Barbara Dee: Star-Crossed

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare.

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Back in March, I read a post from Barbara Dee that broke my heart. Dee had been asked to give an author presentation at a school. However, right before she was to speak, she was pulled aside and told that while the school was thrilled to have her speak on inclusivity…could she please keep it more general and NOT TALK ABOUT HER OWN BOOK?

Excuse me?

Of course I put Star-Crossed on my TBR immediately. Because obviously if a school is censoring the author…it’s probably something I want to read.

And it absolutely freaking is. Star-Crossed might be the best middle-grade fiction I have ever read…maybe the best Shakespeare retelling too! It follows Mattie, an eighth grade bookworm as she traverses the awkwardness of school play rehearsals–Romeo and Juliet, of course. Throughout the book, she slowly comes to realize she has a crush on fair Juliet.

Besides the cute story itself, there are two key factors that made me love this book. First, Mattie starts off with a crush on a boy, and then slowly falls into crush with Gemma. Later, her friend asks her if she might ever like boys again and she tells her it’s possible. Bisexual representation in a Middle Grade story! Yes! And Dee allows her MC to explore her feelings about it…which leads us to point #2.

Coming out is a process, and one that is mostly supported. We don’t see her come out to everyone–the story ends before that happens. But one friend helps her begin to come to terms with what is going on, and another person also helps her talk through it. Neither pressure her or ridicule her…it’s all very loving. I think this is something that is important to show in MG especially, so that kids can know that it doesn’t always have to be hard. It will be, sometimes, but there are supportive people out there.

I just loved this. I hope that not all schools are as closed minded as the one that shut Barbara Dee down, and that they put this book on their shelves. My library in Peoria had the book, and I’m so glad that they did. Books like this one should be available to kids who need to find themselves in the pages.

Retelling w/ MC LGBTQIA+

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Creative Aces Publishing: Unburied Fables

This collection enlisted talent around the world. From students to seasoned professionals, these writers came together to raise awareness and reinvent classic stories. While they showcase a wide variety of origins, styles, and endings, all the tales in this
anthology have one classic element in common: a happily ever after.

Fifty percent of this collection’s proceeds will be donated to the Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual and other queer youth.

I kicked off Pride Month with one of the most accepting collections of stories I’ve ever read. This was the very first book I read for June (actually I read it on May 31, but I’m totally counting it for Pride), and oh man was it ever fitting.

These are the fairy tales we should have all grown up with–where we a prince might climb a tower to save the princess, but then she is given the choice to go with him…or the daring woman who swoops in to maybe save them both. And maybe that prince just stays and hangs out with all those books that princess left because HECK YES I WANT TO STAY IN THE TOWER BY MYSELF! HEAVEN!

Ok, that might have been a spoiler for one of the stories. Oops. But you catch on pretty quick to the theme once you get going. All of them are pretty delightful. These are worlds where the bad guys are those who hate and try to stomp on people for who they are. Wouldn’t that be nice if that were true in real life, too?

And even though this is a book written by some super Creative Aces–don’t think there isn’t love. There is all kinds of romantic acceptance in this book–just not the sexy stuff we see so much of these days. Every story is full of whimsy and happiness, but also the morals that are the intended purpose of fairy tales, after all. You’ll recognize a lot of them, and maybe find a few new ones along the way. I think my favorite was the one about Matchstick Girl. Come back and let me know your fave, after you read these.

Go buy the book, it supports a fantastic cause!

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