One of my reading goals for this year was to read a diversity of Canadian novels, including more LGBTQ2S stories and authors. This has led to a lot of great reads!
Since we’re in to the season for holiday book gifting or curling up inside with a good novel, I decided now was the time to share a list of the fantastic novels that I’ve found this year and would recommend. All ten have sexually and gender diverse authors and/or stories.
They are listed below in no particular order, 9 are by Canadian authors and 1 is actually by an author from the UK, but I really enjoyed it so I threw it on the end of the list as a bonus to make an even 10.
*Most of these are well-known enough books that they can likely be found through your local library, at your independent book store, or else somewhere like Chapters.
DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING by Madeleine Thien
Madeleine Thien hooks you in with an intriguing opening line, before weaving you back and forth through time as she beautifully pieces together the story of three generations of a family, from Revolutionary China through to 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. A 500-page epic, I decided to take it along with me to Hawaii back in January, where I felt I would have the time and focus to power through. But even after 500 pages I didn’t want this book to end. Its unforgettable story has stuck with me all year since. There’s a reason this novel has won so many literary awards, and made it on to CBCs Great Canadian Reading List.
BROTHER by David Chariandy
This is my favourite David Chariandy book yet. The story of two brothers, sons of Trinidadian immigrants growing up in “The Park” in 1990s Scarborough. David Chariandy’s beautifully written novel is 200 pages filled with fantastic story telling, as you experience the character’s hopes and dreams, their sadness and their grief right along with them. While in Toronto this summer I got caught in a torrential downpour on Queen Street and ducked in to Type Books for some shelter, eventually discovering this 2017 David Chariandy novel while I waited out the storm. I ended up leaving with a copy of it in my bag, just another reason to love thunderstorms!
SCARBOROUGH by Catherine Hernandez
Sticking with the Scarborough theme, I first heard about Catherine Hernandez’s debut novel on CBC radio before catching a spontaneous flight to Toronto this summer. While in the city I headed over to Queen Books and grabbed myself a copy from their display. All I can say is wow. You should read this book if you have the chance. The complex and layered stories captivated me from the dedication right up until the final page. I literally laughed and cried. I sincerely hope this is the first of many novels from Catherine Hernandez.
Note: Let me know if you read this one and we can throw on Whitney Houston’s ‘I want to Dance With Somebody’ and talk about how great Bing is.
SUCH A LONELY, LOVELY ROAD by Kagiso Lesego Molope
A story of family, sexuality, racism, and the battle against an AIDS crisis in South Africa. Kagiso Lesego Molope drew me in with a captivating writing style that kept me deeply absorbed. I literally didn’t put it down until I finished it. This was an Audrey’s Books find where the cover and title intrigued me enough to give it a try. Ultimately the title couldn’t be more apt. You’re in for a couple hundred pages of feeling both intense love and deep loneliness.
SMALL BEAUTY by jia qing Wilson-yang
The story of Mei, a mixed-race trans woman who leaves the city for a small town in an attempt to deal with her grief and reflect on her life. While there she ends up learning more about her family secrets and the local history. I don’t want to give anything more away. A small book with only 150 pages, this made for a great weekend read. It is not a book I’ve seen on the shelves in many stores, so I am grateful to my friend Laura for telling me about this book, and then lending it to me! If you can’t find it elsewhere it’s available online direct from the publisher.
LITTLE FISH by Casey Plett
I happened to wander in to Glad Day Books on the day of a book launch for this author’s debut novel, so I grabbed a copy on a whim. Inside was the story of Wendy Reimer, a trans woman who discovers her Mennonite grandfather may have also been trans. The writing is real and very raw to read. Through the good and the bad, I felt I was right there with Wendy, stumbling along through a cold wintery Winnipeg. At points striking, at others devastating it is definitely a read you won’t forget.
FOR TODAY I AM A BOY by Kim Fu
A story of Peter Huang growing up in small-town Ontario in a Chinese family. Peter’s family has high hopes for him as their only son, expect for one thing, he knows he is a girl. I loved the style, the wit, the vivid writing and depth of the story. As the back cover says, “For Today I Am a Boy is a coming-of-age tale like no other.” A book I discovered because of the CBC. Thanks public radio!
JONNY APPLESEED by Joshua Whitehead
“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.
Poetically written, I totally dug Joshua Whitehead’s debut novel about Jonny Appleseed. It is a brilliant look at the fullness of life in all its beauty, cruelty, discovery and sexuality (safe to say some parts definitely aren’t PG 13). Another CBC Radio discovery, I’m glad I came across a copy and look forward to his next book.
THE MARROW THIEVES by Cherie Dimaline
A young adult novel taking place in a dystopian future in post-climate change ravaged Ontario, where Indigenous people are being hunted for their bone marrow which is said to contain their ability to dream. Yet somehow reading this dystopian story felt all too close to home. The LGBT character’s subplot plays a minor role, but the book overall was so fantastic that I’ve included it. It was a CBC Canada Reads finalist this year, which personally I wish would have won!
Not Canadian but including it as a bonus:
TIN MAN by Sarah Winman
A spontaneous purchase based on a recommendation I got while browsing in Saskatoon’s wonderful independent book store, Turning the Tide. A story of love, loss, and mystery. I was immediately eager to find out the rest of the story, so I found myself a coffee shop patio and powered through the book that same afternoon. This book is small and slim but packs a lot in. I doubt I could say it better than two of the reviews on the book flap so I’ll leave you with those: “This is almost a love story. But it’s not as simple as that.”, and it: “Breaks your heart and warms it all at once.”