It has been a bountiful year for queer and trans books in Canada. From new works by Casey Plett to Tomson Highway to Brad Fraser, we tried to cover as much as possible, but sadly there were still many titles that never had their due. With that in mind, here are some great additional holiday reading (or last minute gift ideas). Good reading!
Listeners by Jordan Tannahill
No other queer title on this list has made as much noise this year as Listeners. Award-winning playwright and author, Tannahill’s second novel was one of five books nominated for the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize. Inspired by The Hum, a real-life mystery in which people around the world have reported hearing a persistent low-frequency noise, the book centers on Claire, a teacher in her 30s who suddenly begins to hear overwhelming sound. No one else in her family can hear her, and after ruling out any possible medical cause, Claire discovers a group of cult-like people who share her affliction and are dedicated to understanding its source. Strange and poetic, Listeners isn’t so much a thriller as it is a philosophical commentary on religion, conspiracy theories, and sanity. And like much of Tannahill’s work, the book is intended for the stage, forming the basis for a new opera premiering in Norway in 2022.
The spectacular by Zoe Whittall
Motherhood is under the microscope in Zoe Whittall’s fifth novel, which examines the lives of three generations of women in one family. Written from alternating perspectives over different time periods, the book opens in the late 1990s with 20-something Missy on tour with her indie rock band, the Swearwolves. Separated from her mother after a tumultuous childhood, Missy seeks thrills on the road with each new tour date. Meanwhile, her mother, Carola, made her own journey, coming out of a sex scandal at the ashram where she fled after abandoning her family. The third perspective of the book comes from Carola’s mother, Ruth, who, nearing the end of her life and planning a return trip to the Turkish village in which she grew up, attempts to unite Carola and Missy. Filled with the boldness, verve, and intricate character that we expect from Whittall’s work, The spectacular is a daring and heartbreaking family drama that examines society’s ever-changing perspectives on sexuality, gender, and motherhood.
How to fail as a popstar by Vivek Shraya
Last October, Canada was celebrated as the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest gathering of publishing professionals in the world. Writer, musician and performer Vivek Shraya was one of eight writers selected to represent Canada in person at the fair. That same month, Shraya marked the start of her 20th anniversary as an artist with the creation of the ‘Vivek Forever’ t-shirt, a bright and daring design celebrating two decades of production in music, books, video and performance. Not too bad for someone who has published an autobiographical piece this year called How to fail as a popstar– and CBC just announced that they will be adapting the play into a series with Shraya on deck to develop and perform. Failure Shraya isn’t, but that’s not the goal of his latest work, which premiered at the Canadian Stage in Toronto just before the pandemic and will tour Vancouver and Montreal in early 2022. . How to fail as a popstar is a courageous, funny, and deeply personal anti-success story that charts Shraya’s path to finding her voice while offering wisdom about the nature of fame and disappointment. It also includes color photographs from the show’s 2020 Toronto production and a preface by its director, Brendan Healy.
Shadow life through Hiromi Goto and Ann xu
Gay seniors are honored in Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu’s 368-page graphic novel about a 76-year-old bisexual widow named Kumiko who ends up on the lamb after her well-meaning adult daughters put her in a home of retirement. Fiercely independent, Kumiko quickly finds a place to live on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver, not revealing to her daughters where she is (but always communicating with them via email to let them know she is okay). Alone, Kumiko begins to prosper; soon, however, she begins to receive visits from the Shadow of Death. It’s unclear if supernatural forces are at work or if Kumiko’s spirit has started to fail her, but readers are treated to a heart-wrenching and humorous tale (at one point, she battles the Wraith with a vacuum cleaner) as the elderly woman thwarts death’s plans to get her back. Filled with dramatic black and white illustrations of Xu, Shadow life is a suspenseful and heartfelt exploration of life, death and morality.
Easily fooled by H. Nigel Thomas
The third book of Thomas’ quartet No backup novels about the lives of gay men who left the Caribbean to break free in Canada, Easily fooled focuses on Millington Samuels, a gay ex-Methodist minister who seeks to live an authentic life in Montreal after a traumatic childhood of religious intolerance. Like Millington, Thomas is also from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the author writes about his former homeland in startling detail, immersing us in the trauma, religious conditioning, and family expectations that compel so many. gay men leaving the Caribbean. In today’s Canada, Millington struggles to keep up with the libertine ways of his band “The Friends” while negotiating same-sex marriage and the complicated legacy of his past. A powerful condemnation of religious doctrine by a prolific voice in queer diasporic fiction.
Coconut by Nisha Patel
This first collection by Edmonton’s newest poet laureate makes no effort. Featuring poems with titles like “Justin Trudeau has nothing to wear on Diversity Day” and “Nine Things to Say to Elizabeth Gilbert,” Nisha Patel skillfully channels her thoughts and feelings into dazzling texts that are powerful, political, confrontational and heartbreaking. These are words begging to be heard aloud, so it’s no wonder that Patel is also an individual Canadian slam champion (just try listening to the title poem, “Coconut, without having goosebumps). Filled with nostalgia, wit, and irony, Patel’s poetry is a bold and provocative exploration of race, homosexuality, feminism, and family.
A little village mix by ‘Nathan Burgoine
This thin weird romance is a cute and fun encounter about a man named Ivan who is a co-owner of NiceTeas, a boutique located in The Village, a fictional queer neighborhood in Ottawa where many of the author’s interconnected short stories and short stories take place. Much like the other characters in Burgoine’s Cozy Offerings, Ivan has a bit of magic in him: he’s able to imbue the drinks he serves with a touch of something special to help his customers through their day. Ivan’s sister Anya also has a magical gift, but hers is to read the future in the tea leaves and coffee grounds left behind. After Walt, a cantankerous but beefy soldier, arrives with dog problems (a husky named Sensei who steals the show), Anya warns her brother that she doesn’t see a future for the two of them. What will Ivan listen to: his heart or the tea leaves? Bursting with wit, lightness and memorable characters, Burgoine’s short story is a very pleasant and charming adventure.
The rebel tide by Eddy Boudel Tan
With much of the action taking place aboard an almost claustrophobic luxury liner in the Mediterranean, Boudel Tan’s The rebel tide is a fast-paced and captivating mystery about a man’s search for answers. It tells the story of a queer man named Sébastien Goh who, after the death of his mother, goes in search of his father who abandoned them 30 years ago. Impersonating a crew member aboard the Glacier, a ship on which his mysterious father is the commander, Sebastian soon stumbles with the crew on the lower decks, an adorable cast of characters, each traveling with their own luggage. After a violent incident sparks an uprising against the ship’s senior officers, Sebastian discovers a disturbing secret his father has hidden in the ship. Weaving references to Greek myths and legends, Tan’s Last is an exhilarating and immersive novel filled with adventure, suspense and, above all, humanity.