Spooky New YA

Currently Reading: Witchmark, by C. L. Polk

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

In my life, Spooky Season isn’t just October… it’s a year-round celebration. I love spooky reads. This week, I’m going to offer up three reviews for books that all drop this month: Out of Salem, by Hal Schrieve, which hit shelves on March 5th, Other Words for Smoke, by Sarah Maria Griffin, which came out just last week, and The Devouring Gray, by Christine Lynn Herman, which is set to release on April 2nd. In this post, I’m bringing you previews of the QT zombies, witches, superpowers, monsters, haunted houses, and talking cats of your dreams. But first! A little trans lit news…

News!

I’m so pleased that this time around, I just have two quick, positive things to share. One, in a trans-affirming move, some libraries will no longer be collecting gender data on library card applications, since it became clear that the data collected was both not useful and also a barrier to access for some.

Also, for anyone who read my post on trans-affirming middle grade books, or who’ve picked up The Moon Within since it dropped recently, listen to author Aida Salazar on the Scholastic Reads podcast! If you haven’t read the book yet, make sure to grab a copy, because it’s great.

Out of Salem

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Before I write anything about this title, I need to offer a little background. First, I only really discovered Urban Fantasy as a genre in its own right back at the end of 2018, when a friend asked me for some book recommendations (to be revealed in a future post!). Before I could deliver, I had a lot to learn. Since having my interest piqued, I decided to try to delve into the genre in my own reading – inspired partly by my return to PhD studies after a leave of absence, since it was really by chewing through urban fantasy YA like the Twilight series that got me through my undergrad studies.

Based on that information, my friend recommended that I try Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for a taste of what’s going on in that genre almost a decade later. I listened to it on audio through the Libby app on a drive from Denver to Toronto, all in one sitting, and it delivered. Tropey, but complex enough to draw me in, with fantastic original worldbuilding, the spooky story kept me company all the way home.

As such, I was excited when a copy of Shrieve’s Out of Salem landed in my lap. I was hesitant, because zombies have never been my thing… but I had hesitated about Dread Nation before caving to curiosity in 2018, and I had loved that book. Since then, I’ve been educated about some of its more problematic elements, unfortunately, and in addition the author has said some pretty horrible and transphobic things on Twitter. Tread carefully. But – Out of Salem has an enby author and an enby MC… what could go wrong?

Well. I am a firm believer that there is a perfect book for every reader, and a dream reader for every book, and this one just wasn’t for me. I’ll read 100 pages of anything – that’s my rule – but after 160 or so of this one, I finally had to let it go.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters, which kept me laughing and interested, especially because of the diversity of the cast and the richness of the contemporary fantasy universe that Shrieve has built. The book tackles complex and important social issues through monstrous allegory. Impressive, considering that Shrieve is a twenty-one-year-old debut author.

Eventually, though, the zombie aspect began to wear on me. I’m neurodiverse and working on sorting out some family stuff… so maybe it was just a touch too dark for this moment in my life, but my anxiety was building hard about the MC, who seems destined to just painfully waste away over the course of book. I couldn’t handle the graphic imagery on the page of the decaying enby who I was growing to care for.

Additionally, perhaps due to my own experiences as a fat enby who has suffered at the hands of bullies, this book was just a little too edgy for me. The imagery around oppression and the violence that some of the characters experience in this gritty universe just felt harsh. The use of slurs felt gratuitous, and hit a little close to home. Considering whether I’d feel triggered and anxious carrying on to the end of this 450 page book, I finally had to put it aside.

That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend this book. It feels resonant to me, and I’m still curious what happens to the cast of characters – especially the elder lesbian bookseller witch who takes our fair MC under her wing – so if you can stomach a little more than I can? Order this book while it’s still hot off the presses, and fill me in on the ending. It dropped on March 5.

Other Words for Smoke

I received an ARC of Other Words for Smoke by from Edelweiss+. This YA haunted house story is Irish author Sarah Maria Griffin’s third book, following another YA title, Spare and Found Parts, and her memoir, Not Lost.

The blurb for this book basically gives the punch line. It’s a story primarily about six characters, a set of twins, a witch and her ward, a cat called Bobby, and and owl called James. The book takes place in the small town where Rita resides, and I have to admit, even as a Newfoundlander, the names of characters and settings in this book made a lot more sense when I looked up the author and found that she was Irish.

My favourite part of this book is how Rita’s house itself becomes sort of a seventh central character. Aspects of the house and the way it behaves really tugged at the heartstrings of mine that loved the moving staircases at Hogwarts. None of the characters in this book are as simple as they appear on the surface. The story and the development of the characters are both full of spellbinding surprises. Nothing is quite as it seems.

We know the end of the story before we know how it begins: their house burns down, and the witch and her ward are never seen again. What we get through this book is the suspenseful, labyrinthian ride through two summers preceding this dramatic event. I was drawn through this book, even with its somewhat slow pacing, because I was dying to know what happened next, and I didn’t want to pull myself out of the lush imagery of the fantastical, haunted world that Griffin creates.

Unfortunately, all of the characters in this book appear to be cisgendered, but there is great queer representation. Other Words for Smoke came out on March 12th, so you can enjoy it right away.

 The Devouring Gray

I was excited to receive Chrstine Lynn Herman’s the Devouring Gray as an ARC back in December 2018, just in time for my first holiday celebrations in years. It seemed fitting, since my partner and I were attempting to spookify our slightly modified Christmas-esque traditions. It is an atmospheric page-turner, and it completely drew me in as I read it over the few days of my holiday celebrations.

Herman’s debut is the first of at least two books in this universe; its sequel will drop in 2020. Its publicity copy describes it as a young adult contemporary fantasy, and compares it to the CW/Netflix show Riverdale. As a fan of the show, I was pleased to find that the comp is accurate, but based on the suspense and pacing, I would describe the genre as speculative horror (content warnings for the book can be found here). Queerbabes: this book is worth the hype. It made me feel everything. Pre-order it if you can! It comes out on April 2nd. 

There is skilful, plot-relevant queer representation in this book, despite a lack of trans or enby inclusion, and on this front, the book is #OwnVoices. I checked. Herman does a particularly noteworthy job of writing a character with a physical disability: a feminine MC who lost part of her arm, and is a practised sword fighter. Although there are romantic relationships between some of the characters, they are not the focal point of this story, which includes a rich cast of nuanced, morally ambiguous main characters. Each of the characters had their own complicated appeal for me, and they relate to one another as friends, foes, and family members. 

