Book Review: “Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology”

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Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology (edited by Hope Nicholson) was suggested to me by a co-worker and I was thrilled when I heard the premise – stories that sit in the middle of a Venn diagram of science fiction, Indigenous, and queer themes. Hitting even two of the three at a time is impressive, but the stories are also mostly Canadian (!) and some are even femme-centric (!!!). There are big names like Richard Van Camp and new voices like Gwen Benaway, and all contributing authors are Indigenous.

Each story varies considerably as to how heavily sci-fi, queer, or Indigenous themed it is and I didn’t feel like any aspects were forced into the stories. I read a lot of science-fiction short stories and I find the genre, like some queer fiction, thrives in short story format because the length means some exposition has to be eradicated. Concepts like interplanetary travel or gender transition are not new things for the narrator, so the story and the characters are able to shine.

Colonization and objectification of bodies are common themes in Indigenous and queer literature, but also in science fiction. Notions of Indigenous nationhood and identity tend to be framed historically rather than in the future tense, and it was refreshing to read such explicit depictions of Indigenous characters outside of stereotypical environments. When you actually read the words of Indigenous or queer (or both!) people, there is both a universality of emotion as well as insights that you will not get with non-Indigenous or non-queer writers. Love is beyond stereotypes as well as body, space, and time.

Stand-outs for me were: Perfectly You, by David A. Robertson, Legends Are Made, Not Born, by Cherie Dimaline Néle, by Darcie Little Badger, Transitions, by Gwen Benaway, and Valediction at the Star View Motel, by Nathan Adler. I would have happily read a full length novel of Néle, and Transitions is a stand-out introduction to Gwen Benaway.

Some similar titles to seek out are: Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (various contributors), Walking the Clouds: an anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction (edited by Grace L. Dillon) and mitêwâcimowina: Indigenous Science Fiction and Speculative Storytelling (edited by Neal Mcleod)

 

Ginny Landry is Métis and Swedish, and does library work on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories in the Lower Mainland of BC.

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Book Review: Goldie Vance

Sixteen-year-old Marigold “Goldie” Vance has an insatiable curiosity. She lives at a Florida resort with her dad, who manages the place, and it’s her dream to one day become the hotel’s in-house detective. When Walter, the current detective, encounters a case he can’t crack, together they utilize her smarts, skills and connections to solve the mystery…even if it means getting into a drag race, solving puzzles or chasing a helicopter to do it!

New York Times bestselling and Eisner Award-winning writer Hope Larson and artist Brittney Williams present the newest gal sleuth on the block with Goldie Vance, an exciting whodunnit adventure that mixes the fun of Eloise with the charm of Lumberjanes.

Clamoring for more female-led graphic novels (that don’t involve superheroes)? Missing Veronica Mars and her crime-solving crew? Longing for some Florida sunshine? Then get your hands on a copy of Goldie Vance, stat! This fun,  colourful, exciting mystery romp has a bit of everything – humour, adventure, danger, friendship, romance, betrayal, and a spunky young heroine with both brains and bravery.

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Goldie is a heroine readers just can’t help falling in love with – she’s smart and sassy, but also down-to-Earth and extremely likeable. Goldie knows what she wants out of life (to be a detective), and she’s willing to put in the hard work to make that happen. She has great relationships with her friends and her divorced parents, and readers will thrill along with Goldie as she grows closer to her beautiful crush, Diane.

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Goldie Vance is such an important book because it presents a lesbian relationship in a refreshingly no-nonsense way. Goldie feels no angst or anguish over her feelings for Diane, and the relationship is handled with the same sweetness as any of the other relationships in the book. It’s so refreshing for young people to be able to see a strong, confident lesbian (or potentially bisexual – Goldie’s sexuality isn’t the primary focus of the text) protagonist being the star of her own show, and having her own sweet, romantic plot-line, completely with adorable blushes.

Goldie is also a biracial character, which adds another welcome layer of diversity.

The retro setting is a lot of fun, with vibrant pops of colour, cute clothes, and gorgeous cars making this feel like a sort of modernized interpretation of Grease, but this time with a clever biracial lesbian girl detective as our lead character!

Lots of fun for tween/teen/adult readers, Goldie Vance is a hero for the modern age, with vintage style but refreshingly modern sensibilities.

