LGBTQ Community, Drag Culture, and Self-Acceptance in KINGS, QUEENS, AND IN-BETWEENS by Tanya Boteju

If you’ve been looking for a queer YA book that is really invested in the idea of LGBTQ community, look no further than debut novel Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju. So often the contemporary stories we get about LGBTQ teens are about them being the only queer or trans person they know. I loved how awkward queer biracial teen Nima Kumara-Clark’s story is all about her finding community.

Nima has a lot going on: her mom took off unexpectedly about a year and a half ago, she’s in love with her straight BFF, and she’s bored and restless in her small community. This all changes the night when she randomly encounters a small drag show at a local fair. There she meets and befriends the person who becomes her drag mentor, Deirdre, and a young queer woman named Winnow that she’s immediately crushing on. From there, Nima moves towards — while also sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back — self-acceptance, confidence, and understanding.

I loved how Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens committed to depicting the intricacies of the drag world, the first blush of meeting other queer people you might be interested in, and exploring your place in the LGBTQ community. At times this YA about little awkward baby dyke Nima really brought me back to that period in my life, which for me was the first few years I was in university. There are very few books that I can say legitimately made me feel this way, which is pretty cool!

I also loved the supportive adults in Nima’s life: her white hippie dad who is dealing with his Sri Lankan wife leaving their family, the lesbian gardener family friend Jill, and drag mentor Deirdre. So many YA novels feature adults who are totally absent and/or completely incompetent. What a refreshing change! (The only other YA book I can think of that also features supportive, present parents is Mariko Tamaki’s Saving Montgomery Solereviewed here).

tanya-boteju

Tanya Boteju – image via simonandschuster.ca

And here’s the but: the plot about Nima’s mom and the abandonment was unfortunately underdeveloped and insufficiently resolved. I get that not having everything answered and tied up in a neat little bow is realistic, but there were developments (spoiler alert: Nima’s mom comes back) that tried to develop the plotline and instead ended up muddling it more. I think it actually might have been more effective if her mom had just stayed away.

I also felt a bit troubled about the characterization of Deirdre. While I really appreciated that Nima had a queer adult mentoring her, the actual character of Deirdre felt confused. She’s constantly referred to as a drag queen but it’s also clear she presents as a woman all the time. It felt quite strange that she’s never referred to as a trans woman. I also thought she felt too much like a stereotypical performing Black drag queen rather than a real person; I don’t know, this is certainly not my area of expertise and I would love to hear the opinion of a queer and/or trans Black person on the representation!

Speaking of representation and unresolved plotlines, the character Gordon and accompanying story had some issues as well. Gordon is, to put it plainly, a homophobic bully to Nima, but also a former childhood friend and someone who appears to be struggling with a possible trans identity. When Nima becomes friends with Deirdre, she puts the two of them together to interesting results. However, this plot thread is again dropped without meaningful resolution by the time the novel ends.

One thing I’m wondering is if this book might have been better suited as a new adult story rather than a young adult one set in high school. Logistically it just didn’t make sense that an underage person would have regular access to the types of spaces—ie, bars—where the drag scene is focused. As I said, the time of my life that this novel reminded me of was my early twenties, my first few years of university, and initial coming out period. I think setting the book in a new adult context would have opened up some possibilities for investigating themes like distancing yourself from the “high school you” and making new relationships with the adults in your life now that you’re (kind of) an adult yourself.

Have you read Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens? What did you think? I’m honestly still sitting here wondering if the pros outweigh the cons. I think they do? Let me know your thoughts!

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Lesbian, Queer, South Asian, Young Adult | 2 Comments

Art, Activism, Identity, and Spirituality in Samra Habib’s WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HERE: A QUEER MUSLIM MEMOIR

I am back from an unintended sabbatical from my blog to tell you about an amazing book that I read recently: We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib. Subtitled “A Queer Muslim Memoir,” this book was one of those ones I devoured in a few short days and then felt sad when it was done, cursing myself for reading it so quickly.

Samra Habib was a new name to me when the publisher sent me a copy of this book, but you might have heard of her photography project Just me and Allah, which features photos and short interviews with queer Muslims from around the world. You might have also read her journalism in places like The Advocate and The Guardian.

Habib’s memoir is part of a growing literary collection (fiction and non-fiction) from queer Muslim perspectives. (Two other Canadian examples I know are God in Pink by Hassan Namir and The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan; the first is a novel about a gay Iraqi guy that won the Lambda award for gay fiction that year and the second is a YA novel about a lesbian Bangladeshi-American teen which I reviewed in Quill & Quire!) This is a super exciting and welcome addition to the LGBTQ canon which is still very much in need of diverse perspectives, i.e. those that are not white cis men.