The most unexpected and charming aspect of this book for me was that it is written with book lovers in mind. Both library and archives are settings in this book, and characters include a corrupt rebel librarian and bibliophile MC. Gift this one to the broody Ravenclaw in your life – you won’t regret it. The Devouring Gray is available for pre-order now.

PS, if you choose to purchase one of the books I’ve mentioned in this post, please follow one of the links. It’s an affiliate link for Amazon.com, so you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

The Harrowing!

Currently reading: Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across, by Mary Lambert

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

I was going to include a news section in this post, but I decided to leave it out this time around. There isn’t anything that I’ve read that feels like it hasn’t been covered by other sources, and I’ve shared a lot of salt lately. That said, if you missed my last post about Book Riot’s new policy rollout and demolition of the Epic Insiders program, feel free to check it out.

In this post, I’ll spend my energy talking about BOOKS! Two are educational titles designed for learning about queer and trans identities. The third is a recently released YA sci fi debut from Alex Harrow, a genderqueer author, who describes their work as “queerness with a chance of explosions”. Join the Harrowing and check out Empire of Light, which came out on February 25th.

Educational Titles

You Be You

I received an arc of You Be You, by Jonathan Branfman and Julie Benbassat from Edelweiss+. This title is aimed at children 7 to 11 years of age, and yall, this is a book I’ve been waiting for, for a LONG time. It has diverse, charming, age-appropriate illustrations, and addresses topics such as sex, gender, sexuality, family, discrimination, privilege, intersectionality, and allyship in an affirming way. I was excited. Unfortunately, this was also a let down for me.

While I was pleased to see that the book uses biologically accurate terminology, particularly for body parts, the LGBTQ lexicon in this book is outdated. For example, “gender” and “gender identity” are treated as separate concepts. “Orientation” is used with regards to sexuality, rather than “identity”. “Homophobia” and “transphobia” are used in cases where “hetero-” and “cis-normativity” would have been more appropriate. There is conflation of the concepts of discrimination and oppression. Lastly, there was also some ableism in the framing of disabilities as afflictions (“having deafness” versus “deaf”).

After doing some research, it is unclear to me whether the author and illustrator are themselves queer or trans. Branfman is an academic, and particularly if he is coming from outside of the LGBTQ+ community, some of the nuances of current lexicon may have been lost in translation when incorporating current sociological education materials into an age-appropriate format.

Terminology, isn’t the only significant flaw with this book. Throughout the sections on family, the book consistently refers to a monogamous norm. Because I am part of a polyamorous, blended family, I found this personally disappointing. In addition, there was noticeable asexual erasure throughout the chapter on love and attraction. Finally, this book was focused exclusively on the American context. Part of the reason why I review books is to know whether or not they are suitable for sale at the Canadian independent bookshop where I work, and unfortunately that lowers the appeal of this book for us as well.

In short, the concept of this book is great, and it is available for sale as of July, 2019 (this is unclear – I think an initial publication happened in 2017, and this reprint is potentially part of a larger translation project). I hope that the creators will be able to incorporate feedback before that time, because otherwise I fear this book will be come quickly outdated. This is a great example of publishing taking baby steps in the right direction, but also demonstrates to me that we still have a long way to go.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities

From A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities.

By contrast, I received a copy of A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and J. R. Zuckerberg from NetGalley. I am in love with this book, and I want to give it to everyone I know. What’s great is that at $9.99 USD, it’s actually feasible for someone at a limited income to purchase!

This book is wicked trippy, and I’m into it. And I learned things. Legit. From a 101 book. It’s current, it’s inclusive, it explores more in depth concepts (eg, non-binary dysphoria, the first time I’ve ever seen this in a published text; warning signs of abuse in relationships; aftercare; alternate personas) alongside the more basic ones. Although it’s cutesy, it is also nuanced. Also? The protagonist is a snail. YUP.

This book is slightly more wordy than I want it to be, but it’s appropriate for any age, and it is affirming of the most marginalized of LGBTQ+ identities, including non-binary and ace. Unfortunately, an exploration of Two Spirit identity is notably absent. There is no discussion of sex or sexual acts, and the complex, fantastical illustrations provide charming balance to the text.

I only have a few critiques to offer about this delightful comic. First, it is strange that the first block of text inside the cover is from the parent of a QT person. I wasn’t sure what this introduction achieved, and it felt disingenuous to the purposes of the comic. Second, there was a slightly problematic focus on self-love. I don’t think it’s too much, but it did feel a little ableist to me as someone who struggles with dysphoria and depression. Finally, there was no overt affirmation of non-monogamous identities, but to the creator’s credit, there was no overt monogamous normativity either.

My favourite thing about this book, though, is that there are creative activity pages at the end! INCLUDING HOW TO MAKE A ZINE. I loved them, and I can’t wait to make a sproutsona with queer fam one day!

This title is available for pre-order now, and will release on April 23, 2019.

Empire of Light

I submitted a request for an Empire of Light eARC through Alex Harrow’s website, because through the grapevine, I’d heard of this soon-to-be released YA SFF debut from an enby author that I’d never heard tell of before. I read the publicity copy for the book and thought, this sounds fun. Sure. Why not?

As anyone who follows my reading will know, I don’t usually do “fun”. But I try to, sometimes, especially when things are rough. (Which: yes.) Full disclosure, it took me a minute to get into this book… but I was really glad that I did. It’s a romp, for sure. Empire of Light is a fast-paced ride, and the comp to queer Firefly with magic is on point. The characters in this book never lift off the surface of the planet, but it’s certainly otherworldly. Plus, in Harrow’s novel, there’s also magic: the inexplicable Voyance, which gives those who possess it some amorphous mystical powers. Without the squickiness of Joss Whedon to consider, why bother resisting?

“Queer with a chance of explosions” is the perfect brand for Harrow’s work. CW for all kinds of violence and guns everywhere in this novel, as well as positive representation of assisted death that appears on the page. There is (very queer) sexual intimacy that appears on the page in this book as well, and I found the mentions of use of condoms and lubrication in these settings utterly refreshing. However, there are also so many necessary ingredients for queer representation that feels real, impactful, and resonant. Aside from the undeniably gay protagonist, there is also shame-free representation of kink, bisexuality, demisexuality, non-binary identity, trauma, and some kind of ambiguous non-monogamy, possibly with a side of sex work.

It’s possible that this was me misinterpreting aspects of the book, but there were moments in which the Voyance, and the sometimes unpredictable effects that it had on the characters in the book, felt like it could work as a stand-in for some of the health challenges that have impacted LGBTQ+ communities, for example, the AIDS crisis.

This is a complicated book, but somehow, Empire of Light manages to come off as a colloquial, action-packed adventure story. For this francophone, it was particularly heartwarming that Harrow used French-language names for some of the geographical locations used in the book, even though the rationale behind that remains unclear to me. The only criticisms I have of this book are that some of the side characters felt underdeveloped, there wasn’t obvious racial diversity among the characters, and I missed having feminine MCs, since most of the significant characters in this book are masculine.

Empire of Light is available now, and if you’re a fan of exciting SFF that doesn’t shy away from addressing profound themes, or if you’re just looking for a fantastic LGBTQ+ #OwnVoices book to chew through this winter, get in on the Harrowing.

PS, if you choose to purchase one of the books I’ve mentioned in this post, please follow one of the links. It’s an affiliate link for Amazon.com, so you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

Book Riot Breakup/down

Currently reading: Other Words for Smoke, by Sarah Maria Griffin

Several of the former members of the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack community have likened their grief over cancelling their memberships to the emotional experience of a bad breakup. Many of us have dated this guy. You know him. He’s extremely charismatic. Everyone loves how friendly he is, how he espouses his feminist values, how he knows all the right words to say to make people feel heard, and special. But when the shine wears away, you start to see the cracks in that veneer. You suspect that perhaps his values don’t exactly align with what he’s been telling you all along. He begins gaslighting you, and blaming you for the problems in your relationship. And if you’re lucky, that’s when the whole thing falls apart.

What is Epic Insiders?

Before I explain what happened and why it’s a problem the literary community should care about, it’s important to understand what Book Riot Insiders (BRI) actually is – or, I should say, was?

Book Riot is a media conglomerate that produces book-related content including blogs, podcasts, newsletters, and reading challenges, as well as related products, like the Read Harder Journal, which can be purchased from their online store. They purport themselves to be big believers in diversity, although their official belief statements don’t follow through on that. The staff and contributors list for Book Riot itself is extensive, and lacks transparency about the roles that each of the people involved plays.

Book Riot values, screencapped from the About Us section of the Book Riot website on February 21, 2019.

Book Riot is a property of Riot New Media, a company which creates “content driven communities around niche interests that delight fans and celebrate their diversity” (from the Riot New Media website, 21/02/2019). The CEO of Riot New Media is Jeff O’Neil, and the COO is Clinton Kabler, both white cis men. There are 16 staff members of Riot New Media. (On a personal note, as a trans former-Insider, it is noteworthy that none of the staff members of Riot New Media are out as trans.)

Insiders (BRI) is described as the “exclusive digital hangout for the Book Riot community” (from the BRI website 21/02/2019), but is a paid subscription service that supports the Book Riot platform. It mirrors what you might see on Patreon, but internally hosted. Until recently, subscribers could choose between three levels of support: Short Story, Novel, and Epic. Epic was the highest, at $10 a month, and gave subscribers access to the New Release Index (a curated index of books and when they release to the public), Insider-specific newsletters and exclusive podcasts, a monthly prize drawing, a rotating deal on merch, and the Insider-only forum.

The forum was a Slack (see how Slack works), hosted on the free version of the platform, and capped at 275 Epic subscribers, plus the Book Riot staff, and some contributors. Separate Slacks exist that are exclusively for Book Riot contributors, and for staff only. The Slack was active, and many Epic subscribers joined specifically for access to that exclusive community. The Slack was the only interactive element of the “digital hangout” that BRI purported to offer.

New Policy

On February 12, 2019, a new platform-wide Book Riot policy was announced by a moderator in the General channel of the BRI Slack. At the time that the announcement was made, there were 397 members in the channel, which had the description, “mayhem and anarchy”. One section of the new policy was specifically highlighted by the mod: going forward, no generalizations made about any group of people would be tolerated in the “public” channels on the Slack – that is those spaces open to all paid Epic subscribers. The examples of “groups of people” that were given were specifically “men”, and “Republicans”. As soon as the announcement was made, the moderators began to delete custom emoji that users had created in the forum, including one that read, “WHY ARE MEN”.

Post made in the BRI Slack on February 12, 2019.

Noteworthy in this post is the moderator’s casual tone, and referring to BRI members as “thoughtful, wonderful, considerate, magical unicorns!”, as well as which portion of the policy the staff chose to highlight when making the announcement to the Epic Insiders.

The culture of the BRI Slack was assertively progressive and anti-oppressive. Many members of marginalized groups, including but not limited to BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ people, were among the very active daily users of the digital space. This policy was suggesting a massive, mandatory culture shift.

Within minutes, users began to react: very few were having positive reactions to a policy that amounted to institutionalized tone policing. Users argued that the policy contributed to a culture of oppressive exceptionalism. Despite purported “activist” values of the organization, the policy suggested dismissal and delegitimization of marginalized perspectives – #NotAllMen and the notion of “reverse racism” were repeatedly cited as examples of the kind of culture the policy would foster. The Epic Insiders agreed that for Book Riot to enforce their policy in what was an exclusive, pay-for-access, community space, was to actively stifle the very voices they performatively lifted up in the content created for Book Riot. Users questioned the motivation behind rolling out such blatant respectability politics in the space. The policy was violent.

The original post was made at 2:03 PM EST. At 4:49 PM EST, the same moderator announced that the staff were “headed out for the evening,” and would be discussing the feedback in due time. Three and a half hours after the policy announcement, 72 BRI members had joined a private channel and were making plans for an alternate Slack for folks who no longer felt safe, and who were prepared to cancel their memberships in protest of the change in policy. The conversation in the public Slack channel among users and the occasional staff person continued in full force until 5:38 PM, and then with less immediacy into the days that would follow.

