Is it too late to be sharing a list of 2020 favourites? Never! These were not necessarily published in 2020, just books that I read in that (neverending) year. There’s a smattering of all different genres, with an ample number of books of the queer and/or Canadian persuasion, of course.
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya
The rest of this list is in no particular order, but it’s not a coincidence The Subtweet landed at the top. It was my favourite book of 2020, hands down. Neela and Rukmini are two South Asian Canadian women musicians (one trans, one unspecified) who form a friendship when Rukmini an emerging artist, covers one of the more established artist Neela’s songs.
The ensuing story investigates brown female friendship, professional jealousy, the pleasures and price of making art, social media and call-out culture, white people performing anti-racism for their own benefit, the way systemic racism and sexism pits women of colour against each other, and more.
It’s also very much a love letter to so many women (mostly of colour) artists and theorists of all stripes. This book was so good and so smart! The characterization of Neela and Rukmini was incredible; they captured my imagnation so fully. I love how Shraya refused to make Neela and Rukmini likable. The concepts were so thoughtfully explored. See my full review here.
Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel by Julian K Jarboe
There is an amazing range of narrative voices in this superb science fiction / body horror / fairy tale / cyberpunk collection. Inventive and unique, it tackles subjects like spirituality, (trans) bodies, otherness, climate change, and queer solidarity in the apocalypse. Jarboe’s writing is stunning, full of bold images, mystical undertones, and raw humour. You get excerpts like:
“Give me a sex that has never been seen before and a soft outline exactly the size and shape of my lovers, and when they lay their entire selves within it, that is how we are going to fuck, since you keep asking, and everybody wants to know.”
And then you get distinctly queer dialogue like: “Ask me my sign and I’ll never talk to you again.”
“Oh I would never ask. I know how Scorpios need their privacy.”
HARROW THE NINTH BY TAMSYN MUIR
I’m not sure whether to say this queer SF novel is a work of genius that tortured me or a torture because it is so genius. Muir’s writing is wildly inventive, deadly sharp, boldly unsettling, darkly funny. There is no simple way to describe this world or plot, although it’s correct to say it’s about necromancy, lesbians, space, death, grief, knowledge, trauma, and power.
This book that demands A LOT from the reader. Muir does not make the twists and turns of the plot or the language easy to grasp. I mean, one of the narratives here is about Harrow, but spoken to her in the second person for a reason that remains opaque until quite late. The other main narrative is baffling given what you know from the first book.
But this also means when you finally *get it* there is a huge reward. Plus there’s just the pleasure of her sentences, so weirdly gorgeous and grotesque. And these unexpected bursts of dark humour.
Not a book for everyone. But it is A BOOK. One of the few pieces of fiction I’ve read that truly feels like a masterpiece.
THE LOST FUTURE OF PEPPERHARROW BY NATASHA PULLEY
This book was an unexpectedly delightful queer steampunk / historical fantasy, with some lovely, unique writing and turns of phrase. I loved that it was set mostly in late 1880s Japan and wasn’t willfully ignorant of 19th century British imperialism, unlike a lot of other steampunk.
It follows a fairly large set of characters, Japanese and British (and some who are both) in a multi-layered plot orchestrated by Mori, a man who “remembers the future.” He’s trying to piece together a gazillion moving pieces to a positive future outcome even he doesn’t quite understand anymore.
There are ghosts, electrical storms, mechanical pet octopuses, political scheming, and queer love!
Technically this is a sequel, although I had no trouble following it without having read the first book.
THE HAMMER OF WITCHES BY KELLY ROSE PFLUG-BACK
I love when you start a book with no expectations and it blows you away. This slim collection of poetry by a queer Canadian writer was just the thing. Spooky, mystical, autumnal, feminist, dark. Themes include witches (obviously), loss, longing, necromancy, ancient myth, suicide, nature, death, nightime, horror, ghosts, and the body. The imagery and play with words are incredible:
“It was dark, and the world sang to itself
to keep from being frightened”
“I want the ululations of a thousand throats
to guide me across black waters
whose shores I’ll never reach”
“Listen, I died here a long time ago
and I’ve just been haunting the place
sitting on the dryer’s
in the basement
staring at my phone.
That light you think you see sometimes
and then it’s gone
when you look again,
that’s all it is;
I felt death’s bony hand
close around my thigh, once
and I just laughed”
TO BE TAUGHT IF FORTUNATE BY BECKY CHAMBERS
Like all of Becky Chambers’ books, this science fiction novella was just delightful. A thoughtful amount of fascinating slscience; endearing, very real characters; heartwarming found family dynamics; and an optimism that is heartening but not naive.
