Monday, June 30, 2014

The Great War by Joe Sacco

July 1, 1916. Joe Sacco's The Great War is a wordless, accordion-folded panorama of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Imagine a Great War version of the Bayeux Tapestry.

A separate booklet, included in the box set, includes a brief essay on the war by Adam Hochschild, an author's note, and annotations to the artwork. Sacco writes:
I took this photo from the
library's mezzanine to get
the entire book spread out.
"Making this illustration wordless made it impossible to provide context or add explanations. I had no means of indicting the high command or lauding the sacrifice of the soldiers. It was a relief not to do these things. All I could do was show what happened between the general and the grave, and hope that even after a hundred years the bad taste has not been washed from our mouths."
The illustration is 24 feet long. It's meticulous and beautiful and heartbreaking. Every time I look through this work, I notice new tiny details. A passing soldier saying something to a couple standing in front of their village home. Food for the soldiers, being prepared and served in the field. A dog, barking at the influx of strangers. Someone peeing against a bombed-out building.
An entire page showing the accordion folds, plus detail (above).
There are long columns of men and endless tunnels full of soldiers, yet Sacco's fine detailing allows us to witness each person as an individual. Words cannot express the horrors of that terrible day.

Readalike graphic novels covering war from a soldier's viewpoint: Alan's War (Emmanuel Guibert); and Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (Shigeru Mizuki). Another haunting accordion-style book is Correspondences (Anne Michaels & Bernice Eisenstein).

Sunday, June 29, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart writes one outstanding YA novel after another. In We Were Liars, 17-year-old Cady cannot remember the accident that broke her mental health.

Cady and three other young people reunite every year when their families spend summers on a private island near Martha's Vineyard. They call themselves The Liars. While their parents drink and bicker, the kids are left to their own devices. They spend lazy days on the beach, they eat junk food, play scrabble, and talk about things like how to be a good person.

The year Cady was 15, something awful happened. Her voice is smart and compelling as she struggles to recover her wholeness.
 "Welcome, once again, to the beautiful Sinclair family.
  We believe in outdoor exercise. We believe that time heals. We believe, although we will not say so explicitly, in prescription drugs and the cocktail hour.
  We do not discuss our problems in restaurants. We do not believe in displays of distress. Our upper lips are stiff, and it is possible people are curious about us because we do not show them our hearts."
Underneath her enforced stoicism, Cady's heart remains untamed.

With perfect pacing and plotting, We Were Liars delivers much more than "a series of small astonishments." It's brilliant.

Readalikes (for dysfunctional families in a similar setting): Seating Arrangements (Maggie Shipstead); The Last Summer of the Camperdowns (Elizabeth Kelly).

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

In 19th century New York, a young woman lets one suitor after another slip away as she dithers over whom to marry in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Will Lily Bart choose wealth and a boring circumscribed life, or else follow her heart and wed Selden... but then be unhappy when he cannot support her extravagant tastes?

My summary doesn't do justice to this novel that was first published in 1905, nor does it capture what I love about it. I responded to the immersion in a particular place and time, the fascinating characters (even though we are kept rather at a distance from them), the stylish prose, the moral issues, and the examination of women's roles in society.

My Two Bichons book club decided to read The House of Mirth partly so that we could compare it to one we had discussed previously: Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings. It was a good pairing. I found Lily Bart as irritating as Julie Jacobson, then gradually came around to appreciate them. The choices they made held my interest from the start.

Not having read anything by Wharton previously, I was surprised to come across a familiar passage. It was used as an example in a book (I can't remember which) on how to write well. The excerpt included this exchange between 19-year-old Lily and her mother, who has shielded her daughter from the realities of household economy:
  'I really think, mother,' she said reproachfully, 'we might afford a few fresh flowers for luncheon. Just some jonquils or lilies-of-the-valley-- '
  Mrs. Bart stared. Her own fastidiousness had its eye fixed on the world, and she did not care how the luncheon-table looked when there was no one present but the family. But she smiled at her daughter's innocence.
  'Lilies-of-the-valley,' she said calmly, 'cost two dollars a dozen at this season.'
  Lily was not impressed. She knew very little of the value of money.
  'It would not take more than six dozen to fill that bowl.' she argued.
Maureen is the only one in our group who had previously read The House of Mirth. While she still loved the book thirty years later, Maureen got completely different things from it this time around. She saw the characters in a new light and noticed far more humour than she had remembered.