Epic Insiders voiced their dismay in tones ranging from indignant to assertive to brokenhearted to scared. Members also pointed out the deep hypocrisy of the staff who were rolling out this policy – who, only the previous day had been making posts that would now be considered in violation of their own policy.

Doubling Down

The moderators and staff who stepped in to reply doubled down. They noted that the policy would be platform-wide, and apply to contributors, staff, and Insiders alike. The full, current Book Riot “Community” Guidelines can be found here. They apply to all Book Riot spaces and all content created for the media conglomerate.

One question that, even in the days that followed, staff refused to answer: who was the team who wrote this policy, and what was the motivation to roll it out for the exclusive BRI Epic Slack?

Moderators and staff responses included:

…And this is really hair-splitting — the reality is, you can still criticize people and systems, just as the site has. But generalizations about entire groups of people who have as many intersecting identities as us just aren’t the thing now.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 4:59 PM.

Surely, the difference between criticism and name-calling is clear.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 5:14 PM

We anticipated some questions, but we clearly underestimated, and it is clear that we have some discussion and clarification to make to this policy. […] we’ll make updates or clarifications here as we come to them.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 5:33 PM

All I can say is that I promise you this community has not been made unsafe.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator, February 13, 2019, 7:51 AM

You can still express yourself. The first thing done was saying private channels would allow you to say the broad generalizations [if] you wanted to continue.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator, February 13, 2019, 8:02 AM

(Spoiler alert: after many days of supposed discussions among staff, no satisfactory clarifications or updates would ever come.)

At 10:38 AM on February 13, 2019, a forum moderator posted the editorial team’s “clarification”.

Post made in the BRI Slack on February 13, 2019.

Noteworthy in this post is the significant change in tone from the initial announcement. The shift is from conversational and friendly to formal and authoritative. The hypocrisy inherent in this policy continues, for example, the post references the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s definition of a hate group in opposition to the characterization of “Republicans” (as a group) in this way under the new policy. However, in some jurisdictions, Republicans have officially been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre because of their anti-LGBTQIA2S+ stances.

In this post, the moderator characterizes the culture of the BRI Slack negatively, a theme that is recurring as I write this post. They write about the lack of moderation in the forum, that was “allowed to go on too long.” Further, they trivialize the Epic Insiders’ financial contributions to the company, noting that “this was in no way a decision required to keep the lights on or keep Book Riot in business. That is not a concern.”

The post also discouraged BRI users from continuing to discuss the policy in the Slack, and instead, encouraged the use of an Email address for providing feedback confidentially.

One follow-up announcement was made that offered no additional details or policy shift. The moderator stated at this time,

Cathartic conversations for marginalized groups are important, and can and should happen in safe spaces. Within the Book Riot platform, cathartic conversations that include name-calling and personal attacks on groups in public channels are no longer acceptable in public channels, but we understand that private channels may include those.

BRI Forum Moderator

Later, a note from another Book Riot staff and moderator stated,

Book Riot has evolved over time […]. If you don’t believe that, or believe that we are operating out of some other motive, then it is probably time for our paths to diverge.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator

The new guidelines went into effect on February 18, 2019. At this time, Book Riot offered Epic Insiders who had pre-paid for their annual membership a refund for the rest of their renewal term if they cancelled their memberships by February 28, 2019.

After the last announcement, I cancelled my own membership. That was on February 13, 2019. When I cancelled, I received a notification that my membership would remain active until the 20th, which was the end of my current pay period. Within minutes, without warning, my access to the BRI Slack was revoked.

Show Me the Money!

It is perhaps worth noting here that for some BRI contributors, the $10/month paid for access to the Slack was not a financial burden. However, because of the diverse nature of the community that Book Riot had built with the Insiders program, many contributors had to budget carefully in order to be able to afford to support the company and be part of the exclusive Slack. For many, it was well worth it, as they felt that they had “found their people” – some for the very first time. A group of book lovers and enthusiasts as concerned with social justice as they were with finding their next great read. At least, on the surface.

Even so, by the time this response was posted, over 80 BRI users had joined the private channel and voiced an interest in leaving the Slack if the policy remained in place. $9 600 a year didn’t seem like money that should be trivialized in such a way, particularly when Riot Media boasted so few full time staff.

It is also worth speculating that Book Riot underestimated the amount of financial support they would lose from the BRI community. That $9 600 – which would rise to about $14 400/year within a week and a half – did not take into consideration that the subscribers to this program were some of Book Riot’s biggest supporters. Not only did they consume much of Book Riot’s content, they also attended live shows when they occurred, spent money on merchandise, and many subscribed to TBR, an additional paid subscription service that offered custom readers’ advisory. At the top tier, the service costs $300 USD per year, per subscriber.

What Happened Next?

There were several unusual occurrences over the following days. Some BRI members who still subscribed continued to critique the policy, but these critiques were at best ignored, and at worst, silenced. Moderators followed up with members to “remind” them that things like profanity (in any context) were not allowed in the Slack – something that had not been previously enforced. Members were also reminded that criticism of Book Riot, and discussion of the policy, was discouraged.

By February 14th, 2019, 111 former Epic Insiders who objected to the BRI policy change had created and joined an alternate Slack to continue the community that we had created in the BRI program. There were 73 channels, and nearly 3500 messages had already been sent at that time. By February 15th, that number had climbed to over 10 000 messages.

Meanwhile, the Epic Slack was essentially silent, save for a few conversations fuelled by Book Riot moderators and staff, some of whom the members couldn’t remember ever having interacted in the community before. The activity that was happening in the Slack was happening in private channels. The ongoing lack of participation in the BRI Slack under the new policy highlighted the hypocrisy of the policy itself, apparently created in part because some users had told moderators that they felt uncomfortable with the political tone of the conversations. If this had been a reality, participation in the Slack should have flourished, once those who had spoken out about the policy’s oppressive nature had cancelled their memberships and left. Instead, there was almost nothing left.

A graph of the activity in the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack from January 21st, 2019 to February 18th, 2019. Purple indicates the % of reading by users in public channels, black indicates the % of reading by users in private channels, and red indicates the % of reading by users in DMs.

The two charts included here clearly document the impact of the policy announcement on the Epic Insiders Slack. The sudden peak of participation in private channels coincides with the announcement of the policy, and the sudden drop off coincides with the creation of the replacement Slack that was created, and the cancellations of the users who migrated.

