Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian # 7: Books with Asexual Characters

What I’m yearning for that I haven’t yet come across is good asexual representation – preferably asexual characters who aren’t pursuing hetero romances, y’know? Whether they’re coming to terms with their asexuality as part of the narrative or if it’s just an aspect of them that the reader sees, I need this. Doesn’t have to be fiction either! Would that be a reasonable challenge? It’s a tricky one.

Clare


Hi Clare!

This is probably the most challenging lesbrarian request I’ve had yet!  Off the top of my head, I could think of just one piece of fiction with an asexual character and one scholarly non-fiction collection.  Yikes!  Luckily, though, I was able to find some other fantastic-sounding books in my research.  Let me know what you think of them, Clare!

bone peopleThe very first book I thought of was Keri Hulme’s majestic, Man Booker prize winning novel The Bone People.  The Bone People is that best kind of fiction that will challenge your dearly-held beliefs and assumptions about the world, and make you a better, kinder, more compassionate person.  Be warned: if you are a black and white thinker, this book will turn your world upside down.  Above all else, The Bone People forces you to look at the complex, ugly nature of human existence and behaviour.  One part of this complexity is an asexual character, Kerewin, who is a loner and artist who lives self-sufficiently in a tower, literally on the edge of the earth on the west coast of New Zealand / Aotearoa.  Her asexuality is addressed directly in the book, although it’s definitely not a major part of the plot.  Kerewin is also aromantic, so no romances, hetero or otherwise.  Both Kerewin and the author are of mixed Maori and European background, so Kerewin is an asexual person of colour to boot! Hulme herself also identifies as asexual.  I read this book while travelling in New Zealand years ago and it has remained one of my favourite books of all time.  [Trigger warning for child abuse and alcoholism]

asexualitiesThe other book that was in my memory bank is a scholarly anthology edited by Megan Milks and Karli June Cerankowski called Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives.  This one I haven’t read, but I have read creative fiction by Milks, which is deliciously strange and queer in the broadest sense of the word.  This anthology is said to be highly inter-disciplinary, approaching asexuality in conjunction with race, disability, queer theory, medicine, literature, and others.  An FYI, though: this essay collection does sound quite academic in tone, and in particular some parts of the book use Lacanian psychoanalytic language, which can be challenging even for the most ambitious readers!

Another novel I haven’t read but that has been recommended to me is Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett.  This book features an asexual book-loving librarian, Dorcas: a woman who “lives a quiet life of the mind.”  Her twin sister is Abigail, “a woman of passionate sensual and sexual appetites.”  But what happens

when the sisters are sought out by the predatory and famous poet, Guy DeVilbiss, who introduces them to Hollywood hack writer and possible psychopath Conrad Lowe, [and] they rapidly become pawns in a game that leads to betrayal, shame and ultimately, murder[?]

jincyI guess you’ll have to read to find out!  The tone of Winner of the National Book Award is right up my alley: darkly funny, sarcastic, and tender.  Check out this quotation describing Dorcas:

Reading was not an escape for her, any more than it is for me. It was an aspect of direct experience. She distinguished, of course, between the fictional world and the real one, in which she had to prepare dinners and so on. Still, for us, the fictional world was an extension of the real, and in no way a substitute for it, or refuge from it. Any more than sleeping is a substitute for waking.

quicksilverI am really excited about a pair of books, Quicksilver and Ultraviolet, that I discovered in my online searches.  Not only do they feature an asexual teen girl protagonist, they’re science fiction and set in Ontario!   If you haven’t heard of the Asexual Agenda website yet, go and check it out!  They have a ton of resources there, including book reviews, which is where I discovered Quicksilver.  I searched “asexuality in fiction” on the site and found a ton of interesting stuff, including lists of self-identified asexual characters in books and TV and reviews of webcomics.  Their review of Quicksilver, the second book in R.J. Anderson’s Ultraviolet series, is simply glowing:

Wow, how do I even start?  Let’s put it this way: I almost just copied and pasted the entire coming out scene, because I loved it that much.  Then I almost copied and pasted most of the asexuality-related sections of the book… I’ve already swooned over Tori a little bit, but let me reiterate–she is an excellent YA protagonist.  Throw her asexuality into the mix, and I am falling over myself in excessive affection for her.  What’s great about her is that she is not solely defined by her asexuality… She felt to me like a real person who just happened to be asexual, rather than the Token Ace.