The memoir moves mostly chronologically through Habib’s life. She starts with her childhood as an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, where her family had to hide to stay safe in the face of Islamic extremists. I had heard of the differences and conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims, but the sect Habib and her family belonged to was brand new to me! While Habib doesn’t go into ton of detail (this is after all a book about her life, not an educational tome on the complexities of denominations of Islam), I found this dimension of the early chapters of the book fascinating and informative.

What I loved was how Habib showed how her upbringing of having to constantly hide and pretend to be other than she was in Pakistan is carried over to her life after her family comes to Canada as refugees. The pattern of keeping secrets and lying, combined with sexism and homophobia, continues in Toronto where she feels forced for years to hide her body, femininity, and queerness.

we-have-always-been-here-by-samra-habib

image via cbc.ca

In the chapters that take place in her high school years, where she is the most hidden, she writes:

“Azaad is a funny word in Urdu. In most instances, it means ‘freedom.’ But when used to describe a woman, it implies she is too wild to be tamed by those who have the right: her parents & all the men whose honour it is her duty to prioritize before her desires. It’s also used liberally to slut-shame & put down a woman who shows autonomy or independence.

One day I would wear the title of azaad like a badge of honour.”

Her road of exploration and self-discovery is long, and there are plenty of obstacles: an unwanted arranged marriage, racist bullying, her family living in poverty, and relationships with the wrong people. She slowly, very slowly, approaches a potentially queer sexuality and the concept that her body is not a problem to be solved but rather something she can enjoy. On a solo trip to Japan, she tries out telling a man at a gay men’s bar that she is queer. He suggests she go across the street to the lesbian bar. She ruminates:

“I wasn’t quite ready for the girl bar yet. I was still processing the fact that I’d just come out to a stranger. I hurried off, as though recovering from a fall I hoped nobody had witnessed.”

Along that journey from being afraid of going to the girl bar to spearheading her groundbreaking queer Muslim photography project are many beautiful thoughts about art, activism, and spirituality.

The most moving chapter for me was when she describes finding her people—other queer Muslims; it made me cry. She writes about visiting an explicitly LGBTQ centered prayer space:

“A black trans woman in her twenties got up from the floor to give a beautiful recitation of adhan, the call to prayer. I discreetly surveyed the room to see whether anyone else shared my emotional reaction to this powerful reclamation and profound queering of the traditional call to prayer. I tried to hold back my tears—for the first time I was witnessing a version of Islam I could be a part of.”

Habib writes mostly sparingly, like a journalist, with occasional flashes of figurative writing that are all the more impactful because of their rarity. The effect is an intensely readable book.

I think my only quibble with this memoir is I wanted a little bit more in terms of character. (I’m the kind of reader who is really big on character, so this probably bothers me more than it might others). A few people in Habib’s life, like her siblings, felt very opaque; it felt strange to be reading a story of someone’s life as a young person and forget entirely that they even had siblings. Other people, like her mother, emerge as complex and fully realized. Perhaps Habib intentionally didn’t write much about certain people for specific reasons, who knows. But I wanted more!

Don’t miss this beautiful book about finding yourself and your place in the world.

Note: a few content warnings: childhood sexual assault, suicidal thoughts, unwanted teenage arranged marriage.

Posted in Canadian, Lesbian, memoir, Queer, South Asian, Toronto | 1 Comment

A Ferocious, Devastating YA Thriller: A Review of SADIE by Courtney Summers

I had already finished reading YA thriller Sadie by Courtney Summers when I looked up the author and realized she was Canadian. I am thrilled to get a chance to think and write more about this book for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian! I’m also excited to report that the book just won the 2019 Edgar Award (for mystery and thriller books) in the YA category. So very well deserved!

Sadie is an intense, heartbreaking book. It’s on the older end of the YA spectrum, and definitely a YA book that will hold appeal for adults as well. Sadie is a fascinating and gripping character. It’s the kind of novel that you’re left thinking about for a long time after you close the last page.

Sadie is a 19-year-old with nothing left to lose. She’s struggled for years to keep her and her younger sister Mattie’s heads afloat after their mom—who had drug abuse problems—left. She was doing her best to raise Mattie amidst poverty and very little support, even dropping out of school in order to be a better parent. When Mattie is found dead and her murder goes unsolved due to a lazy and botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to track down her younger sister’s killer. As I said, she has nothing left to lose. Mattie was her whole world. She doesn’t care if she makes it out of her investigation alive, she just wants answers … and revenge. As Sadie says:

“She’s dead,” I whisper and I don’t know why this is the thing I choose to say out loud because it hurts to say it, to feel the truth of those words pass my lips, to have them be real in this world. But She’s dead is the reason I’m still alive.

