The Bi Bookshelf: Does Gender Matter?

Sep 26, 2016 | 2016 Fall - Does Gender matter?, Articles, Bi Bookshelf, Reviews

By Sarah E. Rowley

Books that might be of interest to readers of the Bi Women Quarterly

New Fiction Featuring Bisexual Women

One of the biggest U.S. books of 2016 so far is Jennifer Haigh’s Heat and Light, a novel about the coming of fracking to a small Pennsylvania town. A bisexual woman grappling with her sexuality and her lesbian or trans partner appears to be central to the plot, and so far reviews, which are using the term “Great American Novel,” are glowing.

A bi woman is also central to The Regulars by Georgia Clark, which seems to be a fluffy feminist beach novel with a sci-fi twist. A bi feminist journalist in New York and her two straight friends drink a substance that temporarily changes them into more conventionally attractive versions of themselves; in the journalist’s case, it leads to an affair with a famous lesbian filmmaker.

Nina Revoyr’s Lost Canyon, a thriller about a hiking trip gone wrong, is a fast-paced, fun read deepened by good character work, and though her sexuality is a very minor point, its true hero is a Black bisexual woman. Out Japanese-American author Revoyr brilliantly shows how the different racial identities of the hikers affect their approaches to moral dilemmas and survival, and explores the racial realities of the marijuana wars in US national parks.

Tessa Hadley’s deeply English family drama The Past features Harriet, a married woman who falls hard for her brother’s Argentinian wife. The book is an elegy for the English gentry – rural, middle-class, Anglican liberals who are disappearing along with the farmers they once lorded over – and explores how each generation repeats the mistakes of the last.

In Malaysian-British author Zen Cho’s brief novella The Terracotta Bride (currently available only as an e-book), a dead woman married to the richest bureaucrat in hell finds her life transformed when he brings home a golem-like second wife made from terracotta. Reviews praise her exploration of hell as metaphor for patriarchy and queer women’s experience in a traditional Chinese supernatural setting.

All the short stories in Helen Oyeyemi’s excellent collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours: Stories feature keys in some way, but they also center on bisexual, lesbian, gay and trans characters who are normalized in a magical realist world where ghosts, sentient puppets, and witches rub shoulders with middle-aged psychiatrists, tyrants, and feminist undergrads. It’s a great introduction for anyone who hasn’t yet encountered this talented British-Nigerian author.

Sarah McCarry’s About a Girl, a retelling of the Greek myth of Atalanta with a bisexual heroine and transboy love interest, was a finalist for the 2016 Lambda Literary Award in Young Adult literature. The last in the author’s well-reviewed Metamorphoses trilogy, the book probably improves if you’ve read the first two.

New Work from Out Authors

Out bisexual author Nalo Hopkinson has a new book out! Falling in Love with Hominids, a collection of eight short stories, is the latest from the acclaimed science fiction and fantasy author who has revolutionized science fiction and fantasy with her clever use of her own African-CaribbeanCanadian heritage.

In other exciting news, out lesbian African-American author Jacqueline Woodson has published her first adult novel in twenty years. Another Brooklyn explores black female friendship in 1970s New York, and will likely find a wide audience coming just after Woodson won the National Book Award for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming.

Out Japanese-Canadian author Mariko Tamaki, who together with her illustrator cousin Jillian has taken on queer teen experience and female friendship in the excellent graphic novels Skim and This One Summer, has written a solo (non-graphic) young adult novel with a queerspawn protagonist. Saving Montgomery Sole finds the title character, a 16-year-old with two moms and an interest in the occult, struggling not to meet bigotry with bigotry when a conservative preacher moves to her small town.

Other Books of Interest

Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees – a beautifully written account of a young lesbian growing up in Nigeria during the 1970s and ‘80s – is now out in paperback. Unlike many authors, Okparanta doesn’t vilify queer women who marry men, and boldly argues with homophobic use of the Bible. The book is a direct response to the 2014 Nigerian law that criminalized same-sex relationships and support for such relationships, making those offenses punishable by up to fourteen years in prison or stoning; it will grab anyone who read Okparanta’s wonderful short story collection, Happiness, Like Water.

Somali-American fantasy writer Sofia Samatar has published The Winged Histories, a companion to her dazzling novel A Stranger in Olondria. It tells the stories of four women on different sides of the Olondrian civil war, including that of the cross-dressing general who starts the conflict, and her lover, a poet who grapples with the good and bad of her nomadic people’s traditional ways. Samatar’s brainy and beautiful work explores the different ways women’s stories are told and not told; you don’t need to have read the first book, though I found it helpful.

One of the hottest young adult books of the summer is If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, which has won acclaim as a novel about a teen trans girl actually written by a trans woman.

Also attracting positive attention is Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin, a young adult novel about Riley, a gender-fluid teenager grappling with friendship, romance, and bullies. Readers never learn Riley’s birth-assigned gender, but their story has been winning hearts left and right.

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan is out in paperback. This book, often compared to the literary post-apocalyptic hit Station Eleven, centers on three characters in a Scottish trailer park when nuclear winters hits; one of them is a 12-year-old trans girl who finds the apocalypse interrupts her ability to get hormone blockers. So far reviews are excellent.

Sarah E. Rowley is co-editor of Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World.

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