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2020: We've got PRIDE
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2020: We've got PRIDE

By 49thShelf
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tagged: pride, lgbt
Pride Month is going to look different this year across Canada, but these amazing books by LGBTQ authors can help bring people together even while we're staying apart
All I Ask

All I Ask

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

Like Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Eileen Myles’s Chelsea Girls, All I Ask by the award-winning and highly acclaimed author Eva Crocker is a defining novel of a generation.
A little before seven in the morning, Stacey wakes to the police pounding on her door. They search her home and seize her computer and her phone, telling her they’re looking for “illegal digital material.” Left to unravel what’s happened, Stacey must find a way to take back the privacy and freedom …

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Swimmers in Winter

Swimmers in Winter

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged :

Certain Women meets The Mars Room in this debut collection featuring three pairs of stories.

Sharp and stylistic, the trifecta of diptychs that is Swimmers in Winter swirls between real and imagined pasts and futures to delve into our present cultural moment: conflicts between queer people and the police; the impact of homophobia, bullying, and PTSD; thedynamics of women’s friendships; life for queer women in Toronto during WWII and after; the intersections between class identities and queer id …

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Blood Sport

Blood Sport

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

Jason is sure his sister, Becca, was murdered, but he’s the only one who thinks so. After finding a photograph Becca kept hidden, he decides to infiltrate a boxing gym to prove that she didn’t die accidentally.

As a transgender kid, Jason’s been fighting for as long as he can remember, and those skills are going to come in handy as he investigates. Quickly invited into the inner circle, Jason must balance newfound friendships with the burning hate that drives him. Jason soon feels torn betw …

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Vanishing Monuments

Vanishing Monuments

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

A brilliant novel whose lead character returns home to their long-estranged mother who is now suffering from dementia.

Alani Baum, a non-binary photographer and teacher, hasn't seen their mother since they ran away with their girlfriend when they were seventeen - almost thirty years ago. But when Alani gets a call from a doctor at the assisted living facility where their mother has been for the last five years, they learn that their mother's dementia has worsened and appears to have taken away he …

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Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : lgbt, friendship

All Freddy Riley wants is for Laura Dean to stop breaking up with her. The day they got back together was the best one of Freddy’s life, but nothing’s made sense since. Laura Dean is popular, funny and SO CUTE … but she can be really thoughtless, even mean. Their on-again, off-again relationship has Freddy’s head spinning — and Freddy’s friends can’t understand why she keeps going back.

When Freddy consults the services of a local mystic, the mysterious Seek-Her, she isn’t thrille …

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All We Knew But Couldn't Say

All We Knew But Couldn't Say

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Finalist for the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Nonfiction

Joanne Vannicola grew up in a violent home with a physically abusive father and a mother who had no sexual boundaries.

After being pressured to leave home at fourteen, and after fifteen years of estrangement, Joanne learns that her mother is dying. Compelled to reconnect, she visits with her, unearthing a trove of devastating secrets.

Joanne relates her journey from child performer to Emmy Award–winning actor, from hiding in the close …

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Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
2002 — Princess Margaret Hospital

I never know what condition she’ll be in when I arrive at the hospital — if she’ll be lucid, rambling, awake, sleeping, in an altered state, or maybe even gone. Dead.

I wait, though, finishing my cigarette outside, squatting on the ground. My fingertips yellowed with nicotine. The skin chewed. The sky scattered and uncertain as if the spring sun might disappear and a storm might crash in. I exhale and stroke an exposed patch of grass as if it were the fur of a sleeping cat.

“Are you okay?” asks a woman.

I squint, shield my eyes, and look up from her stiletto heels to her bold red lips. Everything perfect and in place.

“My mother is dying,” I say.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly before walking away.

I stand up, squash my cigarette with my shoe, cross the street, and go through the revolving glass doors of Princess Margaret, Toronto’s renowned cancer hospital. I wait for the elevator, pop peppermint gum into my mouth, fish my shades from my pocket, and push them on, covering the dark circles around my eyes.

The elevator is crammed with gowned patients clutching their IV poles, hospital staff, and fellow visitors. Some are here for those in the beginning stages of the disease, the newly diagnosed who are in treatment or having surgery. Then there are people like me, the dishevelled and overtired, the ones on constant duty, hurrying to the bathroom or stealing away for a quick smoke, afraid to miss the end.

It takes forever to get to the seventeenth floor: the palliative care ward. My sisters are outside our mother’s room talking in whispers. My brother, Diego, is at home sleeping. We’re on rotating shifts. My sisters, Sadie and Lou, have travelled from Montreal and Vancouver to say their goodbyes; yes, even Sadie, who was taken by the Children’s Aid so many years ago, the day the rest of us were inexplicably left behind.

Mother slips in and out of consciousness, almost in a coma, her body bruised from multiple needles and the morphine drip. Her eyes are glassy, hollow. She is uncommunicative, the way my sisters like it. They don’t want to talk or listen; they have never believed a word she said anyway. Lou refused to even come to Toronto unless I was certain Mother was dying.

It was winter when my mother was admitted. I didn’t know then how long was left. Weeks? Months? I only knew she was declining, and unlike my sisters, I had questions that needed answering. I walk into her room. Her bare feet are exposed, the skin like cracked mud under a hot sun. I should apply cream but am afraid to touch them. I am thirty-three years old, but my insides still revolt when I get close to her. The need to feel separate is so big, so old. So immediate.

I ignore her parched feet, busying myself with the messy counter beside her bed while I formulate the first question.

“Do you want to finally talk?” I stare at her.

“Not yet,” she says and stares back.

I wipe the counter and rearrange the clutter: the box of Kleenex, the water jug, three Styrofoam cups, juice from breakfast. I throw out used tissues. I try again.

“Why did you marry him?” I ask. “Why Dad?”

“Because I had to,” she answers. She grabs the remote and turns on the extendable tiny television that stretches out from the wall like the arm of a crane. “The new kids are so good,” she says after finding a figure-skating competition. “That boy Sandhu, he can dance too.…”

“But why? Was it because you were pregnant with Sadie?”

She pauses as if the answer is lost to her. I’ve seen it before, this vacancy, how she fumbles, makes things up she doesn’t know, avoids reality.

“I think so.…” Mother says, her voice stuck somewhere in her throat.

“You think so or you know so?”

“I don’t know.… I … well, your grandfather wanted me to marry your father.” She turns off the television and shoves it away from her bed.

I actually know the real story, but not from my mother. From Diego, who told me years ago, after he had gone with Mother to a therapy session.

Mother was the youngest girl out of seven children: the “chosen” one, raped by her father. She told people, but no one believed her. I did. The moment Diego told me, I knew it was true. It was the only thing that made sense. A piece of her was broken long before any of us came along.

“And I loved your father,” she interjects before I can say anything more. “I loved him. Isn’t that enough?” She covers herself with the thin green hospital blanket.

It isn’t. Because it isn’t true. It can’t be. He was a brute; she was a girl. What was to love?

When I was young, I obsessively asked her why she married my dad. He was terrifying, and even at the age of eight, I couldn’t understand why she’d married him.

She would always say the same thing: “Because I loved him.” Then she would throw up her arms to shut me up, as if she thought I could believe her. It was the most insane thing I had ever heard.

She interrupts my thoughts. “I want to speak with all my children.” Her demeanour is imperious. “I forgive you all.”

“What did you say?” I turn to her, feeling nauseous, dizzy almost. After everything she has done, she forgives us?

“And what do you forgive your children for? What have your children done to you that requires your forgiveness?” My voice is low, measured.

She stares at me without answering, fidgets with her bedding. Her voice changes, becomes childlike. “Do you forgive me?”

“I don’t really know, but I know I won’t forget.”

I leave then, rush out, trying to stop the flood of memories. The dam breaks and I spend the night spinning backward, through my father’s violence and my mother’s collusion. And through something else, something hard to accept or talk about even now: how my mother touched me, and how I knew, even when I was a little girl, that it was wrong.

But I go back the next day, and she stares at me vulnerably from her bed. “I’m afraid of losing my hair.”

I am sitting as far away from her as I can. The hospital room isn’t big enough for the two of us. No room is big enough for the two of us.

“I don’t know if I can handle seeing it fall out in chunks. I’m scared.”

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We Have Always Been Here

We Have Always Been Here

A Queer Muslim Memoir
edition:Paperback

A CANADA READS 2020 SELECTION
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
2020 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNER
How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don't exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

When her fam …

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Excerpt

Sonia and I were the same age and instantly liked each other. She had a mischievous way about her that pulled me in. She always smelled of oranges, her fingers sticky from sucking on slices of the fruit as the juices dripped down her chin and hands. She left a trail of orange peels everywhere she went. I was in awe of her pin-straight hair that could do anything she wanted it to but mostly rested on her shoulders, two vertical lines framing her gamine face. Mine was curly and unruly, and my mother insisted on having it fashioned into an unflattering bowl cut. Since I was no longer allowed to go outside or visit friends without my parents chaperoning, much of our playing happened at our house. Sonia never asked why—I just let her believe it was because my parents were extremely religious. When we weren’t building blanket forts, we spent afternoons on the veranda flashing everyone who walked by, spreading our legs wide open and exposing our vaginas, breaking out into peals of laughter with each look of horror we received.
 
Some days, Sonia wanted to play doctor. She’d pull down her pants and ask me to give her an injection, and I’d pretend to inject her warm skin with a piece of chalk, its tip pointy and startlingly cold. The chalky imprint of my hand would remain on her bum as she pulled up her pants, laughing. We’d often play in the musty, abandoned room on the second floor above our unit that was full of discarded furniture and yards of fabric my mother had purchased to bring to Sonia’s mother. One day, when I suggested we tell each other stories instead of playing doctor, she began to tell me a dirty tale of two lovers, Idris and Sahar, who undressed in front of each other—but she abruptly ended the story just when my heart started racing with anticipation. I needed to know what happened next.
 
“I have to go,” she blurted. “Next time!” She patted my mop of curls and grabbed her backpack, flashing me an impish smile on her way out the door.
 
For days, I waited for her to come back and finish the story. A week went by. Unable to bear the suspense any longer, I told my parents I was going to visit Sonia, knowing full well I wasn’t allowed to venture out unaccompanied. When they prodded, I recounted the whole sordid story. As expected, my parents told Sonia’s parents that she wasn’t allowed to visit our house ever again.
 
It was nearing four o’clock and my mother still had to pick up a cake before the guests arrived and my dad came home from work. She asked Pinky to keep an eye on my sisters and me so that she could run some errands and swing by the bakery. She knew how much I loved the dense, spongy cake soaked in rosewater and layered with thick cream and ripe fruit. As she opened the door, the smell of burning tires infiltrated the hallway. Without giving it much thought, she headed out the door, the smell lingering in the air. After all, the birthday would be incomplete without the cake.
 
The bakery was only ten minutes away, so we were worried when an hour went by and neither my mother nor my father had come home. When my mother finally showed up, she had with her Osman and his mother, along with five other Shia families from the street. Sunni and Shia conflicts had erupted throughout Lahore, and my mother had gathered this band of strangers together and offered temporary refuge from the rioting in the streets. As Ahmadis, we were the only family in the neighbourhood to be spared the wrath of Sunni extremists. For once, the target wasn’t us.
 
The cause of the conflict goes back some fourteen hundred years. Immediately following the death of Prophet Muhammad, the two sects clashed over who his successor should be. Shias believe that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful successor, whereas Sunnis argue that it was Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s trusted advisor. Centuries of bloodshed have followed. Shias claim that Sunnis have received preferential treatment from the Pakistani government since 1948, soon after Pakistan was founded, and that their freedom of speech is consistently threatened. Around the time of my birthday, things had gotten particularly violent after the assassination of Arif Hussain Hussaini, founding leader of Tehrik-e-Jafaria, a religious organization that represented the Shias.
 
Amid all the mayhem, I marvelled at how my mother had managed to find a cake when all the shops were either closed or vandalized. I was even more shocked that she had made it home safe, unaffected by the tear gas or the rioters who were setting fire to everything in sight, the thick fumes permeating our house through the roofless courtyard where everyone had gathered. To a seven-year-old, it seemed the world was coming to an end. If my mother was panicked that my father was still not home, she certainly didn’t let it show.
 
I looked at Osman, who had taken refuge under his mother’s arm and was pressing his nose against it. There were other children, too—some my age or younger, some old enough to require a burka to hide the curves of their bodies. I couldn’t help feeling relieved that this time it wasn’t us. But the fear I witnessed was intensely familiar. Who belonged if none of us did? I had never felt as close to Shias as I did that day.
 
My mother, perhaps opting for a distraction, removed the wrapping from the cake and placed it on the dining table. Pinky heated a pot of goat’s milk for chai and poured it into eight terracotta cups. The smell of cardamom temporarily replaced the pungent odour of burning cars.
 
When the phone rang, my mother almost dropped the tray of pakoras and ran toward it. “Kee haal hai?”—How are you?—she asked ironically, knowing my father was probably plotting how to get home safely while police had blocked off access to our street. She spoke in Punjabi, the language my parents used when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about, not realizing we’d picked it up over the years.
 
We were startled by a flurry of loud knocks on the front door and the voices on the other side demanding that we open it. We all knew that the men outside were after the Shias hiding in our house. My mother hung up the phone and, with the help of the other women, pushed a heavy cupboard full of china and ceramics in front of the door. As the thumping persisted, she silently lit the candles on the cake, one for each of my seven years. Taking our cue from her calm demeanour, we all gathered around the table as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. After a loud chorus of “Happy Birthday” drowned out the noise in the background, I blew out the candles. My mother carefully plated each dish with an equal slice of cake, pakoras, and chaat and handed them to everyone in our house.
 
Soon it was time for Maghrib prayer. Pinky and the other women lined the concrete floor with bedsheets, and we Ahmadis prayed with our Shia neighbours for the first time, our bodies so close there was barely space between us. My eyes wandered to the different placement of hands on the chests of our Shia guests, placed higher than I was accustomed to. It struck me that despite our differences, we were all terrified of the same people.
 
The knocks eventually stopped and we wondered if the riots had too. Then we heard a heavy thud on the roof. We all lifted our heads in panic, and mothers tightly clutched their children. Then my dad emerged from the top floor, climbing down the stairs to the courtyard. Eager to unite with us, he had scaled the wall of a house at the end of our street and jumped between the rooftops until he reached ours. I had never in my life been happier to see him.

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Free to a Good Home

Free to a Good Home

With Room for Improvement
edition:Paperback
tagged : lgbt, women

The German word ZUGUNRUHE translates as the ''stirring before moving.'' It's used to describe birds and herds of animals, like wildebeests, before the great migration. Though Jules Torti is neither German nor a wildebeest, she understands this marrow-deep anxiousness all too well; she is just someone looking for a home.

FREE TO A GOOD HOME is evidence of Torti's life-long commitment to feeling at home where it mattered most: within herself. At eighteen, with one thousand dollars in her bank acco …

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