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 , | 6 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:

Baby

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 , , | 1 Comment

“go explode the whole known world”: A Review of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s Poetry Collection Bodymap

bodymapIf you’ve never read anything by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, you probably have no idea how much of a real treat you’re in for when you pick her latest poetry collection, Bodymap.  It’s her strongest set of poetry yet.  Lyrically these are a tight set of poems, filled with gorgeous, evocative images.  They’re visceral, tough but soft, just like the hard femmes some of the poems are about, as well as Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha herself.  In fact, the poem “my city is a hard femme” was definitely one of my favourites:

When I left Worcester, I took the smirk I learned from the side

walk with me,

the girl gang of wild weed trees busting through every

vacant lot like a bank robbery

kicking down the door with the grin of getting everything for free.

I’m as hard-assed as every pretty broken thing in town,

every donut shop that’ll tell you off in a heartbeat,

every dress with just one fucked-up thing

dug out of the Auburn TJ Maxxx quadruple clearance rack.

My city is a lovely tough girl

asking you what the fuck you’re looking at,

all fitted up in skintight dirty redbrick & vinyl siding

My city a broken

beautiful bitch

with a necklace of junk trees blooming

from her throat.

Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s peoms can also be clever and funny, like here:

you said, well, you look like a million dollars

& I wondered what a million dollars looks like

and what

minus 187 in overdraft plus fees looks like

cause I have looked like that.

Although slim like most poetry collections, Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has packed in a lot of stuff: playing off other queer poets like Amber Dawn and Qwo-Li Driskill, tough ideas about love, relationships falling apart, mental and physical illness—some of which is really hard to read about—as well as disability through a queer lens.  The poems about disability are the most empowering in the book:

this your work:

like other invalids able to make art under the sheets

to be blessed just for breathing

this labour                not paid not union:

this is your work.

own it.

and

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

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

carrying bones that ache and shiver out the house

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

some people have a house at 38:

I have you.

and

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

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

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

into the pleasure of never having to explain.

leah-lakshmi-piepzna-samarasinhaThere are also a lot poems about family here, including a really moving, honest poem called “My Father, Christmas 1991, As I Come Down the Stairs in Ripped Jeans and That Jane’s Addiction TShirt With All the Naked People on It,” which is written from the perspective of her father about her early twenties college self.  There’s also a love letter to Toronto and her chosen family there.

Although a lot of Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s writing in this book is emotional, raw, and consequently sometimes tough to read, it also has some really inspiring, comforting poems.  The kind of words you can look to in tough times, that you could put on your fridge to look at and remind yourself that you’re going to get through things, that you’re strong. Like on finding your people:

you’re going to find the people you can sketch the secret inside of

the world with. if you can’t find them you can sketch the secret

inside of your world

and queer brown femme friendship:

the gratitude that is rust brown laughter and a million hair flowers and a million broken beautiful bitches in a clothing swap, stripper heels and space heaters on high and yes girl, get that, you need that, yes. it’s the taco truck and the tea garden, it’s homegirl laughter on a couch is where you can always come home.

The book ends with an incredibly beautiful poem, a deeply comforting poem, despite the title, that acknowledges the complex mixture and pleasure and pain, good and bad, that is our world:

“the worst thing in the world”

this is the truth: every worst thing you can imagine will come true.

you and your ex bff will be asked to keynote a conference together,

and both of you will say yes.

your daughter will indeed hate you. mothering and living are

both losing propositions. that’s

no reason not to do them. the answer is in what comes after. what

you answered the worst thing in the world with. already in the

afterfuture. breathe in breathe out. everything is not going to

stop changing on you.

 hey you sicksauce survivor stunner

you who asked a lot will not always have the right answer.

we’ve always come on boats. we’re going to keep coming. we

know the waves and rough water.

bless the rough water and the small boats.

bless the worst thing

So why don’t you pick up this book, and as Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes,

and then go explode the whole known world

which is like explore but with just one letter different

you know.

Posted in Bisexual, Canadian, Poetry, South Asian, Toronto | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian #3: Taming Toxic, Self-Destructive Lesbians

Hey!

Here I am with my question. I was originally going to ask for Bottle Rocket Hearts-esque book suggestion, but your first response blog did a pretty great job recommending books in that vein, so thank you!

