Danika reviews Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Cordova


I will admit, I find the idea of lesbian nuns fascinating. I love that there are multiple books on the subject. It actually makes total sense: historically, at least in the Western world, one of the few avenues that women had available to them if they didn’t want to get married to men and have children was to become a nun. Is it surprising that lesbians are over-represented in that number? In addition to this being a lesbian nun book, it’s also by an author I already enjoy. Cordova wrote a memoir about her activism titled When We Were Outlaws which I reviewed at the Lesbrary previously, so I knew that her writing style agree with me. It also ended up being an interesting prologue to When We Were Outlaws: I wouldn’t have guessed that passionate lesbian activist spent her childhood yearning to be a nun.

This isn’t as scandalous as the subtitle “A Lesbian Nun Story” would have you believe. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of that. Cordova as a postulant is hopelessly naive. The reader knows better, but young Jeanne wanders through training confused about why the church is so strict about “particular friendships” and what all the blushing and hand-holding is about between nuns she knows. More than a story about being a lesbian nun, Breaking the Habit is about Cordova’s disillusionment about convent life and about the plans she had been dreaming about since childhood. She describes wanting to be a nun as being in love with God, and primarily this is a story about falling out of love and about finding the world to be wider, darker, and also full of more possibility than she was aware of.

Overall, it’s a sweet story about coming out to yourself in an unusual setting. I think this works better as a prologue to When We Were Outlaws than as a standalone story, because it is fairly simple as a narrative. The writing is strong, though, and if you are intrigued by the premise, I don’t think it will disappoint.

Casey reviews Red Azalea by Anchee Min


This year I’ve been doing a reading project of only authors of colour, pretty much all LGBTQ.  I’ve read a ton of great stuff, and one of the best things this challenge has made me do is discover some authors that I never would have encountered otherwise.  One such writer is Anchee Min, whose memoir Red Azalea I read a few weeks ago.  I was totally and utterly blown-away by the gorgeous, unique writing and the page-turning, I-can’t-believe-this-is-true plot.  I can’t believe I might not have found this book if I hadn’t made an effort to research books by queer people of colour.  Shame on me for not reading this earlier.

Red Azalea follows Anchee (note: I decided to refer to her by her first name since it feels weird to call the character in the book by a last name!)  growing up in the last days of Mao’s China, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.  It was a movement to “purge” remaining capitalist and traditionalist elements in what was now a communist country.  As a child, Anchee was part of the Red Guards, a youth military group dedicated to enforcing Maoism and the Cultural Revolution.  In her late teens, she was later forcibly sent from the city to work at a communal farm—as were millions of other urban youth to work brutal days from 5am to 9pm.  After a few years, Anchee was miraculously plucked from obscurity to partake in the Chinese propaganda film industry in Shanghai, where she encountered a whole other host of problems.  She eventually left China for the US in the 80s.

Okay, that’s the story, but that’s not really the story, you know.  This is such an emotionally and lyrically rich memoir, evocative but never showy, and intensely erotic without ever being cheesy or cheap.  In a scene in part one, Anchee is manipulated into publicly humiliating a beloved teacher for being an enemy spy in front of her entire school.  Ten years later, she finds the teacher, and goes to her, intending to apologize.  She receives this chilling response:

I am very sorry, I don’t remember you. I don’t think I ever had you as my student.

It’s in the second part of the book that Anchee is forced at age 17 to part with her parents, who “stood there like frosted aubergines—with heads hanging weakly in front of their chests” as the truck drives off, their daughter riding in the back.  It’s at the communal farm that Anchee meets Yan, a legend, a heroine renowned for her brute strength on the farm and dedication as Comrade Party Secretary.  This is Anchee’s first glimpse of the woman she later falls in love with:

She had a pair of fiery intense eyes, in which I saw the energy of a lion.  She had weather-beaten skin, thick eyebrows, a bony nose, high cheekbones, a full mouth in the shape of a water chestnut.  She had the shoulders of an ancient warlord, extravagantly broad. She was barefoot.  Her sleeves and trousers were rolled halfway up.  Her hands rested on her waist.   When her eyes focused on mine, I trembled for no reason.  She burned me with the sun in her eyes.  I felt bare.

As the two women’s relationship develops, Anchee begins to realize just how sexually repressive the regime is, in addition to the isolation, alienation, and general mass psychosis.  I’m not talking just about queer sexuality: the system does not allow the young women at the farm any sexuality at all.  A friend of Anchee’s is mentally broken and eventually commits suicide after being interrogated and humiliated after being found with a male lover.  What’s fascinating and disturbing is that the party officials present this type of action as feminist, and declare they saved Anchee’s friend from being raped.

When I say this book is beautifully, uniquely written I especially mean the way Anchee Min writes about her growing love for Yan.  It’s Yan who makes her feel write this: “I stood in the sunshine, feeling, feeling, the rising of a hope.”   A hope like this:

She asked me to feel her heart.  I wished I was the blood in that chamber.  In the hammering of her hearbeat, the rising and falling of her chest.  I saw a city of chaos.  A mythical force drew me to her.  I felt the blazing of a fire inside me.

When Yan and Anchee finally kiss, it’s beautiful, and sexy, and just everything you’ve been wanting in a love scene.  Trust me.  Okay, don’t trust me: read this quotation:

She said, I want you to obey me.  You always did well when you obeyed me. She licked my tears and said this was how she was going to remember us.

I moved my hands slowly through her shirt. She pulled my fingers to unbutton her bra.  The buttons were tight, five of them. Finally, the last one came off. The moment I touched her breasts, I felt a sweet shock. My heart beat disorderedly. A wild horse broke off its reins. She whispered something I could not hear. She was melting snow….The horse kept running wild.  I went where the sun rose.  Her lips were the colour of a tomato.  There was a gale mixed with thunder inside me.  I was spellbound by desire.  I wanted to be touched.  Her hands skimmed my breasts.  My mind maddened. My senses cheered frantically in a raging fire.

There’s something about the phrases and metaphors that Anchee Min creates that are strikingly different from any other writing I’ve read in English.  If my calculations are correct, she was about 30, maybe a bit younger when she moved to the US, with only a minimal knowledge of English; this means she was relatively old (in terms of language learning) when she started writing and speaking in English.  The lovely, strange way she writes made me think about what kind of effect speaking more than one language has on your writing.  As an ESL teacher, it made me wonder if teaching English students to write and speak like native speakers might be detrimental to their creativity, that minimizing the different ways in which they speak English might actually be a bad thing.  I can’t imagine a native speaker of English coming up with some of the images Anchee Min does, and that’s what makes it such a beautifully written memoir.

I feel like to discuss part three of the memoir would spoil some things that must not be spoiled—in my opinion, anyway—so I won’t get into too much detail.  Once I got about half way through this book, I couldn’t put it down, while I wanted to savour the language at the same time.  You’re in for stunning, sensual writing right until the end, even or perhaps especially in Anchee’s despair and heartbreak: “I could hear the sound of my dream’s spine breaking.”

You should move Red Azalea to the top of your reading pile.  I promise, you won’t regret it.

Casey reviews A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez


2014: what a year for bisexual memoirs by people of colour!  Among the fabulous Lambda award nominees fitting this category—including Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow, which I also highly recommend—is A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernández.  Don’t both of those have amazing, intriguing titles?  I simply loved Hernández’s book, on so many levels, for both its form and content.

It’s a memoir, but, interestingly, not structured linearly.  Instead, Hernández arranges the material of her life in three thematic sections, divided into chapters that are self-contained essays.  This structure allows you to see different facets of her life as they exist at different stages of her life, making links between events in childhood and adulthood that you might not otherwise.  Although it feels a bit jarring to move ahead and back again at first, after a while I really enjoyed the way she organized the memoir; it felt tangential in the same way that a conversation does.  One result of the organization, interestingly, is that you don’t actually hear anything about Hernández’s queerness until the second section, although the jacket refreshingly makes her bisexuality explicit.  That shouldn’t be notable, but unfortunately it is, and I was super pumped to see the ‘b’ word right there on the inside flap of the cover.

