Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju
Published by Simon Pulse on May 7th, 2019
Genres: LGBTQIA, Young Adult
“But I told myself if I could just get past my house and hammock without being sucked in by the guaranteed comfort, something else might be waiting for me on the other side, something that might color me outside the lines and flow into other parts of my life.”
ARC received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I knew I wanted to read this when it was described as “Judy Blume meets RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Is that not the perfect combination for an endearing and feel-good book?
Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens follows Nima Kumara-Clark who is bored with her small community of Bridgeton. She’s hopelessly in love with her straight girlfriend and she’s having trouble moving on from her mom’s abrupt departure. After Nima unexpectedly stumbles upon a drag show at a local festival, she finds herself immersed in the drag scene and wanting to learn more about the culture. It’s through her new friends that she finds confidence, self-love, and acceptance.
I wish I was writing a more positive review of this book. It had all the makings of what could’ve been a 4 or 5 bubble tea book. It had an interesting premise, fantastic representation (Nima is a biracial queer girl), and vibrant characters. Unfortunately, I never found myself fully immersed in the book.
Let’s start with the positives first. I loved the characters. Nima is the perfect protagonist in a coming-of-age story. She starts off the book as naïve, sweet, and a bit timid while still growing and evolving throughout the book. The portrayal of Nima as a teenager who is trying to tackle her issues while on a journey to figuring herself out reads as genuine. You really root for her to come out on the other side with confidence and love for herself.
Apart from Nima, I also fell in love with the other characters too. Deidre is nurturing, funny, and the life of the party. She really is a fairy godmother in drag. Gordon comes across as a stereotypical villain, but you come to realize he’s struggling with his own issues and you end up rooting for him too. Jill is fascinating in her own right and she’s one character I wish we got to know more.
I really appreciated the candid discussion about sexuality and gender. It’s something that YA novels tend to shy away from, but I’m glad Boteju not only touched upon it, but showed that characters are more than their sexuality.
The story itself is unique and we definitely haven’t seen something like this in YA. However, I think it was lacking in the execution of it.
One of my biggest pet peeves with books is when there’s more telling rather than showing. I never felt like I was there at a drag show watching these people perform their hearts out. I never felt like we were there when Nima was dealing with her emotions. It was almost we were told what was happening after the fact instead of witnessing it as it was happening. It often felt like major plot points were rushed through or glossed over while other parts were told in great detail. There were so many unresolved plot points that I finished the book and thought, “Wait. What? That’s it?”
I was also disappointed in the fact that there wasn’t more exploration of the world of drag. We were introduced into the drag scene through Deidre, but then we didn’t really get to know anyone else besides Winnow, Luce, and a couple of others. And even then, it felt like they were characters who were just briefly there. They didn’t even really seem like people, but rather cardboard cut-outs.
I essentially wanted more drag scenes. I wanted to know more about the history, how people got involved, the getting ready process, the rehearsals, and how drag queens and kings crafted their personas and their performances. I’m upset that Nima got into drag pretty much near the end of the book. I will say this — I liked that there was inclusion of drag kings. In the media, we always see drag queens, but I never really knew that drag kings were also part of the scene.
One thing I never got comfortable with while reading this was the romance. Winnow is described as being 21 while Nima is 17. I didn’t think that was appropriate at all and it made me feel very uncomfortable reading about Winnow flirting with an underaged girl. I was hoping more for a friendship instead of a romance. Additionally, Winnow came across as a manic pixie dream girl. And I was most bored with her character.
I will always support #OwnVoices stories, but this was a mediocre book. If you want a limited introduction to the world of drag then you might appreciate this book. Or you could watch all 10 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix!