Final Fall 2019 Previews

Currently Reading: A Place called Perfect, by Helena Duggan

This post is in part a news update, and then I have two more exciting fall books to talk about! First, I want to talk about Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In The Dream House, that comes out in November, and then I will talk about the Canadian launch of Naomi Klein’s newest book, On Fire, which is already on shelves.

Blog Redesign

It’s coming! For those of you who don’t know, I’ve commissioned an incredible artist, Bill Underwood, who also goes by Ice, to create some beautiful work so that this space will reflect more about who I am, and what my blog is all about. It’s going to be spooky and delightful, and I can’t wait to show it to you… AND share it with you. Ice has graciously agreed to let me create some small tokens of my appreciation for followers of this blog featuring some of their artwork, so keep your eyes on my Twitter account when we get closer to the relaunch for the chance to snag some spooky literati swag…

Image is of a spooky cat. The body of the cat is purple and has skeletal-style shadows over its body. Two front legs are visible, as well as a thick tail that branches into two ends. The top half of the cat's face is a skull.
A preview of some of Ice’s final art for this blog!

Non-Binary News and Reviews

If your identify is part of the non-binary umbrella, and you want to give your work a little boost next month, mark your calendars for October 1st, which is the next #IAmNonbinary day. If you are not non-binary, it’s a great time to be an active ally. Peruse the hashtag, boost non-binary creators, and drop a little cash to those who need it if you can!

Thank you to Almost, Almost for posting some great ARC reviews of trans and/or non-binary books recently! They/Them/Their: A Guide to Non-Binary and Genderqueer Identities, by Eris Young, is a new book that was released on September 19th. Much of the content is UK-specific and the book trends a little toward the dense side, but it’s an interesting new resource to have on hand. You can read a full review of this book here.

The cover of They/Them/There: A Guide to Nonbinary and Genderqueer Identities is on the left. The title is purple text on a vibrant yellow background. The cover of Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You is on the right, the letters are in the colours of the trans pride flag on a charcoal background.

Trans+, by Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne is a broad sexual and relationship education text intended for teenagers. It includes references to additional materials, as well as #OwnVoices materials supporting the provided information. You can read a full review of this book here. Thank you again to Almost, Almost for providing such thoughtful reviews!

Useful Databases

There are so many people putting together great resources to support members of the literary community these days. I wanted to share two here. One is the Aromantic and Asexual Characters in Fiction database. This is a resource that is particularly useful to those interested in underrepresented groups under the LGBTQ2S+ umbrella. The other is the New Adult database, which is still in development. As it grows, this database will be an index of books that would otherwise be classified as “late YA” or “YA/adult crossover titles”. These books feature characters and themes relevant to those in the 18 to 29 age bracket and/or lifestyle bracket. This is a genre that has traditionally faced a great deal of stigma in publishing, and thus NA books can be difficult to find for the readers who find them relatable (like me!).

In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House is the much-anticipated memoir of Carmen Maria Machado, following her feminist horror fairytale collection that was released last year, Her Body and Other Parties. Machado’s memoir tells the story of a prominent queer relationship in her life that was extremely abusive, and seems to have affected her deeply. It is also a book that plays with narrative style and genre, each chapter playing with a different literary form – including my favourite, the choose-your-own adventure book.

I have never read a memoir like this one. It was artistic and captivating, as well as deeply relatable and in that way, chilling. This was a book that rippled through me. I read it shortly after reading Machado’s short story collection, and in many ways, that was extremely satisfying. It felt as though I understood more deeply some of the ways in which Machado had used her experiences as inspiration for some of the stories in Her Body and Other Parties after reading this book.

I was in awe of this rich, devastating book. I am so grateful that it exists, and it seems like with this work, Machado was able to articulate experiences that are underrepresented both in literature and also in sociocultural conversation. I would recommend it to anyone, but particularly to people who are of the opinion that abuse only exists in relationships that include men. CWs for abuse perpetrated by a woman (physical, emotional, sexual).

On Fire, by Naomi Klein

On the left, the cover of Naomi Klein's new book, On Fire. It is a red cover with yellow text, where the word "fire" is represented by the flame emoji. The subtitle reads, "The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. The author's name is in white text below. On the right is a popular image of Klein, a white woman with brown hair, looking directly into the camera. She is against a grey backdrop, holding her glasses in her hands, and wearing a black jacket over a pink shirt.

I didn’t preview On Fire in my last post about CanLit because I don’t know that I have anything to say about Naomi Klein and her work that hasn’t already been said over and over. However, the shop where I work in Toronto, which happens to be Klein’s local indie, was the book vendor for the Canadian launch last night, and when I left feeling inspired and touched after the event had ended, I knew I needed to say something.