She’s dead is the reason I’m going to kill a man.

Sadie hits the road in her old car with only a few meager clues to follow up on. She connects with many people along the way: a cranky waitress at a truck stop diner, a fellow young woman who’s on the run whom Sadie picks up as a hitchhiker, some regular middle class high school kids whose lives are so unbelievably far from Sadie’s despite the fact that they’re the same age, and more.

You can’t help but feel for Sadie. Summers has done an excellent job in characterizing her—Sadie’s not an easy or a traditionally “likable” character (honestly, fuck that anyway) but she is so real, and so relatable. I especially liked how Sadie’s stutter was depicted—it’s there as something that Sadie has to deal with, that she knows affects people’s impressions of her, and that impacts her confidence and ability to talk with new people especially. But it doesn’t define her, and it doesn’t stop her from asking the hard questions she needs to while trying to find the answers she needs about what happened to Mattie.

My heart ached for Sadie, who is so starved for love and who has so much to give:

I tried not to think about that kind of stuff, because it was painful, because I thought I could ever have it, but when I did end up liking someone, it always made me ache right down to my core. I realized pretty early on that the who didn’t really matter so much. That anybody who listens to me, I end up loving them just a little.

I never know what to do with girls. Pretty girls. I want them to like me. It’s a strange, almost visceral *need* that settles itself inside and it makes me feel stupid and weak because I know it’s a fault line I can trace all the way back to my mother.But while the narrative follows Sadie on her journey to follow the clues to find the monster who murdered her sister, there is another story happening at the same time. The book alternates between Sadie’s story of going after the murderer and the transcript of a true crime Serial-esque podcast about Sadie and Mattie titled, aptly, “The Girls.” West McCray is a radio journalist who was working on a story about forgotten small-town America when he hears about Sadie’s story just by chance. This leads him to trace Sadie’s steps, trying to find Sadie before it’s too late to find her.

courtney summers

Courtney Summers / image via courtneysummers.ca/bio

On the surface, this is another story centred around a dead girl. One of the first lines in the podcast is: “And it begins, as so many stories do, with a dead girl.” But it’s also about the girl who still lives, who is fighting tooth and nail for the girl who died and for herself, and for all the girls. The book is also an examination of true crime podcasts that take the real life horror stories of actual people, often women and girls, and bleed them for entertainment.

All in all, Sadie is a riveting story, or rather a set of two stories that will keep you turning pages. It is excellently told in Summers’s restrained, pitch perfect writing. I need to say: this book need a strong content warning for childhood sexual abuse and pedophilia, although this is not included in a gratuitous or exploitative way. This is a ferocious, devastating book. It is bleak. But Sadie is a book worth reading. For the girls.

Posted in Bisexual, Canadian, Fiction, mystery, Queer, Young Adult | 1 Comment

Sarcastic Sex Workers and Lesbian Frog Catchers in Emma Donoghue’s Historical Novel Frog Music

I remember going to a talk by Irish Canadian author Emma Donoghue years ago at the University of Western Ontario (or so it was called then) where she discussed researching and working on her 2014 novel, Frog Music. I recall her telling a story that went something like: “Someone told me there was a mistake in my Wikipedia page. It said that the latest novel Emma Donoghue is working on is historical fiction about a frog-catching lesbian. They said, that can’t possibly be true! Then they were aghast to discover, that, yes, that was indeed an accurate depiction.” Of course, this being a book about a frog-catching lesbian isn’t really the full story of Frog Music; it is but a fascinating piece of this odd, vibrant novel.

Frog Music is at once an intriguing character study, a murder mystery, and atmospheric historical fiction set in 1870s San Francisco that truly brings the period to life. It has content and themes ripped from the headlines like her most famous (not queer) novel Room, but this time the headlines are old: from 19th century American newspapers.

Did you know it was illegal for a woman to wear “men’s clothing” in 1800s San Francisco? And that they’d actually arrest you, throw you in jail for a while, and your so-called crime would be reported in the newspaper alongside other misdemeanors? Jenny Bonnet was one such real woman that Donoghue learned about in her research. But while Bonnet was known for her unrepentant cross-dressing, she ultimately become famous posthumously when she was the victim of an unsolved murder which took place in a room she was sharing with another woman on the outskirts of the city. Check out this interview for more info on Donoghue’s research.

