All Out by Various
Listen, I’ve been anticipating this anthology for months now, but this was so much better than I expected – I want to put this down as the best anthology I have ever read, and the ratings support that. Of the seventeen stories in this book, I gave nine five stars [holy shit], three four stars, three three stars, and only two two stars, for my highest rating ever – an average rating of 4.12. This is a true anthology. All other anthologies can leave.
So what is this book? All Out is a collection of historical fiction featuring queer characters being put back into their narratives. Most is romance between girls [relevant to my interests], feat. a few romances between guys, one [or arguably two] couple of stories that lack romance, and two stories with m/f romance where one character is queer. A lot of these are very speculative-fiction esque, which I found surprising but a lot of fun! And most of all, what this meant to me is something I discussed in my Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue review – this is historical fiction about people who don’t get historical fiction. People love to declaim about how the historical fiction genre doesn’t need diversity because, apparently, the only people who existed “back then” were white, straight, and abled. But unfortunately for those who don’t like it, people like us have always existed. Seeing representation like this in historical fiction is seriously new and it means the fucking WORLD to me.
the standout stories to please please read:
✔Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
✔Burnt Umber by Mackenzi Lee
✔Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler
✔Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake
✔The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe
✔Walking After Midnight by Kody Keplinger
✔Three Witches by Tessa Gratton
✔The Inferno & the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson
✔Healing Rosa by Tehlor Kay Mejia.
in terms of location, diversity, and timing: Waaaaaay too much of this is recent historical fiction that isn’t really historical enough – a few could’ve been set today and I wouldn’t know. Way too much set in America or Europe. As in, everything is in America or Europe. Boring. Could do with a lot more racial diversity. [I KNOW IT’S HISTORICAL FICTION BUT LIKE… IF WE’RE PUTTING QUEER PEOPLE BACK INTO THEIR NARRATIVES WE CAN DO THE SAME WITH PEOPLE OF COLOR, THANKS] I would’ve also liked more trans MCs? Two is great, but more would’ve been better. Also maaaaaaybe a couple more visibly bi or visibly gay MCs, because I feel like a lot of these characters are indeterminate sexuality! Which is awesome because mood and normalizing lack of labels, but also it would be cool to have a few characters who are perceptibly different identities even if they don’t have a label?
→ Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore ← ★★★★★
✔ 1870 Mexico | mf, trans mc, latinx mcs
An bruja tries to break her trans lover, León, out of prison. God. Okay. I’m going to make my thesis statement about Anna Marie McLemore’s work and the theme of an evil or cursed family, because she plays with that concept A LOT and it’s great every time. There’s also a short author’s note and I kind of adore the inspo for this story. I don’t even know, this woman just knows how to fucking write.
→ The Sweet Trade by Natalie C. Parker ← ★★★☆☆
✔ 1717 VA | wlw
Runaway bride Clara meets a girl named Pearl and they fall in love and have pirate adventures together. This was sweet, first of all, and had a good concept, but I just didn’t connect that much. When you don’t really connect to the characters it can be hard to really love the story.
→ And They Don’t Kiss At the End by Nilah Magruder ← ★★★☆☆
✔ 1976 MD | mf, a-spec mc, black mc
Black and ace Dee tries to figure out her relationship with local cute guy Vince. Liked this a little more than the last story, thought it was sweet – and then oh, it’s also really short? It’s not even the length, I just didn’t feel this went very far in terms of developing Dee’s arc, because it ended right after she got a chance to realize only holding hands for now was okay. Definitely on the positive side of a three, though. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE the title.
→ Burnt Umber by Mackenzi Lee ← ★★★★★
✔ 1638 Amsterdam | mlm
Painter Constantijn is much more talented at painting nude bodies than his fellow apprentices – until he’s asked to draw the guy he’s got a crush on. This was just… really cute. I really love Mackenzi Lee’s sense of humor and I laughed at this a lot.
→ The Dresser & The Chambermaid by Robin Talley ← ★★★★☆
✔ 1726 Kensington Palace | wlw
Dresser Mary and chambermaid Susannah bond over serving royalty… and then maybe more than bond. This was sweet and that’s basically my entire thought? I liked how normalized queerness was in the historical context. Didn’t think the characters were very well developed, but this worked in a story mostly about the relationship.
→ New Year by Malinda Lo ← ★★★★☆
✔ 1955 San Francisco | romance-free, sapphic mc, chinese-american mc
Chinese lesbian Lily tries to figure out her identity at the turn of the century. This was all over in the place but in a good way. This is one of the few stories that is not really a romance, and I have to admit I sort of wished there was one – I KNOW, I KNOW, but missed expectations are a thing. But points for the excellent historical elements around the San Francisco queer scene and the rocket scientist computers [yall should watch Hidden Figures to find out more]. Also, I liked Lily a lot as a character. Petition for more historical fiction by Malinda Lo.
→ Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler ← ★★★★★
✔ 1994 Seattle | wlw
This was my FAVORITE. I don’t even understand why but for some reason I started tearing up at this? Molly and Annabelle go to a memorial for Kurt Cobain’s death and… things occur. This is a deeply adorable story that is also obviously very deeply heartfelt for the author, and I love it. I don’t even know anything about Nirvana besides, like, one song, but I love this.
→ The Coven by Kate Scelsa ← ★★★☆☆
✔ 1920s Paris | wlw
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are witches who help girls get their lives back, apparently. and they help Dean to clear her mind of depression and get Vivie, her best friend and the girl of her dreams. I don’t know, man, I liked the writing style, but had no feelings.
→ Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake ← ★★★★★
✔ 1300s England | mlm, trans mc, qpoc cast
Okay, this story is Robin Hood, except it’s sort of a story about being yourself in the environment you can be – which is a great retelling concept – and Robin is trans and dating Will. I don’t think I’m the same person as I was before I read this story. This… listen, I have only once in my life been so completely destroyed by a short story. I CRIED at the end of this. In a good and bad way. I’m so deeply upset. Also, writing porn. There were like two descriptions of the people of color in the gang I was kind of iffy on – I think they were in for historical accuracy but also why? But this was…………… oh my god.
→ Willows by Scott Tracey ← ★★☆☆☆
✔ 1732 Massachusetts | mlm, possibly-enby mc
I’d review this, except I have no idea what the hell was going on? It’s a story about a boy who has been several people in the past [lacking in gender, which is cool, but also a process that is not really explained or clarified] and then… runs off with his boyfriend. I don’t know what this was about or what the ending means and the story structure is fuckin weird. Good writing, though.
→ The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe ← ★★★★★
✔ 1839 Northern CA | wlw
This was BEAUTIFUL. Human Ella meets a wood spirit, Oria, through her dog, and then they fall in love. And it’s really sweet and creative. I’m still super into rational MCs in bad situations, and Ella’s narrative voice was really great. Also I’m a complete slut for vaguely creepy spirits and aestheticy forest descriptions porn!
→ The Secret Life of a Teenage Boy by Alex Sanchez ← ★★☆☆☆
✔ 1969 VA | for-development romance, mlm mc, cuban MC
A teenage boy meets an older guy on his way to New York. Not to be this person, but honestly, the age gap was just too much for me. I’m seventeen and I should not be dating a twenty-year-old, much less a person a year younger than I am. The ridiculous amount of talk about kidnapping just makes it worse. Jesus, y’all. Points for a supportive family and a kind of sexuality crisis narrative, but that’s not really what I wanted out of this anthology – ya girl just wanted love stories for once. I’m so sorry.
→ Walking After Midnight by Kody Keplinger ← ★★★★★
✔ 1952 NY | wlw, a-spec MC
Awww, I love this. It’s about Betsey, a child actress on the way to New York for a play and a new future, and Laura, a girl she meets on the way. This story made me feel really deep about The Future and The Possibilities Of Tomorrow and I don’t even know, it just made me really happy?
→ The End of the World As We Know It by Sara Farizan ← ★★★★☆
✔ 1999 Boston | wlw, Turkish mc
Turkish Ezgi meets an old friend, Katie, on the New Year’s eve of the millennium. Loved the detailed bits about 1999, which were missing from a lot of the recent-history stories. The story was kind of just good for me, though? It didn’t really impact me as much as I’d hoped; I just finished with a sense of basic happiness.
→ Three Witches by Tessa Gratton ← ★★★★★
✔ 1519 Castile [Spain] | wlw
This story follows Violante, a girl in conversion therapy, and Gracia, the nun caring for her. This story is one about the nature of religion, and I think the reasons I loved it so much can be summed up pretty easily: 1) the writing and 2) the ending. The ending of this story is one of the most powerful endings in the collection and I just… gah.
→ The Inferno & the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson← ★★★★★
✔ 1839 London | mlm
Magician’s assistant Alfie tries to save rival magician’s apprentice Wilhelm. This story is about believing yourself to be cursed and releasing yourself from that and it meant somuch to me.
→ Healing Rosa by Tehlor Kay Mejia ← ★★★★★
✔ 1933 New Mexico | wlw, latinx mcs
This is joining the list of things that were written so well they made me literally, actually cry. This follows a girl who falls in love with another girl, Rosa, and tries to heal her of the demon inside her. Oh my god, I loved this, I loved the leads, I loved the story, I loved the writing. 20/10 would reread and cry a bit and desperately await Mejia’s gay as hell 2019 release.