I know by now you’re probably tired of “Best of 2014” lists but I can’t help adding one more. There were a lot of incredible LGBTQ books released in 2014 and I didn’t see nearly enough of them on other “Best Of” lists. The following are the titles I read that really stood out.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is a powerful and bold novel about two girls on opposite sides of the civil rights movement. Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students at her high school and as a result finds herself right in the centre of the fight for desegregation. Life is a living hell for her and it doesn’t help that she’s forced to work with Linda Hairston, who comes from a family that strongly supports segregation. But the more they work together, the more the learn about one another and eventually they can no longer deny the feelings that are growing between them. It’s an emotional and impressive novel about race, love, politics and courage in the face of adversity.
Jessica Verdi did a lot of research about conversion camps and reparative therapy and it shows. It’s a difficult and at times quite dark read, but it always feel authentic. The Summer I Wasn’t Me centers around a young girl named Lexi, who is sent to one of these camps after her mom discovers she’s a lesbian. But despite all the abuse and heartache, Lexi’s story is an inspiring one. She’s stubborn and a survivor and her struggle to figure out who she is and where she belongs was one of my favourite stories this year.
I read this book back in February and I am still thinking about it. My initial impressions were less than positive — it’s more than a little strange and at times quite gross. But it sticks with you and eventually you begin to realize how insightful and fascinating Grasshopper Jungle really is. On the surface it’s about two teen boys, Austin and Robby, who accidentally bring about the end of their town by releasing an army of six-foot praying mantises (that only want to do two things). But it’s also about Austin’s struggles with his raging hormones and his sexual orientation, as he fights strong feelings for both Robby and his girlfriend Shann. Like I said, this novel can be a little gross (particularly the praying mantises) but it’s dealing with topics that are bound to be a little messy. It’s bizarre, intelligent and destined to be a cult classic.
Is anyone surprised that Sarah Waters is on this list? She’s the woman who brought us Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet afterall. The Paying Guests takes readers into a post-WWI London, where 27-year-old, Frances Wright, is forced to take in lodgers (or “paying guests”) to make ends meet. But as her lodgers marriage begins to fall apart, things start to get complicated. In true Waters fashion this book is beautifully crafted, elegantly told and psychologically gripping. It explores class and the justice system in 1920s England in such a way that you won’t even notice that it’s nearly 600 pages long.
I can’t think about this book without smiling. It’s my feel good read of the year.
It’s narrated by an intelligent, kind of nerdy, very sarcastic Armenian boy named Alek. He comes from a very strict family and has always followed the rules. Until he meets Ethan. Ethan is everything Alek isn’t but they are drawn together and what follows is one of the sweetest, most charming love stories published this year. Barakiva’s writing is humorous but sensitive as it explores first love, family traditions and New York City.
More than ten years after The Way the Crow Flies, Anne Marie Macdonald is back with another masterpiece. The wait may have been long but it was worth it.
Adult Onset looks at the life of Mary-Rose MacKinnon, a successful YA author who lives in Toronto with her partner, Hilary, and their two children. Hilary is a busy theatre director, so Mary-Rose often finds herself struggling to balance motherhood and her own career. Though the style is different from her earlier work, Adult Onset is still a fascinating character study on family, memory, and most of all motherhood.
Sophie is a recovering drug addict who witnessed her friend’s murder. She knows the killer is still out there, but the police are convinced that she had something to do with it. Far From You is a gripping, unflinchingly raw novel, that at times can be difficult to read. But this book is about so much more than just a murder mystery. It’s also about Sophie’s relationship with Mina and the entire culture of addiction. It’s a dark but emotionally honest novel.
There were a lot of celebrity biographies this year, but Neil Patrick Harris’s was easily one of my favourites. He’s a gifted storyteller and has had a long career and exciting life to draw on. From his early days as Doogie Howser, to his time on Broadway, to the arrival of his two children, this book covers it all. But it does it with a bit of a twist. Instead of a straight story from start to finish, this biography mimics the old Choose Your Adventure books. Every time you pick up this book, it’s a little something different.
When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Ried (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Award, When Everything Feels Like the Movies follows Jude, a high school student who likes to imagine his life as told by the tabloids. He has a flair for the dramatic but it’s mostly a cover for the harsh reality that is his life in a small town, where he faces regular discrimination. It’s a powerful and unique read and its Governor General’s win was well deserved.
Kim Fu’s debut coming of age story didn’t get nearly the amount of attention it deserved this year. Peter Huang is the only son in a family full of daughters. But inside she knows she will never be able to live up to the image her father has of her. She knows she can never live up to them because inside she is a girl. Fu’s writing is so smooth and lyrical and the story is so captivating it’s hard to believe this is a debut. An absolute must read.