The novel reimagines Jenny’s life and that of the woman who was with her at her death, Blanche Beunon. Lest you’re worried that the enigmatic woman Jenny will be absent from the novel because of her untimely death: Frog Music alternates between past and present, telling both the story of the two women’s meeting and developing friendship and that of Blanche trying to solve Jenny’s murder after her death. The structure makes for a thrilling story. I will say, however, that the protagonist is distinctly Blanche, rather than Jenny, as much as we get a lot of Jenny.

emma donoghue

Emma Donoghue / image via The Irish Times

There are a few things about this novel that I really liked. The first is how richly the historical setting is created. Donoghue’s San Francisco in the summer of 1876 feels like a character unto itself, one that you know with all your senses. You can feel the smoldering humid heat of the summer, hear the burlesque songs, taste the frog legs cooked in butter, and see Jenny flying down the cobbled street on her strange 19th bicycle (one of those ones with a giant front wheel and a tiny back one). Donoghue doesn’t sugarcoat the sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia of the times, but she also doesn’t let it define the characters the injustices are affecting or fetishize them. I don’t know how to describe it except the book feels utterly of a different time.

The second aspect of Frog Music I appreciated was how Blanche is made to be neither necessarily ‘likeable’ nor ‘good’. She’s a loving but ambivalent mother, a sex worker, a burlesque dancer, a woman who likes to have lots of sex, sarcastic, and more than occasionally bitchy. She has sometimes terrible taste in men, and is frustratingly unaware of how she’s being taken advantage of by the men in her life. She has no qualms, as a French immigrant, of declaring how superior the French and their ways of doing things are. I love how angry she gets when Americans mispronounce her last name, missing the nasal “n” sound.

My third favourite thing about Frog Music was how unusual the novel’s main relationship is. Blanche and Jenny first meet when Jenny literally runs into Blanche in the street while riding her bicycle. Blanche, true to her character, is pissed and lets Jenny know. It’s a strange start to a friendship, if you can call it that. The two women quickly become entangled in each other’s lives. Jenny is instrumental in getting Blanche to wake up and stand up for herself in her relationship with her “maque” aka live-in boyfriend of a sort Arthur. But it’s hard to say whether Blanche and Jenny really like each other. They’re nothing like two 21st century BFFs. At times they feel distinct disdain for one another. There’s also definite sexual attraction between them although they’re certainly never girlfriends. I thought this ambiguity of relationship type and label was just fascinating!

I listened to this novel as an audiobook and I also have to praise the voice acting performance! Khristine Hvam, the voice performer, does a marvelous job of capturing the various accents (notably, French and American), as well as taking on actually singing the variety of music that is included in the novel. It is called Frog Music after all. If you’re at all into that format, I definitely recommend listening to this book. I found the middle of the book sagged a bit in pacing, but the audiobook format carried me through.

This is the first historical novel I’ve read by Emma Donoghue, but I’m sure it won’t be my last. Has anyone else read Frog Music, or any of her other historical books? Which other one should I dive into next?

Posted in Canadian, Emma Donoghue, Fiction, Lesbian, mystery, Queer, Sex Work | 7 Comments

“riot grrrl raised me, I’m rigorous af, and I breathe the fire of nookomis into everything I do”: A Review of nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon

nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon is the kind of book that makes you feel grateful to get a chance to peek into someone else’s mind. It’s a unique, genre-defying book that I still vividly remember despite having read it in November of last year! (Yes, I’m very behind in my reviews). I am so excited about the great stuff that Metonymy Press is putting out. See also my reviews for Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars and Small Beauty for other examples of their great unique books! 

Nixon is a two-spirit Cree, Saulteaux, and Metis writer (among other things). This is their first book, a memoir about “blood and chosen kin.” They write about: queer love and betrayal, the unexpected death of their white adoptive mother, being a prairie punk, the complex intersections of queer and Indigenous identities, and living in different parts of the prairies and the world, and more. It’s funny, sad, clever, tender, and biting. It’s fun to read, and profound and heartbreaking.

Nixon’s style is intriguing and non-hierarchical. Throughout the book there are footnotes with references, like you might read in an academic essay. (Nixon is a McGill Art History PhD student, and this is clearly one mode they’re used to writing in). But when you flip to the back to see what they’re referencing, it’s just as likely to be Missy Elliot as Judith Butler. Nixon keeps you asking as you read: wait, what is this book? I think that’s the point.

Tonally the book keeps you on your toes too. Nixon can be bitter sarcastic:

“That’s cook, K-Town—keep destroying one another over that little plot of land that the man gave you, calling it the holy land while dictating what NDNs are good enough to swim in your bourgeois waters, as if you could own the waters to begin with. Much teachings. Very tradish.”

