June is Pride Month, which is the best excuse to put the spotlight on these books by LGBTQ writers and/or about LGBTQ issues, an eclectic list that includes fiction, poetry, memoir, nonfiction, and books for young readers—not to mention books by award-winning authors and some of the most buzzed-about titles of the season.
The Unfinished Dollhouse: A Memoir of Motherhood and Identity, by Michelle Alfano
About the book: No mother is prepared for the moment when a child comes out to her as a person whose physical gender is out-of-keeping with his emotional and psychological gender-identity. In Michelle Alfano's intimate memoir, she recounts her experience as the mother of a transgender child.
The central metaphor of The Unfinished Dollhouse tells the story: on Frankie's fourth birthday, her parents Michelle and Rob purchased a kit to create a beautiful dollhouse. Michelle imagined building the home, buying the tiny pieces of furniture and accessories to fill it and, more importantly, the times she and her daughter would spend constructing the perfect dollhouse—a fantasy of domestic and familial happiness. Frankie expressed no interest in such typically girlish pursuits because Frankie harboured a secret—a secret about gender.
In the years to follow, Frankie's parents experienced an education in parenting a child transitioning from female to male—which pronouns to use, how to disclose the information to friends, family, school and how to deal with the reactions of all—some heartening, some surprising, some disappointing.
The Gay Heritage Project, by Damien Atkins, Andrew Kushnir, and Paul Dunn
About the book: This isn’t your ordinary history project. In what has become an important piece of contemporary queer Canadian theatre, three of Canada’s most gifted performers—Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, and Andrew Kushnir—go on a search way past Google in order to find the history of gay people.
The trio start their quest by looking back at their own lineages and move along to the library, the Yellow Brick Road, Ukraine, a game show, and a court. They discover handfuls of forgotten heroes and stories, but also visit some well-known names, compiling everything into one extraordinary history lesson that shines new light on contemporary gay culture.
Equal parts personal curiosity, answers to the past, and information for the future, The Gay Heritage Project is a hilarious, thought-provoking meta tale that connects queer communities everywhere.
Ritual Lights, by Joelle Barron
About the book: Absorbed in the small, everyday rituals of existence, this remarkable collection of poems tears open the fruit of life and scoops out beauty and joy, pain and suffering, in equal measure. Ritual Lights takes the reader on a journey through an underworld that is both familiar and uncanny, a space between death and life where one nourishes the other. Shadowed by the aftermath of sexual assault, Joelle Barron places candles in the darkest alcoves, illuminates mysteries, and rises again to an abundant Earth where the darkness is transformed into rich loam.
These poems follow the speaker through grieving and loss, heartbreak, repression, and discovery, seeking, never finding an answer, but finding meaning in the work of continuing. A meditation on trauma and identity, deeply vulnerable and reserved, funny and full of rage, Ritual Lights explores the sometimes messy and ugly, but always necessary, nature of survival.
Playing Into Silence, by Tina Biello
About the book: Growing up during the '50s and '60s in small town Alberta, Pam was keenly aware, by the age of nine, that she was a lesbian. And she also knew well to hide this about herself. Pam would search for books on the “The Island of Lesbos", only to return from the library with a copy of Little Women.
In between the vast spaces of dust and dugouts, she grows up and grows old, playing her saxophone in deep, blaring notes. Age is a constant marker throughout these poems for an otherwise long and lonely time of waiting for queer rights, for acceptance, for love.
Poet Tina Biello unearths just about everything from beneath the Alberta ground—dinosaur bones, a family's firstborn, missing cows. A voice from within the Prairies, Playing Into Silence is a look back at a dry time in lesbian identity.
Learning Seventeen, by Brooke Carter (YA)
About the book: New Hope Academy, or, as seventeen-year-old Jane Learning likes to call it, No Hope, is a Baptist reform school where Jane is currently being held captive.
Of course, smart, sarcastic Jane has no interest in reforming, failing to see any benefit to pretending to play well with others. But then Hannah shows up, a gorgeous bad girl with fiery hair and an even stormier disposition. She shows Jane how to live a full and fulfilling life even when the world tells you you're wrong, and how to believe in a future outside the "prison" walls. Jane soon learns, though, that Hannah is quietly battling some demons of her own.
Listen Before Transit, by Dani Couture
About the book: Dani Couture's latest poems are transmissions that travel across the cosmos, the spaces we live in, as well as within the more intimate distances we navigate between one another. Distances we hope to bridge with contact, often to profound or disastrous effects. With language rooted in science, sociology, memoir and aesthetics, she questions the limits of our bodies, both human and celestial. Like the subtle cues we lend one another and the hopeful messages we send into deep space, these poems broadcast our greatest aspirations and vulnerabilities.
Hider/Seeker, by Jen Currin
About the book: Hider/Seeker is the debut fiction collection from award-winning poet Jen Currin. These stories are about addiction and meditation, relationships and almost-relationships, solitude and sexuality. They take place in cafes, in snowy woods, on city street corners, and at Zen retreats—where conversations happen in the margins of books and filthy shoes are treated with reverence. Ex-wives reunite only to be confronted with their past; an aunt believes she has made a heart-breaking discovery about her niece; a seemingly never-ending hysterical pregnancy becomes the talk of a cafe. These stories are always unflinchingly honest in their portrayal of relationships—in particular the relationships of the book's LGBTQ+ characters—as they navigate spirituality, monogamy, and sex. Currin invites the reader into the complicated lives of her characters and invites them to stay
Sodom Road Exit, by Amber Dawn
About the book: It's the summer of 1990, and Crystal Beach in Ontario has lost its beloved, long-running amusement park, leaving the lakeside village a virtual ghost town. It is back to this fallen community Starla Mia Martin must return to live with her overbearing mother after dropping out of university and racking up significant debt. But an economic downturn, mother-daughter drama, and Generation X disillusionment soon prove to be the least of Starla's troubles: a mysterious and salacious force begins to dog Starla; inexplicable sounds in the night and unimaginable sights spotted on the periphery. Soon enough, Starla must confront the unresolved traumas that haunt Crystal Beach.
