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 , | Leave a 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!

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.


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 Canadian, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, South Asian, Poetry, Trans Masculine, ask your friendly neighbourhood lesbrarian, disability | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Review of Daniel Heath Justice’s Kynship: The Queer, Indigenous, Feminist Fantasy Novel You Never Knew You Wanted So Bad

kynshipI made a terrible mistake everyone.  I had Kynship, the first book in the fantasy trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice, sitting in the closet at my dad’s house for like two years and I only read it a few weeks ago!  I had originally bought it for a course on gender, feminism, and Indigenous literature, but we ended up not covering it in the class, which is really too bad because I would have discovered this novel and Daniel Heath Justice so much earlier!

There’s so much to like about this book.  It’s just phenomenal fantasy from a queer and Indigenous (Cherokee) perspective.  If you like fantasy, you really cannot go wrong with Kynship.  Although it’s published by a small Native press in Ontario, I found the whole series at the public library in Vancouver, so it’s not even hard to get a hold of!  It’s the imaginative world-building, action, and suspense you can usually expect from fantasy, except with queer people, women, and (implicitly) Native  folks at the forefront.  There are also two-spirit / non-binary trans characters that straddle the gender worlds.  What is not to love, I ask you?

I will warn readers who aren’t familiar with fantasy that this book is very much in a high fantasy tradition, which includes sometimes lengthy descriptions of strange (and fascinating) places, people, and grand events like battles, council meetings, and so on.  People who don’t usually read fantasy (or science fiction, or other so-called genre fiction for that matter) often have trouble adjusting the way they read if they try to read something out of their comfort zone.  I urge you to push yourself through that initial disorienting phase, and just think of it like this:  it’s a bit of a hurdle to jump over to orient yourself to this new world.  It’s just the same thing as reading a book set in a part of the (real) world you’re not familiar with, or a book written two hundred years ago.  There are clues there to guide you, I promise!  The effort is worth it!  I know for some people, fantasy just isn’t their thing, and that’s cool, but give it try!  I used to think I didn’t like science fiction and fantasy, and I was wrong.

Daniel Heath Justice

Daniel Heath Justice

What is really amazing about Kynship is that while the plot is clearly an allegory for colonization in the Americas, it really works on both levels.   It’s an exciting, action-packed tale full of flawed and fascinating characters going on epic quests, but it’s also obviously a reference to actual past and ongoing colonization and a powerful critique at that.  Sometime when an author has a political agenda and tries to create an allegory to depict it, the whole fictional side fails to work as an actual story, and then you have what should be an essay or something but is instead this kind-of-fiction that kind of sucks.  This is NOT what Justice’s book is like.  In this way, I think Kynship has a lot to teach readers who might not be educated about colonization, addressing it in an unusual and engaging format.  Kynship’s successful allegory also makes it an amazing read for Indigenous readers (i.e., it’s not just telling them things they already know).

So, shall I tell you about this action-packed tale full of flawed and fascinating characters?  I should emphasize that there are a lot of characters, something also typical of fantasy, and I sometimes had trouble keeping track of them.  Luckily, there is a handy index in the back that lists characters and nations, and other terms from the universe of the book that you need to know. There are also two maps for reference, which no great fantasy novel is without.

The main character, in this volume anyway, is Tarsa’deshae (Tarsa for short) and she’s a bisexual former warrior whose destiny to be a Wielder—a kind of healer/priestess/witch with powerful and potentially dangerous powers—has recently been awakened.  Abruptly ripped from her community because of her now marked difference, she begins a journey with her aunt, also a Wielder, to learn how to be what she has now discovered she is.  This journey, however, is fraught with danger, because everything is changing for the different peoples in the once-peaceful Everland: Men (used here with all the sexist implications purposefully, I’m sure) are threatening their sovereignty, with an eye to their natural resources, offering promises in exchange for their land (sound familiar?).

Along the way Tarsa and her aunt meet all sorts of interesting folks, good and evil, and occasionally an in-between or an I’m-not-sure-whose-side-this-person-is-on.  Tobhi, one such fellow traveller, also becomes a main character.  He and his noble-maybe-not-so-noble steed Smudge—who is actually a deer with a mischievous mind of its own—provide some nice comic relief to the serious action (kind of like Gimli the dwarf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy).   The three travellers eventually arrive in Sheynadwiin, the capital, for the most important council meeting the residents of the Everland have ever had: should they accept the treaty terms of Vald, a human leader, or should they hold fast to their roots and fight for their land?

I bet you can guess what they decide; of course, though, that’s only the beginning of the story.  I can’t wait to read the second book and find out what happens next!

Posted in Bisexual, Fantasy, Fiction, Indigenous | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian # 5: Books Featuring Trans Teenagers That Don’t Focus on Transition

Jeffry lovannone PhD on twitter sent me this request a few weeks ago: “YA with trans characters that are not ‘transition narratives.’ ”

Now this is a fantastic and necessary question.  So often stories about trans people in lots of different mediums (TV, books, movies) act as if the only interesting thing about trans people is their transition process and gender identity.  It’s like there is no more to tell once the character comes out and transitions, whatever that means for them.  They’re just so-and-so the trans person, instead of so-and-so, who happens to be trans.  What is up with that?  Life does not end after transition (0r coming out, for that matter).  These kinds of stories are about trans people, but they’re usually written with a cisgender audience in mind, and by cisgender authors.  For more on this point, check out Casey Plett’s great article in the Walrus on the ways in which cis writers screw up books about trans people.

It’s not that transition and coming out narratives aren’t important and useful for some trans readers, maybe especially teenagers, but we need more than that!  With that in mind, here are some young adult books that feature trans characters that are NOT focused on the character’s gender and/or transition.

LostBoiCoverI wrote about Sassafras Lowrey’s two books recently in my post about genderqueer YA, and I definitely think ze is worth mentioning again, especially as hir latest book, Lost Boi is brand new!  It’s published by my all-time favourite publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press.  Check out the official blurb:

In Sassafras Lowrey’s gorgeous queer punk reimagining of the classic Peter Pan story, prepare to be swept overboard into a world of orphaned, abandoned, and runaway bois who have sworn allegiance and service to Pan, the fearless leader of the Lost Bois brigade and the newly corrupted Mommy Wendi who, along with the tomboy John Michael, Pan convinces to join him at Neverland.

Told from the point of view of Tootles, Pan’s best boi, the lost bois call the Neverland squat home, creating their own idea of family, and united in their allegiance to Pan, the boi who cannot be broken, and their refusal to join ranks with Hook and the leather pirates. Like a fever-pitched dream, Lost Boi situates a children’s fantasy within a subversive alternative reality, chronicling the lost bois’ search for belonging, purpose, and their struggle against the biggest battle of all: growing up.

just girlsI think every time so far that I’ve been asked a question about YA, Rachel Gold’s novel Just Girls has come up.  I really need to read this soon—it sounds like it has so much to offer!  The characters are a bisexual trans girl, a cis lesbian, as well as a genderqueer secondary character, and it’s set in a university dorm.  Danika at the Lesbrary reviewed Rachel Gold’s Just Girls fairly recently; it sounds complex, thought-provoking, and authentic.  The premise of this novel is interesting, and definitely not without possible controversy: Jess, a cis lesbian who’s been out since high school, deliberately “outs” herself as trans to combat some nasty transphobic gossip going around about a new trans girl in the dorms.  Jess figures she can take the heat off the target of this hate.  The woman who is actually trans is Ella, a gamer enjoying her first year at college.  I can find nothing but positive reviews of this book; it is written by a cis woman, though, so keep that in mind!  (Trigger warning for transphobia and a rape scene.)

butterflyThe Butterfly and the Flame by Dana De Young (who’s trans) is dystopian science fiction set in 2404 America, gone back to its Puritanical roots and ruled by fundamentalist Christians.  Emily, a 15-year-old trans girl, is faced with an impossible choice: be forced to marry her landlord’s son and be outed as trans in a highly transphobic time and place, or cause her family to lose everything.  She chooses to run, escaping and fleeing across a post-apocalyptic landscape.   The publisher tells us: “With vile bounty hunters on her trail, only time will tell if Emily will ever find a place where she can live and breathe free as the person she was always meant to be.”  Be warned, a few trans readers said this book was triggering for them, and that some of the material in here is tough, although worth it.  For more details, have a look at Bending the Bookshelf’s review here.