I have been a fan of Klein’s work since Shock Doctrine, and the first time that I ever heard her speak was in 2016 at an event raising funds for families of MMIW, where she delivered a speech about Bella Laboucan-McLean. You can listen to Bella’s story as told by Klein, with music from Cris Derksen, here.

Since then, I had the pleasure of seeing Klein regularly, when she came into Another Story, often with a plate of pasta from Roncesvalle Italian eatery Alimentari, to sign copies of her books, and to pick up something to read. I’ve definitely missed my encounters with her since she took a position at Rutgers as the Gloria Steinhem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies. She was always humble, charming, warm, and sharp to interact with. She was no different at last night’s launch, which began with a video that Klein was involved in about the Green New Deal that left me in tears.

“I think hope is something that we earn,” Klein said early on in the evening, when she spoke about having spent the day conversing with the Canadian media. Admittedly, I came to the event assuming that I would leave feeling incredibly sad. I was impressed by Klein’s ability, after so many years in climate activism, to remain positive and motivated. She pointed out that she gets asked often how she can remain hopeful, and I appreciated her reframing of this idea throughout the evening.

The theme of Klein’s launch was undeniably one message: that climate activism is urgent, and that it must be intersectional. “We can each put the devil’s advocate questions to each other, and it is all just a massive waste of time,” she said, speaking about Canada’s centrist media, Jonathan Franzen’s recent article, and the distractions of conservative politicians in the climate dialogue.

Despite Klein’s many mentions of race, gender, and other aspects of intersectionality in climate justice, I would be remiss not to make a note that in her acknowledgements, I was disappointed to hear one of my most admired authors make a mention of Judy Rebick on the microphone at the AGO, as one of the activists who paved the way for Klein’s work. Although Rebick has undeniably made a huge impact in Canadian activism with her second wave feminist work on reproductive rights, and as founder of Rabble.ca, she has also maintained a trans-exclusionary stance throughout her life in the public eye. To assert that activism must be intersectional, but to overlook these problematic views feels antithetical.

Even as someone who follows the news around climate justice and global warming, I learned a great deal from Klein’s Q&A with Democracy Now’s Ishmael N. Daro, including but perhaps especially about a valuable voting resource as we approach Canada’s upcoming federal election: Our Time. Klein asserts, and I must agree, that our best case scenario for the upcoming election is to vote very strategically to achieve a Liberal minority government, in which Liberals are forced to make alliances with the NDP and Green Party.

The cover of No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, a plain grey cover with black text. The title is small, and the author's first name, GRETA, is the largest text, at the top of the cover.

One resource which Klein failed to mention during her launch that I would recommend especially readers who can’t make the commitment to read Klein’s longer works, is the new short book by youth climate justice leader Greta Thunberg, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference. I would also recommend Kai Cheng Thom’s new book, I Hope We Choose Love, to Klein and readers who enjoy On Fire. I reviewed it in my post two weeks ago. It feels to me as though Klein and Thom are definitely working in similar theoretical spheres with their philosophies for the future.

An excerpt from On Fire, which is available now, can be read here. I would like to close this post with Klein’s closing words from her launch, which were, “What scares me most is not the weather, it’s how people can turn on each other if we don’t invest in infrastructures of care.”

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.

Can’t Lit Fall Previews

Currently Reading: Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha

Not to throw shade (except kind of really to throw a little shade…), but there is one Canadian book that has been getting some serious buzz this fall. And guess what? I don’t think it’s the most exciting CanLit that’s being released this season! Not even close. Let me tell you about what I DO think is the most exciting CanLit being released this season…

Empire of Wild, by Cherie Dimaline

The cover of Empire of Wild: A Novel, by Cherie Dimaline. The cover also notes that the author is the same as the #1 Bestseller The Marrow Thieves. The image is a mostly desaturated image of a green armchair sitting in the middle of a forest clearing.

I work at Another Story, an indie bookshop in Toronto’s west end. The year that I began working there was the year that Cherie Dimaline’s YA Indigenous speculative fiction novel The Marrow Thieves took the world by storm. When I chewed through it in one sitting, the cover was fresh and bare. Now, the cover is littered with medallions representing the awards that this title has won since its released, so much so that they nearly obscure the art. By the time the winter holiday shopping season rolled around, we were literally having cartons of this title delivered by hand from our distributors at the last minute to keep up with customer demand.

I was working at the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton in 2018 when I learned that Dimaline had secured contracts for four more books after the success of the Marrow Thieves, and on September 17th, the first of those will be available to the public. Empire of Wild is, like Dimaline’s last book, an Indigenous speculative fiction title, this time written for a mature audience. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on an ARC of this book.

