The Black Veins by Ashia Monet

This was such a fun book. It’s set in our world, but there are magicians. Blythe and six other teens are guardians associated with the seven types of magic. As they set off to gather each guardian, the two magical governments are on the brink of war. The guardians need to learn to work together and find their own strengths in the process.

It’s a great adventure with 7 very different teens learning to stand up for themselves and each other. It’s about friendship (yes, this is one of those rare books that focuses on friendship and doesn’t assume that everyone needs to couple off). It focuses on families – blood relations and found families. And, it’s about courage and all the different ways people can be brave. Each of these teens come from different backgrounds – from a sheltered, timid kid to a badass superhero. They all need to find their own strengths and their own courage.

This book has all kinds of rep – different racialized communities, different sexual preferences, different gender identities (including non-binary and trans), and different economic brackets. I would have loved for some body diversity (just one fat or chubby kid would have been nice).

Honestly, my only real disappointment is that the non-binary character, who I loved, was only in the first coupe chapters (though, I expect they’ll to make a reappearance in the future as they were close to Blythe).

Red Chesterfield by Wayne Arthurson

This short book (novella? short story?) was very amusing. M, a bylaw officer, sees a red chesterfield in a ditch. When he goes to inspect it, he finds something unexpected that turns his life into chaos for a week.
What I love about this story is that it’s a quiet sort of chaos. M spends a lot of time drifting through events trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Also, Arthurson is able to pack quite a bit into 99 pages.

It’s a fun book. I legit chuckled when I closed the book. I still stifle a chuckle when I think about the ridiculousness of everything that happened. And, I’ll probably never be able to look at a red chesterfield the same way.

If your looking to support Indigenous Canadian authors, Arthurson is Métis (of Cree and French Canadian descent).

Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine by Joanna Jolly

I have mixed feelings about this book.

This book is about the murder of Tina Fountain and it’s investigation by the police. It’s a true crime novel. It seems to be a sympathetic and relatively neutral account of the investigation, with a few mentions of racism and politics.

When started reading it, I was impressed with the author’s approach to talking about Tina and the overall issues of racism towards Indigenous people. But, I was in the middle of it when I was reminded about the importance of own-voices in reviews and story telling. The author is a BBC journalist and, as far as I can tell, she’s not Indigenous. It made me look at the book a bit more critically and I realized that I knew more about the lead investigator than I did about Tina. It also made me realize that the discussion of Colten Boushie and the demands to address the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) was really only included to set the stage and give the reader some insight on the pressure investigators had to find Tina’s murderer.

Does that make the book bad? No, it just makes it another true crime novel that doesn’t really add to the important discussions around systemic racism, MMIWG, broken support systems, etc.

I’m glad I read it because I, admittedly, didn’t know much about Tina Fountain’s death. But, I could’ve just read the Wikipedia article. I know very little about Tina after reading this book, other than she was a sweet girl and got into a bad situation that ended in her murder. This book was more about the lead detective and his investigation.

Tanya Talaga wrote Seven Fallen Feathers. It’s about the deaths of 7 high school students in Thunder Bay. As I mentioned in my Goodreads review, it’s “…devastating, infuriating, and absolutely essential for anyone interested in learning more about racism in Canada or the issues faced by indigenous youth.” If you’re going to read about Indigenous people being murdered in Canada (and you should), start with this book.

I also encourage you to read the #ownvoices (Instagram) reviews of Red River Girl. For example, @anishinaabekwereads (Instagram)has a lot of important insight about this book and the author’s approach to telling the story (scroll back in their feed to early February).

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

This is about subversive, queer, antifascists librarians. There’s action, adventure, romance … it’s a fun story. If I liked Westerns, this would have easily gotten four stars from me. .

This is the only LGBTQia2+ book I’ve read this month. Normally I wouldn’t be too bothered by that, but I haven’t been doing a good job of reading queer books in general. I think I’ve read 2 or 3 books with LGBTQia2+ characters (only one as the lead). So, that’s something I need to work on this year.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Why has it taken me this long to finally get around to reading this book?! And, why didn’t I order the next book two weeks ago?! This book it so good. It centres on Maggie who’s a Dinétah monster hunter. She’s broken, she’s kinda bitchy, she’s got supernatural clan powers, and she’s feared. It’s set in a world that’s been all but destroyed by floods and where monsters roam. There’s action, there are monsters, there’s magic, and it’s dystopian. What more could you want?

It starts with a slow punch to the gut and ends with a kick to the chest. I loved ever bit of it.

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy

In this book, Savoy looks at the relationship between the American landscape and racialized communities by exploring her experiences and the experiences of marginalized, enslaved, and displaced communities. It’s a fascinating and difficult trip through history and around the country.
While the content is difficult, the writing is beautiful. I was pulled in and entranced by the way she wove through stories that explain the human story of America’s history.

I read this for the #alliesinthelandscape reading group, lead by @jessicajlee on Twitter (the first discussion was Sunday night, but she also provides questions that you can reflect on by yourself). In retrospect, I don’t think I have the time to fully engage in the reading group, but I’m going to try and check in each week to reflect on the conversations and read the books.

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer

This is an intriguing take on “save the world.” He starts by talking about stories and how sometimes we’re not drawn to an issue until the right story is told (for example, Claudette Colvin versus Rosa Parks – Claudette wasn’t considered “respectable” enough to ignite a movement).

