How We Began (Anthology)
Authors: Alexis Hall, Amy Jo Cousins, Annabeth Albert, Delphine Dryden, Geonn Cannon, Vanessa North (ed. by Edie Danford)
Publication Date: November 9th 2015
Genres: LGBTQ+, New Adult, Romance, Young Adult
* I received an advanced copy of this anthology in exchange for a fair and honest review. *
This is an outstanding anthology with stories from six incredible authors, each highlighting that difficult time between high school and college when life seems to be changing at light speed… new beginnings, in both life and relationships!
I really enjoyed every story in this anthology, and I love how different every story is. I think a lot of people look back at their late-high school and early-college years with not-so-great memories, because it’s a rough time… but it’s even more difficult if you’re still struggling to accept yourself, as these stories show.
Here are my reviews of each story in this anthology. I really hope you’ll check it out. All proceeds will support The Trevor Project’s work with crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth.
TruNorth, by Alexis Hall (★★★★½)
A beautiful short story set in a post-war future where technology has just passed the line of “too creepy”, and the next big thing– boy band TruNorth– is riding waves of fame across Europe.
He’s the nice one. Everybody’s third or fourth favourite. His name is Noah and his job is to be young and free, wild but not too wild, exciting but safe. He has everything he’s ever wanted, and he’s beginning to think it sucks.
Noah follows his bandmate Callum out of the hotel one night, and his entire world view shifts when he discovers what Callum has been hiding. I loved Callum, struggling so hard to be free… but even more, I loved Noah, from the moment of discovery through the end, as he realizes where happiness truly lies.
This is a story about discovering who you truly are, and about understanding what happiness really means. Being rich, famous, loved by millions… it means nothing if you’re not true to yourself. I absolutely adored Noah, sweet and naïve, as he makes that journey.
“Sorry,” she says. “I know I sound like a crazy diva. It’s just… It’s… I want to be me, y’know? Whatever that means.”
Unexpected Dragons, by Delphine Dryden (★★★★)
This is a super cute story with a fun fantasy element!
If Zev could wish his way into his dragon form, he would already be flying with the rest of his training group. But now it’s high summer, and fear is taking over. If he hasn’t made the change by now… maybe he’ll never be a dragon.
Set in a world where dragon shifters stay in their human form until their teens, Zev is something of an anomaly… he’s too tall, too old, and has yet to shift into his dragon form. He’s the verge of being sent away from his community, but he can’t help but wonder about his friend Rook, who he fears also may be sent away.
Zev’s emotions were really well written, so I could imagine his anxiety and worry, but also the fondness he has for Rook, and the embarrassing school-boy crush he has on his trainer. Delphine did an excellent job of world-building, and her characters are fantastic!
“I think it’s good what happened to you. It reminds us that transformation can still be a dangerous thing. It’s magic, Zev. It’s a gift, but we shouldn’t become complacent about it. Ever.”
A Song for Sweater-boy, by Vanessa North (★★★★★)
Oh wow, this story! The story alternates from the POV of Ash, a teenager who just wants to play his music, and Jamie, brilliant but on the autistic spectrum, as they become unlikely friends… and maybe something more.
Ash Cooper has made a mess– an angry prank turned into a criminal mischief charge and now he’s on probation. Jamie Allen has a talent for pattern recognition, but he’s not so great with people– how can someone as well-liked as Ash Cooper not have all the answers?
I’ve said it before: Vanessa North writes stunningly realistic characters like no one else! She has a way of making these imaginary people seem so life-like that I expect them to walk off the page. Ash isn’t just a punk; he’s complex, emotional, an incredibly open-minded. And Jamie, a boy who claims to struggle with all things social, seems to understand people and emotions better than those around him.
I have permission from the school, because it keeps me from stimming and distracting the other students, but knitting in class feels like I’m getting away with something. Yeah, Jamie. You rebel you. Knitting and purling a hat like a badass.
The Taste of Coffee and Cream, by Amy Jo Cousins (★★★★½)
High school is a difficult time for most people, but it’s even harder when you have to hide your true self from bullying classmates and parents who would react with violence.
Jude lives for Saturdays, when she can hop a bus and escape to wander the streets of a town where no one knows her, reveling in the freedom to be her true self. She isn’t interested in making friends, but some people become friends whether you invite them to or not.
Jude is barely hanging on; weekdays are torture, but her one escape is her Saturday bus trips to nearby towns, where she can put on her skirts and be the person she wants to be. The café that she prefers to change clothes in is run by a young man named Owen, and his easy acceptance of Jude is something to look forward to.
Amy Jo Cousins is a go-to author for me when I want gorgeous relationships, and Jude’s relationship with Owen and her friend TJ definitely fit the bill. Watching Jude slowly bloom under the warmth of friends and people who care for her is just lovely.
She’s kissed girls before. Or rather, been kissed by girls. She knows the difference between the passive and the active voice in writing from her English class. Her entire life has been lived in the passive voice, and days the panic hits her so hard she can’t breathe when she wonders how she’ll ever find a way.
First in Line, by Annabeth Albert (★★★★★)
This story took me completely by surprise! What I expected to be just another story about a closeted gay boy in college ended up completely bowling me over! Ethaniel is a phenomenal character, and the interactions he has when he arrives on his first day of college are just excellent!
When new Cathia College freshman, Ethaniel Rhodes arrives on campus, he’s determined to finally be true to himself, but getting the courage to follow through with his plan proves harder than he thought.
The longing and desperation to be himself is what really draws me to Ethaniel. He’s terrified, but also completely out of his comfort zone, and he slowly but surely works to be the person he’s always wanted to be. The support characters were also fantastically well done.
This definitely isn’t “just another college story”… the emotional aspect really makes it stand out! (And there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Treble Maker, which I loved :D)
This. This was what I had left Ashwood behind to see. Two men, normal as a pot of rice, depositing their kid at college. Just another day in America, and yet it was so far outside my reality I had to take a minute and breathe.
Extinction Level Events, by Geonn Cannon (★★★★)
This was a slow-paced but incredibly emotional and romantic story about a young woman trying to tie up all of the threads in her life before moving across the country to college. Cassandra isn’t panicked; she knows who and what she is… now she just needs to make sure everyone at home knows that, too.
Recent high-school graduate Cassandra Keane is leaving the town she’s known her whole life and heading to college. Before she goes, she has a list of things she has to do that includes a difficult conversation with her best friend.
I love characters like Cassandra, who aren’t struggling with their own identity but instead trying to find a way to communicate that identity to the people who know and love them.
And while this was definitely romantic, I feel like it was more about Cassandra as a person, then about any potential beginning of a relationship. There’s no doubt or hesitation with her; she’s moving away, going to live her dream. But I liked that she wasn’t willing to give up the people she loved in the process.
Everything she knew was going to be replaced with something entirely unknown. A group of elementary school kids were buzzing around the baseball field behind the school. A group of adults seemed to be attempting to corral their miniature whirlwinds to no great success. They were oblivious to the massive change because, as far as they were concerned, their world was going to stay exactly the same. Always and forever.
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