I wasn’t disappointed. Much like when I read the Marrow Thieves, it took me a few chapters to really get into the pacing. As a settler reader, I sometimes find myself challenged by this aspect of Indigenous storytelling, but the more Indigenous lit I spend time with, the more that I am growing accustomed. Taking the time to get into the rhythm of brilliant books is always well worth it.

In Empire of Wild, Dimaline skillfully weaves her Métis heritage into a politicized, suspenseful narrative that centres around a woman’s search for a missing partner, the damage that Big Oil does in Indigenous communities, and the rougarou – a Métis mythical creature that calls to mind an anthropomorphic, demonic wolf.

CWs for this book include murder, other violence, possible abduction/abandonment by a family member, extreme right religious content, and substance use. It is an adult title, and it doesn’t pretend to be for a YA audience. I would definitely recommend this book. Is there any more enjoyable way to learn about social justice issues than through delicious, #OwnVoices storytelling?

If you are a settler and pick up Dimaline’s work, and then want to learn more about Indigenous issues, there are some great resources and books that can be read as follow up – including Billy-Ray Belcourt’s fall release, NDN Coping Mechanisms, which I recommend later in this post.

Other resources I would recommend are the final report of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the content produced by Idle No More. Some non-fiction titles that would be fantastic follow up include 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, by Bob Joseph, Seven Fallen Feathers, by Tanya Talaga, Heart Berries, by Therese Marie Mailhot, and A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, by Alicia Elliott. Last but not least, if you can’t get enough Indigenous speculative fiction, I can’t recommend Jonny Appleseed enough, by Two-Spirit author Joshua Whitehead.

I Hope We Choose Love, by Kai Cheng Thom

The cover of I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl's Notes from the End of the World, by Kai Cheng Thom. A red flower with a yellow and red centre on a black background, with white lettering.

Kai Cheng Thom is one of the only authors whose work I savour. From her insightful articles and essays to her picture books, Thom’s writing is some of my favourite. She has an advice column in Xtra, and her recent essay on the legacy of trauma within queer communities has been resonating with lots of folks online. From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea is one of my all-time favourite, gender-affirming picture books to read with children and adults alike, and Thom’s artwork is sumptuous and vibrant.

I’ve read, re-read, and been repeatedly brought to tears by her poetry collection a place called NO HOMELAND, but I’ve actually held off on reading her fictionalized memoir, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, which got some buzz recently since it was Emma Thompson’s Shared Shelf pick in March of 2019. I couldn’t bring myself to read it, because Thom didn’t have any other books, and I didn’t want to have read everything she’d published! I was so excited when I heard that Thom had a new project in the works, and now the wait is almost over, since her new collection of non-fiction essays, I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World, will hit shelves on September 24th.

Heartwrenchingly, I find myself hesitant about this new collection. It is beautiful, and brilliantly written. It is thought provoking, and that Thom brings a perceptive, and well-informed analytical lens to the issues that marginalized people face surviving the current political climate together. I would never hesitate to recommend any of Thom’s work (this collection included) to another reader, but I wondered even reading the title if perhaps our paradigms had diverged too far in recent times for me to find Thom’s newest work meaningful for me personally in the same way that I had her previous publications. Am I too cynical? Am I too white? Am I too hopeless? Am I too immature? Am I too angry?

I saw red flags that led me to believe this book was not for me. In the first chapter, Thom referenced works that make me deeply uncomfortable, for example, Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is Not Abuse, which is a deeply problematic work that can be used to gaslight victims of harassment. Thom also criticized “call out culture” or “cancel culture”, when I am of the opinion that if cancel culture’s existence isn’t a myth entirely, people often use this rhetoric when what they really mean is “consequences.” Yet, when Thom outlined her political views, I found nothing objectionable, and so I decided to proceed with caution.

Whatever it is about me and my social location, or about this political moment, I struggled with this collection. The format alternates between essays and poetry, and while much of the poetry reached me in a way that felt reminiscent of NO HOMELAND, the essays did not. They’re accessible and well-articulated, and I was often right there with Thom, until about three quarters of the way through. At some point in each of the essays, I found myself taking pause.

There was a conversation on Twitter recently about how instead of describing the written work of a marginalized person as “important” or “urgent”, we should be approaching these works as requiring “urgent listening.” I hold Kai Cheng Thom in great esteem, and while the conclusions drawn in this book are difficult for me to agree with, it is a book that I think warrants urgent listening, and probably for me, revisiting. I would definitely recommend it to fans of books like Emergent Strategy, by adrienne maree brown, and it may just become my alternate recommendation when folks come into my shop for Conflict is Not Abuse. In the meantime, me and my rage are looking forward to savouring Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars in the not-too-distant future.