Sodom Road Exit might read like a conventional paranormal thriller, except that Starla is far from a conventional protagonist. Where others might feel fear, Starla feels lust and queer desire. When others might run, Starla draws the horror nearer. And in turn, she draws a host of capricious characters toward her—all of them challenged to seek answers beyond their own temporal realities.
My Life as a Diamond, by Jenny Manzer (Middle Grade: Coming in September)
About the book: Ten-year-old Caspar "Caz" Cadman loves baseball and has a great arm. He loves the sounds, the smells, the stats. When his family moves from Toronto to a suburb of Seattle, the first thing he does is try out for the local summer team, the Redburn Ravens. Even though Caz is thrilled when he makes the team, he worries because he has a big secret.
No one knows that back in Toronto, Caz used to live life as a girl named Cassandra. And it's nobody's business. Caz will tell his new friends when he's ready.
But when a player on a rival team starts snooping around, Caz's past is revealed, and Caz worries it will be Toronto all over again.
Will Caz's teammates rally behind their star pitcher? Or will Caz be betrayed once more?
A heartwarming, funny, fast-paced story about the bravery it takes to live as your true self, no matter the cost.
Matanzas, by Gerry Ryan
About the book: His psyche still reeling from having to kill a criminal in the line of duty, Calgary's Detective Lane flies to Cuba to celebrate the wedding of his beloved niece. While there, though, he finds himself drafted by the local police into investigating the murder of a Canadian tourist.
Upon his return to Calgary, links between this incident and the deaths of local elderly pensioners start to make themselves known, drawing Lane and his partner Nigel Li further into a web of conspiracy, politics and big money.
Garry Ryan's award-winning, best-selling mystery series continues with all the intrigue, good humour and mochaccinos that fans have come to expect.
Smaller Hours, by Kevin Shaw
About the book: Stately and majestic, yet scuffed with wear and disillusion, the poems of Smaller Hours mount the sky like columns and fora of some archaic ruin. Through these ancient halls, Kevin Shaw tracks Eros, clearing away the rubble and polishing the marble, along the way exploring queer ways of keeping time. Music and movies, clocks and inventors populate these poems. History casts a shadow over all.
Kevin Shaw's debut collection is a tour de force of control and grace; musical lines anchored by powerful rhythms dance into the reader's ear. The speakers of these lyrics encounter Nijinsky in a waiting room, Ovid at the laundromat, or re-enact a devastating flood after a night of drinking. From a mixtape full of quarter-century-old regrets, to the sensuality of a harmonica buzzing against pursed lips, to the violence and hope of Stonewall, Smaller Hours collapses the past with the present and the personal with the public, taking a sideways glance at historical figures—inventors, poets, movie stars—from across a gay bar's crowded dance floor.
Am I Safe Here?: LGBTQ Teens and Bullying in Schools, by Donn Short
About the book: “Am I safe here?” Every day, LGBTQ students ask this question within the school system. Donn Short treats students as the experts, asking them to shine a light on the marginalization and bullying faced by LGBTQ youth. They insightfully identify that safety comes from a culture that values equity and social justice, not just security cameras, and they envision a future in which LGBTQ youth are an expected, respected, and celebrated part of school life. This book offers a path to creating equitable and inclusive schools, drawing on the spontaneous and timely words of LGBTQ students to show that nothing less than a total culture change is needed.
Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, by Robin Stevenson (Middle Grade)
About the book: For LGBTQ people and their supporters, Pride events are an opportunity to honor the past, protest injustice, and celebrate a diverse and vibrant community. The high point of Pride, the Pride Parade, is spectacular and colorful. But there is a whole lot more to Pride than rainbow flags and amazing outfits. How did Pride come to be? And what does Pride mean to the people who celebrate it?
From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, by Kai Cheng Thom, illustrated by Wai-Yant Li & Kai Yun Ching (Picture Book)
About the book: 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 the 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.
About the book: “Compassionate and pragmatic, this is the book about trans kids that every parent, teacher, coach, caregiver, and policymaker needs to read!” Heath Fogg Davis, author of Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?
“The Trans Generation is indispensable reading for anybody who wants to understand the gender climate-change our culture is currently experiencing. If you care about a kid who does gender differently…and want them to have the best future possible, then read this book, take it to heart, and start making that future a reality for them today.” Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History
“Ann Travers makes a much-needed contribution to the scholarship on trans subjectivity generally, and trans youth in particular…a pleasure to read.” Jane Ward, author of Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men
Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead
About the book: "You're gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine" is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling debut novel by poet Joshua Whitehead.
Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the "rez"—and his former life—to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The seven days that follow are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny's life is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages—and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.
Jonny Appleseed is a unique, shattering vision of First Nations life, full of grit, glitter, and dreams.
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