I am going to ask something sort of related: I have a weakness for unhealthy attachment to the toxic, self-destructive lesbian thing. Sort of a queer take on the “girl trying to tame/fix the broken bad boy” thing. I loved that about Bottle Rocket Hearts, (You) Set Me On Fire, and Herself When She’s Missing by Sarah Terez Rosenblum. Maybe I’ve already read them all, but I thought I’d ask anyway.

Thanks!

M-E


Hi M-E!

Is that short for Marie-Eve? When I was an exchange student in Quebec in high school there were like three girls in my class named Marie-Eve and we always had to refer to them by their full names so they knew which one they were talking to.

Anyway… this question is great. It is certainly testing my lesbrarian skills!  I also love Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall and (You) Set Me on Fire by Mariko Tamaki, so maybe I like this “unhealthy attachment to the toxic, self-destructive lesbian thing” too!  I don’t think you’ve read them all; let me recommend some more!

beeboSo, in general the first genre I need to turn you to is lesbian pulp.  I’m by no means an expert, but I do know that this tortured, self-destructive lesbian character figures heavily in many of the lesbian pulp novels of the 1950s and 60s.  For example, you might want to try Ann Bannon’s Beebo Brinker chronicles, a five-novel series that, while often appearing to conform to the homophobic publishing requirements of the day, is actually slyly (and more explicitly as the series progresses) critiquing hetero-patriarchal norms and presenting surprisingly nuanced and positive lesbian characters.  There are, of course, plenty of bad girls, especially those made more and more tortured by girls up and leaving them for the so-called superior charms of men.  Give the old classics a shot!

dontbangthebarista1Don’t Bang the Barista! by Leigh Matthews is a fun page-turner of a book, an updated East Vancouverized contemporary lesbian pulp novel that manages to squeeze in quite a lot, including exactly what you’re looking for: a bad-ass, lady killer type woman named Cass, who is a friend of the main character Kate.  When it seems like something might actually take off with Hanna, Kate’s barista crush, things start to get weird with Kate and Cass.  What is Cass’s problem?  Is she really that concerned about the sacredness of their coffee hangout spot?  Or is it that she actually has the hots for Hanna?  Or is it something else?  Cass is the kind of tough girl who hides her feelings behind a tough exterior and just needs to be tamed by the right lady.  Is Kate that lady?  You’ll have to read to find out.

The_IHOP_Papers_coverI’m surprised you didn’t mention The IHOP Papers by Ali Liebegott, because I think it’s kind of the ultimate what-does-this-girl-see-in-this-crazy-tortured-woman.  Goaty, the main character (I can’t remember for the life of me why that’s what she’s called) is in love with this former professor who is really just quite awful, and manipulative, and unethical and all manner of terribleness disguised beneath a veneer of leftist politics, and Goaty just can’t get enough of her.  Why, just, why, Goaty?  The style of this book, and Goaty’s personality, aren’t for everyone; I personally got fed up with the post-post everything and irony and authorial self-awareness, and ultimately, for me at least, lack of genuine emotion and character depth.  But a lot of other people love this book, and it definitely fits the bill, so maybe you’ll like it too! This discussion at Autostraddle will give you some more info to see if you want to read it.

creamsickleLike The IHOP Papers, The Creamsickle by Rhiannon Argo is set in San Fransisco and full of young punk queers.  I haven’t read it, but it sounds like the queer skater bois sharing an old ramshackle Victorian house / bachelor pad could be described as some of those toxics queers begging to be fixed, or some of the people they date are.  Or maybe both?  In particular, one roomie is “Georgie–a hopeless romantic with a weakness for punk-rock-girls even if they consistently trample her heart.”  It sounds like if you like Michelle Tea’s autobiographical stuff, you’ll like this.  It also seems like it has the same gritty feel as Whittall and Liebegott’s writing.  Even a self-described “50-ish, white, suburbanite” really liked it and explains why in this review on the Lambda literary site.

