Pride Reads 2024: “Cuckoo” by Gretchen Felker-Martin

Cuckoo by Gretchen Felker-Martin. Image from Macmillian.
Cuckoo by Gretchen Felker-Martin. Image from Macmillian.

Gretchen Felker-Martin continues her brutal and tender portrayals of queer and trans lives in her second novel Cuckoo. A story that explores acceptance and grief, the author has conjured another unforgettable queer horror narrative that you shouldn’t sleep on.

I received an e-ARC of Cuckoo by Gretchen Felker-Martin from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

To my queer and trans readers: If you’re struggling or in a toxic environment, please know that there is help. Please contact the Trans Lifeline.


After reading and reviewing Gretchen Felker-Martin’s brilliant debut novel Manhunt back in 2022, I eagerly awaited her next book. And let me tell you: Cuckoo has exceeded my expectations. Once again, Gretchen’s economical prose and carefully crafted scenes accentuate her memorable characters and worldbuilding.

In Cuckoo, five queer teens are sent to a conversion camp in Utah during the late 1990s. The teens endure labor around the farm and kitchen, noticing the strange behavior of the camp counselors and suspicious sights involving unusual pellets (that may not be from an owl) and creatures lurking about. Although the camp’s mission is to convert the children, a plot to literally strip these kids and make them “acceptable” to society dwells in the bowels of this camp. To avoid this horrifying fate, the five teens plan their escape, but their experiences at the camp will haunt them through their later years.

The author wastes no time in getting to the meat of the plot. The novel contains enough suspense and drama to compel the reader until the final page. Each page harbors an impressive balance of backstory and suspense. Cuckoo follows the perspectives of several characters and includes significant time jumps. However, Gretchen expertly irons out these transitions. While I don’t expect less from her, the author has managed to break all expectations, serving a powerful narrative with vivid imagery and sharp characterization.

Cuckoo also doesn’t refrain from its violent and hideous moments. The characters – portrayed as within and beyond their sexuality, gender, racial, and cultural identity – are complicated, revolting, and commiserate, reminding us of our humanity. The characters experience grief, not just from losing a loved one, but also from losing themselves. Doubts about one’s gender, the fear of having to live a “normal” life for safety, unstable relationships, and sexual violence add to the well-nuanced storytelling of this novel.

Cuckoo is available from Macmillan and Tor Nightfall. You can read an excerpt here.

You can support Gretchen Felker-Martin on Patreon.

You can read more Pride Reads on The Geekiary here.

Also, please read and support works by queer and trans creators (indie and traditional), not just in June.

Author: Bradda M.

Bradda M. currently lives in Virginia. He teaches ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) at a public school and spends his free time reading and watching movies each night with his partner. For The Geekiary, he writes about webcomics and SFF media.

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