- The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé is an f/f horror novel about what might or might not be a haunting.
Marianne from The Dark Beneath the Ice is probably the character I’ve read about that reminds me of myself the most. I had almost given up on reading books following characters with anxiety, because not only the characters’ experiences were never similar to mine, they also made me feel bad for always being far less functional than they were.
That’s not the case with this book. It shows how all-consuming and isolating it can get, and how it affects negatively so many aspects of your life, and does so with a horror metaphor. I mean, that’s often how it feels, so. Seeing Marianne go through that ended up being neither scary nor demoralizing – the opposite. Emotionally draining, yes, but it mostly felt like an acknowledgment that mental illness is a horrible thing, not a character trait you can be comforted out of (especially by other teenagers).
- The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz is a queer coming-of-age magical realism story about art and perfectionism.
The first time I read The Gallery of Unfinished Girls, I didn’t understand why I related so much to Mercedes Moreno, as I’m definitely not a bisexual Puerto Rican painter who smokes a little too much and has a probably-unrequited crush on her female best friend. I thought it encompassed the experience of being a 17-year-old girl really well – which it does, but the reason I felt so close to Mercedes is that this book is about wanting to live in your own head because reality can’t compare. Which is… relatable, I think.
I’ve never been a painter, but I get why Mercedes struggled with art – she mostly saw the imperfections in it, and her perfectionism was also applied to many other aspects of her life. This book sets up that metaphor in such a clever way that I was able to feel it so deeply even when I still didn’t understand it.
- You already know what The Grisha Trilogy is, and I’m lazy.
The main thing you should know about Alina Starkov is that she really, really doesn’t want to be there, no matter where she is. She’s grumpy and just wants to go to [her version of] home. I, too, often just want to go home. Also, in the first book, she basically has the magical version of an illness that directly affects her mood and her appetite, and wasn’t that basically 16-year-old Acqua.
I think the main reason I hated Mal so much the first time I read this series (I don’t, now) is that he’s the only thing about her I didn’t understand and relate to. He’s a very realistic(ally annoying) teenage boy, which is a category I’ve never been interested in. Why should I have wanted to read about him when there was a perfectly intoxicating and messed up villain romance around?
- A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is a gorgeous slow-burn f/f adult sci-fi book everyone should at least try.
Me and Mahit aren’t really that similar when it comes to personality, as she’s an ambassador and I’m about as diplomatic as an angry cat. However, reading from the point of view of another person who not only grew up on literature that was either translated or straight up written in another language, in which she was at best an afterthought, was an experience I thought I was never going to get, seeing how US-centric the book industry is. This book gets both why Mahit does that and how it feels, and it was the best kind of painful.
- Final Draft by Riley Redgate is an f/f contemporary novel about a 17-year-old pansexual Ecuadorian girl who wants to be a writer.
Another book with anxiety representation somewhat close to mine! This is a story about how the pursuit of art isn’t worth your sanity. It takes apart the myth of the tormented artist and I loved all of it, even though emotionally it was a really difficult book.
In this book, Laila goes from writing things that make her happy to not being able to write because of the anxiety, and I can understand that. Also, she grew up Catholic but isn’t anymore, and while I didn’t go through an “I don’t believe anymore” moment as she did (you can’t if you never believed to begin with), I could partially relate to how she talked about religion.
- Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust is a quiet, subversive f/f fantasy retelling of Snow White with a wintry, fairytale-like atmosphere. I really recommend it.
When people talk about the characters in Girls Made of Snow and Glass, they usually talk about how well-written and complex and subversive the character of Mina was. To be honest, I didn’t care about Mina that much – but I cared a lot about Lynet, her and her romance with Nadia, the court surgeon.
How many books have I read that specifically mention the feeling of wanting to get out of your own body? (This sounds weirder than it actually is, but it isn’t that weird of a feeling to me.) And I generally relate a lot to the quiet characters who are observers more than anything. I, too, would climb on trees to spy on the cute fantasy scientist instead of doing whatever a princess is supposed to do if I were a princess.
- Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee is the mass murder magic math in space book, or, also, “my favorite book”.
The main character of Ninefox Gambit is in the military, and making the decision to join the military, especially a military with mind-control-enforced hierarchy like the one in this book, should have made her a deeply unrelatable character. And that part of her is, but as I said other times, Ajewen “I’m a lesbian but the villain is objectively attractive” Cheris is a really relatable character.
I, too, would spend more time with the cute robots than with the humans and I’m really into science (she’s into math. I’m… not, but close enough – I’m so not used to see women in STEM, even in SFF, that it is.)
Victoria “Tory” Stewart
- Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant is a sci-fi horror novel about man-eating mermaids, with a main f/f relationship.
More the idea of her than the actual character. Tory Stewart is a bisexual marine biologist (women in science!) who feels quite strongly about some aspects of conservational biology and has to restrain herself from infodumping people. I loved her, and I would have loved her even more if the way Mira Grant wrote her hadn’t at times made her feel more like an animalist on the internet than a scientist.
- I actually didn’t like The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, but it’s a contemporary novel about three girls fighting against rape culture at their school.
Again, the idea more than the character. Erin DeLillo for me was the uncanny valley of representation: so similar, that the parts that felt wrong almost hurt. Which is why I felt really strongly about how her sensory issues were handled in this book (poorly, in my opinion; you can see why I thought that in my review.)
- You also probably already know what Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer is. I think. If not… famous new weird novel? Very creepy, very short, and maybe the internet will give you a better description.
And here we are to the biologist from Annihilation, the character I really didn’t want to find relatable but that reminded me of myself anyway! She’s the kind of person I don’t want to be but that I’m afraid of becoming – cold, isolated, can’t socialize, barely cares about people, that sort of thing. Also, a book that knows what it means to be so fascinated by a tide pool that you can spend hours staring at it is a book that gets me.
Have you read any of these books?