NDN Coping Mechanisms, by Billy-Ray Belcourt

The cover of NSN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field, by Billy-Ray Belcourt. The cover notes that the author is the winnter of the Griffin Poetry Prize. The image is a person with long, dark hair, wearing a black shirt, set against a backdrop of dry, tall grass or wheat, and a pale, clear blue sky. The person has their hands folded as if in prayer in front of them, and the hands are bound together with white fabric. They are holding a piece of wood that looks like a dried, dead tree, with a hole positioned over one of the person's eyes. The wood obscures the rest of the face.

I was honoured to be able to attend the Toronto launch of this book as one of the staff of Another Story, who are the book vendors for the literary events held at the Art Gallery of Ontario. As Belcourt himself noted during his talk, the event was very well-attended, and I spent the majority of my time behind the bookselling table admiring the spectacular beadwork and other Indigenous jewellery that so many of the people in the diverse crowd seemed to be wearing.

In my doctoral studies, I cite Belcourt’s work on animality in decolonial thought constantly these days. He is one of few Indigenous scholars based in colonial Canada who has written academic work in this area, and since I study working animals using an anti-racist and decolonial lens, his work has been invaluable to me. Because I had yet to read Belcourt’s Griffin-award-winning poetry collection This Wound is a World, I was intrigued by this new work consisting of both scholarly theorizing, as well as poetry.

The event, like the book (title pronounced N-D-N Coping Mechanisms), was varied in both tone and intellectual register. The book is a gripping commentary on the paradoxical horror and beauty of Indigenous queer life in colonial Canada. Belcourt noted that the book had already made the CBC Books Bestseller List for its first week out – but had, strangely, been placed in the fiction category.

Belcourt was joined at the AGO by fellow Indigenous author and scholar, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who asked questions ranging from how Belcourt conceptualized success and envisioned his responsibility to future Indigenous queer authors, to probing for details about the men that Belcourt writes about in his new book. Belcourt himself joked about being born in the 90’s and thus having too short an attention span to write a novel, and also mused about who the anthropological object of his creative work was. I simultaneously enjoyed the evening, and felt (appropriately) like a complete outsider. At times, the conversation was theoretically challenging for me to keep up with – and I say that as a fifth year PhD student. I was both awed, and at times, a little lost. Both Belcourt’s and Simpson’s readings of excerpts from the book made me shiver.

There were a few moments in the evening that were particularly poignant for me. When asked why he writes, Belcourt responded, “I don’t know how else I would deal with all this shit.” As someone who has been eyeball-deep in affective scholarly work for the better part of my adult life, this was deeply relatable to me. In some ways, NDN Coping Mechanisms appeals to me as a work precisely because of this. I am interested and often validated when I have the opportunity to read about the experiences of other marginalized people who have found creative ways to cope with the state of the world, or who cope through content production.

I was also charmed and impressed when Simpson inquired whether Belcourt suffered from imposter syndrome, and he replied, “Maybe it’s just my generation’s thing of being like, I know I’m amazing!” The audience laughed, and Belcourt paused before continuing, “I know what I bring to the table.” As a bookseller and a member of the literary community, if I could have one wish for all Indigenous people, it would be that they all feel this kind of confidence in their work. Indigenous literature is certainly having a cultural moment right now, one that I hope will have a lasting effect on the literary scene in our colonial nation state, and I hope that Indigenous creators can all be aware of just how much they bring to the table.

Lastly, and to make reference back to some of my complicated feelings about Thom’s I Hope We Choose Love, Simpson mentioned during the launch that some of Belcourt’s lines of poetry would stay with her forever, and I think that the one that she mentioned is a good place to end this recommendation of Belcourt’s NDN Coping Mechanisms, which is available for purchase now. He wrote, “Revenge is more decolonial than justice,” something which feels equitable and firey and powerful to me. Simpson therefore asked herself, and Belcourt, and I think that it is a good question for everyone in the Canadian literary community to consider: what does revenge look like in CanLit?

Other Fall Books That Just Can’t Lit

…and if two books won’t be enough to stock up your TBR this fall, there are lots of other Canadian releases you should know about, for readers of all ages. These are some of the ones that I would recommend:

  • One Drum, by Richard Wagamese, October 19th
    Political non-fiction, Indigenous author.
  • On Fire, by Naomi Klein, September 17th
    Political non-fiction.
  • From Where I Stand, by Jody Wilson-Raybould, September 20th
    Political non-fiction, Indigenous author.
  • Breaking the Ocean, by Annahid Dashtgard, available now
    Memoir, Iranian-Canadian author.
  • Pickles vs the Zombies, by Angela Misri, September 21st
    Middle grade dystopian.
  • Angry Queer Somali Boy, by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali, available now
    LGBTQ2S+ memoir, POC author.
  • Hustling Verse, various authors, available now
    Poetry, authors are sex workers.
  • African Canadian Leadership, various authors, available now.
    Political non-fiction, POC authors.
  • I Promise, by Catherine Hernandez and Syrus Marcus Ware, available now
    Picture book, LGBTQ2S+, POC authors.
  • Blanket Toss Under the Midnight Sun, by Paul Seesequasis, October 22nd
    Photography, Indigenous artist.
  • We Three, by Markus Harwood-Jones, available now
    YA with polyamory and LGBTQ2S+ representation.
  • In My Own Moccasins, by Helen Knott, available now
    Memoir, Indigenous woman author.