One other thing that is unique about this book’s format is that the entire thing is peppered with Spanish, always in italics, now and then whole sentences, often just a single word.  Like, there isn’t a page of the book that doesn’t have at least one Spanish word on it.  Sometimes you can guess the meaning of the word from the context, or a translation or paraphrase is fitted seamlessly into the text.  Other times, though, Hernández just lets the Spanish word sit in the English sentence, sin explanation.  Given that she devotes a lot of the memoir to discussing the role of language in her family and her sense of self, I found her decision to include a fair amount of Spanish in a predominantly English book fascinating.  This insistence on her mother tongue seemed to me a distinctly feminist Latina strategy, and a really cool way to illustrate the powerful and sometimes alienating effect language can have.  Anglophones aren’t used to having their easy understanding thwarted, and I thought the Spanish in A Cup of Water was a thoughtful way to draw attention to that privilege.  Also, if you’re learning español like I am, it’s really cool and helpful.

So what does Hernández write about?  In a nutshell: everything.  The first section is devoted to her family and cultural/spiritual background.  Growing up in New Jersey with a working class Colombian mother and Cuban father and a smattering of aunties constantly coming and going certainly gives her a lot to discuss.  Some of my favourite parts were about the intrusion of English in her life as her parents send her to English Catholic elementary school, despite her growing up speaking Spanish at home.  Having only ever heard English in cartoons on TV, she describes her first day of school like this:

Sitting in my classroom, I wait for Mrs. Reynolds to start talking like my mother.  In Spanish.  Surely it won’t be long now.  An hour passes.  Two hours.  An entire day it feels, and still it is all Mighty Mouse… It’s like being forced to watch the same cartoon all day long.  

Later she realizes devastating effect of this linguistic erasure:

I am not to go the way of the two people I long for in the thick terror of the night.  The first man I love and the first woman I adore, my father and my mother with their Spanish words, are not in these cards.  The road before me is English and the next part is too awful to ask aloud or even silently: What is so wrong with my parents that I am not to mimic their hands, their needs, not even their words?

There’s a stark honesty in Hernández’s writing, which is especially striking when she’s talking about the complicated stuff of life, like discovering and naming her bisexuality in the second section:

There isn’t a good verb for what begins happening to me in college.  Yes, I am meeting lesbians, but I am not one of them.  I still find men attractive; it is that I am thinking of women in a new way.  It is as if I am learning that I can shift my weight from one leg to the other, that I have a second leg.  Kissing women is like discovering a new limb.

Hernández also addresses racism in all its ugly complexity: for example, her Latin American family’s use of the word india (meaning an Indigenous person) as a threat when she’s misbehaving as a child, their fixation on light skin, prejudice against Black Americans, and the slipperiness of racial categories.  Like how her aunt’s dark-skinned Peruvian husband isn’t “indio” because he drives a nice car and has a good job.  How the white Southern editor at the New York Times where Hernández is working admits to  giving a young African American journalist who turned out to be plagiarizing one chance too many.  How her aunt said she was so dark as a child, “as if the colour of [her] skin had been an illness.”

One unexpected thing Hernández writes about in a startlingly candid way in the last section is money, as well as the related topic of class.  An especially poignant story called “Only Ricos Have Credit” (ricos means rich people) examines her relationship with credit cards, chasing the kind of white middle class lifestyle she dreams of but can’t actually afford.  In “My Father’s Hands,” she writes powerfully about the economic impact of NAFTA, her father beginning a job as a janitor at age 63 after doing factory work his entire life and her mother continuing to work, but sometimes without a paycheque at all, at her factory.

I’m pretty sure I’d have a hard time wrapping up such a gorgeous, far-reaching book, but Hernández does it eloquently in a short, final story in which a new chapter of her life on the west coast is beginning.  No mistaking it, she is a talented queer writer whose first book is, I think, only the dawn of the rosy career to come.  Don’t miss A Cup of Water Under My Bed.

Elinor reviews How to Grow Up by Michelle Tea

My wife and I are currently trying to buy a house, which is surreal, and it’s made me wonder about what it means to be–or feel like–an adult. Like magic, I found a copy of Michelle Tea’s latest memoir on that very topic. Since I’m a fan of Tea’s other writing, I picked it up. I figured that Michelle Tea is always fun and this book would likely present an interesting take on being a grown up.
How to Grow Up primarily covers Tea’s late thirties and early forties as she stumbles into adulthood. In her late thirties, Tea is sober after years of addiction, re-entering the dating world after spending 8 years in a dysfunctional relationship, sharing filthy housing with twenty-somethings in San Francisco, and dealing with the psychological, emotional, and spiritual issues. Eventually she moves to her own grown-up apartment, starts trying to get pregnant as a single person, forms a healthy relationship with a great woman, and gets married. Though she doesn’t delve much into how she made it happen, Tea has an amazing career in the literary world, something she managed to start even before she got sober. I was surprised she didn’t spend more time on this topic, since I think that having a career is a huge measure of adulthood–and something Tea has a handle on.
How to Grow Up was fun to read, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. This memoir is not linear, broken up into 15 themed essays that aren’t strictly chronological. Tea isn’t the most linear person, so this fits her personality. The downside is that she sometimes tosses out references to events or issues the reader doesn’t know about yet, or retreads the same experiences in multiple chapters.
The other odd thing about How to Grow Up is that periodically the book veers away from Tea’s interesting life and into advice dispensing. A lot of these life lessons struck me as obvious (such as “Don’t date people who sell pills in bus stations”), particularly after you read Tea’s stories. While I liked reading about Tea’s adventure in Paris after her long-term relationship ended, I didn’t need the rules about “how to break up” that preceded it. Tea is a great storyteller, but she’d make a terrible advice columnist, and her attempts to be one drag down her book.
The book didn’t explore issues as deeply as I would have liked. Though Tea looks at class, privilege, and her own background as a working class person, she also name-drops designer brands and insists that her higher power wants her to have these expensive, unethically made items. Her analysis of the contradictions that she holds boils down to, essentially, that all people have contradictory values and impulses. I don’t entirely disagree, but I also wanted more of her thoughts about these issues and less ink about Fendi bags. At times her contradictions are baffling, something that could have been intriguing if looked at more closely.
This book is reassuring, though, and I did feel better after reading How to Grow Up. Everything worked out for Michelle Tea in the end, despite all the detours and the weird choices she made. I’d recommend this book to fans of the author and to people who feel like they’re failing at being grown-ups, with the acknowledgement that the book has limitations. I’d recommend skimming or skipping the advice and lingering instead in the stories.

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



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.

Rachel reviews Two Teenagers in Twenty edited by Ann Heron


Coming out and living as a gay or lesbian teenager can be hard. Or it can be liberating. Everyone’s stories are all different, and Two Teenagers in Twenty, a compilation of true coming-out stories by homosexual teenagers, touches on all the emotions. From acceptance and understanding to fear and disgust, this book is a must-read for any gay, bisexual, or lesbian teen.

Published in 1994 as a sequel to One Teenager in Ten, both edited by Ann Heron, Two Teenagers in Twenty was made to show the lives of coming-out teens and the reactions of their families and friends. Though outdated (the stories in the book range from the 1980s-1990s), the hardships and fears young gays and lesbians face still resonates deeply today. The youth in these stories are between twelve and twenty-four years old, but each of them had to deal with realizing their sexuality, coming to terms with it despite society’s negative portrayal, and telling their loved ones.

This book accurately showed how different each individual’s story was. You get to know the plight of Joanne, a young woman raised by her parents and her school to believe homosexuality is wrong; Jim, whose mother and father react badly to his being gay; Robin, a girl exposed to only negativity about gays and must come to terms with herself; and Jennifer, a bisexual woman into gay rights activism. Though some stories are short, the authors clearly describe their troubles and their triumphs. You get to know each person, and you cheer them on or grieve for their problems and sadness.

The stories these brave teens tell can be shocking and, at times, appalling, making you disgusted with homophobes and bigots. Some kids here have dealt with being picked on at school, beaten up, rejected by their parents, isolation, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Tragically, one young lesbian girl who shared her story in this book succeeded in ending her life. Suicide was and still is a huge problem for gay teens because of the lack of understanding and the hatred directed at them.

