Stuck inside for the next few weeks? This is a great chance to catch up on your reading. Self-isolation can have a real impact on your mental health, so treat yourself by getting your hands on one of these books that you can order from us right now. That’s right, even though our physical location is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can still ship books to you!
He often found himself looking up in study carrels, bored by the material, and tending to his ever-evolving image, the mirage of himself growing fainter and fainter before disappearing entirely. Who knew what of him? How many times had he existed out there, in others’ minds? In his?
I Know You Know Who I Am
As a collection, the stories in Peter Kispert’s I Know You Know Who I Am are concerned with the white lies we tell that grow monstrously, the selves we present to others, and the people we are at our core. Unexpectedly for a collection of queer people lying, it is largely unconcerned with being closeted; most characters are out and in long-term relationships, dealing with the deeper lies of who they are after the point at which they are supposedly living their most authentic selves.
Most of the lies at the heart of the collection are small: yes, I have friends in the area; yes, I used to swim competitively; yes, I hunt; yes, I believe in God. Rather than the lies themselves, it’s how they grow to the size of giants and destabilize the relationships they are the foundations of. More so than the act of lying, the collection is focused on how people react to the lies they tell and their fraught relationship to truth. Afraid of getting caught in first-meeting spur-of-the-moment lies, they begin to live them, choosing to move forward in untruth than admit the truth of having lied. The lies gain lives of their own, growing to the turning points these stories center around.
Telling the truth is an act of full vulnerability in these stories, and that’s precisely why so many of the characters in them avoid it. In the titular story, a friendless man hires an actor to portray a friend he lied to his boyfriend about having, propelled by the fear that his loneliness marked him as unlovable. In “Breathing Underwater,” another man lies about having an illustrious background in swimming to bridge the gap he sees between himself and his boyfriend, who he considers out of his league. The lies are born out of a desire to seem more than they are and to protect themselves against points of insecurity, unwilling to recognize until it’s too late that vulnerability is the basis of intimacy. The narrator of “I Know You Know Who I Am” implausibly makes it through the gauntlet of his own making, but the relationship unravels not long after.
In one of the strongest stories in the collection, “Aim for the Heart,” a man shoots and kills a deer in an attempt to prove to his boyfriend he was telling the truth about being a hunter. The narrator, Troy, hadn’t expected to see any deer and then had planned to miss the shot, scaring it off. Instead, he’s left with the corpse and the strange liminal half-truth of having lied about something that’s now true. Like other characters in the collection, his relationship ends not because his partner finds out the truth, but because the lie sits heavily on him and his perception of himself.
In a collection of stories all centered around queer characters, “Aim for the Heart” is also the story that most directly addresses the way so many queer people are forced to lie about who they are, in ways big and small, for the simple act of survival. While other stories briefly mention the danger of being visibly queer—”If he finds us, we’re not a couple”—this story ties Troy’s compulsive lying throughout college and the rest of his life to the root of his childhood friend’s attempted suicide. After his friend narrowly misses shooting himself in the heart, Troy is asked whether his friend had ever done anything to make him uncomfortable, which Troy intuitively understands as Did he ever come onto you? Is he gay? and underlying that, Are you gay? While Troy says no, he recognizes the underlying threat and his own underlying lie. I Know You Know Who I Am ties queer people and lying together, and here questions the scars being closeted leaves.
If the book is concerned with the lies people take as truth, just as important are the truths people take for lies. In “River is to Ocean as ____ is to Heart,” a teenage boy becomes obsessed with finding the skull he swears he saw in shallow water. In “Please Hold,” a stalled actor’s best performance comes immediately in the wake of getting bad news about his boyfriend’s health. In “How to Live Your Best Life,” a secret thief’s daughter is killed when she says the crime he’d most like to commit is robbery. Truth and duplicity still war at center stage but from another angle: these are all boys who cried wolf, and who now have to deal with the unsettling fallout, internal and external, of muddying the truth themselves.
I Know You Know Who I Am takes occasional trips to dystopian Black Mirror-type landscapes, but those are ultimately its weakest stories and they stand out against the rest of the cohesive collection as not far from gimmick. Instead, the collection is at its strongest with the sensitive and insightful realism that characterizes the rest of the stories.