Rage_A_Love_StoryThe title of Julie Anne Peters’ young adult novel Rage: A Love Story probably tells you all you need to know about this one.  The plot is exactly what you’re looking for M-E!  I mean, just look at this synopsis:

Johanna is steadfast, patient, reliable; the go-to girl, the one everyone can count on. But always being there for others can’t give Johanna everything she needs—it can’t give her Reeve Hartt.  Reeve is fierce, beautiful, wounded, elusive; a flame that draws Johanna’s fluttering moth. Johanna is determined to get her, against all advice, and to help her, against all reason. But love isn’t always reasonable, right?  In the precarious place where attraction and need collide, a teenager experiences the dark side of a first love, and struggles to find her way into a new light.

Warning, this book definitely needs a trigger warning for its depiction of abusive relationships.  And yes, Julie Anne Peters’ writing can be cheesy, and can have that after school special feel to it, but sometimes YA is like that, and that’s okay.

alice fredaAlice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe is a true historical account of a teenage lesbian relationship which ended in murder in 1892 in Memphis.  Perhaps the woman who ended up on trial for murdering her fiancée is the most extreme version of this trope we’re talking about: I mean, she clearly was so destructive she killed her apparent wife-to-be—who had decided they couldn’t be together—in broad daylight.  She was then put on trial, not because anyone had any doubt that she had done it, but to prove her so-called insanity, which in her review on Autostraddle Riese points out clearly just meant proving she was gay (although they didn’t use that terminology, of course).  This book seems just the right amount of dark and intrigue.

battle scarsIn the romance / erotica zone, it seems like you should check out Meghan O’Brien, in particular her novels Battle Scars, Thirteen Hours, and The Night Off.  The difficult woman in Battle Scars is

[r]eturning Iraq war veteran Ray McKenna [who] struggles with battle scars that can only be healed by love.

Ray McKenna returns from the war in Iraq to find that she had attained unwanted celebrity status back home. As the only surviving American soldier of a well-publicized hostage crisis, she is the center of attention at a time when all she wants is solitude. Struggling to overcome the fear and anxiety that plague her, she relies on her psychiatric therapy dog Jagger to help her through the vicious symptoms of PTSD.

Of course, there’s a veterinarian with issues of her own who can heal her and help her move forward from her troubled past!

thirteen hoursThirteen Hours and The Night Off are both best described as erotica, so expect a ratio of lots of sex versus plot development, but they both feature some kind of so-called bad girls—both sex workers, actually—paired with women who are decidedly…not bad girls (one is a lonely workaholic and the other a control-freak).  Thirteen Hours gets its name from the fact that its two lovers end up trapped in an elevator for guess how long. Oh, the possibilities!

Readers! Any other ideas for books featuring do-gooder queer girls trying to fix broken tortured girls?  I couldn’t find any by writers of colour (other than the one M-E has already read), so any recommendations there would be much appreciated!


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, BDSM, Canadian, Erotica, Fiction, Non-Canadian, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Happy International Women’s Day! Here are Five Queer Women of Colour You Should Read

In honour of international women’s day, I decided to have a look at some queer women of colour writers and get excited about books I’ve read, and some that are coming up on my to-read list.  Here are five women I’m especially eager to (re)read.  I’m hoping that you haven’t heard of some of them or maybe just haven’t got around to reading them yet, and you need a reminder.  Pick up one of their books at the library or a (virtual or bricks-and-mortar) bookstore near you today!

rykaRyka Aoki is one of those artists who does so many things you just don’t know how she fits it all in: she’s a writer, performer, and educator (of literature, queer studies, and martial arts!).  Her latest book, He Mele A Hilo, came out last year from Topside Press and is set in Aoki’s native Hawaii.  Check out this amazing video of her reading from the novel.  I love how she reads the Hawaiian vernacular in the dialogue—it’s just something I can’t create while reading by myself, even in my head.  You will be scrambling to buy the book after seeing this clip, trust me.  Also, if you’re not already convinced, you can read her brand new story “Falafel” for free here.  If you’re more into poetry than fiction, Aoki also has a Lambda-nominated collection of poetry, Seasonal Velocities, that you can buy here.

