Tim Te Maro and the Subterranean Heartsick Blues by H.S. Valley

The Ampersand Prize has launched the writing careers of some of the best YA writers in Australia and New Zealand. The winning books are always amazing stories that are fresh and exciting. The latest winner of the Ampersand Prize is no exception. Tim Te Maro and the Subterranean Heartsick Blues by Auckland teacher and author, H.S. Valley, is one of the coolest YA books you’ll read this year.

Tim Te Maro and Elliott Parker are classmates at Fox Glacier High School for the Magically Adept. They’ve never gotten along, but when they’re both dumped the day before the big egg-baby assignment, they team up to get back at their exes. They can’t stand each other but now they’re thrown together 24/7 to raise an egg-baby together. They make a deal to stick it out until the end of the assignment. Tim isn’t certain of his sexuality, and his experimentation was partly to blame for his breakup with his ex-girlfriend. Elliot is comfortable in his sexuality and he’s only too happy to help Tim figure out what he likes. As Tim and Elliott hook up, with no strings attached, Tim tries to figure out how he feels about Elliott. The deadline for the assignment looms, but how can things just go back to how they were before when Tim has feelings for Elliott?

I love everything about this book! It’s a cute, queer love story, set in a magical boarding school hidden under Fox Glacier. There’s plenty of sexual tension, great dialogue, humour, a hint of magic, and authentic characters who you get to know intimately. It’s a book that makes you want to shout at the characters, especially when Tim clearly can’t see what is right in front of him.

I love these characters! H.S.Valley has created characters who feel very real and relatable. They have insecurities and struggle with their feelings, and Tim in particular overthinks everything. I immediately liked Tim’s voice. He’s bitter from his breakup and hasn’t forgiven his dad for leaving suddenly three years ago. He vehemently dislikes Elliott, because of how he acts and the people he hangs out with. He can’t possibly imagine spending every minute with Elliott for the assignment. The more that he gets to know Elliott though, the more he realises that Elliott isn’t the self-righteous dick that he thought he was. Elliott is willing to help Tim explore his sexuality, at a pace that Tim is comfortable with and without messy feelings getting in the way. Tim also sees how caring and gentle Elliott can be, with their egg-baby. I love the dialogue between Tim and Elliott and the sexual tension between them. Like any teenage couple, they get to the stage where they can’t keep their hands off each other. The only problem is trying to keep their relationship secret from their friends and family. Tim realises that he likes guys, especially Elliott, but he’s not ready for his friends to find out. It is cute watching their relationship develop, but you worry that things might fall apart.

I really enjoyed the magic school aspect of the story, but this often felt like just the setting for Tim and Elliott’s relationship. Their magic and magical education came in to parts of the story but I wanted to see more of this. Having said that, the fact that their magic school is underneath Fox Glacier makes this story feel fresh.

I don’t feel ready to say goodbye to Tim and Elliott. I’ll be thinking about them for ages.

Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

Nothing Ever Happens Here is a fantastic story that focuses on a family coming to terms with the dad announcing that he is transitioning. It’s an important story not just for kids but teachers and parents.

Izzy’s life in her small town is pretty non-eventful until the day that her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman. Izzy worries how this will affect her family. Will she lose her dad? Will her parents split up? What will her friends and the other kids at school say? Izzy is someone who has never liked the limelight but now a spotlight is shining on her family.

The story is told from 12 year old Izzy’s perspective so you get the conflict from her point of view – wanting to support her Dad (or Dee as they come to call her) while wanting things to be the same they’ve always been and being afraid of what others will think. As part of an LGBT charity the author, Sarah Hagger-Holt, brings her experience to the story without it ever feeling preachy. It’s a story that shows you the situation from many points of view, from the father who has never felt herself, to the wife and children and close friends.

This is an important book to have in all school libraries as I’m sure there will be kids in our schools that are in similar situations. It also makes kids aware of these issues. Suitable for anyone 10+.

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

Stories can take us out of our own heads and put us into the heads of other people.  I don’t think I’ve ever met myself in a story but I’ve certainly met many characters whose lives and personalities are very different from mine.  I love getting inside the heads of these characters who help me to see the world from a completely different perspective.  This is why I love David Levithan’s books so much.  His characters are very real and always stick with me long after I’ve finished the book.  David’s latest book, written with Nina LaCour, takes us inside the head of two lovesick teens, a gay boy, Mark and a lesbian girl, Kate, and their friendship that comes along at exactly the right time.

9781925355529Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

I loved You Know Me Well but I didn’t want the story to end.  I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to Mark and Kate.  I carried them around with me everywhere while I was reading their stories and I kept hoping that they were going to get everything that they wanted.  It’s a story about friendship, love, discovering yourself and having the courage to be that person.

Mark is gay and everyone knows this.  He’s in love with his best friend Ryan, and the two of them have fooled around plenty of times in the past.  Ryan, though, doesn’t seem ready for the world to know he’s gay and certainly doesn’t see himself as Mark’s boyfriend.  Things get complicated when Ryan hooks up with a guy in a bar and starts a relationship with him.  Onto the scene comes Kate, a girl in Mark’s class who he has never talked to.  Kate is running away from the chance to finally meet the girl of her dreams.  Mark and Kate get talking and realise that they have found the friend they didn’t know they needed.  They help each other to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

It always amazes me how well dual-author books work.  The two different characters and perspectives, written by these two fantastic authors, weave perfectly together.  You really get inside Mark and Kate’s heads, feeling all of their insecurities, their heartbreaks, as well as their hopes for the future.

David and Nina show you how tough life is  for LGBTQ teens as they figure out who they are, while at the same time showing you that they have the same problems as straight teens, especially when it comes to finding love. Although the story centres on a gay and a lesbian teen it’s ultimately about being proud of who you are, no matter what your sexual orientation.

I know that Mark and Kate are only fictional characters but I wish that I could check in on them from time to time and see where their lives have taken them.  Grab a copy of You Know Me Well and get to know them yourself.