So sorry I’ve been so slow about posting newsletters lately — I’m hoping to put out a bunch in the next week or so, and then keep cranking ‘em out regularly. Usually I try to include shout-outs in every newsletter to stuff I’ve loved lately, but now I have a huge backlog of things to shout out. So here’s a special newsletter with just all the things I’ve adored recently.
Plan B reminds me of Booksmart, another movie I loved — but I actually like Plan B (pictured above) even better. It’s the story of a teenage girl named Sunny, who has sex for the first time at a party that she throws and is told at her neighborhood drugstore that she can’t obtain the “morning after” pill, aka Plan B, because the pharmacist has moral objections. This launches one of your classic road trip adventures with Sunny and her best friend, Lupe.
The characters in this movie are incredibly rich and manage to be both lovable and flawed, which is no mean feat. Plan B is a movie that contains some really credible and moving romances, without taking away from the central friendship between the two girls. And this is a movie that uses all of the teen road comedy tropes to incredibly good effect, well also driving home a really intense political point. And yes, it’s side-splittingly funny and heartwarming, but will still make you incredibly angry about the ways our society tries to punish teenage girls for existing and to make reproductive health harder to access for everyone with a uterus.
This is the second Peacock show, after Rutherford Falls, that’s rocked my world. It’s well worth springing for a 1 month subscription to Peacock to watch both of those shows.
We Are Lady Parts is a US - British co-production about a group of Muslim women who form a punk band and try to cope with the pressures of performing, the stigma and stereotypes that people try to put on Muslim women, and their various romantic relationships. It’s just so refreshing to see a sitcom where pretty much everybody is a fully realized human being, and no characters are just one dimensional vehicles for gags, or hilariously shitty behaviors.
The main character, Amina, is a wonderfully sympathetic and hilarious science nerd who really wants to be a traditional woman and get married as soon as possible — but finds herself drawn to the slightly more risky world of punk rock and concerts. A huge part of the first season is her learning to get over her anxiety is about performing so she doesn’t throw up every time she gets on stage.
We Are Lady Parts has almost nothing in common with Fleabag in terms of the story or the characters, and there’s not nearly as much fourth-wall-breaking. But the thing that this show has in common with Fleabag is that it can go to some pretty dark, intense places but never encourages you to look down on the characters, or feels like a heavy drama. Everybody is complicated and conflicted, and there are real reasons why people have why people behave badly or have longstanding rifts between them. I especially appreciated how Amina’s parents are actually more liberal and more easygoing than Amina herself, thus avoiding one of the main tropes you’d expect to see in a show like this where the main character is pressurized by her parents to behave a certain way and to give up her dreams for the sake of family and tradition. Also, the lead singer of Lady Parts, Saira, is my new fav character.
I did a bookstore event with Edgmon last week, and it was so awesome to get to hear more about the genesis of this fantastic trans coming-of-age fantasy. In The Witch King, Wyatt is a young trans guy who is secretly a witch. Wyatt was betrothed to marry a prince of faerie at a very young age, but he ran away and hid out in Texas, where he’s living with an apparently normal family. That’s when Emyr, the prince of faerie, tracks Wyatt down and demands that Wyatt return and fulfill his betrothal agreement.
I already reviewed this book over at Goodreads, but let me just say that Wyatt is a really terrific character: a totally believable teenager who is struggling with a lot of trauma and guilt and self-loathing — but also, the only one who seems to get quite how messed up his situation is and how evil the rules of faerie are. When I talked to H.E. at the bookstore event, they said that they felt like one of the main love stories in the book was really Wyatt learning to love himself. That shows through really well, and really makes you feel the political as well as the personal dimension of self-acceptance.
Speaking of self-acceptance… I actually feel like this novel goes weirdly super well with The Witch King, in that it’s getting a lot to do with learning to love yourself and getting past all the negative bullshit that’s been put on you by others.
The actual plot of Perfectly Parvin is pretty much lifted from your favorite teen rom-coms. Parvin is a dorky Iranian-American teenager who loves to play weird pranks and is kind of loud and obnoxious. Over the summer, she gets close to a boy named Wesley and they become boyfriend-girlfriend - but on the first day of ninth grade, Wesley dumps her, saying that she’s “too loud”. Parvin is determined to find a new boyfriend who can take her to homecoming, so Wesley will realize his mistake. And meanwhile, she’s taken the “too loud” thing to heart, and is trying to tone herself down and look like the women in the romance movies she’s watched: demure, quiet, laughing at dude’s jokes even if they’re not funny.
Soon Parvin is caught between two different boys, and a sort of love triangle that is not entirely unlike Never Have I Ever. Which dude will Parvin end up with? That’s not really the most interesting question here.
You sort of know that this sort of story is going to lead to a “you’re beautiful the way you are” resolution — but Abtahi does a couple of really surprising and beautiful things here. Without getting too much into spoilers, Parvin’s love triangle is really in some ways a choice between the two versions of herself: the unfiltered version and the very filtered version. And also, Abtahi subtly layers in clues that lead to the realization that what Parvin is trying to change about herself is really her identity as a Persian girl, and the self-acceptance she needs to reach has a lot to do with realizing that she shouldn’t torture herself to try to be someone she’s not.
I hadn’t actually listened to much of Armatrading’s work lately, but her brand new album caught me at just the right time. It’s got a very gentle kind of pop sensibility, with insanely catchy melodies and a lot of tenderness. A lot of the songs on this album seem to be love songs, about falling in love or about having a ongoing relationship, and there’s also an awareness of mortality and the fact that life is short and you better get whatever sweetness you can while you’re able to.
I used to have a roommate who really loved Armatrading, and now I’m seeing why. Her work is just really unique and beautiful and powerful and lovely. That’s really insipid. She’s kind of a unique figure in contemporary music: hard to categorize, but influential across a variety of genres. I really like this new one, and it might just make you feel a little better about everything.
My young adult debut, Victories Greater Than Death, is still available from all of the book-buying places. This is the queer, silly, passionate space fantasy adventure that I’ve always wished I could read, and I basically poured my heart and most of my other organs into these pages. If you can get this book from your local bookstore, or request it from your library, I would be just endlessly grateful.
Also! We’re now in the homestretch before my non-fiction book Never Say You Can’t Survive comes out on Aug. 17. I wrote these essays about how to use creative writing to get you through scary hard times in the midst of 2020, and to the extent that there’s any wisdom in there, it feels very hard-won. I’ve polished and streamlined and expanded the material I was posting online last year, so this book is really something new. I just got done recording the audiobook, and I’m feeling really proud of these essays. If you feel like preordering them, I would really appreciate it!
And finally, this November, we’re publishing my first proper short story collection, Even Greater Mistakes. These 18 or 19 stories are like my greatest hits, and a really good overview of my career and all the kinds of storytelling I’ve done over the years, and I cannot wait for y’all to see it.
I promise there’ll be another newsletter in a few days! Probably something about writing…