These are some of my favourite books, and I bet they will become your favourites too once you read them. These books are all written by queer and/or trans Asian Canadian authors AND all feature queer and/or trans Asian Canadian characters. Other than that, there’s quite a variety, including genres and formats like historical fiction, fantasy, realism, graphic novels, memoir, and more! What are you waiting for? Read one of these books tonight!
Kai Cheng Thom’s genre-defying debut 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.” Playing with the genre of memoir, the only way mainstream publishers have ever offered trans writers a chance to publish, Fierce Femmes interrogates and turns on their head all of the tropes common to the “trans memoir.” It also plays with magic, weaving it amongst the realism. The main character Dearly finds herself a family of trans femmes after striking out on her own, but when one of their number is murdered, she and her sisters form a vigilante group to fight back against the cops, johns, and transphobes who harass them. When things in the group go terribly wrong, Dearly is forced to finally stop the violence and find her own truth.
Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi
This quietly powerful historical novel is set in 1970s rural Alberta. Eight-year-old “Egg” Murakami is the narrator of story whose limited perspective is the only one you get on the troubled Murakami family. Her brother Albert died last year and all the family members are grieving in their own way: her dad hides in the barn, her mom drinks. Her older sister Kathy is barely managing to hold the family together while trying to shield her little sister from the worst of the world: racism, death, hate. She even changes the endings of famous books (Charlotte’s Web and The Diary of Anne Frank) to make them happy when she reads to Egg. Kathy is also dealing with her own stuff, a teenage lesbian relationship with a girl in her class. It’s fascinating to see the relationship through Egg’s eyes, since she doesn’t really get it, but intuitively kind of does? Read my full review here.
She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya
“In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she.Two cells make up one cell. This is the mathematics behind creation. One plus one makes one. Life begets life. We are the period to a sentence, the effect to a cause, always belonging to someone. We are never our own. This is why we are so lonely.” This is just a beautiful, poetic novel that I think everybody should read. It tells two stories, reimagining more than one Hindu mythological tale and combining that with the contemporary narrative of an unnamed bisexual protagonist “he.” It’s an exploration of queer identity, but also the body and emotions, and how all of these are tied together. What does it mean to love who we love?, the book asks. The illustrations by Raymond Biesinger (see the cover for an example) are delightful and add so much to the experience of reading the book.
Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
In the spirit of the Wiccan protagonist, I declare Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s Skim to be utterly magickal. It’s dark, and beautiful, and heartbreaking, and sad, and perceptive. Skim has a wonderful balance of teenage angst, earnestness, and heightened emotion. And although it takes the classic form of a teenage girl’s diary, it is also a graphic novel, drawn by the immensely talented Jillian Tamaki. The main character Kim, aka Skim, is a high school student at a girls’ school in Toronto; she’s not cool, she’s not skinny, she’s sad, she’s an aspiring Wiccan, and she just might be falling in love with her quirky, hippie English teacher, Ms. Archer. For a book that takes on subject matter such as teen suicide, the effects of racism and sexism on girls’ body images, depression, the complexities of discovering queerness amidst a homophobic environment, and that cruelty particular to teenage girls, Skim is surprisingly fun to read. It’s also very darkly funny. Read my full review here.
All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor
If someone had told me, hey, Farzana Doctor’s All Inclusive is a critical look at all-inclusive resorts, bisexuality, swinging and polyamory, spirituality, death, and terrorism, I probably would have said, are you kidding? That sounds like a disaster. But Doctor manages to make her third novel a huge success. As always with Doctor’s novels, there’s her trademark sharp insight into the human psyche and this gentle, calming, empathetic lens as she explores her characters. Ameera is the late twenties biracial (white and Indian) main character. She works at an all-inclusive in Mexico, where she’s discovered since arriving that she’s bisexual and enjoys having sex with (mostly man-woman) couples. But just when you’re settling into her story, the perspective shifts, and we get someone named Azeez, but back in 1985 instead of Ameera’s 2015. You guess immediately that Azeez is Ameera’s father and you know that he’s never been a part of her life. But you’ll probably never guess what his story is, and why he disappeared… (Full review here).
When Fox Is A Thousand by Larissa Lai
Who wouldn’t want to read a novel that is part folklore, part fairy tale, part historical fiction, and part contemporary urban story? This complex and beautifully crafted book is told from three perspectives: Yu Hsuan-Chi, a real-life Chinese poet who lived in the ninth century; the mythological figure Fox, approaching her 1000th birthday; and Artemis, a young Chinese-Canadian woman living in contemporary Vancouver. The politics—sexual, queer, gender, culture, and otherwise—of each time period are explored skillfully as Lai investigates what it’s like to be a queer Chinese ‘woman’ (Fox isn’t exactly human, after all) in different places and times. Some things are different, of course, but some things, despite the distance between the mythological world, the Tang dynasty, and contemporary Canada, are remarkably similar. Danika over at the Lesbrary wrote in her review that this book should be considered a lesbian classic.
Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang
This quiet, unassuming book completely won me over. Small Beauty is a quiet, meditative, introspective book. I read a lot of it when I was in the bath, and that seemed like the perfect place. The main character is Mei, a young, queer, mixed-race (Chinese and white) trans woman dealing with some big stuff: her cousin—who was like her brother—recently passed away and now she has to deal with all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including leaving the big city she lives in and going to the small town where her cousin and aunt (who had passed away previously) used to live. While Mei is at her cousin’s house that she has now inherited, she is slowly unravelling some of the details of his and her aunt’s life, including unearthing some secrets that show she’s not the only queer person in the family… (Full review here).
Half World by Hiromi Goto
Melanie Tamaki is a lonely girl shunned by her peers. Her only friend is an eccentric old lesbian named Ms. Wei who runs a convenience store (she turns out to have a much more interesting vocation as well…). Melanie’s not exactly the kind of person you’d expect to be the heroine in a young adult fantasy novel. But, lo and behold, it is Melanie who is the star of Vancouver queer author Hiromi Goto’s dark Japanese Buddhist-inspired Half World, which has a lot of surprises for you. One day, Melanie comes home from school and discovers that her mother is missing. As it turns out, her mother has not been taken somewhere unknown, but has been taken back to where she came from, a mythical place called Half World. Melanie, of course, sets out to rescue her beloved mother in what turns into an epic quest that has significance not just for her small family, but for the entire universe… (Full review here)