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.

Fall Preview: Music and Monsters

Currently Reading: NW, by Zadie Smith

I am super lucky that for this upcoming season, I was gifted some amazing (and in some cases, very high profile) ARCs, either for the purpose of screen reading them to see if they’d be a good fit for the bookshop where I work, or for review. Some came directly from incredibly generous publicists, and others came from the shop’s hardworking sales reps. Others came from Edelweiss+ or Netgalley. EITHER WAY, for the next couple of months, I’m going to do my best to share the wealth and feature some of these hot new titles in this space.

If you’re interested in my own personal reading, I stumbled across this read-a-thon that’s too perfect for me to pass up! It’s called the #VillainAThon, and I’ll be participating until the end of October. It’s my first ever read-a-thon! (When do I get my merit badge?) I’ve paired the information about the #VillainAThon with a fall preview that would be a perfect fit!

Before I get to these great ARCs, I stumbled across a new resource recently that is incredible. Compiled by Ray Stoeve, it’s the YA Trans Ownvoices Masterlist – a list of all the trans, young adult lit that is written by trans authors. Check it out, and if you like it or find it useful, please remember to show your appreciation through ko-fi.

High School, by Tegan and Sara

Cover image of High School, by Tegan and Sara. Image is of two twins with long, thick hair, standing back to back, looking into the distance. Image is black and white, on a light gray background. Image is oriented in landscape, although the book is oriented in portrait.

I first discovered Tegan and Sara’s music when I was an unaware queer teen, living in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It wasn’t even that I was closeted, it was that I was so unexposed to the breadth of LGBTQ2S+ experiences that I didn’t know that there was queerness beyond gay, white men. I had no idea that I could be anything other than a cis, het, woman. And even so, something in their music spoke to me in a way that most other music never had. So Jealous became the soundtrack to my life overnight, and awakened something in me that had yet to be discovered.

I’ve been a huge fan of theirs since then. The Con guided me through much of my early twenties, and I can sing every word of Sainthood by heart. I’ve seen them in concert in arenas and grassy fields, and heard their music echo off the towers of the Toronto skyline during Pride. When I heard that they had a book coming out, I was so excited.

High School isn’t exactly what I expected. When I saw the previews online, I imagined a glossy, hardcover book, with loads of photos, lyrics sprinkled throughout, something abstract and commemorative – but the book is a straight memoir. While there are photos included, the book is a collection of autobiographical essays, alternating authors, that chronicles the artists’ lives from tenth through twelfth grade, in downtown Calgary, Alberta.

This memoir feels very CanLit to me. Written in a chronological timeline, the stories are set on a backdrop of cold, Alberta winter days that turn the skin of the white authors’ knees purple through their ripped jeans, and freeze car batteries. There are stories of weekends spent in Jasper, and shows at the Saddledome. The anecdotes that Tegan and Sara tell are also very 90’s throwback. I think any white, middle class, Canadian Millennial who picks this up will find something relatable in the ambling stories of twins who troll Value Village for striped sweaters, write long notes to their friends, and fight over the telephone.

I almost felt like this book was told in two parts. Tegan and Sara before music entered their lives, and after. *High School* is the story of three tumultuous years, and the first half of the book is an exploration of budding queerness, the complex relationship that exists between twin sisters and their adolescent friends, and (CW) more alcohol drug use than I expected. For me, it was honest, complicated, and relatable. While I enjoyed reading Tegan and Sara’s musical origin story, the second half of the book focused much more on their fledgling career. I wished that the themes of the first half had bled a little more into the later part of the book.

Now having read the whole thing, I’m glad that I did, and I would recommend it to fans of Tegan and Sara’s music, CanLit memoir fans, or young queer Canadians still learning about their identities. The one burning question that I felt the book left unresolved for me – and maybe this is petty – is how “Sara and Tegan”, used throughout the entire text of the book, became “Tegan and Sara”?!

