Esmé has been slinging radical books at Firestorm since 2019. They wear multiple hats including communications, social media marketing, and offsite sales coordination. She is the collective's resident fiction fiend and is continuously on the search for a confounding murder mystery that doesn't sympathize with the cops.
Esme's Staff Picks
What makes this queer fairy tale collection stand out over other "feminist" retellings I've read is that Gillman is not interested in royal ladies shattering the “glass ceiling” of the castle. Their focus is on the villagers and outcasts, flat out rejecting the logic of monarchs. Rather than sanitizing a fundamentally dark genre, Gillman leans in, exploring the sinister forces of homo/transphobia, and the monstrous power of queer love, through remixed and original parables with gorgeous colored pencil illustrations. I cannot recommend this collection more highly as a gift for a child in your life, even if that is just your own inner child. I know mine needed every one of these queer happily ever afters!
Content Warnings: Implied violence, perilous situations that might be scary for young readers.
I was instantly charmed by this wryly funny vampire novel/ mature trans romance. For a character who is technically already dead, the protagonist—a melancholy vampire and archivist named Sol—jumps to life on the page. With evocative characterizations (we know that Sol sounds like Steve Buscemi and looks like Clea Duvall in "But I'm a Cheerleader") and thoughtful world-building, Isaac Fellman immerses us into the underground and refreshingly subdued life of a vampire.
Content Warnings: Grief, chronic illness, gender dysphoria, sex, rough sex, blood, blood transfusions.
“Patricia Wants To Cuddle" juxtaposes campy cryptid horror against the backdrop of a dating competition show. It is a combination so unexpected yet SO delicious you'll never watch The Bachelor the same way again!
Content Warnings: Disappearances, gore, death, car crash, gun violence
“Across a Field of Starlight” is a YA graphic novel in the tradition of some of our favorite radical sci-fi storytellers. Two non-binary teens from very different worlds meet amidst a drawn-out war, becoming intergalactic pen pals and devoted friends. Through their messages we learn about the players in this conflict: a powerful empire, a relentless resistance army, and an egalitarian society of humans and AI on the run. Blue Delliquanti breathes life into a very queer cast of characters who must find the courage to question their directives and create new paths towards freedom. It is beautifully illustrated, heartwarming, and unapologetically anti-authoritarian. Dear publishers, these are the revolutionary stories we want to read. More of this!!!
Content Warnings: war, non-lethal injuries, hunger, death of parents (not depicted).
Based on a song by clipping that imagines an underwater people descended from the pregnant Africans who were forced overboard during the middle passage, this novella expands on the song with remarkable complexity and richness. The Deep is a stunning interpretation of collective memory and generational trauma. It is a story that lingers like the sharp taste of sea water long after you have put it down.
Content Warnings: Violence against enslaved peoples, drowning, sharks, trauma
Set in 1960s Harlem, this noir thriller follows a furniture salesman wrestling with his commitment to remaining on the straight and narrow, while his path is increasingly filled with twists and disreputable turns. The narration is full of shrewd observations about a city that is crooked to its core, introducing us to a cast of deliciously unsavory characters. I loved the subtle humor -- witty repartee between characters and a protagonist who can't help but wax poetic on the value of a sofa or dining room set, even in the most dire circumstances. Big bonus for a crime novel: no copaganda to be found!
Content Warnings: gun violence, addiction, overdose, mentions of police brutality
Helen Oyeyemi isn't for everyone, but if she is for you, congratulations because you are correct. Peaces follows an eccentric couple and their pet mongoose on a fever-dream of a train ride through the English countryside during which they encounter mysterious figures from their past. At times it has the feel of an old fashioned train mystery that has warped into a wacky romp of absurdity. At others it is an insightful meditation on relationships - the people who stay in our lives as well as those who cease to be real as they fade into the stories we tell ourselves about them. The casual queerness throughout is the cherry on top that will likely cement Peaces as my book of the year. Have you read it? If so let's talk!
Content Warnings: Some cartoonish violence, house fire
A band of lovable weirdos are on a quest to save the kingdom! Slapstick illustrations meet plenty of heart in this exciting adventure that plays with overdone archetypes. The boisterous cat and the brainy dog are inseparable, and the buffest lizard you've ever seen has unbeatable conflict resolution skills. For an hour or two of delightful banter, sword-fights, and casual queerness look no further than Dungeon Critters!
Content Warnings: Some high stakes moments, non-fatal injuries
Gayatri Sethi's genre-bending debut is a vulnerable meditation on diaspora and creating solidarity within the margins of the margins. In one of my favorite passages, Sethi offers, "may our existence be a balm." This book is a balm to those who have been othered in spaces that have claimed to love us. Unbelonging also demands accountability of those who use our own marginalized status to shield us from the part we play in upholding Imperialist White Supremacist Heteropatriarchy - bell hooks and other radical voices are frequently cited within these pages. There are journal prompts as well as spaces for the reader to contribute their own thoughts directly onto the page. If you do decide to accept this invitation (I recommend it!) your copy will become entirely unique to you. The deeply moving verses contained within Unbelonging are to be savored!
I loved Jemisin's short story collection How Long 'til Black Futures Month, and was so excited to hear that she expanded one of the stories into a book series! The City We Became follows the avatars of five different NYC boroughs as they attempt to combat an evil force that uses police, real estate, and neo-nazi groups to wage war against the city. Chock-full of insider New York jokes and cheeky symbolism, it is a exciting adventure that does not bother to disguise its larger commentary. At its heart, The City We Became is both a love letter and a challenge to this vibrant, frustrating, magical city.
Content Warnings: abusive dad, attempted sexual assault, threat of police violence, villains are neo-nazis.
She Who Became the Sun is a captivating story of defying expectations and creating your own destiny - no matter the cost. Amid the ruthless backdrop of war during the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, there is a fascinating exploration of gender through characters whose experiences are never shoe-horned into 21st century understandings of queerness. It's dark, it's clever, it's sexy, and it's written beautifully enough to distract you from the horrifying choices these characters make as they stop at nothing to claim their fate. If you love tragic period epics (The Song of Achilles) and morally dubious anti-heroes this one is for you.
Content Warnings: This brutal book has pretty much everything under the sun (no pun intended) but notably there is no sexual violence.
Mary Oliver's poetry always reminds me that this beautiful, tragic life is worth living. "Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where" might be my all-time favorite poem and I quote it to my nervous rescue dog daily.
Content Warnings: Animal death, fishing, human death mentions