I am kicking off spooky book season with a review of the fantastic Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib. This was one of my favorite reads this year. Habib’s debut novel is an emotional and tense queer horror novel with an excellent plot twist and gruesome body horror.
Todd, a single parent, is at the beach with his son Anthony when he runs into a childhood classmate. Jack relentlessly bullied Todd in school, but now he is thrilled to reconnect with Todd. Todd is thrown off because they have not seen each other since they were at odds in their teens. Jack ends up sleeping on Todd’s couch and spending the night. Anthony and Jack quickly hit it off, and Jack continues to sleep over. Todd begins to question Jack’s motives and whether running into each other at the beach was a coincidence. I will share nothing more to avoid spoiling this twisty story.
I loved how dark and tense this story was. The twist about a third of the way into the book made me audibly gasp. This is not the book to de-stress; I was at the edge of my seat. Habib delivers the body horror. There is one horrifically explosive scene that I will never forget. This is a character driven story; you really get into the psyche of Todd. Flashback chapters from Todd and Jack’s childhood are interspersed in the first part of the novel. There are also some sections told from Anthony’s point of view. I was impressed at Habib’s ability to write in a child’s voice. Anthony’s sections are written in a childlike stream of consciousness. The novel concludes with a powerful, emotional ending. This is the first time a horror book brought tears to my eyes.
If you are looking for gay horror novels to read this fall you can’t go wrong with Hawk Mountain. Below are my thoughts on the gay themes in the book. Feel free to stop here to avoid some light spoilers.
Warning Light Spoilers:
Hawk Mountain focuses on toxic masculinity and the internal unrest of closeted gay men. The violence in this book is caused by society’s failure to accept gay men. For me, this book is about how being so deep in the closet can make one project and externalize their self-hatred onto others, with disastrous and extreme consequences. Reading this book, I was heartbroken for closeted people who are unable to openly be themselves, especially queer people from my parent’s generation who grew up in a time when coming out can be met with such oppression.
Red, White & Royal Blue was my biggest reading surprise of the year. I’ve never had any interest in the romance genre, but after seeing Casey McQuiston’s gay rom-com recommended all over Bookstagram and Booktube I decided to give it a try. Less than halfway through the book I was fully invested. My husband had to endure me rambling on about Alex and Henry’s dramatic romance and how amazing the book was. I have discovered a new favorite book.
Alex Claremont-Diaz, first son of the United States, and the UK’s Prince Henry are rivals. After the boys have a messy altercation involving a cake their two families agree to force Alex and Henry to fake a friendship to improve U.S/U.K. relations. However, the enemies become eventual lovers when Alex and Henry find themselves in a secret romance. They both have reasons to keep the relationship a secret. Alex fears the relationship will hurt his mom’s odds at being reelected in the upcoming presidential election. And Henry is not allowed to be out of the closet because his elders believe it would tarnish the royal family’s reputation. But as their feelings grow stronger keeping the relationship a secret becomes more challenging.
My favorite part of the novel was the perfectly written banter between Alex and Henry. Their flirty exchange was written perfectly. The emails they share between each other, including quotes from historically queer characters, are especially cute. Many of Alex and Henry’s friends are fantastic allies. Red, White & Royal Blue is a feel-good, wholesome queer love story. When so much of queer fiction focuses on trauma, stories like this are refreshing.
I appreciated how the story focused on Alex’s professional life, instead of solely his love life. In your 20s every career decision seems critical because your professional life is just beginning. Alex was concerned his relationship with a member of the British royal family would ruin his ambitious goal of becoming an American senator before 30. I related to this strongly. Two years ago, I decided to move out of state with my partner for his doctorate program’s internship. We moved before I was able to secure a new job. I was worried that I was compromising my career for my relationship. Fast forward to today and I am happily married to my best friend and my career is moving in a positive direction. Young professionals have decades of time to develop their careers. We need to normalize making shifts in our career goals. It is freeing when you realize that changes in your professional plans are not failures, especially when they are for the love of your life.
My only (tiny) criticism of the book is I was not sold on the sex scenes. This wasn’t a huge drawback for me. Sex scenes in books are not my favorite. Steamy bedroom scenes are not McQuiston’s strength if literary smut matters to you. I found these scenes to be awkwardly written. The writing was almost muddled. It felt strangely asexual.
Nonetheless, Red, White & Royal Blue was a beautiful book that I can see myself reading again! Alex and Henry’s relationship is brilliantly written. I was glued to the pages as they turned from enemies to lovers. I definitely plan on reading more gay romance books in the future. Please give me some recommendations in the comments!
Early on in All Boys Aren’t Blue George M. Johnson quotes Toni Morrison. “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”. George meets Morrison’s challenge in All Boys Aren’t Blue, a memoir-manifesto written for young adults. Black queer boys have always been present, but their stories are rarely shared in media. Johnson shares events from his childhood through his time at the historically black college, Virginia Union University. The stories are told with a focus on his black and queer identity. The manifesto portion of the book comes into play at the end of each chapter, where Johnson uses his lived experiences to offer advice and lessons to his readers. As George grows older, he develops acceptance of his identity and crafts his own version of masculinity.
Readers will experience themes of intersectionality, masculinity, family, coming out, brotherhood, and the loss of loved ones. Johnson shares his early sexual experiences. These are valuable exposures for young queer readers because same-sex intercourse is often intentionally omitted from sex education curricula. A standout figure in Johnson’s work is the delightful Nanny, the grandma every queer child deserves to have. Johnson includes current events and pop culture references throughout the book. Photographs of Johnson alongside family members and friends that are featured in the book make the work more personal. Johnson’s words of advice at the end of each chapter began to feel repetitive the further I got into the book. I would have preferred he did more showing than telling, especially when the lesson of the chapter is obvious after reading the story. But then I remembered this book was intended for an audience much younger than myself, so I believe the style is appropriate.
All Boys Aren’t Blue is an impressive debut for George M. Johnson. While this book is an invaluable read for queer black boys, Johnson’s story deserves attention from everyone.
Trigger Warnings: Sexual Assault, Incest, Death and Dying