Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian # 9: Books With Queer Lady Scientist Characters

Request number two from my friend L:

Any books where a queer woman protagonist is a scientist of some kind and that’s not used as a shorthand for her queerness?


Well this is a toughie.  When I tried googling some key search terms, I found this interesting Autostraddle article on how queer women scientists are as hard to find as unicorns.  Hmm, if real-life ones are hard to find, how hard are they going to be to find in fiction?  Also, because the term “scientist” is close enough to science, during my searches I found a whole whack of resources on queer women in science fiction, which is awesome, but not what I was looking for.

I had a few false starts, too with this question.  L, I know you had mentioned hearing about a book from the now sadly defunct Queer Books Please podcast with a scientist character.  I managed to track it down: it’s The Big Bang Symphony by Lucy Jane Bledsoe.  There is a geologist in that book, but she’s unfortunately not the lesbian character, who is a musician.  Rats!

I’m intrigued by this idea of “shorthand for her queerness” because I’ve never heard of science being used that way before!  As far as I can tell, none of these books that I found fall into that category at all.

y the last manI’ve really only got two full books I’ve read that I can heartily recommend.  The first is Y: The Last Man, a comic series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra.  One of the three main characters is Dr. Allison Mann, a geneticist and scientific genius, whom humanity is now depending on for the survival of our species.  No big deal.  This series takes place in a strange sci-fi world where everything with an XY chromosome has suddenly dropped dead except one guy and his pet monkey.  Allison is a totally bad-ass, smart, Asian-American lesbian.  She was my favourite character in the series.  Her gender probably falls under what I’d call chapstick femme and in comparison to other characters’ more masculine genders, I thought it was an unconventional and interesting choice to establish her as the self-assured lesbian.  Later on in the series, Allison gets a really awesome girlfriend who’s an Australian pirate/sailor with an eyepatch.  For serious.

gut_symmetriesJeannette Winterson can’t help but write beautiful and strange stories and her novel Gut Symmetries, which features an English theoretical physicist who manages to fall in love with her American counterpart and then, his wife.  It’s part bisexual love triangle, and part meditation on the nature of love and the world.  It’s only fitting that two of the characters are physicists, studying and trying to discover how everything in the universe fits together.   Look at this gorgeous excerpt:

Stella turned towards me and crumpled my heart in her hand.

‘Do you fall in love often?’

Yes often. With a view, with a book, with a dog, a cat, with numbers, with friends, with complete strangers, with nothing at all. There are children who grow up as I did, with the love clamped down in them, who cannot afterwards love at all. There are others who make fools of themselves, loving widely, indiscreetly, forgetting it is themselves they are trying to love back to a better place.

happinessHappiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta has a scientist in one story, “America,” which is about a young woman who is studying water and oil spills (forgive me since I don’t remember exactly what kind of scientist).  She’s trying to get a visa to go study in the US and join her partner.  It’s only one story, but I did want to take the chance to plug this book, because it’s really great!

Oddly enough, this list about lesbians in cold places on goodreads that Danika from the Lesbrary made using resources from the Queer Books Please podcast was quite useful.  I figured that one plausible reason authors might come up with for sending their characters to places like Antarctica might be that they’re scientists, and I was right.   Most of these are your standard romance genre books, so don’t expect literary fiction L!

ice holeIce Hole by Kiera Dellacroix is about a scientist falling in love with a commander in Antarctica while on a secret government mission.  This story takes a paranormal turn!  Melt by Robbi McCoy features a former student and teacher reuniting and falling in love in Greenland.  The teacher is a glaciologist.  Warming Trend by Karin Kallmaker also has a protagonist studying glaciers, this time in Alaska, and, obviously, falling in love.  Colder Than Ice by Helen Macpherson features “Allison Shaunessy [who] is a woman on the edge. As an archaeologist with the Flinders Museum of Australasian Exploration, she and her team are racing against time to secure funding for an unprecedented excavation in Antarctica.”

