Green Glass Ghosts

By Candas Jane Dorsey

by Rae Spoon, illustrated by Gem Hall, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021/$19.95/256 pp.

Leaving home for the first time is already fraught for a teenager. But for the non-binary narrator of Green Glass Ghosts, a young queer person who has fled Calgary for the supposedly more nourishing environment of Vancouver, being on their own is complicated by memories of abuse and religious intolerance, issues of identity, their need to blunt the hard edges of their reality and their difficulty trusting anyone—except perhaps Sam, their friend, who invites them into a new scene and a new life. At least, most of the life is new, but the protagonist brings with them not just their resilience and their guitar, but also their panic, their self-esteem issues and their method of coping via substance overuse.

Traditionally, a review would detail the struggles our narrator faces during their first months on the coast, but a plot reveal won’t give a sense of what’s unique about this book. Yes, Green Glass Ghosts is a coming-of-age YA novel, using the reassuring past tense to imply a sadder but wiser older person telling the story. Yes, this newly fledged kid is going to make mistakes, get in over their head, be unlucky in love, endanger themself emotionally and physically, make some stupid or seriously bad lifestyle decisions—that’s a given. But Rae Spoon puts their narrator’s life in the dizzying context of a community looking at gender and orientation in a contemporary way. For queer youth looking for themselves in books, this is a novel not stuck in past “becoming-queer” tropes. All the characters, not just the non-binary, are referred to with gender-neutral pronouns, and that alone is worth the price of admission, but that’s just Rae Spoon’s side hustle. The main event is the protagonist’s search for self-esteem, meaning and constancy among other youth who are forming their queer and gender identities, learning the shapes of new relationships, making each other’s mistakes and succeeding or failing in spectacular ways.

Physically it’s a lovely book, with Gem Hall’s illustrations providing an engaging visual dimension to Spoon’s spare, already evocative prose—“The condo towers looked like crowded teeth in a shark’s mouth.” The mostly short sentences accrete into a landscape of change, with the cues to read and understand chosen and performed genders all there to find, even as the neutral pronouns float the reader into new waters.

Spoon leads readers through the narrator’s mistakes and into an understanding of what has gone wrong and what they must do to heal. A YA book for all ages, Green Glass Ghosts will teach older queer people about the community of tomorrow, and will encourage and empower young people coming of age, whatever their gender, orientation or identification.

Candas Jane Dorsey is a writer and artist in Edmonton.

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