Our theme for June is Non-Binary voices – which Renee talked about on the FBC podcast recently so, of course, we wanted to highlight some great books by trans and non-binary authors. The breadth of spectrum that these two identifiers encapsulate, I thought, could be better discussed by the Human Rights Campaign which states
“Some trans people identify as trans men or trans women, while others may describe themselves as non-binary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, agender, bigender or other identities that reflect their personal experience. Some of us take hormones or have surgery as part of our transition, while others may change our pronouns or appearance”
As a reader, I was excited to read the following books by trans/non-binary authors or books that feature trans/non-binary protagonists. These books have helped me to better understand the trans/non-binary community and I am also looking forward to reading books that were shortlisted for June.
1. The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang – Yang is a non-binary author from Singapore. They have written a few other fantasy novels, too. Black Tides is the first in the Tensorate duology. Focusing on the twin non-binary siblings, Akeha and Mokoya, the novel also deals with the contrast between elemental magic and technology. The twins’ mother is the Protector who rules her empire. Mokoya is the twin who can see the future and Akeha is the twin who can see how society works. The story is about their childhood, choices made with lifelong repercussions, adulthood, and their ultimate reunion.
2. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. Emezi is a non-binary trans author and their book, set in Nigeria, is the story of Vivek Oji, his life, death, and legacy. The main theme is his transformation and how his sexuality plays a major role in the story. He struggles with his identity, which is reflected in his education, family, friendships, and his relationship with Osita, his paternal cousin. The novel probes the ideas of gender, sexuality, friendship, love, family, the larger social community, organized religion, through Vivek‘s life.
3. Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar is a book by a trans male author. This beautiful debut novel and tragic book is about Nour, a young girl in New York City, who has lost her father to cancer in 2011. Her mother, a cartographer, moves her and her two elder sisters back to Homs, Syria. After a bomb destroys their house, Nour’s mother decides to move across the countries of the Middle East and North Africa for safety. Nour comforts herself by recalling a story that her father narrated about Rawaiya, who also traveled the same route as a mapmaker’s apprentice. A fantastic and emotional read, both Nour and Rawaiya travel as boys, and the two timelines have different, yet similar vibes.
4. The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya – Shraya is a trans author who is also a musician and an assistant professor in the creative writing program at the University of Calgary. The Subtweet, set largely in Toronto, is about Rukmini, a trans female musical artist, and Neela, a female singer, both having South Asian origins. The story focuses on their collaboration, Rukmini’s past, and the consequences of a subtweet. I enjoyed the themes of cultural appropriation, the contrast and dynamics between white artists and women artists of color, and the implications and reality of social media.
5. The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel M. Lavery – Lavery is a trans author and he is famous for Texts from Jane Eyre and also was Dear Prudence over at Slate Magazine, arguably one of our editor in chief’s favorite advice columns. This collection of stories are reworkings and retellings of popular western fairy tales, like The Little Mermaid, The Six Swans, Beauty and the Beast, The Fisherman and His Wife as well as classic novels like The Velveteen Rabbit and The Wind in the Willows. If you like gender-swapped stories with a dark or humorous twist, like me, then this is perfect for you.
6. Peter Darling by Austin Chant – Chant is a queer trans writer and he co-hosts the podcast, The Hopeless Romantic that features LGBTQIA+ love stories. This novel is a queer trans reimagining of Peter Pan. Peter left Neverland ten years ago and went back to London to relive his life as Wendy Darling. After he returns, he realizes he has feelings for Captain Hook. Like other retellings, this story is important in Peter’s quest for his identity and being an active character who decides for himself. (Editors Note – There are few places to purchase this title that are reasonably priced, except for Ama*on and I’m really sorry about that folks. I kept the book on this list because it is such a great retelling of Peter Pan that I couldn’t bear myself to delete it.)
7. When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey – Gailey is a non-binary author and they have written some amazing books. This young adult novel starts with the accidental murder of Josh Harper, the prom date of the narrator, Alexis. This darkly funny book shows the power of female friendships, support, and encouragement. Alexis’s five high school friends help her and they can all perform various kinds of magic. It is an excellent book in its representation of the diverse characters in terms of their sexuality, family statuses (two are adopted), race and ethnicity (Muslim, Filipina, Afghani), and interests (two friends create makeup tutorial videos while two are on the swim team).
8. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender- Callender is a Black non-binary author and Felix, the protagonist, is a Black transgender boy from New York. The story focuses on a summer when Felix is getting ready to apply to his dream school, Brown University. Felix is questioning his identity and gender label but the novel also focuses on his friendship with his best friend, Ezra Patel, and his emotions on being abandoned by his mother, his relationship with his father who is still accepting him as his son. You can read a longer review here.
Bonus book- The list above is on adult and young adult books but there was also a middle grade book that I enjoyed, Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart. Lily is a trans girl who knows what she wants but is struggling to come out in her middle school in Florida. Her father is also not supportive but her mother and sister want Lily to be her true self. Dunkin, whose real name is Norbert, has moved to Florida with his mother. They live with Dunkin’s fitness guru grandmother but there seems to be a mystery with Dunkin’s father. Dunkin suffers from bipolar disorder. This is a really sweet story with some sad parts but overall enjoyable.
Which books are you interested to read? Which books would you like to add to the list?