My Favorite Queer Books of 2017 (So Far)

It’s halfway through the year, so I was checking up on how I was doing so far in my Goodreads reading challenge. It turns out I am doing AWESOME: my goal is to read 140 books this year and I am apparently 19 books ahead of schedule at 86 books. (Some of these are, admittedly, picture books). When I was looking over what I’ve read in 2017, I was reminded of how many great (queer) books I’ve read already—some published this year, some older. I decided I needed to share them with you! So here are my six favourite reads from 2017, so far. Three are Canadian!

small-beauty_cover_rgbSmall Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang

This debut novel was one of those glorious reading experiences for me where I had no real expectations and wasn’t even sure what the book was about and I ended up loving it. Small Beauty is a quiet, meditative, introspective novel, that I read a lot of when I was in the bath, and that seemed like the perfect place. Small Beauty invites you to be in that kind of space, because that’s exactly where the main character Mei is. Mei is a young, queer, mixed-race trans woman dealing with some big stuff: her cousin—who was like her brother—recently passed away and now she has to deal with all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including leaving the big city she lives in and going to the small town and living in the house she has now inherited. While Mei is at her cousin’s house, she is slowly unravelling some of the details of his and her aunt’s life, including unearthing some secrets that show she’s not the only queer person in the family. She especially reflects on being trans and on having Chinese and white ancestry. Flashbacks also take us to her city life. It’s a beautifully authentic, natural, own voices story about the kind of person who isn’t the protagonist of a piece of fiction nearly often enough. Read my full review here.

Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country by Chavisa Woods

This was stunning short story collection: beautifully written with honesty, generosity, insight, inventiveness, and a strong sense of voice. These stories hit me in that sweet spot that the rarest of fiction does for me, where the characters and the world and the feel seem at once intimately familiar and as if I’m seeing them for the first time. I guess that’s the definition of uncanny, actually. Most of the stories feature queer characters although refreshingly none are focused on queerness. (Including the most speculative of them, which is about a trans guy who wakes up one morning with a miniature version of a piece of the Gaza strip happening on his head). It’s so lovely to read strange, sometimes science fiction stories about various stripes of queer characters that aren’t about coming out or being queer, where most often being queer is entirely incidental, but also casually present when it’s relevant. Most of the stories are also set in rural, white, poor America. Here’s a taste of what these stories are about: Baptists over 60 talking (group) sex. Tweens make friends with a homeless woman living in a cemetery mauseleom. A queer writer returning to her Midwest home to crime and strange floating green orbs. A lesbian takes ecstasy with her schizophrenic girlfriend at a Mensa gathering of people with super high IQs.

A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom

I just ADORED this debut poetry collection. These are poems with strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word: you can really hear them in your mind and heart. So many of them I could picture being performed on stage; there were moments where I wanted to clap or snap my fingers, as if the poet was right there in front of me. These are the kinds of poems that make you want to pump your first in the air and yell, “fuck yeah,” or “preach!” But they weren’t the kind of poems that seemed lost or out of place on the page, as if by taking them from the context of spoken word they lost some of their power or immediacy. No, they just seemed alive and present, as if Kai Cheng Thom was right there in front of you. Thom’s words are tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. (All of the important and intense and complex and mostly beautiful things in life). She writes: “you got to forgive yourself for hurting. you got to remember that your heart is not a clenched fist your heart is not a bruised face your heart is a mango full to bursting with sunlight oh sticky heart, smooth substance, there is joy in your aching, refuse to forget. boy, you got to love the girl in the boy in the girl in the boy in you in you in you.” See my review here.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro

I have listened to a ton of audiobooks this year, but this is so far my favourite. I’m Just a Person is an intense, darkly funny, inspiring memoir about a pretty unbelievable year in the life of comedian Tig Notaro. Over the course of a single year—2012—“Tig Notaro was hospitalized for a debilitating intestinal disease called C.Diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer.” That synopsis makes this sound like a horribly depressing book, but I promise it is not. There’s also a fair amount in the book on her earlier life before the year of hell. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it is that I love about how she puts things. I think it’s her sense of humour, for sure, but also her deadpan voice and her generosity and her honesty and her vulnerability. A lot of those qualities that make her a great comedian are at work in this book, which is chronicling unbelievable loss and terror crammed into such a short period. This is a book best experienced as an audiobook read, because Tig Notaro is a great performer. The humour is subtle and dark, and especially if you don’t know what her voice sounds like and what her delivery is, I think you could miss a lot. This book made me cry a few times, but at the end she manages to emerge from the darkness thriving, in a thrilling happy lesbian ending that felt, at that point, so completely deserved.

Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

This debut novel by Vancouver trans author Zoey Leigh Peterson was one of those books that I devoured, unwilling to leave the world of the novel for the “real” one unless I absolutely had to, and resentful at the daily existence of life like making food and going to work that interrupted my ability to read non-stop. If you like character-driven books that make you think, then this is the novel for you. It’s an intensely character and relationship-focused novel set in a vaguely Vancouver-like city about a long-term (cis straight—although one is maybe discovering their asexuality) couple named Kathryn and Chris in their early thirties. They’re best friends: endlessly supportive of each other, anticipating each other’s needs, completing each other’s sentences, taking showers together. But something isn’t right, in both their relationship with each other and in their own senses of self. The journey of the book sees them exploring polyamory as well as new versions of themselves as they try to work against the gnawing loneliness of adulthood. Next Year For Sure is also stunningly written, and full of beautifully understated turns of phrase that reveal so many simple truths about the characters and life, as her writing also continually propels the quiet narrative forward. The way Peterson presents the characters in all their intricacies in particular is just stunning. This is probably the book that I’ve read this year that has stuck with me the most and whose characters and stories still show up in my mind, asserting their relevance to my life. Read my full review here.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season is an incredibly unique, inventive fantasy with a cast of complex, fascinating characters (human and sort-of-human). I almost hesitate to even call it fantasy, since it’s leagues ahead and more innovative and imaginative than any other fantasy I’ve ever read that it’s hard to even compare to any of the run-of-the-mill medieval Europe inspired fantasy. It’s one of the few books I’ve read (Octavia Butler’s and Nalo Hopkinson’s are also among them) that makes me just marvel at the capabilities of the human imagination. It takes place on a continent where “Father Earth” is angry, very angry, and the people who live there are under threat of extinction via earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural disasters often enough that the idea of apocalypse hangs over them like a cloud all the time. Some people in this world, including most of the main characters, have a gift or curse, depending on how you look at it, of being able to move and control the forces beneath the earth’s surface. They are the people in this world “who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question” (Jemisin’s dedication). Three interlocking narratives take place at different times and places, following different characters until the stories come crashing together. Not only has Jemisin achieved incredible world building, but the plotting is also so tight. Also, surprise! Significant characters include a trans woman, a bisexual man, and a gay (ish?) man. I cannot WAIT to read the next book.

What are your favourite queer books you’ve read in 2017? Were any of them published this year as well? Are any of them by Canadian or Indigenous authors? Let me know!

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About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (Nanaimo, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
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