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PBG’s Top Queer/Feminist books 2017

Author:
1 we are never meeting in real life the militant baker samantha irby jes baker

By Anna Hill

Do you like feminist and queer books? I’ve read some really incredible stuff this year – some are just new to me in 2017 and some were published in 2017!

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samanth Irby

I read this at the very beginning of the summer and it was so enjoyable, incredibly funny and heart warming. It had me crying and laughing regularly. I also loved the honesty with which Samantha Irby talked about her life as a marginalised person – the book is a collection of personal essays basically talking informally about Irby’s life as a queer poor fat black woman and about life (lessons) in general. Some of it was so relatable! Some of it was a little heartbreaking and tender in this very self-depreciating voice.

Irby is so so funny and I would 100% recommend this to everyone but especially people who enjoy reading memoirs by women. There is some cissexism, especially in the first chapter and ableist slurs used throughout as well as some depictions of abuse, vomiting and drug/alcohol use.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

This is such an incredible book!! It’s a mix of memoir and queer theory and it focuses a lot on pregnancy and motherhood. Nelson’s style is really poetic and the work she does in making space for motherhood to realise its queer potential is really beautiful, and I personally found it pretty accessible.

Her work comes down to a discussion about caring, how we care, who cares for us – that’s something we all need to consider within our lives. Never to undermine or erase carers or care work but also to see the radical potential mothering has. I really think all feminists should read this and also all queer theorists – most of whom love to misogynistically disregard mothers as heteronormative and disregard people with wombs as irrelevant to true queer futures!! Which they aren’t!!

Sea-witch Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Never Angel North

Sea-Witch Volume 1: May She Lay us Waste is an experimental trans-memoir graphic novel about love, community, girl-ness and pain. It speaks to the experience of Sara and the time she spent living inside a witch god named Sea-Witch. It’s also about family and Sea-Witch’s community of sisters and the 78 Men Who Cause Pain (78MWCP) via making laws and being cops and fighting against so called monsters like Sea-Witch. The story is told through scribbles and sigils, words, quotes, drawings and photographs.

Sea-Witch Volume 2: Girldirt Angelfog is just as weird, interesting and beautiful as the first one! Both are so expansive and monstrous, creative and painful, confusing and challenging. The second volume continues Sara’s journey but linear narratives aren’t particularly important to Never Angel North, who is such a fearless breathless author.

These books are for all the freaks who love mythology and all the sapphic witches and lovers of the sea. Its for all the people invested in caring for one another and in creating and sharing hope even in the face of holding pain.

I was lucky enough to read the second volume via pdf because I support Never on patreon, I would just say its difficult to content warn for this series because it so tumultuous and open but there is definite discussion about trauma and pain laced throughout both volumes. I’m so excited for the third volume to come out in 2018!!!

Small Beauty by Jia Qing Wilson-Yang

Small Beauty is a short but poignant and affecting novel about grief, processing and ghosts. The book tells the soft and introspective story of Mei, a mixed race trans girl, whilst she is mourning and evolving, unearthing the lives and deaths of some of her relatives. Its also about this deep love and community, about support and identity, rage and, yes, sorrow too. The writing is subtle and quiet and lyrical – I marked so many of its pages because I found it so beautiful.

The novel is an own voices story and it consistently refuses to cater to cisgender people, Mei isn’t forced into narratives that eroticise or fetishise or simplify what being trans is like and Mei and all the other characters, including a transphobic dyke, are treated with forgiveness and represented with nuance. It’s a book for folks who are growing but not grown and for those who are new to adulthood. Content warnings for grief and death as well as a depiction of a transmisogynistic physical assault on pages 66-67.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

This year I became invested and interested in care and mothering in a way I never was before and as such I couldn’t resist listening (via audiobook) to this novel about a woman named Yejide and her husband, Akin, trying to get pregnant and have a family together.

This was on the shortlist for the baileys women prize for fiction and that’s how I became aware of it, and I’m glad I did! It’s a very readable book chronicling tragedies and peaks in Yejide’s attempts to create a family and its complex representations of the behaviours and wishes of people are interesting and emotional. The prose is animated and so is the dialogue – it’s a very enthralling if sorrowful read. 

