When Gabhi Martins, the editor of this anthology, reached out to me on Twitter about possibly receiving a copy of and reviewing Keep Faith, I was excited. I’d already heard about the book through the bookish Twitter grapevine. As a queer person and a devout Catholic, I keenly felt the lack of fiction that dealt with how to navigate either community while being a member of both. The authors of the various short stories in Keep Faith were able to represent that reality beautifully.
Read on to find out why I loved it so much!
Title: Keep Faith
Author: Bogi Takács, Megan Manzano, Vanshika Prusty, Kate Brauning, Mayara Barros, Gabriela Martins, Elly Ha, C.T. Callahan, Shenwei Chang, Sofia Soter, Julia Rios, Adiba Jaigirdar, Mary Fan, Kess Costales
Genre: Anthology, Queer Fiction
Overall Rating: 5/5
Individual Ratings: Ranges from 3/5 to 5/5
Keep faith, in the broad sense of the word. It doesn’t have to be a religion, unless you want it to be. It doesn’t have to speak about the universe, unless you want it to. It doesn’t have to be about anyone but yourself. Keep faith, in other planets and other houses; be it in the face of danger, grief, or while you spread your arms and laugh. Keep faith the same way you keep hope, bright and shiny, ever present. Keep faith in all your queer, beautiful self. Because you deserve it.
This is an anthology of 14 short stories, by 14 queer authors, where faith and queerness intersect. Incidental, purposeful, we-exist-and-that’s-why queerness. And faith meaning whatever you want it to mean.
Content warnings: Cissexism, character death, descriptions of blood and injury, domestic violence
I’m going to structure my review of Keep Faith a little different than I normally review anthologies. I’d like to review each individual short story, which, honestly, I’ve never done before. Reviewing anthologies, I’d usually focus on the stories that really grabbed my attention. But for this one, I have to say that they all did! So I’d like to talk about each one and share specifically what I adored about it, as well as their individual ratings.
And I Entreated by Bogi Takács – 4 stars
I really, really enjoyed this one! Gabhi Martins and her team made a good decision in opening the anthology with And I Entreated because it was a really strong story and did such a good job in telling the reader to stick around!
This one is a sci-fi piece that talks about a mother having been transformed into a plant and witnessing her non-binary child preparing for their bar mitzvah, and how their being non-binary intersects with the necessary ceremonies of their religion, being that these ceremonies are still very much conducted according to binary gender norms. Also discussed is the different ways people might live their truth as non-binary folks, and how all those different ways are valid no matter what other people might say.
Bigger Than Us by Megan Manzano – 5 stars
This one was sooooo good and so intriguing! Honestly? I wish this one was much longer! I’d read a full-length novel in this universe!
In a universe where certain people are born with the powers of their pantheon of deities, the Conclave takes these chosen ones to be trained and serve the country. Like most clergy, they’re not allowed the luxury of personal lives and romantic attachments. The main character, Jude, is all set to join the Conclave and do her duty, but can’t quite let go of Mari, the girl she loves. This story is all about Jude and Mari’s last night together, and trust me when I say that it definitely leaves you wanting more.
Droplets of Starlight by Vanshika Prusty – 5 stars
This short story is one of those utterly simplistic and yet heart-stopping ones that just capture your imagination because of how poignant they are. Droplets of Starlight is set in modern-day India, and is all about a girl named Payal coming to terms with the fact that she’s attracted to the girl next door, Zoya, and how she comes out to her religious parents.
I particularly like this line, from Payal’s mother: “A god who hates their worshippers’ happiness is no god of ours. Our gods love you, Babu, and there’s no person in this world who can say otherwise.”
Godzilla by Kate Brauning – 4 stars
The theme of this short story that I particularly liked is about how sometimes, queer people can be trotted out by allocishet people to demonstrate to others just how open-minded and progressive they are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure on some level we queer people can appreciate the allies in our life who are welcoming and accepting. But trotting out your token queer friend in an attempt to prove it is a big no-no, and that’s one of the major themes explored by this short story.
Golden Hue by Mayara Barros – 3 stars
This one had bisexual, demisexual, and non-binary rep, as well as xie/xem/xir pronouns! (For another book that uses these pronouns, check out Secondhand Origin Stories by Lee Blauersouth!) It also has a scene where a doctor asks for the patient’s pronouns, which is a sorely needed conversation to be had in the medical scene, I think.
Unfortunately, I think this was one of the anthology’s weaker pieces. I was intrigued by the mythology and world-building, but the characters didn’t capture my attention as much as I wished they had.
How Not to Die by Gabriela Martins – 3 stars
A cute enemies-to-lovers featuring a trans female character! Unfortunately, I didn’t much like how the sci-fi/fantasy element was woven into this story. It was just way too rushed. Not to mention I couldn’t really connect to Josie – mostly because I share the main character Margô’s distrust of Americans moving to other countries. I fully admit that that’s totally on me though.
Life is a Story of Change by Elly Ha – 5 stars
Although this piece felt more like an essay rather than a short story, it actually ended up being one of my favourites. It explores asexuality and aromanticism, being questioning, and the act of labeling oneself. It tackles how ace and aro people might be capable of having and enjoying sex and/or relationships, and how that would affect an ace/aro person’s perception of themselves.
It’s not as much of a short story as the other pieces, but this one was highly introspective, offered great insight, and I’m sure will be a great read for anyone who might think they are ace and/or aro!
Nothing Left Standing by C.T. Callahan – 3 stars
I adored the writing of this piece. It was so short – the shortest in this anthology, I think – but it easily captured my attention and made me want more. However, I just don’t see how this short story really talked about the intersection of queerness and faith, which is why I rated it a 3.
On the Other Side by Shenwei Chang – 5 stars
As an Asian myself, this short story really resonated with me. This one is all about a non-binary person coming out to their mom after she died. They bring their significant other to their mother’s grave, light incense sticks, and say prayers, and there’s tons of discussion and feelings about what could have been done and said before death took those options completely out of the equation.
In Asian society, attitudes towards queer communities vacillate between grudging tolerance and outright hatred – which, understandably, makes coming out to loved ones difficult, if not nigh on impossible. This short story tackles that fear of coming out beautifully, and is, in my opinion, a must-read for any Asian person needing a shot of courage for that fateful talk with their loved ones.
Read the Room by Sofia Soter – 5 stars
Okay, first: TAROT.
I freaking love tarot, okay. I believe it’s such a powerful tool for examination, introspection, intuition, and possibility. One of my favourite tropes in SFF ever is flowery, ornate descriptions of various tarot decks. (In fact, the description of the Deck of Omens from The Devouring Gray is one of the few things I liked about that terrible, terrible book.)
Second of all, this piece was a wonderful getting-together story depicting a polyamorous relationship! This definitely needs more healthy representation in media, especially since it’s still got such a negative connotation. This was cute, sweet, and – pun fully intended – absolutely magical.
Ten Steps to Becoming a Successful Vlogger by Julia Rios – 3 stars
This was an enjoyable read in that if it was an article, I’d click it. However, other than that, I didn’t really engage with this piece as much as I did the others. Maybe because it really lacked a narrative? It was creative, I’ll admit, but it just wasn’t for me.
The Language of Magic by Adiba Jaigirdar – 4 stars
I very much enjoyed reading this, mostly because it felt like magical realism and I absolutely adore that genre. This short story was very evocative, and I do love that kind of writing. However, I didn’t exactly get explicitly queer characters from this one? I could be mistaken, so please do let me know if I am. This seemed like more of a friendship and faith story to me rather than one talking about queerness. I did like it, but overall feel that its placement in this anthology is weird.
The Messenger by Mary Fan – 5 stars
If there’s one place that I really, truly believe queerness in all its wonderful iterations can be explored, it’s science fiction. And Mary Fan just absolutely freaking delivered.
Mary Fan has a distinctively descriptive writing style that lent itself well to how ornate and well-crafted this world is. I would honestly want more from this universe! It follows a scientist gathering data from alternate Earths from the moment she’s born up to when she dies, chronicling her love and her life and the work she was dedicated to. This poetic storytelling is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Mary Fan.
Whatever She Wants by Kess Costales – 5 stars
I am, admittedly, biased – but this was my favourite short story in this entire anthology! It’s very sweet and simplistic, about two girls fake dating and slowly realizing that they have actual feelings for each other, but it also explores an identity crisis that really hits home for me because I’ve experienced it myself: reconciling being queer with being a devout Filipino Catholic.
Catholicism in and of itself is fraught with all sorts of weirdness for Filipinos. On the one hand, it was the tool of our oppressors. On the other, its now also a way for us to connect with our communities and our families, not to mention find some kind of stability in an ever-changing world. Add being queer into that mix, and it’s very often not pretty. But the Filipino main character makes peace with the God that she worships, thinking of Him as love and light and compassion, and decides that her love for another woman is just as holy and pure. It was a message teenaged me would have loved to hear, and it’s a message I want to get across to other queer Filipino teens.
Boy, this review took me some time to write. But trust and believe when I say it was worth it. What are you waiting for? Go buy Keep Faith!