Black History Month Recs and a Taste of Salt

Currently reading: Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow

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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 enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

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 enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.