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June 13, 2024

Jennifer holding book

These unconventional love stories offer a refreshing and heartwarming selection of speculative fiction which spans contemporary, sci-fi, and fantasy realms. The multigenre work spotlights unique voices which represent a wide range of racial backgrounds, abilities, and genders among its LGBTQIA cast. This quirky compilation transports readers to a world in which acceptance of differences is the norm.

This diverse collection empowers young adults, notably those who identify as ace or who are questioning. Drawing on a well-known concept coined by Dr. Sims Bishop in her seminal article “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors,” the Introduction reflects: 

“We often compare stories to mirrors, reflecting glimpses of the world around us. But the stories here are something more. These stories are windows, allowing us to see beyond what we’ve ever been told. These stories are doors, encouraging us to leave the normative boxes that have limited us. These stories are paths we can walk together.” 

True to the phrase, ‘nothing about us, without us’ the a-spec anthology features authentic representation: characters on the ace-spectrum as written by ace authors. Representation is integrated without fanfare: characters often have intersecting identities and are simply themselves in a variety of settings. Many people will see themselves in the empathetic and hopeful characters. 

Each narrative invites us to embark on an adventure with an engaging character. The tales cover a lot of territory such as experiencing the joy of love and grief of loss, navigating the weight of social expectations, and developing resilience in the face of hardship. Stylistically, some are immersive while others are spare: to each their own!

This eclectic collection features a potpourri of Young Adult authors, some are well-known while others are newer to the scene. Either way, their contributions offer a great chance to get to know their work. My two cents’ worth: this is a consistent collection in terms of enjoyment of its respective stories. 

That being said, a few standouts for me included “How to Love a Sidewinder,” “Across the Stars,” and “Well Suited.” These storylines involved outsmarting a vengeful water spirit, adventuring in space, and subverting a debutante ball. 

How to Love a Sidewinder by Kat Yuen

Xiaoying truly enjoys having close friendships and that’s the limit of her interests. Despondent about being cursed to seek out “true love’s kiss” she returns home. Unfortunately, her mother’s habit of asking after her love life feels like a pressure cooker. Her connection with her mother steadily improves as Xiaoying feels more supported to speak her truth. The curse lifts as familial love shines through. 

Across the Stars by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Freya is an orphan who has lived alone on a space station since her parents died. She is confronted with the full force of her grief when she loses a vital family memory on her bot. Zoey, a tech support representative, guides Freya on a last chance mission but they are unable to fix it. In a cosmic coincidence, Freya finds fulfillment in her friendship with Zoey when she finally ventures out into the great beyond.

Well Suited by Rosiee Thor 

A new noblewoman, Brindle, loathes attending a debutante ball and concocts a scheme with her best friend and mage, Fig, who enchants a suit of armor to become a fictitious knight. Unfortunately, the magic backfires. Sir Guy, the fake fiance, true to form, illustrates that armor can be more of a cage than a shield. When the besties are pushed in directions they don’t want, they unite to create a life they want for themselves.

Borrowing from literary tradition, “The Hero acts to redeem society by overcoming great odds in service to successfully completing extraordinary acts of strength, courage and goodness.” As these stories illustrate, the hero archetype can take many forms. The more voices we hear and read, the better we are able to question what we think of as the default personal journey or romantic experience.  We all stand to gain a better understanding of the plurality of identities from reading this collection. Don’t miss out on the chance to learn something about yourself, others, and the world


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And Then She Fell

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