Who among us, upon patronizing a certain medieval-themed restaurant and performance venue which shall remain unnamed, hasn't thought, I wonder what it's like to work here? Here we have a whole book that speculates about just that, from sexist corporate policy to crazy after-hours parties to real-life rivalry between knights to courtly intrigue and romance. One might worry that Kit and her comrades might be jaded, but in fact, they seem to love the pageantry and theatricality of it all. Kit is passionate about history and gender equality, and her enthusiasm carries this quirky tale of a modern battle set on an old-timey stage.
Lobizona by Romina Garber
As an undocumented immigrant with glowing, star-shaped eyes that make it impossible to blend in, Manu has spent her entire life in hiding. When an act of violence and an ICE raid rip Manu's mother away from her, she discovers that everything she's been told about herself is a lie.
The truth is that she is the forbidden child of a human mother and a Lobizon father—a werewolf. A whole secret world exists, hinted at in Argentinian folklore, where the witch and werewolf descendants of a cursed city rely on rigid gender and societal rules to maintain their way of life and learn how to use their strength and power at a magical school for witches and werewolves. When Manu lies her way into the school, she finds herself among peers for the first time in her life. But if they discover the truth about her, she'll be more of an outcast than ever—because as a human/Lobizon hybrid, her very existence is illegal.
Garber doesn't shy away from discussing the atrocities committed in the name of nationalism, which at times feels a little at odds with the school-for-magic shenanigans that Manu encounters while making friends, taking classes, and joining the magic sports team. But it is high time for the xenophobia and gender rigidity so often present in magic school settings to be called out, and Garber blends the prejudices of both worlds to make a grander statement about belonging and acceptance. Lobizona somehow loves its genre while simultaneously tearing it apart with werewolf claws, reveling in earthy magic and righteous anger.
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
As a queer Bengali teen living in Ireland, Nishat has a lot of expectations to manage. After coming out to her parents in the wake of a big wedding, Nishat is afraid that her relationship with them will never be the same again, and that her family and culture will never embrace her for who she really is. She also needs a distraction from the overwhelming feelings she's having for the new girl at school, Flávia, who happens to be the cousin of her longstanding worst enemy. So when her class gets an assignment that involves becoming entrepreneurs and competing with each other, Nishat becomes obsessed with starting her own henna-painting business and winning the prize. She sees it as a way to connect with her heritage and show her Irish classmates how beautiful her culture can be. But then artistic Flávia, who isn't even Bengali, announces that she is also starting a competing henna-painting business, and Nishat's two obsessions collide head-on.
Who doesn't enjoy a good rivals-to-lovers romance? The Henna Wars certainly offers that dynamic, but more than anything, it's a story about the intersectional nature of race and queerness, and how everyone has to unravel questions of identity and privilege in order become a better person. Nishat and Flávia are both nuanced, brown girls struggling to express their identities in an environment determined to discriminate against them. This is a book that will speak to teens who are navigating their own tightrope of identities and assure them that it's okay to be messy, as long as you own up to your mistakes and try to be better moving forward.