Femme Rebels

Currently Reading: The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

An Academic Finding…

Some regular readers may know that when I’m not book blogging, I’m a PhD student, studying social work and critical animal studies. I came across an open access academic article this week while conducting a literature search on decolonial animal studies that I would be remiss not to share here. Although I haven’t written much about erotica here on the blog, obviously it’s a huge area of literature, and something I do write about a lot is spooky books… and who doesn’t love a good monster, right? Well, if monster erotica is up your alley, you should definitely check out this 2017 academic article from the journal Humanimalities, called How to Fuck a Kraken: Cephalopod Sexualities and Nonbinary Genders in Ebook Erotica. Although I couldn’t find much about the author, Dagmar Van Engen, online, they seem to be non-binary, and have taught in the English department at the University of Southern California. If you’re out there, Dagmar, give me a wave, so I can credit you properly! This article is rad. Dear readers: you’re welcome.

Artwork by Kayla Shaggy, a Dine/Annishinabe woman of color that draws and creates comic books.

If you like the artwork featured above, you can support see more on Kayla’s portfolio site, read her comics, or support her Patreon!

Femme Rebels in my #2019Reading

I only started tracking my reading in a real way a couple of years ago, back when the 50 Book Pledge was separate from Goodreads, and I didn’t even realize that there was such a thing as like, book culture. One of the things that I really like about tracking my reading is that as I read more, themes start to pop up in the titles I’ve picked, without my even expecting them to. One of the unintentional themes that’s come up in my reading this year, especially in the YA that I’ve been drawn to pick up, has been rebel girls.

Real talk: I would vastly prefer if I was finding loads of books with representation from a spectrum of gender identities, because the “rebel girl” trope for me feels a little binary and tired. However, if I’m going to read something from the plethora of books that are out there about binary identified characters, I’m at least glad that books are challenging gender stereotypes in so many ways, and that femme characters are fierce, queer, and forming complex friendships to take down the patriarchy.

There are three books that have really stood out for me this year in terms of this theme cropping up, and they’re all 2019 titles. We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia came out in February; A Dress for the Wicked, by Autumn Krause, just dropped a few days ago; and The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett, hits shelves in October – just in time for spooky season! I also read two books earlier this year that fit nicely into this theme: Little Apocalypse, by Katherine Sparrow, which I reviewed earlier this year, and The Hollow Girl, by Hillary Monahan, which is a backlist title, released in 2017.

The Hollow Girl: Horrific Revenge Fantasy

I’m going to write briefly about The Hollow Girl, because it is backlist, and because I read it really early on in 2019, but I haven’t written about it on this blog before. I actually read it in one sitting on a plane ride. It was at a time this year when I was filled with frustration about many things, but in particular about one of my partners’ ongoing divorces from an abusive and manipulative ex, who was treating everyone involved in her life with my partner terribly. It was triggering a lot of things in me to go through that experience – memories of my own past with my long-term abusive ex not least among them, as well as memories of the rape I experienced in my early 20’s.

The Hollow Girl was the revenge fantasy I needed, and it was incredibly cathartic to read. This book is a rad horror story about feminine rage in the face of sexual assault, with excellent, positive Welsh Roma representation. CW for violence, murder, and gore. Welsh Roma representation. It’s a heartwrenching book, and not an easy one to stomach, especially on a plane surrounded by strangers and stale air, but it’s also a book filled with dark magic and creepy grandmother mentors. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, I would recommend this book to any femme who can stomach it.

Rebel Girls

The other three books that I wanted to look at more closely are not horror titles, although some of the content in these YA dystopian titles is uncanny enough so as to be chilling. All of these books are stories of oppressive societies with polarized upper and lower classes, and the feminine characters that use their individual privilege in an effort to reject social norms and resist structural forces that marginalized the vulnerable members of their societies.

I’m going to come out and say this early on, and loudly, as someone for whom Margaret Atwood’s writing was very formative in my own education about activism and injustice: Since Margaret Atwood’s disappointing, apologist behaviour in the face of the sexual assault and harassment issues that came up in the CanLit community in 2018 (eloquently detailed by Zoe Whittall, author of The Best Kind of People in the Walrus), I no longer recommend her books or media based on them to my customers at the book shop. I am happy to say that any of these YA titles would make a great alternative read or curriculum replacement for The Handmaid’s Tale.

We Set the Dark on Fire is the first book in a trilogy that was released earlier this year, with the second volume coming in February of 2020. The author, Tehlor Kay Mejia, is queer and Latinx, and the book is a powerful #OwnVoices coming of age story set on the fictional island of Medio, featuring an undocumented MC who is learning how to be an activist and a rebel while living her life under the enemy’s roof.

The only thing that truly disappointed me about this book is that from the prologue and the lore of Medio, I was really excited for this author to dig into the radical storytelling potential of the world that she had created where triads, rather than couples, were the norm as heads of household. Even though this was presented as an oppressive, faith-based, polygamist structure, as a consensually non-monogamous person, I was curious where the author would take that. There are so few works of fiction where non-monogamy is portrayed in a non-toxic way, and I was curious if that would be explored at all in this book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Fortunately, the book is super queer, and although I’m not a huge romance person, I was glad for that.

I loved that the author sprinkled Latinx culture and language throughout *We Set the Dark on Fire*, but I was surprised at how quickly it felt to me like a novel about a literal war, rather than a symbolic or internal struggle. The pacing of the story really picked up near the end of this volume, though, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. CWs for physical violence and war-like conflict, alcohol use, sexual harassment.

I would describe A Dress for the Wicked as Project Runway meets The Hunger Games. There are lots of things that I loved about this book, which is a classic country-mouse-turns-city-mouse tale about a rural girl who gets a chance to compete in a high-profile fashion competition in a dystopian society where fashion is everything. As someone with a vivid visual imagination, the writing was a perfect level of poetic and descriptive, and the ending was emotionally satisfying for me as a reader. Although it’s described as romance, that’s not the focus of this book. I actually found it to be a bit queer bait-y, since there is no LGBTQ2S+ representation, but the plot centres on several richly portrayed feminine characters, who have a lot of depth and mystery. The lack of queer rep felt like a bit of a missed opportunity here.

In a lot of ways, I would have been more interested in A Dress for the Wicked if the heterosexual love interests hadn’t been introduced at all, since the relationships that were most important to the narrative and most interesting to me were the nuanced friendships between the women. The other things that I loved about this book are that there really aren’t any CWs necessary, it stands alone, and it has a hopeful ending. I often joke that I’ll consume any media as long as there’s pretty dresses… well, if this is you, you want this book, because it’s one that you can feel good about on multiple axes.

The one note that I should make here, because I read an advance copy of this book, and I’m not sure if it was changed for the final edition, is that there was one moment in this book that made me raise a serious eyebrow. In chapter 7, the author includes a line that is a real dig about consent culture around kissing (“If there is anything less romantic than being asked if someone may kiss you, I don’t know what it is.”). It’s hugely problematic, and completely unnecessary. I hope that it was revised before the final version was released? If you are a reader and you got your hands on the published version – fire me a message from my Contact page, and let me know!

Last but not least is The Grace Year, which is an Indie Next pick for Fall 2019. Unlike A Dress for the Wicked, this book does get dark fast, and there should be a big CW for physical violence, as well as a trigger warning for anyone who’s #Exvangelical or who has endured abuse in religious contexts. One of my goals this year was to read more fiction and non-fiction about religious right extremism, and I will probably feature this book in a blog post specifically about that at some point. That said, I could not put this book down – and I’m not the only one. The book has already been optioned for film, even though it hasn’t hit shelves yet.

I read this one on a plane, too (2019 has involved a lot of travel for me), and I tore through it. The Grace Year has a bit of a gender-bent Lord of the Flies feel that’s a commentary on the Christian religious right in a dystopian setting. Especially for educators, this book addresses so many of the themes in The Handmaid’s Tale, only they’re updated for a 2019 context, and as far as I know, the author hasn’t recently defended rape culture, which is a plus. This book has some queer representation, and a super empowering ending that made me bawl my eyes out. In public. On a plane. And contrary to We Set the Dark on Fire, even though this book isn’t literally about consensual non-monogamy, it did give me warm and fuzzy compersion feels.

Of course, I would be remiss to review four books in one blog post – five if you flipped back to read what I previously wrote about Little Apocalypse – and not to say that the one thing that stands out in common among all of them to me is that despite the fact that they are all books about resistance, struggle, fighting social norms, overcoming oppression… they are all stories that are essentially devoid of any non-binary content. It’s great to see queer content trickling into some of these titles, but it would be so cool to see non-binary and/or trans MCs in some of these rebel titles! I’d have even taken a genderfluid best friend, or a trans girl sidekick… this is a great opportunity for an author to get in and fill this niche. Although these books are fabulous, I’m ready for the book about the trans rebel who leads us to progressive revolution.

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.

#2019Reading Update

Currently Reading: Songs from the Deep, by Kelly Powell

Dear Reader, 2019 has been a wild ride so far. As I’m writing this, we’re about 1/3 of the way through, and I wanted to take a pause to sum up some of the things that have been going on for me and my reading this year. Additionally, I’ve been chronicling my #2019Reading through that hashtag on Twitter – find me @saskeah, and give me a wave! There’s also a book review buried at the end of this post – so if you’re interested in what I thought about SLAY, by Brittney Morris, you can skip all my early chatter, and check that out at the bottom.

eReading

A huge thing that’s happened to me this year is that I started eReading. As someone with very limited income, I debated the decision to buy an eReader a lot – and finally, I purchased a Kobo on sale early this year. I purposely chose the Kobo because I didn’t want an Amazon product, and because I could purchase it through Indigo, the big Canadian book store chain (à la Barnes and Noble). Mostly, though, Kobo now links with Overdrive, the library access app, which means that it is dead simple to withdraw library eBooks on your device.

I primarily invested in the Kobo in order to access low or no cost books. As a blogger and bookseller, I have access to ARCs through Edelweiss+ and NetGalley, if I have a device to read them on, and because of the Overdrive app on Kobo, it’s easy to borrow library books as well. I didn’t know how I would feel about the eReading experience – because I work at an indie, I read exclusively in hard copy before this year.

It turns out that with a Kobo, I read way more. I can read more easily in low light or when my eyes are tired, I can carry multiple titles with me so I can switch what I’m reading to suit my mood and mental capacity, and I can DNF books that I’m not feeling with no financial risk. It’s easier on my body, and the eInk is easy on my eyes. In short: eReading. So accessible. Also, a little bit nostalgic. When I have a really good book and no early morning plans, I love being able to stay up late and read in low light past my bedtime. It makes me feel like a little kid again.

Seriously, yall. My Kobo has become my security blanket. Whenever I leave the house, I can take as many books as I might need with me – something for any mood, so many backups, things I might like to share – and it doesn’t make my bag any heavier. My Kobo comes with me everywhere. It’s the best little robot friend.

My one complaint, and this is an industry gripe, so feel free to gloss over this bit if you’re not knee deep in publishing, but I wish that more publishers would produce ARCs in epub format. I so often receive eARCs in PDF formats that are virtually or literally incompatible with a Kobo. I think it’s clear to most people in the book industry that it would be preferable if Amazon didn’t have a full on monopoly, so it would be nice to see folks in the industry not cater quite as blatantly to Kindle users.

New Things I Want to Discover

No matter how much I read and learn, there are always more things I feel like I don’t know but want to discover. This year, I’ve been trying to get back into SFF, for example, after a long hiatus because of my own mental capacity for processing worldbuilding-heavy stories. One of the things that has really helped that is discovering Nine Star Press, a small New Mexico based press that publishes LGBTQ+ titles, and has released two SFF titles this year that have both impressed me and eased me back into the genre – Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow, which I’ve already reviewed, and The Soulstealers, by Jacqueline Rohrbach, which I’ll review down the line. I also decided to focus some of my reading in 2019 on learning about far right Christian culture in the United States, and I’ll be writing that up in a post in the future as well.

However, two things have emerged that I’m interested in reading more of that I’ve never really explored before. First of all, cozy mysteries, which I had never even heard of until this year! I’ve been skulking around Cozy Mystery.com to get some ideas for what I should read to explore this genre – but I’m also very open to suggestions!

I’m also wide open for recs by your favourite Australian authors. I picked up The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, by Felicity McLean earlier this year, in part because the publicity copy said that the book was “quintessentially Australian” – and I realized that I had no idea what that meant, and no idea if I’d ever even read a book from Australia. And that seemed ludicrous. After loving the Van Apfel Girls (and also deeply not understanding some of the cultural elements of the book!), I’d like to see what else I’m missing!

DNF All The Things!

Something else I’ve been doing in 2019 is DNF’ing. A lot. Often.

I realize that being able to do this is somewhat of a privileged position to be in. I access most of my books for free, and almost all of them at deeply discounted prices, because of my roles as a bookseller and blogger. I also access a lot of books through the library. But either way – I’ve come to peace with it. As I’m writing this, I’ve finished nearly 40 books this year, and I’ve DNF’d 18. I’ve even given up on my long-standing cardinal rule of reading at least 100 pages of any book, to give it a chance.

You know what? There are so many books in the world. If something doesn’t feel good to read and you have no other reason for wanting to read it? Just don’t! Read something different!

SLAY

The cover of Slay, by Brittney Morris.
Do you eat meat?

I was pretty stoked when I got approved for an ARC of SLAY from Edelweiss+. The pub copy bills it as Ready Player One (although a Goodreads user comped it to Warcross, and I think that’s more on point) + The Hate U Give, plus it was blurbed by Nic Stone. It’s a debut YA from author Brittney Morris, with a breathtaking cover design by Laura Eckes, who can be found on Twitter @iamturtlecat.

Probably, nobody needs me to hype this book. Not only was it not written for me, but it was also named by Entertainment Weekly as the YA debut they’re most excited for this year. But I loved it so much that I needed to gush about it, at least a little bit – especially since I don’t think most reviews will mention that there is Black trans representation in this book. It’s a side character whose plotline is heart wrenching, but there are not enough BIPOC trans characters out there yet, and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I realized that there would be in this gem that will likely be very widely read. I think a lot of readers will find mirrors and windows in this book that they won’t find anywhere else.

This book drops in September, and is available for pre-order now. Don’t sleep on this, particularly if you’re a fan of Angie Thomas, or an educator. Morris’ protag, Kiera, is a smouldering Queen of Black Girl Magic, and by this time next year, I’m pretty sure she’ll be SLAYing alongside Starr and Bri. I’m not a Black reader, but from my experience burning through this book in one sitting, it’s fast paced, it’s extremely well-written, it has characters that are highly relatable, and I learned a lot from it.

In an action-packed story with speculative elements, SLAY tackles serious social issues like gun violence, intergenerational relationship building, intercommunity struggles, and cultural appropriation through an accessible and magnetic (slightly near-future) contemporary drama. It interweaves elements of Black diasporic history and current culture in what essentially is a simple story about a young girl, and her video game.

It’s time for this white blogger to step back, but I’ll leave you with the completely extra book trailer that Simon Pulse created for SLAY, if you’re not already convinced that you should be calling up your local bookshop, and asking them to order this in for you, right now. Happy #2019Reading!

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.

2018 Trans Affirming Picture Book Wrap Up

Currently reading: The Wicked and the Divine vol. 2: The Fandemonium, by Kieron Gillen
Image is part of an illustration, showing a black child wearing a headdress made of ferns and a town tied around their waist, with a hand in the air, smiling.
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.

Image is an illustration of a rainbow of chimera animals, all holding each other, and looking happy. A speech balloon reads "exactly!" in rainbow letters.
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.

Image is of a little girl putting on a headband with a unicorn horn, and a unicorn watching her. Text reads, "Today, I'll be a unicorn. I'll have a tail and a magic horn."
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.)

Two pages from Love, Z, in which the robot goes through his nightly bedtime routine, wondering "What is love?"
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.

Panels from Aquicorn Cove, in which one character gives another a necklace. The character asks, "Er, if I wanted to come back, without falling overboard this time...", and the second character responds, "Here, wear this into the water, and the Aquicorns will guide you to me."
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.

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2018 In Review

Currently reading: Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

One of the things that I’m really lucky to have access to in my bookish life is Book Riot Insiders, a community which gives me access to some great resources. One of those is a channel of rad book bloggers, who have offered me some great support in getting started out. I am charmed to have been invited to host the year-end tag post for #BookishBloggersUnite, and the theme that was chosen was a 2018 wrap up! 

For the past several years, I have made it my goal to read 50 books. In 2017, I made it to 41. The last book that I read that year was for a queer book club that I was part of at the time, and it also wound up being the most read book in the Toronto Public Library system that year – a pretty impressive feat, given that TPL is the largest library system in all of North America. The book was Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Margaret Thien. I closed out my reading year crying my eyes out over its final pages.

In 2018, I finally surpassed my goal of 50 books. I hope to review and write about many of them in the upcoming year. However, since this is a new project, I thought it might be interesting to offer some information about what I read. For me, 2018 is particularly poignant, because I took a lot of time off of school this year for personal reasons, and had more downtime to play with. I feel like the books I chose this year were really my choices, and say a lot about me as a reader, and probably as a bookseller, as well.

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.