Wharton's prose is often witty or satirical. In a restaurant scene amid high society in the French Riviera, journalist Dabham is "wedged in modest watchfulness between two brilliant neighbours" where he can witness wardrobe malfunction.
"Mr Dabham had "leisure to note the elegance of the ladies' gowns. Mrs. Dorset's, in particular, challenged all the wealth of Mr. Dabham's vocabulary: it had surprises and subtleties worthy of what he would have called 'the literary style.' At first, as Selden had noticed, it had been almost too preoccupying to its wearer; but now she was in full command of it, and was even producing her effects with unwonted freedom. Was she not,
indeed, too free, too fluent, for perfect naturalness?"
EPL has hundreds of book club kits.  
While I enjoyed Wharton's style, my initial progress was slow. In the Penguin Classics edition -- which was in the Edmonton Public Library's book club kit -- the lines are tightly spaced, the font thickness is disconcertingly uneven, and the footnotes distracting. I switched to the Blackstone audiobook* (narrated by Anna Fields) and the story took flight. As someone in my book group commented, the ups and downs of Lily's fortunes are reminiscent of something by Charles Dickens.

I will definitely read more by Wharton, although I'm not sure whether that will be The Age of Innocence or Ethan Frome or both. Before that, however, I'll be tackling a different classic. I just finished listening to Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch and then (coincidently) read Zadie's Smith's essay about Middlemarch in Changing My Mind. When I'm ready for another classic, the first one that I'll pick up is George Eliot's Middlemarch.

*eAudiobook downloaded from the Edmonton Public Library's Overdrive collection.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Bees by Laline Paull

A lowly worker bee moves up through her hive society in Laline Paull's dystopian fantasy, The Bees. While the Holy Mother queen is worshipped as the supreme source of love and unity, the hive's survival is threatened by predators, the weather, and internal politics.

Unique in her hive, Flora 717 is large and dark, fathered by a different drone than the rest. Her curiosity sets her apart even more than her appearance. She is adept at every job, from sanitation in the morgue, to foraging, to feeding in the nursery.
"Flora could not take in Category Two [nursery] all at once, with its cheerful decorations and beautifully tiled play areas. Pretty nurses and nannies sat with their vigorous little charges, singing and playing games or feeding them from shining platters. Healthy, beautiful child-grubs were everywhere, their cheerful snubby little faces speckled with golden pollen dust."
Not a typical viewpoint on grubs. If you aren't squeamish about insects, contrast the description above with online photos here.

Photo by Laurie MacFayden
Flora's secret is that she is fertile. Only the queen is allowed to lay eggs, so this is a big deal.

"Accept, Obey, and Serve" is the hive's credo. Fertility police, jealous priestesses, conspiring rebels and profligate males are among the factions Flora must negotiate.

Photo by Laurie MacFayden
The Bees is an odd mix of natural science and fantasy. I'm interested in bees and Laline includes a lot of realistic insect behaviours. This is perhaps what made the anthropomorphism occasionally jarring. For the most part, however, I was swept up in Flora's adventure. I also find myself looking at the bees in my garden in a whole new way!

Readalikes - a varied selection, but they capture different appeal elements: Watership Down (Richard Adams); Ant Colony (Michael DeForge); The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood); The Orphan Master's Son (Adam Johnson); Albert of Adelaide (Howard Anderson).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The ACB with Honora Lee by Kate De Goldi

Kate De Goldi, New Zealand author of The 10 PM Question has a delightful new chapter book for readers of all ages. The ACB with Honora Lee is about the power of intergenerational relationships. Perry is an irrepressible girl with distracted parents. When Perry's grandmother, who has dementia, is moved to a facility within walking distance, Perry begins regular visits.
If Perry's father left the room Gran asked Perry questions instead.
'Who is that man?' said Gran.
'He's my dad,' said Perry. 'His name is Jonathan Sunley. He's your son.'
He's your Sunley, thought Perry, smiling, but she didn't say that to Gran in case it was confusing.
'Are you Imogen?' said Gran.
'No,' said Perry. 'I'm Perry.'
'That's a boy's name.' Gran squinted at Perry. 'Are you a boy? Where is Imogen?'
'I don't know. And, I'm a girl.'
'Your hair's short.'
'So is yours.' This wasn't rude because it was true. Gran's hair was short and thin and close to her head, like a swimming cap.
'She's probably late,' said Gran. 'She'll be late for her own funeral.'
'Probably,' said Perry. She couldn't think what else to say.
'I spy with my little eye,' said Gran.
'Goody,' said Perry. She liked I Spy.
'Something beginning with spectacles,' said Gran. She pointed her bent finger at Perry's spectacles, which were hard to miss.
'You're supposed to say a letter,' said Perry. You should say, "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with S."'
'Well, best be going,' said Gran. 'No rest for the wicked.'
And she stood up and walked away, which was usually how a visit to Gran ended.
Perry is a wonderful character. Every time she sees her grandmother, she reminds her that she is her granddaughter. Perry is bright and full of questions, good at solving problems, and loves to play with language.
'Maybe bumblebees are just getting stupider,' said Perry. She was thinking of becoming a zoologist when she grew up.
'There's no such word as stupider,' said both her parents together.
Perry looked up from the picture she was drawing. (It was a spider making a web.)
'There is now,' she said.
The primary audience for this warm, witty and wise story is between Grade 3 and 7.

The book itself is beautifully packaged, with coloured drawings by Gregory O'Brien, including the bumblebee pattern on the cloth cover and the whimsical alphabet endpapers. Even the squarish size is just right -- like a gift ready to be presented. Treat a young person... or yourself.

Readalikes: Counting by 7s (Holly Goldberg Sloan); The Higher Power of Lucky (Susan Patron).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

An obsessive seventy-two-year old woman lives alone in Beirut, where she translates her favourite books into Arabic and then stores her manuscripts without sharing them with another soul. Aaliya is a recluse whose "colourful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese civil war and [her] own volatile past."

That quotation is from the jacket flap of Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman. I'm going to fill this blog post with quotes because this is definitely a book for readers who love language. If you are that kind of reader, get a copy of this magnificent novel and start from the beginning. ("You could say I was thinking of other things when I shampooed my hair blue, and two glasses of red wine didn't help my concentration.")

Do it now. Then come back and savour some great passages. There are no spoilers ahead.

  "I stand up carefully, lean and twist to stretch my back. The lower back pain isn't necessarily age related -- I've lived with mild back pain for years. What has changed is the complexity of the knots: in my younger years the back muscles felt like a simple bowline knot, whereas this morning they feel more like a couple of angler's loops and a sheepshank. I'm able to name a few knots used by sailors, but I have never been on a boat. Joseph Conrad's novels planted the seeds of love for sea stories. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News led me to read The Ashley Book of Knots.
  I am a reader. Yes, I am that, a reader with nagging back pain."

  "We all try to explain away the Holocaust, Abu Ghraib, or the Sabra Massacre by denying that we could ever do anything so horrible. The committers of those crimes are evil, other, bad apples; something in the German or American psyche makes their people susceptible to following orders, drinking the grape Kool-Aid, killing indiscriminately. You believe that you're the one person who wouldn't have delivered the electric shocks in the Milgram experiment because those who did must have been emotionally abused by their parents, or had domineering fathers, or were dumped by their spouses. Anything that makes them different from you.
  When I read a book, I try my best, not always successfully, to let the wall crumble just a bit, the barricade that separates me from the book. I try to be involved.
  I am Raskolnikov. I am K. I am Humbert and Lolita.
  I am you."

(The passage above explains why I'm feeling distressed about a book I'm currently partway through: 419 by Will Ferguson. I find myself resisting my natural inclination to identify with the character Winston because he is a swindler, even though he is also a pawn in a larger game. I look forward to discussing this aspect of my reading experience with others at the CanLit Book Club next week at Jasper Place Library.)