daneDane Figueroa Edidi’s work was recommended to me by Tom Leger of Topside Press (thanks Tom!), and I was super excited to find out about her book Yemaya’s Daughters, which sounds like a beautiful, mythological tale of two women both engaged in spiritual revolutions while trying to preserve themselves amidst the chaos.  You can hear Edidi reading from the book here, where I’m sure you’ll be convinced to order the book like I was.  I’m really interested to see how the book goes further into spirituality, since it’s not something I read about a lot, and almost never in a trans and/or queer context.  Edidi also has a new book in the works, Brew, about a teenage trans witch, and it’s the first in an amazingly titled series called Ghetto Goddesses.  You can get a deal on the site if you buy Yemaya’s Daughters and pre-order Brew at the same time!  What are you waiting for?

hiromigotoHiromi Goto is a BC writer with talents in many forms: she’s written poetry, children’s and young adult books, adult historical novels, and done collaborative graphic novels with Jillian Tamaki (of Skim fame with her cousin Mariko Tamaki).  Goto also dabbles in different genres, including fantasy in her latest young adult duology Half World and Darkest Light which draws on Japanese mythology and features loner teens, accompanied by a cat and helped along by queer elders, on a journey into Half World, a limbo between our world and the afterlife.  If science fiction for adults is more your style, try her James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award for Science Fiction winning novel The Kappa Child, a Japanese-Canadian prairie tale that features “the Kappa Child, a mythical creature who blesses those who can imagine its magic.”

achyAchy Obejas is another multi-talented woman who is a translator, as well as a writer of fiction, poetry, and journalism.  She’s Cuban-American and her cultural and linguistic background informs a lot of her work, including journalism like this piece about what the US and Cuba re-establishing diplomatic ties means for Cuban-Americans and in novels like Memory Mambo and Days of Awe, which both feature non-monosexual Cuban-American women (Days of Awe also investigates Jewish identity).  I read Memory Mambo years ago and although I don’t remember that much about it, I do know I loved loved loved it.  Her writing is really gorgeous, and an interesting mix of fiction, history, and memoir.

leah-lakshmi-piepzna-samarasinhaOkay, so maybe you’ve heard of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.  But have you read her work, poetry and non-fiction?  Did you know she has a new poetry collection, her third, coming out this month, called Bodymap?  It’s a look at disability through a queer femme of colour perspective, and Amber Dawn has this to say about it: “Sharp, yet remarkably compassionate, Piepzna-Samarasinha knows that the poem is no place for tidy inquiry and easy answers. She offers her own tenacious guts and veins on each and every page.”  I am super excited to read my review copy.  You can pre-order Bodymap here.   Not only is Piepzna-Samarasinha releasing a book of poetry this year, her first memoir, Dirty River, is being published in the fall by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press.  This is certainly a good year for her.

Readers, what other queer women of colour do you recommend?

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Black, Canadian, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic, Hiromi Goto, Indigenous, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Postcolonial, Queer, South Asian, Trans, Trans Feminine, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

There Sure Are a Lot of Great Canadians in the 2015 Lambda Literary Award finalists!

Is it that time of year again already?  The 2015 Lambda Literary Award finalists were announced today!  As I’ve written before, I have mixed feelings about the lammies, their policies (mostly past), and their decisions.  However, this year’s finalists include some pretty awesome Canadian offerings, and a lot of writers I had never heard of before reading the full finalist list here.  Here are the Canadian women nominated, as well as a few special non-lady Canadian writers.

9781551525600_SheOfTheMountainsShe of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya is up for the award for bi fiction and I am so pumped because I loved this novel.  When was the last time you read a book about a brown bisexual man from Alberta that was part love story and part re-telling of Hindu mythology?  Never, that’s when.  Did I mention this book also has really cool illustrations?  Have a look at the beginning:

In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she.

Two cells make up one cell. This is the mathematics behind creation. One plus one makes one. Life begets life. We are the period to a sentence, the effect to a cause, always belonging to someone. We are never our own.

This is why we are so lonely.

