Tag Archives: Queer

Author Interview: Addie Tsai

Welcome to my Taiwanese American Heritage Week feature series! Taiwanese American Heritage Week is celebrated every year in May starting on Mother’s Day and ending the following Sunday. Each year during TAHW I spotlight Taiwanese authors and books in some form or fashion on my blog. You can find all of the past features in my Post Index.

The first author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with Addie Tsai on her debut YA novel Dear Twin.

Synopsis:

Poppy wants to go to college like everyone else, but her father has other ideas. Ever since her mirror twin sister, Lola, mysteriously vanished, Poppy’s father has been depressed and forces her to stick around. She hopes she can convince Lola to come home, and perhaps also procure her freedom, by sending her twin a series of eighteen letters, one for each year of their lives.

When not excavating childhood memories, Poppy is sneaking away with her girlfriend Juniper, the only person who understands her. But negotiating the complexities of queer love and childhood trauma are anything but simple. And as a twin? That’s a whole different story.

Interview:

Q: You have said that Dear Twin started out as a memoir but evolved into a fictionalized story of your younger self. How did you decide which parts to keep true to your real life and which parts to fictionalize?

A: That’s a great question. There were aspects of the story I knew I would fictionalize from the start in order to protect the privacy and ownership of my family’s stories. But I would really say that when I created Poppy and Lola and the world they inhabited—inspired by my life but certainly not real—the fictional world and details emerged from there. Of course, there were moments that I wanted to bring into their world that were very much true, but those were few and far between.

Q: Your book explores some very heavy topics, ones that are stigmatized and need more space to exist within YA because they are relevant to so many teens. How did you navigate the intense vulnerability that comes with writing such personal trauma on the page?

A: Thank you for that observation! When I was a teenager reading YA, I felt isolated having never read YA that dealt with these harder themes and experiences that I knew were in many young adults’ lives, not only mine. It was incredibly difficult to navigate and it took time to get it right. It was hard to revisit some of these experiences, but also it took great care to do it in a way that wouldn’t retraumatize the reader or that wasn’t inappropriate to young adults. I took my time, and tried to consider the reader at every turn, as well as my young self in their position.

Q: I really loved the use of epistolary format and footnotes within your book. How did you decide what to place within the main narrative versus in Poppy’s letters or the footnotes?

A: I’ve always been attracted to the epistolary form, first with The Color Purple as a teenager and then Frankenstein. For Dear Twin, however, I knew I wanted this book to be the book of a single twin’s experience, and that I wanted there to be a way for Poppy to tell her story somehow. The best way to do that seemed to be the epistolary format. It also gave Lola a way to exist within the pages while also being absent from the present of the story at the same time. The footnotes, I think, work more the way they traditionally do–as asides, or a kind of nod or citation. I see the footnotes more as parentheses to the narrative than the narrative itself.

Q: I was delighted by a lot of the references to YA authors and books within the story, especially Malinda Lo, and Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After. How would you say your book is in conversation with other YA novels?

A: YAY! That makes me happy. I want the characters I create to largely live in the real world where these books exist. For me, Poppy is a way of reimagining my queer future and past at the same time, if that makes sense. What would it have been like for me if I had come of age in a world that was accepting of queerness, in which I knew that queer Asian teens (and adults) existed? How much larger would my world have become if I had been able to read books like Malinda Lo’s and Emily X.R. Pan’s at that age? These are the books I read now and the books my young self would most certainly have read as a teen, all collaged and integrated into Poppy who is both me and not-me.

In terms of how my book is in conversation with other YA novels, Dear Twin is intentionally a hybrid of YA and literary fiction, and although aesthetically in conversation with elements of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and We Are Okay, is in communion with writers like Malinda Lo and Emily X.R. Pan, among many others. I wrote against popular YA writers at the time who I felt weren’t speaking to the YA experience, or were speaking to a very cishet experience. I wrote against the trope of twins I saw playing out over and over again in various YA that I was reading then, or that I saw playing out on television marketed to teens. It is an exciting YA world these days, but we still have a long way to go. I wrote this book for queer Asians and I wrote this book for the teens that couldn’t just go on a road trip or quit school and chase after a missing girl and I wrote this book for twins who never get to see themselves as the center of the stories.

Q: Language barriers and the diaspora disconnect play a significant role in Poppy’s story, and the narration at times uses Hanyu Pinyin to transliterate certain words or phrases. How did you go about choosing whether to transliterate versus translate?

A: This is such a hard question for me! The truth is that I know only a few words in Mandarin. I did take Mandarin for two years in high school, and learned Pinyin during that time, but I’ve lost a lot of the language I acquired then. Some of the Mandarin in the book I knew, but some of it I had to look up. My publisher, Metonymy Press, hired a Pinyin editor, which I was grateful for. It felt important to me that there were times that the Mandarin existed without translation. I’m working on a new novel now in which I’m using characters and then adding footnotes with the pinyin, we’ll see how it goes!

Q: I really enjoyed the gift-giving scenes in the story. If you could curate and send your teen readers a Dear Twin themed book box and care package, what would you include in it?