A graph of the activity in the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack from January 21st, 2019 to February 18th, 2019. Purple indicates the % of messages sent by users in public channels, black indicates the % of messages sent by users in private channels, and red indicates the % of messages sent by users in DMs.

On February 20th, at 2:30 PM, an Email went out to Insiders, the subject line of which read, “An Epic Announcement.” The same message was posted to the General channel of the BRI Slack. The full message can be read here. The announcement was that the Epic Insiders Slack – the only interactive element of the “exclusive digital hangout for the Book Riot community” – was being shut down on Friday, February 22nd, 2019, at 5 PM. Ten days after the announcement of a violent and oppressive policy, the company doubled down again. Rather than learning from the feedback of their financial supporters and engaged community members, they chose to delete the space they had created for them, and any record of what they had chosen to do.

It’s noteworthy that the tone of this message took the level of formality even higher than previous messages had, sounding almost as though it has been written with the advice of legal council. Furthermore, the message that was distributed placed the blame for this choice squarely on the shoulders of those who were brave enough to speak out against the policy. Below are some excerpts.

We’ve looked hard at our own editorial beliefs, seen how for many members of the BRI slack those beliefs ran against their own. We’ve had messages of support for the new policy, and extraordinarily strong reactions against it. Expressions of pain and disappointment caused us to take a long look at what and why we were doing what we were doing.

And what we’ve discovered is that while a specific policy is the fulcrum of this moment, it is about something more than that policy. It is about the very nature of this space.

Our staff’s safety is our highest priority, and we’ve come to believe that the nature of Slack communication, with its speed, informality, and never-ceasing schedule, exacts an emotional toll on our staff that is unsustainable.

From “An Epic Announcement,” distributed on February 20, 2019.

Probably not coincidentally, some former Insiders have noted that since the policy rollout on February 12th, Book Riot CEO Jeff O’Neal deleted his public Twitter presence completely, and both Rebecca Schinsky, and Amanda Nelson are using tweet delete apps to remove their histories. Presumably, this is to remove evidence of behaviour that they had all engaged in in the recent past that would now be in violation of a policy that they themselves had created. There are some things still on the internet that are in violation, of course, including a (formerly public, now made private) Spotify playlist called “Why Are Men”, of which several former Insiders are followers.

The BRI Epic Slack disappeared at 5 PM on February 20th, almost precisely. In the Slack populated by former Insiders, folks reflected on the feeling that this was the end of an era for many of them: from the success of Book Riot Live in 2016, to the creation of the Insiders program, and the fostering of a rich, progressive community, to its total collapse less than two years’ later.

How to Respond

The crux of the issue is this. Book Riot announced a terrible policy change to their biggest supporters. That could have been rectified. Instead, the staff doubled down. Even then, if the policy had been revoked and apologies made to those who felt violated, maybe the bad blood could still have been mitigated. Instead, the program was cancelled. Evidence of hypocrisy was erased as thoroughly as possible. Blame was placed on people who were in a position of less power and privilege than those who had written the policy in the first place. Marginalized voices and huge supporters of Book Riot were alienated, then silenced.

Since then, a lot of troubling information about past and recent actions of Book Riot staff have been brought to light by former Insiders who now convene elsewhere. These stories, by and large, are not mine to share. I would privately share stories of the queerphobia I experienced at the hands of one of the Book Riot staff and Slack moderators, and of my complicated feelings about the TBR program, and the tone shift that the launch of that for-profit service signalled within Book Riot’s messaging, with anyone who is interested.

Ultimately, so many of the experiences shared and the actions taken since February 12th are the deal breaker for me, and why I can no longer support this performatively progressive company. Their actions signal such a huge disparity in values between what Book Riot says they are about and what they are clearly actually about that I can no longer see them as trustworthy. In a literary and media landscape where privileged voices are often the loudest, and there is an ongoing struggle for diverse voices to be heard and recognized as legitimate and skillful – this is no longer a company that I support, or feel anyone else should support, through being an audience member, or through financial contributions.

The ambiguous “team” who lead Riot New Media, or perhaps Book Riot itself, were the ones to write and enforce this policy, and it has been put in place for the entire company, which means all of its content is also influenced. The company has not yet shared its motivation for engaging so thoroughly in respectability politics, while still profiting from its image as a progressive, even activist, organization.

If you have feedback about this policy, Book Riot’s behaviour, and its impact on the literary community, I would urge you to direct it to insiders@bookriot.com.

Update: March 6 2019

For further reading on this topic, check out other posts by former Epic Insiders, Off the Beaten Shelf, The Bookish Cronk, and the Wicked Bookworm.

Also, if you’ve found this post informative, please consider donating to my ko-fi! I’m functionally unemployed right now, so a few dollars goes a long way!

Black History Month Recs and a Taste of Salt

Currently reading: Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

Black History Month Non-Binary Reads

Two of my overall favourite reads of 2018 happened to be by Black, non-binary authors, and I thought this would be the perfect time to give a shoutout to these books – although they hardly require it. The first is a middle grade debut novel called Hurricane Child, by Kheryn Callender, and the second is a fictionalized memoir called Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi.

Callender, the author of Hurricane Child, was born and raised in the St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, which also serves as the setting for this book. It is a poetic gem that features a black, queer MC, who is 12 years old, and was born during a hurricane. The character is navigating falling in love for what appears to be the first time, and trying to find her missing mother. It’s the best-written middle grade book I’ve ever read, while being age-appropriate, and it’s spooky. Callender’s second novel and first foray into young adult lit, This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, dropped in October. It is my hope to see works featuring enby characters from Callender, but I would recommend anything they write.

Freshwater, (CW: trauma and sexual assault) is nothing short of breathtaking. Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil author, and this magical realism memoir is also their debut. They have a YA novel, Pet, forthcoming in 2019, and a second adult novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, also forthcoming. Emezi is trans, non-binary, and ogbanje, a Nigerian identity that involves aspects of plurality and of being a trickster spirit.

