Book Review: Cute Mutants Vol 2: Young, Gifted & Queer, by SJ Whitby

By B.B. | 01/15/2021

Buckle up, readers, because SJ Whitby is going to take you on an emotional, queer as fuck, action packed ride in the second installment of their Cute Mutants series, Cute Mutants Vol 2: Young, Gifted & Queer. The Cute Mutants crew isn’t new to their powers anymore, they’re stronger than ever. They’re also cuter than ever, queerer than ever, more diverse, and they’re all out of fucks when it comes to authority figures telling them what to do!

“I spent my life dreaming of being invited to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Turns out irl it has the vibe of a Dark Kermit gif. I just want to stay in the closet kissing my hot girlfriend.”

Despite the chaos and me being a dumpster fire, things turned out okay last time. We beat the villain, and I’m part of a superteam. I have cool friends, and somehow (don’t jinx it, Dylan), I even got the girl. Not just any girl—the icy badass who’s secretly soft-hearted. Things should be great, right?

Now the government’s come knocking, and we’re summoned to superhero school. Which is a dream come true, except it’s run by a corporation. But not all corporations are shady, right? It’s fine, if you can get over the teeny, tiny problem that there’s also an evolution-obsessed organization trying to figure us out. Plus, it turns out we aren’t as rare as we thought. There’s another group of mutants with dangerous powers running loose, and we’re the ones who’ll have to stop them.

I hope the part on my school records that says “near-pathological disregard for authority” isn’t going to come back and bite me. Maybe it’ll be the thing that saves us.

Because I have to get this off of my chest and out of my brain – have my rapid fire hot takes and reactions that happened ~mostly~ in order as I was reading:

SOFT DANI IS LIFE! Seriously – please hook soft Dani content straight up to my goddamn veins.

HIMBO BIANCA CONTINUES TO STEAL MY ENTIRE HEART!

WHERETHEFUCKISEMMA!?

Noice.

( 。・o・)💗 iwilldoanythingforthisswordsohelpme 💗(・o・。)

OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIIIIIT!!

PROTECTIVE DANI FTW!

EMMA IS AMAZING OMG PROTEC AT ALL COSTS!

༼ಢ_ಢ༽ SJ, STOP CUTTING ONIONS, MY FEELINGS ARE LEAKING OUT OF MY EYES!  ༼ಢ_ಢ༽

Do I lowkey ship Dragon and Lou? I think I lowkey ship Dragon and Lou. Huh.

PEAR IS BEST PARENT! OMG LET THEM BE THE SUPPORTIVE ADULT FOR ALL MUTANTS PuLEEAAASE!

ALYSE YES! PROTEC MODE ACTIVATED YOU BAMF!

Do it, Oni. Fuck him up. <dark Kermit meme> Do it.

Sourpatch is the softest, most delicate bean. Plz Protec.

(ಥ﹏ಥ) MY FEELS! SJ, WHY YOU DO THIS TO MEEEEE?! (ಥ﹏ಥ)

KEEPAWAY COME BAAAAAAAAACK!

(ಥ﹏ಥ) Onions. Why is it always onions? (ಥ﹏ಥ)

Fetch in a suite? Why yes. Yes, I needed this. Am I thirsty or emotionally fragile? Both. Def both.

Ahem.

Anyway. You came here for a review. (^▽^;)

I’m not trained in the eloquent internet speak of keyboard smashes, but holy fucking shit do I a) love this book and b) was totally unprepared for all of the feels and drama that was held within its pages. Whitby does an amazing job with the second installment of Cute Mutants, where the team has to work for the Yaxley Corporation. Dylan immediately gets villainous corporate vibes and the story goes from there. I absolutely do not want to spoil any of the twists and turns this book takes, so this review might feel a bit “vague tweet,” but I assure you it’s an amazing book.

In Vol 2, we get to see our core group of Cute Mutants continue to master and enhance their powers thanks to training and to their connection within the group. We see a new relationship form that is beautiful asexual and demisexual representation that is handled delicately while also showing the fears of dating someone who is asexual. I absolutely loved this because it shows that you can have doubts about yourself and pushing boundaries of someone who is ace without saying anything awful about an asexual person in the reasoning behind the hesitancy to date them. Take notes for those of you who think ace people are broken or not queer. If you think that way, you can fight me. Ace folx (folks) are valid, deserve love, and should be included in queer spaces. Period.

Speaking of romance – the reader gets to see the relationship between Dylan and Dani absolutely blossom. We see them argue but communicate through the various arguments and prove that an argument doesn’t equate to a breakup or that they don’t like each other. And those moments of communication lead to their relationship progressing to much more intimate moments. Now, Vol 2 isn’t explicit by any means. Whitby does an outstanding job of leading up to these moments of intimacy and then letting the narrative use vague terms that leave no doubt in the readers mind as to what has transpired between the two without going into detail. It was honestly refreshing to read.

Along with the romances that begin and grow deeper, each character grows so much in this book. They are all still recognizably themselves from Vol 1, but they’ve become a little more hardened, more sure of themselves and their powers, and more committed to the entirety of the Cute Mutants team, regardless of who is leading it. They have become a found family where they all love each other and want to protect one another with everything they have (Pear included). Their friendship that holds the group together is so authentically written that it makes my heart ache in the best possible way.

And, the crème-de-la-crème of Cute Mutants Vol 2: Young, Gifted & Queer, is that it is queer as absolute fuck. I mean, the word “queer” is in the title of the book for starters. I know I already talked about it when I mentioned the new budding relationship that forms but the book is just unapologetically queer. You have lesbian representation, transgender representation, non-binary, asexual, and demisexual representation, and ruminations about gender-fluidness. Everyone is somewhat queer coded, save most of the Cute Mutants’ parents and the corporate professionals that get barely any page time. There were more people in this book that were confirmed queer or gave strong queer vibes than non-queer characters. And I fucking love that.

I do have two criticisms for Cute Mutants Vol 2, though. The first is I really wish there were content warnings in the beginning of the book. This book is fantastic, make no mistake, but there are some much darker themes throughout the book, especially in the second half that could be quite triggering for some folx. And I understand that including content warnings in books is currently a highly debated topic in the publishing industry, so this isn’t necessarily a direct criticism of Cute Mutants or Whitby, mind you.

Content Warnings that readers should be aware of before reading Cute Mutants Vol 2:

  • Character death
  • Self-harm (to activate powers)
  • Graphic depictions of violence
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Kidnapping
  • Forced sedation
  • Transphobia

At the time of writing this review, Cute Mutants Vol 2 is ranked #694 in Children’s Superhero Fiction on Amazon. I would caution that this is most definitely not a children’s book, the ample use of fuck should be a clue to that; but I would also argue that it is barely young adult, given the themes and content of the book as it progresses. But I’m no expert on genre and there’s no need to put Cute Mutants in a restrictive genre box, I just want readers, whatever age they may be, to be prepared for some heavy stuff.

My second criticism is that there are a few scenes where the transitions were too fast and I found myself very confused, having to reread paragraphs a few times to look for something I missed when I didn’t miss anything. The transition that I’ve been conditioned to seeing by most print fiction simply wasn’t there. There are three scenes that stick out in my head: a scene between Dylan and Dani at Yaxley, a scene where an unauthorized stealth mission goes wrong, and a scene where the entire Cute Mutants group is incapacitated. Thematically, I understand the vagueness of the transitions that Whitby used to build tension and confusion, being that the book is still in the first-person perspective of Dylan. And once I was clued into it, it made some other scenes easier to follow, especially some scenes between Dylan and Dani. The three scenes I referenced, however, were really hard for me to process what was happening to the point where it completely took me out of the book and broke my immersion. So, while I understand why this was style choice that was made, it was a style choice that didn’t work for me as a reader. It may very well work for you, though.

(Content Warning – I talk about character death in the next paragraph)

Beyond that, there is one thing that I feel like I wanted more closure on, but it isn’t a criticism. There is a character death that shook me to my core that I still can’t quite believe is real; every fiber of my being keeps saying “they’ll come back at some point. They have to. They’re [insert nickname here]!” (Please note that “they” is not indicative of gender or character but rather to be ambiguous and avoid spoilers.) I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this on previous reviews but I’m not a crier. Like. AT ALL. But the death of this character got me and there were real, actual tears that fell onto the pages of my book. My personal feelings about it aside, though, there was dialogue and inner monologuing from Dylan in how she interacted with this character that just feels very unfinished, that she even admits to feeling unfinished and unfair. I mean, it’s very indicative of life to not of a neat bow at the end of someone’s life. And although this particular character death is a fiery driving force for Dylan moving forward into book three, I just can’t shake that there has to be more closure despite how definitively the death was written. The death of this character was a shock to the system – mine as a reader and to the entire Cute Mutants crew. It is a crucial developmental moment for the team and is the moment that changes the tone for the remainder of the book. So, I get it. I do. But I am still reeling from it. And I still have a glimmer of hope that somehow, someway… they come back. Because hey – the x-men do it all the time! Right? So, the Cute Mutants should be able to, too, imo.

Cute Mutants Vol 2: Young, Gifted & Queer is fantastic for a lot of reasons, several of which I’ve already listed above. Not only is it all of those things and more, but on pure craft, too. Cute Mutants Vol 2 is exceptionally well written. Whitby has taut tension the entire way through in varying formats and takes the reader through an emotional roller coaster while also giving them emotional support scenes in the way of the entire group being soft beans together. Not only that, but Whitby has also taken classic x-men stories and stories of abhorrent discrimination for being different and made them anew and modern, expansively relatable, and emotionally impactful. For me, it is rare to find that level of writing, mastery of tension, emotional impact, and pure joy of characters and representation in any one book, regardless of genre. I never expected it from a story about queer superpowered mutant teenagers, but here we are.

I’m two books in and completely in love with this series. Book three is practically vibrating off of my bookshelf, demanding to be read, and according the Whitby’s Twitter, book four is coming in April of 2021.

Rating: 
5 out of 5 Rainbows

Recommended Reader: Anyone looking for unapologetic queer content, fans of the x-men series who want more queerness in their mutant stories, or anyone looking for a story of unbreakable friendships. Content warnings listed within the review should be heeded, however.

You can find more from SJ Whitby on Twitter, their website, and on Goodreads.

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