A lot of the stories do offer hope. Some parents featured in Two Teenagers in Twenty were accepting of their children, and even marched with them in Gay Pride parades. Some teens were able to find resources and books that showed homosexuality in a positive light, and some were able to meet other teenagers like them. And many of the teens were combating homophobia and trying to raise awareness for gay rights. Some good things have happened for gay rights since this book came out, but there is still a lot to do.

Two Teenagers in Twenty provided homosexual teenagers with people their age to relate to, hope for their futures, and also provided some good resources. At the back of the book are lists of fiction and non-fiction books for gays and lesbians. Granted, some are very old now, but that doesn’t take away the enjoyment of them. As for Two Teenagers in Twenty itself, it’s a wonderful book that still has potential to help gay and lesbian teens and young adults who are coming out to themselves or their loved ones. It’s touching, thought-provoking, and ultimately, hopeful.

Audrey reviews Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall


Great title, right? It’s also literal. Poor Mittens. Michelle Theall’s memoir isn’t organized linearly, but intersperses chapters from childhood with chapters from adulthood. And as a child, she really did teach the family cat to sit. She writes poignantly of the deep loneliness that caused her to try to make the cat into something it was not, and manages somehow not to beat you over the head with maternal parallels.

Her establishing shot gives you this: a partner and a son, and iPhone contact with grandparents. Good! Also, the grandparents are due to arrive soon for the son’s baptism, which has been cancelled. Due to the priest’s sudden reconsideration of baptizing the child of gay parents. Also, the grandparents don’t know this. (Note: I use the word “gay” instead of “lesbian” because that’s what Theall uses, and she expresses dislike of the label “lesbian.”)

And then you get a snapshot of the beginning. Michelle was supposed to be Matthew; she notes that this was only the beginning of disappointing her parents. You see her as a young child in the Texas Bible Belt, learning that things she liked were inappropriate, and she herself, always, was inappropriate. Not concerned enough with femininity. Not modest. Always unacceptable and wrong. And then she was scarred by an experience that reinforced this self-perception. When she did finally begin to find herself, it was through sports, and her mother explained that not only do sports have no real value for girls in the real world, but that Theall’s ovaries would likely fall out (spoiler: they didn’t). And the rampant homophobia was so ingrained that homophobia wasn’t even a concept or a word. It was just life. Homosexuality was not a thing; it was wrong, it didn’t exist, it went against the natural order, it was against God.

Although I didn’t read this as a Christian memoir–but you could–Theall’s Catholicism, and her relationship with God, is one of the most important strands woven throughout the book. As she is fighting to have her son’s baptism rescheduled, Theall considers one of the focal points of the priest’s concern: “How do you reconcile your homosexual lifestyle with your Christian beliefs?” At that point, she thinks, she’s spent 42 years resolving that question. By then, her faith is a source of strength, not angst. (Faith. Not clergy. Faith.) Her tale of getting to that place of acceptance is powerful and filled with pain, uncertainty, lots of guilt, and some big epiphanic moments.

The religious aspect is tied in to a larger question of general identity. And this is all woven in with a third piece: Theall’s relationship with her (birth) family–particularly her mother. (In fact, separating these out makes for artificial distinctions, but is done for the sake of clarifying what you might want to keep an eye out for.) The reading group guide (included in the new paperback edition) says, “In order to be a good mother, Michelle begins to realize that she may have to be a bad daughter.” While reading this book, you will probably never be convinced that Theall feels she has any chance of being regarded as a good daughter. You will probably wonder if, now that this book has been published, Theall’s mother is still talking to her. You may cheer inwardly at the choice to publish, knowing full well what the consequences might be.

Trigger warning for sexual assault.

Jess reviews Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp


Despite the recent conservative controversy surrounding Vicky Beeching’s coming out, the Christian community is no stranger to revered spiritual musicians coming out. Jennifer Knapp’s memoir Facing The Music is a soul-searching, earnest examination of the Christian music scene and self discovery including her own coming out in 2010.

Knapp begins her life as a twin in a dysfunctional and divided household. As her parents were separated, she spent her youth navigating the complex conditions of custody, living predominantly with her father and step-mother and occasionally holidaying with her mother. Her first love is discovered and passionately explored as she teaches herself trumpet and becomes enamoured with music. Not being musical myself but living with a musician, I was enthralled in Knapp’s diligent and often demanding relationship with instruments. In fact, her first decision to learn an instrument comes at the direct expense of her limited time with her mum. Her passion continues as she breathes in instrument after instrument, ultimately leading her to study music teaching at college.