The story follows four astronauts as they embark on a lengthy journey out into another solar system to do scientific research about life on four planets. Halfway through, communications from Earth complicate their mission.
This crew is all queer! One bi+ woman, one unspecified queer woman, one ace guy, and one trans guy. Love to see it, especially as their identities have nothing to do with the story!
WHITE IS FOR WITCHING BY HELEN OYEYEMI
Melancholy and spooky, this book. I had saved this one for October, and was very happy with that decision. I felt like the whole reading experience had me teetering on the edge of discomfort. The house in White is for Witching isn’t so much haunted as it is as alive as the people in the story. It’s a character, but a monstrous one who keeps the women in the family for itself. But it also *is* the women in the family. This only kind of makes sense, which is typical for Oyeyemi. Her writing is the kind of delicious stuff that forces you to let go of the idea that you’ll understand everything.
Floating around there’s also a delightful amount of queerness and interrogation of the UK’s racist and anti-immigrant/refugee ideologies. Plus Oyeyemi’s startlingly beautiful writing.
Content warnings for disordered eating and parental death.
MADAME ZERO BY SARAH HALL
I loved this collection of short stories. It’s my first book by this author but it certainly won’t be my last. I loved her writing. Hall’s prose feels elegant and effortless in a way that belies the talent and skill behind the words.
Reading the stories made me feel contemplative and sophisticated and stylish. It felt like I had to read them with a glass of red wine in front of my fireplace (I obliged). Themes include a woman who turns into a fox, a woman with a terror of heights who crosses a high bridge on a hike, a post-apocalyptic world with constant very high winds, and other diverse topics, some speculative, some not.
But it wasn’t the content of the stories, rather the authenticity of the feeling that captured my attention and imagination. They are almost scary in their perceptiveness and truth. I think I’ll be haunted by them for a long time.
THE GOOD HOUSE BY TANANARIVE DUE
A majestically crafted, terrifying horror novel with incredibly real characters. (I read this one for October too, and it was perfect for that time of year). One summer in Angela’s grandmother’s old house in the Pacific Northwest, she doesn’t realize her son Corey has found her grandmother’s book of vodou spells, and reawakened a horrifying demon.
Two years after, following Corey’s suicide in the very same house, Angela returns and finally starts to unravel what happened and put things right. Chilling reimagined vodou, a narrative that flips back and forth in time, characters deeply flawed but deeply empathetic.
This is a truly incredible, immersive read–with dark themes so tread with caution if needed. The end brought tears to my eyes. Most of the rest left me afraid to keep reading by myself in the dark. Highly recommended. I am mad this book isn’t more well known! It is just begging for a film adaptation.
BEETLE AND THE HOLLOWBONES BY ALIZA LAYNE
This middle grade graphic novel was just the cutest. Beetle is a goblin witch learning to do magic with her gran as a teacher when she find out the mall in her Halloweeen town which her non-binary friend Ghost Blob is doomed to haunt is going to torn down. By who? Power-hungry Marla Hollowbone, whose niece Kat, a cat skeleton sorceress, is back in town.
Can Beetle and Kat save Ghost Blob, defeat Marla, and admit their feelings for each other? Can kindly old healer midwife witch Gran bring back the badass sorcery from her youth?
Gorgeous art, endearing characters, and fun LGBTQ representation for kids! I’m a bit bummed I had an ARC of this book, since it didn’t have colour throughout. But I did love the art and the Halloween aesthetic! A perfect Halloween read.
THE BLACK EMERALD BY JEANNE THORNTON
I finished this book in the bath, with water tinged just the colour purple on the cover from a bath bomb. Very appropriate. Delightfully weird, dark but not cynical (such a hard balance to strike and Thornton does it so well), hilarious (the dedication reads “dedication is overrated”), sexy, and very queer. Thornton’s writing is often strikingly perceptive and beautiful:
“They had a wide Oriental rug, all beige and purple and gold, its fibers an ideal consistency between solid and liquid, and it would ooze up around the bare toes that walked across it like ten tiny, formal hugs.”
Stories include the titular one, about a queer artsy high school girl whose comics become haunted by a cult comics artist her ex-girlfriend loves, a girl who falls in love with a life size anatomical skeleton, a woman who runs a very unique hotel, and more. I loved this! Can’t wait to read her next book, coming out in 2021.
THE WESTERN ALIENATION BADGE
Such an incredible book! A family saga, snapshot of growing up in Calgary in the 70s, coming back home in the 80s & then in the 2010s, and a queer coming of age story. The characters–two sisters Bernadette and Frances, their dad (who lost two wives 😥), and Frankie’s childhood friend–are achingly real, flawed, and sympathetic even when you’d least expect. At once so specific to time and place, yet with such broadly recognizable complicated emotions and family dynamics. So Canadiana, so working class, so prairies. And the novel’s chapters are loosely structured around Girl Guide badges, so clever with with cute illustrations like on the pitch perfect cover.
I loved Cullen’s short story collection, Canary, a few years ago and this novel is just as great. I love her writing. Her characters feel so uncanny to me, so very familiar, but those familiar folks seen with such a sharp, empathetic eye.
MOON OF THE CRUSTED SNOW BY WAUBGESHIG RICE
What a thrilling, fascinating book! A kind of literary thriller / dystopian / horror novel with wonderful writing and authentic, human characters. It follows a Northern Anishinaabe reservation community in the days and months immediately after the apocalypse.
The focus is not what caused the breakdown of white society (you never find out what caused it) but on their journey to survive, leaning back into old ways of living off the land. Part of that journey is dealing with a white guy (what a villain!) who shows up wanting to escape the city and join them.
Parts of the story are quite suspenseful, and a few downright chilling! But it’s also the kind of book with a lot of meaty stuff to dig into and discuss. I’m looking forward to reading more by this author!
Wonderfully performed as an audiobook by Cree actor Billy Merasty.
THE LITTLE KITTEN BY NICOLA KILLEN
Honestly this is the first time in my adulthood that I’ve considered a picture book one of my favourite books of the year.
This is an utterly perfect cat-centric autumn Halloween-ish picture book. I couldn’t have imagined a book more suited to all things I love at thattime of year. The illustrations are gorgeous, black and white with orange, including metallic orange in the fall leaves and pumpkins and clever little cut-outs! So pretty!! Oh yes and the story is cute too.
FAIREST BY MEREDITH TALUSAN
A memoir about the life so far of Meredith Talusan, a writer/artist trans woman with albinism from the Philippines who immigrated to the US as a teenager. This book sails right past the conventions of both the typical trans and immigrant memoir.
It’s not the story of someone who always knew she was a girl. And it’s about someone who fits into American racial categories in a very unique way, as someone perceived as white who is Asian.
Her writing is beautiful, and she boldly looks at herself, sharing complexities, inconsistencies, and flattering and not so flattering moments in her life. I was sad when it ended, as I just wanted the story to keep going!
Wonderfully read by the author as an audiobook.
PARABLE OF THE SOWER & PARABLE OF THE TALENTS BY OCTAVIA BUTLER
I can’t believe I waited until 2020 (during a pandemic no less) to read this dystopian classic series set only 5-7 years in the future. This is a fascinating, page-turning book about a young Black woman surviving in a US descended into chaos and anarchy, with drugs, disease, water shortage, environmental degradation, and severe economic depression making it at once a totally new world and eerily familiar.
I love Butler’s world-building, characters (a future prophet / god as a protagonist!), and intellectual curiosity. She somehow writes a thrilling, gripping, I-can’t-wait-to-find-out-what-happens-next type of book that is so thoughtful and inventive with its themes of community, religion, and more.
The second book is even better than its predecessor. A fascinating and heartbreaking dystopia about the ambitious (Black woman) leader of a new religion and her biological and found family. A terrifying science fiction imagining of what happens when a fundamentalist tyrant comes to take advantage of an apocalypse and his followers indulge in the worst abuses of power imaginable. A tough read (slavery, rape, poverty) but also hopeful.
THE SKIN WE’RE IN BY DESMOND COLE
This collection of essays is a riveting, infuriating, passionate book. It follows the year 2017 in Desmond Cole’s life as a Black activist and journalist in Toronto.
He covers a wide variety of issues, from cops in schools and Pride to police brutality, immigration injustice, and more. I especially liked how he integrated the struggles of Indigenous people with his analysis of anti-Black racism in Canada. His “breather” chapter on taking a break and connecting in nature was also gorgeous. (It made me think about what kind of work we might get more of from Cole if he didn’t have to constantly fight anti-Black racism). He also did a great job connecting current events to historical anti-Blackness in Canada without going into so much depth as to lose the thread of his argument.
A must-read. Excellent as an audiobook read by the author.