The prevailing theme throughout I Know You Know Who I Am is the relationship between intimacy and truth, and it explores it by looking at the way relationships and lives fall apart with lies and half-knowing. Emotional intimacy can’t be achieved before the truth comes out, the lie always hang in between. To be truly loved requires being truly known, for both the good and the bad: what makes you laugh, the things you get excited about, how you look in the light, and the uncomfortable truths of your present, your worst mistakes, your biggest insecurities. If loving requires the mortifying ordeal of being known, how does a relationship move forward when it’s based on lies? I Know You Know Who I Am says it doesn’t, but the real question it asks is if you strip a liar of their lies, what’s left?
Ever thought to yourself: “There really should be more books about found-family dynamics aboard post-apocalyptic pirate ships featuring queer romance”?
On the one hand, you might want to consider casting a wider net in general when it comes to reading choices.
On the other — oh boy, have I got a book for you.
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie is set in the (sadly) all-too-possible future, where the seas have risen and swallowed up much of the current coastline. Our protagonist is Cassandra Leung, seventeen years old and just about to graduate her training with the Reckoners: creatures genetically engineered into massive, ocean-dwelling beasts. These Reckoners come in a variety of types, but they’re all bred to swim beside wealthy merchant or pleasure ships and defend both cargo and crew from pirates. As a newly-minted Guardian, Cas must travel with her personal Reckoner and use their bond to fight in tandem with the sea monster.
Except on her inaugural solo voyage, everything goes wrong. The Reckoner dies and Cas is captured by pirates, who offer a terrible trade: her continued life in exchange for the training of a stolen Reckoner pup, to serve as their weapon in any future battles.
The Abyss Surrounds Us is a bit like a mash-up of Waterworld and Pacific Rim, with perhaps a sprinkling of Pokémon by way of Lovecraft when it comes to the Reckoner training sequences. But Abyss’s aesthetic errs on the gritty, taking a hard look at the effects of climate change, colonialism, and class structure. Truthfully, this doesn’t always work in the book’s favor, as that’s quite a mouthful to chew over in less than 300 pages of YA-level fiction. This is before we get to the characters and their relationships: Cas and her parents, Cas and her Reckoners, Cas and the pirate queen, the connections between the pirate crew, and of course Cas and Swift.
Swift is the pirate tasked with keeping Cas in line, and heir apparent to the pirate queen. As the story progresses we discover Swift is a lot less sanguine about her place in the world than Cas first assumes, and their relationship becomes one of slow-growing trust and understanding. Personally I will live and die for a romance as complicated as this one — but again, there’s a serious question as to whether the book does it justice. With so much crammed into the narrative, it can often feel like Abyss is just dipping its toes, instead of taking the really satisfying deep dives these complex issues deserve.
Still, it’s hard to resist the sheer coolness factor of the book’s ideas and ambition. The battle sequences alone feel worth the cover price, as Skrutsie has the knack of describing action not only in exciting but interesting, original ways. (I understand an underlying theme of the book is to question the use of manmade monsters as living weapons. But also: I want one.) And while this reviewer hasn’t read it, there is a sequel that completes the series as a duology, The Edge of the Abyss, which may give Abyss’s more cramped aspects room to expand and breathe. Either way, if you missed The Abyss Surrounds Us the first time around, it’s not too late to pick up the futuristic pirates-vs-kaiju novel of your (incredibly specific) dreams.
We’ve selected our favorite children’s books from 2019. Check out these books that cover a wide variety of LGBTQ+ and feminist topics perfectly suited for young readers. Whether you are raising feminist children or want your little ones to see your family reflected in their books, we have something in store for you!
Our 19 Favorite Books From 2019
(in no particular order)
Here at the store we are all huge nerds, and that’s why when we aren’t day dreaming about visiting Pluto, (or writing letters to the International Astronomical Union demanding that Pluto be reinstated as a planet), we spend a lot of time reading Science Fiction & Fantasy. After a lot of conversation, we are excited to share our list of our favorite LGBTQ sci-fi novels from 2019:
We’ve been told that poetry is what you can get away with; it’s almost like magic but with words. With the new year approaching, let’s take a look at 9 poets who got away with something magical in 2019:
When she’s not at art school, volunteer Robyn is always hard at work here at the store. Check out this list of her 5 favorite LGBTQ Graphic Novels of 2019, and when you’re finished, give her a follow on her twitter to see her latest projects!