This Tori character could also be characterized as wtfromantic, a kind of aromantic.  If you’re interested, this is a blog post the author wrote about deciding to create an asexual YA heroine.

OathboundTwo other books for young adults featuring an asexual character are Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey and the Vows and Honour series by Mercedes Lackey.  Readers have a lot of positive things to say about the fantasy novel Guardian of the Dead, which includes Maori myth, a boarding school, a nerdy girl heroine, and an asexual guy.  That said, one review says his asexuality is used too much as a plot point.  Read an in-depth review hereVows and Honour is also fantasy, and a classic series from the 80s.  Tamra is the asexual character in this book, and she is also a swordswoman who swears herself to a warrior goddess.  She has a queerplatonic relationship with said warrior goddess, which I’m sure is just as awesome as it sounds.  Have a look at this positive review, which also links to a more critical review.

Actually, it seems almost all of the fiction I could find with asexual characters is fantasy or sci-fi, which is pretty interesting.  That would sure make a good essay topic.  Somebody get on that!  This list on Good Lesbian books has a lot of genre fiction on it, as does this Goodreads list of asexual fiction.  Hopefully you’re into speculative fiction, Clare!

bannerHere are a few other (fantasy) options that look good: Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith, is a fantasy of manners with an asexual protagonist, which also sounds feminist, epic, and action-packed.  Here’s a full review of that one.  Garth Nix’s YA fantasy Abhorsen series also sounds great, especially a prequel called Clariel, which focuses on a self-assured asexual teenage girl who would rather be a lone forest ranger than living in a crowded city learning magic and being forced to marry the son of a political ally.  Have a look at this review.

heart of acesOne last book is The Heart of Aces, edited by Sarah Sinnaeve.  It’s a short story collection, featuring asexual characters in all sorts of romantic relationships, from hetero- to homo-romantic.  What sounded cool to me about this book is that all the authors are asexual too!

Tell me, readers!  Do you have any recommendations for books with asexual characters, preferably with queerromantic leanings?  Maybe ones that aren’t fantasy?


Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian is a Book Advice Column where you can send me your LGBTQ book related questions and recommendation requests. Send me an email: casey@uvic.ca and put “Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian” in the subject.

Posted in ask your friendly neighbourhood lesbrarian, Canadian, Fantasy, Fiction, Indigenous, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Queer, Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Review of Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s THIS ONE SUMMER: A Beautiful, Troubling Young Adult Graphic Novel

This One Summer, a young adult novel by cousins Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, is probably the most visually stunning graphic novel I’ve ever read.  Jillian’s (I’ll refer to them by their first names since they share a last one!) art is nothing short of incredible.  I mean, check out these gorgeous blue-purpleish drawings:

1-this-one-summer-opener-580

this-one-summer-windy-dance

1summer2

If we’re talking about how I’d rate this book, I’d give the visual art ten out of ten, no question.  The illustrations capture the easy, free feeling of long summer days when you’re a kid and rural/small town Ontario so perfectly.  As R.J. Edwards said in their review, “If you’re ever talking about masters of the comics artform you should be mentioning Jillian Tamaki.”

This-One-SummerNow, what’s interesting, especially for me, a self-identified word-obsessed person, is that I felt the writing and plot were a bit … underwhelming compared to the illustrations.   I certainly don’t have a problem with the words taking a backseat to the drawings, which I think is definitely what happens in this book.  There are full pages with no words at all, where the drawings were left to tell the story on their own.  But it felt like there was something missing linguistically, that the words weren’t as rich as the pictures, didn’t live up to the pictures.  Let’s see if I can explain.

This book is about two Toronto girls teetering on the edge of teenagehood, spending their summer together at a lake town in Southern Ontario.  Rose is slightly older than Windy, and is feeling that superior sense of maturity and know-it-allness that only someone who is really young can so confidently exude.  Rose feels a bit embarrassed by her friend Windy this summer, especially in front of the 17-year-old boys working at the general store where she and Windy go to pick up candy and horror movies.  By spending so much time at the store, the girls end up being unwitting spectators and detectives in some local teen drama: an unplanned pregnancy.  Rose is also dealing with constant arguments at home, and what seems like a struggle with depression on her mom’s side, although it’s never named.

