Danika reviews I’m a Wild Seed: My Graphic Memoir on Queerness and Decolonizing the World by Sharon Lee De La Cruz

I'm a Wild Seed by Sharon Lee De La Cruz cover

I’m a Wild Seed is a short (51 pages) graphic memoir exploring the author’s exploration of her identity. It’s about how her “coming into queerness,” but it’s also about her relationship to her racial identity and decolonizing gender and sexuality.

Because this is so short, it often reminded me more of an in-depth essay than a graphic memoir–that’s not a complaint! It’s packed full of memes, diagrams, and other visuals that I’m familiar with on the internet than I am in books.

De La Cruz shares not only her personal story, but also the history and context she’s learned along the way. It’s through this background that she can better understand her own identity, and she’s clearly eager to share these with the reader. She also discussed how her freedom is tied to Black trans women’s: that no one is free until the most vulnerable of us are.

She comes out at 29 because she spends her early years trying to understand her racial and cultural identity: how can she be Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Black? What does that mean for her? Where does she fit in? She explains that because it was so difficult to understand and come to terms with that, she had no time or space to question her sexual identity or gender.

This is a quick read, but it’s insightful and thought-provoking. My only complaint is that I would have gladly read a version of this book twice or three times as long!

I’m a Wild Seed comes out April 6, 2021

Danika reviews Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir by Kimiko Tobimatsu, illustrated by Keet Geniza

Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir by Kimiko Tobimatsu, illustrated by Keet GenizaKimiko Does Cancer is about about a queer, mixed-race woman getting breast cancer. This is a short book, only 106 pages, and it moves quickly: the first page is about Kimiko finding a lump above her breast, and then it moves through her diagnosis, treatment, and the aftermath. Tobimatsu explains in interviews/articles that she wanted to write this book because the mainstream narrative around cancer didn’t include her experience. She wanted other queer people with cancer to have a reference that better reflects their lives.

For one thing, she comes into this experience already skeptical of doctors, especially around sexual health. One panel shows a doctor saying, “Only women who sleep with men need Paps,” (labelled on page as “Bad medical advice”). This is something that I was also told by a doctor, after she blushed and seemed flustered when I told her my sexual experience was with AFAB people. Although she’s grateful for her medical team, she also finds it overwhelming, especially when they give different advice. She also continues to face similar microagressions: a doctor who assumes she’ll immediately want reconstructive surgery on her breast before asking her–Kimiko had been interested in exploring what a mastectomy would mean for her exploration of gender. Later, another doctor asks if she’d like both breasts enhanced as long as they’re “plumping” one.

In her article on Rethink Cancer, she explains,

I didn’t want to talk about how to recover my sense of femininity despite breast scars and menopause; I wanted to explore how losing my breasts might allow me to lean into my masculinity. I didn’t want to talk about how changing femininity could affect a hetero relationship; I wanted to talk about the implications of breast cancer on queer relationships between women.”

This genderizing of breast cancer extends outside assumptions around patients’ relationships to their breasts. In “Straight Cancer in a Queer Body” at The Polyphony, Tobimatsu explains,

Whether we know it or not, ideas around gender are frequently at the forefront of conversations about breast cancer. Little is as connected to notions of femininity as breasts, hair and fertility – all things that can be lost following a breast cancer diagnosis. Perhaps for this reason, society’s response to the disease is to throw pink ribbons, make-up tutorials and a peppy outlook at the problem. For many queers and gender non-conforming folks, this feminization of the disease is stifling…

A page from Kimiko Does Cancer showing Kimiko meeting three women in a cancer support group. They introduce themselves and then transform magic girl style into feminine fighters. "I'm Macy, Stacy, Lacy! We're survivors, fighters, warriors! We kick cancer's butt! And look good while doing it~"

Page from Kimiko Does Cancer

Not only is Kimiko uncomfortable with the whiteness and heteronormativity/gender norms, she also is alienated by how apolitical these spaces are. Kimiko considers the ethics and greater implications of each of the choices she’s making in this journey, and the structure around them. She recognizes the privilege she has to be in Canada and have the medical support she does, and the special treatment she gets as a young cancer patient. She contemplates the ethics of freezing her eggs for $7,000 when she’s not sure whether she even wants kids–or whether it’s ethical to bring kids into a climate crisis. On top of that, she feels pressure to have had some great epiphany as a cancer survivor: to have a whole new outlook on life, and no longer care about the “little things.”

Kimiko Does Cancer follows the aftereffects of her treatment as well. She has menopause induced to (hopefully) prevent cancer from recurring. This leaves her with hot flashes, which play a major role in her life. I had no idea what having hot flashes really entailed:

Page from Kimiko Does Cancer shows stages of a hot flash, including anger, raging heat, hunger, and more.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope that it finds its way into the right hands. I’ll leave off with one last quotation from the author, who explains the importance of changing this narrative. She explains that vague cancer fundraisers often get more attention than specific actions needed to improve marginalized peoples’ lives. (And of course, it’s all connected: racial justice and ending poverty are inextricably linked to health.)

When we centre certain bodies and not others, it has dire consequences – black women with breast cancer get diagnosed at later stages than white women and have lower survival rates… By depoliticizing cancer, it becomes an easy cause to support. Pink ribbon campaigns offer a way to give money to an easy-to-sympathize-with-cause that doesn’t force engagement with more difficult issues like poverty or racial justice.

“Straight Cancer in a Queer Body,” The Polyphony

Audrey reviews Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

honorgirl

Mild spoiler warnings–nothing you wouldn’t get from reading the jacket copy, though. Reading Honor Girl is painful in the way that reading your old diaries is painful. Not the “Wow, I was stupid-shallow” parts, but the moments of earnest hope where you can see the younger you before your first real, crushing heartbreak, before you knew what it was like to feel hollow inside because of another person.

Maggie’s 15, spending her summer in Kentucky as she always does, at the same camp her mother attended, participating in the same rituals and traditions. During the school year, she lives with her upper-crust family in Atlanta. She floats between these worlds, and her most solid anchor is her love for one of the Backstreet Boys.

This summer is different, though. This summer she’s finding her place, finally, on the shooting range. And this summer, there’s Erin. The shooting might be okay, but at this very Christian, very Southern camp at the beginning of the new millennium, the slow realization that she’s attracted to Erin–and that Erin returns the feeling–is very not okay.

Maggie’s not terribly uncomfortable with her feelings, but she’s deeply uncomfortable with other people’s reactions, especially when they seem to get Erin in trouble. Maggie’s choices during that summer make this book feel in part like an expiation, and the ending is quietly devastating. This is being touted as a book about a girl going to summer camp and discovering she’s a lesbian, but what she discovers about her character, and how that knowledge informs her life afterward, is crucial.

Having been one of those kids who got along better with adults (i.e., I found camp traumatizing in and of itself), I did a little looking around. Maggie Thrash considers that summer to have been an “idyllic bubble” and a quick Google search for Honor Girl turns up adjectives like “hilarious” and “heartwarming.” In the same interview linked above, Thrash notes that the memoir isn’t about being held down by her peers, but crushed by older people.

Because this is a graphic memoir, it’s pretty much a one-afternoon kind of deal. There are more memoirs coming out in this format now. This story is particularly suited to it. Thrash clearly remembers what it’s like to be 15. It’s exciting, terrifying, funny, boring, fleeting, excruciating, and brilliant. Sometimes within the space of a few minutes.

Two people read this in my house. My fiancee borrowed it from the library and read it, then told me I should. How was it? “It was okay. It was good. Quick. You’ll finish it in like an hour and a half,” she said. I finished it and was, as I phrased it earlier, quietly devastated. This is definitely one of those books that, once set free in the world, is going to mean different things to different people, regardless of what its creator/subject intended. Good on its own; excellent conversation starter. Great for book clubs (teens and adults). Book is currently cataloged as adult bio. I’m moving it to where the YA crowd will swarm.

Danika reviews 100 Crushes by Elisha Lim

100crushes

100 Crushes is a collection of excerpts from different pieces that Elisha Lim has done over the years, including Sissy, The Illustrated Gentleman, Queer Child in the Eighties, and 100 Butches. Most of these works focus on queer people of colour, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was such a celebration of qpoc lives. There are interviews and short bios of “butches”, “sissies” and “sissy inspirations”, all with evocative illustrations.

Because these are just excerpts, it did feel disjointed at times, but that is the only complaint that I have. Having just a taste of these makes me want to dive into Elisha Lim’s back list in full. I love the range of queer experiences given voice in this collection, and it made me think about all the ways that we interpret our own gender and sexuality. I wish I had prints of some of these pages to hang on my walls. For anyone looking for more diverse representations in comics/graphic novels & memoirs, I definitely recommend giving 100 Crushes a try.