This is the future of bisexual writing and I am so excited for it.

adultAs was expected, Adult Onset by Torontonian Ann Marie MacDonald is included in the category of lesbian fiction.  Zoe Whittall published a fascinating piece in the Walrus about this book, and how she has “often thought that if any author could change Canadian publishing’s reticence to promote present-day queer stories, it would be Ann-Marie MacDonald.”  This book, about “a late-forties lesbian writer who lives in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood with her theatre-director wife and two young children, struggling to write her third book while dealing with the stresses of parenting,” just might be the one to break the lavender ceiling Whittall talks about. It’s also quite interesting to note that the description of the main character could be MacDonald herself, giving this book a kind of tongue in cheek, semi-autobiographical feel.

uncatholicUnCatholic Conduct by Stevie Mikayne is a nominee for lesbian mystery I had never heard of before.  Mikayne is based in Ottawa, and her book looks pretty juicy:

Private investigator Jil Kidd is sent to St. Marguerite’s Catholic School to investigate teachers breaking their contracts of Catholic conduct, her investigation takes a dramatic turn after a student winds up dead on campus. To further complicate matters, circumstances keep throwing her together with the hot blond principal, Jessica Blake, at the center of her investigation.

ceaseCease: A Memoir of Loss, Love, and Desire by Lynette Loeppky, another author I had never encountered before, is up for lesbian memoir.  Check out a CBC interview with her here.  This one really sounds fascinating, according to a review in the Globe and Mail:

Lyn and Cec tacitly understood that if anyone were to exit the relationship, it would be Lyn, and after 8 1/2 years with the dedicated but domineering Cec, Lyn is quietly but seriously considering exactly that. Then Cec falls seriously ill and suddenly Lyn becomes caregiver to the woman she was soon to leave. Many threads of interest run through this thoughtful and carefully woven memoir: Lyn and Cec’s discovery of their desire – Cec’s in midlife and Lyn’s in the midst of a Mennonite upbringing; their somewhat closeted relationship in “family-values” Alberta.

Janey_iconJaney’s Arcadia by Rachel Zolf, up for the lesbian poetry award, looks very experimental and strange, yet it is about an extremely important topic in contemporary Canada: the legacy of colonialism and its present day continuation. I’m not sure what to think.  Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Janey’s Arcadia restages Canada’s colonial appropriations in a carnivalesque cacophony of accented speech, weather, violence, foliage and carnality. Rachel Zolf assembles a pirate score of glitch-ridden settler narratives, primarily from Manitoba. Clashing voices squall across time, flashing pornographic signs that the colonial catastrophe continues with each brutal scrubbing of Indigenous knowledges and settler responsibility.

MxT_Queyras_webI haven’t read anything by poet Sina Queryas yet, and I’m not sure why, since I hear about her work all the time.  Her latest book MxT (short for memory x time, Queryas’s method of measuring grief) is in the lesbian poetry category. It’s gotten a lot of praise, like “[t]his year’s most devastating and enlightening Canadian poetry collection” from Telegraph-Journal and “The energy is eclectic, even in its moments of stillness, of silence, there’s a tension of vitality. A strong, and confident collection, it has at its core a generosity of spirit” from the QWF judges Sue Elmslie, Sue Goyette and Daniel Zomparelli.

So, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Katheen Jacques, a Vancouver-based comic artist, before today! Band Vs. Band Comix Volume 1 is nominated in the the LGBT graphic novel category, and it looks like it’s a self-published collection of comics that she’s been drawing for years.  There are a ton of comics on her website, too, check it out.  The colours are all red, blue, and black, and have kind of a retro feel to them.  Look!

band vs band

100 crushesIt’s pretty great that the lammies have a LGBT graphic novel category at all, and there’s another Canadian nominee, 100 Crushes by Elisha Lim, a Montreal-based artist who use the pronoun ‘they.’  Check out their website for a taste of the awesome visual art they make.  100 Crushes is a compilation of five years’ worth of comics, including bios of all sorts of crush-worthy people.  As the Lambda review says, “One chapter, ‘The Illustrated Gentleman,’ is a butch fashion zine, featuring suave trendsetters, butch clothes, anecdotes and tips about creating your own butch wardrobe.”  I really need to get my hands on this book soon.  Check out this excerpt:

crush excerpt

child of a hidden seaChild of a Hidden Sea by Toronto writer A.M. Dellamonica is in the running for for LGBT SF/F/Horror (it looks decidedly like F, meaning fantasy).  I loved her bisexual magic novel Indigo Springs and I didn’t even know she had a new book!  The premise of this book sounds awesome:

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.
The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.
Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

safe girl to loveOf course, A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett is in the line-up for transgender fiction, and it’s a shoo-in in my humble opinion.  It was my favourite read of last year.  If it doesn’t win, I will be super pissed: especially if they choose one of the three out of five cisgender people who are nominated for the award.  It’s such a smart, funny, cynical, authentic collection of short stories about trans women.  The stories take place all over North America, including Winnipeg, New York, and Oregon, the writing is gorgeous, and the characters are so real. One story features a talking cat.   WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?

mootooMoving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by cisgender queer artist Shani Mootoo is also up for transgender fiction.  I also really loved this elegiac beautifully written book, which is kind of a love letter to a trans parent from a long-lost child.  It’s a complex look at some complex issues, including gender transitions, racism and immigration in Canada, being an artist of colour, and the idea of home.  I was taken by this book right from the first gorgeous line:

Surely it is a failure of our human design that it takes not an hour, not a day, but much, much longer to relay what flashes through the mind with the speed of a hummingbird’s wing.

outer voicesBonus! Vancouver writer Jane Eaton Hamilton is featured in a collection edited by Mark McNease and Stephen Dolainski, Out Voices, Inner Lives, that is up for the LGBT anthology prize.  This is a pretty unique anthology, in that it includes only LGBTQ writers over 50.  Hamilton’s story is called “Just Be Glad You Have High Heels.”

Posted in Alberta, Asian, Bisexual, Butch, Canadian, Caribbean, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic, Indigenous, Lesbian, Montreal, News, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Postcolonial, Queer, Rural, Shani Mootoo, Short Stories, South Asian, Toronto, Trans Feminine, Trans Masculine, Transgender, Zoe Whittall | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian #2: Lesbian/Bi Dystopian YA Novels

Hi Casey!

I heard about this through the Lez Liberty Lit column on Autostraddle.com and I thought I would see if maybe you could help me out! I’ve been really into reading YA dystopian novels lately (e.g., Divergent series). I would love to read something along those lines with a lesbian major character…not sure if that even exists but it would be nice to read something that I can relate to a little better.

Thanks!

Mary


Hi Mary!

You’re wondering if they are queer dystopian YA (young adult) novels, but you’re not sure they even exist.  Oh Mary, of course they exist and I’m about to tell you right now that you’ve even got lots of choices.  You don’t need to read about straight ass-kicking women in a dystopian future ever again; unless, you know, you want to.  Katniss is pretty rad.

Dystopia literally means “not-good-place” in Greek, which is a pretty straight forward description of the settings in these books, although perhaps a bit euphemistic for the likes of the worlds in series such as Divergent and The Hunger Games.  There are actually a plethora of such books featuring queer women.  You said “lesbian” in your question, and I’m not sure if you’re using that as a catch-all term meaning LBQ women or if you actually just want to read about lesbian-identified characters, but I’m going to go ahead and assume the former, and include some books that feature bi and otherwise-identified girls.  This is also my own (secret) bisexual agenda, since I think it’s good for straight and gay folks alike to read about bi characters.

love globalOnto the books!  So the first one that comes to mind for me is Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block.  Her writing is really great, emotional and kind of pretty and fluttery like the butterflies on the cover of this book, which is set in the aftermath of a natural disaster in LA.  The main character is Penelope—yes, that’s an echo of The Odyssey—and she’s dealing with this world in ruins filled with strange giants with earthquake-inducing powers, while she and some friends are on a strange journey. There’s a romance too, with a trans guy (her past feelings with girls are mentioned, too).  Also, it turns out that only LGBTQ people survived the disaster, which is pretty rad.  This book also has a sequel, which I haven’t read yet and am looking forward to!

Unfortunately, Block’s book is the only one that I’ve personally read, but there are lots of others that sound really awesome.  Another expert lesbrarian Danika of the lesbrary  gave me a ton of suggestions, so thanks Danika!  Here are some ideas:

big big skyFirst of all, I haven’t read Big Big Sky by Kristyn Dunnion, but I have read one of her other books The Dirt Chronicles and it was awesome: tough, sexy, challenging, and gritty.  I’m sure Big Big Sky is great too; it follows four teen girls who are part of a “pod,” a group of female warriors “trained to be aggressive, quick thinking, obedient-though for what exact purpose they couldn’t quite tell you” in a highly gender-segregated future world.  I bet this book has a great rage against the machine, feminist sticking it to the man feel.  According to a review from The Montreal Mirror, the novel is “pushing the YA envelope about as far as it can go without being an actual mail bomb, [and] Dunnion has put together something like a mix between Mad Max and the new Battlestar Gallactica. From Loo’s first words, “Blaaty whafa, Rustle?!” the novel thrashes along with inventive invective.”  What’s not to love?