But a few pages later, heartbreaking and sincere:

“Can my dad ever truly love me, like decolonially love me, the way my tired spirit deserves? What is corrupt love other than obligation?”

Then they can slip into academic discourse:

“Instead, my intent is to acknowledge the insidious colonial masculinities that have poisoned my patrilineal lines, turning many of my men kin from reciprocal relations into perpetrators of harm, and to describe the parts of my family’s identity that cannot be restrained by colonial law and categorizations of our communities.”

And flow effortlessly into internet speak:

“Tl;dr: the yt men in my family came looking for victims, and the Native men took what was left.”

Throughout, there is beautiful poetic writing and startling realizations, the kind that make you gasp with recognition and awakening. Like when Nixon writes:

“There’s always that yt that wants to say I’m ‘just starting shit.’ Little grrrl, I think what you meant to say was that it makes you uncomfortable that I don’t take shit and that I’m not quiet about it, when you’ve spent your whole life quieting yourself for the status quo, and now do the same in your supposedly radical queer community.”

And:

“Maybe today will be the day my roof is torn off by the prairie wind, exposing me to the open sky. I’ll close my eyes and soar into the emptiness.”

Lindsay-Nixon

Lindsay Nixon / image via metonymypress.com

This is turning into one of those reviews where I just quote and quote the book until the review is more the author’s words than mine—oops. But this is what happens to me when I read something like nîtisânak, where it’s just so much its own thing that it feels impossible to convey what it is like except by showing excerpts and saying, see, this is like this, but also like this, oh and also this. The pieces in this book are essays, stories, poems, letters—sometimes all at once. Sometimes they’re only two sentences, like in the section titled “Bitch”:

“I’m not such a man-hater. It’s just that riot grrrl raised me, I’m rigorous af, and I breathe the fire of nookomis into everything I do.”

If you’re a fan of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson‘s work, you will definitely enjoy nîtisânak. Both those writers work from their Indigenous perspectives to defy colonial expectations of form and genre to genuinely fun and profound effects. There’s also an irreverent Indigiqueer humour Nixon’s book that reminded me of Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed. (I’ve reviewed that novel too: check it out here).

All these words to say I loved nîtisânak, and I think you will too. Have I convinced you? Buy the book from Metonymy here.

Posted in Canadian, Indigenous, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Queer, Rural, Trans, Transgender | 1 Comment

Big News: No More Patreon

Hi everyone!

I’ve made the hard decision to cancel my Patreon account, effective immediately. As I’m sure some of you have noticed, my posts have been few and far between lately, and I’m very sorry for that! At the end of last year I got a second part-time library job and have been working a lot at this new job, meaning sometimes with the two librarian jobs I’ve been working 6 or 7 days a week. This has been great for my library experience and paying off my student loan but not so much for keeping up with my online writing jobs.

The blog Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian is definitely here to stay, but I’ve decided it’s not fair to my Patreon supporters and to myself and my mental health to keep the account and try to hold myself to a minimum of monthly posts. Unfortunately although I love writing about queer books online, the amount of money I make working at the library is literally like three times as much (or more) per hour on average for freelance writing. With trying to pay off my student loan and living in a super expensive city, I have to prioritize those higher wages right now!

I want to express my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has supported me for the last few years of Patreon. As a thank-you, I’d like to send each and every current Patron a free queer book! (FYI: this will be folks regardless of what level they pledge at but only those whose payments haven’t been declined). So look out for an email from me with some options for you. I will be sending a big list (with a photo) to everyone, so reply ASAP in order to get your top choice book!

Thanks so much again everyone and I’ll see you on the queer bookternet!

Posted in Patreon, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My 2018 Year in Reading: Favourite Books of the Year, Most Memorable Character, Best Cover, and More!

I love looking back on what I read the past year, don’t you? This is a kind of survey that I’ve adapted a bit from where I originally found it on The Lesbrary in 2014. If you’re not following The Lesbrary, you’re missing out on a lot of rad lesbian and bisexual women’s bookish content! And without further ado, here’s a recap of my 2018 reading, including my favourite reads of the year, most memorable character, best cover, and more!

1. Best book you read in 2018

So I find it very hard to not cheat on this question a bit, because, really, who can pick just ONE favourite? In no particular order, here are my absolute favourite reads from 2018. There’s a nice mix of YA fantasy, romance, graphic novels, mystery, and lit fic. I’ll talk about all of them in more detail further down!

my post

2. Favorite new author you discovered in 2018

Okay, this is going to have to be a tie between Alisha Rai and Courtney Milan, because I really can’t choose. Both Alisha Rai and Courtney Milan are new-to-me romance authors whose work I never would have checked out if I hadn’t decided to broaden my genre horizons in 2018 (more on that in question #3). Rai writes contemporary erotic romance and Milan writes historical romance. (Actually, Milan also writes contemporary, but I haven’t read any of those yet). Both effortlessly integrate diversity into their stories, including queer characters, people of colour, and people with mental and physical illnesses. Alisha Rai’s books made me cry, and Courtney Milan’s made me laugh. Both deliver really compelling characters and interesting, complex, believable romantic plots.