Mariko Tamaki

Mariko Tamaki

There’s no question that Mariko nails kid and teenager dialogue.  The dialogue is really exactly what young people sound like—not how you think they sound like, but what they really sound like.  Maybe where my hesitation with the writing and plot is that I’m not sure who the audience for this book is.  It feels like the story is suited more to adults than the early teen girls depicted in the novel or even older teenagers.  Maybe it’s that the point of view seems like it’s from an older version of Rose.  But there are some crucial scenes from the adults’ perspective: in particular, one in which Rose and Windy’s moms talk about Rose’s mom’s miscarriage, and about how Rose doesn’t know about it.

I guess one thing that would worry me about giving this book to girls the same age as the characters is some of the realistic, but nasty behaviour that Rose exhibits.  Do you remember that feeling, especially as a girl and young woman with boys, when you wanted to be liked so badly, and you didn’t have the self-confidence yet to be yourself, and you were trying to fit in no matter what?  When you wanted guys and older kids to like you no matter what, even if it meant being someone you’re not, or saying or doing hurtful things to impress them?

Jillian Tamaki

Jillian Tamaki

This is where Rose is: for example, there is some definite slut-shaming that comes out of her mouth, in an effort to protect her older general store crush.  Windy, on the other hand, knows what Rose said was awful, and isn’t blinded by any romantic or sexual feelings.  Windy, in other words, even though she’s still grossed out by boys, is kind of more mature than Rose in some way.  The thing is, the slut-shaming isn’t really addressed, except briefly and timidly by Windy.  Lessons learnt?  It feels more like that issue, as well as other complicated ones, just sit there, heavily.  As an adult, you can interpret them, know what’s happening, and understand that the novel is not condoning what Rose says—but will teen girls get that message? I’m not sure, because they’re so close, or they’re still in that space.

I don’t know, I don’t want to be the grown-up who says, teenagers can’t handle the tough stuff: I know they can handle a lot more than adults give them credit for.  But I worry about girls like Rose, and what they might come away from This One Summer thinking.  This beautiful, but troubling, book.

Posted in Asian, Canadian, Graphic, Rural, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

“Something wrestling with how we live, something dangerous, something honest”: A Review of Bread Out of Stone by Dionne Brand

bread out of stoneI’ve read a lot of books by Dionne Brand, poetry and fiction, but Bread Out of Stone is the first non-fiction I’ve read by this Black lesbian literary powerhouse.  While it’s not my favourite work by her—I prefer her poetry—I’m glad I read this essay collection and would certainly recommend it as a sharp, personal account of, among other things: racism in Canada, education and academia, political activism, memory, capitalism, immigration, and writing.

Most of the essays in Bread Out of Stone are written in what is for Brand a fairly prosaic style—that is, still pretty poetic because Brand is such a natural poet she just can’t help it.  The first essay, “Just Rain, Bacolet,” which is more personal and narrative than the others in this collection, is especially like a poem.  When I say poetic, I mean this:

Then I heard her sigh, a sound like an old woman working a field, a sound more human than human, and old, like so much life or so much trouble and needing so much rest. This is how old I’d like to be, so old I’ll cry silver, sigh human.

Many of the essays in this book could be called odes to Black Toronto.  One such essay is “Bathhurst,” which examines Black activism in the city, both past and present.  “Brownman, Tiger…” is a searing criticism of racism, particularly the treatment of young Black people.  Brand calls Toronto “this city which treats its white rapists and murderers like the boy next door gone unaccountably and sadly wrong.”

Other essays are less descriptive and more like political theory.  I was especially interested in her theory about equality versus justice in the context of anti-racist activism:

I realized that at some point the idea of upliftment had replaced the idea of justice and that equality rather than justice had become what we were fighting for.  The distinction may be slippery, but it is a major one.  Did we want only to be equal to white people, or did we want to end exploitation and oppression?  Because to be equal to the white power structure twenty-five years ago and still today is to have the right to impose inequality.

