Desdemona Wren’s Top 10 Books of 2019 (Let’s face it, 99% of these are gay)

Most of the books I read are either about queer life or by queer authors. So if they do include a romance, which I do generally like to see in stories because I love romantic subplots, the romance is usually queer or they’ve got a queer side romance.

From this list you’ll learn that I’m obsessed with coming of age stories and I read probably way too much YA, but since YA and NA are the genres I usually write for, that makes a lot of sense.

Below my ratings include both stars and rainbows. The stars are my general overall rating of the book (these will all be 5+ stars) and the rainbows are the overall queerness rating (rainbow ratings with a 3 and below only contain queer side romances and not a main romance ALSO rainbow ratings that include a purple heart have canon bisexual characters).

I also include one of my favorite quotes from the book and in lieu of a review, I’m just going to speak briefly about what each book meant to me. That way this blog doesn’t get too long. And if I’m being honest most of these books I never even reviewed because I’m about 40 book reviews behind.

So, without further ado, here is my top 10 reads of 2019 (they’re not all from 2019, I know, but shh).

10. This Time Will be Different by Mia Sugiura

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People talk about starting over after they’ve made a big mistake or a bad choice in life. But you can never really start over. You can’t fully reset. And I don’t think you should. There’s no point in dwelling on the past, but you can acknowledge it and try to make things better. Or try a new way, and know that this time will be different.

Description: Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.

She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.

Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: The reason this book made it onto my list despite only have a queer side character is because the main character, CJ, struggles so much emotionally throughout the book and all of her mistakes and anger really made me identify with her. Also it’s set in San Jose and I’m a sucker for anything set in California.

9. Sadie by Courtney Summers

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“I can’t take another dead girl.”

Description: A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: While there is bisexual representation in this book, the point of Sadie is not romance. The entire point of this book is that it’s literally just from start to finish incredible. It’s told from two differing points of view, one being a podcast, the other being the story Sadie herself tells. This resonated with me because I was a victim of childhood abuse and also sexual trauma. I spent most of this book openly weeping and every time they kept saying “I can’t take another dead girl” I got so scared and the ending literally just ripped my whole heart out.

8. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

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“And so at the age of four, I learned someone could cry from a happy memory.”

Description: With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: The reason I picked this up was in part, because of the gorgeous cover and also because it is so hard to find books with Black Puerto Rican rep. This story was so beautifully written and Emoni’s passion for cooking and for her daughter was so incredible to me. I just…I wanted a mom who would love me that much.

7. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

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“The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.”

Description: It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: How do I even begin to explain how much this book means to queer culture in America? I wept so openly while reading this book. There was so much about the AIDs crisis and the fear the queer community experienced during that time. Honestly this book was just heart-wrenching and so unbelievably important.

6. Reverie by Ryan La Sala

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“Just because something is imagined doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.”

“It’s just gay enough to work.”

Description: Inception meets The Magicians in the most imaginative YA debut of the year!

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.

Get your copy here, on Amazon

What this book meant to me: Ryan La Sala basically owns my soul now. Everything about this book was poignant and just full of rich description. Honestly, this has got to be one of my favorite books I’ve ever read in my life. Which is why it’s on my list of top 10 from 2019. Hell, if I had to pick my top 10 of the decade, I’m pretty sure Reverie would make the cut. It is so rare I come across so richly woven queer-centric stories. I recommend this to everyone who loves good writing and questionable villains.

5. Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

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“I can’t help it. I’m a Slytherin.”

And I’m the worst kind of Slytherin. I’m the kind who’s so stupidly in love with a Gryffindor, she can’t even function. I’m the Draco from some shitty Drarry fic that the author abandoned after four chapters.”

Description: Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: Leah’s experiences are so close to mine as a fat queer growing up in the deep south that this book has a special place in my heart. I love everything Becky Albertalli has ever written, honestly. Her stories are the kind of gay adventures I wish I’d been able to have growing up and Leah is my soulmate.

4. Slay by Brittney Morris

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“Je viens de la putain de toundra”

Description: By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: This book takes place in my hometown of Bellevue, WA and everything about it is incredible. I love the story of how Kiera is portrayed and how her creation of Slay gave people of color a place to be who they are in games. This book was very educational for me and it also spoke to a lot of what growing up in Bellevue is like. This book is so important, funny, and has a great story. I’m so glad I picked this up.

3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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“The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.”

