While Book Club might have fallen a bit by the wayside as I (and many of the other participants in this group and in my blogging community) have spent the post-election weeks calling representatives, donating, and just reading, reading, reading everything about bills and political issues and the Electoral College and trying everything to get through to the people who are not concerned about marginalized groups because it’s easier to say “you’ll survive, don’t be a sore loser” than “you and your loved ones might be in danger and your fear is rational, what can we do to help each other? I am listening.”
Plus, Thanksgiving, that great “oh god please no one talk politics at the dinner table but also I am angry and feel like yelling” holiday is this week. Maybe you need a nice fantasy book to warm your heart as you crash in the guest room or on the couch, or to give to your cousin or sibling who just came out, or to remind yourself that you are real, you exist, and you matter.
In light of this disaster of an election, I want to highlight groups relevant to each post where you can donate, volunteer, share with others, utilize, and/or learn more. Since today’s book features ace and trans youth, here are a few ways you can support them under the VP-elect’s anti-LGBTQ Christian extremism.
The Trevor Project, which has support for LGBTQIA and questioning youth, and is ace and trans inclusive. In addition to the (telephone) hotline, there are also options to text and chat; the hotlines are staffed by trained counselors. If you’re an adult, you can receive training for youth-serving professionals.
Trans Lifeline deals specifically with trans issues and is staffed by trans people. A $25 donation pays for someone’s call. The Lifeline received 400 calls on election night–essentially a month’s worth of calls.
PFLAG: don’t let the name mislead you: “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays” covers all our rainbow alphabet-soup letters, not just LG. If you have an LGBTQIA family member or friend and want to learn how to be a good ally* without relying on that person for your education, this is THE place to go. And not just for straight and cis allies: maybe you’re bi+ or trans and your partner isn’t–go together. Maybe you want your parents to see other people like you, or they want to network and advocate for you. Maybe you need a guided space to sort out your feelings about your orientation or gender, or had someone come out to you and want to educate yourself. There’s plenty of reasons to attend. There are chapters all over the country. *Note: including within the queer community–trans and nonbinary individuals and bi+ are marginalized within the monosexual-cis queer community.
Finally, here’s an article on supporting ace youth.
Our Sept/Oct 2016 book: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire.
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.
No matter the cost.
1. Children’s books and YA novels are often a queer youth’s “root” (experiences, media, etc. that influenced our identity) or show them examples of sexual orientations, gender expressions, or gender identities that are/were not visible in mainstream media. How did you feel about the description/explanation of Nancy’s relationship with her asexual (asexual+romantic) orientation? Of Kade’s identity as a trans boy?
AMR: Loved it – Nancy’s orientation was a part of the story and was explained as well as needed to be explained (IMO) but not The Story. It’s unsurprising for relationships to come up at that age, so didn’t feel forced (like the author was Making a Statement) and felt like her fears were completely founded and dealt with appropriately. I also liked the fact that there was a certain amount of nuance in her description, and of course made me wonder whether the author herself identified similarly due to the detailed description. Nancy wasn’t just oblivious to other humans beyond friendship, and the idea that you can have different romantic and sexual alignments is something that I don’t think I have seen in popular culture (beyond of course the tropes of experimentation and LUGs). I was very interested in Kade’s story, in large part because I don’t relate. Did Kade himself know before the Goblin King outed him? I give the author credit for only explaining as much as was relevant to the main story (for Kade and Jack, describing masculine clothing but never actually addressing Jack’s choices), and not answering all the questions that readers such as myself might have – it’s none of my, or anyone else’s, damn business to know more.
HG: I thought it was a little clunky in a Tumblr-ish sort of way, having to list off identities and Google-able definitions of them, but then again I’m not sure there’s a way to avoid that since no one feels the need to step aside and identify a cis-straight character in every book ever. For teens who haven’t come across these definitions before it could be transformative, and I definitely prefer having it stated (even in a slightly awkward way) over implied. I also loved Jack’s [the “mad scientist” girl] presentation and how a lot of different people were represented, so that made it feel less sensationalistic.
DTS: I was a fan! I can’t really recall any book from my youth that even tried to introduce a transgender or asexual character without ambiguous or euphemistic language, so I’m actually in favor of making sure kids fully understand what you’re talking about when you first introduce this vocabulary. And I agree with HG about Jack–she was my favorite character, and definitely the one I would have identified with as a young adult. I’m trying to think of a similar character from the books I loved as a kid, and I remember loads of tomboys who loved dirt and messiness and fighting, but I can’t remember many women who were dapper, intellectual, and still confident about identifying as women.
LM: I really liked that the term asexual was used, especially given the age of the main character. While it’s normal and fine for some teens to be reluctant or nervous about sex, drawing the distinction between inexperience/indifference and asexuality as an orientation was really important to me. Using the word and then explaining how Nancy experienced romantic attraction but not sexual attraction was both useful and important, especially since, as some of you wrote, queerness is often hinted at but never named, or it’s erased. I also really liked Kade’s commentary on being mistaken by his door as a girl, and I enjoyed his coming into his own and finding a place to belong.
2. How does the concept of portals and other worlds connect with queer/othered identities? (Concept of belonging, lack of understanding, etc.)
AMR: All of the characters were taken to a place where they could be themselves to the fullest extent possible, and all of the characters at this particular facility felt like the other land was where they actually belonged. There is another similar place mentioned, except the other one was for those who were suffering from something like PTSD and wanted to forget about their journey. Children who returned but assimilated back into their past lives weren’t even discussed, but I’d assume that happened. I don’t think it was necessarily that people who didn’t belong or felt out of place were the ones who were able to go into the other lands, rather, I think the other lands opened for those who were suitable, and those who were unable to adjust due to their othered identities wound up here. For these children, the fact that they had embraced identities that were not consistent with what was expected of them made it nearly impossible to assimilate back to their earlier lives. As a literary technique, I think it’s a great one to explain why so many non-mainstream identities are living in one place and are part of the storyline without the storyline being overtly about non-normative people. I’m a huge fan of good stories that expose people to other ways of being and knowing, and think that this story does an excellent job of that.
HG: I definitely thought of it as representing how divergent our internal identities can be. I was surprised at the focus on dark/creepy other worlds as opposed to the fairyland Alice-in-Wonderland nonsense worlds, although children go to both kinds. I really appreciated that it showed how our “ideal” worlds aren’t all the same, and while queerness may play into that, for me it was really about how so many people feel oppressed in the real world because something about them is different, even fictional. Also very much about how we relate to fiction I think, especially fantasy and horror stories that so many mainstream people can’t imagine relating to that deeply. Specific to this story, I think getting pulled into any magical world like that would be an opportunity for a queer kid to embrace something inherently queer, like AMR is saying above.
DTS: I interpreted it a bit differently–these kids went off and had adventures in lands that were suited to the stories they needed, but didn’t necessarily line up perfectly with their sexual identities. Kade in particular got the story he needed, but not a society that would accept him as he was. And Nancy’s world was full of sexual intrigue, she just wasn’t interested in participating it. The worlds they visited weren’t tailored to their identities as queer kids, but they still had meaningful journeys there. I guess I saw the worlds more as a metaphor for the fact that humans are multifaceted and can want many different things simultaneously–you can have passions and journeys and experiences that don’t hinge on your queerness, you know? Am I making sense? I’m not sure I’m making sense.
LM: You are making perfect sense, DTS! I find a lot of media about LGBTQIA topics (not always made by actual queer people) focuses very intently on coming out or have tragic queer feels for someone you can’t be with and/or dying tragically, and there’s no room for other stories, which is sad. I want to see queer folks in space and in fantasy worlds getting stuff done!
I also appreciated the divergent internal spaces/doorways, as I often feel like this with generalized queer spaces, almost in the same way as the kids in the story. With my partner, we’re both bi and genderqueer, and there’s a level of total understanding and space to explore for us there. But when I’m in bisexual woman-centered spaces, I feel like I don’t fit in because I’m not a woman, and when I’m in nonbinary spaces, I feel like having my bisexuality be a huge part of my identity comes off as weird sometimes. Going home, being in my circle of close friends, and going to some places on the internet, feels in some ways like going to a fantasy world where I totally fit in when I don’t in everyday life and I don’t even in queer spaces. Finding a safe space where you aren’t weird but are accepted strikes me as very queer. (So do many things.) I feel like there is a good balance in this book in that the reader can also extrapolate–sort of like X-Men?
General space for comments:
AMR: Overall thoughts: I got the book yesterday and went to read a couple of pages before bed. Two hours later, I was annoyed at myself for staying up, but was savoring the storytelling. Really enjoyable writing, absolutely loved the ending and many of the parts in between, though I felt that a couple of the scenes were a bit quick and could have used some more character PoV or detailed description or…something. I loved how various QUILTBAG identities were presented but not the main storyline, and how the characters’ personal stories were only described/shared as they were relevant to the story itself.
HG: Totally optional for posting purposes, but if anybody can recommend more stories about mad scientists in Jack’s vein, so to speak, I’d love to read them. Her book doesn’t come out until next year!
DTS: MORE JACK PLEASE. This book reminded me most strongly of Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, although that book does talk about gender identity a bit differently and doesn’t refer to the assigned-female-at-birth character who chooses to live as a man as trans. Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Sidell also has an interesting female-identified queer mad scientist. Other than that… maybe the new Ghostbusters? Genevieve from the Parasol Protectorate series? Wow, I totally did not realize how rare it is to see a female mad scientist. MORE JACK IS NEEDED STAT.
LM: LM: I offer you a Victoria Frankenstein, and will ask the readers!
Readers: do you have more media with mad scientists who are women?