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Season 1, Episode 9

Epistolary novels (stories told through letters) and Postive Stories featuring LGBTQ+ Themes

March 11, 2021

Emily welcomes guests Iggi and Jeannine to talk about books with LGBTQ+ positive characters. Join in this discussion of friendship, found families and what exactly an epistolary book is! Book recommendations for young adult and middle grade readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

h Find title on Hoopla



Emily 0:05 Hello, and welcome to the Planet Book Podcast. I'm your host Emily, a Youth Services Assistant with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thank you for joining in each episode as we welcome two guests to talk about their favorite teen and tween reads.


Emily 0:05 This episode we are welcoming Iggi, a Youth Services Assistant with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Hi, Iggi, thanks for being on the podcast.

Iggi 0:26 Hi, Emily. Thanks for having me.

Emily 0:28 And our second guest is a returning book friend Jeannine, a Youth Services Manager with Springfield-Greene. Welcome back, Jeannine.

Jeannine 0:34 Hi, Emily. Thanks for having me back.

Middle Grade Book Recommendation

Emily 0:37 So let's just get started with our book recommendations. Iggy is going to be recommending our middle grade book today. Iggi What have you got for us?

Iggi 0:43 So one of my favorite recent middle grade books that I read was To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloane and Meg Wolitzer. It's an epistolary novel, which, you know, I generally think of those as being kind of like stereotypically like bland, but it's really, really funny, and very dramatic. So the, you know, the sort of general plot is kind of a enemies to like, friends. There are these two girls, one of them's really, really bookish, and she's kind of like nervous, and she lives all the way in New York City. And there's another girl who is outgoing, and she loves animals in the outdoors. And she lives in California. And the only thing they have in common is that their dads are both gay, and they travel for work. And they meet each other and fall in love. And send Avery, the bookish girl, and Bett, the adventurous girl, to camp together hoping that they'll be friends. And they're determined not to do this. (Laughing) They communicate via email at first, just being like, this is bad, we're not going to do this. I don't want my life to change. And then over the course of all these all these emails and letters that they write to each other things go off the rails, it is it's not a very long book, you know, it's a pretty stereotypical, like, middle grade chapter book, like, just 300 pages about, but uh, it the, it just keeps going, like, every time you're like, oh, my goodness, there can't possibly be any more drama or plot than this. You're like, No, I'm only halfway through the book. And something else wild happens. Um, but even though it's like so like, over the top, kind of like, twists and things happening, the characters feel really real, like very grounded, like they, I don't feel like the people in the book ever do anything that's like too like, outlandish and silly. It's just the situations they find themselves in, sort of, emotionally and logistically are like, Oh, no, I don't know. What do you do? What do you do when your dads decide that you have to be best friends because they're in love? (Both Laughing)

Emily 2:48 So, can you tell us what an epistolary novel is just in case somebody doesn't know?

Iggi 2:54 An epistolary novel is just a novel written in letters. It's mostly emails, I think there are a couple of like real letters in there because they do go to camp. But I think it's mostly it's mostly via email, you're just reading their emails back and forth to each other and kind of having to extrapolate the action that goes in between those things.

Emily 3:13 So what age group would you say this middle? Is it like for young middle grade and older middle grade? What would you recommend?

Iggi 3:20 I mean, it's, it's like so fun. And the content is pretty light. Like I said, most of the most of the sort of like, drama comes from from the the sort of emotional things that happen. I think there's like a swimming accident at one point. You know, no spoilers, but like it's Camp. Yeah. But it's a it's, it's pretty good for any age range. Like just anyone who's interested in I'd say, I'd be comfortable with them reading it.

Emily 3:44 What age are the characters in the story?

Iggi 3:47 Um, I want to say they're like, 12. Yes. Okay. I'm looking at the book, the book summary, here they are 12 years old.

Emily 3:55 Okay. Is there any, like romance in the book or anything like that? Or is it mostly just about the friendship or this kind of friendship between these two girls?

Iggi 4:03 Yes, it's mostly about their friendship. I think there's some like, I don't know, like, I don't know, maybe he's cute, like, kind of going on, but it's not. It's certainly not central to the plot, and I don't, I don't know that ever even develops into anything, you know.

Emily 4:15 Okay, Okay. So think it would be good for, like a broad age range. What kind of readers do you think would like this book?

Iggi 4:25 Well, people who like character driven novels, for sure, anyone who's who's really into, into watching characters like learn and grow, reading characters learn and grow, will enjoy this one. It's really, it's really like a light. It's really a very light read. Pretty light hearted, even though you know, things happen. While still managing to be like thoughtful and witty.

