It’s August! And we have three remarkably tasty reads that turn genre fiction on its head. This month, you’ll find short stories so delectable you’ll swear some passages came straight from the pages of cookbook. Plus, we’ve got a feminist Western to satisfy all your cowboy cravings and a book of literary science fiction full of violins, Faustian bargains, and donuts. Order up!
I’m not Hungry, But I could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez
GENRE: short stories | Santa Fe Writer’s Project 2021 | REVIEWED BY alicia banaszewski
Christopher Gonzalez’s I’m Not Hungry, But I Could Eat begins with two strong quotes: “I’m right over here, why can’t you see me?” from the iconic Robyn masterpiece Dancing on My Own and one by Helen Rosner; “There’s no narrative to chicken tenders, there’s no performance. …They ask nothing of you, and they don’t say anything about you. They are two things, and two things only: perfect, and delicious” from her piece in Guernica, On Chicken Tenders.
Somehow, song lyrics and a love letter to the kids’ menu accurately sum up the (dare I say) unhinged stories to follow. Reading I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat felt like the painful warmth on an ear after talking on the phone too long with a bad-in-love tipsy, messy-yet-lovable, charismatic friend.
Gonzalez’s narrators and protagonists are all bisexual Puerto Rican cubs, except one that is gay. Love and longing are the central gravitational pull that keeps the collection together. Stories like “Packed White Spaces” illustrate the loneliness that comes from feeling like an outsider and how brief flickers with romantic partners, family, or friends make it possible to get through the day. As the title suggests, these stories are full, stuffed to the rim with brilliant and mouth-watering descriptions of food and drink that set the scene. They concretely situate the reader in a place where hunger of all kinds is not a weakness but a strength. Gonzalez’s characters all want, which is great storytelling 101. These stories will make you laugh, cringe, gasp, and hunger.
Why We Love It: These heartfelt and relatable stories feature a diverse cast of queer Puerto Rican protagonists and a whole lot of tasty food.
light from uncommon stars by ryka aoki
GENRE: literary/science fiction | tor 2021 | REVIEWED BY rey katz
Ryka Aoki’s novel, Light From Uncommon Stars, is a captivating story featuring a young transgender violinist and the women she grows close to. Katrina took a bus 300 miles to run away from an abusive home. She wakes up on a park bench in Los Angeles to a world-famous violin teacher asking her questions. Ms. Satomi does not care that Katrina is trans. She’s looking for souls she can sacrifice – she doesn’t care about anatomy. As for Katrina, a deal with the Devil isn’t bad compared to her other options. She needs a place to live, access to an audience, and a teacher.
The book juxtaposes realistic details (the perfectly spiced noodles at a restaurant) with implausible scenarios (a devil appearing for lunch in said restaurant), balancing suspension of disbelief with wonderful sensory richness. Aoki showcases many kinds of art, from video game soundtracks to hand-crafted instruments to memorable donuts. Aoki also doesn’t shy away from the fact that art is used to obtain money and recognition. She relates Katrina’s cam girl sex work to wearing a strapless dress to perform a classical piece in a concert hall for prize money. But art can also be an expression of love, with nothing expected in return. Light From Uncommon Stars is an enthralling journey featuring a community of women who are older and younger, queer and in love, entrepreneurial, and discovering their hidden talents.
Why We Love It: Women’s joyful friendship triumphs over transphobia and sexism in this deliciously musical tale.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
GENRE: western novella | tor 2020 | REVIEWED BY alicia banaszewski
Upright Women Wanted is a fun, super queer Western about the road to self-acceptance.
Esther (one of many outstanding old-timey names, and most notably our protagonist) fled home after her father, a well-known and terrible man of power, had her girlfriend publicly killed for possession of “Unapproved Materials.” Her girlfriend was engaged to be married to a man that Esther is now expected to wed. So, Esther hides in the back of the Librarians’ wagon to hitch a ride out of town.
In Sarah Gailey’s novella, we are thrust into a future America that is (a bit vaguely, admittedly) at war. The “Rebellion” fights “The State” and well, there aren’t any cars. All diesel is used for tanks so back to horses we go!
That is my only gripe with this story. I never felt like I had a strong understanding of what happened to get the US to a place where “Approved Materials” were distributed by librarians with wagons on horseback, though to be fair that narrative isn’t the heart of the story.
Upright Women Wanted is about loss of love and of self, running away, denying who you are, and unlearning societal internalized hatred. The main focus of the novella is centered on acceptance, finding a chosen family, and letting yourself be happy.
There are love stories to swoon over here and great nonbinary representation in the character Cye—since Sarah Gailey is nonbinary as well. Upright Women Wanted takes all the best bits of the Western genre: the camaraderie, the oppressive desert heat, amazing depictions of horses, gun fights, and companionship and tells a unique and moving story that is easy to read cover to cover in one sitting.
Why We Love It: This playful novella takes all the best Western tropes and transforms them into a queer/feminist adventure.
Want to review a book for our next round-up? Head to our submissions page for more information and to see a list of titles we’d love to cover.