It’s that time again! Peppermint mochas and gingerbread lattes, last-minute shopping and family reunions, and lists of this year’s highlights.
As a general reading trend this year, I’ve been reading a lot more LGBTQIA literature, and I think it’s an awesome sign that more and more of these stories are being published now. If you’re interested in adding to your own TBR pile, I highly recommend following the GayYA blog.
Without further ado, the following are my favorite reads of 2016. As in my 2015 review, I’ve also added a section for some of my favorite short stories of the year.
Reviewed here @ Postcards:
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Anna-Marie McLemore. When the Moon Was Ours. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016.
A lovely work of magical realism set in a small town where the river turns girls into water, lovesickness is a creature that can be pulled from the body, and roses grow out of your best friend’s wrist.
It’s a story about family secrets and personal truths, fighting blackmail and standing up for the people you care about.
It’s full of beautiful, dreamy language, and I love that the chapters are named after the moon’s seas, lakes, and bays (because Sam paints and hangs realistic moon lanterns all over town). If you like magical realism and LGBTQIA stories, I highly recommend this book.
Jazz Jennings. Being Jazz. New York: Crown, 2016.
I remember watching the Barbara Walters special that introduced Jazz and her family back in 2007, when she was six. Assigned male at birth, Jazz knew from a very young age that she was a girl. Her parents allowed her to start presenting as female in public on her fifth birthday, and since then have been super supportive through all the difficulties Jazz faced – fighting for permission to use the girls’ bathroom in school and to play on a girls’ soccer team, and dealing with ignorant classmates and adults.
In addition to fighting for her rights and promoting trans awareness, Jazz has tried to live an ordinary life, making friends, getting top grades in school, and figuring out what she wants to do after high school. In her spare time, she’s even started a business making and selling swimmable mermaid tails. How cool is that??
Jazz has a very funny, engaging voice and a very confident attitude toward life. This is definitely a valuable book for anyone who wants to learn more about transgender experiences.
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Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds. Dreaming in Indian. Toronto: Annick
Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds. Urban Tribes. Toronto: Annick Press, 2015.
“There is no one Indigenous perspective … no one Indigenous story. We are tremendously diverse peoples with tremendously diverse life experiences. We are not frozen in the past, nor are we automatically just like everybody else. That is why it is so important for everyone to share their own story. In revealing their personal truths, they help us all gain a better appreciation for the messy, awesome, fun reality of the world we live in.”
– Wab Kinew (Anishinaabe), Dreaming in Indian pg. 11.
These are two collections of stories, poetry and art by, and interviews of Indigenous youth across Canada and the U.S., reflecting on their experiences with racism and stereotypes, and showing how they blend their cultural traditions with 21st century Western life and pop culture. Like Christian Allaire, whose love of “spray-painted Dries Van Noten pants” and punk band tees, spiked bracelets and “weird formal suit vests” led him to become a freelance fashion journalist in Toronto. But his connection to his Indigenous cultures made him aware of the problem of cultural appropriation in the fashion industry, something he has made it his mission to fight against.
Or like Cree/Dene musician iskwé, who uses her music to raise awareness of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Or Arigon Starr, who created the Super Indian comics – about a 13-year-old boy who gets super powers from eating chemically enhanced processed cheese – as an alternative to the way Native Americans have been portrayed by non-native artists in comics like X-Men, Daredevil and Turok.
The articles are complemented by vibrant artwork and photographs that make these a really neat read.
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David Thomson. The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend.
Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.
Duncan Williamson. Tales of the Seal People: Scottish Folk Tales. New York: Interlink, 2005.
Since they were young, Thomson and Williamson have traveled in search of seal stories, Williamson while working for crofters and fishermen on the west coast of Scotland, and Thomson while traveling through Ireland and the Scottish islands. Many of these stories were considered family history, passed down by grandparents and great grandparents,
or something that happened to the teller or to a friend or neighbor.
…even at the age of thirteen, I knew that these crofters and fishermen in their sixties, and older, were giving me something private and something special. Stories from tradition are magic – because they are given to you as a present – you are let into the personal lives of your friends. (Williamson, pg. 3)
Thomson’s book reads like a travelogue with the stories and anecdotes woven in, while Williamson’s is a more typical collection of stories with introductory notes on the people who told them to him. Some of my favorites were the story of Brita and the Seal-man, the story of the Clan MacCodrum, “The Lighthouse Keeper,” and “The Wounded Seal.” I also really liked the section on selkie songs at the end of Thomson’s book, where he discusses the history and variations of songs like “The Grey Selchie of Sule Skerrie.”
These are two must-haves for anyone who loves selkie stories.
- “Granny Rumple,” by Jane Yolen (from Black Thorn, White Rose, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling). In the town of Ykaterinislav, Ukraine, a moneylender named Shmuel tries to help an unfortunate neighbor whose boasting father risks the wrath of the mayor over stories of flax spun into gold-trimmed clothing. But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished… Like Robin McKinley’s “Marsh-Magic,” this is a very clever re-invention of “Rumplestiltskin,” and I like how Yolen sets it up as a legend from her own family.
- “Rapunzel,” by Anne Bishop (from Black Swan, White Raven, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling). Told from three perspectives – the mother, the witch, and Rapunzel herself – it starts out as the familiar story of desperate lettuce cravings and secret princely visits, but then veers off in a lovely new direction of female empowerment.
- “Straw Into Gold,” “The Domovoi,” and “As Good as Gold” (from The Rumplestiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde), three stories that twist the Rumpelstiltskin story to answer questions like why the miller would make such a weird boast to the king, or why Rumpelstiltskin would sing such a convenient song about his name. “Straw Into Gold” is about a kind elf who falls in love with the miller’s daughter, “The Domovoi” is a protective household being from Slavic folklore, and “As Good as Gold” is about a kind king who isn’t in the habit of threatening to decapitate girls or burn them at the stake.
- Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture” and Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Rags and Riches” (from Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling). Troll’s Eye View is a collection of stories that offers a more sympathetic view of fairy tale villains like the Molly Whuppie’s giants or Rapunzel’s Mother Gothel. “A Delicate Architecture” is about an Austrian confectioner’s daughter who was raised to be obsessed with all things sugary, until she becomes a master at creating anything – even a house – out of sweets. “Rags and Riches” fleshes out the role of the servant who forces the princess to work as a goose girl. Both stories offer a new perspective into why these women did such wicked things in their respective fairy tales.
- “The Twelfth Girl,” by Malinda Lo (from Grim, ed. Christine Johnson). A modern retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” As soon as she transfers to the Virginia Sloane School for Girls, Liv is drawn to the mysterious Harley and her friends. They seem to get away with anything, even sneaking off campus every night to party. And then, unbelievably, Liv is invited to join the club. At first she’s excited, but soon she realizes the mythical world they enter has a terrible price.
- “Service Call,” by Philip K. Dick (from The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories).
Since I’ve been following blogs like Insatiable Booksluts and booksnobbery, I’ve been hearing on and off how much sj loves Philip K. Dick, and after a while I decided I wanted in. At least to dabble. So I followed her handy flowchart and checked my local library for the collection containing “The Minority Report.” While not all the stories clicked with me, “Service Call” was delightfully dystopian. A man receives a visitor from the future (who doesn’t realize he’s gone back in time), a repairman answering what he thinks is a fix-it request for something called a swibble. As they converse, the man is horrified to find out what a swibble is, and what it means for the world of the future.
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So! What were your favorite reads of 2016? What are you looking forward to in 2017? Have a safe and happy holiday season, and I’ll see you next year!
[…] the setting of one of David Thomson’s seal story hunts in The People of the Sea (reviewed here), and partly because it’s going to be the setting of one of my own writing projects. […]
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