business strangeI reached out on twitter while doing this search, and got some much-needed recommendations!  Two folks, Megan Derr and Julia Alaric, both put in a word for Business Makes Strange Bedfellows by E. E. Ottoman, which sounds deliciously gothic.  One goodreads reviewer calls it “Frankenstein meets Dracula with lesbians!”  The main character is the Frankenstein, a scientist studying the arcane and occult field of resurrection in 19th century New York.  When a monstrosity that she has created gets loose and begins to murder, she is forced to make a deal with a dangerous and manipulative vampire, who wants payment in a method other than cold cash.

love by theBrooke Carr brought up Love by the Numbers by Karin Kallmaker, which is another romance, featuring a behavioural scientist who is thrust out of her anti-social comfort zone “[w]hen her academic tome is treated as a viral ‘love manual’ [and] her ecstatic publisher books her to appear all over the U.S. and Europe.”  She needs an assistant, and ends up with this interesting character: “Lillian Linden-Smith needs this job. With a relentless TV lawyer and public mob still out for her blood for crimes committed by her “American royalty” parents, getting out of the country is her only hope for anonymity.”  Love/hate at first sight, of course.

pennancePennance by Clare Ashton also looks great, albeit a very different kind of book.  A quiet study of a woman—who’s a computer tech kind of scientist—dealing with the loss of a partner through a car crash and fire, Pennance is set in a “small introverted village in Cornwall [the U.K.].”  What many readers remarked on in reviews of this book was the palpable emotional atmosphere Ashton creates, and how readers are steeped in Lucy the bisexual main character’s depression, isolation, and eventual slow-burning romance with a new neighbour.  There’s also some polyamory in this novel!

A-door-into-oceanJPGCatherine Lundoff recommended two feminist science fiction books: A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski and Ammonite by Nicola Griffith.  A Door Into Ocean sounds like fascinating world building: “it concerns the Sharers of Shora, a nation of women on a distant moon in the far future who are pacifists, highly advanced in biological sciences, and who reproduce by parthenogenesis–there are no males–and tells of the conflicts that erupt when a neighbouring civilization decides to develop their ocean world, and send in an army.”

ammoniteNicola Griffith is a writer who’s been on my to-read list for ages, but I haven’t managed to read one of her books yet.  Maybe Ammonite might be a good one to start with.  I’ve heard nothing but high praise for her imaginative SF and historical fiction.  Here’s the synopsis:

Centuries earlier, a deadly virus shattered the original colony, killing the men and forever altering the few surviving women. Now, generations after the colony has lost touch with the rest of humanity, a company arrives to exploit Jeep–and its forces find themselves fighting for their lives. Terrified of spreading the virus, the company abandons its employees, leaving them afraid and isolated from the natives. In the face of this crisis, anthropologist Marghe Taishan arrives to test a new vaccine. As she risks death to uncover the women’s biological secret, she finds that she, too, is changing…

little white lieDanika Ellis mentioned Little White Lie by Lea Santos, which looks like a fun, light read by and about a Latina lesbian who is a geneticist and who somehow gets tricked into appearing on a makeover TV show and falling in love with the make-up artist.  Danika also told me about Saving Grace by Jennifer Fulton, featuring what sounds like a morally dubious “scientist [whose] her secret mission [is] to evaluate Moon Island for corporate purchase by a chemicals giant looking for a waste dump far from civilization” and Gulf Breeze by Gerri Hill, with a wildlife biologist doing environmental work for Habitat for Nature and becoming close with a wildlife photographer.

A few other friendly people on twitter recommended: Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein [two bisexual scientist characters], Stolen Time by J.M. Brink [lesbian scientist main character], Waking Up Gray [bisexual linguistic anthropologist] and crime novels by R.E. Bradshaw [queer criminal scientists], Ladyfish by Andrea Bramhall [lesbian biologist], When Dreams Tremble by Radclyffe [lesbian biologist], The Ghost Sister by Liz Williams [one scientist protagonist], and Ellen Klages’ short story “Time Gypsy.”