I especially appreciate how Milan’s books authentically integrate interesting contexts from the past, like 19th century scientific discoveries and fights for women’s and working class rights. I especially appreciated how Rai dealt with emotional complexities that included, of course, the romantic/sexual relationship between the main characters, but also complicated family and friend relationships. I am definitely going to be reading many more books by these two women in 2019! I’m excited about Alisha Rai’s upcoming The Right Swipe. With Courtney Milan, I think I’ll try one of her contemporaries; Hold Me (the second book in her Cyclone series) looks particularly interesting—it has a bisexual hero and a trans woman heroine!

3. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read

So in 2018 I decided I wanted to do another “new-to-me” genre project. I’d never really given romance a try—despite usually being a big fan of romance subplots in other genres—so in 2018 I solicited a bunch of recommendations for romance authors and went wild! There were some definite duds that I thought were terrible and/or reinforced for me all the negative assumptions I had about romance being poorly crafted and supporting stupid sexist gender relations (sorry Sonali Dev, Beverly Jenkins, Patricia Oliveras, Laura Lee Guhrke, and others). But on the flip side, there were many books that I simply adored and thought were moving, smart, sexy, funny, and just plain great books.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai was the first of the romances I read where I was like, wow, I might actually love this genre? It was only the second book in my romance reading project and it was a total knockout! To my admitted surprise, I ended up LOVING this book. I loved and empathized with the main characters so much. I was impressed at Rai’s talent for dealing with emotional complexities (romantic, familial, and otherwise). This book actually made me cry in TWO places! I was totally shipping these two from the beginning, and the obstacles they had to overcome were very realistic (old family business feud stuff, mostly). Both the hero and the heroine’s individual journeys dealing with old trauma were compelling stories in and of themselves too. And their relationships with other characters were multi-layered and well developed. Just all around fantastic characterization. Plus: POC heroine who has depression! Secondary queer characters! Smoking hot sex scenes! I liked this book so much I went out and bought the sequel (Wrong to Need You)) immediately. I also went out and bought my own copy later since I’d initially borrowed it from the library but felt a very strong need to own it.

4. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2018 to finally read

Since it seems like too much of a cop-out to just pick the entire genre of romance here, I think I’ll go with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. I am a MASSIVE Buffy fan, but for whatever reason—maybe that I just spend my time rewatching the series—I had never read any of the comics. This is pretty unbelievable actually, considering how long and how much I have love(d) the show.

I found them very hit or miss in seasons 8 and 9, although I did really love season 10 as a whole, which was done by a solid, consistent team of Christos Gage writing and Rebekah Isaacs drawing (with some guests). At their best, the comics really brought back the best of the show for me, especially that warm and fuzzy the gang’s all here fighting evil together and the unique combination of heart-wrenching drama (Andrew trying to bring back Tara from the dead and Willow stopping him was particularly memorable) and comedy (basically everything Spike says and does). I’m going to try and track down season 11, which for some strange reason my library doesn’t have? If you’re also a Buffy fan who’s been on the fence about reading the comics, I definitely think they’re worth the time, overall.

5. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray is the third in her Diviners series and it is, in my humble opinion, definitely the best installment so far. I really could barely put this book down; since I was listening to the audiobook, this meant I was very driven to clean my house and other usually unpleasant tasks so I could keep listening. I don’t have words for what an incredible book this was, honestly. The last time I was so enthralled by a novel was N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season; if you know my feelings about that book that says a lot. This is Bray, truly a genius storyteller, at the height of her powers, weaving a dizzying amount of plotlines featuring incredibly nuanced, diverse characters set in a wonderfully authentic and playfully recreated 1920s New York with a paranormal twist. Also: the audiobook performance by January Lavoy is, I think, the best I have EVER heard. When I say diverse characters, I mean it: this book has gay, black, Jewish, Irish, Chinese, asexual, disabled characters, and more! Starting this series at the beginning with The Diviners is definitely worth your time.

6. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2018

This is also the most unique and weirdest and most suited to the book cover of a book I read this year: Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another book cover that so strongly says QUEER TRANS HARD FEMME, just like that, in all caps. The details—check out the wrinkles on the hands, the lightning coming from her fingers, and the index finger nail ring— and the pink and purple colour tones are all just perfect.

fierce-femmes-final-full-res_with-stickers

7. Most memorable character of 2018

EVELYN MOTHERFUCKING HUGO. What a woman. The titular character of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2017 novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was definitely the most memorable, fascinating character from a book I read last year. In the present of the novel, she’s an elderly Hollywood legend who has been reclusive for years until she solicits a specific young journalist Monique who she wants to tell her life story to. The novel goes back and forth, telling Evelyn’s story as she tells it to Monique and also telling Monique’s story.

Evelyn is ambitious, hard-working, confident, and cut-throat. She describes herself in this way: “I’m cynical and I’m bossy and most people would consider me vaguely immoral.” She’s also explicitly, wonderfully BISEXUAL. I knew the book had queer content going in, but I had no idea that it tackled bisexual identity so specifically. There’s a specific scene early on in the interview process where Evelyn coolly asserts that she’s bisexual, and not gay as Monique has just assumed. Evelyn makes it clear she loved her husband and then a woman, so “don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don’t do that.” It was such a perfect slap in the face of monosexism. GO EVELYN. This section, as well as more than one other part in the novel, brought me to tears.

8. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love but didn’t

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie was one of those books that I had meant to read for, like, ever. It had been recommended to me by lots of people. It won both a Hugo and a Nebula award! So when I finally picked it up one day at work at the library after seeing it on the shelf dozens of time, I was pumped. But something about this feminist science fiction novel never clicked for me. I’m still now sure if there’s something I missed from the plot/characterization/etc. that’s a failure on my part or if I did get it all and it just genuinely didn’t do it for me? I do know I found Breq, the protagonist, an elusive character, which is always a hard sell for me. Oh well!

9. Most beautifully written book read in 2018

So I’m adapting this question a bit because I want to gush about how beautifully drawn this debut graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters is. I don’t even have enough extolling adjectives to describe what Emil Ferris has done. The detail and range of what she has achieved is just stunning. She draws real people, 1960s Chicago street scenes, copies of vintage horror magazine covers, reproductions of classic art, and more—all using ball point pens only!! The novel is structured as the notebook of the tween main character Karen. Check out these amazing works of art:

my-favorite-thing-is-monsters-street.png

my-favorite-thing-is-monsters-karen

my-favorite-thing-is-monsters-art.png

my_favorite_thing_is_monsters_mag_cover_1200_1576_81_s

10. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2018

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead was also one of my favourite reads of 2018 that didn’t quite make the top ten list above. What I liked most about this debut novel was the main character’s distinctive, mesmerizing voice. It was the kind of book where I was constantly underlining Jonny’s words, which were alternately hilarious and heart-breaking. Here are some of my favourite excerpts:

“Humility is just a humiliation you loved so much it transformed.”

“I texted him back with a simple ‘No.’ I made an emphasis to punctuate my text. In the digital universe, a punctuated sentence is as powerful a slap as slamming down the landline.”

“Funny how an NDN ‘love you’ sounds more like ‘I’m in pain with you.’”

11. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2018

Roxane Weary!!! She’s the bisexual protagonist of Kristen Lepionka’s new mystery/PI series, the first book of which is The Last Place You Look and the second of which is What You Want to See. I totally fell in love with her. In the first book, Roxane is at a pretty low point: she’s been drinking too much while grieving the death of her cop father, who she had a complicated relationship with. She’s messy, she makes mistakes, and she’s got some troubles with emotional intimacy but at the same she’s really smart, persistent, compassionate, and has a big heart that loves people who perhaps don’t deserve her and wants to help people. In the second book she’s at a bit more of an emotionally healthy place, but not so much as to make her boring, you know? I was really kicking myself when I realized after I had published this article on Book Riot, 5 More Queer Book Characters I Would Totally Date (And Why), that I had failed to include Roxane. What. Was. I. Thinking. Oh well, there’s always next time.

12. Best worldbuilding / most vivid setting you read this year

These two books also would have been good contenders for I-can’t-believe-I-waited-until-2018-to-read. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo were just. so. good. I had very high expectations and they were absolutely met, possibly even exceeded. These two books were my introduction to Bardugo’s “Grishaverse,” the dark fantasy world she’s created. I tend to find European-inspired fantasy tired, but Bardugo’s world-building in the Grishaverse is anything but. This duology is set mostly in the city of Ketterdam, an Amsterdam-like bustling, dirty, gritty city full of the sins of sex, gambling, and thievery. (The last of which is the speciality of our rag-tag gang of characters). The city felt so alive.