After a period as a wild child, filled with sexual exploits and significant alcoholism (not explicitly explored), Knapp falls for the grace of God and begins to party Christian style; with worship music and religious conversation. Her account for her rise to Christian ‘rock-star’ status is told passively, as though everything just happened around her; her own involvement often reluctant and riddled with self-doubt. I feel this early Christian experience is written through the lens of a changed woman and wonder about the difference in explanation if one had been able to be transcribed at the time. Yet, this is how all memoirs are written; by the hands of current understanding, so I need not fault Knapp for that.

As a Christian myself, I recognised many of the evangelical experiences Knapp described and would advise non-Christian readers not to be put off by this inside look at the Contemporary Christian music scene. Her insights are often darkly described, almost in despising tones and I think Christians will have a harder time processing Knapp’s truths then non-religious individuals.


Two thirds into Facing The Music, Knapp addresses her sexuality, her withdrawal from the Christian music scene and life as she knows it. She isn’t one to kiss and tell, so if you are hoping for long paragraphs of lesbian liaisons, this isn’t the love story for you. Instead, she recounts her internal coming out experience and the feelings associated with identifying as both gay and Christian, both personally and within the public  eye.

Knapp’s memoir is also littered with unexpected interesting insights, including her involvement with signing Katy Perry as well as adventures in outback Australia.

Personally, I strongly related to her difficulty fitting into certain circles in Christian churches, wearing cargo pants instead of skirts at church services. I also understood her difficulty with self-acceptance and the shame often associated with sharing an experience that strays from the acceptable testimony within church circles. I applaud her personal strength and faith to share her own story and to take her own time to do so.


Facing The Music is written with honesty, integrity and emotion and will likely captivate fans, memoir readers, Christians and the questioning masses.

For those who enjoy Jennifer Knapp’s memoir, I would strongly recommend Chely Wright’s memoir Like Me, which explores coming out within the conservative country music world. You can also view the documentary Wish Me Away which follows Chely before and after coming out.

If you are looking for music to listen to while reading, Jennifer Knapp’s new album Set Me Free (released by Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records) is just out.

Danika reviews Lyme Light by Natalie H.G. London



Lyme Light is a memoir by Natalie H.G. London that focuses on her experiences with Lyme disease. This is the first time I’ve read a memoir focused around an illness, and I’ll admit, I was skeptical about how much London could write about having Lyme disease without rehashing the same topics. I was definitely underestimating both London’s storytelling abilities and her circuitous route from first being infected to being diagnosed and treated.

This is not just a description of having Lyme disease, however. Where Candace Walsh used food in Licking the Spoon and Barrie Jean Borich used geography in Body Geographic, London uses illness as a theme and framing device while exploring many different aspects of her life. She delves into being a musician, her time as a student in Columbia, as well as many different relationships (familial, romantic, platonic) forming and falling apart over time. Woven into this is the first appearances of symptoms and her attempts to self treat them, then eventual visits to numerous supposed professionals to get diagnosed, bouncing from psychologists to clinics to hospitals, getting different answers every time. Meanwhile, London discovers which of the people in her life are willing to stick around while she is going through this, and finds comfort in endless reruns of Roseanne and Beverly Hills, 9020.

It’s a fascinating read, both for London’s personal story and her skill at representing what it’s like to be chronically ill. It’s a story that definitely won’t give you a whole lot of faith in the medical profession, but it will give you an idea of what it’s like to have to deal with it. London has an understated humour in Lyme Light, which, along with her flowing narration, makes this a quick read despite dealing with extremely dark subjects.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed about this book was that it’s the first queer memoir I’ve read that doesn’t include a coming out story in any way. London is bisexual, but this is just taken as given the entire story. No one makes any comments, there’s no story of her telling anyone, it’s just casually stated. At one point, London starts flirting with a girl in front of her own mom, and when the girl leaves her mom says that she thinks the girl likes London. There’s not even an acknowledgement of “Yeah, my mom is cool like that”. As much as I do enjoy reading memoirs that do tackle that, it’s refreshing to have a narrative that doesn’t revolve around coming out.

