All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages, edited by Saundra Mitchell
Harlequin Teen, Feb 2018
Reviewed from hardcover
Summary: As the subtitle suggests, All Out is a YA anthology of historical LGBTQ+ short fiction. The stories span from the late fourteenth century up to Y2K and vary widely in locale and subject matter. Most are realistic, some are folkloric, and some have a strong dash of magic in the mix. All feature young people coming into their queer selves and navigating how to live in a way that’s true to who they are, whatever the period or place.
Queer Rep: At the conceptual level, this is a powerful contribution to historical YA, where LGBTQ+ representation seems to have just begun to flourish. These stories proclaim without apology the existence of queer people throughout history and disabuse the notion that this existence was uniformly miserable. Each one is affirming and resolutely optimistic–and wow, did this collection feel fresh and lively for it.
Editor Saundra Mitchell has brought together an all-star line-up of writers, all of whom are openly queer (to the best of my knowledge), and many of the stories are written from ownvoices perspectives. A number are by and about people of color. The stories skew more heavily in favor of the cis L and G rep, with a few focusing on asexual and trans boy experience. Could there have been broader representation of sexualities and gender identities? Absolutely. But what’s here is impressive in its own right. Especially noteworthy are Malinda Lo’s “New Year,” in which a Chinese American girl gets a glimpse into queer culture through lesbian pulps and a chance meeting with a male impersonator in 1950s San Francisco Chinatown; Nilah Magruder’s “They Don’t Kiss at the End,” about a black ace girl finding her own brand of romance at a ‘70s roller rink; and Elliot Wake’s “Every Shade of Red,” which imagines Robin Hood as a trans teen leading a band of young outcasts and pairs him with a fiercely loyal, deaf Will Scarlet–and does so using some absurdly gorgeous language.
Final Word: I don’t envy the committee the task of comparing a short story anthology, with its inevitable variability from one entry to the next, to the single-author works up for consideration. But in this case, the overall high quality of the writing, paired with the exciting nature of the project of the book, make it a good contender for award recognition. Whether this project in this format will enthuse the committee as much as it did me as a history and short story loving reader, however, remains to be seen.