CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 7. . . .October 19, 2012
First Spring Grass Fire.
Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012.
137 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Rob Bittner.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Sitting cross-legged facing one another on [Rena's] bed on a Friday afternoon, I told her I had something to tell her, but then I stumbled on my words. "Write it down," she said, and passed a piece of paper to me.
I picked up an orange marker and wrote "I am gay," then folded up the note and passed it back to her. She unfolded it and read it. The back of my neck grew hot with the looming possibility of being abandoned again. But then she raised her head and said, "I'm not homophobic." A wave of relief washed over me. I wasn't going to lose her. We then decided to rip up the note and burn it in the backyard. We knew how dangerous those words were if left lying around. Life went back to normal; we kept passing notes and sleeping at each other's houses. A few months later, I knew I couldn't hide my other secret either. I liked her. I'd always liked her.
Rae Spoon is quite talented and has created in First Spring Grass Fire a series of gorgeous vignettes exploring life as a queer teen in rural Alberta. Rae's writing is spare, but powerful, the prose of a very talented storyteller. The collection of life experiences weaves together religion, sexuality, mental illness, love, and family. As a child growing up in a Pentecostal family, Rae has to go up against bullies, homophobia, religious intolerance, and her own father's schizophrenia. The book starts off slowly, building gradually as the collection moves forward as Rae tries to decide whether or not her faith is a help or hindrance, and whether or not she has any true friends at school or at home. The grunge crowd understands, but are they true friends? Parents are supposed to love their children no matter what, but do Rae's? How does one find support in a family being torn apart by mental illness and death?
Each moment in time that Rae recalls is haunting and engaging, asking the reader to turn the pages and read, listen, and understand. Beginning with an exploration of faith at a Billy Graham rally and moving on to the loss of a brother and eventually Rae's father, this collection of vignettes will bring hope and beauty into the lives of young queer teens who are growing up in conservative homes, within religious communities, and who are bullied at school just for being who they are. Rae will bring a smile to the faces of those who are living through adversity, and not because of some "It Gets Better" mantra, but because they will see an wonderful example of someone who has fought and loved and come out on top.
There is always a risk of sappy stories or tales that feel unrealistic in their positivity when an author writes about adversity in his/her/their own life. But this collection, at least for the most part, swerves to avoid cliché. Rae's style is light and easy, but far from lacking complexity, depth can be found in between the lines and within the experiences Rae navigates with such dexterity. One of the only complaints I had was the unfortunately negative view of religion; however, I do understand that such bias comes from bad experiences, and so I cannot hold it against Rae, especially as Rae is such a talented author. Much like Ivan E. Coyote, Rae Spoon gives Canadian literature from, about, and for queer authors a great boost on the world literary stage.
Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He began a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University in September 2012.
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