Isabel Yap’s Never Have I Ever is a wonderful collection of clever and inventive stories ranging in genre from fantasy to horror to weird. Yap has a style that will remind readers of authors like Yolen and Blume at times.
The first tale in the collection starts strong. “Good Girls” makes use of the third and, surprisingly, second person to illustrate the point do view of a young woman who has a supernatural bent, which an American mind cannot help but see as vampiric. Between the flight and the need to feed, the imagery is obvious, yet well integrated. The use of elements of other girls of similar phenotypical age as well as relatively young and teen-like thoughts from the vampire add a refreshing additional element.
It is a story that shows off many of Yap’s talents, utilizing an unusual point of view extremely well and taking unexpected direction with a fairly traditional and widely explored monster. While not necessarily the most substantive story in the collection, this piece was an excellent choice with which to open. Evidence of heterosexual attraction is obvious in the story, the lead leaving bed with her boyfriend still in it being hard to ignore. At the same time strong homosexual instincts are touched upon, and each is mixed up with a fantastic combination of fear, joy, sadness, and anticipation.
Another of the stories is “A Spell For Foolish Hearts,” about a young man named Patrick, who is a witch and gay. His parents are a little against both, seemingly because they think it will make life harder for him, but he is okay with those parts of himself even as he persues a career in software design.
Another man starts work at the same business named Karl, and Patrick feels an instant attraction which never quite goes away. The descriptions of him are glowing, and do a very good job of illustrating infatuation.
The use of touching for foreshadowing is a surprise for the reader, yet serves as another example of Isabel Yap’s skill. Rules are not always explained, different parts of your life interact in strange ways, and assorted loved ones do not always understand the situation. There are no great villains or world-changing events in this particular story, and it is the stronger for it. This is a quiet bit of urban fantasy with a bit of romance, but which doesn’t fit into the niche that paranormal romance has carved out.
An afterword lists the different sources for these stories, many of which focus on specific regions or subjects. Given the quality of the stories, I expect a few individuals to hunt down those publications as well.
Harry Potter is referenced a great many times in this story, and in light of Rowlings transphobic comments, that might bother some. The context of these references makes them not only unavoidable, but somewhat l necessary. For people of a certain generation, human beings using magical powers is very heavily tied to the franchise. To tell this charming urban fantasy story and not even bring it up would be unfortunate.
This is the first short story collection from Isabel Yap, and easy to recommend to fans of genre shorts in general. Fans of her work specifically have only a lack of awareness to excuse not acquiring the volume. Readers should look eagerly forward to more by the author.
(Small Beer Press, 2021)