Power And Magic : The Queer Witch Comic Anthology edited by Joamette Gil

I loved this comic anthology so much!! All the comics are centered around queer witches, were made by women, demigirls and bigender writers and illustrators of colour. The 15 different comics all vary in tone and size. Some are adorable and sweet and others are sad but powerful or healing and kind, they cover themes of love, community, family and recovery.

My favourites were Your Heart Is An Apple by Nivedita Sekar which was a fairytale inspired love story including an ex-mermaid who was now a cane user and a girl with an apple for a heart. I cried at its utter loveliness. I also really enjoyed As The Roots Undo by Joamette Gil, especially the line “They called her witch. I called her moon.” And lastly the tender and gorgeous Songbird for a vulture by Naomi Franquiz. There are content warnings for each story on the contents page.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with beautiful, educational and healing reading!! If you want to diversify your reading in the new year you could continue looking for suggestions via this list of books to be published in 2018 by women of colour!

PBG’s Best of 2017: Young Adult Fiction

Author:
sophia1

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

The Young Adult (YA) community in particular has been blessed this year with some wonderful and diverse reads, though all we’ve really heard about is John Green’s latest (which, granted, is pretty fantastic). It seems a shame that many talented writers and their incredible stories may have been overlooked because a few of the big names had releases this year, so here’s a few in case you missed them.

Wing Jones – Katherine Webber

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Wing Jones will warm your heart, and break it. It’s about a girl caught between worlds. It’s about a girl who loves to run. It’s about a girl who doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t entirely know what she wants to do sometimes. It’s about a family navigating a tragedy, navigating their differences, navigating love. It’s about brothers and sisters, about friendship, about passion, about race, about love, about growing up. It’s about everything.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

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No doubt you’ve at least heard in passing about The Hate U Give by now. Amandla Stenberg loves it and is set to star in the movie adaptation. Everyone who cares about YA has been talking about it. If you’re wondering why… well. It’s inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It is relevant and important, particularly in Trump’s America. It manages to be funny, though the subject matter is not at all light. It’s excellently written. It will make you think. It’s incredible.

It Only Happens in the Movies – Holly Bourne

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We love Holly Bourne. She brought the Spinster Club – our best friends – into our lives, made us feel angry and empowered and happy and sad and triumphant and vindicated and so many other things with that trilogy. Her latest book, It Only Happens in the Movies is equally wonderful, and deals with a whole range of issues such as mental health, addiction, divorce, and relationships. The main character, Audrey, navigates her parents’ separation and supporting her alcoholic mother alongside her own love life, school, and friendships. The book also examines romantic-comedies with a critical feminist eye, whilst also admitting its love for the genre and feeling incredibly cinematic in itself. Vivid writing, lovable or at least sympathetic characters, plenty of poignancy and laughter. A true treasure of a book.

A Change Is Gonna Come

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A Change Is Gonna Come is an anthology featuring prominent YA authors alongside new voices, and all of them are BAME writers. It is filled with stories and poetry, and centres on the theme of ‘change’ – and it is certainly something which will spark change. In itself, it signposts a change – it is proof that there are people in publishing who genuinely care, who know not just what we want but what we need as a community of readers. There’s something for everyone in this collection, whether you’re into contemporary fiction, dystopian, or historical; whether you want to hear about love, anger, politics, or all of the above. This is a special book which will be well worth your time.

See our pick of the best music of 2017 here, and the best film and TV of 2017 here.

PBG’s Best of 2017: Film and Television

Author:
sophia4

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

FILM

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures came out in 2016 in the US, but only landed in UK cinemas in February this year. It’s a true story untold until now, one of three African-American women whose contributions to NASA in the 1960s were integral to the process of sending the first astronaut into space. It’s a feel-good film for sure, one which educates and entertains us consistently. The three leads – played by the wonderful Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer and Taraji P Henson – are funny and full of heart, and are a dynamic trio to watch. Most significantly, this is a film which empowers black women and young black girls, a film which shows them their own power and encourages them to pursue the things that excite them. This film is many things, but first and foremost it is a love letter to those girls who need that nudge.

The Big Sick

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The premise of the Big Sick reads like another manic pixie dream girl film: boy meets girl; boy screws up, girl gets sick + is barely present for a period of time; boy grows up as a result. Thankfully, it is more than that – so much more. It’s smarter than that, and Zoe Kazan’s character Emily has far more autonomy and intricacies to her personality than these types of characters are generally granted.

