Book Review: All Out Edited by Saundra Mitchell

All Out: The No-Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Through the Ages
By Various Authors
Edited by Saundra Mitchell

Advanced Reader Copy
Young Adult
Teen Audience
LGBT/Diversity Read
Short Story Collection


(I received this book as an earc in exchange for an honest review. This has had no impact on my following review.)

(Taken from GOODREADS)

Take a journey through time and genres and discover a past where queer figures live, love and shape the world around them. Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens. 

From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.

Here is a list of the stories and how I felt about each one:

Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore –

This story was a great first story for me because it is what got me to continue reading this collection. Part of it was because of the fact that there is a transgender character within the story. This story involves a bit of magic, which is related to Latin culture and the type of witchcraft within that particular culture. It was a powerful story that showcased that love is the same across the board. People will fight for the ones that they love and they will fight higher authorities to stay together. I was shocked by this particular story because at one point it felt that it was about to get very dark, but it executes moments in a way that makes them feel less graphic than what could have been done by another author. I appreciated this author stepping back from that though and it made me enjoy this story more because of it.

The Sweet Trade by Natalie C. Parker –

I started to roll my eyes at this particular story because it felt like there was a moment where it was going to be cliched because I thought the main character of it was going to be caught relatively quickly, but then Parker spun me right around and taught me a thing about writing. Not everything has to be predictable. I found myself so happy with this story because it went in a different direction than I thought it would. I loved that this relationship seemed to progress naturally, even if it was quickly due to being in a short story collection. This story really shows dreams and that one should try to be what they want, instead of what society tells them to be. Sometimes this means taking a large leap of faith, which is exactly what these main characters do. As a result, they are able to live their own lives and they recognize how they have to do it. This made me happy and this is one of the stories I would recommend reading even if you don’t want to read the entire collection for some reason.

And They Don’t Kiss At The End by Nilah Magruder –

This story was one of three stories that I found harder for me to get through. It was not my least favorite story in the collection though. One of the things that I enjoy about short story collections is that sometimes when you find a story that just isn’t speaking to you, you know it will end soon. I felt that way when I started into this one. I found it challenging to read and I grew tired of this back and forth between the two main characters pretty quickly. I wanted to like it more because the main character is representing asexuality, but I just found it a challenge to read this. I think it was because the previous stories were very much set in time periods that seemed more adventurous, more dangerous, and were full of drama. This one seemed more like a “slice of life” tale, which just shook me because of the previous ones. I still find this story to be appropriate for the collection and one worth reading, but it does take the reader back a bit due to the placement of it within the collection. Asexuality is underrepresented in fiction, so I do appreciate what the author of this story was trying to do.

Burnt Umber by Mackenzi Lee –

This was probably my favorite story within the whole collection! The story involves a main character in a prestigious painting apprenticeship program. Multiple men are taking the classes to get a trade in painting for the future. The main character has less difficulties when the naked women are paraded about to paint, but then one day an all together different type of model comes in: the boy’s biggest crush. This story had humor, thought-provoking content, and everything that a reader could want in a tale. Bravo to Lee!

The Dresser & The Chambermaid by Robin Talley –

This felt like a very neutral story within the collection. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. The story is about exactly what the title states a dresser and a chambermaid. It is about how one has grown up their entire life in the castle and the other is fairly new to the entire process. The newer one does not always seem to do things by the book. This ends up being a very sweet romantic story about how one should always be honest and truthful, when one is things even out and go exactly where they should.

New Year by Malinda Lo –

I tried to understand and feel connected to this story, but I just could not get engaged with it. This was the second of three stories that I found challenging to read at all. I appreciate that this was a story discussing certain aspects of society and entertainment during a time period where it was harder to have these discussions. It just didn’t touch me in any meaningful way. I got the attraction was supposed to be a little bit off because of the male impersonator aspect of the story, but it just did not engage me correctly. Other stories were stronger and felt more meaningful overall.

Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler –

This was the hardest of the stories for me to get through and my least favorite of all the stories, so yes this is the third of three stories that I found challenging to read. This story involves the death of Kurt Cobain and how one character realizes she is pretty much in love with her best friend. There was just no moment that got me to connect with either of the two main characters and it left a rather dull and sour taste in my mouth for the collection. This could be because I have never been a fan of Nirvana, but considering that it is just an underlying element I don’t think so. It just didn’t engage me at all, but it could be someone else’s favorite story within the collection. It just wasn’t mine.

The Coven by Kate Scelsa –

I will be honest, when I started this one I nearly stopped reading the collection because of the previous two. This is still within the more “realistic” tone of the previous two stories and I was finding myself wanting something more like the first two stories that had a bit more adventure or magic within them. The thing is though, as I progressed further into this story I found the “realistic” nature of it actually showcasing power for women. This is definitely a female empowerment story here, which you would have thought I would understand since they were utilizing Gertrude Stein as a character. I was really taken into this story and how it played with history in a playful manner. I truly was mesmerized by this story and glad I didn’t DNF the entire thing before I finished it.

Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake –

This story was my second favorite of all the stories that were contained within its cover. This is a retelling of Robin Hood with probably the most interesting twist I have ever seen. I don’t even want to tell you what the twist was because I want you to read this one! I was literally floored by it and it was so clever. It utilized the tale of Robin Hood to perfection. I can’t really talk about this one because I fear I would tell you something that I don’t want you to know. Just know THIS MAKES THE ENTIRE THING WORTH READING!

Willows by Scott Tracey –

This was one that I enjoyed within the collection, but I have read other reviews that say how confusing this one is. I think I enjoyed the confusing nature of it because it dealt a lot with gender, which to me can be confusing. There are witches in it as well and I always love a story with witches in it. I just found myself taken in by this dark and despondent type of writing that was done here. It was hard to read, but sometimes good stories are harder to read. I do know though that you need to understand, in some capacity, that confusion happens with gender, if you truly want to get through this particular story correctly.

The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe –

This felt so magical! I felt like I was reading a fairy tale while reading this. This story involves a girl that nearly goes into a magical spring and has to leave her own world, but instead she becomes best friends with a wood spirit. This friendship becomes very powerful and the main character would do anything for the wood sprite and vice versa. This story reminded me so much of that potential heart of a great story. You know the kind that just shines through strongly. The plot and everything about this made me squeal in delight because it beautifully told.

The Secret Life of a Teenage Boy by Alex Sanchez –

How to be objective when this is a story written by Alex Sanchez (author of Rainbow Boys)! I can’t be, I loved this. I can see that other readers may be confused by the actions of the main young male character at certain times, but I understand that feeling of wanting freedom and escape from a world that has pushed you down. A world that you feel won’t allow you to be yourself. This story is so real and so truthful it hurt to read. I felt for several of the characters contained within it, especially the older “hobo” like character. That poor boy strung him along something fierce, but also he shouldn’t have wanted to run off with a younger boy anyways. I can understand it though. That desire for love, that need to be away. This book represents so well the struggles of a rural gay young male. Thank you Alex Sanchez for giving those of us that have been there a voice. I highly recommend to read this!

Walking After Midnight Kody Keplinger –

The beginning of this I didn’t like, I know none of these are long so how can I hate something short, but I did! It felt like a why do I care about this main character, but as her layers were revealed by Keplinger I felt myself feeling. I mean actually feeling for the main character, a young washed-up hollywood actress. I was like, “Oh girl, that messed up world done spit you out! Girl you’ll be okay!” She is as well, especially after she meets the other main character. This tale is a beautiful tale of a singular night in these two characters life and the hope that they give each other for different futures. Stunning!

The End of the World As We Know It by Sara Farizan –

I am not that young, so part of this was lost on my old crabby ways. I did enjoy this one though. This is about two friends that have drifted apart from each other because one has become “popular” and the other not so much. Then the dreaded Y2K is supposed to hit and everyone is scared about it. The popular one comes over and old wounds are rehashed and truths are told. I felt that this was a great “high school” story that a lot of people in that age bracket would identify with. From that standpoint, I definitely see it being an effective tale for this collection.

Three Witches by Tessa Gratton –

I had to read this a couple times to fully get what was going on within the story. When I read it about the 4th time I realized how profound it is. Three different perspectives and three different stories to be told that showcase a strong story by Gratton. Even though I reread this numerous times, I can see myself going back to this one to try to better understand it again and again. Its layers are so complex and Gratton does a great job of showing us a bit of history that is edged with strong religious undertones. While this was not my favorite in the entire collection, I will say that this was actually the most profound of the bunch.

The Inferno & The Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson – 

This was another journey into the magical side of this collection. A magician’s apprentice tries to discover how a trick is done and in the process makes a new friend that is attached to the trick. Along the way the main character discovers the secret behind the trick and falls head over heals in the process. This was such a sweet story about loving yourself as you are and not believing all the lies people will talk about you to make themselves feel better about their own lives (in this case saying someone is cursed). This story really underlined that all people are beautiful, even the ones that believe that they are cursed. I loved this and it melted my ice cold heart just a fraction of an inch.

Healing Rosa by Teholor Kay Mejia – 

I read this story almost a week after I had read 92% of the rest of the book. I couldn’t get myself to engage with the book after reading the previous story and honestly I didn’t want to leave the collection. I found myself in love with this story as well, but it was a harder read as well in the collection. This one involves a girl that learns witchy ways from her granny and how this ultimately plays out in helping another young girl become free of demons. This story takes you on an emotional journey where you will literally feel like you are thrown against a wall and flung out a window by the time you get to the final word.

Overall –

As a collection, I found that this book fills a needed void within the LGBT literature community, especially for youths. This showcases that even though we haven’t always been in the open that we still existed. I understand that these are fictional account (for the most part), but they allow LGBT youth to see themselves in stories. To see that the past did include them and that they are allowed to form their own histories. This collection reminds me of another collection that is just as important for LGBT youth to read called “Am I Blue?”, which really showcases that almost anyone could be gay because we don’t know their inner truths. This collection, however, lets the reader know that throughout history there have been moments of queerness. We have always existed in some capacity.

This is the collection that this one reminded me of. I would highly recommend this book, if you find that you enjoy the reviewed collection.


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