  "I walk myself back to my bedroom, back to the stack of books on my mirrorless vanity, unread books that I intend to read, a large stack. Choosing which book isn't difficult. The choice is typically the last one I brought home. I acquire books constantly and place them in the to-read pile. When I finish with whatever book I'm reading, I begin the last book I bought, the one that caught my attention last. Of course, the pile grows and grows until I decide that I'm not going to buy a single book until I read my stack. Sometimes that works."

  "To paraphrase the everparaphraseable Freud, who said something to the effect that when you speak about the past you lie with every breath you take, I will say this:
  When you write about the past, you lie with each letter, with every grapheme, including the goddamn comma.
  Memory, memoir, autobiography -- lies, lies, all lies."

"As much as I loved it and felt at home within its cages, school is more Hades than Heaven -- a ritual killing of childhood is performed in school, children are put to death."

  "I don't like to complain, truly, I don't, but I do find that I am doing so often. To age is to whine.
  Should I tell you about my bowel movements?
  I'm joking, I'm joking. However, if you have the misfortune of reading Thomas Mann's journals, you'll notice that all he thinks about are his misbehaving bowels, and the perfumed boorish bore was not joking. He wouldn't have been able to joke if his Nobel Prize depended on it.
  Most of the books published these days consist of a series of whines followed by an epiphany. I call these memoirs and confessional novels happy tragedies."

Henri Matisse. La Gerbe. 1953
"No nostalgia is felt as keenly as nostalgia for things that never existed."

  "Henri Matisse once said, 'It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.'
  I love this quote, love the fact that the most incandescent painter of the twentieth century felt this way. Being different troubled him. Did he genuinely want to paint like everybody else, to be like everybody else? Did he truly wish to belong?
  It has bothered me all my life that I am not like everybody else."

  "'Every man guards in his heart a royal chamber,' wrote Flaubert. 'I have sealed mine.'
  I haven't done as good a job as Gustave. My sealant leaks. Jagged cracks have surfaced in my walls through the years. [...]
  I wonder at what age Flaubert wrote the line above. He died a couple of years before he turned sixty.
  Pessoa, more a connoisseur of alienation than even Flaubert, wrote: 'I've surrounded the garden of my being with high iron gratings -- more imposing than any stone wall -- in such a way that I can perfectly see others while perfectly excluding them, keeping them in their place as others.'
  I am becoming one of the many things I despised when I was younger, a sentimental fool. These corroding walls can't even defend me against the predictable emotionalism of bad movies; bad Hollywood movies starring big heroes with bigger motivations now make me cry."

  "Unlike the main streets that cut the city with a butcher's cleaver, this ancient one wiggles its hips quite a bit."

"To write is to know that you are not home. I stopped loving Odysseus as soon as he landed back in Ithaca."

  "Throughout our marriage, we would go for weeks without exchanging more than perfunctory communications, sharing little but the bewildered quiet.
  And you think that I am lonely now? Heavens.
  I wish I'd listened to Chekhov, or had read him then: 'If you are afraid of loneliness, don't marry.'"

Yay! Alice Munro's work is  praised
in Alameddine's novel.
"I'll translate Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, or better yet, the creme de la creme of short story writers, Alice Munro. I can live in Alice's skin for a while."

I loved living in Aaliya's skin for the duration of Alameddine's intimate and heartwarming novel.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Artifice by Alex Woolfson and Winona Nelson

A gay love story set in a future controlled by a militarized interplanetary corporation - Artifice is a surprising graphic novel by Alex Woolfson and Winona Nelson.

I was delighted by how fresh it feels. The realistic bodies and facial expressions in Nelson's artwork make it easy to stay focused on the story. The android/human romance is sensitively portrayed; complicated characters and naturalistic dialogue give it authenticity, the plot is carefully structured, there's nice tension between the android and his therapist, and the ending leaves plenty of room for speculation.

Readalikes: Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie) and The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi). These science fiction stories aren't in graphic novel format, but they are suspenseful, dark and gritty, plus feature romantic bonds between artificial beings and humans.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo

Jonathan was nine when his lesbian mothers split up. Sid, an immigrant to Canada from Trinidad, was the one who had been the stay-at-home parent since his birth. Jonathan was an adult before he finally found Sid again... except that Sid had transitioned to a man, and was now Sydney.

In Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, Shani Mootoo writes about loneliness, family, identity and the search for a sense of belonging. Jonathan's memoir and Sydney's journals advance the story in a way much like that described by the title.

A Trinidadian of South Asian heritage, Sydney was frequently frustrated and hurt by racism in Canada. Shyam Selvadurai included a similarly honest portrayal of the immigrant experience in his novel The Hungry Ghosts. I hope that books like these will help to make this country a better place for everyone by shining a light on the darker aspects of our society. When we discussed Cathy Ostlere's Karma at my CanLit Book Club last month, one member said that reading about the Hindu mother's terrible isolation in small-town Saskatchewan opened her eyes to the importance of treating newcomers with compassion.

Bridging emotional distances is more challenging than geographical ones for the characters in Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab. Jonathan, on the phone from Trinidad to his girlfriend in Canada:
"I began to tell her about the crabs that were caught in the swamps and sold roadside in neatly tied-up bundles. Their backs are smaller than my fist, I told her, as if she were begging me for details. The facts of the funeral and of my role in it were like a human presence sitting in a chair watching me as I talked, but I mentioned none of this."
In this as in Mootoo's previous novels -- Cereus Blooms at Night (one of my all-time favourite books), He Drown She In the Sea and Valmiki's Daughter -- the Trinidad setting is richly evoked. Whenever food specialties came up, I got cravings.
"Zain was saying that by the time we got back, Cynthia would have made coconut bake and salt fish. Cynthia was a really good cook, and she was black, Zain said, so of course she didn't make bake like an Indian. Cynthia's bake was black bake, she added impishly. 'Hers isn't limp and bland like a thick sada roti. This is bake in which you can actually taste the coconut. A wedge of it between your thumb and forefinger is firm; when you hold it up to your mouth, Sid, it meets you like a man.'"
I have never been able to recreate the black fruitcake I tasted when I was a host for a Trinidad exchange program, but coconut bake is doable.

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a thought-provoking book with memorable characters.

Readalikes: for the Canadian immigrant experience - The Hungry Ghosts (Shyam Selvadurai); for people's lives in Trinidad - Is Just a Movie (Earl Lovelace); for gender identity questioning - If You Could Be Mine (Sara Farizan); and for a PoC transgender parent - Trumpet (Jackie Kay).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

In the aftermath of Ireland's financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.

Donal Ryan's The Spinning Heart is an absolutely stunning novel. It won Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, received the Guardian First Book Prize, and was longlisted for the Man Booker.

This is the opening paragraph:
My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He hasn't yet missed a day of letting me down. He smiles at me; that terrible smile. He knows I'm coming to check is he dead. He knows I know he knows. He laughs his crooked laugh. I ask is he okay for everything and he only laughs. We look at each other for a while and when I can no longer stand the stench off of him, I go away. Good luck, I say, I'll see you tomorrow. You will, he says back. I know I will.
It's told in multiple voices by a cast of characters who all seem real, the rural Irish setting is vividly present, the language is rich with dialect, and the story is both tragic and funny. The book is short - 156 pages - and mental health is one of the issues addressed. The Spinning Heart rings so many of my reading preference bells, how could I not love it? And I do. With all my heart.

Monday, June 9, 2014

On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin

When were you first attracted to other women? In On Loving Women, Diane Obomsawin created comic strip vignettes of her friends' answers to this question. The earliest stages of the coming out process are the poignant focus of the stories: questioning identity; growing self-acceptance; finding lesbian community; and initial sexual experiences.

Obomsawin's artwork is whimsical and appealing. Her anthropomorphic figures have the playfulness of children's book illustrations, while depicting frank lesbian sex scenes. Sort of a cross between the animal/people in Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant's Ariol, and comics for adults by Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler, The Left Bank Gang, etc) or Art Speigelman (Maus).

Each woman's story resonated strongly for me, even though they were all different from each other. Coming to terms with one's sexuality is a universal experience for queer individuals. The stories are set in both Canada and France, which serves to emphasize their similarity, because they could be in either country except for when mention is made of specific cities. Compare the two Pride parade floats below and you'll see that not much has changed over the years, either.

Detail from "Mathilde's Story" in Diane Obomsawin's On Loving Women
Edmonton Pride Parade, June 6, 2014: Womonspace is a social organization for lesbians.
(photo by Laurie MacFayden)

Check out more of Obomsawin's delightful films and comics (in French) online here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil by Stephen Collins

Unruly facial hair disrupts the social order of an island society in The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil. Mild-mannered Dave is at the mercy of his beard when it starts growing without cease, and Dave is then censured by the other people in his regimentally tidy community.

The title and cover illustration of Stephen Collins' large format graphic novel set up this fable very well indeed. Farcical, with dark undertones. Collins uses humour to prod our fear of difference. The story is conveyed mostly via images, rather than words. In this society, the rules are clear. They are to followed, not questioned or discussed.

The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil is a bewitching and unsettling study of modern life.

Cartoonist Stephen Collins has a dead pan and devastating sense of humour.
Readalikes: Goliath (Tom Gauld); The Ticking (Renee French).

Monday, June 2, 2014

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

"A pronoun doesn't define who I am." Author and photographer Susan Kuklin lets transgender teens speak for themselves in Beyond Magenta. Six young Americans from diverse ethnic backgrounds share their experiences. Their stories are deeply personal.

Each voice is unique, despite shared qualities of strength, vulnerability, courage and hope. They talk about what transitioning is like for them, and their future plans. Kuklin respected their individual preferences in use of gender pronouns.

Jessy: "I really don't care about pronouns anymore. A pronoun doesn't define who I am. I have a male role in society. I'm proud to be transgender. It's an enriching experience and a big part of my life. But yet I can't get rid of the fact that I was born a biological female. [...] I still have a feminine side.

Cameron: "I started questioning my gender around my fourteenth birthday. And I probably started questioning the gender system around that time too. My first thought was that I was gender queer. Gender queer is not part of the gender binary, meaning somebody that's strictly a boy or strictly a girl. [...] I like to be recognized as not a boy and not a girl. I'm gender queer, gender fluid, and gender other."
"Testosterone is definitely a sexy hormone. My sex drive went way up once I started taking it."

Nat: "Usually I don't like to use labels, but if I did, I would say I was gender queer, gender neutral, or simply queer. Intersex is another way I can identify myself. [...] I'm a whole different gender, a third gender, so to speak, part of the transgender umbrella. [...] I want people to use the pronouns them and they when referring to me because I consider myself both male and female."
"I never looked at myself in the mirror. The moment I looked in the mirror, I would get depressed for a month."

Luke: "When you are questioning whether you are a boy or a girl, and someone comes right out and asks you, "Are you a boy or a girl?" it's like rubbing alcohol on a cut."
"It took about a year to convince my mom to use male pronouns. My dad was pretty against it until a couple of months ago. My dad still calls my hormones steroids rather than T, which I asked him not to do. He messes up with pronouns a lot and doesn't apologize for it. He uses my birth name a lot. But I don't actually care. It's definitely better than before. Now everything was out in the open."

Mariah: "My grandma was charged with abuse and neglect for me wearing girl clothes, and I was placed in Child Protective Services."
"I want people going through the same thing to know they are not alone. Transition? Everyone goes through one kind of transition or another. We go through transitions every day. Except mine is maybe a little more extreme."

Christina: "Transitioning is a very long process. We go through stages. First we look like a man. Then we go through gender bending. And eventually we look like a woman. Gender bending is when you don't look like a male and you don't look like a female. You're changing from one gender to another."

Christina attended an all-boys school. "I still hang out with boys from Mount Saint Michael. They're straight. I went to a house party recently where there were a lot of Mount boys. I came in and announced, 'Learn your pronouns because I don't want to have to slap somebody tonight.' They said 'hi,' and gave me kisses on the cheek. I was surprised. I was really happy."

Kuklin's photographs celebrate the individuality of her subjects. While Luke's face isn't shown, and Mariah requested that there be no photographs of herself at all, Christina flashes her smile while shopping for accessories, shy Nat is captured in moody black and white, and Cameron (who is also on the cover) models lots of different outfits.

Beyond Magenta is an important book with a visually attractive presentation. Highly recommended.