It’s quite late in the new year to be writing a favourites of 2012 list, but here it is. I’d been waiting to publish this post until I could get my hands on a copy of Emma Donoghue’s short story collection Astray (which came out last fall) because I’m pretty sure I’m going to love it, but I’m still on the waitlist for it at the library. So, a review of that will just have to wait! Without further ado, my favourite lesbian(ish) books published last year (two of which are Canadian!):
This young adult novel rekindled my love of literature for teens. Danforth remembers what it’s like to be a teenager, and she took me right back to that time in my own life, in an uncanny way that only a very talented writer could. She evokes growing up a queer girl in a rural place in the early nineties so powerfully and authentically it’s painful to re-enter the ‘real’ world when you finish the book. Cameron is an intensely lovable and fascinating character whose adventures dealing with the death of her parents, coming out, and coming of age will have you reading late into the night. The novel deals intelligently and compassionately with the issue of gay conversion camps, disability, and two-spirit identity, on top of everything else. Can I simply say that I loved it? See my review on the Lesbrary here.
As with her previous work, Anne Fleming’s most recent short story collection focuses on the odd combination of mundane and extraordinary in human beings’ lives. Taking on topics such as (ostensibly) straight boys creating a website for gay little people, a young lesbian telling her recently divorced mother she can’t be a lesbian too, a family reliving their lives through “puke diaries,” and backstock workers at MEC performing a musical while on the job, Gay Dwarves is an exciting, diverse compilation of stories. The characters are as fascinating as Fleming’s writing is smart. These stories are simultaneously funny and poignant; ordinary and peculiar; silly and serious. This book absolutely lives up to its strange, provocative title and Fleming continues to showcase her uncanny ability to authentically mirror the thought-processes and viewpoints of many a different character. See my review here.
I keep coming back to my favourite passages in Why Be Happy, because there’s a mesmerizing power in so much about what Winterson has to say about love, literature, family, and belonging. It sounds trite, but there are pieces of wisdom in this book about the ‘meaning’ of life that literally moved me to tears. I’m not sure if it’s fitting or ironic that the insights in this memoir feel both timeless and emotionally raw, just like the Bible which so dominated Winterson’s early life with her religious fundamentalist mother. Although Winterson’s journey is in many ways a very difficult one—suicide attempt, an arduous search for her birth mother, childhood psychological and physical abuse, her mother’s rejection because of her queerness—the memoir is unbelievably, even ecstatically hopeful. It left me in a kind of euphoric state of joy. Winterson writes that literature was a saving grace for her—that “A tough life needs a tough language—and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say it how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.” For me, her book performed exactly that. You can find my review (including some of my favourite quotations from the book) on the Lesbrary here.
Living up completely to its awesome title, the talented Tamaki’s young adult novel that follows lesbian outsider Allison Lee as she embarks on her first year of university is clever, darkly funny, and totally authentic. Tamaki portrays Allison with just the right mixture of cynicism and sympathy and simply nails the voice of an awkward but smart seventeen-year-old. Glad to leave high school and her incendiary encounters of both the literal and the figurative kind behind, Allison, of course, learns that dormitory and college life are not quite the fresh start she had in mind. In particular, she falls for a charismatic yet dangerous girl who you just know is going to break her heart like the last one. Liberally sprinkled with excessive drinking, subsequent puking, class skipping, and high school-turned-college bullies, (You) Set Me on Fire is surprisingly, in the end, a hopeful and inspiring read, despite (or perhaps because of) all of Allison’s fuck-ups. See my review here.
An historical novel set in the decadent period between the world wars in Paris, The Last Nude is as richly plotted and characterized as the sensual paintings by Tamara de Lempicka that inspired it. The protagonist of the novel, Rafaela, is de Lempicka’s model and the subject of some of the Art Deco artist’s most famous (and erotic) paintings. Sexy and glamorous like you would imagine an affair between two such fascinating and beautiful women would be, The Last Nude lovingly renders Paris in all its 1920s glory and both charms and appalls us in portraying the queer bohemian artist’s world that Rafaela is suddenly thrust into. Although you know from the start the love affair is doomed and the young, naïve Rafaela is going to have her heart broken, Ellis manages to make the novel beautiful and moving, qualities in great part achieved by her exquisite yet unassuming writing. I reviewed The Last Nude on the Lesbrary last month.
(I’m sad to not include Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Are You My Mother?, since I was looking forward to it so much, but I just can’t honestly include it in a favourites lists—as you can see in my review on the lesbrary, I found it at times exhausting and at others, simply kind of dull; this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy aspects of it—the drawings are really beautiful—but my annoyance at certain parts overrode what I did like).