#FridayReads: Bad Boy, by Elliot Wake

This past week I devoured Elliot Wake’s latest, Bad Boy. As usual, I stayed up late just so I could finish and man was it worth it.

I’ve been on a queer #OwnVoices fic kick lately. Not really on purpose—aside from the lesfic—but reading books featuring queer characters by queer authors feels like coming home, to me. There’s a big part of me that worries about losing my queerness because I married a dude. And I know, I need to shake that shit—especially because I’m the one always telling my lady bi friends that being with a guy doesn’t make them any less queer. Plus… I’m kind of a little rainbow-lonely in IRL. I live in a small town. Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends live in the city or have long moved on to bigger and better places. Not that you need queer friends in your immediate area to be queer. It’s just that I feel the hole in my life where my high school rainbow gang used to be when conversations like “What is pan?” and “You’re married; you can’t be queer!” come up with my straight cis friends and family.

Sometimes I just wanna be around people who get it. Who get me.

Anyway.

Bad Boy.

I highlighted a lot in this book. I nodded so many times while reading. I also learned much about how men process emotions, thanks to Ren. Even without the plot, Bad Boy is a good read. It explores what it means to be a feminist man, and what it means to be a man in general. It’s not about which “bits”—as my favorite robot Mr. Pendulum would say—you’ve got.

I also loved the line about how every touch from a woman is a communication, a question. As usual, Elliot Wake knocks it out of the park with his prose. Each sentence is a true delicacy.

The plot is fast-paced, though, so I took lots of breaks to just let things sink in. Especially because the main character Ren is a survivor of rape, and he must confront the “man” who raped him. I don’t think there are any triggering scenes, per se, but every time the subject comes up I’m going to be automatically thinking about my own experiences. Bad Boy truly highlights how completely it can shatter a person.

Bad Boy also carries a common thread through Black Iris and Cam Girl.

Vlog star Renard Grant has nothing to prove: he’s got a pretty face, chiseled body, and two million adoring video subscribers. Plus the scars on his chest and a prescription for testosterone. Because Ren is transgender: assigned female at birth, living now as male. He films his transition and shares it bravely with the world; his fans love his honesty and positivity.

But Ren has been living a double life.

Off-camera, he’s Cane, the muscle-bound enforcer for social justice vigilante group Black Iris. As Cane, he lets his dark side loose. Hurts those who prey on the disempowered. Indulges in the ugly side of masculinity. And his new partner, Tamsin Baylor, is a girl as rough and relentless as him. Together, they terrorize the trolls into silence.

But when a routine Black Iris job goes south, Ren is put in the crosshairs. Someone is out to ruin his life. He’s a bad boy, they say, guilty of what he punishes others for.

Just like every other guy: at heart, he’s a monster, too.

Now Ren’s got everything to prove. He has to clear his name, and show the world he’s a good man. But that requires facing demons he’s locked away for years. And it might mean discovering he’s not such a good guy after all.

This is one of those books that will stay with me, that I’ll keep thinking about long after I’ve finished.

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#FridayReads: If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo

I know, I know. I’m late to the party. (What else is new?) I’ve been dying to read this book. I recently got caught up on all the bills and adulting, and the first thing I did after breathing was buy a bunch of books. Last night I finished If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo.

What a book.

I have some critiques, but they pale next to how this book made me feel. I thought I had somewhat of an idea of what it’s like to be a trans person—I have several friends, each with different experiences—but being in Amanda’s head was another thing entirely. (And I’ll still never truly know.) This book had me sobbing a couple times, absolutely aching to reach in and pull Amanda out and into my arms. I heavily related to being bullied, physically assaulted, and sexually assaulted, and I’m also a suicide attempt survivor, so this book hit all of my heartstrings. If Russo was trying to tear my heart out, she did—in the best way possible. The way that she weaves hope into the story is what was most moving for me.

There’s no trigger warning for this book, so I was taken by surprise by some of the content, but instead of feeling panicked, I wanted to see how Amanda handled different things. Russo handles the difficult subject matter in a careful balance between being realistic and being graphic. It’s no easy feat, and I commend her for her skilled writing.

I feel that if everyone experienced “living” in Amanda’s head, the world would be a much safer place for trans people. Maybe some people would still be awful, but those who are ignorant but good at heart would change. I truly do believe that most people are good; they just have certain views or misinformation that they have been carrying and need to unpack. If I Was Your Girl helps unpack those beliefs.

It’s also just a damned good story. I like reading YA because it’s so real. (That’s what I’d hoped for NA, but I digress.) Amanda is a girl you can easily root for. Russo made her a sympathetic character but not at all weak, considering everything she’s been through. You want her to get the guy, mend her relationship with her dad, and go to NYU. What I like most about this book is that it’s not yet another queer tragedy; Amanda rises and blossoms despite and in spite of the pain she’s endured. There is a HEA and it’s a nice warm one.

The other thing I love about this book is the author’s note at the end. Not only does it clarify some things for cis people, but it’s also extremely empowering for LGBTQIA+ people.

It’s okay to be genderqueer, or to change identities more than once in your life, or to feel you have no gender at all. […] There is no wrong way to express and embody your most authentic self! You are beautiful, and you deserve to have your body and identity and agency respected.

I may or may not have teared up while reading Russo’s note.

Coolest of all is that the model on the cover is a trans person, too. Russo mentions in her note that she had as many trans people involved with the book as possible. I love that her publisher respected that, because we authors don’t often get a lot of say when working with publishers. It’s just another shining example of progression toward a better world.

I hope Russo continues to write books, because if so, I’m a lifelong reader.

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What are you reading today? Let me know in the comments!