raeFirst Spring Grass Fire is a fabulous collection of semi-autobiographical stories by non-binary trans writer/musician Rae Spoon.  The stories have a casual simplicity to them, similar to the tone of Ivan Coyote’s writing (no coincidence, as they are often collaborators).  Don’t be fooled, however, at the ease of Rae’s innocent-sounding and sweet voice.  As you move further through the collection, you realize there’s a multitude of insidious things lurking just below the surface of Rae’s narratives, just like the mythical lake monster of Okanagan Lake, the Ogopogo (Naitaka in Salish) who haunts Rae’s childhood swims.  The books deals with Rae’s strict Pentecostal upbringing in Alberta, first queer romances in high school, their dad’s mental illness, and the salvation that music eventually provided for them.

beautifulErica Gillingham, a PhD student studying LGBTQ YA, recommended Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by (cis) author Kirstin Cronn-Mills.  It’s about a teenage trans guy named Gabe who is a DJ on a local radio station (the title of the book is what he calls his show).  Although coming out is part of this story, the focus is actually Gabe’s obsessive love of music and his radio show, as well as his relationships with a mentor, friends, and love interests.  Lots of reviewers commented on the authentic teenage voice, the faithful American Midwest setting, and the sheer lovability of Gabe as a character.

If you haven’t already heard of (trans) writer Everett Moon’s YA series Time Guardians, you definitely need to have a look at the first book, The Unintentional Time Traveller.  It sounds plain old awesome:time

Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era. Since his seizures usually give him spazzed out visions, Jack presumes this is a hallucination. Feeling fearless, he steals a horse, expecting that at any moment he’ll wake back up in the clinical trial lab. When that doesn’t happen, Jacqueline falls unexpectedly in love, even as the town in the past becomes swallowed in a fight for its survival. Jack/Jacqueline is caught between two lives and epochs, and must find a way to save everyone around him as well as himself. And all the while, he is losing time, even if he is getting out of algebra class.

As the main character jumps back and forth in time and also between a woman’s and a man’s body, the book begins to address gender identity more explicitly: which person is Jack / Jac?  Doesn’t this book sound so cool! Pretty much everyone on goodreads who’s read it agrees.  This is only the first book of the series, too, so you have more books to look forward to!

two boysTwo Boys Kissing by well-know cis gay YA writer David Levithan is loved by a lot of people.  Like, really loved.  The concept sounds pretty amazing: first of all, it’s told by a chorus of gay men who died during the AIDS epidemic.  Second, it’s about “Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record.” (Based on a true story!)  Actually, it seems like it’s a series of related short stories, about how the boys’ action affects others, including a gay trans guy, Avery, and his boyfriend.  What also seems unique about this book is how it’s a kind of discussion between different generations of queers, elders telling the youngsters “We don’t want our legacy to be gravitas.”

pantomimeLike a few of these others, I’ve discussed Pantomine and Shadowplay by Laura Lam recently, but doesn’t this series just sound so awesome!  It’s fantasy, but set in the Victorian period; the main character is intersex, genderqueer and bisexual; there’s magic; there’s running away to join the circus; there’s romance!  What more could you possibly ask for?  GayYA staffer Vee says the non-binary representation in this book is great!  Everywhere I look, people are talking about this set of  books, how much they loved them, and how eagerly they are waiting for the next instalment!  This is quite a thorough review that you might want to check out.

I must have missed some!  Add your suggestions in the comments!

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, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Trans, Trans Feminine, Trans Masculine, Young Adult | Tagged | 3 Comments

Sunday Funday

This was actually written by my partner as a prank while I was in the shower, but it’s pretty funny so I’ll leave it up. I’m sure he’ll love to see how many likes it gets. 

The dongle of life as a certainty of repressed observations is one that the mind seeks to understand. With that being said, it is imperative that a true human (one who has not been veered from its path by outwards sources of marshmallows) remembers to never tinkle when sprinkling. It is when achieving this feat of incredulity that a complete state of walshaba is reached. Now, many wonder (and with due diligence) what the meaning of such a state of being creates and this book is meant to illustrate that very point. Precisely one hour from the birth of the last goat it is said that the Ten Great Coconuts were assembled in order to prevail in ordering the laser pipe. When the laser pipe lord gave its life in order to save the fairy, it opened the door to an unimaginable source of light which bathed the overseers and made them a little less important. That is why whenever one feels the need to take a bath, one must first say the mantra of the Seven suns; “Welcome one and welcome Juan, tomorrow is a boob and not a poop. Merci Bien!”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian # 4: Young Adult Books Featuring Genderqueer / Non-binary Trans Characters

Hi Casey!

