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Hi friends! I’m super excited to be participating in the blog tour for Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min. Read on for more about this queer YA contemporary, followed by my review!

Title: Beating Heart Baby

Author: Lio Min

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Category: Young Adult

Genre: Contemporary, romance

Release date: July 26, 2022

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Synopsis:Lio Min’s Beating Heart Baby is an “achingly romantic” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) love letter to internet friendships, anime, and indie rock.

When artistic and sensitive Santi arrives at his new high school, everyone in the wildly talented marching band welcomes him with open arms. Everyone except for the prickly, proud musical prodigy Suwa, who doesn’t think Santi has what it takes to be in the band.

But Santi and Suwa share painful pasts, and when they open up to each other, a tentative friendship begins. And soon, that friendship turns into something more. . . .

Will their fresh start rip at the seams as Suwa seeks out a solo spotlight, and both boys come to terms with what it’ll take, and what they’ll have to let go, to realize their dreams?”

My review

Santi has just moved to LA, where he’s joining his new school’s marching band. He makes fast friends with his bandmates, with the exception of Suwa–a musical prodigy who is stoic and guarded. As Santi and Suwa spend more time together, the ice between them begins to melt and they fluidly become friends and then more. But the two have a complicated history behind them and an uncertain future before them that could threaten to unravel them. 

And its core, Beating Heart Baby is a celebration of queer love and how it can be beautiful, messy, complex, and revolutionary. It’s about how love and friendship can help us put the pieces of ourselves back together after we’ve been shattered. One of the most overarching themes of Beating Heart Baby is also music. Santi and Suwa are both musicians, and this is an integral part of them as individuals and their relationship. In particular this book explores who music belongs to and the power of creating music not for the masses, but for yourself or for the people you love most intimately. This novel also has a strong theme of found family for both Santi and Suwa’s personal journeys; as a queer reader, I love seeing this element since found/chosen family is pivotal for so many queer & trans folk. 

Santi and Suwa are both fully fleshed out characters who readers will easily fall in love with. Santi is a mixed Filipino-American (his paternal lineage is unspecified)  who has been raised by his mother’s best friend Aya since his mom’s sudden death; Santi is carrying his own pain and while he has a passion for art & music, he’s also moving through life heartbroken and untethered. Meanwhile, Suwa, who is a trans Korean & Japanese-American boy, has his own struggles around his family’s response to his gender identity as well as cultural tensions between the sides of his family.

Beating Heart Baby  is somewhat leisurely paced and is heavily character-driven. Lio Min’s writing is utterly lyrical, making the whole book flow as if it were an album. In fact, the book is structured like an album, with the book split in half: an ‘A side’ from Santi’s perspective, followed by a ‘B side’ from Suwa’s viewpoint. I would have preferred alternating perspectives rather than the book being split into two parts—I found that I spent the first 50% getting deeply invested in Santi as a character, so I didn’t want to say goodbye to him once it switched to Suwa’s voice. While this structure wasn’t my favorite, it did make sense with the book’s musical theme.  Beating Heart Baby is a love letter to music, but it’s also a celebration of queer love and friendship. It’ll be adored by music lovers, anime watchers, and anyone who has ever had an online BFF. As a teen services librarian, I’m looking forward to purchasing this book for my library and recommending it to readers who enjoy the raw emotions of authors like Ashley Woodfolk, Dean Atta, and Nina LaCour. Lio Min’s debut is hauntingly beautiful, and I can’t wait to read more from them.

Thank you to Flatiron Books for the free digital review copy, and for including me on this tour!

Happy reading! Ari

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