A: OHHHHHHHHH. This is such an amazing question. If I had no limitations, I think it would include: a mixtape (on cassette), curated by either Poppy or Juniper, Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, poppy flower seeds, an enamel pin (which I have!) of Poppy and Juniper, a jasmine candle, some cute stationery that Poppy would love, a pair of colorful knee-highs, and a Hayley Kiyoko CD, or at the very least, a downloadable link. 

Q: Children’s literature as a publishing category has only just started to open up to more marginalized voices. While many think of diversity as a trend, it is essential to changing the publishing landscape on a foundational level not only as far as inclusion of marginalized characters are concerned but also at the level of storytelling as a craft. What far-flung corners and frontiers of children’s literature do you want to explore in the future, if any?

A: I absolutely agree with this. I would really like to explore all levels of children’s literature, including picture books and middle grade, collaborating with a queer Asian illustrator from the outset instead of being matched with one. Although I’ve never seen myself writing fantasy, I’ve been remembering more often how my first love of writing fiction began when I wrote fanfiction (though no one called it that then) of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. I recently fell in love with Mark Oshiro’s queer Latinx fantasy Each of Us a Desert, and it’s awakened in me an interest to consider fantasy as a writer (although I admit to feeling intimidated!), but from a more realistic (in worldbuilding, not in believability) point of view than a lot of the most commonly sought out YA fantasies being published these days.

Book Links:

Goodreads | Metonymy Press Shop | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

Addie Tsai (she/they) is a queer nonbinary artist and writer of color, and teaches courses in literature, creative writing, dance, and humanities at Houston Community College. She also teaches in Goddard College’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Regis University’s Mile High MFA in Creative Writing. They collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is the author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin. Addie’s writing has been published in Foglifter, VIDA Lit, the Texas Review, Banango Street, The Offing, Room Magazine, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire, Nat. Brut., and elsewhere. They are the Fiction Co-Editor at Anomaly, Staff Writer at Spectrum South, and Founding Editor & Editor in Chief at just femme & dandy.

Author Links:

Website – www.addietsai.com
Twitter – @addiebrook

Review for Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

I’ve been looking forward to reading Felix Ever After for a long time, and I’m super excited to be reviewing it!

Felix Ever After

Synopsis:

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

My Review:

I’m so emotional right now that it’s hard to articulate my feelings about this book, which is my official favorite of 2020. If it weren’t my duty to write a review with words, I’d just be dumping memes of Kermit emitting hearts everywhere.

I have to say that it’s the first book I’ve read where I’ve felt so seen and represented as a queer, trans, and nonbinary POC. I’ve talked about this before on Twitter, but there’s a huge disconnect for me when I read about white queer characters because race and racism are inextricably intertwined with my experiences of queerness.

In this book, Felix grapples with the feeling that he is “too many” marginalizations because he is Black and trans and queer. He doesn’t feel like he is deserving of love because of the way society has taught us to value cis-ness and whiteness. This struggle is so profoundly relatable to me as a queer Asian person. Even before I realized I was trans, I already had an intuitive understanding that I was less desirable because I was Asian and gender-nonconforming, and after figuring out my nonbinary gender and coming out, I still have insecurities surrounding this.

As a whole, Felix Ever After is full of so many important and salient conversations about race and queerness. I don’t highlight/underline/write in my physical books, but I definitely felt the urge to do so multiple times when I landed upon passages that resonated or spoke truth to power regarding an issue. One such passage lays bare the ways cis gay white men weaponize their privilege against other queer people with less power. Another passage takes on the question of whether labels are necessary or restrictive and whether gender abolition is the end goal of trans liberation. Another issue addressed in the book is how cis women harm trans people, especially trans men and trans masculine people, by accusing us of betraying women and being misogynists in “choosing” a gender that’s not our birth-assigned gender. These are real things that happen, and seeing them explored and interrogated on the page was so validating.

Felix as a character is so lovable, and it was impossible not to see myself in him. His fear of displaying vulnerability and taking risks for love spoke to me on the deepest level. He’s flawed and real. He makes unfair judgments and assumptions, lashes out in anger, and says things that hurt others to protect himself. He also yearns to connect with others, expresses himself through art, and takes responsibility for his actions and growth. His desire to prove himself as an artist and to colleges kind of felt like a personal attack because it held up a mirror to my inner psyche.

This book does an incredible job of balancing the real pain and difficulties of being a queer and trans Black person with hope and empowerment. Watching Felix grow into himself as a demiboy, discover love and intimacy, and receive validation from the people he cares about was immensely cathartic. As the title promises, he gets his happy ever after.

Content Warnings: racism, queer antagonism (deadnaming, misgendering, outing), drugs/alcohol


Links:

#RainbowReadathon TBR and Other QTPOC Books to Read During Pride Month

So…the pandemic has really killed my ability to read novels recently, but I’m trying to turn that momentum around by participating in a reading challenge, #RainbowReadathon (@RainbowReadThon on Twitter).

The goal is to read 9 books, one with a cover corresponding to the color of each of the 8 stripes in the original Pride flag, plus one multicolored one. Here’s my TBR!

Rainbow Readathon 2020 TBR

  • Pink: The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar – Young Adult, Contemporary, Bengali Irish MC, f/f romance
  • Red: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender – Young Adult, Contemporary, Nonbinary (Demiboy) Black MC, enby/m romance
  • Orange: We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia – Young Adult, Contemporary, Gay Indian MC, m/m romance
  • Yellow: I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee – Young Adult, Contemporary, Fat Bisexual Korean MC, m/f romance
  • Green: If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann – Young Adult, Contemporary, Polyamorous Asexual Black MC, f/f queerplatonic relationship
  • Turquoise: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson – Young Adult, Memoir, Gay Black MC
  • Indigo: No More Heroes by Michelle Kan – Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Genderfluid Aromantic and Asexual MC
  • Violet: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson – Young Adult, Contemporary, Bisexual Black Girl MC, f/f romance
  • Multicolor: We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia (Sequel to We Set the Dark on Fire) – Young Adult, Dystopian, Queer Latina MC, f/f romance

Assuming I finish the books above, I’m hoping to get around to some other books by QTPOC:

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram (Sequel to Darius the Great is Not Okay, which I reviewed here; out August 25th, 2020) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Biracial Iranian American MC, m/m romance

The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters (out September 8th, 2020) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Gay Black MC, m/m romance

Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro (out September 15th, 2020) – Young Adult, Fantasy, Sapphic Latina MC, f/f romance

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi (out September 22nd, 2020) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Gay Muslim Iranian American MC

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall – Young Adult, Fantasy, Queer Japanese-coded MC, f/genderfluid romance

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta – Young Adult, Novel-in-Verse, Gay Black MC

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus – Young Adult, Contemporary, Black MC and Trinidadian Immigrant MC, f/f romance

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera – Young Adult, Contemporary, Lesbian Puerto Rican MC

How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters – Young Adult, Contemporary, Gay Black Adoptee MC

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron (out July 7th, 2020) – Young Adult, Fantasy, Lesbian Black MC, f/f romance

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (out September 1st, 2020) – Young Adult, Fantasy, Gay Trans Latinx MC, m/m romance

The Black Veins by Ashia Monet – Young Adult, Fantasy, Bisexual Black Girl MC

For a comprehensive list of 2020 queer YA books, see this post by Michelle @ Magical Reads. And while you’re here, if you haven’t seen it already, please also check out my Twitter thread featuring 2020 YA books by Black authors.

Review for The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker

Summary: Frances has many ideas for making fabulous dresses but no outlet to express her creativity. Through a stroke of good luck, she secures a job as a secret seamstress to Prince Sebastian. The prince wears the dresses Frances designs while going by the name of Lady Crystallia and quickly becomes a fashion icon in Paris, garnering recognition for Frances’ designs. Over time, the two become good friends and develop romantic feelings for one another. However, their happiness is threatened when they are pulled in different directions, Frances by her ambitions to work in a position where her name is known to the public, and Sebastian by their filial duty to marry as the royal heir.

Review:

When I first heard about the idea for this graphic novel and saw preliminary design sketches on Tumblr a few years ago, I was so impatient for it to be released. Now I’ve finally read it! If you saw my Goodreads review, it was basically me crying about my love for this book. Initial impressions aside, I have conflicting feelings about the book that I’ll elaborate on below.

The Good/Great:

The plot made for a great coming-of-age story, with the characters’ desires and growth at the forefront. I’ll admit I’m biased in being drawn to and loving the story because Sebastian is trans (there weren’t specific labels mentioned in the book, but genderqueer and trans femme seem to fit the best from what I gathered) and there are so few trans characters in YA. Watching Sebastian transition and become comfortable presenting as a girl was super heartwarming for me as a trans and genderqueer person. Frances’ arc in developing her creative/artistic talent was likewise relatable to me as someone who writes and draws and wants to be a published author. Jen Wang’s art style is a combination of cute and elegant and really makes the whole experience a visual treat.

The Not-So-Good:

It partially follows the template of a typical trans acceptance narrative. While Frances and Sebastian’s manservant have no problem accepting and respecting Sebastian’s gender from the beginning, the same can’t be said for other characters. Sebastian being closeted and fearful of rejection and disgust from their parents as well as the public drives the primary conflict in the story. This isn’t automatically bad, but it’s part of a broader trend of cis authors putting trans characters through some rough situations that aren’t always handled very well in execution.

TW: outing of a trans character

There is a scene where Sebastian is publicly outed by another character who pulls off their wig while they are presenting as a girl, which results in a confrontation involving the king and queen that is pretty emotionally devastating. My issue with this scene is that forcibly outing characters, especially as a humiliating spectacle, is really overused for dramatic effect by cis authors, who may not realize how hurtful the experience can be for trans readers. It happens so much that I am desperate for more stories where trans characters are able to come out on their own terms.

Conclusion: While the the characters are endearing, the art is lovely, the ending is a happy one all around, and the overall message is hopeful for trans/non-binary people, trans/non-binary readers who choose to pick this up should take care while reading in the second half since the outing/confrontation scene is potentially triggering.