Thanks to the storm of folks on twitter who responded to my question!  Literary queers are a pretty awesome bunch of people.  Any more to add to this list, readers?


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, Hiromi Goto, Lesbian, paranormal, Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

An Exhilarating End to Daniel Heath Justice’s Queer Native Fantasy Trilogy: DREYD: THE WAY OF THORN AND THUNDER

DREYDI can’t imagine a better, more satisfying finish to Daniel Heath Justice’s fantasy trilogy than Dreyd, the final, exhilarating book.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should have a look at my review of the first and the second book in this fantastic series.

Like all good speculative fiction installments, Dreyd picks up just about where Wyrwood left off, but with a slight detour into the past.  By book two, we already knew Vergis Thane—a man who hunts Kyn folk for their magic—and Denarra Syrene—a she-Strangeling, a travelling musician and actress, as well as a Wielder—had some kind of past.  The very beginning of Dreyd takes us back to see how Thane has got as awful as he is, and why Denarra has a connection to this horrible guy.  The plot thickens!  I think Denarra’s is my favourite storyline, and we get to see lots of her in this third book, including what her life in Chalimor, the capital in a far land of humans, is like.

Chalimor and Denarra’s life aren’t quite what her companion Quill expected, and their friendship is tested when the two reach the increasingly anti-Everland city, and they actually have to enact their plans to storm the government and get them to defend the people of the Everland.  Uh, not surprisingly this plan does not go swimmingly, and there is a dark period where Quill and Denarra are stuck and frustrated, until they come up with this plan to blackmail a woman who built her reputation in high society “civilizing” people from the Everland.   The way this plan unfolds will probably excite you, disappoint you, surprise you, and then excite you again.  Watch how Denarra “convinces” this woman to help:

Same old Mardisha!  I’d almost forgotten what a terrible temper you have!  It’s almost as distracting as that enormous mole on your forehead.  Don’t worry darling—I won’t let either of those things get in the way of our little reunion.  I’m a forgiving person.  You see, I understand that you still have a bit of influence in high places, and I’m ever so eager to go to the Jubilee tonight…Mardisha, darling, I think you’ve misunderstood me.  Let me clarify this in terms that even a half-wit like you can understand: this isn’t a request.

Daniel Heath Justice

Daniel Heath Justice

While everything is going awry with Denarra and Quill, things get pretty low for Tobhi too, while he gets swept along to walk the Road with the Everland’s exiles (in a clear reference to the Trail of Tears).  Luckily, unbeknownst to Tobhi, his adopted sister/BFF Tarsa is following the exiles with a rescue plan in mind.  The love triangle that has been dangling on the edges of Tarsa’s story swings more towards centre focus, as she is now travelling with both Jitanti, a female Kyn warrior, and Daladir, a male Kyn diplomat.  One woman and one man love interest!  Bisexual drama!  I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for romance.  You might be interested to know that this storyline takes a polyamorous turn, which is fun and totally appropriate for the world building.

Denarra, Quill, Tarsa, and Tobhi’s stories, as well as many others (including the traitor Kyn character who signed away the lives of her people) culminate in a kind of battle-to-end-all-battles, where pretty much every character you’ve met shows up and surprises you with how tough and bad-ass they are, even if they’re less than a quarter of the size of the enemy.  People who you thought might not be allies pull through and, of course, good triumphs over evil.

The novel ends with a message of hope, that even without the land they have been disposed of, in particular the Eternity Tree that was their source of life, the Folk and their spirit will continue.  It’s not a rosy, everything-is-perfect ending, nor is it the ultimate ending (Heath Justice cleverly calls it “an ending”).  But it is a very satisfying ending to a fun and smart set of fantasy books.

I really hope to hear more soon from these characters and Daniel Heath Justice!  It looks like I’m in luck, actually, since I see on his website that he’s got some other speculative fiction in the works, and is thinking of sequels for The Way of Thorn and Thunder!!

Posted in Bisexual, Canadian, Fantasy, Fiction, Indigenous | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian # 8: LGBTQ Magic Realism

My friend L writes:

Any (well written!) magic realism books with LGTBQ characters? Preferably not YA or NA.

