Feature Interview with Author Chana Porter

Currently Reading: In Restless Dreams, by Wren Handman

On Being a Lit Agency Intern

I think I’m confident enough in my new position to announce publicly now that at the beginning of this year, I accepted an offer from Toronto-based literary agency The Rights Factory for a six-month contract as a literary intern and assistant. Although it means that I am suddenly very busy, and my TBR has grown three sizes this holiday season, I couldn’t be more overjoyed. It’s my first foray into working in the publishing business from starting out as a bookseller over two years ago… and it’s something that I’ve wanted and hoped for a lot.

I’m also completing doctoral studies in critical social work right now, but my role in that field has been in research for the past several years, and my main source of income (despite my bookshop job!) has been as a freelance researcher. My hope, as I slowly finish my PhD, is to put all the skills I’ve gathered over my years as a counsellor, researcher, bookseller, and blogger to cumulative use to help support authors (my actual heroes tbh) in their careers, and play my part in producing some really good books.

Over the next six months, I’ll make periodic updates about my internship, and everything that I’m learning. One of the resources that’s been incredibly helpful to me in my new role has been listening to as much of the Print Run Podcast as I can over the past few weeks. When I got asked to manage some of the TRF agents’ schedules for the upcoming London Book Fair? I was so glad that I’d listened to the Print Run episode that Laura and Erik did about their experiences there last year. I would have been so in the dark otherwise. Shoutout to them, for producing such great content for new professionals in the industry.

2020 Reading Challenge Update

I wrote in my 2019 year in review post that one of the reading challenges I’ll be doing this year is the FOLD Reading Challenge, hosted by the Festival of Literary Diversity. I’m thrilled to be on the planning committee for the festival this year, and to be contributing to this challenge! My picks will be featured on the FOLD blog in October, but I’ll be participating all year long. If you decide to participate, give me a shout, I’d love to follow your progress.

This month’s picks are from Audible, the sponsor of the challenge, and the theme is audiobooks by an Indigenous author. I think that this is a genius challenge, because although Indigenous literature is really having a good cultural moment right now, I don’t think that Indigenous lit is where most people’s instincts take them when they consider audiobooks, unless that is the primary way that they consume written media. From my experiences in the bookshop where I work, I think it’s a common misconception that Indigenous literature is necessarily heavy, political, and serious – and often, historical. Although I would contend that a lot of Indigenous literature is powerful, there are lots of Indigenous books that would just make the commute to work a little more pleasant (I know that’s when I consume most of my audiobooks).

If you’re looking for a super engaging Indigenous title to listen to, I would suggest…

  • the suspense-packed Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice, a chilling post-apocalyptic speculative novel.
  • Louise Erdrich’s family-friendly middle grade alternative to Little House on the Prairie, The Birchbark House
  • the fever dream of an audio experience that is queer Indigenous throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth
  • Cherie Dimaline’s multiple award-winning YA sci fi novel, The Marrow Thieves

…which should all be available for free through the Libby app using your local library card, or you can support your local independent bookstore (or mine! Another Story, in Toronto) by purchasing them through Libro.fm.

The Seep, by Chana Porter

The cover of the book The Seep, by Chana Porter. Hands reach out from flowers and what appear to be bones on a black background.

I closed out my 2019 reading year with Chana Porter’s debut novel, The Seep, a gently unsettling dystopian speculative featuring a trans woman protagonist. The world is so ready for genre books featuring trans MCs, yall! I read this book a couple of weeks after losing one of my dogs to cancer, and I had been struggling with reading after such an emotional experience. This book was the perfect distraction, and strangely, the perfect balm for my grief and complicated emotions around loss in this disaster capitalist world.

The Seep is about the arrival of a benevolent alien presence on earth, who slowly becomes dominant through their desire to heal humanity. It is unique and precious, while managing to poetically move through several impactful themes, including things like identity, racism, cultural appropriation, art, transformation, rebirth, death, and the end of the world as we know it. I was rapt while reading it, and I was so honoured that author Chana Porter was willing to chat with me about her work. She was so sweet and generous to talk to, and I’m happy to be able to share some of our conversation here.

Feature Interview: Chana Porter on Writing Outside Your Identity, Mentorship, Gender, and Bears

A stylized photo of Chana Porter, looking upward, arm reaching up. Theatre curtains frame the image. The background is foliage with flowers.
Photo by Peter Bellamy for the Playwright Portrait Project.

Note: All of the photography featured throughout this post is curated from artists on Unsplash, and reflects the themes of Chana Porter’s novel The Seep.

emmy: The Seep totally bowled me over. I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to give it some extra exposure and tell people how much I loved it. I’d love to hear more about why you chose to write your main character, Trina, as you did. It’s obvious that all the aspects of her identity play key roles in the messages of the book. Still, it takes a lot of work, research, and care to write skillfully outside of your own experience, and I think that you achieved that. What was that like, and what were your reasons for making that choice?

Chana: When I began writing The Seep, it was an epic novel with shifting multiple points of view. Trina and her journey was a major aspect of the narrative, but she was one of 3 or so main characters. As I worked, it eventually became clear that Trina’s story was the most heartfelt and compelling. I shaved off the other plot lines and focused on her. (The UK edition of The Seep will have the boy from the Compound’s point of view included as a bonus short story, which is fun for me. I cut a lot of things that I loved!)

I wanted to write a butch trans woman character for a lot of thoughtful metaphorical reasons, which I will get into, but first and foremost, I wrote the kind of character I wanted to spend time with. She has a kind of swagger. She’s a bit of a brooder. She’s tender and passionate and a little gruff.

So Trina is a trans woman, and a butch woman. Her gender identity is distinct from her gender expression. Being a woman is not about wearing lipstick (no shade on lipstick, I like lipstick). That was the first thing I wanted to celebrate in the creation of her character. Secondly, gender identity is meaningful to Trina, and she is wary of the way people use The Seep to change their faces like they were changing outfits. I also liked the idea of people giving Trina guff for being so old-fashioned because she doesn’t want to modify her body. I wanted to show that she felt in alignment with her gender, in both expression and identification, and didn’t need to change anything. I also wanted to show that she didn’t want or need to “look cis” now that it was possible with the wave of a Seep wand.

A monarch butterfly partially emerged from a chrysalis.
Photo by Bankim Desai on Unsplash.

Trina is also Jewish and Native American.Years ago, N.K. Jemisin gave a lecture one summer at The Octavia Project, a free science fiction summer camp I helped create, where she described how when the European colonizers came to our shores, the diseases and violence that they brought to Indigenous peoples were the equivalent of an apocalypse. She cautioned our teens that when writing about apocalypse, don’t lose sight that many groups of people have experienced something similar already.

I think this is also true when writing about utopia, particularly because The Seep wishes to heal all wounds. We must witness and value past trauma. We also must acknowledge and celebrate what was here before, and is still here.

A feminine figure crouches in some foliage, face partially obscured by shadows.
Photo by Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash

One of Trina’s surnames is Oneka, which is a Mohegan name. This aspect I crafted from research. The Mohegans are based in central southern Connecticut. In early drafts, it was made clear that Trina and Deeba used to live together in Brooklyn, so I first narrowed it down graphically. Then I located her ancestry there because tribal leadership for the Mohegan people is often passed through the maternal line, and they are known for their deep knowledge of herbal medicine, as well as hunting and fishing technologies. I liked the idea of Trina as an artist and healer, coming from a beautiful and specific tradition, which is very much alive today.

As for the Jewish aspect, my family is partially from Pale of Settlement. It used to be part of Russia, now it’s Lithuania, and the Jewish culture that thrived there is gone. It is a place that no longer exists. I was also interested in this– what happens when a place loses its memory? My character YD explores this idea further. But everyone is grappling with something that was meaningful to them which is now gone. Pina the Bear is no longer really a bear. There is a grief and loss there too.

A set of disembodied arms reaches out from behind some foliage, embracing it.
Photo by Will Cornfield on Unsplash

emmy: You mentioned working with Rachel Pollack as your thesis advisor. Was The Seep a product of your MFA and your work with Rachel? I’m curious what the conversations that you had with her were like, what that process was like for you. What advice might you give other authors who are involved in or seeking mentorship around writing inclusive and diverse work?

Chana: I went to Goddard College specifically to work with Rachel Pollack (great low-residency MFA program, highly recommend). I first learned about her in my study of tarot and Kabbalah, as she’s an expert in both. Then I stared reading her novels, and I knew I had to learn from her. Everyone, GO READ RACHEL POLLACK! A very different version of The Seep was my thesis. It was her metaphysical scholarship and fraught, spiritual science fiction that drew me to her, but of course the way she writes about gender is part of that draw. So it was fortuitous that Rachel is an older trans lesbian (a tryke, as she lovingly puts it), like Trina. But also, because my book takes place in the future, Trina’s character is more my peer in age than Rachel’s, and grew up in a different conversation about gender than Rachel did. I remember writing an early scene (that didn’t make it into the final book) where Trina and Deeba first meet and fall in love. Rachel wrote this comment in the margin, something like, Oh my, if only it could be like this. Rachel blazed the trail for us. We had a lot of rich conversations about identity. She also made me get more specific about anything spiritual, so it wouldn’t read like wishy-washy mumbo-gumbo.

A black and white image of a newborn baby, arms and fingers outstretched.
Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

I am a queer person who is in community with a lot of trans and GNC people (I identify as a bisexual woman ray of light ☺️). And because of my own questions around gender and identity, I’ve been reading people like Kate Bornstein and Judith Butler (or trying to) from when I was a wee thing. Two of my dearest friends, who were also deep readers of early drafts of The Seep during the 7 years I was writing it, actually transitioned during that time period. I couldn’t have known that two of my closest friends and trusted readers would transition while I was writing this book. But also, it makes sense. Because part of why we found each other and loved each other was because we were all gender outlaws. It was a long conversation we were all having together, for many years.

emmy: I’d love to talk more about your own process with gender, if that’s something you’d be comfortable sharing a bit more about, both with me and with the blog. I know it’s a complex question! The ways that people choose to identify and the ways that people see their genders sometimes feel very different to me. Language and identity and the ways that they are co-constituted or not can get messy. There are lots of ways that people expand their gender conceptualization and gender expression that exist sort of outside of these labels that get thrown around all the time. If you wanted to talk a little bit about your thoughts on your own process with thinking about gender, I’d love to make space for that, and would be interested in hearing more.

A pale, slightly monochromatic feminine figure stands against a backdrop of very large foliage.
Photo by Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash

Chana: Okay, I will try to distill down a major conversation of my life into a few short paragraphs! From when I was very little child I thought I was not a girl. I heard the word “hermaphrodite”, which we now call intersex, before I heard the word lesbian, and I thought that this was my big secret. I imagined that I was slowly turning into a boy, and that everyone would be very upset. Partially, I was drawn to the work of Rachel Pollack because she writes about the archetype of the golden hermaphrodite in world religions. I’m very compelled by an all encompassing gender, a totality of gender. That feels more whole to me– angelic, in fact. I have written several plays for theater that explore these ideas. Most people I am attracted to are gender outlaws in some form or fashion. I present as a woman, and I use she/her pronouns. I experimented with using ‘they’ in a few contexts and it did not bring me any comfort. When I feel too pinned down to one identity, I feel trapped. I have been a wife. I’m now a sort of step parent— my partner has two young children. One of them called me ChanaDad on a whim, and I LOVED it. I do not feel like a man– I am not a man. But I don’t want to be anyone’s mother. ChanaDad gives me a freedom that I like.

I like getting femmed up, in a dress and lipstick, and going out to dinner. This always feels like a kind of performance, a costume. And I enjoy it. But when those trappings become a uniform, I feel oppressed. Likewise, I dated a woman in college who would not let me shave my legs. I loved having hairy legs (I don’t have demure body hair), but one day I mentioned wanting to be smooth for a while again. She was livid. I didn’t have the words at the time, but I wanted to say something like, Hey, I stopped shaving because I don’t like being told how I need to look to be accepted. It’s not my problem if my body offends or confounds you. It’s my body. What could be more personal than that?

An image of a white person with red lipstick, snake eye contacts, and green scales airbrushed onto their cheek. Their hair is bright yellow and long, wrapped around their neck in a braid.
Photo by MAFFITI / Merily on Unsplash

I have never understood or identified with most things we are told women should want– but is this gender? Or is it patriarchy? I love the feminine, and I wish to enlarge and embrace it, rather than belittle or reject it. Did I identify with male characters more as a young reader because they were written to be witty, mysterious, and interesting? If I had Trina to read as a younger person, I think I would have fantasized about being this swaggering butch. Not being Jordan Catalano or Brandon Walsh, which I did instead. I actually think that there are as many gender identities as there are people. But I’m traveling through the world as a cis woman, and I want to own that identity, with its myriad privileges and traumas.

emmy: A final question. I just loved Pina. By far my favourite character in the book, and as someone who’s on the autism spectrum, I found the ways that Pina talks and the role that she plays so relatable and charming. I would love to hear more about her. Why did you make her a bear? What role did she play for you? Is her affect intentional, or was it just a creative choice? Whatever you feel like sharing about her, I’d love to hear about it.

An image of a bear looking upward beyond the camera.
Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash.

Chana: I’m so glad you loved Pina and that her speech spoke to you— she is also my favorite. I’m also a person who stutters, and for this reason the cadence of my speaking voice is particular. So I also relate to Pina, in this way.

I CANNOT wait for the audiobook to come out– I can’t wait to see what Shakina Nayfack (who is so brilliant) does with Pina (and YD)!

I created a bear character because of Rachel Pollack, that genius. In an early draft, I had a human character transform into an animal (a dolphin, actually). Rachel’s note was something like– why is this so human centric? What would happen if an animal, say a bear, was transformed by The Seep? I tried it a few ways– I wrote a version where Pina was a human with a bear consciousness, which was fun to write, and then I rewrote her as a bear because I visually enjoyed that more. She is actually a little bit like my grandmother– she wants to feed you, she’s no-nonsense, she is very sweet but sometimes sounds mean. She slams a plate down, and it means I love you.

The cover of Temporary Agency, by Rachel Pollack. Depicts people walking through the streets with giant heads wearing ornate helmets on posts in the middle of the roads.

I wanted to say thank you so much to Chana Porters for this rich and thoughtful interview, and also offer a couple of recommendations on her behalf at the end of this post. Unfortunately, Chana’s plays have yet to be published, but fans of The Seep should make Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack the next book on their TBR!

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.

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