Best Bisexual Books of 2016

Casey is taking a look back at 2016, sharing some of her favourite bisexual books in this post, which was original posted on Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

My Favourite Bi+ Books of 2016

2016 was a great year for diverse books, and in particular I found a bunch of great books by and about bisexual/pansexual people. These book are all either written by bi/pansexual authors and/or have bi/pansexual characters. Tell me about any bi+ books you read last year in the comments!

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

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I just finished listening to the audiobook version of this memoir, read by the author. The narrating was just as amazing as I’d expected, given that Cumming is a seasoned actor AND has a Scottish accent. What more could you ask from a narrator, really? It’s a fascinating and sometimes brutal book about Cumming’s relationship with his abusive father and how being asked to appear on a celebrity genealogy show opened up more than one can of worms in his family history. Throughout it’s lovely to hear a bisexual person talk about his life (his ex-wife, his current husband) as if it’s just all normal and no big deal.

All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor

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This is a character-driven novel about Ameera, a woman in her late twenties who’s been living in Mexico and working in the tourist / travel industry for years. Since Ameera arrived, she’s discovered she’s bisexual and enjoys having sex with (mostly man-woman) couples, many of whom identify as swingers. She’s from Hamilton, ON and was raised by a single (white) mother, having had an absent (Indian) father. She is totally lost. It’s such a joy to watch her slowly reconnect with herself and her history as the novel progresses. It’s also remarkable to watch Doctor tackle issues like all-inclusive resorts, bisexuality, swinging and polyamory, spirituality, death, and terrorism, somehow making it all work in the same book.

Corona by Bushra Rehman

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Corona—referencing the neighbourhood in Queens, NY, not the Mexican beer—is a “novel” that to me feels more like a collection of inter-related short stories about Razia, a young bisexual Pakistani-American woman, at different stages in her life. It’s beautifully written, for one thing: “Ravi was sitting in a corner, apart from the crowd. He was going back to India in less than a year, so everything he observed was for the warehouse of his mind. He’d seal the box, label it ‘My Time in America,’ and draw stories from it now and then to entertain the literary crowd in Delhi. That was the night I fell into the box.” There’s a great sense of place, character, and emotion in the book, and damn is it also really funny sometimes, even amidst sadness.

Long Red Hair by Meags Fitzgerald

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A graphic memoir about growing up in Canada in the late 80s and 90s, Long Red Hair should incite lots of nostalgia for queer girls of that generation: it’s full of fun pop culture references of the time, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hocus Pocus, Labyrinth, etc. Meags (like me) is a kid interested in spooky stuff, so there are also reference to sleepover games you may remember like Bloody Mary, séances, and dressing up as witches. Coming out is one focus, and young Meags describes the process in perfect teenage agony: “I just want to be gay or straight. Being bisexual is way too confusing … If I’m bi that means I don’t have a soulmate and I’ll never be satisfied loving just one person for the rest of my life. It’d be like … a curse.” The memoir is also a mediation on relationships and the potentials of celibacy. Bonus!: the sepia-toned art is gorgeous.

My Favourite Bisexual Women’s Literature with Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

My Favourite Bisexual Women’s Literature

“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” –Robyn Ochs

Yay! It’s bisexual awareness week! In honour of bisexual women everywhere, here are my personal favourite books featuring and/or by bisexual women.

My Education – Susan Choi

This book won the 2015 Lambda Literary award in the bisexual category, but it’s not why I love it. It’s got juicy, exquisite, wordy writing that kind of sounds like it’s 19th century and it’s a student/professor affair made anew, set in an academic context which is described affectionately yet critically. Choi pays really close attention to what her characters are doing and saying. A lot of this description of both mundane and profound events is strikingly beautiful and wise. Like here:

My youth was the most stubborn, peremptory part of myself. In my most relaxed moments, it governed my being. It pricked up its ears at the banter of eighteen-year-olds on the street. It frankly examined their bodies. It did not know its place: that my youth governed me with such ease didn’t mean I was young. It meant I was divided as if housing a stowaway soul, rife with itches and yens which demanded a stern vigilance. I didn’t live thoughtlessly in my flesh anymore. My body had not, in its flesh, fundamentally changed quite so much as it now could intuit the change that would only be dodged by an untimely death, and to know both those bodies at once, the youthful, and the old, was to me the quintessence of being middle-aged. Now I saw all my selves, even those that did not yet exist, and the task was remembering which I presented to others.

 Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution – Shiri Eisner

It’s hard to summarize my feelings about this book in a short space, and they are definitely complicated, but Notes for a Bisexual Revolution is the best scholarly look at bisexuality I’ve read. I feel like it’s a great first read on feminism as well as a primer on important feminist and queer terms. Eisner clearly and succinctly deals with a ton of stereotypes about bi people, gay/straight-washing of bi people, and the fact that bisexuality is often accused of ‘reinforcing the gender binary’ and otherwise contributing to the dominant social order. What I really loved about Notes for a Bisexual Revolution is that it put into words a lot of things I had felt and thought about bisexuality and biphobia (as a lesbian and then bi-identified woman) but had never taken the time to analyze. For example, she looks at the two myths of “everyone is really bisexual” and “bisexuality doesn’t exist” as two sides of the same coin: monosexist discourse trying to deny the legitimacy and uniqueness of bisexuality. Although I disagreed with a portion of this book, it certainly got me thinking a lot about my experiences with bisexuality and biphobia. It’s a reassuring book in a lot of ways, reassuring in the way Eisner calls Ochs’s definition of bisexuality: that it’s okay to be messy and complicated—in fact, that that’s something to be valued rather than apologized for.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me – Ellen Forney

Bisexual cartoonist Ellen Forney’s graphic memoir about her bipolar disorder is truly an amazing, beautiful book. Her sexuality doesn’t play a huge part in the narrative, but then again, it’s always refreshing to read about a queer character whose life obstacles are not related to their queerness. I loved the way that Forney looks at the intersections between art and madness and the stereotype of the mad artist that seems to have come to life in her own existence. Can you imagine a psychiatrist telling you that what you thought of as your personality is actually a mental illness? The black-and-white drawings are crisp and clear but emotional and hard-hitting. It’s funny, smart, thought-provoking, and miserable at times, but never devoid of hope. I really loved this book.

The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson

The Salt Roads is historical fiction, but it’s also many other fictional things: spiritual, fantastical, and magical. I love how The Salt Roads takes on the epic task of re-crafting space for historical bisexual/queer black women and takes it even farther than you thought it could be taken. Stretching over three continents and ranging from the 4th century to the 19th, this ambitious novel tells the story of Mer, who is a loving but hard woman and a doctor, midwife, and plantation slave in mid 18th century Saint Domingue (Haiti). Her closest support is another woman, Tipingee, with whom she was “sisters before Tipingee’s blood came; wives to each other after, even when they had had husbands.” The other non-monosexual character is Jeanne Duval, a biracial woman originally from Haiti living in Paris; she was the real life long-term lover and muse of the 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire. Both women are searching for freedom in different ways and their journeys (along with a re-imagined Saint Mary of Egypt) are really a joy to read.

How do I know anything? How is it that my arms stretched out in front of me are so pale? How to I even know that they should be brown like riverbank mud, as they were when I was many goddesses with many worshippers, ruling in lands on the other side of a great, salty ocean? I used to be many, but now we are one, all squeezed together, many necks in one coffle. 

Adaptation – Malinda Lo

I’m pretty sure this book is going to go down in history as the best bi sci-fi (or should that be sci-fi bi?) young adult book ever. It’s a tense, roller-coaster ride kind of book that keeps you up late at night wondering what is going to happen next. Not only are there government conspiracies, aliens, and X-Files type stuff happening, there’s also a bisexual love triangle! What more could you want in a book? Oh, great writing about teenagers kissing? A racially diverse cast of characters? Cliff-hanger endings? Characters openly and explicitly talking about bisexuality? Oh wait, this book has all of that too!

Kissing Amber was like falling into the sea: Her body surrendered to the pull of the tide, buoyed by the saltwater, every breath tasting like the ocean. Reese lost all sense of where the surface was. All there was, was this. Amber’s lips, her tongue, her hands stroking back Reese’s hair, curling around her head and holding her steady.

Dear John, I Love Jane – Edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre

This is a vast, encompassing anthology that has every kind of coming out story that you’ve never heard. Dear John was so important for me as someone who’s never identified with the “I’ve always known”, or the “I was a gender non-conforming kid so it figures”, or the “I fell in love with a girl when I was five” stories. It was so validating to read a book where many of the stories really felt like they could actually be about me! There’s a huge range of (white, middle-class) experience in this book. There are women who’ve only really been attracted to one woman. There are women in this book who married men in good faith, and were completely blindsided by their later (sometimes exclusive) attraction to women. There are some women who open up their relationships with men to date women. There are women who identify as bi, lesbian, queer, and some who are uncomfortable labelling or naming their sexualities at all. There is one woman who falls in love with a woman for the first time at age sixty-nine. Sixty-nine!! It was awesome to see women questioning conventional understandings of sexual orientation—that model that’s built for gay men that just doesn’t seem to do a lot of LBQ women justice.