I love your blog! I am looking for books with main characters who are genderqueer! (and also queer sexuality too obv) I have relatively recently realised that I’m demigirl/ genderqueer/non-binary/trans and I am looking for mirrors! I would really like to read a book about people who feel the way i do! Particularly Genderqueer people. I’ve already read Gender Failure, which was utterly utterly beautiful! and I prefer fiction, and Young Adult (I’m 19), so I just wondered if you could help!  Thanks!! keep on being super cool!!!

Anna [they/them]

Hi Anna!

Congrats on figuring out who you are and thanks so much for sending your question!  It’s a certain genre of books I had never given a lot of thought to before you sent your email.  I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough to recommend you, but when I got down to business I realized there were actually a really good bunch of books here.  If you’d like to check out some of the resources I used, you can have a look at the trans page at the GayYA website and this list of trans teen lit and this one of non-binary fiction and memoir on goodreads.  Let’s get to it!

first spring grass fireSo, since you loved Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon, you should definitely check out Rae Spoon’s earlier book, First Spring Grass Fire .  First Spring Grass Fire was published a few years ago and follows the adventures of Rae, a gender-non-normative kid growing up in Calgary in the 80s and 90s.  This collection of unassuming, quietly devastating short stories is deceptively simple.  They’re kind of in between fiction and non-fiction, like they’re about a Rae, written by Rae, but are presented as stories.  The language, tone, and structure of the book are all casual and familiar.  Their stories feel like they’d be right at home being read aloud while sitting around the kitchen table after supper.  Rae writes about family, growing up in a strict Christian house, and the salvation music offered them.  It’s a great book and I’m sure you’ll love it if you loved Gender Failure.

one in every crowdAgain, since you loved Gender Failure, you have to read One in Every Crowd by Ivan Coyote.  One in Every Crowd is a collection of stories put together especially for teens, and includes some stories from Ivan’s previous short story collections.  This book contains one of my all-time favourite Ivan Coyote stories, “No Bikini,” which has what is quite possibly one of the best first lines of fiction ever: “I had a sex change once, when I was six years old.”  You also get to hear all about Ivan’s work reading and doing workshops at high schools, and some tough stuff too, like suicide and bullying.  If you really like Ivan’s writing, you should have a look at their other short story collections; I especially like Slow Fix and Loose End.  Keep in mind they don’t have much content for or about young adults specifically, although I think really they’re stories that pretty much everyone would enjoy.

just girlsI got some great recommendations from RJ Edwards, themselves a non-binary writer who has a fantastic science fiction story in The Collection, a book of stories by trans writers, edited by Tom Leger and Riley MacLeod, that you might want to read too.   Thanks RJ for the recommendations! They really like Just Girls by Rachel Gold, which is a novel set in the first year of college—just about the age you are Anna!  It features both a trans girl and her genderqueer friend Nico.  The premise of this novel is pretty unique: Jess, a cis lesbian who’s been out and proud since high school, deliberately “outs” herself as trans to combat some nasty transphobic gossip going around about a new trans girl in the dorms.  Jess figures she can take the heat off the target of this hate.  The woman who is actually trans is Ella (also, Ella is bisexual).  Danika at the Lesbrary really liked this book too.

freakboyRJ also suggests Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark, which is about a genderfluid teen figuring out their identity.  Freakboy is a novel-in-verse, meaning that it’s actually all written in poetry!  So it’s probably the only novel-in-verse about a non-binary teen  ever.  From reading some reviews, I got the sense that even readers who were skeptical about the poetry part really liked Freakboy.  There’s also a trans girl in this book, and you get her perspective, as well as the genderfluid teen and their girlfriend.  What seems great about both Just Girls and Freakboy is that they feature strong trans teens friendships!

a + e 4everA + E 4ever by i. merey is a graphic novel featuring a genderqueer teen!  So awesome.  A fellow librarian who always has great opinions on books says in her goodreads review that A + E 4ever is “maybe the queerest book I’ve read for teens, in that so many lines and genders and sexualities are blurred and confused.”  It’s also about a friendship between two queer teens, one a “lonely tough-talking dyke” and a genderqueer (maybe bi identifying) teen named Ash.   Be warned, this book does deal with some tough stuff, touching on rape, bullying, drug use, and just plain teenage loneliness.  A lot of reviewers I read highlighted the authentic, real feel of the teens in this book, which is something really hard to pull off!

