The first of my NetGalley reads published in June, and the first of two books following three friends as their lives untwine. I’ll also say a few words about “100 Queer Poems”, which is an admirable collection but didn’t really have my sort of poem in it (no problem with the queerness, I would hope obviously, but I only do well with a specific type of poem!)

Salma El-Wardany – “These Impossible Things”

(19 March 2022, NetGalley)

The idea that Ali was all the things they had wished, hoped and fought for, that this man actually existed, was what kept the lies slipping out of her mouth, like when he asked her if she’d ever drunk before and she had easily and completely said no, erasing years of memories and committing those around her to the same lies she told.

We meet Jenna, Kees and Malak, three British Muslim young women who met at school and have stuck together ever since, arranging to go to the same university and keeping a tight friendship group, and watch them over a couple of years as their lives tangle and untangle. It’s a very plot-led book, so hard to talk about in some ways: two of them are dating White young men at the start, one at the end; two experience coercive control and/or domestic violence; all of them suppress their real selves to an extent for their families and culture; they argue and there’s a rupture when things are said that can’t be said, but of course they are all, always, inevitably there for each other when the really bad stuff happens.

El-Wardany uses the book to explore what pathways might be open to such young women: studying away from home but then maybe returning “home” to Egypt to experience life as one of the majority culture for once (although separated by relative wealth as an ex-pat), engaging with White friends and in-laws or immersing oneself back into one’s culture, getting your first job and dealing with micro-aggressions.

I liked the positive models of the three White young men in the novel, a boyfriend, an ex and a best friend. Maybe they were put in to mollify White readers, but at least they weren’t faded out like in “The Other Black Girl” and they are three-dimensional and model being supportive and understanding – I particularly liked the way one of them interacted with his girlfriend’s estranged family, urging politeness and understanding and using Arabic phrases sparingly and appropriately, a positive message of hope.

The book was well-written; I liked the drawing out of the focus now and then to look at an overview of part of a city and its inhabitants, both the families from the book and other more random people. I liked the sense of a cohesive culture and the scary aunties (reminding me of “Yinka”) and the fact that it didn’t feel I was being too pandered to with explanations of what everything was that wasn’t specifically White British. The descriptions of the importance of Islam to the three central women characters were nicely done and it was good to see prayer and practices woven through their lives as a positive.

In the end, the book is a great testament to friendship, both male and female. While women friends will blithely ignore the red flags in their friend’s relationship to “do her the great service of looking in other directions”, when those red flags come to fruition they are there in a heartbeat. The change between those two states is delineated carefully in this excellent novel. I will look out for more by this author.

Thank you to Trapeze for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “These Impossible Things” is published on 9 June 2022.

Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan (eds.) – “100 Queer Poems”

(14 May 2022)

This is an important book, put together by two queer poets and featuring the work of 100 or so more, grouped into sections on life stages, ways of being in the world and the future. I’m sure many people will find much of worth here. Unfortunately, and I’m sure as a facet of their queerness and a necessary one both for the older pieces and the newer ones, most of the works were more allusive and elusive in their meanings than I am really comfortable with, preferring the more concrete. I also think the layouts were a bit challenging on Kindle and might work better on the page. But it’s not about me and I hope this book does its job of reflecting people’s lives back to them, showing them ways to be, or showing straight, cis people like me a different world, and I wish it all the best of journeys out into the world.

Thank you to Vintage for making this available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “100 Queer Poems” was published on 02 June 2022.