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Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens

by Tanya Boteju

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1159189,364 (3.97)None
"Poignant and important." --Refinery29 Judy Blume meets RuPaul's Drag Race in this funny, feel-good debut novel about a queer teen who navigates questions of identity and self-acceptance while discovering the magical world of drag. Perpetually awkward Nima Kumara-Clark is bored with her insular community of Bridgeton, in love with her straight girlfriend, and trying to move past her mother's unexpected departure. After a bewildering encounter at a local festival, Nima finds herself suddenly immersed in the drag scene on the other side of town. Macho drag kings, magical queens, new love interests, and surprising allies propel Nima both painfully and hilariously closer to a self she never knew she could be--one that can confidently express and accept love. But she'll have to learn to accept lost love to get there. From debut author Tanya Boteju comes a poignant, laugh-out-loud tale of acceptance, self-expression, and the colorful worlds that await when we're brave enough to look.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
diverse teen fiction (adorable biracial Sri Lankan/white 17 y.o. girl with abandonment anxiety from meets colorful LGBTQ community near her small town and her world explodes in a brilliant way, but it does get a little messy)
I love how complex and real these characters are, and how I can watch their situations develop and unravel while I turn the pages. Parental notes: includes underage drinking (and subsequent puking), occasional language; one character has alcoholic/physically abusive dad. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
4.5
I certainly did not expect to like it so much! I loved the characters, the pacing, the story itself. I appreciated that the romance didn't dominate the whole plot (even though I shipped these two like crazy), there was an excellent harmony between every topic discussed.
The only thing I didn't like was a kind of rushed ending. I would have liked some elements of the story to be discussed in depth at the end. ( )
  margaretkwon | Oct 24, 2020 |
This is a very good debut novel with some strong messages and strong rep in areas I haven’t seen yet in queer YA contemporary. The characters are believable, the problems are interestingly different, it hits the “life is messy and complicated” notes that are a hallmark of contemporary YA, and was all-around an interesting, engaging, and honest read. Unfortunately, I found that some of the promises made at the start of the book didn’t get fulfilled and that other elements were tied up a bit too nicely. Still, it’s a book I definitely recommend, because I’m aging out of YA and I know that makes me picky.

So, I liked Nima and how mundane her life was, that she clearly has problems and interests outside of being gay and would probably say, rightly, that her orientation is a footnote. She didn’t need a big shiny life or major drama to be an interesting lead and I appreciated that she just kind of stumbled into the plot. (If she hadn’t gone to that festival tent, if she hadn’t say hi to that guy, etc.) Her experiences as a young gay kid were believable too, from the “ooh, my people! ooh girls!” moments to the less savory, exploitative, and homophobic moments. I liked her determination and awkwardness but had a hard time relating to some of her anger, which … fair. I’m not a teen and I’ve never been in her shoes.

I liked how casual the queer and GNC rep was, that there were older generations of queer people, that drag and first crushes aren’t the only queer story lines going, and that the queer/drag community was portrayed as overall safe and welcoming, but still imperfect. The main love interest plays believably, the beautiful slightly older girl, and I loved Dierdre, the drag queen who ushers Nima into the local queer scene—she’s loud and lovely and big-hearted and unapologetic. Maybe a little stereotypical for my taste, but still fabulous. (Whether she’s a gay man or a trans woman or nonbinary is a little ambiguous, though that doesn’t matter unless you’re explicitly looking for rep.)

I also appreciated, as an adult, that the adults were allowed to be imperfect and emotional and about as bad at life sometimes as the teens were. It’s nice to see it admitted that nobody has their life together and that growing up is partly about recognizing that. (Also, Nima’s dad is an excellent single parent, imo.)

But like I said, some of the plot felt a bit wobbly. Nima hurts someone who forgives her more easily than they maybe should. There’s an outburst that leads to consequences that lead to character development I found too quick and mature to be entirely believable. Some of Nima’s physical awkwardness got to be a bit much and I was hoping that one of the side characters would get more resolution than they did. I’m good with YA leaving plot threads unfulfilled in a “that’s life” kind of way, but some of the ones in this felt a little more forgotten. That sort of thing.

Overall, though, like I said, a strong novel. Queer, diverse, good points and messages, lots of “yes!” moments in every plot line and for every character, and the love for the wider queer community and culture seeps from the pages. For that last point alone, I’d rec this, because most queer YA teens seem very isolated from or unaware of that and that’s a shame.