brooklyn burningDanika from the Lesbrary mentioned Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff when I was on the look-out for genderqueer YA, and I think this one looks really good.  Like a lot of YA, it’s a gritty coming-of-age story, but it follows a queer teen named Kid living on the streets after their family has refused to accept their identity.  The book never genders Kid, so it’s obviously different than a self-identified non-binary person, but we know they’ve been kicked out for being “undecided.”   The writing looks gorgeous and understated.  Look at this excerpt:

I just stood, watching him, listening to the melody he hummed. Even without words, it haunted me–filled the room and everything in it. The visions it gave me: they were dark, but beautiful. They took me out of the cellar, up to the rooftops at night on the lower East side, down into the subway, onto the tracks, and into the tunnels. They brought me deep into the city, deeper than anyone can ever really go: into its heart.

Can you miss someone before they’re gone, when they’re still smiling up at you with closed eyes, and their beautiful face, with its deep-set eyes and two days of beard, is rolling slowly between your knees?

roving packYou definitely need to check out genderqueer author Sassafras Lowrey: in particular, hir books Roving Pack and Lost Boi , which is hot off the press.  Roving Pack also follows a homeless teen, a group of them actually, and centres on “Click, a straight-edge transgender kid searching for community, identity, and connection amidst chaos.”  Set in Portland, Orgeon, Roving Pack investigates a lot of different identities, and Click’s journey with them: punk, alternative, leather, and genderqueer.  The book deals head-on with some of the harsh realities of being non-binary in a very binary world, even in trans communities.  A lot of reviews I read by genderqueer folks said Roving Pack resonated so much for them, and is such a treasured book even though it’s tough to read at times.  Trigger warning that it does include material about abusive relationships in a BDSM context.

LostBoiCoverLost Boi, if you can tell by the title, is a re-telling of Peter Pan, which if you think about it is pretty queer to begin with, so I imagine there’s a lot Lowrey could do with it.  Here’s the synopsis:

Pan’s best boi Tootles narrates this tale of the lost bois who call the Neverland squat home, creating their own idea of family, united in their allegiance to Pan, the boi who cannot be broken, and in their refusal to join ranks with Hook and the leather Pirates. Like a fever-pitched dream, Lost Boi situates a children’s fantasy within a transgressive alternative reality, chronicling the lost bois’ search for belonging and purpose, and their struggle against the biggest foe of all: growing up.

Jack Halberstam says: “A punk Peter Pan, pirates, perverts, mermaids, bois and a grrrl called Wendi … what more do you want, what more could you want? Take a wild ride to Neverland, you will not be disappointed. This book simply breaks every mold.”

lizard radioLizard Radio
by Pat Schmatz doesn’t come out until September this year, but it looks really unique.  A genderqueer character in an alternate reality??  There’s an author interview here to get you excited; also, check out the publisher’s description:

Fifteen-year-old bender Kivali has had a rough time in a gender-rigid culture. Abandoned as a baby and raised by Sheila, an ardent nonconformist, Kivali has always been surrounded by uncertainty. Where did she come from? Is it true what Sheila says, that she was deposited on Earth by the mysterious saurians? What are you? people ask, and Kivali isn’t sure. Boy/girl? Human/lizard? Both/neither? Now she’s in CropCamp, with all of its schedules and regs, and the first real friends she’s ever had. Strange occurrences and complicated relationships raise questions Kivali has never before had to consider. But she has a gift—the power to enter a trancelike state to harness the “knowings” inside her. She has Lizard Radio. Will it be enough to save her?

pantomimeLast but certainly not least, Pantomine and Shadowplay by Laura Lam are part of an ongoing series of high fantasy Victorian-era books (aka, the Micah Grey books) featuring a main character that is both intersex and genderqueer.  Amazing!  These two were recommended by GayYA staffer Vee, who say the non-binary representation is great!  Do not be put off by the official blurb for these books, which makes it look like they’re about a star-crossed straight love story.  That is far from the truth!  There’s running away to the circus!  There’s magic!  The main focus of the book is not transition, gender identity, or the character’s intersexuality or sexuality!  Micah is bisexual!  Really, could this series get any more amazing?  Probably not.  Check out this glowing review of the second book from the bisexual books tumblr, where Sarah says it’s one of her favourites, a can’t-put-it-down kind of read, and one she’s anxiously waiting to read the next installment of.

That’s it from my end, folks!  Any other recommendations?

