And welcome to a recommendation post where I talk about messy characters, AGAIN. I love them, ok?
And I don’t know if it’s because of spending too much time on Tik Tok, which just feels a bit like Tumblr amped by 10 and appropriated by Gen Z, but OH MY GOD, have we normalized the word toxic to be used in every single scenario. I think people have come to forget that humans are HUMANS. And, by default, imperfect. Which doesn’t make every single one of them toxic.
BUT, if you’d rather see it this way, then here’s a list of toxic books that I absolutely love and that you should too:
CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT
Not me still talking about Call It What You Want.
I feel like, at this point, I’ve already made this book my brand, which is a bit embarrassing, considering I’ve only actually read it once and it’s possible that in revisiting it, I find out that it actually sucks. It’s pretty unlikely, though, because I went into this one with zero expectations and it blew me away.
Call It What You Want explores the different lives of these two “high school social pariahs” – Rob, whose dad was caught in a major financial scandal that the town believes Rob knew of; and Meghan, who got caught cheating in her SATs and had everyone’s scores canceled because of it.
These characters are assigned a Math project together and the rest is history.
This book is fantastic at developing every single character and giving them a beautiful, satisfying arc. Not only the dynamic between Rob and Meghan is amazing, but all the other ones between them and the side characters are equally fleshed out and feel realistic.
It also explores morality and what does it mean to do a bad thing for a good reason impeccably well. I don’t have enough good things to say about it, except like, read it, for the 800th time.
SUMMER BIRD BLUE
When I first picked up Summer Bird Blue, I had no idea it would actually break my heart as much as it did, even though everyone says it’s a tear-jerker. I thought I was too much of a hard soul to crack, but… yeah, they were correct.
Summer Bird Blue explores so many great topics, I might as well write a list:
- Grief & regret. Our protagonist has just lost her sister and feels a lot of very complicated feelings over it.
- Pretty much all the teenagers in this book are mixed, including our protagonist – half-white and half-Japanese/Hawaiian.
- Rumi is also aro-ace!
- There’s also an adorable platonic relationship between the MC and the bubbly boy next door and a hilarious, heartwarming friendship with the grumpy grandpa of the neighborhood.
- Music. Is a huge part of the story and will make you cry.
- The writing is simple, yet so stunning.
- Rumi’s mom leaves her with her aunt after the loss of her sister and the exploration of abandonment from the two perspectives is so complicated it hurts.
Basically: this book will make you see grief in one of the most vulnerable and honest ways I’ve ever read. It’s not an easy one, but it’s rewarding.
ODD ONE OUT
I know a lot of people say there are certain tropes they are 100% done with, and I respect that. BUT, I am one of those that likes to think there are still interesting and entertaining ways to write every single trope, including the one feared the most by everyone who survived this trope’s epidemic during the early 2010s. Yes, I’m talking about him:
But hear me out: Odd One Out actually plays with love triangles but in a way in which EVERY PART OF THE TRIANGLE IS IN LOVE WITH THE OTHER. You can imagine how messy this is and that’s why is in list list.
These characters don’t make the right choices, for themselves or for each other. They pretty much give mixed signals and play with the other person’s feeling simply because they can (and also because they’re trying to figure their sexualities out, which is a pretty complicated and messy process inherently).
I don’t *love* this book, but I still think there are great discussions here. There’s also like a side mystery plot line where two of the characters team up to find this “missing TV show host” that was actually pretty cool.
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN
Spot me talking about a 2014 book like a full on #BookToker.
Also, a fun fact for all of you that complain that BookTok is only filled with early 2010s titles: do y’all know that books DON’T actually have expiration dates and they can still be meaningful even YEARS after their release? I know, shocking!
I’ll Give You The Sun is fantastic and if for some reason you haven’t read yet, I’m telling you: YOU CAN. Just because it’s a backlist novel it doesn’t mean is bad or aged or any of the sorts. It’s pretty great to this day (I can say because I re-read it like in 2019 and it still held up significantly well. Except for this one age-gap relationship that you CAN have issues with, and trust me, that’s part of the book’s experience. We’re talking about messy people here, after all!)
This book focuses so well on characters making bad decisions in name of *very* human reasons: anger, jealousy, resentment. Noah and Jude, our protagonists, are far from perfect, and yet you can’t help but understand and root for them nonetheless.
It also deals with art a whole lot: mostly paintings and sculptures and it’s impossible not to fall in love with Jandy Nelson’s writing.
FELIX EVER AFTER
If you’re one of those that I constantly see on Twitter asking for more messy queer stories: read Felix Ever After. I’m sure you already have if you’re a fan of this, but READ IT AGAIN THEN.
I don’t know exactly where I stand in the “messy queer media” debacle (because like, on one hand, yes queer people aren’t unicorn rainbow creatures, they mess up and they’re just as problematic as straights, but also isn’t that the way queer people have been represented in media for YEARS by straight writers?)
Anyway. This is too much of a complicated debate and we’re here to talk about Felix Ever After.
Starring: Felix, cunning and low-key evil, Felix. Who gets a gallery made of his old, pre-transition pictures and also starts being harassed online and decides to end whoever did that. He suspects is this one mean preppy guy from his school, so he starts essentially cat fishing him, hoping to get a secret just to expose him later. Yes, very ~healthy behavior~.
I appreciated so much how this book allowed Felix to be messy and flawed and to discover himself and learn from his mistakes. His arc was SO deep, because a lot of this book is also about Felix questioning his gender and labels and also confronting his family’s past.
Pretty much all the side characters in this book are queer and they’re problematic AF as well at times. Which is infuriating, but also realistic! And we stan realistic in this household.
If you have more recommendations for this “trope”, I guess, let me know in the comments! And if you’ve read any of these books too and what are your feelings in them!