BUST - BUST http://bust.com/books/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 06:50:38 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb no-reply@bust.com (BUST ) The Comic "Lady Killer" Shows A Woman Murdering Sexual Harassers — And It Comes At The Perfect Time http://bust.com/books/193941-lady-killer.html http://bust.com/books/193941-lady-killer.html  

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Have you ever wondered if a monster has a soul? Can a gorgeous woman be a monster? What entrepreneurial tips can women learn from a psychopath? These questions and more may arise in the bone-chilling second volume of Joëlle Jones' murderous comic, Lady Killer.

Set in 1950s Florida, Lady Killer follows Josie Schuller, a successful entrepreneur ahead of her time. She manages her own business while raising two daughters with her equally successful husband, all while looking fabulous. Did I mention Josie’s business is highly skilled and specialized? She is a killer for hire, and she is really good at her job. Inspired by the glamourous images of 1950s advertising, Jones creates a drop dead gorgeous killer in Josie Schuler.

“I became obsessed with these illustrators from the time, and I started going to all these antique stores. I kept finding all these really sexist ads, and I loved them, and I started to collect them,” Jones tells BUST. “It was funny because in almost all of them it’s all a big joke, and the woman has to put on this big smile and get back to the laundry anyway. These scenes of family were always so kitsch and unrealistic and so forced that I felt like screaming, and I wondered, what were these people really up to behind the smile?”

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Jones’ character Josie is the embodiment of that 1000-watt smile. She is both sweet and sinister, showing a softer side next to her husband and becoming a terrifyingly disturbed woman when alone with her prey. Josie can be classified as a psychopath; however, she has a job to do, and she does it damn well. The fact that the story is set in the 1950s makes it all the more fascinating. It was a time when sexual harassment was not only rampant, but was openly encouraged as a form of flattery.

Lady Killer does not shy away from portraying this type of open sexual harassment, which is depicted in the relationship between Josie and her husband’s red-nosed boss George, as well as most of the men Josie encounters — many of whom she's been hired to kill. Watching Josie murder insanely gross, Weinstien-esque men is a type a catharsis for the reader, though we would never actually want to murder any of these guys, or would ever want to meet Josie in real life. In Josie, Jones has created a devastatingly interesting, at times unlikable character — which is incredibly important as women continue to write, develop, and have a say in comics.

Lady Killer couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. Women are finally getting the opportunity to show their voice in every form of media, and it is important to write and create female characters who may be monsters but still have humanity. It is not that women who are psychopaths do not exist, but Jones brings forth Josie's humanity, which makes you want to continue reading.

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In Lady Killer Volume 2, Josie’s hard work has been noticed by a larger group of hitmen, and they seek to recruit her. This promotion remains in the back of Josie’s mind as one of the key players of the story, Uncle Irving, a clean-up man, asks to work hand in hand with Josie. The difference in how the two execute their jobs is fascinating. Josie kills with finesse: She understands what is at stake with her job, and although she is a great killer, she is not the best cleaner. Irving convinces Josie to partner with her with one caveat: if she doesn't like his work, she can always kill him.

This work relationship sets up the tension for Lady Killer and raises the stakes. Irving is clearly someone not to be trusted. This becomes evident when Josie’s mother-in-law recognizes him from her own mysterious past. It is because of the tension between Josie and Irving that Josie starts to build a relationship with mother-in-law.

“I think they are both just terrible people; at the beginning they definitely just don’t like each other,” Jones says about Josie and her mother-in-law. “They both have really dark paths, and they both have done terrible things. I want there to it be an ongoing relationship between them.”

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Lady Killer is a labor of love for Jones. She created the art and story for the comic. After working in comics over 10 years, Jones is a seasoned vet who has seen the changes in the writing room. At the beginning of her career, she was many times the only woman in the room, but today, it is very rare to see only one woman in the room.

As writing rooms continue to diversify, we are going to keep seeing more comics created and led by female artists from all backgrounds. The more women who are working in comics and creating content, the less women will be pigeonholed into working on just one genre. Jones expresses her need to create black comedy, saying, “I felt I had to write this story in order to make something that really makes me excited, a genre I am really excited about.”

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Jones has created a woman with a killer wardrobe, hair, and personality. I would love to own all of Josie’s clothes, minus all the blood stains. But since I can’t own her clothes, owning her comic and reading about her killer life will have to do for now.

“She is glamorous in her day to day, she’s got the greatest clothes, her hair always looks good. I wanted to mess that up a lot," Jones says. "I like the idea of, yeah, she’s a terrible person. I like showing the bad qualities pretty people have.”

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idieppa0830@gmail.com (Isabel S. Dieppa) Books Thu, 14 Dec 2017 12:12:52 -0500
On Relating To The Girl In "Cat Person" http://bust.com/books/193932-cat-person.html http://bust.com/books/193932-cat-person.html CATS 8e4aa

When I first sat down to read “Cat Person,” the Twitter-trending New Yorker short story written by Kristen Roupenian, I spent the thirty minutes it took to finish it in a constant state of fear, revulsion, and anticipation. I had been prepped by the internet to expect a highly relatable and chilling tale about the woes of texting relationships and, on a bigger scale, generally dating in your 20s. As expected, I finished the story feeling a strange mixture of validation and self-hatred, which is to say, the internet was right: I related. Hardcore.

If you haven’t yet read this piece, you should right this very second (and then read this interview with the writer, which helps to shine a light on the inspiration and intent of the story), but here is the gist: a 20-year-old college student, Margot, begins a flirtatious relationship with an older man named Robert via text messaging. She alternates between thinking he is a nervous yet witty man who she has power over, and a creepy guy who might be her murderer. Eventually, this culminates in a sexual encounter that is highly uncomfortable for her, and evidently deeply satisfying for him. When she ends things, he somewhat predictably shows himself to be pathetic and petty. The end.

