“Your New School Library” is a column of book reviews that will highlight the expanding role of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and strong female characters in literature for children and young adults today. Once a month, we’ll tell you about books that help young girls be awesome.
The books I have for you this month, man.
One In Every Crowd, Ivan E. Coyote, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012.
When reading, I like to have a pen nearby, to underline words that ring in my head the right way, to bracket lines and paragraphs that seem particularly wonderful or satisfyingly logical. But every now and then, a book like One In Every Crowd comes along. A book where I like every single word and sentence and paragraph so much that my pen lies unmoved, dumbfounded, unable to mark up every page of such a precious thing.
This book is noted to be Ivan Coyote’s first book specifically targeted at youth, but reading it, I don’t know if I would term it a young adult book. I don’t know if I would term it a children’s book. Like Coyote herself, the book defies boundaries; it tells stories about being a kid, it tells stories about being a grown up, it tells stories about the gender spectrum and about being gay, it tells stories that have nothing to do with either. Mainly, it tells stories about being human.
As you’ve probably caught on, this isn’t a novel but a collection of stories. These stories are labeled, according to the text on the back cover, as “fiction,” yet it’s clear that they are all based on Coyote’s life. But Coyote doesn’t really call herself a writer or a public speaker even though those are two things she does very well; what she mainly calls herself is a storyteller. And maybe this book punched me in the gut so hard because storytellers are my very favorite kind of people. Storytellers understand that there are no fictional stories, no true stories, just stories; everything is a mixture.
One In Every Crowd is broken up into different sections of themes covering a remarkable breadth of subjects, and another reason I wanted to cradle it in my arms like a child is that she hits upon all of the subjects that are closest to my heart: Family. (The family stories are so good.) Home. Art. Love. Social Justice. Education and Youth.
There’s only one story in the whole collection specifically related to her wife, “Just a Love Story,” but it is worth it. She and some other poets are on their way to a high school speaking gig on the day before Valentine’s Day, so the suggestion of reading love stories is brought up. Yet as all the other speakers are straight, and the high school is in the sticks, this holds different weight for Ivan. She explains the burden of the queer artist to her comrades:
“‘For you, a love poem is just that. A love poem. And I am glad for you, I truly am. But for me to read a love poem in a high school in the bible belt is a political statement, whether I mean it to be or not, someone will think I am recruiting, armpits will grow moist with tension, I will be pushing the homosexual agenda on unsuspecting adolescents, I will be disrespecting someone’s interpretation of the words of their God, you know, the whole tired routine.’
‘So what?’ pipes up the anarchist beat poet who had been slumped in the backseat beside the slam poet. ‘We’ve got your back, Coyote, fuck them all, rock the boat. Surrey needs it.’
‘What if I just want to tell a love story?’ I asked. Only the thump of the windshield wipers responded.”
I read a good portion of this book on airplanes, squeezed between two strangers, yet I couldn’t stop myself from crying unabashedly, tears streaming down my face, as I read stories such as “Nobody Ever,” where a young girl named Ruby seeks Coyote out after a show that she was too young to get into, asking her to sign a well-worn copy of one of her books, saying that she especially liked that tomboy in that one story, because she reminded her of herself. “And nobody ever reminds me of me.”
There are so many vital stories in here; stories about how scary high schools still are even when you’re an adult; stories about the different ways in which we find love; stories about boys who likes to wear dresses; stories about the deep conundrum of what bathroom to walk into. Every story is full of honesty, joy, warmth, pain, anger, and hope. Every story is markedly real. I felt like I knew every character in every story, or at least wanted to; I longed to jump into Coyote’s world and take trips to the Yukon and have long talks and hearty laughs over coffee or alcohol. To tell stories. Scratch that; this wasn’t something I longed for, but something that I felt would be completely natural, something that was pretty much as good as real. And any book, any story, that makes you feel that level of comfort, that is something special. Those are the books you never throw away. And I’ll never throw One In Every Crowd away — except if I find a youth who needs it. Then I’ll gladly hand it over, and buy a few additional copies for their friends.