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!

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!