Beyond the Binary at JMRL

y648At the Crozet Library, our focus for LGBT+* Pride Month 2017 is gender. We’re featuring fiction and nonfiction books about people who identify somewhere outside the cisgender man/woman binary system and inviting patrons to contribute their identity to our community board. Check out the display in our teen area for information, pronoun stickers, book selections, or to add to the board.

Looking for some great books to read for Pride, or want to educate yourself about gender identity? Check out these fiction, nonfiction, and memoir picks! Links will take you to the JMRL catalog, where you can place these books on reserve.

 

FICTION

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin – A genderfluid teen creates a blog to share thoughts and experiences about gender. When it goes viral, the responsibility and risk of exposure may prove to be too much.

Beast by Brie Spangler – A Beauty and the Beast retelling featureing fifteen-year-old Dylan (hairy, burly, outcast) and Jamie (witty, gorgeous, transgender) who meet when Dylan is assigned to a therapy group for self-harmers after an accident.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky – A novel about twelve-year-old Grayson, who feels trapped under the weight of a life-long secret: “he” has always been a girl on the inside. A sweet and thoughtful story about friendship and support.

George by Alex Gino – George wants to play Charlotte in the annual school rendition of Charlotte’s Web, but she’s not allowed to audition because everyone sees her as a boy. With the support of her best friend, though, George comes up with a plan to embrace her true self and make her dream come true.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills – Public access radio star Gabe is dealing with a lot: romance, parents, friendships, coming out as transgender, and an awesome opportunity to audition for a radio station in Minneapolis. The difficulty ramps even higher when several violent students discover that Gabe the popular DJ is also Elizabeth from school.

NONFICTION & MEMOIR

The ABCs of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell – This one isn’t strictly about gender, as it encompasses the entire scope of gender, sexual, and romantic identity, but it’s a must-read for anyone feeling out of their depth in the ever-more-complex world of identity. YouTuber Ashley Mardell presents what could be an overwhelming amount of information in a straightforward and easy-to-digest way, with complete definitions, personal anecdotes, and infographics.

Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews / Being Normal by Katie Rain Hill – Two halves of the same story, told by two transgender teens who were dating during their respective transitions from male to female and female to male.

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings – Young transgender activist (and now reality TV star) Jazz Jennings recounts her experiences growing up as a transgender child and her work to educate the world about gender issues.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out edited by Susan Kuklin – Author/photographer Susan Kuklin interviews six transgender or non-binary young adults as they work to understand themselves and their gender identities. Filled with beautiful photos and candid anecdotes.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt – A family who adopted identical twin boys reexamined their deeply held views about gender identity when one of the twins turns out to be transgender.

Want more? Ask a librarian at any JMRL branch, chat with us via our website, or use our What Do I Read Next? tool. Happy reading!

* – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and more

“Pretty easy life. Nothing seems to have happened to him.”

Brown Baggers met on May 18 to discuss Old Filth, a novel by Jane Gardam. The novel is named for its main character, and Filth becomes his nickname after he attains great success as a lawyer in Asia (it stands for Failed In London, Try Hong Kong). The novel is told as his 81-year-old self looking back on his life and coming to terms with abandonment and abuse in his childhood.
After his mother dies in childbirth, his detached father sends him to be raised in the local Malay village, where Filth thrives. However, in the family tradition, Filth is torn from this comfortable set up and sent off to a foster family in Wales. This situation scars him for life and his reminisces throughout the books always lead back to what happened to him there.
Being left was Filth’s main story. Throughout the book we learn of his repeated losses of friends, other relatives, and love interests. As a character, Filth is a survivor. Although his methods of surviving led some readers to consider him an appalling man. We discussed whether there was a likable character in this book. As they had all experienced trauma early in their lives they developed personality quirks which made them detached and hard to warm to as readers.
Compounding the never-ending sense of loss in Filth’s life was WWII, which began when he was a young teen. This only added to his losses and deprivations. While his early experiences led to his ability to be a good litigator, it also wracked him with a lifelong sense of guilt of past wrongs and all legal decisions he meted out as judge.
After the loss of his wife, and his only friend, Filth decides to revisit family members and locations from his past to come to a better understanding of what happened and make peace with it.
Mentions:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Links:
The Man in the Wooden Hat(#2) and Last Friends(#3) in this trilogy

Audio interview with the author from BBC4

“Vanishing into books, I felt held.”

famBooks on Tap read Family Life  by Akhil Sharma at  Champion Brewery on May 4.  This highly-autobiographical novel describes the aftermath of an elder son’s accident shortly after the family migrates from India to suburban New Jersey in the 1970s. Birju, the teenaged son, nearly drowns and remains in a vegetative state for decades. To cope, his mother seeks out religious healers while his father slips deeper into alcohol abuse. His younger brother Ajay, the narrator, focuses on his academic success and turns to writing as a way to both escape his current circumstances and to create order in his own world.

While none of us quite understood why this novel won multiple awards, we were intrigued by its structure. Some found it stilted, while others thought that it accurately reflected Ajay’s personality. Sharma, who took over 12 years to finish the book and produced 7,000 pages, ultimately removed extra sensory description, what he called the “sensorium issue,” partially influenced by his early obsession with Ernest Hemingway. The tightness of the prose in the 224 page novel propels the reader along in what is essentially a plot-less story. While the lives of all the family members are defined by Birju’s accident, the story explores the full range of human emotion, not just sadness, isolation and anger.

The family had high expectations for their lives in America and Birju had just been accepted into a prestigious exam high school when he was found at the bottom of a pool. While the family’s expectations of may have been met if Birju hadn’t gone swimming that day, the parents may have divorced and Ajay may not have pushed himself so hard academically. Instead, the family narrowly focuses on Birju’s immense physical needs, bringing him home after he’s neglected in a nursing home early on. Providing in-home care was seen as a means of control, a expression of love, a reflection of shame and a type of trust in the family unit by readers. It also allowed the mother to deny Birju’s brain damage by referring to him as “sleeping,” inviting other Indian migrants in to venerate him and to bring  in various religious healers. While religion is frequently referred to, we readers didn’t get a full sense of what that entailed. While the mother can be compared to a Catholic martyr, one reader pointed out that in a crisis you do what you must day after day to survive but you don’t see how it shapes your life until the years have passed. We compared the scene in which the family, still living in India, receives their plane tickets to America to the isolated life that is their reality in New Jersey.  The entire community celebrated their migration, with constant visits and well-wishes. After Birju’s accident, their visitors are holy men or parents who bring their children to see Birju as a warning. The family not only made a leap in space, but also in time, coming from rural India to suburban America. The family, like other immigrants mostly knew about the United States from American films, which over-promised a perfect life.

Both the accident and the isolation leave Ajay as the second best son, and he has no close adults to mentor him or offer respite. He tells lies to gain attention and escape reality. On Christmas, he complains that “this shouldn’t be his life” and that he at least deserves a pizza. However, the teasing way Ajay talks to his brother shows real affection.

The book ends with Ajay thinking “I got happier and happier . . . That’s when I knew I had a problem.”  Earlier in the novel, his father stares out the window at snowfall, saying  “I’m so happy.”  While we believe both men were happy at the time, we wonder if they don’t know how to deal with happiness. It seems that Ajay has never been happy before and may have survivor’s guilt. We think he can, now that he realizes he can and has created sense of self.

The author wanted to make a “useful” book, so we discussed bibliotherapy. Some members of our group shared that reading a specific book helped shed light on their personal issues. Some found that they had no use for a book upon first reading but found solace in it when they came back to it years later. At the library, we strive to put the right book in the hands of the right person  at the right time. Test us out with JMRL’s personalized recommendation service.  

More Information:
About the author
Other works

Interviews with the author:
Irish Times
The Guardian

Recommendations
Lion(film) – place a hold on JMRL’s copy or come see it at Central in June
Green Revolution in India
The Reivers by William Faulkner  

Similarities to Birju’s care can be seen in the Audrey Santo case.

Books on Tap Information:

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