As always, Vancouver’s wonderful Arsenal Pulp Press is about to publish some great books. These ones, slated to come out this fall, all have queer themes and/or are by queer authors.
Oracle Bone by Lydia Kwa
Lydia Kwa is a Singapore-born Vancouver writer (and psychologist) and it’s been far too long since she’s put out a novel—over ten years. Oracle Bone sounds AMAZING. It’s both historical fiction and magical realism, a tale that plays with Chinese mythology from a feminist perspective. I don’t think I can do the book description justice except quoting it in its entirety:
Life in seventh-century China teems with magic, fox spirits, and demons; there is a fervent belief that the extraordinary resides within the lives of both commoners and royalty. During the years when the empress Wu Zhao gains ascendency in the Tang court, her evil-minded lover Xie becomes obsessed with finding and possessing the oracle bone, a magical object that will bestow immortal powers on him. Standing in his way is Qilan, an eccentric Daoist nun who rescues an orphaned girl named Ling from being sold into slavery; Qilan takes her uder her wing, promising to train her so she may avenge her parents’ murders. In another part of the city, a young monk named Harelip questions his faith and his attraction to other men as he helps the elder monk Xuanzang to complete his translation of the Heart Sutra, the sacred Buddhist scripture. Meanwhile, as the mysteries and powers of the missing oracle bone are revealed, it remains to be seen whether Qilan will be able to stop Xie from gaining possession of the magical bone, and at what cost.
For a bit more on Lydia Kwa, check out this interview with her in Poetry is Dead’s “Queers Fail Better” series.
Tarry This Night by Kristyn Dunnion
You might recognize Kristyn Dunnion’s name from this very website; I’ve reviewed two of her other books and talked about them a few times: her amazingly weird and inventive queer punk dystopian YA novel Big Big Sky and her excellent short story collection The Dirt Chronicles, which features characters who are, among other things, anarchist punks, dumpster-diving freegans, First Nations lesbian teenagers, queer brown kids in foster care, trans sex workers, and middle-aged ostensibly straight men with intense homoerotic bonds. Her latest novel out this October is also dystopian; it sounds like The Handmaid’s Tale, but with attention to racism:
In this dystopian, eerily relevant novel, a civil war is brewing in America. Below ground, a cult led by the deluded and narcissistic Father Ernst is ensconced in an underground bunker, waiting out the conflict. When “The Family” runs out of food, Ruth, coming of age and terrified of serving as Ernst’s next wife, must choose between obeying her faith and fighting for survival.
In this unsettling modern Lilith tale, spirited women resist their violent, racist culture and, in so doing, become outlaws. Family members navigate a secretive and deadly arena where faith eschews autonomy and righteousness precludes mercy. With an unwavering eye, Tarry This Night dares to imagine the unthinkable that is present-day America, offering a place for resistance and hope for a new and better world.
From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom, Kai Yung Ching, and Wai-Yant Li
If you’ve been paying attention at all to the Canadian LGBTQ2IA+ book scene, you’ll definitely recognize Kai Cheng Thom’s name. Winner of this year’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBTQ Writers, she has also released two books in the last year: a stunning collection of poetry A Place Called NO HOMELAND (check out my review here) and a genre-defying novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir. She’s diving into a new genre and format with this picture book illustrated by Kai Yung Ching and Wai-Yant Li. It sounds like just what queer and trans kids need:
In the magical time between night and day, when both the sun and the moon are in the sky, a child is born in a little blue house on a hill. And Miu Lan is not just any child, but one who can change into any shape they can imagine. The only problem is they can’t decide what to be: a boy or a girl? A bird or a fish? A flower or a shooting star? At school, though, they must endure inquisitive looks and difficult questions from the other children, and have trouble finding friends who will accept them for who they are. But they find comfort in the loving arms of their mother, who always offers them the same loving refrain: “whatever you dream of / i believe you can be / from the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea.”
In this captivating, beautifully imagined picture book about gender, identity, and the acceptance of differences between us, Miu Lan faces many questions about who they are and who they may be. But one thing’s for sure: no matter who this child becomes, their mother will love them just the same.
Body Music by Julie Maroh
If Julie Maroh’s name isn’t familiar to you, the name of her debut graphic novel and/or the controversial French film version probably are: she wrote Blue is the Warmest Color. Although the storytelling in Blue is the Warmest Color was clearly done by a teenager cramming in as much drama as possible (Maroh was only 19 when she started writing it), the art was beautiful and subtle, just as it looks in her newest graphic novel Body Music. Translated from the French by Canadian David Homel, Body Music
marks her return to the kind of soft, warm palette and impressionistic sensibility that made her debut book so sensational. Set in the languid, European-like neighbourhoods of Montreal, Body Music is a beautiful and moving meditation on love and desire as expressed in many different forms—between women, between men, between women and men and gender non-conformists alike, all varying in age and race. In twenty separate vignettes, Maroh explores the drama inherent in relationships at different stages: the electricity of initial attraction, the elation of falling in love, the trauma of breaking up, the sweet comfort of a long-standing romance. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship will see themselves in these intimate stories tinged with raw emotion. Body Music is an exhilarating and passionate graphic novel about what it means to fall in love, and what it means to be alive.