Mini-Reviews: Lakelore + My Mechanical Romance

Please excuse these very late reviews. I am currently trying to draft all my reviews, so I’m not in a frenzy trying to put them together. Though I enjoy writing my reviews on various apps and sometimes on paper, when it comes time to draft them, I easily forget where I wrote them.

Title: Lakelore Author: Anna-Marie McLemore Series: N/A Pages: 304 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Release Date: March 8th 2022

TW: transphobia, misgendering, bullying, sexual harassment, ableism

"In this young adult novel by award-winning author Anna-Marie McLemore, two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake - but can they keep their worlds above water intact? Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate. Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide."

In Lakelore, Anna-Maria McLemore takes readers on an unforgettable journey of acceptance and love. Bastián is a transmasculine nonbinary teen with ADHD who has found many ways to deal with their often demanding brain. One such way is making alebrijes and sending them into the world beneath a local lake where they come alive. It is their way of dealing with days when the thoughts in their head become unbearable. Lore is a genderfluid and nonbinary new kid in town. They want very much to leave behind the events that led their family to make the move, but there are some things that will follow you no matter how far you go. As Bastián and Lore grow closer, they discover that something is causing the world under the lake to spill over into the real world. They must reckon with truths about themselves they would rather stay hidden in order to stop it. Both Bastián and Lore have dealt with transphobia and ableism in their lives. But having similar experiences doesn’t mean either are quite ready to share their wounds with the other. Bastián immediately finds a connection with Lore not just because they are both trans, but because they both have disabilities that make them navigate the world differently. For Bastián, it’s their ADHD, for Lore, it’s their dyslexia. McLemore always treats their characters with tenderness and care. One of my favorite things about their writing is how vulnerable they allow their character to be while also allowing them to explore parts of themselves that might hurt to do so. McLemore takes a lot of care walking readers through each of these disabilities and taking the time to explain how both characters struggle with them in a world that doesn’t often make room for them. Anna-Marie McLemore’s Lakelore is a tender novel that highlights both the beauty and fear of being known, of finding someone willing to wait while you peel back your layers, and gives its characters space to make mistakes and stumble.

★ ★ ★ ★

Title: My Mechanical Heart Author: Alexene Farol Follmuth Series: N/A Pages: 272 Publisher: Holiday House Release Date: May 31st 2022 TW: misogyny

"Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn't seem to like her either. Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they've made more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made each other and the team better. Because girls do belong in STEM. In her YA debut, Alexene Farol Follmuth, author of The Atlas Six (under the penname Olivie Blake), explores both the challenges girls of color face in STEM and the vulnerability of first love with unfailing wit and honesty. With an adorable, opposites-attract romance at its center and lines that beg to be read aloud, My Mechanical Romance is swoonworthy perfection."

My Mechanical Romance, Alexene Farol Follmuth’s YA debut contemporary, is a charming contemporary with flawed but lovable characters. Bel Maier doesn’t like thinking about the future. She’s isn’t ready to figure out where to go to college or what to do with the rest of her life. She’d rather live in the now, but when new opportunities arise at her new school, Bel discovers a love for robotics. Teo Luna is the golden boy at Essex Academy for Art, Science, and Technology. He is captain of the soccer and robotics teams with the road to MIT pretty much set in stone. When the unpredictable Bel joins the robotics team, it throws both of their lives into a whirlwind and has them both questioning their futures. My Mechanical Romance features two great lead characters whose flaws make them feel more real. They are both bright and tenacious which also makes you want to root for them. I loved how different Bel and Teo are from one another. Their differences cause a bit of tension in the beginning, but having somebody challenge them is actually a good thing. Both Bel and Teo have a lot to learn and they each bring something to the table that the other needs. Bel lacks direction and Teo pushes her to imagine more for herself. Teo has put an unbelievable amount of pressure on himself and his relationship with Bel gives him a chance to be himself without outside pressure telling him he has to be the best. The novel also explores how difficult it is for girls to navigate male-dominated spaces. Bel and the other female members of the robotics team are often looked down upon, not given enough credit, and have to work twice as hard to get any kind of recognition. I also really loved how much the novel focused on both characters’ familial relationships. These relationships are not always easy and contribute to the way both characters see themselves and their place in the world. Alexene Farol Follmuth’s My Mechanical Romance is a smart romance with off-the-charts chemistry and playful banter between its leads.

★ ★ ★ ★

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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★