*High School* comes out on September 24th, and is available for pre-order now. Peripherally, Tegan and Sara’s new album, “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” comprised of songs unearthed while working on writing the memoir, will drop on September 27th. If you’re a fan of their older music like I am – I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about this new album, and I could be ready for a nice nostalgic Spooky Season this year. If you haven’t seen the preview video for the new album, you can watch it below, and get hyped for all this fresh Tegan and Sara content…

Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

Cover of Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi. Letters of the title are large and blocky, filled with cream-coloured feathers. They are set against a map of a neighbourhood in purple and cream. In the foreground stands a young Black girl in pajamas and slippers, holding a large feather in her right hand.

…cue the gushing. I’ve written about Emezi before on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that when I heard they had another book coming out, I was immediately eager to read it. Even with my high level of anticipation, this book blew me over in so many ways. First, when talking to one of my partners while I was reading, I described the worldbuilding in this book as setting a high bar for what the norm for books of the future should be. To begin, Pet is set in a fictionalized world, post-revolution, in a time of relative peace. Emezi takes this basic, familiar setting, and masterfully crafts their main character, Jam, and her surroundings in a way that sets a fresh standard for what diverse representation in novels should be.

Race, transness, queerness, disability, and neurodiversity all get a place to unapologetically shine in this book in a way that regularly brought me to the edge of tears. I am doing my best to be acutely aware of my privilege as a white, settler reader, as I write this next bit. I had to read Pet more slowly than almost any book that I’ve ever read, and part of the reason for that is because it was so much to take in. I was completely overwhelmed by the way that Emezi’s poetic prose and nuanced, loving character development served as both a window and a mirror for me over the course of this book.

I felt deeply reflected in this book by the implicit rejection of gender norms, the generous depictions of characters with a rich internal worlds and varying outward capacities, and the tacit portrayal of non-monogamous and queer bio and found family structures. Meanwhile, the dialogue, clothing, and foods that the characters take up through this story were a window into a racial and cultural world that both felt welcoming and nurturing, and utterly unfamiliar to me.

Emezi achieves in Pet much of what they achieve in their previous fictionalized memoir for adults, Freshwater, which is to say that it is a paradigm-shifting gem of a book, but it unfurls in a way that feels more accessible to younger readers or people who may be triggered by some of the content of Freshwater. It also feels more plot-driven – and the story itself is a wild ride about a fantastical creature that is accidentally summoned from a painting in the first few pages of the book, who challenges Jam’s perceptions of the world, but also of her dearest friendship. But I wouldn’t want to spoil it anymore than that.

Pet is exquisite, and it comes out on September 10th. It’s available for pre-order now, and I would encourage you to do that through your local brick and mortar book shop. (CW for mention of child abuse, not very detailed.)

The #VillainAThon

I stumbled across Kailey Steward’s Villain-themed read-a-thon just in time for my favourite time of the year: Spooky Season! I always read a lot of horror, thriller, and paranormal books, but I definitely try to indulge even more in my favourite genre as October approaches. Even though I’ve never participated in a read-a-thon before, I figured this would be the perfect chance, given that the bar for participation was low, and it would give me a chance to chat about my favourite kind of books with some other people who were also excited about them!

My only hesitation in participating is a feeling that’s new to me, but there are a lot of rad folks on Twitter these days who are so much younger than me! While I definitely appreciate that youth and young adults are doing such cool things and using the internet in the best ways, I’m also 31, and always a little nervous about sticking my nose in where I’m just going to be an intrusive elder. But. I decided in this case that talking about spooky books is something I’m willing to do with just about anyone, so I’m pushing my internalized ageism aside and hoping that I’ll be welcome.

If you’re interested in more details on the #VillainAThon, check out Kailey’s post about participating, and choose something from the required reading list! It’s a super accessible event, and if you’re going to participate, please let me know, so I can give you a wave on the bird site!

The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring

Cover image for Sara Faring's The Tenth Girl. Background is an ice blue, with branches and birds silhouetted against it. There are some letters and numbers indistinct in darker ink. The primary image is of a large, dark, manor house that is suspended in the middle of the cover. It fades to black and then into the background.

Kailey has put together some great recommendations for Villainous reading, but I thought that I’d pile on with one more. I read this book so long ago that I nearly forgot to write about it at all, even though it made my head spin at the time, so I’m very glad that trying to think of something to recommend for the #VillainAThon brought it back to mind. Two of my favourite spooky aspects are morally ambiguous characters, and haunted houses that become characters in their own right. This book has both of those in spades, nothing in this book is as it seems.

This book is a suspenseful, historically situated, complex horror novel, by Argentine-American author Sara Faring. It has dual narrators, which I initially had a negative reaction to, but once I read a few chapters, I had trouble putting it down. I’m so glad that I persevered. The characters and the setting of this novel are well-developed and compelling. The Patagonian setting is unique, and I would encourage educators to recommend this book to students who are interested in history, political resistance, and dictatorships in general. For someone looking for a bit of a more mature read, this would be another book that I would recommend as an alternative to Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

The plotline is extremely complex, with one of the most shocking twist endings I’ve ever read. That said, I question this novel’s categorization as a young adult read. None of the main characters are teens, and this book is one of the more chilling horror novels I’ve read this year – the scare factor is high. It works well as NA, or as a YA/adult crossover. I would recommend this book to fans of Tananarive Due’s The Good House, or Sarah Maria Griffin’s Other Words for Smoke, which I blogged about earlier this year.