I do not, for the record, relate to every element of “Cat Person,” as I’m sure no single person does. I found Robert’s patronizing nature to be callous from the first line and would never have given him my number in the first place, and I at times was frustrated with Margot’s naiveté. However, the part of the story that truly hit home for me (and, it seems, did the same for several other women) did so in such an honest way that it made me feel a connection with Margot I could not have foreseen, despite our differences.

It is after their first official date, consisting of an awkward movie and a couple beers. Margot, tipsy, has decided she wants to sleep with Robert, and lets him know as much. He takes her to his place, and as the two start undressing and preparing, Margot is suddenly, viscerally, repulsed, disgusted with the idea of letting him fuck her. But she feels that, having been the one to take the initiative, she has already made her bed:

“The thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming… It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious.”

As has been proven in the news recently, sexual assault and harassment is an issue that impacts all communities, but it should be noted that consent is something that (in my experience) most college students have a knowledge of. Campaigns like It’s On Us and Take Back the Night rallies have helped to make sexual assault at the forefront of young people’s minds for some time. We’ve all heard that No Means No.

But identifying the concept of consent and navigating it in practice are two different things, especially in situations where it has already been given. It’s not that Margot necessarily thinks Robert will become violent (although the possibility is likely lurking at the back of her mind), but that he will become angry with her because she has gone back on her promise. Because deep in the corners of her brain, she feels that it would be wrong to change her mind, even regarding something as intimate as sleeping with another person.

I’ve had nearly identical trains of thought: I believed I wanted to fuck this person, but now that I am in the moment, the idea of doing so is repulsive. However, it’s not their fault. I’ve gotten their hopes up. If I give up now, I’ll just be another tease. I’ll be the asshole.

The complexity of sex is not something people really like to talk about, especially when they are in their 20s. For many of us, having sex is something that is frequently at the forefront of our minds; we think about it often, fantasying about it at inappropriate times and creating elaborate scenarios in our heads of ways it could take place. Yet the reality just as often doesn’t match. Sexual intimacy can be wonderful and moving, but it can also be awkward as all hell, a mix-matched mashing up of bodies, trying to find something that works. Sometimes it’s painful, and other times it’s just plain weird.

We live in a society that is primarily focused on the sexual satisfaction of men, yes, but on a broader level seems to be fixated on this concept of impossibly good, mind-blowing fucking. Robert seems to feel this way, as he whispers crude things to Margot and treats their encounter like one of his pornos, blissfully unaware that she forcing herself through it. He is so “overtaken” that he doesn’t seem to notice how he repulses his sexual partner.

I hate that I relate to Margot, and even more, I hate that relatability has been the hallmark of this story’s success. I hate that this specific kind of sexual situation is something so common among young women that, upon reading this piece, our collective response is, “I relate.” I hate that we live in a society that prioritizes men's sexual satisfaction over women’s, and I hate that despite all my fancy feminist reading, I do this just as much as the next person.

While describing her fear of rejecting Robert, Margot compares her situation to that being dissatisfied with food while eating out: “As if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.” I hate that we live in a world where women feel like changing their mind about sex is the same as changing their mind about whether to have a salad or cheeseburger.

Top photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Jennifer C.

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eab15@hood.edu (Eleanor Blaser) Books Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:41:58 -0500
"Kingdom Of Women" Imagines A World Where Women Act On Their Anger: BUST Review http://bust.com/books/193866-kingdom-of-women-rosalie-morales-kearns.html http://bust.com/books/193866-kingdom-of-women-rosalie-morales-kearns.html  

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Rosalie Morales Kearns’ debut novel, Kingdom of Women (Jaded Ibis Press), comes at a perfect time. Never before have we so badly needed to see what is possible when women act on the anger that is a product of living in a patriarchal world. Kearns imagines a world where women are not only armed and dangerous but also rising up to kill those who assault, rape, and murder women and children. The book is set in an undetermined future time, post- internet, when North Dakota has seceded from the U.S. and become a feminist utopia called Erda; the FBI is concerned about groups of feminist vigilantes.

The story is focused around Averil Parnell, the only survivor of the first class of female Catholic priests after a mass-shooting at their ordination ceremony. An affair with a male parishioner forces Averil to leave the church, so she makes her way to Erda before war breaks out between the Erdans and the U.S. The war and the plague that follows make way for a dystopian post-war vision where men are illiterate day laborers ordered to have vasectomies, or much worse, if they are found guilty of rape. Women even find a way to reproduce without men, and the question if some or any men have value becomes an urgent concern. A scene where a male character visits a “guest house” in search of company illustrates sex between a man and a woman where familiar power roles are reversed:

“None of his regulars were there, but he was quickly chosen.

‘You into kissing?’ he said hopefully when they got into the room.

The woman’s laugh sounded more like a grunt. ‘Not going to happen.’…

He wasn’t sure where to look, whether looking at her would make her uncomfortable or whether not looking at her would seem insulting. “

Kearns has created a fascinating world with her ability to see the possibilities of breaking out of a patriarchal culture so entrenched we barely realize the extent of its limitations. While Averil, as the main character, is interesting, she is also somewhat inaccessible and appears as more of a vehicle for the author to explore nuanced themes than as a character with whom the reader can readily identify. It is her antagonist and lover, John Honig, a womanizer, who appears the most human and complex, and after his exit from the narrative, the plot lags. Nevertheless, lyrical descriptions, the palpability of a believable world, and the suspense over Averil’s future carry the story. Towards the end of the book, a minor character reflects:

“The women alive today, most of them, had been born afterwards. They didn’t know what it was like to be belittled, silenced, harassed. Careers stymied. Doors slammed in their faces. They didn’t know what it was to fear walking down a dark street alone, hiking through a forest alone. Didn’t know what it was like when women had been prey, and the predators had been in charge.”

Let’s hope at some point we, too, can look back and also have those challenges be a memory.


Kingdom of Women is out now.

