partner. She hasn’t allowed herself to entertain the idea that there could be someone else out there for her. If she did, she would have to open herself up to more people and that would also mean the possibility that no one else could possibly accept every part of her.

The Romantic Agenda introduces many complicated and messy relationships. Malcolm and Joy’s relationship has caused problems in the former’s romantic relationships before. It’s difficult for someone to look at them and not think there has to be something more than friendship there. In many ways, they are a little too codependent. They’ve spent so many years putting the other first that when someone else is introduced into the equation, this gives them pause. Joy is immediately defensive when it comes to Malcolm’s new love interest. To her, it’s just a matter of time before Summer forces Malcolm to choose between the two of them. Summer wants Malcolm to open up to her the way he does with Joy. All these characters have to figure out which parts of themselves they are willing to let others see and who they owe emotional intimacy to.

Joy’s relationship with Fox slowly begins to open her eyes to all the things she’s kept herself from. Fox and Joy both find the other to be an unexpected surprise. Joy is taken aback by how patient and insightful Fox can be. He comes off as grumpy and disinterested, but he is an incredible listener who always prioritized Joy’s feelings. For Fox, Joy is overwhelming at first. She is a shameless flirt who is always ready for a battle of wits. She is also incredibly thoughtful and her openness makes Fox want to lower his defenses. Their easy-going rapport is entertaining and adorable. I lived for every quick-witted exchange and melted in those quiet moments when they opened up to one another. 

Claire Kann’s The Romantic Agenda radiates charm while also being heartfelt and moving, a  true pleasure from start to finish.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★