The film is as much about her as it is about Kumail – the protagonist – as viewers get to know her parents (as individuals, and as a couple), and see her work through her situation with stubborn persistence, frustration, and excitement. She is allowed to be a girl in love, a girl pissed off, a girl confused – all at once – without any of these states being considered some kind of fatal flaw.

More than this, the film explores cross-cultural relationships in modern day America, and navigates the complexities which come with that. It portrays Kumail’s conservative Pakistani family with humour and compassion, depicting a common reality without patronising or painting the parents as backwards or base – an unfortunately frequent pitfall in many interpretations of similar stories. The Big Sick is all around a heart-warming film, undeniably hilarious, and one which can easily be watched over and over (and over).

TELEVISION

One Day At A Time

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One Day At A Time is a reboot of a classic sitcom, a ‘genre’ which has a tendency to feel like a gimmicky money-making scheme. Thankfully, this modern update is not like that. In fact, it hardly relies on the original at all and is easily enjoyable for those unfamiliar with its predecessor – it’s not about nostalgia or references, but a wonderful series in its own right. The cast are phenomenal, driving the show with their lively performances and emotive delivery of the more poignant of moments – of which there are many. It may not be ‘an original’, but it feels like one of the freshest programmes of recent years.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend first aired in 2015, and it’s 3rd season began late this year. This is a show that has consistently been bizarre, hilarious, and engaging throughout its time on television. It has also always had a hint of psychological drama, which is really brought to head in season 3. It’s dared to do something unprecedented and opened up a conversation which desperately needs attention.

Star of the show, Rebecca – played by the show’s writer and co-producer, Rachel Bloom – has been diagnosed with a highly stigmatised mental illness called borderline personality disorder. Rebecca’s journey to and beyond diagnosis has been handled with sensitivity and nuance, her hopefulness about being diagnosed and the painful experience of coming to terms with her diagnosis are both shown. Most importantly, the show has humanised people with a disorder which wider society still considers monstrous – something which many viewers across the world feel enormously thankful for.

See our pick of the best music of 2017 here, and the best young adult fiction of 2017 here.

PBG’s Best of 2017: Music

Author:
music4

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

EVERYONE’S ‘best of 2017’ list features Lorde’s stunning sophomore album ‘Melodrama’. As wonderful as that album is, it’s not the only one to be released this year. It’s been a painful year to be a music lover, particularly for rock and alternative fans. Equally, our ears have been blessed with some amazing new sounds – many of which came from women. It’s important that we celebrate that.

Around U, MUNA

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MUNA are a band who will make you feel looked out for, make you believe that there is still good in the world – that there is good in yourself. Their debut album, ‘Around U’, is empowering from start to finish, in both its lyrical content and its dance-pop sounds. There is reflection throughout, both on personal experiences and on the wider world – the latter most present on the single ‘I Know a Place’. It is an album which leaves the band exposed, but strong. It can do the same for listeners, too.

After Laughter, Paramore

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Paramore have been one of the most exciting bands around since they emerged with their debut, ‘All We Know Is Falling’. They’ve evolved thoroughly with each album cycle, so much so that many – particularly in emo and punk scenes – have been quick to say, “they’ve changed”, as if that’s a negative. But if you really listen, it’s all a natural progression – they’ve not forced themselves into any box, and their music is better for it. ‘After Laughter’ is, unquestionably, their strongest album; one which defies categorisation as either pop or rock. Frontwoman Hayley Williams is painfully frank about struggling with mental health throughout the record, something which was immediately startling on the lead single ‘Hard Times’ and it’s opening line – “all that I want is to wake up fine”. However, these songs are dressed up playfully with 80s-influenced synths and bouncy beats, wrapped in spectacularly sing-along worthy choruses. It’s an album you don’t just want to dance to, you have to. It’s a beautiful mix of joyful escapism and a push to confront your own issues. That ‘After Laughter’ can do both at once is truly special.

Rainbow, Kesha

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Kesha’s return to the pop landscape has been, objectively, the best thing to happen in 2017. Lead single ‘Praying’ is beautiful and bold, a battle cry which has resonated with survivors across the globe. If you haven’t spent half the year screaming these lyrics dramatically, or crying as you listen along… good for you, probably. The album is colourful and full of magic, and it is incredibly vulnerable. It’s a love letter to Kesha’s younger self, to all the scared and traumatised people trying and struggling to heal. It’s a reassurance, a promise, and a manifesto.

