Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju Review

Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju Review

This book was one of those reads where as soon as I found out about it—read the title and saw the cover, even—I knew I had to read it and own it. I was so excited for this book, and so sad to be let down by it. I will say that’s perhaps on me for expecting something different from this book, but it was just a very average read to me, with a few glaring issues that concerned me throughout reading. 

Overall, this book scores a 2.5/5 stars. I wanted to love this so badly but there was just so much in it that stood out negatively for me. 

Characters

I was not a fan of 80% of the characters in this book. I found our main character, Nima, to be so irritating. I was trying hard not to feel this way, but she really boiled down to complaints, awkwardness, and swooning and she just didn’t feel like a full character. I understand being unhappy with your situation and who you are, and I understand having crushes and being awkward, but the way these traits were jumbled together to create Nima was annoying. I love an unlikable female character, but Nima was just so irritating that I couldn’t handle it. All the other high school-aged characters were even worse. Don’t get me wrong, teenagers are annoying and messy, but everyone felt so incomplete in their portrayal. 

I did really love Nima’s dad, Deidre, and Jill, though. They all felt really fully fleshed out, and like very real characters. I especially liked Deidre’s loving, drag momma nature, it was very sweet and I loved reading about that as it’s a very real thing in queer culture!

Now…let’s talk about Winnow. She’s kind of a manic pixie dream girl, but gay, so it’s much more acceptable. But man why does she want to be with a 17 year old?? What mentally sound, non-creep 21 year old wants to be with a high schooler? Aside from being ethereal and a cool, mature love interest for Nima, she didn’t have much of a personality either, which was frustrating. Halfway through the book I just started hoping they wouldn’t end up together and that Winnow was just Nima’s first gateway to drag. I was sad to be wrong. 

Plot

This book had far too much going on. If it were longer, I would have been okay with the different plotlines introduced because there would have—most likely—been enough time for them to have been tied up nicely. But between Nima’s character growth (which barely happened), the storylines for Charles, Ginny, and Gordon, the drag side of things, and the parental figures in Nima’s life, there was just too much going on and it was hardly concluded nicely. 

I also found myself a little sad with how little there was of Nima in drag in this book. I thought the book would focus more on drag than anything else, perhaps using it as a medium for Nima to express herself and grow from the issues the feels she has and the problems in her life, but that just didn’t happen, which was a bit disappointing. The book focused more on the dinky town than the world of drag, and I just didn’t expect that given the title and summary provided. I did really enjoy the parts with drag, though! They were fun, and definitely made me miss going to shows and being in that atmosphere.  

It’s also probably not great that as soon as the reveal of what happened with Nima’s mother went down I was more invested in that than anything happening to Nima. Her mom and Jill were just so much more interesting, I don’t know what to else to say! Their characters were crafted better than Nima’s, which is probably why I was more interested in them. 

Finally, I do want to talk about Nima’s love life. I really liked the use of Ginny as that kind of straight girl who uses queer girls to “experiment”, as that’s an awful reality. But, as mentioned earlier, I didn’t like any other aspect of it. I don’t understand the trend of normalizing relationships with massive age gaps like this. If they were adults, it wouldn’t matter to me. I truly do not care about the age of consent, a 21 year old being interested in and pursuing a relationship with a 17 year old is weird. It does happen often for queer people, especially to younger folks trying to figure out their sexuality and not having any other outlet than someone older. But that doesn’t make it okay, and I’m honestly sick to death of it being normalized in so many young adult books.

I suppose I expected something so vastly different from this book than what was given, which I recognize is on me more than the book, but expectations aside I just wasn’t a huge fan of the events of this book.

Style & Pacing

While I wished for there to be more drag in this book, I actually really enjoyed the pacing of the scenes, and I really liked the writing. Boteju’s style is really effective and fun to read, even if I didn’t always enjoy what was being presented. I’ll definitely be looking out for more books by her in the future, and I am hoping that maybe she’ll write about drag again!

Overall Experience

I think it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t enjoy reading this book very much, despite really wanting to. I’m actually really sad I didn’t love this book because I expected to, and I’m sad that I can’t recommend it on good faith to anyone. But as I said, I will be looking out for more books by this author to give her another try, and because her writing was the one thing I really enjoyed while reading this!

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