Holding Still for as Long as Possible – Zoe Whittall

This Torontonian novel about two cis bi women and a straight trans guy is just plain old awesome. It’s a love triangle, or more precisely square, eerily involving fictional versions of pretty much everyone I ever knew in my early to mid-twenties (i.e., white, bike-riding, middle-class background, artsy, educated, FAAB queers). It’s a hilarious novel, irreverent and dark and cynical in just the right places, and heartfelt when you need a little bit of that. Whittall knows who and what she is talking about and you won’t read another book about this specific generation of queers that gets them and puts it into wittier words than Whittall. One of my favourite quotations comes from Amy, a spoiled semi-rich filmmaker who spends a lot of money to look broke and artsy, right after her break-up:

I could feel Desperation’s presence in the room, hanging around me like a stifling, wet wool sweater.  I was not going to let that bitch get the better of me.

This, and many other snippets of wisdom, made me laugh out loud, and the fact that both Amy and Billy (the other girl) are bisexual made Holding Still a really gratifying read me. It was awesome to see non-monosexual women who were part of a queer scene and navigating it. Billy thinking to herself “Quick, say something that indicates you also date boys,” after talking about her ex Maria to her current interest Josh, is exactly the kind of everyday being bi stuff that I don’t see enough of in queer fiction!

The Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch

The synopsis on the inside cover declares, “This is not your mother’s memoir.” I’m not really sure what exactly your mother’s memoir would be like, but it’s true that Yuknavitch’s book is not for the faint of heart, both in terms of content and style. Chronology opens, for example, with this: “The day my daughter was stillborn, after I held the future pink and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless tender, covering her face in tears and kisses…” Yuknavitch does not hold back, sharing intimate details about, most of all, her body: drug use, child birth, destructive relationships, abuse, swimming, and a lot of sex (with women and men). What I really enjoyed was how Yuknavitch handled such so-called scandalous material: as if it were ordinary. She is adamant that this is a feminist work, that it’s not the ‘right’ kind of book about overcoming addiction or sexual abuse, that it opposes “the tyranny of culture telling women who they should be.” In the same way that Yuknavitch refuses conventions as regards the memoir’s content, she slashes any stylistic and narrative expectations you might have and spins them around, backwards, forwards, and backwards again. While she sometimes writes a scene in a straightforward, beginning-to-end-style, she will then begin the next chapter by telling you that wasn’t exactly how it happened. No matter what style, Yuknavitch is unquestionably an extremely talented wordsmith. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

My first book came out of me in a great gushing return of the repressed.  Like a blood clot had loosened.  My hands frenzied.  Words from my whole body, my entire life, or the lives of women and girls whose stories got stuck in their throats came gushing out.  Nothing could have stopped the stories coming out of me.  Even though my hands and arms and face hurt—bruised and cut from falling from a train—or a marriage—or a self in the night—I wrote story after story.  There was no inside out.  There were words and there was my body, and I could see through my own skin.  I wrote my guts out.  Until it was a book.  Until my very skin made screamsong.

Casey is perhaps better known as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, the writer, student, librarian and booklover behind the eponymous blog.

Bisexual Fiction

Selection of Bisexual Fiction

 

In honour of Bisexual Awareness Week, here is a small selection of bisexual fiction. These books were chosen because they have either won or been nominated for the Bi Writers Association’s Bi Book Award or are a classic.

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

With the flash of a camera, one girl’s life is shattered, and a host of others altered forever. . .

In a war-torn village in Eastern Europe, an American photographer captures a heart-stopping image: a young girl flying toward the lens, fleeing a fiery explosion that has engulfed her home and family. The image wins acclaim and prizes, becoming an icon for millions—and a subject of obsession for one writer, the photographer’s best friend, who has suffered a devastating tragedy of her own.

As the writer plunges into a suicidal depression, her filmmaker husband enlists several friends, including a fearless bisexual poet and an ingenuous performance artist, to save her by rescuing the unknown girl and bringing her to the United States. And yet, as their plot unfolds, everything we know about the story comes into question: What does the writer really want? Who is controlling the action? And what will happen when these two worlds—east and west, real and virtual—collide?