All We Know Of Heaven / All We Need Of Hell, PVRIS

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PVRIS’ debut album, ‘White Noise’, was equal parts dark and catchy. Their sophomore release, ‘All We Know Of Heaven / All We Need Of Hell’, similarly manages this, and it is stronger in both aspects. It is a weighty album, filled with the emptiness which stems from separation – from lovers, from those around you, and most significantly from yourself. Lynn Gunn’s vocals are haunting, ethereal in tone yet wholly substantial in force. Songs such as opener ‘Heaven’ and ‘No Mercy’ are anthemic and intense, perfect to jump around and mosh to – even in your bedroom. These are impressively slick songs with raw emotion driving them. The themes of Gunn’s lyrics are what connect people so strongly to this band – and the hugeness of PVRIS’ sound ensures that when they’re packing out arenas, undoubtedly rather soon – they’ll be ready to fill that space.

See our pick of the best film and television of 2017 here, and the best young adult fiction of 2017 here.

Why Snape’s character makes me unsurprised about JK Rowling’s defence of Johnny Depp

Author:
johnny

By Pip Williams

Content note: Reference to domestic and sexual violence

Like much of my generation, the Harry Potter books were an intrinsic part of my childhood. The later films mapped alongside my own teenage years, with the final installment coming out the summer I began sixth form. I watched it in the cinema in Tasmania, and distinctly remember the guy in front of me gasping “no f***ing way!” when it was revealed that Harry was the final Horcrux.

It wasn’t until after the franchise reached its natural end (or so I then naïvely believed) that I began to see the gaping holes in my idyllic childhood favourites. Be it the lack of minority representation, or Rowling’s dodgy ret-cons attempting to correct them, there was plenty to raise an eyebrow at.

The one thing I could never get my head around was how Snape was meant to be a hero. How was I meant to buy into that redemption arc, when–despite eventually dying for the cause, Snape was an abusive bully? Snape treated Harry how he did purely because Harry bore a resemblance to his own father, who happened to bully Snape in school. As if being bullied in school is an excuse for becoming such a vile, vindictive adult human being. I don’t know about you, but “wanting to bone my mum so much that he kept on the straight and narrow” isn’t really a substitute for a moral compass.

The fact that Rowling’s story hinges around the dubious redemption of an abuser should perhaps have been a red flag when it came to her personal politics. Self-satisfied centrism notwithstanding. I’m talking about her miserable response to the tidal wave of fans calling for some accountability over the casting of a known abuser in her upcoming film.

Johnny Depp was cast in current Harry Potter universe franchise, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, before ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of domestic abuse, filming a brief cameo for the first film’s climax. Since Heard came forward, the calls for Depp’s role to be recast have been insistent and unwavering. The appeals to Rowling, a producer and screenwriter of the franchise, to explain how on earth his continued presence can be justified, have finally been answered, but not in the way most of us had hoped. Instead, Rowling issued a statement defending Depp’s role in the series.

Rowling’s statement is a sickening indictment of how deeply abuse apologism runs through the fabric of our society. We see one of the world’s most famous authors declaring that she is “genuinely happy” to retain a known abuser in her franchise, and that she believes she is doing “the right thing”. Like director David Yates, who claims Depp is “full of decency and kindness,” and states that allegations against him “[don’t] tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with,” Rowling seems to have mistaken a lack of abusive behaviour in her presence for proof of his innocence. Much like Snape’s questionable character arc, they hold up unrelated qualities as insistence that he was a good guy all along.

We’re not buying it.

The #MeToo movement is toppling the careers of sexually abusive men at every turn. We need to remember that this isn’t the only kind of abuser out there, and hold domestic abusers to the same level of account. Rowling might believe that “conscience isn’t governable by committee,” so it’s up to us to speak a language she and her team might consider worthy – cold hard cash.

I will not be paying to see the next instalment of Fantastic Beasts, and neither should you. It seems incredible that we have to teach the author of a series about love overcoming evil the basics here, but hopefully, if enough disappointed ex-fans boycott the movie, our message will get through.

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