Freshwater is visceral and unique and bizarre and authentic. It took me a minute to get into the writing style, and this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Once I was able to process it, I was completely unable to put it down. Despite being fully an outsider to this story, I share with Emezi that I am non-binary and have experiences of trauma, and in addition one of my partners is plural, so aspects of the tale were very relatable for me. For a taste of Emezi’s writing, they have also written several short stories, including Who Is Like God, and a Curaçao fairy tale.

Trans Lit News

Unfortunately, some negative news in the trans lit world this week. The woman author of the 2018 book Invisible Men: Inside India’s Transmasculine Networks, Nandini Krishnan, committed ethical transgressions against the trans people featured in her book. These included, but were not limited to, misgendering, dead naming, erasure of Indigenous histories, and violation of consent.

Invisible Men was published by Penguin India, and is Krishnan’s second book. Firstpost has reported in their deep dive article on the book that Penguin has not admitted fault or taken action based on Krishnan’s transgressions. The book was reviewed in the News Minute by Gee Imaan Semmalar, one of the people portrayed in the book, who recommends Revathi’s A Life in Trans Activism as an alternate title on this topic.

In addition, I want to put a plug in for author and fellow trans book blogger, Bogi Takács. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, Bogi was recently forced to leave their doctoral studies. This is a great time for other folks in this community to step up and support their work!

Slightly Salty

I feel like this has been the week of people using performative inclusivity for profit, while being exclusive and silencing marginalized voices in practice, and I am upset about it.

The first instance of this I want to address is the Kickstarter for 99% Chance of Magic, an anthology from Heartspark Press. The marketing copy for this book, which has raised thousands of dollars in donated funding, claims that this book is the world’s first chapter book for transgender kids. This is problematic for two reasons. First, this book is an anthology, not a chapter book, and there are some other great anthologies out there for trans youth (the first that comes to mind is transVersing, published in 2018, an #OwnVoices anthology by and for trans youth).

The second issue was clear to me after reading the marketing copy for this book, reading information about the contributors, researching (and Tweeting at) Heartspark Press, and reviewing the calls for contributors that the press made for this anthology. This project is not inclusive of a breadth of trans experiences. All contributors, and all people included in Heartspark in general, are (C)AMAB ((coercively) assigned male at birth). The calls for contributors were made specifically with the #girlslikeus hashtag. The Heartspark Press online mission page reads, “Join us in lifting the voices of (C)AMAB trans people everywhere.” However, it is not made clear in the branding of this anthology that transmasculine and (C)AFAB non-binary voices were excluded from this project.

This isn’t the only Heartspark project that is branded ambiguously. On the homepage of their website, The Resilience Anthology is described as “the largest literary collection of trans women and non-binary writers”, and The Sisters from the Stars is described as “a new children’s book for trans kids and weirdos like us”. I have spoken to several enbies who have supported this press under the assumption that they are inclusive of all members of the trans community, when that is not the case.

An #OwnVoices project for and by (C)AMAB folks is great! There is so much space for trans literature in the world. However, it should be clear to folks who donate that the anthology does not reflect experiences of many non-binary, transmasculine, or intersex people. This information is important to provide to folks who purchase the anthology for, or sell it to, trans or gender creative children or youth. If given this book without context, it could easily and unintentionally worsen feelings of isolation or dysphoria.

The LGBTQ+ lexicon is ever-evolving, and the mobilization of identities for profit can be tricky. It’s time for organizations like Heartspark Press to update their marketing practices. Enbies (myself included!) are tired of microaggressive gatekeeping, binarizing of the non-binary, and neglect of transmasculine people. Say “trans” if you mean to include everyone in the trans community. If what you mean is something different, please say that. (And thanks to Laura Bishop, who articulated this better than I could have!)

PS, if you choose to purchase one of the books I’ve mentioned in this post, please follow one of the links. It’s an affiliate link for Amazon.com, so you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

Affirming Middle Grade Gems for Spring 2019

Currently reading: Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

Trans Book News

At the end of 2018, I sent some feedback to the hosts of my favourite podcast, Book Riot, that I thought they should have included more content about LGBTQ+ (and specifically trans and enby) people, content, and issues in their last couple of episodes of the year. Well, it appears that they listened. In their latest episode, they discuss some relevant bookish news stories that specifically focus on censorship of trans content in libraries, and opposition to drag queen storytime, both in the US. Take a listen here.

I’m really excited about this one: a new picture book about gender by enby illustrator Noah Grigni (and written by Theresa Thorn) is coming out this May. It looks like a beautiful book. If you’re in Canada, you can pre-order it here, and in the US, pre-order it here. Pre-orders support authors so much, and if you use these affiliate links to order, you’ll be supporting my work, too.

Last week, Ceillie Simkiss posted an important review of a forthcoming YA novel featuring a trans character, which is written by a cis author and riddled with problematic content. It’s not recommended for trans readers. Read the full review here.

Good news for trans representation in books and non-binary authors this week! Jessica Love’s Julián is a Mermaid, which I featured in my 2018 Trans-Affirming Picture Book Wrap Up, was a recipient of the Stonewall Book Award at ALA Midwinter! Another recipient was Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child, which – spoiler alert! – I will be discussing next week, as part of my Black (History? Future? Present?) Month post. See the full 2019 Rainbow List here.

The Moon Within

See the suspiciously sleepy-looking eyes in that photo? Yeah. It’s because it was after midnight, because once I picked this book up, I couldn’t put it down. No one is more surprised than me, and I’m thrilled to admit it.

I actually wound up with two hardcopy ARCs of Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within from the shop where I work. Perhaps because the rest of the staff saw it and had the same reaction I did: this is a middle grade, novel-in-verse. See me: skeptical. Yet, coming of age stories are usually among my favourites, and this one is by a Latinx author and features a mixed-race MC with a genderfluid best friend. I decided to give it a chance.

But let’s be totally transparent. I picked it up on the night that I did because I’d been in a bit of a reading slump, and I thought, this book is short, and I’m probably not going to like it anyway. Might as well. I ended up so glad that I did. This is me, with the humble pie over here.

This coming-of-age story is a charming exploration of many tensions that will resonate for readers: reclaiming Indigenous culture in contemporary America, navigating early love, and overcoming challenges in deep friendships. This book is entirely age-appropriate as a middle grade novel, with writing that remains poetic and descriptive. This story spans a relatively long period of time, enabled by the verse format, which avoids the passage of time and depth of emotion feeling cumbersome to the reader. Spanish language is woven into the text of this novel, at times with and at times without translation and explanation, and I expect that this will enrich the cultural experience of this text for Latinx and other Spanish-speaking readers.

