Sunday, June 16, 2019

Book Review: "Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens" by Tanya Boteju

Tanya Boteju's debut novel, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens is an unabashedly charming book about finding yourself and being true to who you are. It's a book with humor, sensitivity, and so much heart, and it definitely left me with a smile on my face. (It's much less conspicuous to smile on a plane while reading rather than cry your eyes out!)

Nima Kumara-Clark has just finished her junior year of high school, but she doesn't see much excitement on the horizon this summer outside of hanging out with her best friend, Charles. She's longing for something to shake her life up, and given that she's spent a few years nursing an obsessive love for Ginny, her straight best friend, it doesn't appear that love is in the cards for her either.

One night during the local summer festival, she has a chance encounter with Deidre, a drag queen, who takes her to her first drag show. Nima is quickly taken under Deidre's wing, and she feels tremendously comfortable for the first time in her life, which is a change from her usual awkwardness. She is also utterly unprepared for the way the show makes her feel, especially when she sees a performance by Winnow, a sexy drag king.

"With each passing moment, I'd get that feeling you sometimes have the moment you're about to flip the final page of a really good book, when your anticipation for what happens next overwhelms you, but you also know that turning the page means you're closer to an end. This was a story I didn't want to end."

It seems as if Winnow shares the same attraction and feelings for Nima once the two meet. Nima has been disappointed too many times before, and she's not sure if she's ready to fully acknowledge her sexuality or let her guard down again. But she's also unafraid to let another opportunity to find love pass her by.

As Nima's friendship with Deidre deepens, and her interest in Winnow grows (as does the number of awkward encounters between them), she also has to deal with a number of other issues—Charles' jealousy of this new "life" she has found, the confusing behavior and mood swings of a childhood friend-turned-bully, and the re-emergence of her mother, who left Nima and her father more than a year ago with no explanation. It's a lot of emotional pressure for a young woman on the cusp of embracing her true self and taking the first few steps toward self-acceptance.

Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens is a fun read, and some of the characters are so tremendously vivid that they capture your heart. There's so much spirit in this book, but there's also a lot of emotion, as the characters have to come to terms with their identity, acknowledge the pain caused by others, and find the courage to step outside their comfort zone.

I enjoyed this book very much, and read it during the course of a plane ride. I did feel there were many issues that were left unresolved, including what was going on with Gordon, and Nima's relationship with her mother. That was a little frustrating. I also wasn't really sure about Deidre—was she a drag queen, a trans woman, or something else? I can only hope that Boteju might have a follow-up book planned to provide some answers.

Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens will leave you smiling, humming, and, depending on where you are when you're reading this, dancing. This book is full of positivity and hopefully, when it falls into the right hands, may help lots of teenagers and adults begin the journey toward self-acceptance.

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