There are some errors (typos, grammatical errors) in Lyme Light, and the writing is easy to read but not especially poetic or quotable, but it gets the job done. The story is definitely worth the read. I also found it intriguing when I was picking up the book that a) Natasha Lyone (from Orange Is the New Black) voices the audio book and b) multiple Roseanne (including Roseanne herself) and Beverly Hills, 90210 actors blurb the book very highly. So if the review doesn’t convince you, maybe a sample of the audio book will:


Kalyanii reviews My Awesome Place by Cheryl Burke


It is not in spite of the grit, irreverence and sordid encounters that Cheryl B.’s life serves as an inspiration; rather, it is because of the rawness and honesty with which she relays each and every detail. Without apologies, Cheryl B. within her posthumously published memoir, My Awesome Place, recounts the most tragic and triumphant moments of her life, cut short by complications from the treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A legendary spoken-word poet, performance artist, writer and member of the queer community, Cheryl B.’s story continues to spur creative souls to live their truth and express it boldly.

Growing up in a working class family amid both emotional and physical abuse, Cheryl B.’s childhood was no age of innocence. The stories are heartbreaking, even as she tells them with her characteristic irony and cynicism. While Cheryl B.’s home life was a barrage of high-conflict drama and emotional neglect, school proved an exercise in invalidation as she was discouraged from the pursuit of higher education. Seeking direction with the college application process, she remembers, her guidance counselor even suggested that “someone like her” should set her sights on a career as a toll taker on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Undaunted, Cheryl B. moved to New York to attend NYU and later The New School, where she found herself surrounded by a plethora of kindred spirits and opportunities to create her art. She collaborated with one of her closest friends on her foray into performance art and began participating in the poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, which ultimately led to a legendary career amid what was later recognized as the heyday of spoken-word performance.

Thrust in the hub of New York’s arts culture, Cheryl initially declined the offers of cocaine, opting for a few drinks and bong hits, until one of her girlfriends persuaded her to give it a try. Impressed with its ability to “cut the drunk,” she let go of her resistance. Before long, all-nighters, lost memories and foggy interludes had become the norm as she grieved her father’s death and the loss of what never was while he was alive. Relationships ended, one of her dearest friends became very ill and her loneliness grew.

After he died, I slipped into an angry depression, what I later identified as a breakdown that lasted years. I drank to excess, turning mean and paranoid. I was incredibly needy but turned everyone away. I trusted no one, not even Chris, with whom I was in love. I was prone to crying fits. I once tried to punch out a store window in the East Village. The window won. I couldn’t concentrate on my writing; instead I spent my creative energy putting together slutty outfits from $10 store offerings. I broke up with my best friend and was sure my other friends were all talking about how crazy I was behind my back. Basically, the world was conspiring against me. I was drowning in self-pity, cocaine and tequila. My self-diagnosed existential crisis was nothing more than a drug-fueled alcoholic rampage.

The momentum continued to build until she awakened one Sunday morning to the realization that “not only had I been blacking out, acquiring facial rashes, neglecting my cat and sleeping with men I barely knew and rarely remembered, there was also a bad conceptual art factory beneath my bed” comprised of a Snapple bottle half-filled with tequila, a constellation of cat hair, Ziploc bags, pretzel parts and discarded condoms among other treasures. Flushing the drugs down the toilet and pouring the alcohol down the kitchen drain, Cheryl B. decided that the time was ripe for change and committed to sobriety for 30 days, which became 10 years shortly after her diagnosis.

Cheryl B. left a working draft of this memoir upon her death in June of 2011. As a tribute to her life and her work, her partner, Kelli Dunham, and members of her writing group made use of notes and emails to pull together the completed work. The writing is often far from clean, verb tense inconsistencies abound and typos crop up more than a time or two; but, these apparent flaws only serve as a reminder that in the end Cheryl B. was robbed of the opportunity to edit the manuscript herself.

More information about Cheryl B.’s literary accomplishments can be found in a piece entitled “Remembering Cheryl B.” at www.lambdaliterary.org. Video footage of her readings can be accessed at www.youtube.com.