Any books where a queer woman protagonist is a scientist of some kind and that’s not used as a shorthand for her queerness?


Hello friend!

Well isn’t that sneaky of you, getting in two questions for the price of one!  I think for now let’s deal with LGBTQ magic realist books and I will save queer lady scientists for next time.  I’m excited about this question, because magic realism is so fun to read.  Also, this is a challenging question for a few reasons: a) there seems to be more queer magic realism in the YA category than others, for some reason and b) defining what is magic realism and what is not is kind of tricky.

So what is magic realism exactly, and how is it different from fantasy and other speculative fiction?  Apparently, the term was first applied to visual art that “juxtapose[s] marvellous objects and events with the quotidian aspects of daily life” in 1925 by a German art critic.  Who knew!  It’s often associated with Latin American fiction, with 100 Years of Solitude by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez being the quintessential example.  While the basis of magic realist fiction is, well, realism—what we think of as everyday life and how that is conventionally portrayed in fiction—it is smattered with unexplained bits of magic.  Fun!  Do I have some exciting suggestions for you.

summe we got freeBecause you’re my friend L I know you’ve already read this book, but I have to mention it for the sake of anyone else reading this post: The Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie.  This novel is phenomenal.  It’s so many different things packed into one: mystery, coming out story, historical fiction set in the 1970s, and, of course, a dash of magic.  Here the magic is mostly in the form of ghosts, haunting the Delany family who have been ostracized by their community and Church following a traumatic event.  That same event has also changed Ava Delaney, “at one time a wild young girl and a brilliant artist,” into the kind of passionless person who doesn’t even enjoy the taste of butter—the brilliant image that opens the story.  I highly recommend this Lambda-award winner, which features both queer male and female characters.

woolfOrlando by Virginia Woolf is perhaps an obvious choice, but it’s worth a re-read even if you have already read it, because, well, it’s a work of genius.  I wrote my Master’s thesis on it, so I should know.  Orlando is playful historical fiction written in the 1920s, about a character who mysteriously and abruptly changes gender in the middle of the book (man to woman) and who lives for hundreds of years, from the Renaissance to the early 20th century.  S/he travels the world, walks the streets in drag, falls in love, works; and all this is described in Woolf’s trademark hypnotizingly gorgeous prose.  Did you know she wrote this novel for her female lover Vita Sackville-West?  That makes this remarkably queer gender-bending book even queerer than it already is.

sub rosaComing back to the present century, what about Amber Dawn’s debut novel Sub Rosa?  Some might call it fantasy, but it is solidly grounded in the decidedly realist setting of Vancouver’s downtown east-side.  Little, the ironically named plucky protagonist, is one of those so-called lost girls whose stories the newspapers tell after it’s too late to save them. Little, however, does not need saving: she is decidedly capable of negotiating her options, no matter how slim they might seem. When Little is initiated into the magical street called Sub Rosa, home to a community of eclectic (female and male) sex workers, she is soon the heroine of her own story.  Feminist and queer, Sub Rosa is a killer combination of grit, glitter, and, of course, magic.

the salt roadsWhen I posed the question of finding LGBTQ magic realism on twitter, Danika at the Lesbrary suggested The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson.  Of course!  This book is a masterpiece of magic realism, spanning centuries and continents.  I love the kind of historical fiction that reimagines and brings women from the past into the spotlight, and Hopkinson does this so well, but she also refuses to stay within the bounds of realist historical fiction. There’s a dash of Caribbean voodoo, fourth century Christian pilgrimages, and smoky visions emerging out of a pot of surprising liquids. It’s a tantalizing, fabulous mix and a moving recreation and celebration of black women’s voices.  The book follows three very different women: Mer, a plantation midwife, doctor, and slave in 18th century Haiti, Jeanne Duval, a biracial women living in 19th century Paris, and Saint Mary of Egypt.  I love this book!