THE PULL OF THE STARS BY EMMA DONOGHUE
This audiobook instantly gripped me and did not let go until the end. Set in a Dublin maternity ward amidst the influenza epidemic of 1918, it takes place over only a few short days but packs in a lot of story, character, and historical immediacy.
Julia is a nurse and midwife working with expectant mothers with the flu. Two women come quickly into her life, altering her forever. I felt like I was right there in the hospital the whole book. I loved it!
I wasn’t sure when this book was being publicized if there was queer content, which did make for a fun surprise when it came up, but I wish it would have been advertised! Although I do feel like it’s useful to note that there is NOT a queer happily ever after, if that’s what you’re looking for.
ONCE YOU GOT THIS FAR BY KRISTEN LEPIONKA
The Roxane Weary mysteries are officially my favourite ongoing series! Lepionka delicately balances page-turning pacing, intricate and twisty plot, and complex fascinating characterization. Her current case is a so-called hiking accident that leads Roxane to investigating a culty fundamentalist church, a Canadian casino, a charismatic politician who runs a women’s health organization, and more! Some very interesting developments in Roxane’s family, love life, and friends as well.
I love how we get tiny subplots that chug along the stories of supporting characters from past books who Roxane has folded into her life (Her queer “niece” Shelby and her crush on her BFF, the snarky motel employee studying criminal justice who’s doing her co-op hours with Roxane). Haha and the yoga pants businesswoman shows up again too!
I also love how over the course of the series we get to see the full spectrum of Roxane’s bisexuality. She’s trying to be in a relationship with Tom in this book (emphasis on the trying because she kinda sucks at it). But we also see her ex-girlfriend briefly come back to fuck with her (Catherine you leave my precious Roxane alone!) and see Roxane feel surprised at her sudden attraction to a woman she meets while investigating. It just feels so real to life, you know? I feel seen!
TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN BY TALIA HIBBERT
This audiobook was excellently read by Ione Butler.
Predictably, I absolutely loved this. Talia Hibbert goes straight for my heart (and sexy parts) every time. A Black bisexual academic heroine? A South Asian ex-rugby player hero who reads romance novels? (Shout-out to the explicit shout-out to Beverly Jenkins!) I adore these two.
I loved the careful representation of Zaf’s anxiety, his trauma from his dad and brother dying in a car crash, Dani’s witchiness, her realization she’s overworking, and her issue with intimacy. I also was thrilled with the bi representation. We get to see a bit of Dani’s ex-sort-of-girlfriend and also her lesbian BFF Sorcha. Great use of the fake dating trope as well as the friends with benefits oops we caught feelings.
I will officially follow Talia Hibbert anywhere! This series is about the Brown sisters, but is it too much to ask for a little spin-off about Sorcha??
A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE BY ARKADY MARTINE
An absolutely incredible diplomatic space opera! Mahit is an ambassador from a small space station country sent to the heart of the Teixcalaanli Empire. She loves the poetry and Teixcalaan culture, but she also knows they are colonizers intent on annexing her home. When she arrives, she discovers her predecessor has suspiciously died. Here come assassination attempts, illegal neurological surgery, bubbling civil war, and many conversations where everyone is choosing their words oh so carefully to convey at least two things at once.
Intricate world-building with a focus on poetry, language (including body language and facial expressions), conceptions of selfhood, and neurological technology. Plus slow burn lesbian romance! It really got me thinking about how different cultures conceive of an “I” and a “we.” And the complex relationship you can have to a culture you know is oppressive but whose art you love. That feeling Mahit has of desperately wanting to be a fluent Teixcalaanli poet but knowing because she is a “barbarian” she would always be considered other.
LATE TO THE PARTY BY KELLY QUINDLEN
A wonderfully warm and heartfelt YA about growing beyond the person your friends from kindergarten know you to be, first queer kisses, and queer solidarity friendship. Codi and her BFFs JaKory and Maritza (lesbian, gay, and bi respectively) are homebodies who stay at home and watch Netflix. When they force themselves to go to a big party to make something happen in their lives, Codi ends up forming a secret friendship with a closeted popular jock, Ricky, after she accidentally sees him making out with a guy.
Through him she meets a girl who just might like her back. She also breaks out of her shell, trying new things, putting herself out there, and finally having the kind of teenage adventures she thought she might never have. The only problem? She never tells JaKory and Maritza anything, so you are just waiting for that shit to hit the fan as well as to see if the girl and Codi are ever going to kiss.