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, Fantasy, Fiction, Queer, Transgender, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

“a lush firecracker in the dark”: A Review of Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature

SovereignErotics-e1330285357940Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature is certainly a unique anthology.  As the editors Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti point out in the introduction, it’s only the second anthology of LGBTQ2 Native literature ever created.  So it’s pretty amazing and awesome that this book is around.  If you’re not clear on the terminology two-spirit, let me quote a short bit from the introduction: “two-spirit is an umbrella term in English that 1) refers to gender constructions and roles that occur historically in many Native gender systems that are outside of colonial gender binaries and 2) refers to contemporary Native people who are continuing and/or reclaiming these roles in their communities.  It is also often used as an umbrella term … meant to be inclusive of … GLBTQ Native people more broadly.”

From the very beginning it’s clear this a thoroughly researched book, and that in addition to being a diverse collection of fiction and poetry, Sovereign Erotics represents a wealth of knowledge.  Not only did I get to read some really great stuff from authors I had never heard of before, but I got a lot of ideas for what to read next.  The introduction as well as the author bios at the back were great resources to discover old books you haven’t read and upcoming ones to add to your to-read list!

To say this book is unlike anything I’ve read before would be quite the understatement. But of course, Sovereign Erotics has some things in common with other anthologies.  Like others before it, Sovereign Erotics attempts to blend new and established writers, something I think it does quite successfully.  It’s an expansive collection, which is divided thematically into four sections, which were interesting ideas (dreams/ancestors, love/medicine, long/walks, and wild/flowers) although to be honest they didn’t really affect my reading much.

Also reminiscent of some other anthologies I’ve read that bring together a group of marginalized writers, the context of this book is pretty academic, a fact that’s not surprising given that the four editors are all academics as well as two-spirit writers themselves.  I do wonder, though, at the academic tone and structure of the introduction, which I think could be alienating to readers not used to it.  Having left academia a few years ago, the introduction wasn’t a problem for me to read, but I did find myself feeling a bit frustrated with it.  There’s something about that academic style that feels stiff, disconnected, and not real, for lack of a better term, especially after you’ve been removed from it for a few years like I have.  Also, the style felt ironic given that the editors are quite (rightfully so) critical of academia in the introduction.

One interesting related question is that of the intended audience for the book.  Is it (Native and/or non-Native) academics and university students?  The style suggests it is, but the editors explicitly state: “Sovereign Erotics is for those who—like so many of us—had no role models, no one to tell us that we were valuable human beings just as we are.  This project is by and for the People.”  The whole section explaining the history and use of the term two-spirit, however, really feels like it’s written for non-Natives, especially academics and students.  So, that’s a bit strange.

All that to say, the introduction feels a bit confused about what it is and I’m not sure it does what the editors say they want it to do.  But let’s move on to the meaty part: the literature!

Like any anthology, there are some pieces that stand out.

In particular, I loved “The King of Tie-Snakes,” Craig Womack’s story of teenage boys hanging out on a lake on a lazy, hot summer day.   Actually, it’s an excerpt from a novel, and I’d love to read more about those boys and the odd mixture of bravado, insecurity, hormones, and kindness that are swimming around with them in the lake.

Deborah Miranda

Deborah Miranda

Deborah Miranda’s funny, raunchy story about a pussy-chasing coyote / trickster character who falls in love with a two-spirit person, or ‘aqi, was another favourite.  This revelation on the bus causes Coyote to get his mojo back, which returns “like an illegal firecracker smuggled off the rez, like a long drink out of a fresh bottle of tequila.”  The story is interspersed throughout with awful historical quotations from colonial writing about two-spirit people.   The juxtaposition serves as a kind of spit in the eye of those early colonists bent on eradicating and degrading those people who have clearly survived and thrived.