The only aspect of this book that I found challenging as an AFAB trans enby was the focus on menstruation as a theme in the text. While I imagine that it would be empowering for girls and women, this was at times a struggle for me to navigate, because of the troubled relationship I have with my own body and its hormonal cycles. I did appreciate that the text touched on this tension as well, with reference to the AFAB genderfluid character in the book, but (my biased perspective is that) I thought that it could have been more thoroughly probed.

I’m thrilled to be able to recommend this book, which drops on February 26th, but can be pre-ordered now. Give this one to your kids. Point your teacher friends toward it. Send it in the mail to your enby friends in Oakland, like I’m going to do. It’s a gem. You won’t want to miss it.

Little Apocalypse

Note: I received an eARC of Little Apocalypse through Edelweiss+.

I requested an ARC of Katherine Sparrow’s Little Apocalypse out of personal interest, because I love a good spooky story, even if it doesn’t have explicitly LGBTQ+ content. It was appealing in part because comped to Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters, which I read in 2018, and loved. Much like when I read The Moon Within, I picked it up because it was a middle grade book, and I’d been battling a cold, so that’s about where my executive function level felt comfortable at the time. But again like when I read The Moon Within… once I picked this up, I had trouble putting it down.

Maybe it’s about time that I checked my own prejudices about MG books, because despite being written for a young audience (I know, I know), the world-building in Little Apocalypse was rich and deep. I probably would have anticipated that had I been familiar with Sparrow before picking up this book – although this is her MG debut, she’s hardly a novice writer. Sparrow has four previously-published adult novels in a series called the Fay Morgan Chronicles, and one of her short stories, The Migratory Patterns of Dancers, was nominated for a Nebula award.

This is a monster-fighting book with a Strong Feminine Protagonist that is perfect Buffy or X-Files fans (or future fans of Buffy, or maybe Buffy herself). If you’re buying this one for a kid, and they enjoy superhero stories, it’s a great step up from something like Buffy: New School Nightmare, the Desmond Cole series, or the Goosebumps books. Parents will love about this book that although there aren’t a lot of responsible adult figures around while the plot is unfolding (surprise!), the main character’s love for her family is clear and abiding throughout the book, even as she truly comes into her own as the protagonist.

My favourite things about this book are that, 1, it was written for book lovers. It has a bookworm MC, features a library in one of its settings, and even some of the most dramatic apocalyptic imagery was book-evocative. 2, it’s a friendship book. There are little hints at romance in places in this novel, but ultimately, it is all in on nuanced, complicated, platonic relationships. 3, the monsters are awesome. 4, the author does not shy away from moral ambiguity in this book, and I love the depth and complexity of that gray area.

But ultimately, (spoiler alert) one of the things that I love about this book is that in the end, the main character undergoes a pretty significant physical and emotional transformation. Although it’s dramatic and complicated, she and her parents work through it together, and they wind up having a happy, loving life, all together. The book doesn’t gloss this over, but the happy ending was heartwarming. It was this part of the book that I felt would be really affirming to any kid, but especially to kids dealing with transition or coming out to their caregivers. (end spoilers)

I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of 9 or so (only because any younger, and I feel like it might be edging on nightmare territory), including adults. Little Apocalypse is available for pre-order now, and will be released on March 19th, 2019.

PS, if you choose to purchase one of the books I’ve mentioned in this post, please follow one of the links. It’s an affiliate link for Amazon.com, so you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

2019: A Year of POC Authors

Currently reading: Devoted, by Jennifer Mathieu
Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq.

Recently, I was raving on Twitter about one of my favourite new releases of this year, Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq. Not only is it a book every settler should read, it’s also this beautiful white hardcover edition with red paper edging. It’s a stark and beautiful book design. In a response to one of my tweets, someone commented that she had made a resolution to only read books by authors who aren’t white in 2019… so I offered to make her some recommendations. 

She told me:
1. Her resolution was to read only POC authors.
2. She was hoping to get Guns of Penance and Trail of Lightning for Christmas.
3. Three recent favourites included None of the Above, Eragon, and and My Life on the Road.

My Picks

This project took a lot longer than I anticipated, because this was a person who I’d never encountered before, and didn’t have in front of me, so I didn’t have as much information to go on. Because of that, I came up with a wide range of suggestions for her.

First, I decided to look at memoirs. nîtisânak is a new book from Lindsay Nixon that just launched locally at the Naked Heart festival in Toronto, and lots of people are raving about it. It can be described as a queer Indigenous punk rock memoir. If that isn’t an incredible hook, I really don’t know what is.

From the cover of nîtisânak, by Lindsay Nixon.

Another memoir I decided to point her toward is When They Call You a Terrorist. I feel like I haven’t heard as much about this book this year as I expected, and it has broad appeal for people interested in progressive politics and activism. It’s written by two Black Lives Matter movement founders, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele. 

Bonus pick: After I had given this reader her recommendations, I managed to get my hands on an ARC of Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. I read it on a plane, in one sitting, and I was pleasantly surprised. I read a handful of Indigenous memoirs and non-fiction volumes in 2018, and I wondered if Elliott’s book would give me new things to think about, or if it would feel like more of an echo. I was humbled to be reminded that there are still many things for me to learn, and I appreciated Elliott’s willingness to play with format, and the richness of her story. I’m ever grateful for the generosity of Indigenous authors. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is Elliott’s full-length debut, and it is available for pre-order now.

Because of this reader’s mention of two YA books and their interest in diverse literature, I couldn’t help myself. I had to suggest Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callendar. This is the best middle grade book I’ve maybe ever read. It’s poetic, it’s a spooky and magical story, and it’s a rare gem with a young, black, queer MC.

Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan.

Inspired by the mention of Eragon, I had to include some YA fantasy on this list. I wanted to be sure that there was some some LGBTQ content, because the reader had mentioned None of the Above, so first, I went with Girls of Paper and Fire from Natasha Ngan, but since that book doesn’t include any fantasy creatures like the Eragon dragons, I also decided to give her Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi. While I’d not really recommend a Riordan book to any reader, I’m excited about this title from his new imprint as an alternative to his wildly popular fantasy series. Aru Shah is based on Hindu mythology, and has reviewed and sold very well. Chokshi releases her next book in January of 2019.