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acmason76@gmail.com (Andrea Clark Mason) Books Wed, 29 Nov 2017 11:30:23 -0500
This Book For People With Dead Moms Is Both Heartbreaking And Hilarious http://bust.com/books/193847-kate-spencer-the-dead-moms-club.html http://bust.com/books/193847-kate-spencer-the-dead-moms-club.html  

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Kate Spencer apologizes if there’s sweat under her armpits as we sit outside an L.A. café to talk about our dead moms. Kate—who is armpit stain-free, despite her boot camp workout that morning—is the self-elected president of the Dead Moms Club. She was sworn in at age 27, when her mom, Martha, died of pancreatic cancer. Eleven years later, her first book The Dead Moms Club (Seal Press)—part-memoir, part self-help—is hitting bookshelves this month.

“Hi there,” the first chapter begins. “If you are reading this, it most likely means you are a member of one of the crappiest clubs in the world.”

She had me at “Hi there.” I read Kate’s book like I was in a fever dream.

The idea to write a book on “the mother of all losses” was conceived in 2015, after Kate, a freelance writer, wrote an article for Buzzfeed on her mom’s death. An outpouring of emails came, prompting Kate to tell her story.

“I don’t know if losing my mom fucked me up more than it would other people,” she says. “It really did a number on me. I really wanted books to read, but they were about the experiences of moms dying with cancer, which was what I went through, but there was nothing about now. Like, ‘Now that I don’t have a mom, what the fuck now do I do? I am really mad and I hate everybody’—that didn’t exist in a cheesy self-help form.”

Kate grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she attended an all-girls school for seven years. Thanks to an itch for mountain men, she enrolled at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, to meet “crunchy hot guys” and earn a degree in women’s studies. After graduation, Kate interned at the daily rag Metro US in New York City and worked in retail at Patagonia. On weekends, she performed improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade, where she met her future husband Anthony King, who was the art director. Around this time, Kate realized she wanted to become a writer, but her career came to a halt when she and her brother, Andrew, quit their jobs and returned home when their mom, Martha, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.

“We’d do what we had to do during the day,” says Kate’s father, Jim, over the phone. A retired chief investment officer at a trust company, Jim is currently taking classes at Harvard. “At night, we’d chat and laugh and watch TV and drink wine. We actually had some fun because we all were together.”

Taking care of Martha became routine for the Spencers. When Kate visited New York City on weekends, however, Anthony saw the emotional toll Martha’s condition took on Kate and stayed positive for her sake, even as Martha’s health worsened. Anthony, now 42 and a TV writer, is no stranger to tragedy, having lost his own mother in 2002.

“It is a natural order of things that your parents pass away, but not that early,” Anthony says. “When you’re a child, it’s horrific, but when you’re in your 20s, it doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to happen yet. You haven’t figured out who you are.”

As a 29-year-old anxious about my future, I knew exactly what Anthony was talking about. There’s that period in life when you’re finally “adulting” and discovering who you are on the precipice of 30, and you renew that bond with parents on a more eye-to-eye level; Kate felt the same way, too.

“My mom and I had only transitioned into the friendship phase of our relationship a few years before she got sick,” Kate writes in her book. “I’d imagined we’d go on like this for years, maybe traveling the world sampling avocado toasts in cities around America…Then suddenly, the cancer apocalypse hit.”

Martha died after nine months in hospice. “It was peaceful” was Kate’s go-to phrase for anyone who asked about her mom’s passing. But here’s the thing: It hadn’t been.

“This is the hard truth about Dead Mom News,” Kate writes. “You lie to people. A lot…You tell everyone it was so peaceful because you wish, so badly, that it had been.”

I thank Kate for her honesty, because what I saw when we took my mom off life support was horrifying. It wasn’t the peaceful death in the movies.

“Did your mom have cancer also?” Kate asks.

Mom told me she had cancer back in April. I had already planned to visit my parents in Florida after I finished spring semester at NYU in May. By the time I arrived, mom was in the ICU, barely breathing. When she was diagnosed, the oncologist said she’d have six years to live. My mom, whose name was Hope, died 14 days later.

“I’m going to start crying,” Kate says. “That’s its own brand of fucked up.”

“But yeah,” I say. “When I read that part, when you say to people ‘they died peacefully’—death is ugly. It’s smelly. It’s sad. It’s gray.”

“Yeah,” she says. “It’s disgusting.”

“It’s horrible.”

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In 2007, social media was in its infant stage. There were no Facebook posts where people could leave comments or a sad face reaction. Kate contacted people in Martha’s life the old-fashioned way: telephone and email. Martha was a private person, an introvert who loved nature, but she had the uncanny ability of making everyone she interacted with feel like they mattered, from the dog groomer to the guy at the camera store.

“She was the kind of person who was respectful and really connected with people in service jobs,” Kate says. “People really were impacted by her illness and her death. It’s bizarre. You’re grieving, your mom just died, but then you have to take on this role of breaking the news to other people, and supporting them.

“And then the other thing was the crap people would say to me.” She lets out an exasperated sound. “I took it very personally at first, and then I realized that they don’t know. There’s no dialogue about grief, about death. People don’t know what it looks like when someone dies.”

Because The Dead Moms Club is a self-help book, Kate includes end-of-chapter takeaways to help us club members cope with our grief, such as “Eight Sassy Dead Mom Comebacks in Handy Listicle Form.” My personal favorite comeback: “No, she’s alive—she’s just been focused on becoming the world’s oldest Snapchat star.” She’s also raw and honest about her obsession with Weight Watchers. “It was very disordered behavior,” she says. “I also relied on alcohol. You kind of pick up less healthy habits for a while and I’m grateful they didn’t stick.”

Exercise, drinking, and wedding planning were Kate’s distractions during the darkest period after Martha’s death. “It was an indescribable time,” says Kate’s friend Liese Brown. “In some ways she was good at masking it. I remember thinking—and now I realize how naïve it was—but I was like, ‘Hey! She kind of looks okay.’”

Two years after her mom’s passing, Kate came out of her haze through therapy and the support of family and friends. She also found solace in another outlet: Twilight. “I fucking love Twilight,” Kate says. “I recognize it’s one, not good literature, and two, very problematic. But those books got me through this period of grief. I could never repay those books.”

When she was the entertainment editor at VH1, Kate went to the series' movie premieres and devoured fanfiction. “They all follow the same essential formula of like, they eventually get together and there’s romance, but it saved me. It freakin’ saved me.” Her face brightens. “I love fanfiction writers. It was a place to go where I didn't feel sad about my mom. I think fandom can be a huge support system.”

Kate, who moved to L.A. in 2011, wants to continue writing books, but she’s thinking about taking on romance—possibly inspired by the fanfiction she reads—instead of writing more about her mom.“I’m trying to write a novel. I don’t think I’ll ever write nonfiction again,” she says. “I feel done with writing about my grief. I did it. I got it all out. I don't know what more I have to say.”

Kate acknowledges that her grief will always stay with her—“It comes back and it’s like, remember me? I’m still here. It’s chronic. It coexists”—but she also knows that she isn’t alone. “I'm happy I've written about grief because one thing I haven't figured out until I was older was we're all suffering,” she says. “There's a lot of suffering and grieving and doing so silently. There's stuff going on in our individual worlds.”

As a mother of two girls, ages 4 and 6, Kate’s primary goal is to raise two compassionate beings. She wants them to be conscious of their privilege as white kids. “This might be a terrible parenting decision, but I feel like the earlier they understand the imperfections of our society the earlier they'll want to help change it,” Kate says. “That's my hope. The earlier you can understand that things are not fair for everybody the earlier you can be a helper.”

“Can you teach empathy?” I ask her.

“I think you can,” she says. “It’s hard not having my mom to talk about this stuff. I start to have this mental list and it gets longer and longer. You’re just thinking, ‘God. You’re missing all this cool shit you would have liked! Not just your grandkids, but like Kim vs. Taylor!’ She would have been very invested in that.”

Images courtesy Kate Spencer

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alf365@nyu.edu (Amanda Furrer) Books Wed, 22 Nov 2017 11:04:18 -0500
11 Books By Women To Read This November http://bust.com/books/193809-11-books-by-women-to-read-this-november.html http://bust.com/books/193809-11-books-by-women-to-read-this-november.html bookhed 85d58

Our October/November book reviews section is now online! Read our reviews for books including the satisfying novel Made For Love by Alissa Nutting, the early 2000s rock history tome Meet Me In The Bathroom by Lizz Goodman, the semiautobiographical debut What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, and many more. Subscribe to BUST magazine here, and check out more of our book reviews, interviews, lists and other literary coverage in our Books section, here



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Made for Love: A Novel
By Alissa Nutting

Following up on her explosive debut novel Tampa, Alissa Nutting brings readers an imperfect protagonist we can root for. Hazel is married to billionaire tech guru, Byron, but she’s fled his sterile compound to hide out with her aging father and his new sex doll. The last straw was Byron’s plan to put a chip in Hazel’s brain, allowing them to mind-meld and experience each other’s emotions—and thoughts.

While Hazel is a hapless heroine, Nutting’s novel, fast-paced and hilarious, digs into a deeper truth: men, even powerful victimizers, need women. Truly, the men in this narrative go to extreme lengths to achieve their version of domestic bliss. Be it with a sex doll, a willing wife, or an affection-starved companion. Meanwhile, Hazel’s story plays out against that of a con man who, after a freakish occurrence at sea, can no longer swindle women with his fuckboy charm. Made for Love reveals that even women who are floundering can rise up and break free from a needy man’s shackles. This novel doesn’t shy away from the ugly and uncomfortable. It’s a satisfying read where women, for all they face, come out on top. 5/5 –Laurie Ann Cedilnik

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Debriefing: Collected Stories
By Susan Sontag, Edited by Benjamin Taylor
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Primarily an essayist, Susan Sontag is not well known for her fiction. But Debriefing—a posthumous collection of her short stories edited by Benjamin Taylor—shows another side of her intellectual force. These 11 stories are evidence of a kind of freedom Sontag was not allowed in her non-fiction writing. It seems that she used these works as sketchbooks of sorts to explore form and structure. Her themes are familiar—literature, relationships, art, activism, loss, illness—but here, Sontag blurs the edges of lived experience and fantasy.

A few of the stories are inaccessible and a bit obtuse, but the collection shines in “American Spirits” and “Debriefing.” Another powerful selection, “The Way We Live Now,” follows a group of friends during the early days of the AIDS epidemic who try to provide support when one of them is diagnosed. Sontag masterfully constructs the suffocating atmosphere of living with a chronic illness through run-on sentences and quickly shifting perspectives. It’s an exquisite example of what Sontag was capable of when she was allowed to bend the rules. 4/5 –Rebekah Miel

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The End of Men: A Novel
By Karen Rinaldi

The End of Men is a novel that imagines a world not so much without men, but instead one full of women who are nearing their wits’ ends regarding men. Beth, Anna, Isabel, and Maggie are four women in varying stages of motherhood, living in New York City and connected by family, friendship, and the controversial maternity lingerie company Red Hot Mama, for which three of them work.

The novel’s strength lies in its representation of situations and attitudes that defy traditional ideas of motherhood: one woman, pregnant and feeling a solipsistic sense of entitlement and horniness, has a guiltless affair; another chooses to set up her husband with his ex-wife; and a third becomes resentful toward her family while trying to “have it all.” Author Karen Rinaldi inspires empathy for her characters; these situations feel real, as if Rinaldi or close friends of hers have actually experienced them firsthand. Unfortunately, her writing is extremely dull. Sentences have no flair or style, and potentially intriguing thoughts and feelings fall flat on the page. As a result, readers may want to seek their strong, progressive female characters elsewhere. 2/5 –Ann Mayhew

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Girl Up: Kick Ass, Claim Your Woman Card, and Crush Everyday Sexism
By Laura Bates

You may know British writer Laura Bates as the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, a crowd-sourced blog that has been proving gender bias is still real since 2012 (or by her first book of the same name). Already an international bestseller, this survival guide for high school- and college-aged women is an introduction to feminism in the modern world. “I think sexism is a bit like watching a 3D movie,” writes Bates. “Once you put on the special glasses, it suddenly jumps out at you, as real as day, in all its Technicolor glory, and you can’t believe you didn’t see it before.”