One of the most powerful essays is, I think, “This Body for Itself,” in which Brand attempts to take back Black women’s sexualities for themselves, especially in the context of writing.  She isolates this problem for Black women writers: “In a world where Black women’s bodies are so sexualized, avoiding the body as sexual is a strategy.”  She writes:

Often when we talk about the wonderful Black women in our lives their valour, their emotional strength, their psychic endurance overwhelm our texts so much so that we forget apart from learning the elegant art of survival from them, we also learn in their gestures the fine art of sensuality, the fleshy art of pleasure and desire… Didn’t we take in their sweetness, their skinniness, their voluptuousness, their ample arms, their bone-sharp adroitness, their incandescent darkness, the texture of their skin, its plumminess, its pliancy; their angularity, their style when dancing, their stride across a piece of yard that sets the yard off, their shake as they sense the earth under their feet, their rock, the way they take music in their shoulders, the way they pause and then shimmy and let it roll?  Didn’t we take in their meaning?

Isn’t that the most gorgeous tribute?

Another important topic Brand picks up in a few essays is cultural appropriation, in terms of music (jazz in particular) and literature.  I think she gives a great, straight-forward definition, and why it’s important to talk about it:

Cultural appropriation is not an accusation, it is a critical category.  It looks at the location of the text, and its author, in the world at specific historical moments: moments that give rise to gender, race-, class-making, ‘othering’; moments rooted in colonial conquest, in slavery, and in economic expansion.  It investigates the positioning of the author within and apart from the text…It challenges the author’s anonymity…This critique goes beyond the mere notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ representation; it is more concerned with how we see, enact and re-enact, make, define and redefine, vision how we lived and how we are going to live.

Dionne Brand, via griffinpoetryprize.com

Dionne Brand, via griffinpoetryprize.com

Every Canadian should read “Imagination, Representation, and Culture.”  It’s an intense, passionate critique of Canadianness, how it “excludes and evades immigrants” and forces them to forget their so-called past (i.e., culture), resulting in an “emptying out” of people’s history which “renders the society we enter also empty of the creativity, knowledges, imaginings, dreaming, life experiences that enhance human beings.”  In other words, we are destroying the richness of Canada and the people who live here by insisting on a certain kind of (read: white) Canadianness.  Brand, in contrast, believes in “many stories and not one dominating one.”

As poetically as she begins, Brand ends this collection, with a brief note on poetry, and why it’s important in her life, even if at times other work is more pressing.  I think I’ll end this review with a gorgeous, life-affirming quotation from that last essay:

But if I can just give myself a moment, I would say that it’s been a relief to write poetry, it’s been just room to live.  I’ve had moments when the life of my people has been so overwhelming to bear that poetry seemed useless, and I cannot say that there is any moment that I do not think that now…If I can take a second.  Shaking the gravel from my shoes.  Poetry is here, is here.  Something wrestling with how we live, something dangerous, something honest.

Posted in Black, Canadian, Caribbean, Lesbian, Non-Fiction, Toronto | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Some Thoughts on the 27th Lambda Literary Awards

Ah, the Lambda Literary awards.  Every year I feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation looking for the winners and the recap of the ceremony, which was Monday June 1st. Excitement because these awards are the be all end all of queer literary awards, and I love to see LGBTQ writers being recognized.  Trepidation because they always seem to fuck up somehow, especially when it comes to trans and bisexual folks, as well as people of colour.  The winners were officially announced today on their website.  Why don’t we start with the good and I’ll save the bad for last?

There were some pretty exciting wins last night, notably Casey Plett’s in transgender fiction for her short story collection A Safe Girl to Love.  Quite possibly no one was more deserving of an award, simply because A Safe Girl to Love is such a fucking stunning book.  You can order it here from Topside Press, and you can check out my review here.  I think Imogen Binnie puts it just right when she says there is “a tenderness and a willingness to confront bleak truths in Plett’s writing that are all her own.”  These stories are the perfect combination of kind and hard, joyful and angry.  Apparently Plett—who hails from Winnipeg—ended her speech by declaring “The transgender community is taking over!”  Hear, hear!

Casey Plett, accepting the award for transgender fiction. Via lambdaliterary.org

Casey Plett, accepting the award for transgender fiction. Via lambdaliterary.org

Edmonton-raised, Toronto-residing Vivek Shraya’s illustrated coming of age tale didn’t win the award for bisexual fiction (I loved it and you should definitely still read it) but Ana Castillo’s novel looks pretty awesome.  Check out the blurb:

give it to meRecently divorced, Palma, a forty-three-year-old Latina, takes stock of her life when she reconnects with her gangster younger cousin recently released from prison. Her sexual obsession with him flares as she checks out her other options, but their family secrets bring them together in unexpected ways. In this wildly entertaining and sexy novel, Castillo creates a memorable character with a flare for fashion, a longing for family, and a penchant for adventure.