But it wasn’t only Ketterdam that Bardugo brought so vividly to life: settings in other Grishaverse fictional countries were also fascinating, as was every single lovable, broken, complicated, little criminal in the group of protagonists. It’s rare to find a novel with complex, authentic characters just as vivid and sophisticated as the speculative world-building. But Bardugo has totally achieved it, with both books in this duology. (FYI: I wouldn’t recommend reading the second book in public, as I did. I cried big tears of hearbreak but also joy and it was a bit embarrassing). These books are thrilling, funny, romantic, clever, heart wrenching, healing, dark, and ultimately unputdownable. Also: thoughtful representations of disability, bisexuality, trauma, and people of colour.

13. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2018

If I’m being honest, like half of the books in my top ten picks of the year made me cry. But I’ve already talked about Crooked Kingdom, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Before the Devil Breaks You, and Hate to Want You. So I’m going to talk about In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, which was the first book I finished in 2018. I was on the YA committee of the Bisexual Book Awards last year, and I was so thrilled to get to vote for Brennan’s novel, which won in the YA category! It made me cry (sad and happy tears), true, but it also made me laugh a lot. It took me a little bit to get into this YA fantasy, but once I was on board with the dry snarky humour and understood who Elliot the main character was (obnoxious little turd that he is who has never been loved), I could not stop reading this book.

It’s a wonderfully nuanced portrayal of a bisexual boy and about a kid who goes away to a portal fantasy world that isn’t quite the idealized thing he imagined. Eliot is a kid who’s built up so many walls around him to protect himself from a world who doesn’t care about him. Just like the people around him in the book, when I first met Elliot I found him abrasive and obnoxious; but it didn’t take me long to love him. It was so amazing to watch his journey, where he gets to this point: “Elliot could not help but think of how often he had struck out wildly to defend himself, when just saying what he felt would have worked. Except it would not have worked, not on his father, or his mother, or on Jase or Adara. It only worked when someone cared how you felt. He did not know how to act, if Luke cared what he felt.” I was not expecting this book to make me cry, but that part did.

Did I mention it has an ADORABLE queer love story? Also, there are unicorns and harpies and mermaids who are also nasty but also flawed species just like humans. And the humour is great! It had me laughing out loud many, many times, most of all at Elliot’s friend Serene’s matriarchal elf speeches about protecting fair gentlemen and how women are especially suited for the battlefield. (I also loved how Brennan interrogated that matriarchal way of thinking and didn’t idealize it). Serene and all the supporting characters, especially Luke and his family, were wonderfully drawn. Do I need to gush more? Just read it!

14. Book that made you laugh out loud the most in 2018

My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris was by far the funniest book I read in 2018. I was constantly laughing out loud, like the snorting-milk-out-of-your-nose-a-la-middle-school kind of laughing. My Lady’s Choosing is a choose-your-own-adventure (hence the title) historical romance novel. From witty banter with a Darcy-esque aristocrat to pirate adventures in Egypt with your lesbian lover to do-gooding with a rogue Scotsman to paranormal intrigue with Lord Craven aka Rochester, all the plotlines were creative and most of all side-splittingly funny. It hits the perfect spot between a genuine homage to and affectionate parody of the genre. You get to choose between endings like “Upon travelling to Egypt and falling in love with the lady you are accompanying, you and she join a band of lesbian pirates” or “Co-running an orphanage with your husband Mac, a taciturn but kindly Scotsman who eschews social conventions and likes to have sex in the stables.” Or how about “The Reverend next door to the house where you work as a governess ends up being a sexy villainous vampire and you join him, becoming a vampire Queen and taking over the Lord’s mansion.” Whatever way you go, a happy ending is in store for you!

15. Best 2018 debut

I apparently didn’t read any 2018 debuts?? But Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom is a 2017 debut which I loved very much and you should read my full review here.

Runner-ups for my favourite books of the year also include Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead (full review), Little Fish by Casey Plett (full review here), All Violet by Rani Rivera (full review here), The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (probably the gayest book about a straight teen girl ever written), andWhite Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (a really fantastic and helpful break-down of the concept for white progressives like me and maybe you!).

You’ll probably also be interested in my The 10 Best Queer Books of 2018 (that I read, at least). There’s a bit of overlap with this post, for obvious reasons but I also talk about some books there that I don’t mention here at all!

Posted in Asian, Bisexual, Canadian, comics, disability, Erotica, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Graphic, Indigenous, latina, Lesbian, list, mystery, Non-Canadian, paranormal, Queer, Romance, Sex Work, South Asian, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Young Adult | 3 Comments