Bates is like your cool older friend who throws your lame puberty guide in the trash before telling you how things really are. And the text is broken up with hilarious graphs and flowcharts, lists of unapologetic comebacks, and illustrations of tap-dancing vaginas. Because you can’t travel back in time and give this book to your younger self, consider picking it up for a young woman in your life. Be the cool older friend. 4/5 –Libby Zay

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The Incest Diary
By Anonymous
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Nobody ever says out loud what Anonymous writes in The Incest Diary, the fullest portrait of incest survival perhaps ever published. Honest and blunt, the book is hard to stomach but an utter page-turner, due to the author’s ability to recollect her experiences in such sharp detail. The diary flows like memories, with chapters seemingly written as the author remembers them. She recounts having sex with her father from ages 3 to 21, and most shockingly, remembers liking it, even being jealous of her mother over it. “My father is my secret. That he raped me is my secret,” she writes. “But the secret under the secret is that sometimes I liked it. Sometimes I wanted it, and sometimes I seduced him and made him fuck me.” She remembers her father tying her to a chair. She remembers incidents with a knife that will haunt the reader forever.

Anonymous eventually confronted her father and told family and friends, only to be rejected. But she doesn’t speculate why her father did what he did or what she should do next. She just reports what happened. And in doing so, creates an unsettling work of art. 5/5 –Whitney Dwire

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Like a Dog
By Tara Jepsen
(City Lights/Sister Spit)

In Like a Dog, the novel puts the reader squarely inside the brain of its narrator, Paloma. She mostly spends her time skateboarding in drained pools, going on beered-up adventures with her best friend, bombing at comedy open mics, and watching marathons of murder docs, all while mulling over the role she plays in her own life. Paloma’s in her 30s and the narrative takes place in the present day, but the conversational tone and the cycles of her situations make this book feel timeless in the way a stale bar is timeless—it could be 1999 or yesterday, and that feels right. Supporting characters include Paloma’s brother, who straddles addiction and sobriety; the proprietor of a pot farm that caters to celebs; and the California highways.
While the pacing isn’t as consistent as its voice, this novel contains brilliantly casual radical feminism along with its rising action and denouement, and it tells a familiar story in ways that feel fresh and new but not contrived. Paloma’s observations within the storytelling frequently meander to wisdom so sharp, it stings. 4/5 –Christine Femia

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Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011
By Lizzy Goodman
(Dey Street Books)

Those lucky enough to have witnessed the rebirth of N.Y.C. as a rock ‘n’ roll hub in the early 2000s will devour the electrifying oral history Meet Me in the Bathroom. Following in the tradition of the punk literary classic Please Kill Me, journalist Lizzy Goodman compiles nearly 200 original interviews with musicians, bloggers, and others at the forefront of the movement that took shape in post-9/11 downtown New York. Goodman argues that the post-grunge era created a void that was later filled by bands like the Strokes, Interpol, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Fellow journalist Marc Spitz sums up the scene: “It was all of us versus Coldplay and Limp Bizkit…and George Bush and al-Qaeda, you know? It was the cool kids fighting back.”

Only problem is, for those without an insatiable curiosity for the subject, at 600 pages, Meet Me in the Bathroom is long, and at times, meandering. Regardless, Goodman’s done an impressive job of capturing a thrilling decade in the history of both New York and rock ‘n’ roll. 4/5 –Helen Matatov

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Refuge: A Novel
By Dina Nayeri
(Riverhead Books)

Bahman Hamidi is a successful dentist and opium addict in Iran. An attempted divorce (his third) is bungled, however, when his wife fights back, accusing him of being involved in protests that are rocking their country. Bahman is put under house arrest, forcing him to decide if he should stay in Iran or leave as his first wife and two children did years earlier. His daughter Niloo, now an adult living in Amsterdam, is not enthusiastic about reuniting with her father, who she has seen only four times since leaving Iran. Settling into her marriage and her career, she struggles to find a sense of self that bridges her success as a Westerner and her roots as an Iranian refugee.

There are many threads woven through this novel: immigration, identity, familial bonds, drug addiction, and the complex politics of Iran. The fractured perspectives through which Niloo and Bahman see one another—the former sees her father’s flaws sharply, while the latter puts his daughter on a pedestal—are heartbreakingly universal, as are their conflicting desires for connection and distance. The result is an engaging and lyrical work that balances complexity with relatability. 5/5 –Bridey Heing

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What We Lose: A Novel
By Zinzi Clemmons

Zinzi Clemmons’ semi-autobiographical debut novel has a depth that goes beyond its pages. Readers follow a young woman named Thandi through childhood and young adulthood, jumping back and forth across time. Thandi, like Clemmons, is the daughter of a mixed race South African mother and an African American father, raised in Pennsylvania. She is black, but light-skinned, and is often mistaken for Hispanic or Asian. But though Clemmons tackles race and identity with insight, What We Lose is also a novel about grief. When Thandi is in college, her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, and Thandi becomes her caretaker. After her mother dies, we see how grief follows Thandi as she has her own child, struggles with marriage, and grapples with watching her father move on.

Clemmons includes excerpts from others’ essays, books, and articles between chapters, drawing from Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Barack Obama, and Nelson Mandela, among others. But Clemmons’ writing has weight and poetry on its own. Contemplating the word “orphan,” she writes, “It’s the wound, not the parts that are left untouched.” 4/5 –Erika W. Smith

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Where The Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir
By Amy Tan 

It’s fitting that Amy Tan’s latest book is subtitled “A Writer’s Memoir,” since it’s more of an exploration of her identity as a writer than a timeline of her life. Tan isn’t afraid to explore her childhood, but often those memories surface through her work as a fiction writer—a previously repressed traumatic incident with her mother is only remembered when she’s pressed by a writing instructor.