My last recommendation wasn’t really related to the recent favourites this reader had mentioned, but rather was inspired by her Christmas list, which included Indigenous SFF. I don’t think I can recommend Indigenous SFF and YA in the same post in good conscience without bringing up Cherie Dimaline’s extremely lauded Marrow Thieves. This book has so many awards that the medallions are starting to obscure the cover art, and it sold so well at the shop where I work during Christmas of 2018 that we literally had our distributor driving over cases in their personal vehicles because we kept running out. 

Response?

It’s too soon to say if this reader enjoyed the books, but her feedback on the recommendations was positive, and she mentioned bringing a couple of them to her book club next year. Bonus: If these recs appeal to you, and you’re interested in allyship, you can join this reader’s public book club, Our Marginalized Relations, on Goodreads!

If you enjoyed reading these recommendations, and would like some of your own, head on over to my contact page, and send me a message! I love giving recs and readers’ advisory, and have lots of experience from my work as a bookseller.

PS, if you choose to purchase one of the books I’ve mentioned in this post, please follow one of the links. It’s an affiliate link for Amazon.com, so you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

2018 Trans Affirming Picture Book Wrap Up

Currently reading: The Wicked and the Divine vol. 2: The Fandemonium, by Kieron Gillen
From Julián is a Mermaid.

Working in the book shop, I constantly encounter customers who are surprised at the range of books available that include LGBTQ+ content, especially for children. I am always pleased to tell them that there are more and more coming out every year – especially because I love picture books, and have a growing collection myself. That said, it can still be hard to find the books that are affirming for trans and enby children, if you don’t have access to a brick and mortar shop that can identify them. The following are my picks for gender-affirming books for children published in the last year. Please, if I’ve missed any here, visit my contact page, and let me know!

Picture Books Published in 2018

Julián Is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, appeared on lots of best-of lists for 2018. This affirming book is Love’s debut, about a young Afro-Latinx boy who experiments with dressing up as a mermaid in his abuela’s house. In the conclusion, they attend and join in the mermaid parade, an annual event at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. The lush watercolour illustrations and positive representation of non-white characters is what make this book stand out for me. Love says that this book was in part inspired by a trans family member of a boyfriend she had while writing the book.

Neither, by Airlie Anderson, is a colourful fever dream of a picture book suitable for the youngest audiences. It features a cast of misfit creatures who learn that they can reject binary identities and find happiness and friendship along the way. This book features a lot of rainbows, which is great for Pride season, and is perfect as an affirming springtime gift, as the main characters are reminiscent of the Peeps marshmallows.

From Neither.

Jamie is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way, by Afsaneh Moradian, challenges gender stereotypes through the story of a child who encounters confusion among their peers when they want to play with a wide variety of toys. The book includes a section for adults who are interested in using playtime as a learning tool for children to learn about gender and related constructs. This book is written by an author of colour, and illustrated by Maria Bogade, who has worked on award-winning projects such as the Gruffalo.

I am including Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders because I wanted this list to be thorough, but this wouldn’t be my first recommendation. It’s an American-centric book that tells a whitewashed, gay male focused history of the rainbow flag. But also? Trans people are part of that rainbow, so. Make your own choices about this one. My alternate recommendation for this would be This Day in June, or M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book.

While Today I’ll Be a Unicorn, by Dana Simpson, does not feature openly trans characters, this book is trans affirming in that it is written and illustrated by a trans woman. Along with this book for young readers, Simpson also released Phoebe and Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theatre in 2018, the eighth and latest instalment in her wildly popular middle grade graphic novel series. The ninth book will be released in 2019.

From Today I’ll Be a Unicorn.

There are lots of picture book options for people seeking stories about boys and other masculine characters openly defying gender norms and embracing traditionally feminine aspects. King Alice, by Matthew Cordell, tells the story of an imaginative young girl who invents a story in which she is a king.

Jack (Not Jackie), by Erica Silverman, explores the complicated emotions that a cis sibling might navigate upon discovering that their sibling is trans. It has been criticised by some trans readers as it uses the MC’s deadname and the wrong pronouns in the book. It has also been criticised for ciscentrism, and use of stereotypes about trans people. For all these reasons, it would not be my recommendation for a trans reader, but it could be a useful learning tool for a cis audience. I also give this book bonus points for being the only book, to my knowledge, featuring an explicitly transgender child.

Pink is for Boys, by Robb Pearlman, encourages readers to think of colours as being for people of all genders, and to move away from the pink/blue representation of the gender binary. This book features a diverse cast of characters, including racialized and disabled youth. For me, this book is a 101 level book, suitable in particular for children who may be learning about gender for the first time.

Last but not least is Love, Z, the newest offering from Jessie Sima. Sima is the author of several LGBTQ affirming and representative picture books, including Not Quite Narwhal and Harriet Gets Carried Away. In this latest book, Z, a young robot, searches for the meaning of “love”, and along the way encounters a charming cast of characters, including a feline boat captain. Although this book is not explicit in having trans subject matter, it does have meaningful queer representation, and the main character, Z, is never gendered in this story. (It’s perfect. What I’m saying is, it’s perfect.)

From Love, Z.

Other Trans-Affirming Books for Children Published in 2018

Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O’Neill, and The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang, are middle grade graphic novels that were released this year. Both have affirming representation of non-cis characters, and The Prince and the Dressmaker was created by an author of colour. Both of these books make fantastic read-aloud stories for younger readers, as they both feature vibrant illustrations, and the former has valuable environmental messages as well.

From Aquicorn Cove.

A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, by Archie Bonglovanni and Tristan Jimerson, is a short, charming, 101-level graphic primer for adults in the lives of non-binary children or other children choosing to use gender neutral pronouns.

When I read the Gender Identity Workbook for Kids, by Kelly Storck LCSW, I found myself wishing that I had had this book as a child. This is a great workbook for children in the early reader range who are exploring the ways in which they experience gender, and for the adults in their lives. I recommend this educational tool highly.

PS, if you choose to purchase one of the books I’ve mentioned in this post, please follow one of the links. It’s an affiliate link for Amazon.com, so you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!