A fierce, provocative, and deeply affecting novel of both ideas and action that blends the tight construction of Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending with the emotional power of Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children is a major step forward from one of our most avidly watched writers.

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.

Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; and not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere— until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca seems like Etta’s salvation, but how can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?

The latest powerful, original novel from Hannah Moskowitz is the story about living in and outside communities and stereotypes, and defining your own identity.

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya

She of the Mountains is a beautifully rendered illustrated novel by Vivek Shraya, the author of the Lambda Literary Award finalist God Loves Hair. Shraya weaves a passionate, contemporary love story between a man and his body, with a re-imagining of Hindu mythology. Both narratives explore the complexities of embodiment and the damaging effects that policing gender and sexuality can have on the human heart.

Illustrations are by Raymond Biesinger, whose work has appeared in such publications as The New Yorker and the New York Times.

Pantomime by Laura Lam

Gene’s life resembles a debutante’s dream. Yet she hides a secret that would see her shunned by the nobility. Gene is both male and female. Then she displays unwanted magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age. Matters escalate further when her parents plan a devastating betrayal, so she flees home, dressed as a boy.

The city beyond contains glowing glass relics from a lost civilization. They call to her, but she wants freedom not mysteries. So, reinvented as ‘Micah Grey’, Gene joins the circus. As an aerialist, she discovers the joy of flight – but the circus has a dark side. She’s also plagued by visions foretelling danger. A storm is howling in from the past, but will she heed its roar?

Love in The Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

Inheritance by Malinda Lo

The triangular spaceship hovered motionless in the sky above Reese Holloway’s house, as inscrutable as a black hole. It had seemed like a good idea when they were inside: to tell the truth about what happened to them at Area 51. It didn’t seem like such a good idea now.

Reese and David are not normal teens—not since they were adapted with alien DNA by the Imria, an extraterrestrial race that has been secretly visiting Earth for decades. Now everyone is trying to get to them: the government, the Imria, and a mysterious corporation that would do anything for the upper hand against the aliens.

Beyond the web of conspiracies, Reese can’t reconcile her love for David with her feelings for her ex-girlfriend Amber, an Imrian. But her choice between two worlds will play a critical role in determining the future of humanity, the Imria’s place in it, and the inheritance she and David will bring to the universe.

In this gripping sequel to Adaptation, Malinda Lo brings a thoughtful exploration of adolescence, sexuality, and “the other” to a science fiction thriller that is impossible to put down.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Nine months. Two weeks. Six days.

That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.

Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer—but can she track them down before they come for her?

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.

Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.

Have you read any of these titles? Are there any great bisexual titles you’d add to our list? Let us know in the comments below!

Thoughts: If I Was Your Girl

Blogger and writer  originally posted this essay on the children’s literature blog The Book Wars. It is reprinted with permission and thanks.

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Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself … including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won’t be able to see past it … — [X]

This year I have started being a bit of a stickler for certain kinds of diverse books i.e. books by/about people/characters whose voices and cultures are often appropriated by the (possibly well-meaning, but *shrug*) dominant peoples in the literary world. Every #OwnVoices book I read is something of a treasure. Reading authors whose experiences are reflected in their stories feels like a bit of a rebellion against the norm of treating diversity like a trend and treating real people’s experiences and stories as marketable/fashionable/fictional in the worst possible way/eventually disposable. (Sorry this has been a very forward slash friendly paragraph.)

To me, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is one of the most important #OwnVoices books that I’ve read this year, or even in the past two years. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in YA, at least, this is a first. The main character is trans, the author herself is trans, and the cover model–whose is not pictured with as a headless torso or as a sexy silhouette as YA cover designers are wont to do–Kira Conley is also trans. The story itself has a similar feel to E. K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear simply because this is a story that is both real and hopeful–not mutually exclusive, you see–but does not ignore the difficult aspects of Amanda’s story. It is an important book, I feel, both for trans readers and cis readers and that’s yet another thing that sets this book apart from other YA books with trans characters–it is not solely for the comfort of knowledge of cis readers.