Often, the book reads more like a mystery than a memoir—readers learn about Tan’s past and her family history alongside her. There are moments when her deep dive into her process drags, like when she explains at a painstaking pace how she uses music to inform and guide her imagination during writing, even going so far as to map out a narrative based on a piece of classical music. Overall, however, the jumbled structure of the book, jumping around in time and from essays to journal entries, is fitting for a writer’s memoir. These diverse elements create a compelling portrait of a writer figuring out who she is—and how to put that discovered self into words. 4/5 –Molly Horan

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Wolf Whistle Politics: The New Misogyny in America Today
Edited By Diane Wachtell
(The New Press)

It may feel like it’s too soon to read essays written about the 2016 election. But Wolf Whistle Politics—a term used by former Democratic Texas Senator Wendy Davis to describe the “sexualized nature” of how women and their issues are framed—makes the case that understanding the sexism in this particular race will be vital to getting a woman into the White House sooner rather than later. The problem, however, is that this anthology focuses way too much on commending and condemning Hillary Clinton, rather than focusing on where we can go next.

It’s a shame, too, since the final two chapters—“Moving Forward” and “What Happens Next?”—provide insight into what went wrong and how it could be righted. The piece, “An Open Letter To White Liberal Feminists” by LeRhonda Manigault-Bryant, is an honest post-election reaction that doesn’t sugarcoat the failures of white girl feminism. And Amy Davidson’s “Thirteen Women Who Should Run in 2020” is a list that shows there are still potential candidates out there worth fighting for, just in case you forgot. 2/5 –Shannon Carlin

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2017 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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Myriam Gurba Explores Growing Up A Queer "Molack" In "Mean": BUST Interview 

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socialmedia@bust.com (BUST Magazine) Books Tue, 14 Nov 2017 11:46:47 -0500
Myriam Gurba's "Mean" Explores Growing Up A Queer "Molack" In California: BUST Interview http://bust.com/books/193749-gurba-mean-draft.html http://bust.com/books/193749-gurba-mean-draft.html myriam gurba photo ed67c

When you read Mean by Myriam Gurba, you’re going to laugh, and cry, at some really gross and mean things – but that’s kinda the whole point. Mean is a very introspective book, exploring Gurba’s childhood, adolescence, and early adult life. By analyzing her own memory, Gurba forces the reader to do the same. She describes the book as a "novel that is memoiristic," meaning not exactly a memoir, but not exactly fiction — it blends the two genres through memory, analysis, and retrospection.

Gurba is direct, casual, and very funny when I probe her about her novel, which explores trauma, meanness, and assault in various forms, as well as the mental and physical repercussions that follow. She hopes the novel will allow readers to better analyze these themes, as well as expand the American literary canon to include a Molack (aka Mexican-Polish-American). Raised in a multi-racial home in California’s Santa Monica, Gurba has a geographically placed understanding of race, gender, and growing up queer. Thankfully, it sounds like she was raised by some pretty awesome parents, especially since Gurba tells me some of her first toys as a child were “Barbies, pistols and books” — what else could an aspiring writer need?

Gurba is explicit in her attempt to expand the American literary landscape to include people like her, because it really is important to see ourselves in characters of books, TV and movies. She explains, "I think that the book paints a very particular depiction of what it means to be an American in my particular corner of the United States. And, I hope I kind of widen the canon of American literature by inserting a mixed-race Chicana into that canon." This expansion is personal for Gurba, because she "never read about a protagonist who was Mexican, and Polish and middle class."

You’re not going to find references to cholo fashion or low-riders in the book — Mean, and Gurba, aren't stereotypes come to life. Instead, she grew up staring those stereotypes down, like when she held her own battle over “Mexican casserole” at a friends’ house while in grade school. Gurba is serious about racism and how it has impacted her life and writing. She tells me, in a matter-of-fact tone, "Non-white people are just as individual and diverse as white people; there's no singular Chicana experience. The Chicana experience is the experience of every individual Chicana, and this just so happens to be mine, and I hope I complicate and enrich that identity." Reading Mean will definitely leave readers more enriched and complicated than they were before. 


Throughout Mean, Gurba cuts her dirty, personal, sometimes even terrifying narrative with lots of humor. We had to take many laugh-breaks during our interview. In Mean, she jokes about a school trip to Washington, DC and meeting the Honorable John G. Roberts: “'Oh my god,' I thought, 'He’s the Court’s Tom Cruise. He’s fucking short.'” Moments like this make you laugh, but Gurba immediately reminds you the fear a little brown girl can face when in such an intimidating, judicial, and white building: “We were going to get to touch [history]. I didn’t want it to touch me back. I’m usually not a tactile learner.” Coming from a character already inappropriately touched, the dual fear and humor found in this situation both throws off the reader and welcomes the reader to Gurba’s particular reality. One of the best throwaway jokes happens during her depiction of her first dorm room, which she shared with Chicana and Chinese roommates, and Gurba describes as “smell[ing] of dry humping and shrimp ramen.”


But Gurba also isn’t scared of “touchy topics;" she uses wit and honesty to tackle familial dynamics, molestation, the cruelty of children, discovering her own queerness, finding herself in college, and the inevitable hit to the ego that is “post-grad life,” like she’s talking about the weather. Gurba is careful, however, in her discussion of sexual assault, choosing her words precisely, both while talking to me and writing Mean. She speaks of our society's current obsession with survivorship, specifically "performative survivorship" (like Vagina Monologues-style testimonials). There can be strength found in stating in plain terms the extent of an assault, she says, but there shouldn’t be a societal pressure to do so.

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Gurba points out that sometimes people participate in this pressuring of survivors and think they're helping: "I think that’s a really misguided way of treating survivors and victims of assault. I think it's OK for the nature of an assault, the details of an assault, to remain private. And I think a person can overcome and recover from an assault without sharing all of the details…which is why I share aspects of the assault itself, but I do not share the entire assault from start to finish. I don’t think it’s my responsibility as a writer or as a woman to have to turn myself inside out for an audience who is going to consume what I've written as tragedy porn."