Danika reviews Snapshots of a Girl by Beldan Sezen

snapshotsofagirl

Snapshots of a Girl is a graphic memoir that follows Sezen in her coming out process–to the world at large, to her Turkish family, but mostly to herself. As the title suggests, we get glimpses into different stages in her life, titled things like “The Denial Years” (including “Boy #1” – “Boy #3”) and “Coming Out To My Mother” parts 1-3.

I enjoyed the different illustration styles throughout this memoir. They range from metaphorical and vague images to detailed portraits of various people in her life. Although at some points the short sections and varied styles could feel disjointed, I could see how these were the pivotal moments in this story that really didn’t need the in-between to support them.

My favourite section is near the beginning and really sets the tone for the story. Sezen is 18 and has fallen in love with an older female coworker. She doesn’t dwell on this and instead tells her coworker, unexpectedly finding that this leads to  them in bed together. As she is sleeping with a woman for the first time, she gets completely overwhelmed and abruptly gets up, gets dressed, and leaves without really saying anything to the other woman, and then she just doesn’t really consider her sexuality again for years. (Thus, “The Denial Years.”) It makes for such a comic scene, for her to suddenly backpedal on this whole process, but it’s also refreshing for breaking up the usual linear coming out storyline. Sometimes you come out of the closet and then go back in, and sometimes you embrace and identity temporarily and spend years trying to regain it. Coming out–and also growing up–doesn’t happen the same way and in the same order for everyone.

This was a quick and interesting read. It reminded me of a zine in style (though it is almost 150 pages long), so if you’re a fan of that medium, I think you’ll really enjoy this one. Definitely worth picking up for graphic novel/memoir fans!

Danika reviews Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 by MariNaomi

kissandtell

 

Right off the bat I have to let you know that this isn’t a lesbian book. MariNaomi seems to be attracted to more than one gender, but the vast majority of this book deal with her relationships with boys and men, with the occasional experiment with girls, though there are hints throughout the book that she accepts a queer identity later in her life.

Kiss & Tell is a graphic memoir that spans MariNaomi’s life from childhood to 22, with brief (usually only a page or two, sometimes a handful of pages) stories about each of her romantic interests, whether they lasted a day or years. The art style is similar to Marjane Satrapi’s in Persepolis, and the style and storytelling really grabbed me, even though each story is so brief. By following these romantic interests through the years, we get a sketchy look as her life in general, and it’s one that’s intriguing and occasionally melancholic. Although the art style is usually fairly basic, there are sequences that receive a lot of detail and are even more affecting for the contrast.

Although I’ll admit that I was expecting a little bit more queer content from this collection, I still ended up really enjoying it. This was a really quick read and totally engrossed me; I read it in two sittings. Despite the book chronicling dozens of characters, each was drawn distinctly enough that I never mixed them up, and the stories never felt repetitive. I’ll definitely be picking up more of her books in the future.

Danika re-reviews Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home is one my favourite books, so I was happy for the chance to re-read it in one of my English classes this semester. It definitely, definitely stands up to a second reading. In fact, I plan on writing my final essay about it, because there’s just so much to it.

There’s the obvious interesting autobiography element, and the strength of the illustrations, and the parallel between Bechdel and her father, but I had forgotten that it’s also a deeply literary work.

If there’s anything I like more than lesbians or books, it’s lesbian books. And if there’s anything I like more than lesbian books, it’s books about lesbian books. Fun Home is the perfect mix of these interests. Bechdel’s parents as she was growing up were both English teachers, and books are a constant presence throughout the novel. She understands her family through comparing them to books and authors. She often has excerpts from books that take up a whole panel, and even the books in the background usually get a title and author.

Most of the references I didn’t fully understand, because I’m not particularly familiar with the Western canon. I’m sure, though, that Fun Home would be even richer if you are.

Bechdel’s coming out was also wrapped in books: she realized her lesbianism by stumbling across a description of a lesbian in a book, she devoured lesbian books in her coming out process, and she parallels her coming out with the Odyssey.

Fun Home also has an interesting, twisting narrative structure. We leap forward and backward in time, but it never feels forced.

All in all, I had remembered how enjoyable Fun Home was, but I don’t think I remembered how fascinating it is, and how much depth there is to it. I can’t wait to read Bechdel’s upcoming graphic memoir, Are You My Mother?