Jordan reviews Nevada by Imogen Binnie


If there is anything we need more of, it is trans* literature, or pretty much any books falling under that such umbrella term. But as the years go on we start to see more and more. Even so, books like Nevada or Luna, are still quite literally a rare treat, because I can actually count on my fingers and toes how many fiction books have trans* characters as a protagonist, or main character focus. And some of those were self-published.

Because of this rare treat experience, it didn’t matter what people said about it, I had to get around to reading Nevada by Imogen Binnie. It is not the first fiction book with a trans* main character, but it is the first to not only receive a bunch of hype around it. And better yet it tells the story of a trans-girl who actually dates other girls, which is actually a first, fictionally anyway.

But enough about the theory. Nevada focuses on the story of Maria and her search to find herself, sort of. And despite the fact that the opening of the novel goes through a real time situation of lesbian bed death, it doesn’t stay with clichés like that. In fact it works to break down a lot of the television identity that many trans* people get, including showing Maria struggling with that issue.

However, with the breakdown we do get a writing style that some people may hate, and others (lovers of fairy tales) will likely enjoy. The style is a lot like someone standing in the room with you and telling you a story verbally. I could honestly see Imogen actually talking like the writing in the book, which infused a bit of herself in the work. In normal cases of fiction, I’d say that’s not a good thing. But when you have a fictional work that could possibly be akin to what Jeanette Winterson did with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by infusing a bit of personal experiences and fiction, you get something that is touching and personal to people.

Of course, with a story about a person finding themselves, you can imagine there isn’t exactly an ending to this. The ending in fact was the weakest, mostly because there wasn’t one. You’re reading through it and you turn the page to get to the next chapter and it’s done. I would normally say that it wasn’t finished at that point, but it is a literary novel, which seriously never have an ending. In fact I’m almost sure one of the possible definitions of literary novel is: Protagonist doesn’t overcome the challenge they were trying to face, or doesn’t find what they were searching for.

But that is a personal issue for me with literary novels. I like to have endings, especially when they aren’t happily ever after. Still, there are some gems in this book that is worth it for anyone. In fact, this book is definitely one of those books that makes you think about things you might not have. About life, relationships, gender, sexuality.

The biggest strength for this book though, were the characters. There wasn’t just Maria who had been on hormones for four years. There was Steph who has a pretty queer femme identity going on, and Kieran who goes with male pronouns but isn’t necessarily male or female, and later in the book we also get James who is one of those budding individuals who wants to do traditionally female things but doesn’t want to suffer the consequences, and a whole collection of other minor characters who are as diverse as a rainbow unicorn.

You really get a mix of different kinds of people, which made it feel so much like this could have been something that happened in your town. It was these diverse and real life characters that actually make the book enjoyable and something you could connect with and take away from it. That and some of the random humor, or my personal favorite were the monologues about how trans* people aren’t sex addicts, but are internet addicts. But isn’t everyone an internet addict these days? Who doesn’t like a space where you can be yourself. There’s somewhere for everyone to be themselves on the internet.

Overall, I do think this book is a worthwhile read for everyone. Those who are trans*, questioning queers, straight as a pen, doesn’t really matter, you’ll all find something you can connect with or relate to or even just get a new perspective on something that you probably didn’t really know about.

No matter what, it is one of those literary novels that gets you thinking. But hopefully, because of this book, I want to see more trans* and lesbian/queer trans-girl books!


Casey reviews Nevada by Imogen Binnie


I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to reading Nevada by Imogen Binnie!  I finished it a few days before Christmas and am still feeling the impact of this powerful, thought-provoking novel.  Nevada follows the life of a queer trans woman named Maria.  She’s in her late twenties, she’s living in Brooklyn with her cis girlfriend, working in a bookstore in Manhattan, and trying to deal with life and her shit.  Of course, since I’m cisgender I can’t pretend to understand the emotional, physical, and mental stuff that’s trans specific in this novel, but I will say that I found that living in Maria’s head for a few days a challenging, heartbreaking, scary, breath-taking experience.

And this is definitely a novel where you feel like you’re living (trapped?) in someone else’s head for a while.  Maria is neurotic, there’s no doubt about that, and she’s cynical, and punk, and sarcastic, and (as Danika wrote in her review) post-post everything.  Hers is the kind of voice that brings up some seriously fucked-up shit in one breath and says ‘whatever’ in the next.  She uses the word fuck a lot.  It’s not that Maria doesn’t care.  It’s that she’s so used to dissociating as a survival mechanism that even after coming out and transitioning she can’t turn it off.  Her girlfriend actually lies to her about cheating on her because she so desperately wants a strong reaction, any reaction from Maria.  The descriptions of dissociation were uncomfortably close to home, for someone who’s dated someone who did this.  Imogen Binnie knows what she is talking about.

Nevada is so many things that are so refreshing to see in queer literature.  The obviously groundbreaking aspect of Binnie’s novel is that it’s a piece of fiction written by a trans woman, about trans women, with trans women as the intended audience.  I’m going to let writer Casey Plett explain a bit more about that:

And, duh, I love how it’s a novel specifically about trans women, for trans women, written by a trans woman (any of which has rarely existed let alone all three at once) and that it talks about shit that probably only trans women know about and in a totally real and unbullshit or snow-covered way (see above re: experience drinking whiskey and/or crying and/or dumbass giggling). I love how Imogen doesn’t give a fuck about her audience before she gives a fuck about trans women, we’re the primary audience and Jesus Christ that’s cathartic to have that as a reader. It’s a weird feeling to read shitloads of fiction all your life, and then read this book, and realize it’s the first book written specifically for someone like you to read it: “Gender may be a social construct, but so are cars, and if you ignore them, you still get hit.”