Jaime Manrique says: “Cheeky, amoral, and a gritty survivor, Palma Piedras is a picaresque heroine for the 21st century. With an unflinching satirical flare, Castillo creates a vivid cast of rogues and helpless characters who alarmingly resemble people we know.”  I can’t wait to read this!

I was also pumped to see that Charles M. Blow was given the bisexual non-fiction award, for his memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones. It’s exquisitely written, and a take on bisexual identity I hadn’t read before.   He writes beautifully about growing up black in small town Louisiana, the aftermath of being sexually abused by a cousin, and going through harrowing, unbelievable hazing in a college fraternity.  You can see in the evocative title alone the way he has with words.

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Charles M. Blow, accepting the award for bisexual non-fiction. Via lambdaliterary.org

Daisy Hernández, who is also bisexual, was awarded an Emerging Writer Award.  I’m not sure why her amazing memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed wasn’t up for the bisexual non-fiction, because I thought that was where I had heard of it, but anyway.  I reviewed it for the lesbrary earlier this year.  Hernández writes striking, honest prose about such topics as class, money, racism, Latin American spiritual traditions, Spanish and language politics, and bisexual identity.

Daisy Hernández, accepting an emerging writer award. Via lambdaliteraary.org

Daisy Hernández, accepting an emerging writer award. Via lambdaliteraary.org

Are bisexual people of colour hitting it out of the park, or what?

I hadn’t heard of either of the winners for lesbian fiction and memoir/biography before yesterday—Yabo by Alexis De Veaux and Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith—but both are by/about black women.  It’s pretty exciting to see the spotlight put on queer people of colour!

The Walk-in Closet by Iranian-American author Abdi Nazemian, which won LGBT debut, also looks fantastic.  Many reviewers remark on how hilarious it is, but at the same time kind and generous.  Have a look at the blurb:

Kara Walker has never found much glamour in her own life, especially not when compared to the life of her best friend Bobby Ebadi. Bobby, along with his sophisticated parents Leila and Hossein, is everything Kara always wanted to be. The trio provides the perfect antidote to what Kara views as the more mundane problems of her girlfriends and her divorced parents. And so when the Ebadis assume that Kara is Bobby’s girlfriend, she willingly steps into the role. She enjoys the perks of life in this closet, not only Leila’s designer hand-me-downs and free rent, but also the excitement of living life as an Ebadi. abdi nazemianAs Kara’s 30th birthday approaches, Leila and Hossein up the pressure. They are ready for Kara to assume the mantle of the next Mrs. Ebadi, and Bobby seems prepared to give them what they want: the illusion of a traditional home and grandchildren. How far will Kara be willing to go? And will she be willing to pull the Persian rug out from under them when she discovers that her own secret is just one of many lurking inside the Ebadi closet?

So here’s the bad: showing that the lammies still have some work to do, especially when it comes to the T and the B, outspoken michfest supporter Toshi Reagon was one of the musical performers.  It’d be nice if an LGBTQ literary society didn’t give the stage to someone who doesn’t think trans women are women.  As Morgan M. Page ironically tweeted: “Maybe next time the musical entertainment won’t be transphobes? #justasuggestion.”  It’d also be nice to see more bisexual and trans categories, which still look pretty piddly compared to the lesbian and gay categories.  Pretty sure some of that content in lesbian/gay romance, mystery, etc. could also equally called trans and/or bisexual.  Also, I thought Janet Mock was a shoo-in for trans non-fiction?  Apparently not?

Here’s to another year of great LGBTQ publishing and writing, and to next year’s lammies being transphobia-free!

Posted in Bisexual, Black, Gay, latina, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Trans Feminine | Tagged , | 3 Comments

A Near-perfect, Devastating Collection of Poetry: A Review of For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick

for your own goodFor Your Own Good by Leah Horlick is full of the kind of writing that inspires superlatives.  It’s one of the best books of poetry I’ve ever read, a genuinely important, incredibly powerful book that has stirred awe in a lot of readers, me included.  This is not because For Your Own Good is in itself prone to any grandiose gestures or excess, but for the reason that it is truly a near-perfect, devastating collection of poetry.