Pretty much every other page of my copy of If I Was Your Girl has been folded down, but the quotes I want to talk about are mostly from interviews with Russo who, like her protagonist, is brilliant in every conceivable way. First:

A huge number of trans books I’ve read aren’t really about the trans character but, rather, about a cis narrator’s feelings about the trans character’s transition or existence, and I hate it. Maybe it’s because I’m trans, but I care way more about how the trans character feels than any cis characters. — [X]

Yes. More of this, please. I absolutely hate when a marginalized person/character has to apologize for making privileged people/characters uncomfortable. I don’t expect trans people or disabled people or anyone whose experiences are different from mine, to hold my hand, or squeeze my shoulder, or be my feminist mommy. Perhaps the most heart-breaking moment of the novel was when Amanda’s father–who is rather slow to accepting that he has a daughter–calls her brave:

“I’m not brave,” I said, smiling despite myself. “Bravery implies I had a choice. I’m just me, you know?” — (255)

So many trans people are forced to put cis people at ease because the alternative is being emotionally, verbally, and/or physically abused, or even killed–especially if you’re a trans person of colour. Being called brave is often a compliment, but here it is an incredibly twisted word to offer Amanda. This leads me to my second quote:

There’s this terrible, awful line you’re going to have to walk between compromise and marketability. The fact of the matter is that cis audiences are going to be the people buying most of your books, and huge numbers of cis people know so little about us that they’re blown away by The Danish Girl (this is the second interview where I’ve thrown this movie under the bus and it won’t be the last). — [X]

Even in publishing, there is a risk in not catering to cis readers. It’s frustrating enough for me, but I can’t imagine how abhorrent a line it is for trans writers to walk, even as they do something they love. Russo, as she says in her first quote, is determined to do more for trans readers–and it shows in If I Was Your Girl. Right from the dedication, Russo makes her intentions clear.

Now, this isn’t really a review. I’m mostly just pointing out things I’ve been considering and stuff I hope others will consider as they read Russo’s debut, but I do want people to pick this one up, so, here’s why you need to go and do just that: so much of young trans people’s lives are about survival–which this novel definitely addresses–but Amanda Hardy wants (and, arguably, gets) more out of life and that’s what makes this book as important and wonderful as it is. Definitely recommended.

The Second Mango

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Queen Shulamit never expected to inherit the throne of the tropical land of Perach so young. At twenty, grief-stricken and fatherless, she’s also coping with being the only lesbian she knows after her sweetheart ran off for an unknown reason. Not to mention, she’s the victim of severe digestive problems that everybody think she’s faking. When she meets Rivka, an athletic and assertive warrior from the north who wears a mask and pretends to be a man, she finds the source of strength she needs so desperately.

Unfortunately for her, Rivka is straight, but that’s okay — Shulamit needs a surrogate big sister just as much as she needs a girlfriend. Especially if the warrior’s willing to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other women who might be open to same-sex romance. The real world outside the palace is full of adventure, however, and the search for a royal girlfriend quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.

The Second Mango, the first entry in “Queer, Jewish, feminist author” Shira Glassman‘s Mangoverse series, is a sweet f/f fairy tail romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and which offers readers plenty of breezy fun. The characters are likeable and the story is pure “save the kingdom and get the girl” entertainment. The action takes place in a fantastic tropical kingdom with elements of Judaism woven into the land’s religion and mythology, creating a fascinatingly diverse environment. Witches, dragons, shape-shifters, and magic blend with distinct characters and feminist themes in this fantasy adventure.

The Second Mango is Glassman’s first novel, and perhaps the writing isn’t as developed as it might be, but the characters and the story definitely make this a title worth picking up. There are plenty of delightful elements that create a unique and enjoyable story, in particular Glassman’s willingness to break free of traditional story tropes. Stereotypes are turned on their heads by the sweet and girly lesbian heroine who enjoys dressing up in pretty things, and by the straight female protector who is tough and taciturn. The two main characters are women who are neither love interests nor rivals, and who are able to work together and form a close bond based on mutual admiration and eventually respect. The heroine also has food allergies – something that many readers will be able to relate to, but which doesn’t often feature in novels.

Fun and character-driven with a neatly packaged happy ending, The Second Mango is pure entertainment, which is something that’s desperately lacking in LGBTQ novels, especially for young people. Why shouldn’t LGBTQ characters have exciting adventures and happy endings? Coming-out stories and tales of struggle and challenge are vitally important, but so are romantic stories, and fairy tales, and comedies, and swashbuckling adventures – the same kinds of stories that have featured heterosexual and/or white characters for generations. Truly diverse literature means having stories that present LGBTQ characters as multifaceted entities whose lives are defined by more than their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Be sure to check out the children’s literature blog The Book Wars for an interview with Glassman, in which she talks about her writing process and inspiration.