Given our cultural obsession with watching women, especially women of color, suffer, Gurba articulates that she does not want to be a part of that canon of "tragedy porn" but admits that it is near impossible to avoid. The fact that Mean walks you through aspects of Gurba’s and another character, Sophia Torres’s, assaults forces it into that category, but the difference in Mean is the purpose: these sections are not designed for shock value or sexual gratification, and they very plainly address the violence and the ploy for power involved in sexual assault. To sum it up, Gurba says to me, point-blank, “I don’t have to perform my victimhood.” Mean does not “perform” victimhood, but rather explores violence, survivorship and the cultural climate that leads to victimhood.

When Gurba explains the ideas behind Sophia, a character that haunts the protagonist throughout the novel, she hits on the themes of cultural and class-based tension once again. The character of Sophia is based on Sophia Castro Torres, a real woman who was raped and murdered by Tommy Jesse Martinez. Sophia and Myriam are both women, Sophia is Mexican and Myriam is Molack, but what truly ethereally connects these two women is one unfortunate fact: they were sexually assaulted by the same man.

Gurba explains to me her deep guilt and confusion surrounding her survivorship: “Why am I alive? Why did I get to live? Why did I get to run? Why did I get to keep living and enjoying my life?” are all questions she immediately asked herself. Some questions, unfortunately, can’t be answered, but Gurba tackles them anyway. She explores her own guilt surrounding the assault, telling me she spent time re-reading old police records and reports, visiting the spot Sophia died and talking to her ghost. Gurba tells me bluntly, “Because I shared this really intimate moment with Martinez, this intimately violent moment, I feel like I know Sophia Torres because she shared this intimately violent moment with Tommy Martinez, that for her ended in murder, my event did not…my event ended in escape.” This guilt manifests Sophia as a ghost who reminds the protagonist of danger, death and fear.

Mean undoubtedly has a lot going on, with lots of levels to tumble through and nuance to detect — fear not, readers, the dark and gritty humor helps you along that sometimes-uncomfortable path. There is no shame in having to put the book down during parts, to take a bubble bath or catch up with friends, like Gurba admits she did while writing it. The short chapters (some less than one page) allow readers to take a breather between heavy topics, but also allows the novel to skip around time, place, and subject, which is impressive and therapeutic.

Reading Mean means reading about surviving assault, coming out, and growing up all within a short few pages. In a similar way to how Gurba feels she knows Sophia Torres, the reader will finish Mean feeling like they know Myriam Gurba. Reading about someone's childhood, friends and family, their coming out story, and their various traumas and achievements would undoubtedly leave any reader breathless — that's a lot to cover in such a short book. Mean doesn't beat you over the head, but eases you into the analyses and discussions surrounding these topics; Gurba told me Mean is like an "existential interrogation." The difficulty and the joy of reading Mean is diving deep into the murky "Molack" waters with Myriam Gurba.

Keep up with Gurba with her podcast, AskBiGrlz which she hosts along with MariNaomi.

Header image via Twitter/@lesbrains  

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kanebrianne@gmail.com (Bri Kane) Books Wed, 01 Nov 2017 15:18:36 -0400
Consent Isn’t Just For The Bedroom, And This Book Shows Why http://bust.com/books/193688-ask-building-consent-culture.html http://bust.com/books/193688-ask-building-consent-culture.html askkittystryker 2774a

Although issues of consent have always been at the forefront of the feminist community, and reports of widespread sexual assault are nothing new, sexual assault is suddenly becoming mainstream news as people and the media decide not to tolerate it. Victims of all ages and orientations are coming forward on social media to confess that they have been sexually assaulted. The #metoo movement has taken awareness to a new level as it becomes clear the generally accepted statistic of 1 in 5 women being assaulted in their lifetimes is outrageously wrong, as many of us knew long ago. Sexual assault is on trend to no longer be condoned, just as outdated practices like child labor became recognized for what they were: morally reprehensible. The exception, of course, is that we elected a president who is a sexual predator. Well, revolutions take time. What began in the last five years as a spreading awareness on college campuses that rape culture was pervasive has spread to the mainstream as women and the wider population demand to be heard and desire action to be taken.

Activist and writer Kitty Stryker seeks to go beyond what we traditionally think of as consent (in the bedroom) in her new anthology Ask: Building Consent Culture (Thorntree Press). Although one section addresses consent in the bedroom, she expands the conversation, bringing the notion of consent into the spaces we regularly inhabit: school, workplace, home, hospital, jail, and community. The anthology includes authors of various genders, sexual orientations, races, and relationship styles, and that diversity adds to the variety of situations discussed in terms of consent. One of the first essays, “The Legal Framework of Consent is Worthless” addresses how from a legal standpoint, sexual consent is static, but AV Flox, the author of the piece, points out how for consent to be effective, it must be ongoing and changing, something that is continually updated as the sex act progresses. Many college campuses have dealt with the consent issue by having each partner consent at every stage of the sex act, but Flox states an example of the flaw with this: during sex, things can change at any moment and easily go from consensual to nonconsensual. The essays often pick moments of unequal power to probe what is right and respectful to everyone involved, including when one partner has a mental illness as in “Sex and Love When You Hate Yourself and Don’t Have Your Shit Together” by JoEllen Notte, or if a trans person’s not revealing his or her status may create a situation where a sexual partner ends up involved in something to which they did not knowingly consent in Roz Kaveney’s “Just Passing By.”

In other essays, authors talk about potential and actual consequences of marginalized people in positions where they have little choice. In “Bodily Autonomy for Kids,” Akilah S. Richards discusses children being told to hug a relative and what that lesson might impart about body ownership and whether physical touching is their choice. Laura Kate Dale’s essay “To Keep a Roof Over my Head, I Consented to Delaying my Transition” is especially heartbreaking as she relates postponing her transition until her parents felt comfortable with it so she could keep living in their house, resulting in physical side effects of male puberty she still deals with today.