I do not say devastating lightly.  These poems are about an abusive lesbian relationship, violence in a supposedly safe queer space.  There is plenty of triggering material: racism, colonialism, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.  But there’s a lot more than that, too.

The poems follow a kind of trajectory, moving from misunderstanding to healing, sometimes back and forth.  What I loved was how Horlick speaks from a calm, present moment to her past self.  She is gentle, kind, while possessed by a quiet strength, honesty, and poise.  As if she’s tenderly whispering, it’s okay.

leah

Leah Horlick, via caitlin-press.com

The collection starts with a circus-themed poem, a brilliant, dark motif of a (queer) outsider hoping to find community with the other freaks:

All those nights camped out in the field, squinting

for a light, a flicker, calliope in the grass.

Grease and fire, they’d understand

and tuck you into their silken fold. They’d fawn

and dress you, glitter and eventually parade…

…and the year came

when you knew you would die on the highway,

in a truck bed, in a grain silo, tied to a fence, in a slough

at your own hand. You left to find them.

 

When I talk about devastating, though,  I mean this:

The Yellow Scarf

makes you look like a brown person, she tells you,

since when have you been brown?  And in the dress you’re straight

and the hat makes you look like an immigrant but your breasts are

coined with raisins, your skin is the colour of cinnamon.  You are food.

…how is this any

different? You and your grandmothers will be gone before anyone

notices, faster than you can say

Jew.

 

And this:

 

Now that I know what to call

what you did, this time I’ll tell you

 

to stop…Now that I know

what to call what you did, get back here

because nothing I ever do will be enough

 

to prove it.

 

But there’s coming back into herself, into trusting new people, into magic:

 

All of a sudden I know it’s not

going to happen. And panic, silent

until I remember—you’re not her, I could just

 

ask you to stop. Except that you already

have, and wait, and listen while my body

tells me a very old story.

 

You don’t ask questions, unless

I want them, and I want anything

but these red eyes that look out

 

from mine like the forest, anything but

this silence. When you tell me that this

looks like strength to you, how you love this

 

about me, I almost hate you. Why do you

have to be so good? This has to be magic, how

you hold me while I turn into a snake and fire

 

and grief itself beneath you. Good magic,

you tell me, and don’t ask questions

until I want them.

 

The collection ends with the most gorgeous, hopeful poem.  She has healed but not forgotten:

Anniversary

It has taken five years and fifteen hundred

kilometres to get away, and closer

 

to the mountains. I can see them—

every day, like I always wanted. Near,

 

and distant. Every day I can ask people

not to touch me—

 

on the bus, on the beach, or in my new kitchen.

Or, I could ask them to—

 

which, lately, is harder. How can it still

feel so soon? She has never been

 

near this new body of mine—

short-haired, tattooed, very strong

 

and very, very fast, now. I carry a chunk of rose

quartz the size of my thumb for safety.

 

I have sworn to myself a life of people

who know when to stop. I promised—

 

and spent my first night in the new apartment drawing

circles in salt and rain, whispering

 

to my old self, come here. I built this

for you. I promised.

 

Thanks for trusting us with your story Leah. Thanks for sending these poems out into the world.

Posted in Jewish, Lesbian, Poetry, Queer, Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Vancouver | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Review of Daniel Heath Justice’s Wyrwood, Book 2 in This Queer Native Fantasy Trilogy

wyrwoodThe second book in Cherokee author Daniel Heath Justice’s fantasy trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder was possibly even better than its predecessor.  If you want to know what this series is all about, check out my review of the first book, where I highly recommend it even if you’re not usually a fantasy fan.  Give fantasy a try!  If you’re interested, have a look at this page on the author’s website.  It gives you an overview of the world the books are set in, and some behind the scenes sketches of the characters as Heath Justice developed them over the years.  Tarsa and Tobhi started off as Dungeons and Dragons characters!  Pretty rad.

Wyrwood picks up just where Kynship leaves off.  Tarsa and Tobhi are off on an epic journey to rescue diplomats who have been “guests” of the enemy leader Vald in the land of Men for far too long.  Right from the start, Tarsa, in classic warrior mode, is kicking some serious ass and refusing to play nice with Vald while they are staying in his castle.  She’s so bad-ass, passionate, and head-strong, always thinking with her heart more than her head: you can’t help but love her.  Tobhi is also lovable, with his easy-going ways and sense of humour, but you wouldn’t want to get on his bad side, either.  They manage to escape the clutches of Vald—with who I won’t tell you, as I don’t want to spoil the surprise—but not before witnessing a terrible betrayal by one of their own!  This is, of course, only the beginning of their journey.

