Publisher: October Night Publishing
Release Date: August 5, 2017
Received From: Review requested by the author
In the Christian Republic, homosexual people are given two choices—a camp to “fix” them, or exile to the distant islands populated by lesbians and gay men.
Sixteen-year-old Jason chooses exile and expects a hardscrabble life but instead finds a thriving, supportive community. While exploring his identity as a transgender boy he also discovers adventure: kraken attacks, naval battles, a flying island built by asexual people, and a daring escape involving glow-in-the-dark paint. He also has a desperate crush on Sky, a spirited buccaneer girl, but fear keeps him from expressing his feelings.
When Jason and his companions discover the Republicans are planning a war of extermination, they rally the people of the Rainbow Islands to fight back.
Shy, bookish Jason will have to find his inner courage or everything and everyone he loves will be lost forever.
GENDER: transgender, cisgender
SEXUALITY: questioning, bisexual
ROMANTIC ORIENTATION: questioning, biromantic
TROPES: found family
TAGS: young adult, fantasy, romance, queer romance, queer characters, ownvoices, coming out, interracial relationship, POC characters, Black characters
WARNINGS: religion (Christianity), conversion therapy, torture, anti-queer, vomiting mention, open water, cissexism/trans exclusionary language, suicide mention, drowning mention, enby exclusionary language (“he or she”), ableism (“hoping to cripple us”), war, violence, slurs, ace exclusionary language
This story was a fun adventure and was a great piece of wish fulfillment that continues to be relevant in the current political climate. Because really, what queer person wouldn’t love to move islands made up entirely of other queer people, a place where we could (hypothetically) simply be accepted for who we are without judgement? It would be a dream come true! And I enjoyed reading about that happening for Jason and other queer people in the story. It was so lovely to read about all of them immediately being accepted by the others on the islands, and receiving all the help and understanding that they need. The adventure aspect of the book was really fun too–I particularly enjoyed the kraken scenes and how inventive they had to be in order to protect themselves and their ship.
And the romance between Jason and Sky was very sweet and heartwarming! It was adorable to watch them tiptoe around their interest in the other before Sky finally got fed up and just flat out told Jason that she likes him. From then on, they were a super cute couple and I enjoyed the pure fluff that was their relationship. Additionally, I loved the bond that formed between Jason and the captain of the pirate ship he joins! As an older trans man, Captain Agosti is able to be a kind of mentor for Jason, which turns into a kind of father/son relationship that was lovely to read. My favorite scene was the one where Jason asks if he could take the captain’s last name as his own–it was incredibly precious.
One aspect of the story that was a bit difficult to read was the internalized ideas about what body parts you need in order to be a man or a woman, but it was also understandable given the context. As a nonbinary reader, I already know that penis doesn’t equate to man and vagina doesn’t equate to woman, but Jason is a boy who hasn’t really be taught anything about queer identities until he gets to the islands, except for that any form of queerness is a sin and worthy of punishment. So, naturally, he’s internalized a lot of negative and untrue things about being queer, which were, as I mentioned, difficult to read. But! I did like that these are challenged on page and that people make an effort to give Jason the correct information he needs. And I liked that we see, again on page, Jason asking questions and expressing his concerns about sex and his body, and seeing the captain calmly and matter-of-factly explaining and helping him to accept that he’s a man even if he doesn’t have a penis.
I did have a couple issues with the book, however. The first is that there’s really no mention of people on the aromantic spectrum. I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t exist, because that’s just not realistic in any world, fantasy or otherwise, and so it makes wonder if they were purposely excluded from the narrative or if Harnois just…overlooked the aro spectrum when writing the story. Either way is hurtful, and I’m not really sure which answer I’d prefer. Also, while there were nonbinary characters (there’s only one recurring one, but), Harnois repeatedly uses phrases like “he or she” in the text, and rarely uses gender neutral terms except when explicitly referring to the one nonbinary character who has a few scenes with Jason and Sky.
Also, while it’s understandable in Jason as he’s newly brought to the islands and is still working through internalized stuff, there’s really no differentiation between Good People and Bad People within the story, with the exception of queer people being Good and everyone else being Bad. Which…is strange, especially from people who have enough distance from their exile to realize that there’s shades of gray, and who would be able to impart that to Jason, or to at least say it around where he may hear. There’s a brief thought when they’re going to free the people in the camp, where Jason wonders about the innocent people who may be getting hurt from the bombings and other attacks, but it’s rapidly cast aside. There’s no real concept of nuance. Are all the people in the Christian Republic bad people who believing queer people? Are there queer people still living in the Republic, who’ve learned how to hide or repress their queer identities in order to survive? And when I mentioned above that this is wish fulfillment…it definitely is. Because in the world we live in, there’s no question that some aspects of queer identity are not universally accepted by other queer people. In the book, there’s brief mention of a small sect of queer people who don’t accept trans people as being queer, but…that’s it. There’s no other conflict when it comes to gender, sexual, and romantic identities, which, don’t get me wrong, I love and would really love to see in contemporary reality, but it fell a bit flat. That could just be me, though.
3.5 stars rounded to 4
Devin Harnois writes Romance and YA of the fantastical sort. Somehow his books keep getting more queer. When he isn’t writing he spends too much time on Twitter and plays a lot of Dragon Age. Devin lives in Minneapolis.
Find Devin at: