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.
All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell was published by Harlequin Teen on March 1st 2018.
No trigger warnings.
If you’re looking a book with plenty of LGBT+ representation then look no further because All Out is it. Anthology collections have always been hit or miss for me, but I think when I started reading there was never any doubt in my mind All Out was going to be a hit. Just reading the blurb I knew there was going to be some incredible representation, but it still blew me away, exceeding all my expectations. There were gay and lesbian main characters, but also trans and asexual protagonists and it felt like every part of the LGBT+ spectrum was represented in some way.
“I wanted to protect his body as though it were mine.
But my own, I wanted these men to see it, and remember. I wanted them to know that I was my abuela’s granddaughter, that I carried the blood of poison girls.”
The short stories in the book took us all throughout history – from the roaring twenties to the Salem witch hunts, all the way to the far past of Robin Hood and to the recent history of the Y2K scare. I loved this because, while we are getting more and more LGBT+ representation in books set in the modern day, it seems like those characters are sometimes still pushed asides when it comes to history.
All Out opened really strongly with Anna-Marie McLemore’s Roja, which ended up being my second favourite short story in the collection. It tells the story of a girl trying to break her trans lover out of prison before he is executed, a Little Red Riding Hood retelling which also takes inspiration from famous couple from history. Even if I hadn’t known going in that Roja was written by McLemore it wouldn’t have taken me long to realise, her style of writing is incredibly unique and it really shines through even in this short story.
“All I’m saying,” said Vince, “is we don’t need to have ourselves figured out in one night. You know?”
The Sweet Trade by Natalie C. Parker was a little forgettable, still a good story but nothing I really connected too, and the main thing that stood out about And They Don’t Kiss At the End by Nilah Magruder was the ace representation. I really enjoyed Burnt Umber by Mackenzie Lee, which was a fun read with a cute romance. Burnt Umber struck me as a trademark story from Lee. The Dresser & The Chambermaid by Robin Talley was probably my least favourite story in this collection, the character development was weak and as a result I couldn’t believe in the relationship.
New Year by Malinda Lo and Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler were two more that really stood out for me. The first was about the protagonist discovering herself, there was no romance and it wasn’t really needed, and Molly’s Lips was set after Kurt Cobain’s death and it was a sweet story about loss and discovery. The Coven by Kate Scelsa was another ‘miss’ from this collection, simply because the story really confused me.
“Sometimes, in a thunderstorm, a lance of white fire would spear down from heaven and split the stone heart of an ancient tree, a crack so deep it seemed to come from the core of the earth. You could feel the skin of the world tense against it.
Robin’s kiss felt like that.”
Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake was my standout favourite in this collection, and I would love a full length novel with these characters carrying on their story. It’s a Robin Hood retelling told through Will Scarlett’s POV with a trans Robin Hood, an asexual Friar Tuck, and a heartbreaking ending. It was beautifully written and I was so moved by the story, even now months after I’ve finished All Out I’m still thinking of Every Shade of Red.
Unfortunately with Every Shade of Red I felt like All Out peaked, and there wasn’t another short story that could live up to it. I enjoyed The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe and Walking After Midnight by Kody Keplinger, but Willows by Scott Tracey and The Secret Life of a Teenage Boy by Alex Sanchez were two more ‘misses’ for me. The End of the World As We Know It by Sara Farizan, Three Witches by Tessa Gratton and The Inferno & the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson were all good stories, with solid representation and sweet romances, but looking back none of them struck me the way Every Shade of Red did.
All Out ended on Healing Rosa by Tehlor Kay Mejia which was a good story, heartbreaking at times as a girl tries to heal the demon inside of someone she loves despite opposition from Rosa’s father. However after the collection started strong with McLemore’s Roja and hit its highest point with Wake’s Every Shade of Red, Mejia’s Healing Rosa felt too weak to end on. It wasn’t a story that stayed with me the way Roja and Every Shade of Red did.
“Rosa was a summer girl, and I was a winter girl, but that fall we made magic.”
This anthology was definitely more hit than miss for me but even if I hadn’t loved any of the stories, or even if Roja and Every Shade of Red had been the only two ‘hits’, I still would have been glad I read All Out. The representation alone was so important, to see these characters and their place in history, and what I loved was that some of the stories weren’t about romance, they were just about the characters discovering themselves and their identities in this world.
Have you read All Out, or is it still on your TBR list?
Which was your favourite short story in this collection? Was it Roja, and if so do you plan on picking up more of McLemore’s releases if you haven’t already? Or was it Every Shade of Red, and if so do you want more from these characters after that ending?
Have you read any of Saundra Mitchell’s other releases, or anything else by any of the other author’s featured in this anthology?