Late to the Party had a lot of beautifully complex relationships, some bright sparks of poignant writing that really brought to life a teenage mindset, and layered subplots including one for Ricky, JaKory, Maritza, and Grant, Codi’s 14-year-old brother. There were many times when this book made me fondly remember high school and the great, sometimes complicated friendships I had.
One quibble I had was that I had trouble picturing what a lot of the characters looked like since the author didn’t give enough information early enough when they were introduced. Especially since there’s a tendency to assume whiteness in the face of lack of details because of white supremacy!
SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT BY MERYL WILSNER
Ahhhhhh this book was so good! I’m always a bit nervous to start a book that I have such high expectations for, but this delightful and so real queer romance absolutely exceeded them. This Hollywood set love story between a showrunner and her assistant was done so beautifully and thoughtfully, addressing the power dynamics of a boss/employee relationship.
The slow burn…. I love to see it!!! What I love about that trope is how it lets the couple get to know each other so well and develop a friendship and a respect, which is absolutely what Jo and Emma did. And there were plenty of things going on in their relationship up until they kissed, with tensions and dilemmas at work.
The characters were authentic and flawed, funny and vulnerable. Both their career subplots and one about sexual harassment in Hollywood were excellently done. Representation is a Jewish bisexual woman in her late 20s, a Chinese American lesbian in her early forties. The only rep I can speak to is the bisexuality, which I thought was wonderful in the ways it was addressed and left aside when it wasn’t relevant.
And the side characters! I loved Emma’s snarky fat baker sister Avery as well as Jo’s childhood BFF Evelyn. I can’t wait to read what Meryl Wilsner writes next! I will never see the term “yes, boss” in the same way again.
POLAR VORTEX BY SHANI MOOTOO
A strange, dark, fascinating, and thought provoking novel. Priya is in her 50s and lives with her partner Alex in an Ontario small town. Out of the blue she gets a message from an old university friend Prakash, with whom she had a complicated and fraught relationship.
Her invitation for him to visit brings up longstanding insecurities and issues in Priya and Alex’s relationship. Themes include mainstream (white) discourse about queer sexuality and identity, refugee experiences, difficulties of intimacy and communication in relationships, and the triple effects of sexism, racism, and homophobia on queer women of colour.
The deep dive into longterm queer relationships really reminded me of Jane Eaton Hamilton’s book Weekend. Mootoo adds to that with a somewhat unreliable narrator and multiple points of view.
I really mean it when I say this novel was thought provoking! I have notes written all over the margins of this book and in the notes on my phone. See my full review here.
THE GOSPEL OF BREAKING BY JILLIAN CHRISTMAS
There were many times when I gasped out loud and just sat in awe as I was reading Jillian Christmas’s debut poetry collection. The poems are alternately sad, sexy, funny, and angry; I found myself—very willingly—riding a vicarious emotional roller coaster alongside them. Christmas’s inventive lyricism and images went straight to my heart and gut, sometimes at the same time. Such as lines like: “how will we know it [what is a body] / unless we go searching through the roughness of being alive.”
Many of the poems very much feel like their roots are in slam poetry with a careful attention to sound. They also shine on the page. Themes include depression, suicide, Black joy, spirituality, break ups, home and place, love, ancestry, Blackness, white feminism, writing, Christmas’s mother, Internet and social media culture, and more. Also, there is a killer, hilarious poem addressed to the person who stole Christmas’s bike! One of my other favourites was a gorgeous poetic take on the frequent meme “But have you tried.” Uh, everyone else can stop doing this now, Jillian Christmas has clearly won. Read my full review here.
THE REGRETS BY AMY BONNAFFONS
A delightfully weird, unique, sexy, bittersweet story about a love affair between a woman (in the world of the living, but also somewhat removed from it) and a ghost who has been temporarily stuck on Earth because of the equivalent to a clerical error in the afterlife. The powers that be tell him: you are “insufficiently dead … You lack rupture with your life. You have no exit narrative.”
I LOVED the writing: poetically precise and philosophically true. The tone was thoughtful and candid, details of the characters’ flaws unflinching, but it never moved into cynicism. Also the heroine is a red lipstick wearing librarian. This is one of those books that while featuring queer secondary characters and overall not at all homophobic also felt VERY heterosexual (emphasis on the sexual, there’s a lot of sex in this book), so beware if that’s not something you can stand.
