In case you missed it, last week the finalists for the 29th Lambda Literary Awards for LGBTQ+ Literature were announced, and there were some pretty rad Canadians and/or Indigenous folks on the list! Here are the finalists that I’m most excited about:
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom, Metonymy Press: Thom’s amazing-sounding debut novel was nominated in the Trans Fiction category. (Aside, it’s pretty exciting that this year there are Trans Fiction, Non-fiction, and Poetry categories!) I read, reviewed, and LOVED her first poetry collection a place called NO HOMELAND and I have no doubt that this novel is also fabulous—or should I say confabulous. According to the publisher, Fierce Femmes “is the highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home in a rainy city called Gloom.” (Gloomy rainy city? Sounds like Vancouver to me). The main character Dearly takes off and becomes part of a chosen family of trans femmes, who form a vigilante group after one of their sisters is killed and fight the transphobes, bad johns, and cops. But when shit goes wrong, Dearly is gonna have to look long and hard at their use of violence and think about what it really means to “grow up.” It sounds deliciously and magically like Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa.
Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang, Metonymy Press: Another winner from Montreal’s Metonymy Press in the Trans Fiction category, Small Beauty is a beautiful, quiet, introspective book about family and identity. The main character Mei is a young, queer, mixed-race trans woman dealing with some big stuff: the mysterious death of her cousin—who was like her brother—and all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including going to the small town where her cousin and aunt (who had passed away previously) used to live, to the house she has now inherited. While she’s there she discovers some family secrets—like she’s not the only queer in the family—and spends a lot of time thinking about the past and what it means to be trans and have Chinese and white ancestry. Flashback scenes to the city while she’s hanging out with her friend Connie, who’s also Chinese and trans, were my favourite. wilson-yang does a stellar job of showing use Mei’s life as both the ordinary and extraordinary thing it is. Check out my full review here.
even this page is white by Vivek Shraya, Arsenal Pulp Press: Are trans writers ever hitting it out of the part these days! Shraya’s debut poetry collection is up for the Trans Poetry award. It’s no surprise this collection is a stunning, diverse book, even though it’s her first book of poetry, since Shraya’s already an accomplished artist in many mediums. You know from the title that even this page is white is a book about race and racism, but this incisive, powerful content is only part of what makes the book incredible. Shraya is also playing with the craft of poetry, investigating and trying out poem types and structures in creative ways. It’s not often that I admire a piece of writing both for its poetic skill and its complex intellectual content! My prediction is that queer and trans writers—especially ones of colour—will re-visit this work time and again, and count it among their foundational texts by QTPOC and about being QTPOC. Have a look at my full review here and see some excerpts!
A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby, University of Manitoba Press: A finalist in the Lesbian Memoir/Biography category, Ojbwa-Cree author Chacaby’s autobiography is both a harrowing and hopeful account of her extraordinary life. She recounts her childhood growing up in a remote Ojibwa community, where, on the one hand, she learned Cree cultural and spiritual traditions from her grandmother and trapping and hunting skills from her Ojibwa stepfather, but on the other she suffered physical and sexual abuse from various adults, becoming an alcoholic by her teen years. Her life in Thunder Bay after leaving with her children to escape an abusive marriage is a journey towards sobriety, becoming an alcoholism counsellor, raising her biological and foster children, acclimatizing to living with visual impairment, and coming out as a lesbian. In 2013 Chacaby was the leader of Thunder Bay’s first pride parade! While her biography deals with a lot of tough subjects, it’s also one where she shows off her faith, compassion, humour, and resilience.
The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care edited by Zena Sharman, Arsenal Pulp Press: I just recently finished reading this collection of essays, stories, poems, and graphic pieces, which is up for the LGBTQ Anthology category, but unfortunately I haven’t reviewed it yet. Watch for that review soon! It’s a great collection of really solidly curated pieces with a lot of diversity and depth. Here’s some of what to expect in The Remedy: gay men writing about HIV/AIDS and the institutional resistance to responding to the crisis; trans people’s struggle to find respectful, competent health care providers; lesbians having to deal with heteronormativity while getting cancer treatment; genderqueer therapists contemplating their fraught positions as gatekeepers; bisexuals’ tips for avoiding biphobia if you’re a health care worker; asexuals having their orientations conflated with mental illness; and intersex people fighting to make decisions about their own bodies. It’s a testament to the quality of these stories that the book held my attention throughout even though it’s on a topic I’ve never especially been interested in.
Girl Mans Up by M.E. Girard, Harper Teen: A finalist in the LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult category, Girl Mans Up brings the much needed story of a butch/masculine/genderqueer lesbian to queer YA. It’s a very real, authentic, messy journey about gender, and the main character Pen’s struggle for respect and recognition. She knows who she is from the beginning, but over the course of the book she works toward demanding respect and recognition from the people around her, cutting off unhealthy relationships (especially with her cis dude friends who are the epitome of toxic masculinity), and forming ties with people who see and value her for who she is. An exciting, cute subplot centres around her becoming involved with a kick-ass video-game playing young woman named Blake that is refreshingly devoid of relationship drama! This is a subtle book about character development, and Girard wisely allows Pen to exist in all her complicated glory, including allowing her to sometimes be unlikable, make lots of mistakes, and not always be nice. See my full review here.
The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories by A.C. Wise, Lethe Press: A.C. Wise is a new-to-me queer Canadian author that I’m very excited to add to my to-read list. Originally from Montreal, she has a few books of fiction, including this latest one nominated in the SF/F/Horror category. The Kissing Booth Girl is a collection of short stories about “the fantastical, the weird, the queer and the poignant.” The title story is about Beni, a mechanically-inclined woman is wondering if the ethereal girl in the booth is either a wish come true or a false hope. Other stories include one about an order of deep-sea diving nuns caring for a sunken chapel, a high school boy asked to prom by the only dead kid he’s ever met, and a queer retelling of Romeo and Juliet called “Juliet & Juliet(te): A Romance of Alternate Worlds.” Although it contains a variety of styles, the overwhelming feeling is like a darker, fairy tale, magical fantasy. Wise’s writing is supposed to be beautiful: crisp, elegant, and polished. I can’t wait to read this!
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