Published by North Star Editions on July 14, 2022
Genres: Young Adult Fiction / Family / Orphans & Foster Homes, Young Adult Fiction / Social Themes / Mental Illness
Bounced between foster homes since the age of seven, Jessica knows better than to set down roots. Most of the kids at her new Michigan high school think she's a witch anyway (because, you know, goth). The only one who gives her the time of day is geeky Oscar, who wants to recruit her fashion skills for his amateur cosplay group. But Jess is fine showing off her looks to her Insta fans--until a woman claiming to be her biological mother barges into her DMs. Jess was claimed by the state when her biomom's mental illness made her unstable. While their relationship is far from traditional, blood ties are hard to break. There's only one problem: Jess can't reunite with her mom in New York City without a bunch of paperwork and she worries her social worker will never approve the trip. That's when she remembers Oscar's cosplay group, which is aiming for that big convention in New York . . . So, Jess joins Oscar's team--with every intention of using them to get to her mom. But her plan gets complicated when she discovers that, actually, cosplay is pretty great, and so is having friends. And Oscar, who Jess thought was just a shy nerd, can be as gallant and charming as the heroes he pretends to be. As the big convention draws near, Jess will have to decide whether or not chasing a dream of "family" is worth risking the family she's built for herself.
Lindsay S. Zrull is a former foster teen and current book nerd. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and earned a second Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Harvard Extension. Goth Girl, Queen of the Universe is her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @LSZrull.
This is my very, very, very first review on my “new” blog and I’m actually delighted because I have a lot to say about this book.
First of all, I wanna give you a little overview and five reasons why I would definitely recommend to read this book:
- a pool of representation: characters with different mental health issues, LGBTQ+ characters, characters with different ethnicities and also an #ownvoices author just to name a few
- a lot of insight into the psyche and life of a foster child
- found family trope (which is one of the best tropes, obviously)
- lots of pop culture references from The Princess Bride to Nightmare on Elm Street
- fun and heartwarming interactions between friends and family
What made me want to read this book right after I saw it at tbr and beyond tours, was the promise of different kinds of cosplay conventions and the found family trope. I have to admit though, I got way more than I bargained for.
I love a good found family story. (I think we all do.) The idea that Jess, certified Goth Queen™, finds hers with a bunch of “cosplay geeks”, was intriguing and so much fun to watch.
Jess has been an eternal foster kid ever since her mum left her behind when she was seven. Being a goth makes it hard to fit into foster families, especially since Jess is steadfast and unapologetic and has a lot of self-esteem. It’s obvious that foster care has made her tough and that she has learned a lot about how to take care of herself and her heart and mind. Still, I could see that there were a lot of doubts and longing and mistrust under the surface. I thought it was interesting to see how a person can be brave and self-reliant but on the other hand still needs people to take care of them and shoulder some of the weight. Since the author was a foster child herself, I was sure that a lot of experience flowed into this book that made it feel very real.
“Have you ever wondered if you were real? I was a ghost, trapped between four cigarette smoke-painted walls.”
I loved Jess’ new friends. Oscar the shy “Prince of Moons” obsessed Mexican-American boy who dreams of opening a business to make professional costumes for cosplayers who struggles with anxiety. He was sweet and shy but came out of his shell when it came to creating armour and weapons for the conventions. (And when it came to doing something nice for Jess.)
Emily, the lesbian coder who has more energy than any character I’ve ever seen without getting annoying and who fiercly supports her friends.
And Gerrit, who mostly plays video games and was forced by his mum to help Oscar with the cosplays so he wouldn’t just sit in his room the whole day and who turns out to have more emotions and depth than you would see at first glance. They were a great quartett, supportive and funny, each with their own doubts and feelings and dreams and hopes.
Barbra, Jess’ new foster mum, gets an honorable mention. I loved Barbra. She was hecking epic. She was kind and funny and a bit embarrassing and supportive and thoughtful. Every child needs a Barbra in their life.
Mental health and mental disabilities are a major theme of this book and it was never played down or magically “fixed”. The author took great care to explain that the characters were dealing with their issues one way or the other and there was nothing to be fixed just dealt and worked with.
“This is how my brain works. I need to learn how to work with it rather than fight against an immovable wall and torture myself over it. That’s not way to live.”
While I loved the book and its strong message(s), I also have some grievances.
I have mentioned that there is a lot representation going on in this book. From different mental health issues to body positivity over LGBTQ to POC to foster children and many more. Which is great. Really. I appreciated the way mental illness was handled.
At some point, though, I felt like the author was pushing too many issues into the book. Some things were mentioned and then forgotten again.
To name one example, there is a scene about bullying where many students are being nasty. While this leads to a fight between the characters which changes their relationship a bit, it’s not really mentioned later again. I can’t really believe that a whole school would just kind of stop the next day when they put a lot of effort into it in the first place?
The too many topics issue made the book feel convaluted at times and I felt that sometimes less is definitely more. It also made me take longer breaks between reading sessions which is sad because the writing style actually guides you through the book rather quickly.
I quite enjoyed the writing and which made the read fast and steady. The book deals with a lot of heavy topics which definitely warrants user discretion. While there are some really good themes, the book seemed quite convaluted at times. I did, however, enjoy the characters and the read and would recommend the book especially for its diversity and representation. And for the Found Family. Can’t say that enough. It’s the best.
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Thank you for reading! What did you think?
- Have you read Goth Girl, Queen of the Universe?
- Have you had a goth phase when you were a teen or are you still a goth? If so, please tell me all about it because I’m soooo curious.