Emily 4:48 I, in my experience, and the stories that I have read that are told through letters or through documents of some sort, a journal, they tend to kind of, I feel like, read a little quicker because you're just going through each day. Do you find this a fast read?

Iggi 5:03 Yeah, it's definitely a fast read. I think I read it in just about two sittings.

Emily 5:09 Is it part of a series or is it just a standalone book?

Iggi 5:12 Nope, it's just a standalone book.

Middle Grade Read-alikes

Emily 5:14 Okay, so, um, what kind of books would you recommend if somebody liked this book? Or what? what books would you suggest as read-alikes?

Iggi 5:23 Well, I just went read one recently, that's a little heavier than To Night Owl from Dogfish, maybe a little bit older of an audience, but one that I found to be in kind of a similar, you know, character driven, similar age range. Kind of a book, it was Not Your All-American Girl. It's another middle grade book written by two authors working together. And Not Your All-American Girl is by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg. And that one's really fun. There's no you know, there's no, there's no letters in this one. It's just a think it's a first person narrative about a girl who wants to get the lead in her school play. But she is both Chinese American and Jewish. So it's a really fun book. But again, the material is a little heavier, they do get into kind of specifically like anti-Asian racism and Lauren, the the name of the protagonist, learning about how that affects her. And that gets that gets pretty like that's sort of the like, the heaviest emotional stuff in that in that story.

Emily 6:24 All right. Well Iggi, thank you so much! I, when you told me the title, I was like, what kind of book is this? the cover helped me be like, Oh, well, maybe. So thank you so much for sharing with us.

Iggi 6:34 Yeah, happy to.

Young Adult Book Recommendation

Emily 6:36 Alright, so Jeannine, you have to follow up with our YA choice. What book are you sharing with us today?

Jeannine 6:42 So I chose to review a book called You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. It's a book that came out in June of 2020. And I actually listened to it on Hoopla. But I noticed at the library, we have it on overdrive as an audiobook, as an ebook, and we own the print copy of this book. So we have it all over the place, get it and read it soon. Um, this book is a,basically, I would call it a positive coming of age novel that celebrates the underdog and finding yourself. Realizing a goal. The main character, her name is Liz Lighty and she's a senior in high school, and she is black. And she's a lesbian. But she's never really had a relationship before. And this book is categorized as a romance. But to me, the romance is sort of secondary to Liz kind of coming into her own. She is a musician. So she's kind of a band nerd, knows a lot about music. She plays the clarinet and her one goal in life is to secure a scholarship to this, this famous school Midwestern college called Pennington College. It's where her mother graduated from and Liz is...her mother died when she was a tween. And so, it's just really important to her to go to this college, and she's worked her whole life to get a scholarship to go there, but then she doesn't get it. And so that throws her off course. You know, she was counting on it. And suddenly she is, she can't pay for the school. It's a kind of an elitist school. She's poor, her grandparents are raising her. And she has a younger brother and her mother died of sickle cell anemia. And her brother, her younger brother also has sickle cell anemia, anemia. So she there are some really serious things about this book. So even though it is kind of a fluffy, you know, romance it is it's got some hard hitting topics like the death of a parent. Sickle cell anemia. Homophobia. But anyway, so when when she doesn't get the scholarship, she has to figure out a way to pay for college, you know, right then and she realizes the only way she can get this money is if she becomes the prom queen of her high school. Now, I told you she's a band nerd. So you know she-

Emily 9:35 -You cannot discount the band vote!

Jeannine 9:37 No, you cannot. (Both Laughing) I love the band nerd becoming queen!

Emily 9:41 Yes!

Jeannine 9:41 But, you know there is a.. prom queen is a huge... or prom is a huge deal in this small, kind of affluent Indiana high school and the school has like a million dollar budget for prom and they offer...I know right! I mean it is a little unrealistic, but they offer a scholarship to whomever's crowned queen and king. So she realizes she has to throw her name, throw her hat in the ring. And so that's the jumping off point where the book really takes off. And she has to compete with all these other people like the popular girls. The school has, it has its own, like social media platform, which is kind of unrealistic, but it just the school is so into prom and into that whole kind of toxic popular culture thing. And so she kind of has to, you know, her going for this, I mean, it's a huge risk. I mean, the likelihood is slim to none. Anyway, they have to do all of these things. There's this elaborate point system. And so she has to do all this volunteer work, she has to, you know, log all these hours, her grades have to be perfect, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, she's, she's doing all the things, she's checking off all the boxes. She's trailing, though, behind the popular kids. And then something changes and I won't tell you what that is. But in the process she meets a girl who, a new girl, who is also has also thrown her hat in the ring to be Prom Queen, even though she's not that into it. She basically has done it. She so she could meet someone anyway, Liz and Mack meet. And it's it's a very cute, sweet romance that they embark on. And Liz ends up I will just say it's a happy ending. So yeah, it's it's a really sweet, YA sapphic romance, and I would definitely call it an Own Voices. Liz is black. She hurt paedo, she's poor, her grandparents love her and support her her brother, she has a really tight knit family, but they're very poor. And like I said, the odds are pretty slim that she's going to become Prom Queen and get that scholarship and go to Pennington. So there's a lot of tension. There's the seriousness of, you know, having a parent that has died. And her mother was a single mother, like her dad was not involved in her life, at the time that her mother died. And the book talks a lot about Sickle cell anemia, which I didn't know much about, which is an interesting element. But I just think that Johnson, the author, does a great job of balancing the fluff of prom and, and romance with the more serious aspects of the death of a parent and chronic illness. And...

So Jeannine, what age would you recommend this before?

I think that this book really would appeal to anybody who's in high school, so that 14 through 18 and beyond,.

I do think that you know, YA, and even middle grade can have a lot of grownups and adults read those as well, because they do have that appeal. I mean, who doesn't like a coming of age story where these characters seem like they have like their whole future in front of them, and they have all these choices that they can make, and the stakes feel really high because they don't want to make a huge mistake that's gonna ruin the rest of their lives. But it always just, there's just something so exciting about those stories. And-

What I love about this too, is that Liz always kind of blended into the background. She's a good girl, she got good grades, Oh, she also has anxiety, I forgot about that. That's a, you know, mental illness is in the story. And she grapples with anxiety and, but she's always been in the background, she's never, you know, stood out. And now she has to stand out to go for prom queen, and she has to, you know, step outside of her box and really put herself out there and she really finds out who she is, and really comes into her own and decides that, you know, she's she's willing to do whatever to,` to realize her goal. So it's really it's a positive coming of age book that really celebrates the underdog. And I love those books.

Young Adult Read-alikes

Emily 14:34 I do too. I do too. All right. So what books would you suggest as read-alikes for this one?

Jeannine 14:41 Well, because it's a positive LGBTQ book. I...This reminds me a lot of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which is a teen book. The characters in that book, and that book is by Bec-Becky Albertalli um, but that focuses on boys. So homosexual boys and their romance between Simon and Blue. And that has an epistolary element in that book as well because it's told primarily through emails between Simon and Blue. So it reminds me of the book Iggi recommended. So I would say that's a good read of like, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz is another positive LGBTQ representation. Lovely book. Very serious, but- and I would say that that book is much more serious than these two others. But there's a lot of really good teen books celebrating, you know, LGBTQ characters.

Emily 16:00 We talked about the book cover for Iggi's recommendation, the book cover for You Can (Should) See Me in a Crown looks so powerful, I just...Yes.

Jeannine 16:10 Yeah, I thought so too. I was drawn to it. And by the way, the audio, which is what I how I read, the book is really, really good. I don't remember who narrates it, but it was a female voice and, and they did a really good job reading it. It was a pleasure to listen to.

Emily 16:31 So Jeannine, we talked about a reader like, but what kind of readers would like this book?

Jeannine 16:35 You know, I feel like it has a universal appeal. For anybody who's ever been in high school or going to high school. And it's just, all of us can relate to the joys and traumas of being a high schooler, and just that, that culture of the popular kids versus the nerds, you know, versus the druggies or whatever. So, I think that there's a lot of relatability in this, I do think it does target more of a Gen Z type of audience, but I as a Gen Xer appreciated it. The characters are relatable, because we can all you know, universally can relate to the popular girls and the Mean Girls and the and the jocks and just friendships and how they evolve through high school. You know, LGBTQ kids will really be able to find heroes in this story. And role models, the band kids that this not only does Liz play in the band and practice her clarinet all the time, but she's a huge, she loves to go to concerts, so does Mack, her girlfriend. And so there's a lot of talk about music and bands and they connect through that. So kids who love music can relate. I just I do think it has a lot of universal appeal.

Emily 18:08 Well, we've had two great book recommendations from two awesome book people. Thank you both so much for being on the podcast and thank you for your book recommendations.

Iggi 18:17 Yeah, thank you for having me very much.

Jeannine 18:19 Thanks, Emily. It was fun. As always.

Emily 18:23 If you are looking for more book recommendations, check out the kids and teen pages at for book lists and other helpful resources. If you would like a personalized reading recommendation, click on the Your Next Read banner on the library website and fill out our questionnaire. We will email or call you with a list of books based on your reading preferences. Remember to tune in next time for more great middle grade and young adult book suggestions. And thank you for listening to the Planet Book Podcast.

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