Hello everybody! Today, I`m really excited to be reviewing the latest YA anthology from Stripes, which is called Proud, and to tell you a little bit about each story/what I thought of them. Onto the post!
*received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review*
Note- as with all anthologies, I`m not going to review the poetry additions as I don`t really know enough about them to do so. I will say, however, that I thought Dean Atta`s was beautiful.
Penguins by Simon James Green and illustrated by Alice Oseman
My first note for this simply says that I loved it (except in shouty capitals) and that pretty much sums up my feelings. It`s the story of a boy called Cam, who is trying to come out amidst the chaos caused by two penguins at his local zoo beginning a gay relationship. I defy anyone not to love Cam as a narrator- he is hilarious and lovable and just so wonderful. I also adored the supportive people he has in his life, namely Luis, Molly and his mum. The relationship is best described as precious, and the ending (and the artwork) melted my heart.
On the Run by Kay Staples and illustrated by Alex Bertie
This is the story of two teens who run away together to start a new life, and their relationship. I initially couldn`t really work out what it was about but the narrative voice intrigued me immediately (not least because the writing is gorgeous) and then their past and how they came to be there is explained and it was so satisfying and cleverly done. It made me cry several times because the emotions the characters experience feel so raw and real, and I was so invested in them as a couple and their happiness. Entirely unpredictable, powerful, perfect.
The Phoenix`s Fault by Cynthia So and illustrated by Priyanka Meenakshi
This is the tale of two girls called Jingzhi and Xiayin as they work out their feelings for each other, spurred on by the king`s decree that anyone who owns a phoenix (which Jingzhi does) must present themselves to him as a potential bride. The fantasy world is lush and interesting, and so well built given the rather short length of this story; I could easily read a full book set there. The writing gave it a mythical, fantastical feel too, and I was incredibly surprised (and impressed!) by how well this epic fantasy style worked in such a short format. Jingzhi and Xiayin have a really lovely relationship as well.
As the Philadelphia Youth Choir Sing Katy Perry`s Firework by David Levithan and illustrated by Steve Antony
Sadly, this is one of the few stories in the collection that didn`t really work for me. I couldn`t click with the unusual narrative style, partly because it was very stilted and partly because I really struggled to work out what was actually happening (by the end, I felt like I got it a bit more, but even then I wasn`t sure). I also just didn`t feel invested in the protagonist/their love interest/anyone else, because there wasn`t really much interaction between them. I did quite like the focus on music and the effect it can have on your life though.
Almost Certain by Tanya Byrne and illustrated by Frank Duffy
This story is so hard to explain without spoiling the whole thing while making it sound as phenomenal as it is, so bear in that mind while I give it my best go. It`s basically a slice of life story about a few (pretty life-altering) days in the life of a girl called Orla, and I adored it. I was completely sucked into her world and it really felt like I was in her head because we get such an insight into her life. Another way I could try to explain this is that it`s beautiful- both in terms of the writing and the content. The way the descriptions so often linked to music and the important role music has for Orla (who I found super relatable, as a sidenote) was another huge highlight for me. Also, I can`t tell you what it is, but there`s a part of this that shocked me so much I genuinely stopped breathing for a moment or two, and it`s just so brilliant. I don`t know if I`ve done a good job explaining this or not, but I was (and still am) kind of stunned by how spectacular it is.
The Other Team by Michael Lee Richardson and illustrated by David Roberts
This is about an LGBTQIA+ football team and one specific game they play where the other team takes issue with their being there. Football is not and probably never will be my thing, so I was really pleasantly surprised by how great I thought this was. The banter and camaraderie between the members of the team is hilarious, and the way they accept and defend each other without limit, hesitation or question made me really emotional as I read this, because it`s so special. I can`t find the words for how moving I found that part of this. The narrator, Ethan, is great, and there were some really fantastic lines which made me adore his sense of humour. Also, yay to this having a Scottish setting!
I Hate Darcy Pemberley by Karen Lawler and illustrated by Kameron White
This is a female/female Pride and Prejudice retelling set in an American high school, and it is even more epic than makes it sound- it focuses on a hate to love romance between two girls called Lizzie and Darcy. My notes for this are fairly rambling and fangirly, because this is the romcom I need in my life. It felt like every inch a classic romcom, but in short story form. The big romantic gesture (aka how you sort out the true classics from the pretty excellent romcoms) is one of my favourites I`ve ever seen. The romance is amazing. The friendship groups are awesome, and I loved all the drama between different groups so much. Lizzie`s witty narration is EVERYTHING, too.
The Courage of Dragons by Fox Benwell and illustrated by Kristen Van Dam
This is about the struggles a Dungeons and Dragons-loving non-binary teenager faces at school, after they come out. I`m not really that familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, or interested in it, so I didn`t really connect with that, and it took away from my enjoyment of the friendship between the group and the way they take revenge against the school for their lack of understanding.
The Instructor by Jess Vallance and illustrated by Kate Alizadeh
This is a super lovely story about a girl named Lucy, as she falls in love over the course of taking her driving lessons. I really liked You Only Live Once by this author, and some of this felt very much like that- namely the dry-witted narration and a quite slow-burning female/female romance with some adorable moments. There`s also a fab little twist and an ending that gave me absolute warm fuzzies. Yip, this is a good one for sure.
Love Poems to the City by Moira Fowley Doyle and illustrated by
The prose in this is undeniably stunning, but like with the one book by the author I`ve read, I didn`t really get this. I found the magical realism aspect confusing, and as I was trying so hard to figure that out I didn`t really feel anything for the narrator or their friends. I did quite like the focus on politics and campaigning for marriage equality in Ireland though, which made this more enjoyable overall than it would have been for me otherwise.
Are you excited for this anthology? Which story are you particularly excited about reading? Or if you had an advance copy, what was your favourite story? I`d love to hear in the comments!