One great thing about Wyrwood compared to Kynship is that you’re familiar with the big cast of characters at this point, and so you’re not having to check the glossary, saying, who is this person again and how do I know them?  Also, Heath Justice spends more time on fewer characters this time around; I really enjoyed getting to know some of the characters in more depth, like Tobhi’s love interest, Quill.  In fact, Quill gets a whole storyline and adventure of her own in this volume.  Despite never having left her home and being a humble doll-maker (she can also speak with the dolls), Quill sets off on a journey to play her own part in the story.  She plans to march into the heart of the countries of Men, and convince another human leader to becomes allies of the Kyn and help defeat Vald.  No big deal.

Daniel Heath Justice

Daniel Heath Justice

Quill didn’t really know what she was getting herself into, going out into the wilderness on her own when it’s crawling with colonialists, but luckily she runs into someone who I think is my favourite character yet, Denarra Syrene.  She is a travelling musician and actress, as well as a Wielder—a kind of healer/priestess/witch who fulfills a vital role in traditional Kyn society. She’s also a she-Strangeling—meaning she has human and Kyn background—and I just realized that I read her origin story in Sovereign Erotics, an anthology of two-spirit and/or queer Native writers (which I reviewed here) and that makes me love her even more (also, now I know she’s trans!).  She is laugh out loud funny, no-holds-barred campy, and irresistibly lovable.  Apparently I think all these characters are lovable, actually?  Take, for example, this offside in conversation with Quill:

It’s not at all unlike the time I got into a bit of trouble in this unpleasant little town in the Allied Wilderlands called Swampy Creek. An unfortunate misunderstanding involving a rather handsome and remarkably well-endowed spice merchant, his utterly unsympathetic wife—who was, I might add, both surprisingly agile and utterly impervious to reason—as well as a three-legged mule with an aversion to freshwater pearls…

This book culminates in an epic battle scene at the important site of the tree of the Everland, which is the source of life and power for the tree-born Kyn people and now the setting for a civil war.  Of course, I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will say the book stops at quite the cliff-hanger.  I’ve already got the third one out of the library and I can’t wait to find out what happens next!

Posted in Bisexual, Fantasy, Fiction, Indigenous, Trans Feminine | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian # 6: Books about Queerness and Disability

Hello there!

It’s been lovely to follow you on here! I had a book related question for you. If you’re unable/don’t have the time to answer, no problem! I was just wondering if you knew of any non-fiction/theory books about queerness & disability? I’ve already read Feminist Queer Crip & am thinking about reading Crip Theory, but if you know of any others, that’d be great.

Thanks so much!
Carri


Hi Carri,

Thanks for the question!  I am definitely no expert on academic queer theory, but I was really interested in researching books about queerness and disability.  If you don’t mind, I’ll include some fiction, memoir, and poetry at the end here since I think other readers might be interested in those as well as more academic/theoretical studies of disability and LGBTQ issues.

dangerousHave you checked out this list on goodreads of queer disability study books?  You probably know more than I do, so you should have a look and see what looks up your alley!  Dangerous Discourses of Disability, Subjectivity, and Sexuality by Margit Shildrick looks especially good.  It doesn’t mention queerness in the title, but the synopsis does:

This innovative and adventurous work uses broadly feminist and postmodernist modes of analysis to explore what motivates damaging attitudes and practices towards disability. Margrit Shildrick argues for the significance of the psycho-social imaginary, and suggests a way forward in disability’s queering of normative paradigms.

While doing my research, I also noticed that my goodreads friend Megan Milks—a queer writer whose wacky and imaginative writing I really respect—gave the book you mention, Feminist Queer Crip by Alison Kafer, five stars.  I checked out the books Milks has on her disability shelf, and came up some other fantastic sounding options, like Depression: A Public Feeling by Ann Cvetkovich, which the author half-jokingly, half not describes as a queer academic self-help book.  This sounds like such a unique combination I’m almost tempted to read it, even though I’m not really an academic anymore.

sex disabilityYou should also have a look at a book edited by Megan Milks, Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, which is the first scholarly collection of essays on the topic of asexuality, and contains some essays dealing with asexuality and disability.  Sex and Disability edited by Robert McRuer also seems worth your while.  It’s actually a more recent book by the same editor/author of Crip Theory, which you mention you are thinking of reading.  [FYI: I read some criticisms of Crip Theory for not dealing with trans folks or people of colour, so keep that in mind.]  The essays in Sex and Disability

consider how sex and disability come together and how disabled people negotiate sex and sexual identities in ableist and heteronormative culture. Queering disability studies, while also expanding the purview of queer and sexuality studies, these essays shake up notions about who and what is sexy and sexualizable, what counts as sex, and what desire is.