All the Devils Here by Astor Penn looks pretty interesting.  It follows a former boarding school student Brie caught in the aftermath of some inexplicable biological disaster.  The action takes place after Brie has already long been in the process of surviving and it mostly focuses on her relationship with a fellow survivor, Raven, as well as how surviving has changed her as a person.  Check out Danika’s review here, especially her worries about the descriptions of Raven, who’s black.

zazenZazen by Vanessa Veselka sounds amazing!  It takes place in a really not so distant dystopian future on North America’s west coast, where bombs are going off and no one is quite sure if war is happening or not.  The protagonist, a paleontologist/waitress, is different from other dystopian heroines, in that she is not exactly committed to rebellion: she’s more paralyzed than anything else.  Megan Milks, an author whose wacky writing I really respect, called this book a “queer feminist fight club, a million times more complicated and interesting” in her goodreads review.  Also check out this review in Paste Magazine.

Another book that seems fantastic is The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan.  It’s written in a Scottish dialect, which takes some getting used to, but the premise sounds fascinating: “Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform. Smart, funny and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat.”  Is this a dystopian future or present?  Hard to say, but the panopticon (a circular prison in which prisoners have the illusion of being constantly watched) sounds awful enough to be either.  I’m pretty excited to read about this kick-ass bisexual character.

first 20The First Twenty by Jennifer Lavoie is a book being released this year from Bold Stroke Books, and was recommended to me by the publisher.  The world it is set in has been ravaged by multiple global disasters, but pockets of survivors exist.  Peyton is one such survivor, whose loyalties are tested when she meets “Nixie, … one of the few people born with the ability to dowse for water with her body. In a world where safe water is hard to come by, she’s a valuable tool to her people. When she’s taken by Peyton, they’ll do anything to get her back. As the tension between the groups reaches critical max, Peyton is forced to make a decision: give up the girl she’s learned to love, or risk the lives of those she’s responsible for.”  Sounds like a real page-turner, eh?  It comes out in May.

Nora Olsen has two books that fall into a lesbian dystopian vein: Swans and Klons and The End. Swans takes place in a future world without men, where people are grown in labs and there are two groups: Panna (women) and Klons (non-human slaves).  The main character and her girlfriend discover something amiss in their neatly ordered world.  The End seems to be a generic mix of fantasy and nuclear-war aftermath kind of science fiction.  It’s up to “five queer kids [to] save the world,” which, as Danika says in her review, is probably the best tagline ever.  Beware, for Danika these two were the kind of books you want to like more than you actually like, and Sarah at bisexual books says the depiction of disability is problematic.

butterflyBonus! The Butterfly and the Flame by Dana De Young sounds like a fascinating piece of fiction that features a trans teenage girl, Emily, living in 2404, in a post-America that has been taken over by fundamentalist Christians. I can’t for the life of me find out what the main character’s sexual orientation is, so she might be straight, but when did you last read dystopian YA fiction featuring a trans girl?  Never, that’s when.  If you check out this book’s goodreads page, you’ll see it has lots of positive reviews, especially from trans readers, one of whom (someone over at the Bending the Bookshelf blog) has this to say: “Delicately balancing heroism and tragedy, hope and despair, Dana takes the novel to a satisfying – if somewhat sombre – conclusion that lingers in your imagination long after you’re done reading, and which ultimately provides the hope for a better tomorrow.”  FYI, a few trans reviewers said some of the material was triggering for them.

That’s all I’ve got. I considered Malinda Lo’s science fiction duology (Adaptation and Inheritance), which I thought was fantastic, but I don’t think they can really be categorized as dystopian.  Things just aren’t that bad: (spoiler alert) the aliens who have secretly been ruling the earth are actually pretty awesome queer polyamorous wise beings, so…

Any other ideas, 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, Canadian, Fiction, Kristyn Dunnion, Lesbian, Non-Canadian, Queer, Science Fiction, Trans, Trans Feminine, Trans Masculine | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments