Just so, so, so good

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

I love, love, love this book. There is so much excellence I’m not sure where to start.

It is the story of Pen, short for Penelope, a queer first generation Canadian teenager. At the start of the book Pen is doing her best to slide by unnoticed. She avoids fighting with her parents when she can by hiding in the basement where her older brother lives. Her best friend Colby defends her against anyone who bullies her in exchange for her help picking up girls. But when Colby tries to pick up the girl Pen has a crush on, Pen makes a choice for herself. Soon after events in her life start to spiral out of her control, forcing to her to evaluate the decisions she’d made so far, their consequences and man up.

There’s a lot of really, really good things about this book. The tone is great, Pen’s voice is unique and strong and she’s a great character who’s relatable to anyone who’s every felt like an outsider (every single person ever obviously). It’s also a great story of LGBT+ story in a delightful, un-simplistic way. Pen is a lesbian, 100%. Blake, her girlfriend, has dated boys but also dates a woman, implying she’s bi or possibly pan. Pen is very masculine – she cuts her hair short, she dresses in her brother’s hand-me-downs, she loves TMNT and hates Barbies but she also is very sure she’s not transgender. She really recognizes her identity as a masculine woman. But most of this isn’t really stated, it just is. There are scenes that really touch on these issues – for example Pen tells Blake she wants to be touched like a boy – but they aren’t resolved either and as far as all the characters, or at least the sympathetic ones, are concerned, that’s okay. And I think that’s a really good thing. We don’t need every single person to fit into a box.

This book has a lot of really heavy content. Here there be spoilers. The struggles of first generation Canadians are woven throughout the story – Pen struggles with vastly different expectations she has for her own life versus her parents. Language gaps, extended family, food and cultural expectations are woven throughout the book as challenges and advantages for Pen and her brother.

Finally there is some sexual assault. Pen’s internal dialogue does an amazing job of describing her frozen fear, when Colby makes sexual advances on her. Although she clearly doesn’t want them and is not interested in them but she feels like she has no power in their relationship, she’s afraid to find herself without Colby’s friendship so she has to let it happen. It’s really upsetting to read.

There’s also some pretty serious violence, alcohol, drugs and an abortion, which is handled carefully and complexly but is obviously challenging for readers.

I recommend this book enormously,  for teens and adults. If younger readers would like to take a stab at it, I’d recommend that too but encourage an adult conversation about some of the content. Just read it, enjoy it and embrace the really satisfying but not completely happy ending.

Last movie I watched:

Thor: Ragnorak. Pretty excellent, I have to say.

Last TV episode I watched:

The Red Tent. I’m actually really enjoying it, although I’m sure the book is better.

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How to start a family

Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family by Natalie D. Meisner

This thin little novel is a rare piece of nonfiction for me. It’s the true story of a lesbian couple in Canada who decide they want to have a baby, and then a baby each and then because their doctors advise them that they’re too old to wait a baby each at the same time. Thus begins their quest to find a sperm donor, successfully inseminate, get through two pregnancies and survive two labours.  It is a love story and a relationship story and an LGBTQ story and parenting story and overall a great read.

Being a true story, Meisner doesn’t hide the dirtier truths about relationships, hurt feelings, miscarriages, grief, broken promises, uncomfortable situations and generally being directionless in your adult life and that makes the book striking and interesting. I also like how comforting it is to read stories about people who are like you – struggling with where they want to be but determined to fulfill their goals, in love but vulnerable and afraid sometimes and facing the unique challenges of being a lesbian couple.

The language is beautiful, particularly Meisner’s description of her wife and their children, both born and unborn.

All around loved it.

Last movie I watched:

The end of Star Trek Beyond. It didn’t get better. I’m disappointed.

Last TV episode I watched:

One of the final ones in Supernatural season 11. So they killed God I guess?

The terrible things we do: religion, politics and love

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I did an independent novel study on this book in high school. At the time I really loved its kick ass feministness and complex characters, its intricate story line and the way it blended so many myths together so seamlessly. Now I can’t believe how much sex I missed. And not like even straight people sex either. Same sex sex and threesome sex and oral sex, like all kinds of sex. How did 17 year old me miss all this?

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth told through the perspective of the female characters who are traditionally under developed and dull and/or evil. It’s Marion Zimmer Bradley’s really great work, and although it’s very, very long, it’s really wonderful. I love King Arthur stories so much, I’ve read a million of them and I’m always looking for more.

I think the most interesting thing about myths is that we can retell them over and over and over again, across generations because every generation, every retelling and every version brings something new to the story, brings something unique to it, some way to connect it to the teller’s lives and time and reality.

This time I read a lot into the religion of the book, more specifically the horrifying extremes religion can drive good people to. Possibly because that’s something that I, as the reader (And readers become part of the retelling) think is effecting my world and my life and my time in a huge, huge way.

Allow me to summarize the situation in Britain in this King Arthur story. It is divided into two – the old religion is a Goddess worshiping faith with a strong focus on death and rebirth. The Lady of the Lake, the Priestess of Avalon is the Goddess’s face on earth, and under her supervision rituals celebrating the cycles of the world take place. The other religion is Christianity, with its rigid insistence that nature, and naturally occurring acts are evil and that all gods but their God are abominations. And into this giant conflict Morgaine and her baby brother Arthur are thrust, and ultimately end up being on opposite sides of.

Morgaine loves her little brother dearly, and thinks that he’s the only person who ever really loved her. But when she’s a young girl she’s sent away to be fostered by her aunt in Avalon, where she becomes a priestess. Her little brother, obviously goes on to become king of England. Both end up being manipulated by Vivian and Avalon, to conceive the prefect king but still maintain a happy relationship for most of their lives until Morgaine betrays him, in the name of her Goddess.

And that thread trails through the whole book, for so many characters. A few people, like Morgause, use people they love for political gain, and a few people, like Gwenyfar do terrible things for love, but for Morgaine it was always the Goddess. She was ruthlessly used by her foster-mother Vivian, and in the end ruthlessly used her own foster-daughter, resulting in the girl’s death. In the name of her Goddess she murders people who are in her way, sends her lover to his, orders the execution of her former lover and acts against her king and her brother. Her life is spent lonely and empty because of the actions she commits against the people she loves in the name of her Goddess.

To make it more bitter sweet, in the end she comes to understand that it was all for nothing, because her Goddess will always be with mankind, even if it’s in a different form, like that of the Virgin Mary that the Christians worship. While this brings Morgaine peace, to me it is heartbreaking.

Every day, across the world people are dying because we seem to be unable to see our own Gods in other people’s. Or maybe we fail to see our own humanity in other people.

Either way, the people in this book all feel like they are doing the right thing, no matter if it is luring their lover to punishment and death, plotting to overthrow a beloved sibling or engineering an incestuous relationship, everyone believes they are doing it for the right reason. Sometimes it’s easy to look at violence and horrendous acts and think that the people who commit them must be evil. But what if they’re not? What if they really, truly believe that what they’re doing is right?

I think that’s scarier then just pure evil.

This book will always be a re-read for me, because I don’t doubt that every time I read it I will get something new out of it. Now, if you don’t love King Arthur myths that’s okay, but I really think you should find a book to re-read that never tells itself the same way twice. I think that’s important.

Last movie I watched:

I really don’t remember. I’ve been very busy lately. I hope it was good though.

Last TV episode I watched:

Last episode of Charmed season 7. That was a really good ending. If it weren’t for my love for the last episode of season 8, I’d say they should have stopped there.