Have you also considered picking up the perhaps obvious choice The Disability Studies Reader edited by Lennard J. Davis?  One reader actually says this collection a bit heavy on queer studies, which I think is supposed to be a flaw (?) but for our interests is obviously a plus.  It seems to be the standard introduction to disability studies, which must mean it’s pretty solid.

You might not have considered the controversial anthology Gay Shame edited by David M. Halperin and Valerie Traub, which contains a few pieces looking at the intersections between queerness and disability.  Gayle Rubin’s essay, about race, ability, and queerness, seems to be a favourite of many readers, even if they didn’t like the collection as a whole.

Bonus!  Here are some other books that are about disability and LGBTQ folks, which are on the fiction, poetry, or memoir side.

girl in needGirl in Need of a Tourniquet: Memoir of a Borderline Personality by Merri Lisa Johnson looks fascinating.  It’s a personal autobiographical account as well as some more clinical details.  One reader calls it a “ big beautiful mess” and many reviews praised the wonderful writing.  Johnson devotes a number of chapters to discussing her queer sexuality.  Check this quotation out:

It isn’t any particular person I want to lie down with and make my own. It isn’t anybody at all. It is the feeling of being taken care of that I want to pin down and rock my hips against. Sling a leg across it and fall asleep.

This longing for body comfort and security is familiar as my own face.

The need is urgent.

The need makes me stupid.

bodymapLeah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s most recent collection of poetry, Bodymap, is all about talking about disability through the lens of a queer femme of colour poet.  Some of these poems are just gorgeous:

oh crip car whose arms I fall into after thirty years on public transit

you are every other crip car some of us are lucky enough to have

carrying bones that ache and shiver out the house

to every doctor’s appointment, play party, the bridge not the bus.

some people have a house at 38:

I have you.

and

I am thirty-four and when I start fucking you and the other one,

I decide I don’t want to date anyone who’s not a crip ever again.

Same as when the end of white boys happened, I sink gratefully

into the pleasure of never having to explain.

dirty riverLeah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha also has a memoir coming out in the fall, called Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home.  I can’t wait to read it.   Look how beautiful the cover is!! Also, the synopsis:

In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha ran away from America with two backpacks and ended up in Canada, where she discovered queer anarchopunk love and revolution, yet remained haunted by the reasons she left home in the first place. This passionate and riveting memoir is a mixtape of dreams and nightmares, of immigration court lineups and queer South Asian dance nights; it reveals how a disabled queer woman of color and abuse survivor navigates the dirty river of the past and finds home.

I mentioned Everett Moon’s fantasy YA novel, The Unintentional Time Traveler, in a recent post about trans YA books that don’t focus on transition.  Not only does this book feature time travel, it’s by a trans writer about a trans main character, and the main character also has epilepsy, which is why he finds himself participating in an experimental clinical trial that somehow ends up sending him into someone else’s body, in another time.

mean little deaf queerLast but not least, I’ve been meaning to pick up the memoir Mean Little Deaf Queer by Terry Galloway forever, and still haven’t gotten around to it.  One day.  Galloway is a writer and performer, and the book is organized into kind of performance pieces rather than a linear narrative.  A few reviews I’ve read comment on how this memoir manages to be hilarious, following Galloway on the crazy shenanigans of her life, while at the same time an undercurrent of pain runs throughout.  It sounds like a difficult but worthwhile, moving read.

What about other books featuring queer disabled characters / by queer disabled people?  I know there must be more out there!


Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian is a Book Advice Column where you can send me your LGBTQ book related questions and recommendation requests. Send me an email: casey@uvic.ca and put “Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian” in the subject.

Posted in ask your friendly neighbourhood lesbrarian, Canadian, disability, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Poetry, South Asian, Trans Masculine | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments