Currently Reading: Our Symphony with Animals, by Aysha Akhtar
Every time I look at the list of titles by trans authors or featuring affirming trans content that are coming out this year, and realize that there is no possible way that I could read or review them all, my heart just swells. There’s a lot in that stack now. As is more typical, from my perception, there are a few adult literary fiction titles, there are some memoirs, and the list of trans YA titles is getting longer and longer every year. It’s amazing.
That said, they’re not all the perfect book for me. In this post, I’m going to touch on five books that are coming out soon or have come out recently, but unfortunately, I’ve been DNF’ing a lot this year. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m reading more than I have in the past, or if it’s because I have less attention span when it comes to reading things that I don’t immediately connect with. That said, I’m glad that these books exist as choices in the world, and I hope that other readers check them out! I’m going to end with my most positive review, so stick with it…
Although Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale is a memoir, I was impressed that it explores the intersection of multiple identity labels in such a thorough way. The title and cover alone, for anyone who’s familiar with sensory sensitivity, was a great nod to the content of the book.
I received an eARC of Uncomfortable Labels through NetGalley. This book piqued my interest because one of my partners is queer, autistic, and transfeminine. I, too, am queer, have some neurodivergences that resemble autism spectrum experiences, and am trans. The same partner also has experiences with MDMA, and introduced me to roller derby… eerily, these are also topics that Dale dedicates chapters to.
Here’s the thing: this is a great book! The downside of it being so relevant in my life is… I basically didn’t get anything novel out of it. The upside of it being so relevant in my life is, I’m so glad that someone wrote this book. If you look at the reviews that already exist on Goodreads, you’ll see that lots of readers are learning a lot from it.
I’ve accepted that this one wasn’t written for me. I’ve learned a lot about the identity experiences explored in this book from years of living alongside my partner and learning from zir, and from parallel experiences in my own life. But for cis or neurotypical readers, this book is a gem. It’s clear, it’s thorough, and it’s extremely vulnerable. There is so much that makes this a memoir worth reading. Uncomfortable Labels comes out in July, and is available for pre-order now. CW for detailed descriptions of bullying, mention of substance use, and exploration of biomedical diagnostic processes.
Some Girls Bind, by Rory James, was released in February of 2019. I received an eARC through NetGalley.
This book is a format anomaly. First, it’s a novel in verse – growing in popularity, this format is still coming into its own in the world of YA lit. Second, this book is Hi-Lo. This is a format that’s written with a high or mature interest level, but at a lower reading level. Typically, Hi-Lo books appeal the most to high school students who are developing literacy skills, adult learners, or mature students learning English as an additional language. I will champion Hi-Lo books any day, because they are super accessible, even though they often deal with more involved subject matter than other books written at an introductory reading level.
That said, because this is a book with a genderqueer protagonist, and this is an author who is unknown to me, I wanted to do some digging. There is very little information available about the author of this book. The only bio I could find was from the publisher, West 44, and it reads,
Rory James is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She holds degrees in creative writing, English, and political science. Rory now teaches test prep classes to high school students. Inspired by her own experience with gender issues, Rory hopes to reach the many young people with struggles or questions of their own.from West 44.
…so I approached this book with some skepticism, since it appears to me to be a book written about a genderqueer character by a cis woman author.
Unfortunately, my skepticism was relatively warranted. Although I wasn’t offended by the content of this book, I was disappointed. The verse in this novel is exceedingly simple, and I think that the quality of the writing was a hindrance to the plot. Although it was intended for a younger audience, I would be quicker to recommend The Moon Within by Aida Salazar, which I have reviewed previously, than this title. That said, I think that this book may still have its place in an educational context, and I hope that teachers and librarians will consider seeking both books out.
I finally discovered Yoon Ha Lee earlier this year, and I was so excited to see a trans author of colour writing sci fi that folks around me were just loving. I eagerly checked Ninefox Gambit, an adult title, out from the library, despite the fact that it’s been a minute since I read Serious Science Fiction. I started reading it without knowing much more about it beyond the fact that it had a trans author. Unfortunately, I was quickly overwhelmed by the technical aspects of the book, and that it was so focused on war. Other readers encouraged me to check out Dragon Pearl, since it’s a YA title, and is based a little more on mythology, and less on math.
Unfortunately, I gave this book my obligatory 100 pages, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that books based on war in space, no matter what the context, may not be my jam. That said, the writing in this book is precise and unique, and the author’s expertise in the genre shines through. The mythological aspects of the book were fascinating, artistically portrayed, and totally enjoyable, and from the first pages, the main character charmed me.
I would recommend Dragon Pearl to any sci fi fan, or a kid who is into science, math, or mythology. It seems like a great book, and I think that every trans or gender creative kid should have the opportunity to have books like this in their hands, as examples of what really accomplished and skillful trans folks are doing out in the world. This book is reviewing well, and my bookshop colleagues and customers are loving it. And I mean, listen, with Rick Riordan behind it, this book is basically selling itself. It’s available for purchase now.
It was actually kind of a struggle to get an ARC of Zenobia July, and I am extremely grateful that the generous author, Lisa Bunker, was willing to facilitate getting one into my hands. This is Bunker’s second #OwnVoices middle grade book featuring a trans MC, her first being Felix Yz. And Bunker herself is a powerhouse – on top of being an accomplished author, she also does political work and had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting (I am a HUGE public radio fan). Yall. I wanted to love this book so badly.
Listen – if I was an eight year old, I probably would have. But again: this book just wasn’t written for me. A lot of what Bunker wrote in terms of gender really rang true to my experiences with transfeminine youth and partners who I’ve had who are trans women. I loved the affirmative parenting of older lesbian aunts. The story feels contemporary and relatable for a younger audience. But I just couldn’t get into it.
I tried to dissect why that is, and I think that compared to other middle grade titles that I’ve loved, the writing is a little bit plainer on the page, whereas I tend to lean more toward more poetic prose when I’m reading works intended for younger readers.
That said, I would put this book in the hands of any young reader, likely from age 8 or so onward. It’s an accessible read, and it would be a useful book for an adult involved in the life of a trans youth as well. I so appreciate the existence of this book – like all of the books in this post – even if it’s not something that I could really dig my own teeth into. This book is available for pre-order now, and will release at the end of May.
AS PROMISED, I end this blog post on a high note, with Rebecca Podos’ The Wise and the Wicked! I was so fortunate to receive an ARC of this book through Edelweiss+, and I even held off for months reading it because I was so looking forward to it. As you can tell from the photo above, even my formerly feral kitten bb loved it!
Podos has an impressive pedigree. Her first novel was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016, and her second was a Lambda award winner in 2018. I anticipate that this book will be no less lauded, if it gets the attention that it so deserves.
The Wise and the Wicked is one of the best YA I’ve read this year. It’s a contemporary story for older teens that deals with friendship, romance, navigating complex and multi-generational family bonds, family history, and struggling with moral ambiguity, all based on captivating Russian folklore.
As I would expect from an author who holds a recent Lammy, this book is an #OwnVoices title featuring fantastic and nuanced queer representation, and although Podos is cisgendered, it also has impressively affirming and accurate transmasculine representation. I loved about this rep that the transness of the character played a role in the plot, but wasn’t the central feature of the character themself.
Anyone who likes a spooky read, with a nod to a culture that is infrequently written about in North American titles, is going to love this book. If you’ve been captivated by recent titles such as House With Chicken Legs (Sophie Anderson) or Finding Baba Yaga (Jane Yolen), this book is definitely up your alley. It’s available for pre-order now, and will release on May 28th. Call up your local indie: you will not regret it. (CW for sexual content and substance use.)
AND, if you’ve made it this far in this mammoth blog post, I have two easter eggs to share from book Twitter. One, Podos dyed her hair to match her book cover. HOW RAD IS THAT.
Also, my cat really did have feelings about me reading The Wise and the Wicked, and the full photo documentation can be seen below.
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