Celebrating Pride: 33 Queer Book Releases of 2020 by POC & BIPOC

This year has been incredibly eventful with a vast majority of the occurrences being tragedies or mass failings by our government, bringing about intense uncertainty. However, the one takeaway from 2020 that can bring relative comfort are all of the fantastic books that have been hitting shelves. Books for me have always been a source of escapism as well as a means of understanding political strife from as many perspectives, beliefs, understandings, social standings (and more) as possible. They have also been a refuge for me with regard to gender and sexual identities and trying to navigate the frightening lanes of dysphoria, more so within the confines of cultural and religious capacities.

As such, this Pride month I wanted to celebrate and bring attention to all of the Queer books that have been published thus far and that shall be releasing in the coming months by POC and BIPOC authors.  These novels share stories of hope and faith, as well as of tragedy and heartbreak, with everything in between. From fictional and fantasy narratives to memoirs and candid revelations, the novels listed herein have something to offer just about every sort of reader  out there and I highly encourage you to pick some of these up, whether via personal acquisition or non-profit sources like local libraries. If ever there were a time where understanding, acknowledging, and respecting Queer identities—especially of POC and BIPOC—was of great importance, it is now during one of the largest humanitarian, and human and civil rights movements in existence.


Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumours of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves. Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there is more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes. Released.


Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim: When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she has been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide. Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception-and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she is plotting to bring down-the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realises she must trust no one. Released.


Real Life: A Novel by Brandon Taylor: Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern University town where he is working uneasily toward a biochemistry degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, Black and Queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defences while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community. Released.


dayliGht: Poems by Roya Marsh: Growing up, Roya Marsh was considered “tomboy passing.” With an affinity for baggy clothes, cornrows, and bandanas, she came of age in an era when the wide spectrum of gender and sexuality was rarely acknowledged or discussed. She knew she was “different,” her family knew she was “different,” but anything outside of the heteronormativity was either disregarded or disparaged. In her stunning debut, written in protest to an absence of representation, Marsh recalls her early life and the attendant torments of a butch Black woman coming of age in America. Released.


Fiebre Tropical by Juli Delgado Lopera: Uprooted from her comfortable life in Bogotá, Colombia, into an ant-infested Miami townhouse, fifteen-year-old Francisca is miserable and friendless in her strange new city. Her alienation grows when her mother is swept up into an evangelical church, replete with Christian salsa, abstinent young dancers, and baptisms for the dead. But there, Francisca also meets the magnetic Carmen: opinionated and charismatic, head of the youth group, and the pastor’s daughter. As her mother’s mental health deteriorates and her grandmother descends into alcoholism, Francisca falls more and more intensely in love with Carmen. To get closer to her, Francisca turns to Jesus to be saved, even as their relationship hurtles toward a shattering conclusion. Released.


The Gospel of Breaking by Julian Christmas: Befitting someone who “speaks things into being,” Christmas extracts from family history, queer lineage, and the political landscape of a racialised life to create a rich, softly defiant collection of poems. Christmas draws a circle around the things she calls “holy”: the family line that cannot find its root but survived to fill the skies with radiant flesh; the body, broken and unbroken and broken and new again; the lover lost, the friend lost, and the loss itself; and the hands that hold them all with brilliant, tender care. Released.


All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson: In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys. Released.


All My Mother’s Lovers: A Novel by Ilana Mosad: Intimacy has always eluded twenty-seven-year-old Maggie Krause—despite being brought up by married parents, models of domestic bliss—until, that is, Lucia came into her life. But when Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home only to discover a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and, along with Iris’s will, five sealed envelopes, each addressed to a mysterious man she has never heard of. In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris—who made no secret of her discomfort with her daughter’s sexuality—Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother. Maggie quickly discovers Iris’s second, hidden life, which shatters everything Maggie thought she knew about her parents’ perfect relationship. What is she supposed to tell her father and brother? And how can she deal with her own relationship when her whole world is in freefall? Released.


The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta: Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he has navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican—but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough. As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs—and the Black Flamingo is born. Released.


Fairest: A Memoir by Merideth Talusan: A memoir about a precocious boy with Albinism, a “sun child” from a rural Philippine village, who would grow up to become a woman in America. Coping with the strain of parental neglect and the elusive promise of U.S. citizenship, Talusan found childhood comfort from her devoted grandmother, a grounding force as she was treated by others with special preference or public curiosity. As an immigrant to the United States, Talusan came to be perceived as White. An academic scholarship to Harvard provided access to elite circles of privilege but required Talusan to navigate through the complex spheres of race, class, sexuality, and her place within the gay community. She emerged as an artist and an activist questioning the boundaries of gender. Talusan realised she did not want to be confined to a prescribed role as a man, and transitioned to become a woman, despite the risk of losing a man she deeply loved. Released.


Felix Ever After by Kacen Callendar: Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he is painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it is like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What is worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he is one marginalisation 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 did not 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. Released.


The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar: Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled―but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back. As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance. Released.


Belladonna by Anbara Salam: Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella. In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school on the grounds of a silent convent. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and her Egyptian mother as outsiders, Bridget discovers she can reinvent herself as anyone she desires, perhaps even someone Isabella could desire in return. But as that glittering year goes on, Bridget begins to suspect Isabella is keeping a secret from her, one that will change the course of their lives forever. Releases June 9th


Neotenica by Joon Oluchi Lee: A novel of encounters: casual sex, arranged-marriage dates, cops, rowdy teenagers, lawyers, a Sapphic flirtation, a rival, a child, and two important dogs. At the centre of it are Young Ae, a Korean-born ballet dancer turned Ph.D. student, and her husband, a Korean-American male who inhabits an interior femininity, neither transgender nor homosexual, but a strong, visceral femininity, nonetheless. Releases June 23rd


On the Enemy’s Side: Forbidden Love in an Iranian Prison by Hamour Baika: In 1980, as the world is captivated by the Iranian hostage crisis, aspiring doctor Hesam drops out of medical school in Rome and returns to Iran to serve his country. A member of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, he becomes a prison guard in Ahwaz, assigned to investigate and interrogate political prisoners. The more he learns about ethnic and religious tensions, however, the more he finds the concept of revolutionary justice questionable. Hesam finds solace in speaking with a defiant young prisoner with whom he develops a passionate bond. But when Hesam discovers damning evidence about the detainee, he has to choose between his political ideals and his conscience in a country where same-sex love is violently condemned. Releases June 16th


You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat: On a hot day in Bethlehem, a 12-year-old Palestinian-American girl is yelled at by a group of men outside the Church of the Nativity. She has exposed her legs in a biblical city, an act they deem forbidden, and their judgement will echo on through her adolescence. When our narrator finally admits to her mother that she is queer, her mother’s response only intensifies a sense of shame: “You exist too much,” she tells her daughter. Told in vignettes that flash between the U.S. and the Middle East―from New York to Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine―Zaina Arafat’s debut novel traces her protagonist’s progress from blushing teen to sought-after DJ and aspiring writer. In Brooklyn, she moves into an apartment with her first serious girlfriend and tries to content herself with their comfortable relationship. But soon her longings, so closely hidden during her teenage years, explode out into reckless romantic encounters and obsessions with other people. Her desire to thwart her own destructive impulses will eventually lead her to The Ledge, an unconventional treatment centre that identifies her affliction as “love addiction.” In this strange, enclosed society she will start to consider the unnerving similarities between her own internal traumas and divisions and those of the places that have formed her. Releases June 9th


You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson: Liz Lighty has always believed she is too Black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it is okay—Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down, until she is reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There is nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she is willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington. The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She is smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams, or make them come true? Released.


Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron: It is 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again. Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step-sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all—and in the process, they learn that there is more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew. Releases July 7th


Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust: There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it is not just a story. As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she is willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison. Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming—human or demon. Princess or monster. Releases July 7th


My Favourite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog by Legna Rodriguez Iglesias: A novel told in fifteen stories, linked by the same protagonist, our narrator, who—in her own voice and channelling the voices of others—creates an unsparing, multigenerational portrait of her native Cuba. Though she feels suffocated by the island and decides to leave, hers is not just a political novel—nor just a queer novel, an immigrant novel, a feminist novel—but a deeply existential one, in which mortality, corporeality, bureaucracy, emotional and physical violence, and the American Dream define the long journey of our narrator and her beloved pet dog, who gives the book both its title and its unforgettable ending. Releases July 14th


Love After Love: A Novel by Ingrid Persaud: After Betty Ramdin’s husband dies, she invites a colleague, Mr. Chetan, to move in with her and her son, Solo. Over time, the three become a family, loving each other deeply and depending upon one another. Then, one fateful night, Solo overhears Betty confiding in Mr. Chetan and learns a secret that plunges him into torment. Solo flees Trinidad for New York to carve out a lonely existence as an undocumented immigrant, and Mr. Chetan remains the singular thread holding mother and son together. But soon, Mr. Chetan’s own burdensome secret is revealed, with heart-breaking consequences. Releases August 4th


Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara: When the Virgin Mary appears to Cleopatra, she renounces sex work and takes charge of the shantytown she lives in, transforming it into a tiny utopia. Ambitious journalist, Quity, knows she has found the story of the year when she hears about it, but her life is changed forever once she finds herself irrevocably seduced by the captivating subject of her article. Releases August 25th


Thrown in the Throat (National Poetry Series) by Benjamin Garcia: In a sex-positive incantation that re-textures what it is to write a queer life amidst troubled times, Garcia writes boldly of citizenship, family, and Adam Rippon’s butt. Detailing a childhood spent undocumented, one speaker recalls nights when “because we cannot sleep / we dream with open eyes.” Garcia delves with both English and Spanish into how one survives a country’s long love affair with anti-immigrant cruelty. Rendering a family working to the very end to hold each other, he writes the kind of family you both survive and survive with. Releases August 11th


Broken Jade by Paul Chan: One family, two very different worlds. When same-sex marriage is approved in Australia, Sydney’s lawyer, Justin Wong, calls home and turns his mother Madeline’s world upside down. Madeline is a respected society matron and a church elder in her hometown, Tenangan. Born into poverty, she is a Malaysian success story. Meanwhile, Justin has fought his own battles as a gay Asian man,  who rose to the top of his profession and finally found love. When Madeline sets off on an urgent mission to save her son’s soul and her family’s reputation, Justin must stand up to the mother whom he had grown up idolising. Releases September 1st


Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas: When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free. However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He is determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave. Releases September 1st


Everyone Was Falling by Js Lee: On the weekend of July Fourth, shots are fired at a twentieth high school reunion in a small US town, killing fifty-six. Three survive. Lucy—a queer, Asian adoptee whose past trauma hypervigilance leads them to safety—is dubbed the hero. White, blond town treasure, Christy, is the star—using YouTube to garner fame. Donna—the only former Black student of Bixby—becomes the suspect, despite what her wealthy father has done for the town. The three women navigate PTSD and the differences that long ago drove them apart. They are targeted by racists, opportunists, and violent exes. As the police department fumbles, it’s up to the survivors to lead them to justice. Releases September 1st


How it All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi: Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy—he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right? Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature, until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom. Releases September 22nd


Polar Vortex by Shani Motoo: A novel about a lesbian couple who left the big city, where they had both lived for many years, to relocate to a bucolic countryside community where they knew no one and no one knew them. It seemed like a good idea to both Priya and Alex to cement their newish, later-in-life relationship by leaving the past behind to create a new life together. But there is leaving the past behind—and then there is running away from awkward histories. Priya seems totally committed to her relationship with Alex, but she has a secret—a long-standing on-again, off-again relationship with a man, Prakash. In Priya’s mind Prakash is little more than an old friend, but in reality it is a bit more complicated. And, she has never told Alex about him. Prakash has tracked Priya down in her new life, and before she realizes what she is doing, she invites him to visit. Alex is not pleased, and soon the existing cracks in their relationship widen, not least because Alex has her own secrets. Releases September 15th


This is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi: Rinn Olivera is finally going to tell her long-time crush AJ that she is in love with him. Daniella Korres writes poetry for her own account, but nobody knows it is her. Imogen Azar is just trying to make it through the day. When Rinn, Daniella, and Imogen clock into work at Wild Nights Bookstore on the first day of summer, they are expecting the hours to drift by the way they always do. Instead, they have to deal with the news that the bookstore is closing. Before the day is out, there shall be shaved heads, a diva author, and a very large shipment of Air Jordans to contend with. And it will take all three of them working together if they have any chance to save Wild Nights Bookstore. Releases October 13th


Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi: Spanning three continents, the book tells the interconnected stories of three Nigerian women: Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Kambirinachi believes that she is an Ogbanje, or an Abiku, a non-human spirit that plagues a family with misfortune by being born and then dying in childhood to cause a human mother misery. She has made the unnatural choice of staying alive to love her human family but lives in fear of the consequences of her decision. Kambirinachi and her two daughters become estranged from one another because of a trauma that Kehinde experiences in childhood, which leads her to move away and cut off all contact. She ultimately finds her path as an artist and seeks to raise a family of her own, despite her fear that she will no’t be a good mother. Meanwhile, Taiye is plagued by guilt for what her sister suffered and also runs away, attempting to fill the void of that lost relationship with casual flings with women. She eventually discovers a way out of her stifling loneliness through a passion for food and cooking. But now, after more than a decade of living apart, Taiye and Kehinde have returned home to Lagos. It is here that the three women must face each other and address the wounds of the past if they are to reconcile and move forward. Releases November 3rd


The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar: Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighbourhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his long-time crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighbourhood known as Little Syria. One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting the birds of North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z’s past is intimately tied to his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z’s story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Releases November 3rd


When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo: The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover―a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty―and discover how truth can survive becoming history. Releases December 8th


If there are any #OwnVoices Queer books by POC and BIPOC that I have missed on this list, please let me know in the comments and I shall add them so long as they were (or are) released in 2020. Once again, I highly encourage you to visit some of these reads upon their release and support diverse Queer books whenever you can! Thank you.

Book Recommendations: 9 #OwnVoices Novels by Japanese Women for New Readers of the Genre

Japanese literature is one of my favourite genres to read, so much so that I have been engaging with it (including the in-depth study of) for the better part of a decade. It is what I tend to gravitate towards the most, especially since it has taught me an incalculable wealth of information on how to critically analyse various literatures, the stories that they tell about the psychology of people including cultures, histories, and social and economic upheavals, and how to write magnificently crafted narratives in general. There has not been a single genre of Japanese literature that has not left me feeling more enlightened and passionate about reading and writing.

Since I receive a lot of questions from people about Japanese literature and how best to begin reading from it, I thought it would be neat to share recommendations that are perfect for an array of readers, whether the preference is for mysteries to contemporaries and even magical realism and fantasy. All of these books are translated fiction that is authored by women, who are some of my favourite writers from the modern age.

If you find a novel that catches your fancy, click on the titles to visit their respective GoodReads pages. Any pertinent reviews shall also be linked after the snippet, where available, just in case if one desires more in-depth information. Please note that all books shared are adult fiction titles, even though a few of them have kids or teenagers as protagonists.


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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa: This fiction literature book is perfect for readers that are searching for wholesome narratives about families, including single motherhood and discovering a familial bond in kindred spirits rather than blood relatives. It also has excellent representation of a degenerative illness. The novel itself is short and has a straightforward yet evocative  prose to it  that captivates from the first page.


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Revenge by Yōko Ogawa: An anthology of short stories that are loosely interconnected, Revenge is for readers who appreciate Gothic ambiance amid the macabre with a terse yet grimly seductive writing style. The details of each story is what helps to create an all-encompassing and deeply contemplative collection of tales that explore the darker parts of loneliness, grief, jealousy, and desire. For a more in-depth psychological exploration of indulging in grief and loneliness, please check out her other book, Hotel Iris.


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Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe: A fairly large and chunky novel that is part-magical realism and part-fantasy about a young boy who has many struggles at home. Feeling overwhelmed, he ends up embarking on a journey into a magical realm with the hopes of being able to resolve the things that plague him. This is an excellently crafted and superbly imaginative examination of a troubled childhood with themes of abandonment, abuse, and mental health illnesses, to name a few. It can be a difficult book to read at times, but it tells such a powerful and awe-inspiring story that I cannot recommend it enough. Miyabe is also known for writing grossly invigorating mystery thrillers that critique the toxicity of dysfunctional relationships, such as Shadow Family and The Devils’ Whisper. Other fantasy works she has written include The Book of Heroes and its companion novel The Gate of Sorrows, both of which can be read by young adult readers.


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Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami: Kawakami’s brilliant novel is one of the truest creations of feminist fiction that I have read coming out of Japan. The novel explores contemporary womanhood via the intimate journeys of three women as they face their oppressive mores and uncertainties while trying to navigate a future to call their own. Kawakami’s stunning use of multiple prose styles, sardonic humour, and intensely mesmerizing emotional depth makes Breasts and Eggs one of the finest pieces of contemporary literary fiction. For a smaller taste of her work, I recommend Ms Ice Sandwich, which is a novella about the woes of unrequited first loves of adolescence.


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Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami: This is one of my favourite Japanese novels of all-time. A fiction contemporary (also known as The Briefcase) that is told with a seemingly simple and quiet prose, it follows a woman in her thirties who reconnects with an old high school teacher happenstance. The bulk of the story is a marvellously intricate and multi-layered examination of what it means to get older. From the eyes of the thirty-year-old woman, there is the fear of growing old and dying alone, whereas the lens of the elder gentleman shows us the fear of leaving nothing behind, no legacy for remembrance. The dualities intertwine in bittersweetly fascinating ways as the story progresses. When coupled with the author’s careful yet unfiltered prose, the psychologically thought-provoking aesthetic can leave one breathless.  For a book that uses her embracing writing style to discover the sensuous, comedy of human desire, I recommend The Ten Loves of Nishino. [Review]


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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto: One of the most famous translated novels to come out of Japan, Kitchen is a short fiction story about a woman who must learn to process the grief of losing her grandmother so she can move forward and live for herself. While most Japanese literature novels are about the debilitating constricts that grief can have on a person, Yoshimoto’s small tale is the opposite. It beautifully portrays the motivational power that can stem from losing loved ones while building precious bonds with others. The novel also has positive Trans representation, which was a bit uncommon in the 1980s, when the story was first published. This is a superb feel-good story. For a more serious and magical realism take on grief and the uncertainty that follows, the author’s novel Moshi Moshi would be a great title to visit.


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Out by Natsuo Kirino: A feminist noir about working women who go to the extremes to help a victim of domestic abuse. Kirino’s sharp and biting prose with critical portrayal of how co-dependent and toxic female relationships can be, particularly where male dominance is concerned, is absolutely jaw-dropping. Unveiling the darker parts of female relationships as well as the unbalanced gender roles of Japanese society and the impact it has on the female psyche is essential reading for anyone interested in diving into Japanese literature. Where Out focuses on older women in their twenties to early forties, Grotesque offers the same sort of provocatively piercing insight into teenage relationships with keen focus on nurture versus nature.


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Confessions by Kanae Minato: Psychological thrillers that penetrate so deeply beneath the skin as to send chills through the whole body many hours after reading are my ultimate indulgence and they do not get any better or terrifying as Minato’s Confessions. A tale that shows us the inherent lack of limitations that a loving mother has when it comes to avenging the death of her daughter, while being a fierce scrutiny on Japan’s bullying atmosphere. The story is nonlinear and strips away layer after layer of the elements that influence a child’s chances of being a bully or being bullied. Another of Minato’s works takes the same principles of revenge and applies them to adult relationships in Penance. [Review]


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The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (Translated by Royall Tyler): Credited with being the first full-length novel to have ever been written, anyone with an interest in Japanese literature should most definitely read this engrossing original, that from which most modern literature as we know it today stems. Royall Tyler’s translation is positively stunning and captures the lyrical style of the classic text while still making it accessible for present-day readers. The epic is about insecurities and validation through interpersonal relationships as much as it is about seduction and politics. An extraordinarily timeless piece of writing that can be overwhelming by its size yet shall prove to be a valuable resource for all other Japanese literature to various degrees.


All the novels stated herein are wonderful places to begin one’s Japanese literature journey. As I mentioned earlier, it is my favourite genre. With a personal library of over 400 English-translated Japanese titles, I have plenty of recommendations to go around for various genres. If there is a specific genre that you are interested in, please let me know in the comments and I shall pass on more specialised reading suggestions.

The Prelude to Insurrection by J.C. Kang

“Jie’s heart leaped into her throat. How had she not heard someone approach on the nightingale floors, or even open the door? She spun around, hand reaching for her bladed hairpin.”

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Prelude to Insurrection by J.C. Kang is short story introduction to the author’s expansive #OwnVoices Chinese adult fantasy series, Legends of Tivara. It follows a young orphan half-elf spy known as Jie as she tries to thwart a dangerous rebellion before it even begins.

My acquaintanceship with J.C. Kang’s multi-book universe occurred late one evening while I was browsing Amazon’s catalogue of fantasy Kindle e-books. Overwhelmed by the various connecting serials, I visited the author’s website where they shared a recommended reading order for all books in the Legends of Tivara series. Prelude to Insurrection was the suggested place to begin, so I bought a copy  for ninety-nine cents and read it immediately.

Being only seventy-four pages long, the short story is a decent way to whet one’s appetite for a historical Asian-inspired fantasy narrative. The first thing I noticed was how descriptive the settings were without being overwhelming or too wordy. The manner of which everything is described helped transport me to the location and situation that the main character Jie was embroiled in. I also appreciated the way the character’s facial expressions were portrayed as that is something that I feel is often trudged over in short stories, more so if there is already a familiarity with the cast members being depicted.

The action sequences were written very well and created an almost cinematic picture wheel in my mind as I read on. It was fast-paced and pleasantly flowing, emanating an escapism suffused adventure. This worked to add some intrigue to the hints of political strife that were woven into Jie’s mission. My hope is that the political upheaval that was teased shall be expounded upon in the full-length novels that follow because the small revelations that were shared were quite interesting.

If there’s any complaint to be had about the short story, it would be that it was, well, too short, which made it seem one-dimensional and bit pointless as a starting position for a whole series. There just was not enough information provided to completely hook me into wanting to learn more about the world of Tivara. However, if I had picked up Prelude to Insurrection after already having read a couple of the full-sized books, I am sure that I would feel differently about it.

All in all, Prelude to Insurrection was a pleasant little tale that fell a tiny bit too brief as a launching platform for a whole fantasy series. My goal is to return to it again in the future when I have more fleshed out knowledge about the political tension, the important characters, and the sort of person Jie is as both a spy and as a normal person outside of that role. I do recommend the author’s writings though. It’s rather superb and shows immense promise.

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2) by S.A. Chakraborty

The sky shatters into smoking pieces that dissipate like dust in water as the veil comes falling down, revealing a painfully azure sky from the realm beyond. The mountains groan as dunes of golden sand rush to swallow them, their life snuffed out.”

PLEASE NOTE: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR THE CITY OF BRASS IN THIS REVIEW.

The Kingdom of Copper eBook by S. A Chakraborty | Rakuten Kobo

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty is the second title in her #OwnVoices Islamic fantasy series, The Daevabad Trilogy. Taking place five years after the climactic events of book one, the story focuses on the almost tangible political tension that plagues the city, and our main characters, upon Darayavhoush’s savage attack.

The Kingdom of Copper fully embraces the three facets of storytelling that I originally fell in love with via the first instalment and nurtures them into a spellbinding masterpiece. With this continuation, the world-building is further fleshed out, the characters are more refined through devastating experiences with new characters being introduced that are as equally developed as the main cast, and with scorching political intrigue to rival that of fantasy (or sci-fi) epics such as A Song of Ice and Fire or Dune.

The creation of the city of Daevabad—and the overall universe of the series—is chock full of multi-dimensional characters that evoke an array of emotional responses. It consistently maintains some of the best individuals I have ever come across in the genre.

With Nahri, we have a woman that has always been fiercely independent, but now has to bow to a tyrannical king in order to save the lives of her people while trying to find a way to wrestle away their freedom from this dehumanising oppression. With Ali, we have a royal who was betrayed and thrown out by his own family, forcing him to survive in a way that shall test everything that he as ever believed in. With Dara, we have someone who has spent centuries being nothing more than a tool and slave for power-hungry persons claiming peace with some grand, self-righteous saviour complexes. Each one of these individuals is given their own unique journey of self-discovery in The Kingdom of Copper. Sometimes it is beautifully inspiring, whilst at other times, it breaks the reader’s heart and wraps them in a great sense of grief and sadness.

Out of the three of them, Alizayd was my second favourite to read about. In The City of Brass he was a spoiled palace brat that could never formulate political opinions that were distinctly his own; ideas and beliefs that were not tainted by the influences of a brother he worshipped and a father he respected above all else. Now that he has been exiled, having to fight for the simplest of things changes him in ways that are astounding as the narrative moves forward. He really comes into his own and becomes a man that is much more than his brother’s keeper or his father’s pawn. He is carved into a person with a ferocity and strength that only comes from wanting to abate suffering.

A second perspective that was as delightful as it was distressing to read about (and also my favourite in the whole book) was Darayavahoush’s. For the first time, we get a glimpse of how the world works through his eyes. There are so many moments when Dara has clarity and understands what it is that should not be done versus what should yet falls utterly powerless to help alter the actions that unfold in the pursuit of tragedy. The more darkness he witnesses with regard to the people he respects and admires, the more he comes to comprehend that things are not as blatantly black and white as he perceived them to be. It causes him to open his mind to the possibilities that he has been wrong for a very, very long time. These newfound personal revelations create an internal conflict within Dara that is breathtakingly sorrowful and perversely compelling as he is forced to choose sides.

“It was a grin that made Dara sick. That was what he looked like now when he shifted, his fire-bright skin, gold eyes, and clawed hands a mirror of the demons who’d enslaved him. That his ancestors had looked the same before Suleiman’s curse was of little comfort. It hadn’t been his ancestor’s grin he’d seen just before the fetid water of the well closed over his face.”

We also have a plethora of side characters that play key roles in keeping the main cast plunging onwards with their narratives. What I love about these more supporting individuals is how much attention they are given. They are not merely unnamed pieces on a board but have difficulties and morals and individualism all their own that helps the reader to formulate an intense emotional bond to them. I became wholly invested in their desires and pursuits, at times more so than the main trio. Everyone has phenomenal chemistry relative to their relationship to each other as well, whether they are friends or foes.

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, Book 2) by S. A. ...

The rudimentary examination of the city’s tightly knit political atmosphere is taken up quite a few notches in The Kingdom of Copper. There is a near-labrynthine connection between the different factions, their faith and what they believe they’ve been owed for centuries, their right to exist, their desire to break from subjugation, and more. Betrayal is as common as the desert sand with compounding duplicities and jumbling loyalties. The intrigue is methodical with a slow-burn build of attrition that is provoked by dwindling hope and a fierce exhaustion of constant brutal persecution.   

The Kingdom of Copper is very different than the first book in that The City of Brass was jam-packed with action and snappy comebacks as well the magical acclimation of characters. Whereas, this sequel is dedicated in fleshing out the people we know and love and the minute yet vastly vital details of the city of Daevabad, particularly where stateship is concerned. Both are equally thrilling and irresistible without losing sight of the ultimate story and should be devoured by all fans of the fantasy genre.

The Moon in the Palace (The Empress of Bright Moon #1) by Weina Dai Randel

In truth, we were similar. Like two sides of a fan, we were at odds with each other, we competed with each other, but our fates similarly rested in the hands of the Emperor–the holder, the commander, the manipulator of our destinies.

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel is an #OwnVoices Chinese historical fiction novel that is the first in a duology chronicling the life of Empress Wu as she rose from a simple concubine to become one of the most powerful rulers in Chinese history. The story begins with a little girl named Mei who is picked to become a potential paramour for the Emperor. In the wake of her father’s demise, she is whisked away to the palace, never to see her family again. When a rare opportunity arises for her to capture the Emperor’s attention, she crafts a gift that he will never forget, setting into motion an array of events that shall ultimately steal Mei’s childhood innocence to morph her into a calculatingly intelligent and resourceful woman of the court.

This is a difficult book to review because there are so many captivating elements about it, yet it was also quite challenging for me to stay invested in Mei’s journey from beginning to end due to its extremely basic prose.

The best parts of The Moon in the Palace are with the moments of intrigue and suspense that comes with palace politics, particularly where oppressed female roles are involved. Mei learns that not everything is as she fantasised about when she was younger, and that the privilege of visiting with the Emperor is exactly that: an honour awarded to only a handful of women who have proven themselves to be memorable to him. Friendships are superficial and a means to climbing the ladder of prestige and any hint of compassions is usually tied to a thread of devastating deception. The author has a talent for building tension slowly that makes the reader want to root for Mei while protecting her from the doom that is inevitable.

I knew now: love and destiny were two wild horses that could not be curbed. They galloped in different directions and ran down different paths where streams of desire and hope would not converge. To follow one was to betray the other. To make one happy was to break the other’s heart. Yet I supposed that was part of life, a lesson we had to learn. To grow up was also to give up, and to build the future was to dissolve the past. The only thing we could do was hope for the best, to believe that the horse we chose would find us a safe destination.

Since there are so many levels to the depths that people go to for power and authority, the story becomes dark and tragic very quickly. It is also powerfully vicious and emotionally tight; all necessary ingredients for an extraordinary exposition on the internal workings of Chinese state-ship at the time. The only thing that really diminishes the quality of the narrative as a whole is the overly simplistic prose.

The tone did not fit the time period at all and came off as rather contemporary in nature. If I did not already have prior knowledge of the book’s particular era, I would be inclined to believe that this was a modern-day telling of Empress Wu’s beginnings, just without the use of technology. There was also a lack of emotion in many dialogue exchanges and interactions that Mei had with other women of the court. There were only two women who evoked any sort of emotional response or association while reading, and they were ones that had impactful roles as well, which greatly alleviated the monotonous feel of the people of the court.

Lastly, the story is incredibly drawn-out. I understand the need for meticulous use of details, and I often appreciate the tediousness that comes with the historical fiction genre. However, with The Moon in the Palace, it would have been better to use some well-placed time jumps to cover more of the lacking portions. The pacing does pick up significantly within the final one-third to one-fourth or the novel, and that was where I finally began to feel more invested with the plot and Mei’s journey. I merely wish the first 70% was not such a slog to get through. By the time I arrived at the climax, I had utterly disconnected with the all the characters and storyline.

Even so, I recommend this book to fans of Chinese historical fiction. Some readers may appreciate the graduality of the novel more than I did, and as I mentioned, there are some rather marvellous aspects to The Moon in the Palace that can be overlooked by the slower development. At the very least, the beginnings of Empress Wu’s life in this fictional telling is still quite provocative and culturally fascinating; definitely worth experiencing, especially if one is an enthusiast of cultural histories.

Welcome to The Djinn Reader: A Dedicated Diverse Books Blog

Asalam-a-laikum and bula, friends! Welcome to The Djinn Reader!

My name is Shafiya Mū, although I’m also known as Yon Nyan over on my original blog, BiblioNyan. I’m an Indian-Fijian, Muslim-Buddhist, Queer, Trans Nonbinary, neurodivergent human that absolutely adores books of all sorts, especially #OwnVoices Asian literature. Even though I currently run a semi-successful space for bookish and otaku content, there were two main reasons that eventually led to my choice of beginning anew with The Djinn Reader. I’d like to share them with you today, along with my plans for this book blog moving forward.

Firstly, I am extremely passionate about diversity in literature and I felt that the message of what diversity means to me as an individual of various marginalised backgrounds was starting to become buried underneath the vehemence of pop culture offered at BiblioNyan. I don’t regret what BiblioNyan has become because it has helped me to evolve my pursuits while also embracing my many interests without apology. It’s also helped me to come out of my introverted shell to make new friends, while teaching me how to be a constructively critical thinker with an open mind. Nonetheless, I felt that it was time to start fresh and try something a bit closer to what I would like to accomplish one day professionally.

This brings me to my second reason; I needed to build a semi-professional portfolio of my writings for submission to any and all M.A. and M.F.A. programmes that I shall be applying to within the upcoming year or so. Since blogging has become somewhat of a forte of mine, using a blog platform seemed like the best way to create this portfolio. Since I am obtaining a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English Literature with a minor in Asian Studies and my current aspiration is to get my graduate degree in Literature or Creative Writing, having a dedicated platform for Diverse literatures became the most appealing option.

With regard to why I shall only be focusing the content offered on The Djinn Reader to #OwnVoices diverse books, including Queer literature only, well, it’s simple really: as a Queer, Asian person, having authentic representation in literature of my culture, beliefs, heritage, and more is indescribably validating and incredibly important, and makes me understand how extremely vital such representation in literature is for all sorts of individuals. It is something that I would like to celebrate and continue to promote as much as possible in publishing. While the number of diverse books are growing year by year, the offered titles are still significantly low when compared to other groups, or they all fit specific expectations from non-diverse readers. For example, Asian individuality doesn’t abide via a single monolith of identity. There are many different sorts of people who identify as Asian with innumerable experiences, including the experiences of Asian diaspora and Queer Asians. Raising awareness for our existence and advocating for Queer and Asian equity in literature is a life-long passion of mine. It’s why I’m studying the subjects that I do in the pursuits of the degrees mentioned. The same exact thing can be said for Black, Polynesian, Indigenous identities as well, just to name a few.

I also hope to become a published author of #OwnVoices Queer and Asian narratives myself, as well as an educator of Asian cultures and literature. Being able to think and speak critically about these books and being able to have healthy discourse about it in the classroom with students and fellow educators is a critical step towards that dream of obtaining equal representation within the publishing and academic worlds, as well as within local communities within these marginalised groups.

I hope that you will join me on my journey of travelling on magical and enlightening narrative adventures via diversity in fiction. As I’ve mentioned, this is a professional portfolio for my Master’s applications, but it is also very much a project that is near-and-dear to my heart and everything that I am as a Queer, Asian-Polynesian person. Let’s read together and celebrate the differences that make us all so unique and vibrantly beautiful.


Blog Schedule:

There was originally going to be a blog schedule for The Djinn Reader, however, with current University obligations and being overwhelmed with professional projects, there is currently no set schedule for this blog. My ultimate goal is to create a consistent posting timeline in the upcoming Summer to Autumn seasons. Thanks for being patient with me while I finalise this element.


Disclaimers:

All thoughts and discussions shared here shall be my own, unless otherwise stated or noted. Since I am a Muslim-Buddhist and being both of these things are very important to me, I may occasionally have discussions about my faith on this space, especially if they relate to books that I have been reading (an example would be musings on Islam after completing The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty, or feelings on Buddhism after reading The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, to name a couple). This also extends to discussions on mental health as I am a neurodivergent human (I’m on the Autism spectrum and I have mental health conditions; I’m relatively open-minded about these things, so if you’d like to chat about mental health, whether for advice or comfort, please don’t hesitate in contacting me at the e-mail address listed below), and raising awareness for mental health is something I am also quite passionate about.


Contacting Me:

If you have questions or concerns, and don’t want to drop them in the comments below, please feel free to e-mail me: thedjinnreader@gmail.com (thedjinnreader at gmail dot com).

Additionally, I can be reached via Instagram and Twitter via the handle @thedjinnreader (at thedjinnreader).

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me today and for reading through my welcome post! I look forward to sharing diverse content with you all.

Bula!