(via Progress Never Stops For Nostalgic Transsexuals)

Nevada is also a detailed, complex look at life after coming out.  Trans and/or queer people know life goes on after you come out, but far too often narratives (especially from cis or straight people) act as if it doesn’t or that it’s easy or that trans or queer people cease to be different from their cis or straight counterparts.  Life doesn’t end after you come out.  And your gender and sexuality don’t cease to be relevant.  In fact, what Maria is grappling with for the whole novel is “how to live a life post-transition” and how “to exist like a three-dimensional person who cares about her body and her mind and her life and her friends and her lovers and is able to exist in a relationship with another person.”  It’s not an uplifting look at this process by any means.  In the article I linked above, Casey Plett has a lot of profound and brilliantly put thoughts on this from a trans woman reader’s perspective.  This book left me with a feeling that was kind of like: FUCK WHY IS LIFE SO FUCKED-UP AND HARD??

Moving on from that, here are two other things to love about Nevada: one: Maria’s best friend, an older trans woman whom she has nicknamed Piranha.  She’s unfailingly kind, but also bad-ass and doesn’t let Maria get away with shit and calls her out on stuff and is generally the kind of friend that everyone wants and needs.  I really loved her as a character and would have liked to see more of her in the novel.

Two: Did I mention that, despite the bleakness and the hopelessness and the fucked-upness, this novel is also hilarious?  It made me laugh out loud quite a few times.  Let me just give you some examples.

Maria is emailing a guy back and forth about buying drugs and she thinks: “they are basically instant messaging via email, like our ancestors did.”  She also thinks while riding her bike “Oh Williamsburg.  There was a point when you seemed like a scary, tough neighbourhood, but now it’s obvious that the graffiti on your walls gets put there by art students.”   After she gets fired: “And that’s that.  You could be melodramatic and say: just like that Maria Griffiths is homeless and unemployed in New York City.  The reality though is that she has a bunch of places to crash, so it would be appropriative to call herself homeless.”

If you haven’t read this book already, what are you waiting for?

Danika reviews Nevada by Imogen Binnie


Nevada is one of the books that I’ve been most excited to read lately. It’s pretty much the first trans lesbian novel I’ve heard of, I like the (weird) cover, the blurb sounding promising, and it’s by a publisher I already like! That’s a lot of positive points! So I was also a little bit nervous about actually reading it, in case I ended up being disappointed. Luckily, from the first page, I already liked the writing style. Here’s the first two paragraphs (warning for S/M, choking):

She’s choking me. She’s really in there, fingers mashing my trachea, and I can’t breathe, Maria thinks.

It occurs to her that she truly can’t breathe–but she can’t bring herself to care. There was a time in her life when this was new, when she was at least as hot for being choked as Steph was for choking her, but now they’ve got an apartment together–a cat, good lighting–and Maria can’t even muster a shiver. She acts like she’s into it.

It’s a style that will definitely appeal to some people and totally turn off others. It’s deeply introspective, in this post-post-modern, post-hipster, over-analyzing, ironic way. Maria disassociates from any emotion, but analyzes herself and her life continuously. The narrative is in third person, but most of it takes place in Maria’s thoughts, as she tries to figure out what she wants from her life and her relationship. She’s stalled, feeling like she’s an expert on being trans now, but not being able to stop thinking about it for twenty minutes. She feels stuck in her job and relationship, but doesn’t know what else to do.

I feel like this will appeal the most to queers in their 20s, or at least, it did to me. I couldn’t help completely relating to Maria’s thought processes:

It’s frustrating but you can’t just be like, Okay brain, think. Because your brain is like, I am thinking! I am thinking at you, and then you’re like, Jesus, brain, relax. I just mean we need to think about this conversation. . . . She’s like, are you listening, brain? This is way too meta, her brain says.

as well as relating to her self-conscious search for authenticity while acknowledging that it is an impossible and self-indulgent quest, and generally trying to establish a sense of identity while also dealing with internalized queer and feminist critiques of any label, idea, or emotion you may have. (Though I am cisgender and therefore can’t pretend to personally understand many of the things that Maria grapples with.) I know that other people may read it and completely roll their eyes at all of this, however, so if you don’t like the writing style and internal monologue by the first three pages, you probably won’t enjoy the book.

Because this is more of an internal struggle, there isn’t much of a plot happening in Nevada. Maria faces a kind of crisis that forces her to face her own apathy in her life, and she grapples with this. Still, although I knew that not much was going to happen in the book, I still was a little disappointed by the ending. There really isn’t any kind of resolution.

A little more than halfway through the novel, you are introduced to another character, James, who carries a lot of the focus from that point onward, though most of the narrative is focused on both Maria and James interacting. The reason I had liked the book so much up to that point is that I really liked Maria, as flawed and navel-gazing as she was. I wasn’t very interested in James–or, more specifically, I didn’t want to move away from Maria. I hadn’t expected another main character to be introduced so late, and I felt cheated out of more of Maria, even though she is present in most of James’s section as well. I often feel this way about a change in point of view halfway through a story, however. I’m okay with alternating if I know it’s going to happen, but if it happens late in the book, I feel like I just got plunged into a different book before I was finished with the last one.

Still, although I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending, I did really like the style of Nevada as well as the characters, especially Maria and Steph (her girlfriend. We get one chapter from her perspective, and I kind of wish we got more.). If the style appeals to you, definitely pick up Nevada, just don’t expect a tidy ending, and do expect a shift in point of view. (As an aside, this book makes me even more hungry for more trans novels, especially trans lesbian ones. I’m glad that Topside Press is making trans narratives a priority, and Nevada definitely sets the bar high.)