________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2012


One in Every Crowd.

Ivan E. Coyote.
Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012.
238 pp., trade pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 978-1-55152-459-7.

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Rob Bittner.

***½ /4



The first time I wrote about my little friend Francis, the little boy who liked to wear dresses, he was three years old. The middle son of one of my most beloved friends, he was the fearless fairy child who provided me with living, pirouetting proof that gender outlaws are born like that, even in cabins in the bush with no running water or satellite television. He confirmed my theory that some of us come out of the factory without a box or with parts that don’t match the directions that tell our parents how we are supposed to be assembled. Watching Francis grow up taught me that what makes him and me different was not bred into us by the absence of a father figure or a domineering mother, or being exposed to too many show tunes or power tools at an impressionable stage in our development. We are not hormonal accidents, evolutional mistakes, or created by a God who would later disown us.


One in Every Crowd is Ivan E. Coyote’s first book written specifically for queer youth, and, in typical fashion, Coyote’s storytelling abilities shine brightly throughout this unique anthology. Told over time, each story marks a different moment in life from Coyote’s experiences as a young child to being grown up and telling stories to teens in high schools throughout Canada. The excerpt above is a beautiful example of the stories that Coyote tells for her audience in this collection, highlighting the importance of difference and diversity and speaking the truths of children and teens who grow up outside the margins of what is often considered “normal.”

     Each vignette, though brief, does not lack in content or complexity. Every story blends life lessons with personal experiences to give a well-rounded understanding of life as it is lived, not as it is so often expected to be. Ivan E. Coyote is known for her scathing views of right-wing political perspectives, especially those that are anti-gay and oppressive to any person who does not fit into a specific gendered box. A couple of stories highlight this to an impressive degree, by speaking to the often overlooked politics of the public bathroom. She talks about the degree of difficulty that she often experiences when having to decide which door she should walk through, and she relates some rather disheartening experiences with bigoted individuals.

     The stories of woe are balanced with stories of love and hope, though, and teens will hopefully see the wonder and beauty that can come from living a life that doesn’t follow prescribed social ideals. Sometimes the tomboy who likes woodshop actually has a supportive family, and sometimes the pretty boy with the immaculate white track suit and earrings doesn’t get bullied into submission but instead grows and blossoms to become a truly unique and wonderful queer individual. Each story brings out something wonderful and something insidious about growing up to be different, but Coyote reminds her audience repeatedly that there really are individuals out there who will love and support them no matter what!

     Yes, some of the stories can feel repetitive if the collection is read in one sitting, but anthologies are not often created to be read that way. There is also a slight, though not entirely overwhelming feeling that one is being taught a lesson, especially when it comes to Ivan’s many school visits. But never does it get to the point where it feels as if one is sitting in a classroom. Again, these issues are only to be found if the collection is read in its entirety in one sitting or over a short period of time. But with a collection of stories such as this, one should read each vignette slowly, or even multiple times, savouring the delight, sorrow, happiness, tragedy, and hope that each tale elicits.

     The beauty of this anthology lies in the way the stories can be read individually, but they are also often linked or tied together in some way. The story of Ivan’s little friend Francis crops up over and over again to demonstrate different aspects of growing up queer, and some facts overlap, but the stories are always unique at the same time. The beginning of the book highlights the feelings of growing up and feeling somehow different, but with that unsure feeling of not knowing exactly why one feels different. The next sections move into feelings of same-sex attraction or gender non-conformity, and from there Coyote moves on to provide stories of other young people from her current perspective as someone who is gender non-conforming and who has been out for many years. The differing perspectives throughout the collection make for a diverse collection of tales and vignettes.

     Ivan E. Coyote is a truly talented writer and her storytelling never ceases to amaze.

Highly Recommended.

Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He will begin a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in September 2012.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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