Find it at your library!

Nina Revoyr is a writer I really enjoy reading, and I wish her works were better known. It can be tough to find books that feature queer characters that go beyond coming out stories. Coming out stories certainly have their place, but it’s also important to me to read books about queer people living their lives and getting into interesting situations and, you know, being the people they are. In Southland, Revoyr has created a mystery/historical hybrid novel which explores complicated race relations in LA through the years, from World War II to the 2000s.

Jackie Ishida decides to dig into her grandfather’s past when a mysterious will discovered after his death bequeaths the corner store he used to own to a man Jackie has never heard of before. The store was sold after the Watts riots in the 1960s, but Jackie still wants to find out why Frank would have left it to a virtual stranger. Through connections she makes at the funeral, she meets James Lanier, the cousin of the man named in the will. Lanier has some unanswered questions of his own about what happened during the riots and what his cousin’s connection was to Jackie’s grandfather, and he agrees to help her find out the truth.

One thing I love about this book is how it’s really about the relationships—there’s a lot of them, and they’re all rich and complex and realistic. The mystery is solid and kept me turning pages, but what I cared about most was the people. The most powerful reveals had to do with the connections between them, as opposed to the nitty-gritty details of the crime Jackie and Lanier uncover. Recommended for fans of historical fiction and mysteries with substance—these characters and what they went through will stick with you.

Find it at your library!

I think I speak for everyone in the entire world when I say Lin-Manuel Miranda needs to narrate more audio books. What? It’s not like he’s busy or anything.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (an obnoxiously long title if I ever saw one) was on my radar for several years. How could I have missed it, really, when it’s won so many awards and is so widely loved and adored? But I hadn’t placed any particular priority status on it because, well, I don’t read a super-ton of YA anymore since I’m no longer a teacher (praise Jaysus). I’ve had enough Angsty Teen Drama for a lifetime, thankyouverymuch, so YA has to be really tempting for me to give it the time of day. I guess what I’m saying is, I only date the Victoria’s Secret models of young adult literature.

Then one day in my bookish Internet browsing I stumbled across a mention that LMM was the reader of the audio version, and I think I actually heard a record scratch sound effect in my head. Say WHAT now? My Broadway BFF would, for the price of one Audible credit, read a book to me?! How did I not know about this?! What excuse could I use to leave work early to begin listening immediately? And would I be able to convince my husband to softly stroke my hair while I listened, to round out the experience and also calm me down a little bit because O-M-squee LMM is the best reader EVAR?

So yes, I will admit that this book could have been extolling the virtues of illegal dogfighting rings or promoting the production and sale of crystal meth, and I still probably would have gone cross-eyed with rapture. LMM as the reader is a decidedly unfair advantage for a book to have. But Aristotle and Dante is a legitimately good book, even if it is about teens “finding out who they really are.” (I can’t not put that in sarcastic quotes. I’m sorry.)

A few things about the book I found refreshing, other than the dulcet tones of LMM’s voice:

  1. No clichéd broken homes. Both main characters had two parents apiece, who were married and supported each other. Their relationships weren’t perfect, but if you read much YA at all, you can start to believe that functional families with decent, good-hearted parents don’t actually exist. It gets old.

  2. Bad stuff happens, but the story is far from a tragedy. Anytime you’re dealing with LGBTQ issues in fiction, you’re likely to see only the tough side of things—bullying, suicide, depression, etc. Those are very real and very tragic issues. But not every story with LGBTQ characters has to be a sad one. I thought Aristotle and Dante struck a great balance of realism and optimism.

  3. Characters just quirky enough to be endearing, without crossing the line into annoying. Sometimes authors go too far trying to write quirky characters, but Dante is delightfully weird without inducing eyerolls. I can actually imagine him being a real kid. One I might even willingly have a conversation with.

Great book, great reader. Here’s hoping LMM will make a little time in his future for more audio book narrating.