Crystal’s House of Queers is a contemporary young adult novel about a group of friends who create a safe-haven for outcasts and gay teenagers within the home of Crystal, a high school senior with a crush on her classmate Haley. Crystal lives with her grandparents, but her grandfather comes down Covid-19 and Crystal is left to take care of the house and herself when her grandfather and her grandmother are both checked into the hospital. Payton, a new girl in school who is out and proud as a lesbian, meets Crystal in her art class they hit it off, bonding over their love of drawing and painting. Payton has custody of her younger sister and the two girls are traveling in a motorhome to get away from a rocky home life. With her grandparents in the hospital and the house now empty, Crystal invites them to stay with her. And so begins the formation of a house full of runaways, outcasts, and pride.
There’s a ton of sapphic representation here. YA lesbian lit isn’t something I’ve read a ton of, but I really enjoyed what I got here. Crystal was so adorable as an older teen on the cusp of adulthood, navigating her own body and how people see her in the world at the same time as her intense feelings and attraction to her friend Haley. Payton was a great counterpoint to Crystal’s coming-out story because she’s very confident and proud in who she is.
Without getting into too many spoilers, I was a little surprised at how many people came out as gay or lesbian within the (very short) timeline during which this story took place. Basically, this is one of those books where everyone is gay except the villains, which I’m 100% down for but I felt a little skeptical that so many people in this small, rural town would come out to each other within the space of about three days. Maybe Crystal just has that effect on people!
Unfortunately, this didn’t really work for me at all in the angst department. A ton of awful and traumatic things happened to the characters in this story, but the emotional impact of all of them was really weak. It’s my firm belief that hurt/comfort is all about emotions, that without a deep and cathartic emotional reaction there’s no inherent worth in putting the characters though so much suffering. In Crystal’s House of Queers the characters were definitely going through a ton of suffering, but you would barely know it by their reactions. They seemed to shrug off shocking revelations, reassuring each other and being very wholesome and supportive (adorable, but not angsty!) about any fears or doubts that their friends had. The drama that did happen was intense, but short-lived. Things that seemed like huge problems resolved themselves with unrealistic ease and in a very brief amount of time.
There is a lot to like about this book. It started off really strong for me. I loved Crystal’s character especially. I like the inclusion of her learning disabilities and how they are accommodated for at her school, and I loved her nature-y, artistic personality. The inclusion of Crystal’s drawings and Payton’s paintings within the book was such a fun and creative addition to the story. Every time I sensed a new drawing coming I was excited to turn the page and see it revealed. I also liked that this story was set during the pandemic. This is the first book I’ve read that has been set during Covid-19 and that shows some of the upheaval that high school kids have experienced. I appreciated that, and I think it’s important to write stories about what this time has been like to live through.
The story stalled out for me a bit after about the 60 or 70 percent mark. A lot of the mysteries set up in the beginning were revealed by then and the rest of the book was mostly dealing with the fallout. I think the book would have benefitted a lot from having the timeline expanded so that instead of taking place over the course of just a few days it spanned a few weeks or even a few months. I would have loved to see more of the town of Clear, and maybe the non-stop drama would have felt a little more realistic if it had unfolded over a slightly longer time period.
Given that this book had some strong elements and a few things that didn’t work for me, I’m rating it 3 stars.