Martin McLean, Middle School Queen

Written By: Alyssa Zaczek

Cover Art by: Risa Rodil

For Ages: YA Middle Grades

Language: English & some Spanish

Topics Covered: LGBTQ, Family, Growing Up, Self-Confidence, STEM, Self-Expression, Friendship, Crushes, Latinx Families, Interracial Marriage, Single Parent Families.


So when I said earlier in the summer that the best part of 2020 so far was all the books about drag queens, this one is no exception. I loved this middle grade novel so much, and read it so fast! The plot hits on so many important aspects of being a middle schooler: figuring yourself out, having crushes, being self-conscious, and finding your voice to express emotions. The juxtaposition of a drag queen and a captain of the Mathlete squad is a delightful pairing, and I enjoy how multifaceted Martin is as a protagonist.

Martin lives with his mom, loves being a Mathlete, and has trouble expressing his emotions. When his uncle Billy visits and takes Martin to his first drag show, he’s hooked. Martin has finally found a way to express himself, and finds a mentor in his Tio. Martin’s two best friends Pickle & Carmen are supportive and kind, but tensions bubble up when Pickle falls in love and Carmen feels lied to. The friendship strife is believable and humorous, reminiscent of the arguments we all got into with out friends when we were that age too. The characters are diverse, and one of my favorites is side character Violet, who is a friendly and sassy girl who loves to coordinate her outfits and wheelchair with various shades of purple to match her name. I love the normalization of the LGBTQ community, and young people being exposed to and a part of the wildly creative world of drag. I ran through this book super quick, and now writing the review makes me want to read it all over again!

This book was generously sent to us by Sterling Kids, but review opinions are always my own!

Alyssa Zaczek

Alyssa Zaczek is a fiction author, journalist and playwright originally from Chicago. She is represented by Jessica Mileo at InkWell Management.

Her plays have been performed across the Midwest, and her short fiction can be read in Midwestern Gothic, Jet Fuel Review, The Dionysian, et al.

She currently lives in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, where she works in marketing. She was previously a features reporter for a USA Today newspaper.

Risa Rodil

From her website: “Hi there, I’m Risa. I’m a designer, illustrator, and letterer who channels my whimsical side into delightful illustrations. I bring my designs to life through digital magic and striking color palettes.

Upon discovering my love for art at age 14, I found myself bouncing from one creative field to the next—trying out Photography, Video Production, and Web Design, until I finally landed on Illustration and Lettering. It took me a couple more years to find my own art style that has now attracted clients from around the globe. I describe my style as a vibrant mixture of striking colors with a touch of whimsy and modern retro. 

Most of my work are typographic in nature and my passion for the field has allowed me to work on projects like book covers, magazine spreads, advertising campaigns, promotional posters, and merchandising items. On my days off, I like to visit new cities, read books, and go full nerd by binge-watching television shows.”

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