One of the poets I enjoyed most was Malea Powell, especially her pieces “real Indians” and “A meditation partially composed in a D.C. coffeehouse because there isn’t anything better to do in this city of dead white fathers…”  “real Indians” is a kick right in the mouth of stereotypes and assumptions that authentic Native people don’t live in today’s world, whereas “A meditation” is a gorgeous, elegiac prose poem about lost love.  It’s one beautiful run-on sentence and thought one after another:

You said, “if it was up to me i’d have muffins and eggs” a mere three months after you left before they were even finished and now I can stop thinking about muffins, about how i too often feed you leftovers from meals eaten with other not-quite-not-lovers and your mouth i could make some analogy here about muffins and lovers but i don’t have the patience for it

Qwo-li Driskill

Qwo-li Driskill

Qwo-Li Driskill was definitely another poetry favourite.  Hir intellectual yet emotional poems were a highlight for me in this collection, especially “Love Poem, After Arizona,” which manages to be sweet and sexy as well as communicate a message of decolonization at the same time:


let me press my palm

against your chest

staunch the flow

of despair that beats from

your sacred heart

like an oil spill

We are two mixed-blood boys

and know empires are never gentle

Take off your Mexica mask

so I can see your beloved

Nahua face

Remove your wooden shield

so I can kiss your

Apache sternum

taste in your sweat

the iron of Spain

that never conquered us

Driskill also has a sonnet included in this anthology,which is about a feminine man.  Tell me, who writes sonnets any more, let alone about queer people?  I love it.  More please!

While I’m on the topic of love and sex, how about this short, concise piece of gorgeousness by Cheryl Savageau called “Deep Winter”?

I wanted to kiss your neck

in the middle of traffic

but instead I just brushed your cheek

we’d been eating Greek food

avgolemono, moussaka, hot

flatbreads with olive oil and feta

I wanted to kiss you then

in falling snow, bring on

an early thaw

Have you ever read a story about a queer person who might be described as both transgender and trans-species—in that they’re both human and bear?  Have you ever read a story about queer bears?  Louis Esmé Cruz’s story “Birth Song for Muin, in Red” is just that.  Read it.  It’s weird in the best of wonderful ways.

Do you ever read a poem, and then think, cool, that was beautiful, I loved it, I have no idea what it was about?  That happened to me with Kim Shuck’s “Absorbing Light,” a mysterious, dark poem that goes like this:

The mirror can still surprise me.

Some random dysphoric event and

I’m back in that small locked room.

Three days out of five some of the

X chromosomes switch off.

On the others there is too much information.

It takes planning.

I have to make sure I’ve washed

the right laundry.

The afternoon finds me absorbing light.

Sandpaper, lacquer

Removing and replacing the surface entirely.

The evening could find me

Dragging a cannon 300 miles through snow.

I might force a surrender.

This thing the mirror says I am or not, random in the day

So underdefined

No geometric proof, surely.

Time I stand so close to

Something like your answer.

A sweet, I hope to present you eventually.

Daniel Heath Justice

Daniel Heath Justice

Daniel Heath Justice’s contribution to the anthology is a truly amazing fantasy short story.  When was the last time you read queer Native fantasy?  What about a fantasy where a trans feminine person was the main character?  Never, that’s when.  Oh, and what a beginning this story has: “The fire past the delicate threshold of taut and tender flesh, cresting at his skin, licking down his arms, legs, and belly, the longed-for burn like a heady whirlwind through his senses, a dizzy mingling of pain and ecstasy.

Sovereign Erotics ends on a definite high note, with a stunning, deceptively simple poem called “Clementines,” which is a kind of instruction manual for eating and mediation on these small fruits:

Work the skin off in a ragged spiral,

separate flare from the pale sunrise within.

Gather up the long curl of rind,

turn it tight and snug, boy center peeking out

from swirled petals.  Make a Clementine rose,

leave it like a love letter on the table.

Let your thumbs find the top dimple, apply pressure.

Not sudden, not hesitant, but cleanly.

Know the joy of secret compartments.

Raise the Clementine’s luminous body

on the tips of your fingers, moist, undressed:

with your strong teeth, neatly pluck the first

sacrificial half-moon from its sisters

with dreamy dedication:

tongue this plump flame till it bursts,

a lush firecracker in the dark.

It’s a beautiful finish to an anthology that is all around delightful and necessary and inspiring.  Here’s to all the two-spirit writers, past, present, and future!  I hope to read a lot more from many of the authors.

One last note: I’m not sure why Tomson Highway isn’t included or mentioned in this anthology, but he’s one of the few queer Native authors I knew before picking up this book, and you must, must, read his novel Kiss of the Fur Queen, which is undoubtedly one of the most important and moving books written in Canada, ever.  If you’re into drama, Highway has also written some fantastic plays.

Posted in Anthology, Black, Fantasy, Fiction, Indigenous, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Poetry, Postcolonial, Queer, Rural, Short Stories, Trans, Trans Feminine | Tagged , , | 2 Comments