He also talks about belief and how we may not think that scientists are lying, but we still struggle with believing them to the extend that we’re willing to take action. He explores these things through discussing historic events that can give us a non-climate change perspective. He also explores them through his own experiences and inaction.

It’s a really interesting book that has left me with a lot to think about, like my own inaction.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This novella is delightfully intriguing and imaginative. It follows two time travelling operatives from opposing sides, Red and Blue. While they’re altering threads of history in multiple universes on behalf of their respective empires, they begin to leave secret messages for each other. As their relationship grows, they eventually fall in love.

Told threw narrative and their letters to each other, it does a wonderful job of seamlessly moving through time and space and finding increasingly inventive and unexpected ways to leave messages.

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

This is a collection of essays about how mainstream feminism has failed to include many marginalized populations and has failed to consider the extent of the issues that affect the daily lives of millions of women. Kendall discusses hunger, poverty, gun violence, housing, education, reproductive justice, and so on.

Each essay discusses harmful myths and focuses on the experiences of communities that are being overlooked by the mainstream feminist movement. I think this book is critical for feminists to read, particularly if they’re fairly privileged, like myself (white, middle class, etc.). I’ve always believed in intersectional feminism, but this book opened my eyes – I wasn’t aware of many of the issues (or nuances of issues) that Kendall discussed.
In the first few chapters alone, Kendall addresses topics like: Soda taxes are unfair to poor communities if they have lead in their water. The reminder that between hunger and crime, there is no choice. How sexy halloween costumes, even if not overtly racist, can sexualize marginalized communities (ex: a sexy maid costume perpetuates the idea that maids are “available” and/or makes them targets of sexual harassment). How people need more then just more food – they need time to cook, a stove that works, a fridge that works, storage that safe (pest free, etc.), pots and pans, etc.
These essays are engaging, honest, and very informative.

I highly recommend this book.

Environmental justice books

(This is a slightly modified version of something that I posted in the book recommendations discussion of the Environmental Book Club on Goodreads. It’s not a comprehensive list and I haven’t read most of them, so I can only judge them based on their reviews.)

It’s important to read about environmental justice and other related topics because environmentalism should be intersectional. We need to be aware of how and why some communities are more likely to be affected by pollution and climate change, we need to understand how people are further marginalized when we assume that they “choose” to live in a high risk, and we need ensure that they’re welcome in natural spaces and the environmental movement.

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (@ayanaeliza on Instagram and Twitter) wrote an article about how racism derails efforts to save the planet. In it, she notes that black (57%) and Latinx (70%) people are more concerned about climate change that white (49%) people. So, we (white folk) all need to do a better job of listening to them and giving them space in discussions about environmentalism.

I’d like to acknowledge that many of these are not written by BIPOC authors and that we should strive to read own voices accounts, where possible. Also, these books are all American or Canadian because I haven’t yet had a chance to look for books from other places. While many of them discuss global issues, it’s important to read books from other countries (especially countries that have been colonized or that are marginalized due to poverty, war, etc.). I have more books in my bookshelves and I’ll continue to add more as I find them (you can see my shelves in my profile).

Books about the BIPOC experience in nature:

The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World by Alison Hawthorne Deming and Lauret Savoy (editors) – Explores the history, displacement, return, and relationship to place of POC (People of Colour) through 17 essays. BIPOC editor (Savoy)

Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Land by Lauret Savoy – The author looks at how history and the idea of “race” have affected her and the land through personal anecdotes and historical research. Note: This is the first book/item being read as part of the #alliesinthelandscape reading group (on Twitter), which was created by @jessicajlee (Twitter) to combat anti-Black racism in nature and the outdoors. BIPOC author

Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney – In this book, the author argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the great outdoors and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces. BIPOC author

Books about or relating to environmental racism:

There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities – by Ingrid R.G. Waldron – This looks at the legacy of environmental racism and its health impacts in Indigenous and Black communities in Canada. This is now a documentary on NetFlix. BIPOC author Canadian

As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker – A history of Indigenous resistance to government and corporate incursions on their lands and offers new approaches to environmental justice activism and policy. BIPOC author

If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans: Uranium and Native Americans by Peter H. Eichstaedt – This is about the health, environmental and spiritual impact of uranium mining on the Navajo Reservation.

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility by Dorceta Taylor – This examines the connections among residential segregation, zoning, and exposure to environmental hazards. BIPOC author

The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection by Dorceta Taylor – This book shows how race, class, and gender influenced every aspect of the conservation movement. BIPOC author

Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks by Mark David Spence – This looks at how the establishment of America’s most cherished parks involved the displacement of Native communities. BIPOC author

Books that are relevant, but may not be specifically about eco-justice or environmental racism:

The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World by David R. Boyd – This is about environmental rights in general, but there’s a lot of discussion about Indigenous groups fighting to save their lands and sacred places. Canadian

Finding Our Niche: Toward a Restorative Human Ecology by Philip A Loring – A look at mistakes we’ve made, how to reconcile our settler-colonial histories and how to move towards a more sustainable and just future.

Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice by Julie Sze – An analysis of the culture, politics, and history of environmental justice activism in New York City. BIPOC author

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush – A look at some of the places in the US where rising sea levels are having the most dramatic effects. Includes some discussion about marginalized communities and racism.

On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein – A collection of essays talking about how a bold new green deal could lead to a just and thriving society. There essays are about a diverse range of topics, including the rise of white supremacy.