MY ART IS KILLING ME BY AMBER DAWN
An exquisite, hard-hitting collection of poetry not without its moments of humour and an ample amount of free verse experimentation with spacing, repetition, spells, and business letters. Amber Dawn writes about the burden and joys of writing from the perspective of a woman, a queer person, a survivor, and a sex worker. Being an artist in the public realm, performing or having to convince others of your trauma, dealing with abusers in positions of power in the literary community, and more. A book to reread and savour. Full review on my blog here.
Some of my favourite parts:
“I wouldn’t mind if poetry mimicked racing tipsy down the subway stairs / in platform heels to barely catch the last train of the night.”
“A poem is always a mirror / that we must hold up before us”
“Who do I confide to about pain when pain is my praxis / and best performance?”
“But you (literally you) are reading queer and desperate poetry / so may I assume you too have never been afforded / an uncomplicated story?”
“My kink is to loudly love those / who’ve been told to keep quiet.”
“Closure / is like the conspicuous consumption / of real life.”
MRS DALLOWAY BY VIRGINIA WOOLF
Mrs Dalloway is one of those novels that feels so effortless, which shows how much skill and talent Woolf had. I went into it expecting it to be less accessible than it actually is. The stream of consciousness just flowed, taking me along like, well, a stream. I was also surprised at a few passages that were quite explicitly queer for the time and loved the complex look at depression and mental health.
If you’ve been meaning to get around to reading this like I have, I would heartily recommend! God, her writing is so beautiful.
“Yet she could not resist sometimes yielding to the charms of a woman, not a girl, of a woman confessing, as they often did, some scrape, some folly…she did undoubtedly then feel what men felt. Only for a moment; but it was enough. It was a sudden revelation, a tinge like a blush which one tried to check and then, as it spread, one yielded to its expansion, and rushed to the farthest verge and there quivered.”
IN THE DREAM HOUSE BY CARMEN MARIA MACHADO
An INCREDIBLE memoir. The content is a subject that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: domestic abuse in queer relationships. It’s hard to describe, except as horrifying.
On top of the unique content, Machado is playing with form throughout the book, (re)telling the story through the lens of folk tale tropes, genres, and formats (including a harrowing “choose your own adventure” section). She pays particular attention to classic horror tropes
She often talks about her past self as “you” giving the reader an unsettling intimacy. Somehow this is compulsively readable despite the dark content. One of the best books I’ve ever read. This won the Lambda in 2020 for LGBTQ Nonfiction, and it is very deserved.
GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN BY TALIA HIBBERT
I LOVED this book!! (And yes, there are two books by Talia Hibbert on this list, for good reason). An emotionally resonant, steamy, diverse, authentic story about two people who at first don’t like each other and then realize their first impressions were wrong. Red is a white working class artist whose previous relationship was abusive. Chloe is a wealthy Black woman with chronic illness including fibromyalgia. She also has a history of being abandoned by partners and friends.
Their falling in love was so cute, and funny, and sexy and just every minute of it was perfect. I laughed out loud at the sarcastic humour. The audiobook narration with different British accents was also perfect. And there’s a cute cat! I had a feeling I was going to love Talia Hibbert and this did not disappoint at all. it’s hard to believe this was the first book of hers that I read. Can’t wait to pick up some of her older stuff.
THE PHILISTINE BY LEILA MARSHY
This book didn’t draw me in right away, but it eventually won me over, hard. It’s an #OwnVoices story about Nadia, a queer Palestinian-Canadian woman who travels to Egypt in the late 1980s to track down her father whom she has not seen in years. She finds and gets to know him anew, but she also meets and falls in love with an Egyptian woman artist, Manal.
There’s a wonderful journey of Nadia reconnecting with her Palestinian heritage, as she meets many other Palestinians (taxi drivers, booksellers, a doctor) who don’t hesitate to accept her as Palestinian and reach out to connect. Nadia is humbled and rejuvenated. There is of course also her father, whom she slowly begins to see as a flawed adult human being, instead of only the father who has disappointed her.
The story is set mostly in Cairo, a complicated, contradictory character unto itself. The city really came alive: the beauty of the art, food, generosity of people, poverty, stink of animals and defecation in the street, chaotic traffic, all the details of everyday life. Manal is Nadia’s guide as well as for the reader, and she is a passionate, opinionated, and lively one. I loved her.
Beautiful writing; thoughtful, nuanced content about art, family, connecting with your heritage, Palestinian and Egyptian cultures and politics, Arabic language, and the generosity of strangers. Full review on my blog!
What were your favourite reads of 2020? Did you read any of the same ones as me? Let me know!