Description: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: As soon as I finished reading this book I immediately went home and made my (now ex) boyfriend watch the movie with me. I cried from the very beginning of this book to the very end. It’s not technically a 2019 title, but since I didn’t read it until 2019, I’m putting it on this list. The struggles Starr and her family face throughout this novel completely gutted me and this book is just incredible. The way Angie Thomas tells this story through Starr’s eyes is breathtaking and the writing style stuck with me. It felt less like a book and more like living life through someone else’s eyes.

2. We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

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“If we’re not all free, none of us are free.”

Description: At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: This book was basically everything I wanted out of 2019. Women helping women and falling in love. The enemies/rivals to lovers thing that happened between Carmen and Dani really spoke to my soul and Tehlor Kay Mejia blew me out of the water with her storytelling and world-building. This is honestly one of my favorite books I’ve read in a long time. I cannot wait for the sequel to come out next month!

Honorable Mention: All the Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell

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“Everybody else gets to leave a mark on me. Why can’t I leave my own?”

Description: There’s no such thing as a secret.

SOMETHING happened to Ava. The curving scar on her face is proof. But Ava would rather keep that something hidden—buried deep in her heart and her soul.

She has her best friend Syd, and she has her tattoos—a colorful quilt, like a security blanket, over her whole body—and now, suddenly, she has Hailey. Beautiful, sweet Hailey, who seems to like Ava as much as she likes her. And Ava isn’t letting anything get in the way of finally, finally seeking peace. But in the woods on the outskirts of town, the traces of someone else’s secrets lie frozen, awaiting Ava’s discovery—and what Ava finds threatens to topple the carefully-constructed wall of normalcy that she’s spent years building. Secrets leave scars. But when the secret in question is not your own—do you ignore the truth and walk away? Or do you uncover it from its shallow grave, and let it reopen old wounds—wounds that have finally begun to heal?

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: This book hurt me. The experiences of the main character, Ava, are so similar to my own that I experienced a lot of flashbacks to my life as a child and a victim of pedophilia and sexual assault. I understood her so well and the way these things make you feel and shape you into the person you become. This book resonated with me so much I still think about it even though it’s been almost a whole year since I read it. Remembering Jane still tugs at my heartstrings.

*Also this is a special case. I believe the MC, Ava is canonically bisexual, but I think Mitchell preferred not to “label her” which I think is a cop-out so I didn’t mark the MC as canon bi.

1. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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“History, huh? Bet we could make some.”

And way too many others to name, but there’s a twitter account that tweets quotes from this book and I’m obsessed with it.

Description: What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: I know this might be a little cliche to all of you, but this book was so unbelievably important to me that nothing else could’ve been number one. I don’t usually read and enjoy M/M books, but I picked this one up on a whim after seeing it advertised everywhere. And honestly? I’m glad I did. Reading a book about someone figuring out they’re bisexual after years of thinking they were straight and then launching into a wholly forbidden relationship with a prince? Yes, please. I loved everything about this book. I loved the sarcastic writing style, the characters, Henry and Alex’s complete inability to process their feelings because they’re both total idiots, and all the girls being like “Wow you’re all idiots.” 2019 and 2020 is going to be the year of all the queer books and Red, White, & Royal Blue is driving the ship.

Book Review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

This is my FAVORITE Creekwood book. Like, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda was great, but this one spoke directly to my soul.

Leah Burke is LITERALLY me. In high school I was the impoverished bi girl who had severe mental illness issues and preferred to BURN EVERYTHING TO THE GROUND rather than let anything slightly inconvenience me.

She, of course, has more supportive friends and family than I did, but her character resonated so much with me I literally cannot stop yelling about it.

All her fears, her wants, her needs…everything. She’s literally perfect. Or…well…fundamentally flawed, which is how I like my characters.

Her relationship with Abby literally had me SCREAMING for most of the book. They’re so cute and so precious. And I really wish they’d gotten together in book 1, but alas. It wouldn’t have been as sweet, in my opinion.

But seriously, Leah is my absolute favorite. And I feel like she really got shafted in the Love, Simon film because they made her openly like Simon. That does not fit her character at all, she only liked Simon when they were really young. Then she had a crush on his older sister.

I did spend a little bit of the book hoping she’d fall for Simon’s younger sister, but Leah/Abby is my OTP for life now.

This book is one of my absolute favorites!

Overall rating: ★★★★★★★★★★
(10/5 Stars. )

Rating breakdown:

Prose: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Plot: ??????????????
Characterization: ???????????????
Boredom meter: ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ?????????????????????????

More About Leah on the Offbeat

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Get your copy here on Amazon.