Title: All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Through the Ages
Author: Saundra Mitchell (editor)
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, LGBT, YA
Short story collections are normally a mixed-bag type of book. Some stories are stellar, some are okay, and some aren’t okay. All Out is in a class of its own. Even though there were occasional hit or miss stories, there was at least something good about each one, and as whole, it is so solid. Not to mention, the common thread that ran through this collection is one that is definitely needed. It was surprising to me to find such a queer positive book that was mainstream published, and I’m glad such a book is out there. And while I’m far away from the actual age-range for the audience of this book, I’m just very blown away by it. It’s definitely one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read, and I can’t recommend this book enough.
That said, here’s my thoughts on each story.
Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore: I loved this piece. The story had such evocative imagery, passionate, poetic language, and was based on an actual historical figure. I loved seeing a Trans man being portrayed, since they seem a bit rare when it comes to representation. Supposedly, the story was supposed to be a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” but I actually didn’t catch that aspect until reading a review on Goodreads. But, it was amazing, nevertheless.
The Sweet Trade by Natalie C. Parker: A very cute Age of Sail story about two young women who run off to have pirating adventures together. The main character was a runaway bride, which I always adore the runaway bride trope. But, however, the story’s downfall was that I felt that the relationship between the two girls happened far too fast.
And They Don’t Kiss at the End by Nilah Magruder: I found this one a bit lackluster. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t stand out to me. I did, however, find the main character very interesting and her voice was very well defined.
Burnt Umbers by Mackenzi Lee: This story was a lot of fun to read, and definitely makes me want to check out A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by the same author. There was plenty of humor, and I liked the twist at the end. I really did think that it was going to end in a rather predictable way, but it didn’t, and I loved it.
The Dresser and the Chambermaid by Robin Talley: Another really fun story, and I found the ending absolutely perfect. However, this story does suffer from the same problem that The Sweet Trade did. I felt that the relationship moved a little too fast to feel authentic. I will give this story an additional prop, it did feature a favorite trope of mine: secret relationships involving servants to royalty, whether they’re with the royal or not.
New Year by Malinda Lo: A well-written coming-of-age story, but I felt that it read more like an excerpt from a longer piece than a contained short story. I questioned a bit why this was included, because with the other stories the queer factor was a highlighted aspect of the story, where this one dealt more with the main character’s race and heritage. But, I did love that a drag king did show up.
Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler: Confession time, this story almost made me cry. This story came very close to home, although my teen years began in 1997, three years after the story took place. But, as a teen girl, I did fall for my best friend at the time, and was far too scared to tell. I learned years later that she was as gay as I am, and she had feelings for me too. She’s my eternal “one that got away.” But here, the girls were able to fully recognize and act on what was between them, and I loved that. I love this story for very sentimental reasons, and it really was taking a step back in time for me.
The Coven by Kate Scelsa: This is where the book has a small break in being traditional historical fiction and flirts with light fantasy, and this story was the biggest dud in the collection. The story itself might be the worst thing I’ve read this year, so far, and I found it way too ridiculous at times. Also, for being a historical story, I never got the impression that this took place in a different time. The story might say it’s “Paris in the 1920’s,” but it sure didn’t feel like it. A nice idea, but bad execution.
Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake: This story was absolutely brilliant, and to me, one of the crown jewels of the collection (alongside another that I will mention soon). Here you have a queer retelling of Robin Hood. Robin’s in love with a disabled Will Scarlett. The Merry Men are a collective of queer and POC young folk on the quest for personal freedom. Robin’s past was a twist I never expected, and I loved the ingenuity of it. This story was just so amazing. The characters are well-developed, the prose was magical. One of the best short stories I’ve ever read, and really wished that this could be a full-length novel. Hell, I wish it could be a book series, it was that good.
Willows by Scott Tracy: I’ll admit it, I skipped this one. I found it too confusing, and there were no good explanations to be found.
The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe: Another story where there is a touch of fantasy, but it made it all the better. A very beautiful story, and yet again, it went for one of my favorite tropes: ladies falling for nature spirits. I have this weird fascination with women falling in love with something primal and natural, and this satisfied that.
The Secret Life of a Teenage Boy by Alex Sanchez: The ending was what really made this story. Since I mentioned before a certain problem with a couple of the stories in this book, having this kind of ending felt gratifying. Also, I found the main character really adorable, and loved the mention of how he liked to collect pin-ups of a shirtless Bobby Sherman.
Walking After Midnight by Kody Keplinger: I was in love with the dialogue. I could spend pages just reading dialogue with these characters and have such a good time. Their voices were so well-defined and engaging. I also liked that it finished off as a start of there possibly being more.
The End of the World as We Know It by Sara Farizan: I enjoyed the hell out of the author’s debut novel, If You Could Be Mine. It was such an emotionally gripping novel and talked about a topic that’s not often brought up when it comes to queer issues. This story was a bit lackluster. Not terribly written, but pretty average as a whole. The best part of the story was, oddly enough, the main character’s parents. I loved them for some reason. Also, after finishing this story, I couldn’t help but to wonder if the author gave a real play-by-play of the New Year’s Eve special on MTV at the time. It really rang true when it came to the late nineties.
Three Witches by Tessa Gratton: The other crown jewel of this collection. The writing was sumptuous. The prose style on this one felt downright lyrical at times, and the plot of it was deeply compelling. I really enjoyed the Catholic imagery, and the contemplation of what love and sin really are. I also liked that the story did touch on religious issues. Religion is one of the causes for homophobia, and seeing it portrayed here was fitting. Amazing story, and I really need to read some Tessa Gratton.
The Inferno and The Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson: Another one that was very sweet and fun to read. Yet again I found the young couple adorable, and their happy ending was a perfect, satisfying conclusion.
Healing Rosa by Tehlor Kay Mejia: The story that concludes the collection, and ends it on a high note. A touching story about the healing power of love, whether it comes from the person you’re in with or if it comes from family. Very beautiful imagery and nice use of language. It really made this collection come full circle.
All Out is an amazing read, and something that there should be more of. But, if there is ever a sequel, like a Tyranny of Petticoats had, there’s two things I’d like to see. One, I’d like to see more stories that take place before the 1900’s and places outside of North America. There’s so much material, and I’d love to see the stories that might be told featuring them. The other thing is this, in this collection, we got stories that took place in the sixties, seventies, and nineties (twice), where is my eighties story? I really would love to see something like a young queer woman who wears sweater dresses and has a big crush on Debbie Gibson, or a young queer man that’s rocking a feather cut, and listens to too much Duran Duran. That would make my day.
Buy All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Through the Ages @ Amazon.