Who is the villain in this book? One of the things that I like about it is that I think that many readers would give many different answers. Without spoiling the book, I’d have to say that to make that judgement, you’d have to read it for yourself when it comes out on September 24th. In the meantime, check out the Den of Geek’s interview with Sara Faring, and the book trailer for The Tenth Girl.

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.

New Trans Lit for Spring 2019

Currently Reading: Our Symphony with Animals, by Aysha Akhtar

Every time I look at the list of titles by trans authors or featuring affirming trans content that are coming out this year, and realize that there is no possible way that I could read or review them all, my heart just swells. There’s a lot in that stack now. As is more typical, from my perception, there are a few adult literary fiction titles, there are some memoirs, and the list of trans YA titles is getting longer and longer every year. It’s amazing.

That said, they’re not all the perfect book for me. In this post, I’m going to touch on five books that are coming out soon or have come out recently, but unfortunately, I’ve been DNF’ing a lot this year. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m reading more than I have in the past, or if it’s because I have less attention span when it comes to reading things that I don’t immediately connect with. That said, I’m glad that these books exist as choices in the world, and I hope that other readers check them out! I’m going to end with my most positive review, so stick with it…

The cover of Uncomfortable Labels, by Laura Kate Dale.

Although Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale is a memoir, I was impressed that it explores the intersection of multiple identity labels in such a thorough way. The title and cover alone, for anyone who’s familiar with sensory sensitivity, was a great nod to the content of the book.

I received an eARC of Uncomfortable Labels through NetGalley. This book piqued my interest because one of my partners is queer, autistic, and transfeminine. I, too, am queer, have some neurodivergences that resemble autism spectrum experiences, and am trans. The same partner also has experiences with MDMA, and introduced me to roller derby… eerily, these are also topics that Dale dedicates chapters to.

Here’s the thing: this is a great book! The downside of it being so relevant in my life is… I basically didn’t get anything novel out of it. The upside of it being so relevant in my life is, I’m so glad that someone wrote this book. If you look at the reviews that already exist on Goodreads, you’ll see that lots of readers are learning a lot from it.

I’ve accepted that this one wasn’t written for me. I’ve learned a lot about the identity experiences explored in this book from years of living alongside my partner and learning from zir, and from parallel experiences in my own life. But for cis or neurotypical readers, this book is a gem. It’s clear, it’s thorough, and it’s extremely vulnerable. There is so much that makes this a memoir worth reading. Uncomfortable Labels comes out in July, and is available for pre-order now. CW for detailed descriptions of bullying, mention of substance use, and exploration of biomedical diagnostic processes.

The cover of Some Girls Bind, by Rory James.

Some Girls Bind, by Rory James, was released in February of 2019. I received an eARC through NetGalley.

This book is a format anomaly. First, it’s a novel in verse – growing in popularity, this format is still coming into its own in the world of YA lit. Second, this book is Hi-Lo. This is a format that’s written with a high or mature interest level, but at a lower reading level. Typically, Hi-Lo books appeal the most to high school students who are developing literacy skills, adult learners, or mature students learning English as an additional language. I will champion Hi-Lo books any day, because they are super accessible, even though they often deal with more involved subject matter than other books written at an introductory reading level.

That said, because this is a book with a genderqueer protagonist, and this is an author who is unknown to me, I wanted to do some digging. There is very little information available about the author of this book. The only bio I could find was from the publisher, West 44, and it reads,

Rory James is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She holds degrees in creative writing, English, and political science. Rory now teaches test prep classes to high school students. Inspired by her own experience with gender issues, Rory hopes to reach the many young people with struggles or questions of their own.

from West 44.

…so I approached this book with some skepticism, since it appears to me to be a book written about a genderqueer character by a cis woman author.

Unfortunately, my skepticism was relatively warranted. Although I wasn’t offended by the content of this book, I was disappointed. The verse in this novel is exceedingly simple, and I think that the quality of the writing was a hindrance to the plot. Although it was intended for a younger audience, I would be quicker to recommend The Moon Within by Aida Salazar, which I have reviewed previously, than this title. That said, I think that this book may still have its place in an educational context, and I hope that teachers and librarians will consider seeking both books out.

The cover of Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee.

I finally discovered Yoon Ha Lee earlier this year, and I was so excited to see a trans author of colour writing sci fi that folks around me were just loving. I eagerly checked Ninefox Gambit, an adult title, out from the library, despite the fact that it’s been a minute since I read Serious Science Fiction. I started reading it without knowing much more about it beyond the fact that it had a trans author. Unfortunately, I was quickly overwhelmed by the technical aspects of the book, and that it was so focused on war. Other readers encouraged me to check out Dragon Pearl, since it’s a YA title, and is based a little more on mythology, and less on math.

Unfortunately, I gave this book my obligatory 100 pages, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that books based on war in space, no matter what the context, may not be my jam. That said, the writing in this book is precise and unique, and the author’s expertise in the genre shines through. The mythological aspects of the book were fascinating, artistically portrayed, and totally enjoyable, and from the first pages, the main character charmed me.

I would recommend Dragon Pearl to any sci fi fan, or a kid who is into science, math, or mythology. It seems like a great book, and I think that every trans or gender creative kid should have the opportunity to have books like this in their hands, as examples of what really accomplished and skillful trans folks are doing out in the world. This book is reviewing well, and my bookshop colleagues and customers are loving it. And I mean, listen, with Rick Riordan behind it, this book is basically selling itself. It’s available for purchase now.

The cover of Zenobia July, by Lisa Bunker.

It was actually kind of a struggle to get an ARC of Zenobia July, and I am extremely grateful that the generous author, Lisa Bunker, was willing to facilitate getting one into my hands. This is Bunker’s second #OwnVoices middle grade book featuring a trans MC, her first being Felix Yz. And Bunker herself is a powerhouse – on top of being an accomplished author, she also does political work and had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting (I am a HUGE public radio fan). Yall. I wanted to love this book so badly.

Listen – if I was an eight year old, I probably would have. But again: this book just wasn’t written for me. A lot of what Bunker wrote in terms of gender really rang true to my experiences with transfeminine youth and partners who I’ve had who are trans women. I loved the affirmative parenting of older lesbian aunts. The story feels contemporary and relatable for a younger audience. But I just couldn’t get into it.

I tried to dissect why that is, and I think that compared to other middle grade titles that I’ve loved, the writing is a little bit plainer on the page, whereas I tend to lean more toward more poetic prose when I’m reading works intended for younger readers.

That said, I would put this book in the hands of any young reader, likely from age 8 or so onward. It’s an accessible read, and it would be a useful book for an adult involved in the life of a trans youth as well. I so appreciate the existence of this book – like all of the books in this post – even if it’s not something that I could really dig my own teeth into. This book is available for pre-order now, and will release at the end of May.

Two images, the cover of The Wise and the Wicked, by Rebecca Podos, and a picture of me, looking down, holding an eReader in my hand. My cat is laying beside me, resting his chin on the arm holding the eReader.
The cover of the Wise and the Wicked, and my kitten’s attempt at interrupting my reading.

AS PROMISED, I end this blog post on a high note, with Rebecca Podos’ The Wise and the Wicked! I was so fortunate to receive an ARC of this book through Edelweiss+, and I even held off for months reading it because I was so looking forward to it. As you can tell from the photo above, even my formerly feral kitten bb loved it!

Podos has an impressive pedigree. Her first novel was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016, and her second was a Lambda award winner in 2018. I anticipate that this book will be no less lauded, if it gets the attention that it so deserves.

The Wise and the Wicked is one of the best YA I’ve read this year. It’s a contemporary story for older teens that deals with friendship, romance, navigating complex and multi-generational family bonds, family history, and struggling with moral ambiguity, all based on captivating Russian folklore.

As I would expect from an author who holds a recent Lammy, this book is an #OwnVoices title featuring fantastic and nuanced queer representation, and although Podos is cisgendered, it also has impressively affirming and accurate transmasculine representation. I loved about this rep that the transness of the character played a role in the plot, but wasn’t the central feature of the character themself.

Anyone who likes a spooky read, with a nod to a culture that is infrequently written about in North American titles, is going to love this book. If you’ve been captivated by recent titles such as House With Chicken Legs (Sophie Anderson) or Finding Baba Yaga (Jane Yolen), this book is definitely up your alley. It’s available for pre-order now, and will release on May 28th. Call up your local indie: you will not regret it. (CW for sexual content and substance use.)


AND, if you’ve made it this far in this mammoth blog post, I have two easter eggs to share from book Twitter. One, Podos dyed her hair to match her book cover. HOW RAD IS THAT.

Also, my cat really did have feelings about me reading The Wise and the Wicked, and the full photo documentation can be seen below.

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
The cover of Tanya Tagaq's book Split Tooth.
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.

A photo of Lindsay Nixon, as seen on the cover of her book.
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.

The cover of Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan.
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.