To bear in mind: Contains homophobia (including slurs), LGBTQ+-related abuse and homelessness, underage drinking, alcoholism, one moment of “just experimenting,” one predatory lesbian, a drag queen who fits a lot of stereotypes, and a side character with an unspecified kind of internalized queer-phobia. And again, if you can’t deal with a five-year age gap where one partner is (barely) a minor, this might not be for you.

7/10 ( )
  NinjaMuse | Jul 26, 2020 |
So there is a lot to love about this book. Fun depictions of drag, a sweet coming out style story, multi racial cast of characters etc etc. But there are also a few clunky bits ... the explanation of the moms absence, the bully who maybe has more going on than shows on the surface, the initial love interest who basically disappears half way into the book & perhaps a little too much vomit.

Honestly I want to hear from some teens reading this book to see what they think of it. All in all it was a fun romp & I am excited to see what other stories the author has to tell. ( )
  Rachael_SJSU | Jul 11, 2020 |
The descriptive bit: Nima is “brown and queer”, in love with her straight best friend, Ginny and awkward as hell. The day she met Ginny, Nima threw up on her Reeboks; that’s the way her life goes. At the exact moment that she finally gets the courage to tell Ginny how she feels, Ginny stops her by telling her that she “loves her as a friend.”

Finding herself stuck in, what she perceives to be a rut, Nima vows to spend her summer … differently. She wants to try new things, change her world and be someone interesting. She wants to make new and different choices!

My thoughts bit: Determined as she is to have a non-boring, not-bland summer, Nima is convinced she needs to try new things. She heads to a local festival and one of the shows is announced as boys in dresses and girls in suits. Intrigued, Nima gets into the line up for the show and meets my favorite character in the book, Dee Dee La Bouche (Deirdre). This glorious gender-defying being takes Nima under her wing and introduces her to the world of Drag Kings and Drag queens.

The show is all sequin gowns, Lady Ga-Ga, fairy wings, glamour, tattoos, black silk, and dancing. In the midst of the craziness of the show, Nima sees Winnow perform and feels a strong attraction to her. The problem is that Nima feels she isn’t good enough for someone like Winnow to be interested in and is convinced she needs to change herself.

There are some marvelous characters in this book. I loved the way that the performers welcomed Nima into their world. They were all very respectful about gender and sexual orientation and it was a joy to read about a group of people being so inclusive.

While the main plot of the story is about Nima exploring who she is, exploring her sexuality and gender, there are a couple of other interesting stories happening.

Nima’s mother left her and her father without a word. As Nima learns about herself she learns some truths about her mother that are shocking and hurtful. The storyline wasn’t as resolved as I might have liked … but life doesn’t always get tied up neatly with a bow on top.

Another interesting story is about Gordon… the local bully. He comes from an abusive home and while he was once on friendly terms with Nima, he has become an aggressive bully. Nima runs into Gordon one day at the art room and discovers that he is clearly having identity issues. I enjoyed reading about Gordon interacting with Deirdre and frankly, would have enjoyed a book about him. Again, Gordon’s story didn’t resolve itself at all – so I was a little disappointed in that because Boteju had created such an intriguing character. I’m guessing that Gordon is queer just from the limited things he says, but it’s difficult to guess how his life will have played out. I would really like to have read more about him.

Overall, the story is lovely. There are some parts that are difficult to read. Some of Nima’s misadventures were quite heart-wrenching and I found myself concerned for her safety on numerous occasions. It was lovely to read the way that she found a way through the puzzles and trials going on in her life to a new beginning.

The warnings bit: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: mentions of potential Body dysmorphic disorder, substance abuse, domestic abuse, Queerphobic behavior, and name-calling, underage drinking, binge drinking ( )
  KinzieThings | Jun 16, 2020 |
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To all those young people who live beyond the so-called "norm": you're beautiful and magical and perfect. This book is for you.
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The first time Ginny Woodland spoke to me, I vomited all over her Reeboks.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Poignant and important." --Refinery29 Judy Blume meets RuPaul's Drag Race in this funny, feel-good debut novel about a queer teen who navigates questions of identity and self-acceptance while discovering the magical world of drag. Perpetually awkward Nima Kumara-Clark is bored with her insular community of Bridgeton, in love with her straight girlfriend, and trying to move past her mother's unexpected departure. After a bewildering encounter at a local festival, Nima finds herself suddenly immersed in the drag scene on the other side of town. Macho drag kings, magical queens, new love interests, and surprising allies propel Nima both painfully and hilariously closer to a self she never knew she could be--one that can confidently express and accept love. But she'll have to learn to accept lost love to get there. From debut author Tanya Boteju comes a poignant, laugh-out-loud tale of acceptance, self-expression, and the colorful worlds that await when we're brave enough to look.

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