Fall-on-your-kneesWhile searching around for queer magic realism, I found this interesting article (warning: it’s academic and thus a bit dry) about Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees.  It had never occurred to me to think of this epic Canadian novel as magic realism, but looking back at it now, it definitely is.  It follows the four daughters of an interracial family living in Cape Breton in the early years of the 1900s.  There are miracles, ghosts, and just plain old strange occurrences—like the character who inexplicably eats coal—amidst the realist, early 20th century setting.  This is a complex, and disturbing book (trigger warning for rape and incest), the kind of book you never forget, and that you’ll never be sorry for reading even though it clocks in at halfway between five and six hundred pages.

venous humI haven’t read Venous Hum by Alberta writer Suzette Mayr but it sounds weird and wonderful and just that side of crazy.  It’s published by Arsenal Pulp Press, which is always a recommendation in my view, and the blurb says:

A satire on race, gender, sexual preference and vegetarianism, this is a magic-realist novel that will throw your assumptions of the world and the people who inhabit it out the window. It’s the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence that announces the end of literary fiction as we know it and the beginning of something entirely new.

It features Lai Fun Kugelheim, who is organizing a 20-year high school reunion with her best friend in the wake of an old classmate’s death.  Her lesbian marriage is crumbling, she is having an affair with her bestie’s husband, and her mother is an immigrant vegetarian with an unusual appetite (in other words, she’s a vampire).  I can’t believe I own a copy of this book and haven’t read it yet.  Shame!

painting their portraits in winterShort story collection Painting Their Portraits in Winter by Myriam Gurba, which just came out this year, looks amazing.  It’s a book where “modern sensibilities weave and wind through traditional folktales creating a new kind of magical realism that offers insights into where we come from and where we may be going.”  Here’s the description of a few of the stories:

A Mexican grandmother tells creepy yet fascinating ghost stories to her granddaughters as a way to make them sit still (“How Some Abuelitas Keep Their Chicana Granddaughters Still So That They Can Paint Their Portraits in Winter”).  A Polish grandfather spends the night in a Mexican graveyard after a Día de Muertos celebration to discover if ghosts really do consume the food that has been left for them (“Even This Title Is a Ghost”).

I know it has queer content of some sort, because it was submitted to the Lesbrary for review, but I can’t find out what kind just yet.  Check out this other hilarious story title: “The time I rewrote the first two pages of The Bell Jar from a melodramatic Chicana perspective and named it The Taco Bell Jar.”  Haha.  I can’t wait to read this.

things invisible to seeAnother book I haven’t read that came up in my search is the obvious Things Invisible To See: Gay and Lesbian Tales of Magic Realism edited by Lawrence Schimel.  It’s older (published in 1998), and it doesn’t have the best reviews, but it is an anthology of queer magic realism, so that’s got to count for something right?  It does include some well-known names such as Sarah Schulman and Lesléa Newman.  Give it a shot!  At the very least it might be an introduction to a few authors that you will want to read from further.

he mele a hiloFinally, I want to highly recommend He Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song) by Ryka Aoki.  It perhaps doesn’t fit your question, because it doesn’t feature LGBT characters except in passing, but it is written by a trans woman (an issue she discusses in the video linked below, actually!).  I recently finished reading this book and it was so. damn. good.  Check out this video of Aoki reading from the novel, which is set in her native Hawaii, written in Hawaiian Pidgin English, and starring a lovable, diverse set of characters.  It was an endlessly heartwarming and endearing read.  You really get a feel for everyday Hawaii on the Big Island, peppered with such magical acts as mysterious recoveries from life-threatening illnesses, beautiful spirit women who have been haunting you since childhood, and some character vaguely like Bill Gates but black and who is only recognized by a select few locals.  It’s strange and wonderful.

Readers, any other non-YA LGBTQ magic realism to recommend?  I feel like there must be more out there by latin@ authors, who I’m not as familiar with.


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 Amber Dawn, ask your friendly neighbourhood lesbrarian, Black, Canadian, Caribbean, Fiction, latina, magic realism, Non-Canadian, paranormal | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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 , | 7 Comments