[The book and this review (although briefly) has these content warnings: transmisogyny, transphobic physical assault, death/grief]
I read this book in one day and it was the best decision! Like the ghosts/people who resurface throughout the novel I have felt its presence ebb in and out of my consciousness as I go about my life for the past week. It is a kind, sensitive, introspective and honestly deeply beautiful novel that had me marking half its pages because of the lyrical softness of the prose, or the relatability of the text or the enjoyment I had of tracing motifs and metaphors through it.
Small Beauty tells a meditative and sincere story of a mixed race Canadian Chinese trans girl named Mei. She spends a lot of time by herself in her dead relative’s home with her griefs over the death of her cousin, Sandy, her Aunt Bernadette and her grandma Nei Nei. But its not just a novel of sadness, instead it documents times before and after the various departures of her family and friends and showcases her complicated experiences and her heartfelt anger and love.
Mei, within the subtle, sweet and baring prose, doesn’t ever offer explanations of her identity to the reader or to anyone within the text either. Her transness and her whole self is allowed to simply be. Mei does experience a transphobic physical assault [pages 66-67 if you want to skip it!] but what is evidenced in the aftermath of this is her community, especially in the form of an older Chinese trans woman named Connie, supporting and looking after her. The evidence of some kind of intergenerational community was really warming and tender. The older “woodsy dyke” Mei meets whilst staying in the country is transmisogynistic but that too is treated with a softness, a multifaceted-ness and ultimately a forgiveness granted by Mei. The novel regularly refuses to pander to cis people and the narratives for trans folks that they create and one of the major reasons is because it treats things with nuance. Its also important to note that this is an own voices novel – that is that the author is a mixed race trans woman like Mei.
Trying to find an adequate example of the prose was difficult because so many small beauties are weaved throughout it. So this is one example of many of the soft ways in which images and words are formed:
The air is cold but he welcomes it. It is grounding and relieving to feel the ephemeral character of body heat. In the moment between chopping the last of the wood and the somatic realization of Winter, he is a new planet, a molten core spinning furiously, volcanic plumes billowing out of his breath. If not for the solidity of the ground below him he would believe that he orbited the forest instead of walked in it.
I loved the motif of the geese, which flies throughout Small Beauty and was done with this care and openness I really enjoyed. The geese offer a really lovely representation of community and family and ghosts. The geese, much like the prose, become this familiar presence to you, with this quiet strength. In Kai Cheng Thom’s review she wrote that it was a “deeply communal and strikingly unique” novel and I cant help but agree!
“There’s more to you than how you look, you’re more than a package”
Fat Angie is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while because it seemed like a complex and intersectional queer read. Spoiler: it is.
Fat Angie is about Angie, a rerunning freshman in Ohio who has a lot to deal with but never seems to give up. She takes on her sister’s advice and tries to ‘follow through’. Her sister, who, after a stint as a great basketball player, joins the army and is taken hostage. Angie still has hope that her sister is alive and fights everyone that tries to mud sling her sister.
Angie is bullied but she does stand up for herself sometimes. She wants to please her mother who sends both her and her brother Wang to therapy (and is dating their therapist) but her mother is never pleased. Be warned that her behavior could be triggering to some. Despite this, I find the characters in this book to be multidimensional. The bully may have reasons, the perfect popular star may not be perfect, the main character herself makes mistakes. Most characters are hurting and they cope differently.
Then there’s KC Romance, the new girl who falls for Angie and Angie falls for who sees Angie as Angie, without the fat. KC is a complex character, who is seen as ‘alternative’ but is popular yet she has a somewhat dark past but whose mother probably is the only mentioned parent that’s a parent role model.
Angie copes with her sister’s ‘MIA’ status with two, seemingly paradoxical things: binge eating and sport (first basketball in the steps of her sister and then another sport). At the beginning of the year, it is mentioned that Angie tried to commit suicide and this became a public event. Yet, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t fit in, she’s awkward but she takes steps to move on despite being stuck somewhat in the past, when her sister was still with them.
Angie’s and KC’s relationship is deep, connecting, sweet with a cup of drama and misunderstandings and awkwardness thrown in. It’s a mature, teenage relationship that is not perfect but supporting the individuals within it.
Be warned that this book contains some triggers: suicide attempt, self-harm, body issues, mentions of death and torture, bad parenting and bullying. Sometimes, especially with Angie’s mother and her therapist, the reader is left bubbling with anger. At the end, I think that although not justified, we see also different sides to the characters that we do not like. The character development in this book was subtle, but well executed.
I would recommend this book, which I rated as five stars, to people that want to read a queer book where the main focus isn’t the relationship (it’s still a big part though).
I listened to this book as an audiobook- my first one- thanks to the Sync Audiobooks Summer program which means that this audiobook is free to download until today (21st July 2016)! I will try to read the book in the future to compare my experience but I think that the narration was done quite well and helped to immerse me in my experience (I coloured while I listened).
As soon as I finished The Last Nude by Ellis Avery, I immediately added her to my mental list of favourite authors, despite the fact that it was the only thing I’d ever read by her. Some stories are like that. The Family Tooth is a very different book, but it definitely has helped secure her place on that list.
The Family Tooth is a memoir composed of linked essays. Some of these are available as Kindle singles, or the whole book is available zine-style in the author’s Etsy shop. At first glance, it can seem disconnected. The essays cover Avery’s grief over the death of her mother, as well as her journey through dealing with severe arthritis and later cancer, partly through radically restricting her diet. Because they do concentrate on different subjects, the essays can stand on their own, but I think they’re much more powerful when read in sequence.
In the introduction to this collection, Avery warns that part of this purpose of these essays is to detail her discoveries about treatment of her illness so that other people with similar symptoms can use her research to help in their own lives. She encourages the average reader to skip these dry medical passages. It’s a testament to Ellis Avery’s writing that I realized at the end of the book that I had totally forgotten this warning, and despite the detail given, I had never noticed any “dry” segments.
The book begins by discussing her mother’s death, and the complex relationship Ellis Avery had with her mother–an alcoholic and emotionally distant figure in her life. Later essays that are primarily concerned with Avery’s illness still bring in this processing, including thought-provoking parallels between her mother’s life and her own that recontextualize and complicate the initial impression we have of her.
It’s Avery’s writing that really makes these essays stand out. She knows just how to give a detail or mental image that elevates the whole narrative. She weaves in lines that link these disparate subjects together effortlessly. I found myself reading lines out loud to my roommate, and at one point we both paused after I read out a sentence and then said simultaneously “That’s such good writing.”
Grief memoirs and illness memoirs are not usually genres that I gravitate towards, but I will continue to read anything this author decides to write, and I would recommend you join me.