Consent becomes even more complicated when talking about work in the sex industry. When one’s job is having sex with a co-worker in front of a co-worker or boss, as Tobi Hill-Meyer talks about in “There’s No Rulebook for This,” the idea of what is traditionally appropriate in the workplace becomes moot. Cameryn Moore, whose “job involves writing things that excite people” explains in “Service with a Smile Is Not Consent” that fans and strangers assume that if a woman’s work deals with sex that she must be up for sex all the time, with anyone. Hill-Meyer added guidelines about flirting and intoxication to her standard performer paperwork in order to clarify consent, getting feedback until the guidelines became a “living document.” The idea of consent as a living thing returns us to Flox’s assertion that consent is co-constructed and constantly changing. The anthology sometimes looks backwards with regret, for instance in “The Kids Aren’t All Right: Consent and Our Miranda Rights” as author Navarre Overton reflects on her inability to grasp Miranda rights when she was arrested at 15. But just as often the anthology looks forward to how we can keep consent, both our own and others’, at the forefront of our minds and hearts as we go about our business in the world, realizing issues of consent are an intrinsic part of our culture. Even an act as simple as reading a Dr. Seuss book to a child becomes a loaded act when, as Cherry Zonkowski relates in “The Green Egg and Ham Scam,” the book is Green Eggs and Ham and the narrative is that a character learns to like green eggs and ham after being asked to eat it over and over again, and the offeror of the food, Sam I Am, doesn’t accept no for an answer. A “no,” or any verbal or nonverbal objection, in any situation does not need a reason and shouldn’t need to be repeated.

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acmason76@gmail.com (Andrea Clark Mason) Books Mon, 23 Oct 2017 12:37:29 -0400
3 New Books By Trans Writers To Read Right Now http://bust.com/books/193649-trans-writers-books.html http://bust.com/books/193649-trans-writers-books.html  

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Trans Authors Speak Up And Reach Out

From our October/November 2017 print issue, we're bringing you a sidebar on three new books about gender, all by trans writers.

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Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?
By Heath Fogg Davis
(NYU Press)

Even with increased visibility, acceptance, and legal strides, transgender people still face pressure from a society that wants to sort everyone into a masculine and feminine gender binary. Author Heath Fogg Davis, a professor of political science at Temple and a transgender man of color, examines the systems in America that still focus on identifying a specific gender, including bathrooms, college admissions, single-gender colleges, gender-segregated sports, and gender-identifying documents. Davis constantly challenges the value of forcing people to adhere to a binary, successfully arguing that the problems far outweigh the benefits. Davis’ dry, academic style is enlivened with personal accounts of the daily struggles of transgender people, including his own personal experiences. He also includes a “gender audit” section, to assist organizations in doing a critical self-assessment regarding unnecessary usage of gender classifications. 4/5 –Adrienne Urbanski

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Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me
By Janet Mock
(Atria Books)

Next to a Magic Wand, a phone charging station, and a Tiffany lamp, trans activist and journalist Janet Mock’s second memoir is the best thing that could ever land on your nightstand. It’s a gripping narrative in which she shares moments from her 20s with candor, forgiving self-deprecation, and warmth. Unfolding at first in small, glittering moments and ending in longer summaries of time gone by, the story of Mock and her first husband spans years of attachment and separation while she develops her career in New York. This memoir is as good at reassuring those struggling to assert themselves as it is at educating people about the trans experience. 4/5 –Robyn Smith

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“You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!”: And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People
By Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, and Laura A. Jacobs, LCSW-R
(Beacon Press)

As society’s understanding of gender evolves, the movement for transgender equality has emerged as both a leading civil rights issue and a core underpinning of intersectional feminism. This insightful and instructive primer clears up many common falsehoods about what it means to be trans or gender-nonconforming, without relying on dense political jargon or dry, specialized academic lingo. The book’s clear, direct language and compassionate, no-nonsense approach helps dispel the confusion and bigotry that often overshadows public perception of transgender issues. In a way that is concise and accessible, authors Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura Jacobs examine the cultural and political history of Western trans and nonbinary identity while exploring the hurdles trans people frequently face. Buy this book and share it with your whole family. 5/5 –Renate Robertson

Top photo: Janet Mock, from BUST's June/July 2017 print issue. Photo by Jill Greenberg // Hair: Chuck Amos // Makeup: Wendy Miyake


This article originally appeared in the October/November 2017 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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socialmedia@bust.com (BUST Magazine) Books Wed, 18 Oct 2017 11:30:11 -0400
La Borinqueña Is The Puerto Rican Superhero We Need Right Now http://bust.com/books/193640-la-borinquena-edgardo-miranda-rodriguez-interview.html http://bust.com/books/193640-la-borinquena-edgardo-miranda-rodriguez-interview.html  

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Puerto Rico needs a hero right now. Before Hurricane Maria struck, over 200 schools had closed due to the fiscal crisis, and there were water shortages and electrical shortages — and now, all of these issues are being exacerbated. We need a hero, a voice, and Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez has created that hero, a puertorriqueña named Marisol Rios De La Luz, also known as La Borinqueña.

Miranda-Rodriguez incorporates Puerto Rican history both from the island and the diaspora to tell the story of La Borinqueña, a fictional comic book hero from a real island with real problems. Marisol is a graduate student at Columbia University studying earth and environmental studies. She travels to Puerto Rico in order to finish her senior thesis, and it is on the island that she discovers her powers and develops her identity. More importantly, the comic book — first published in 2016 — tells an eerily prescient story about a hurricane that destroys the island, causing a total blackout and causing Puerto Ricans to express how often they feel forgotten. Miranda-Rodriguez was well aware of the fragile state Puerto Rico was in before Hurricane Maria struck.

“For me, it’s kind of weird and surreal that it’s so relevant,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “Puerto Rico was long overdue for a natural disaster, given the current debt crisis and the compromised infrastructure of the island, and the amount of devastation [from a natural disaster] would cripple the island. Knowing all of this, I put this into writing a comic book.”

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Miranda-Rodriguez first announced the book in summer 2016, after he was invited by the Smithsonian Museum to give a talk to a group of graduate students. Since then he has been on tour for over a year. In addition to being a fan favorite, the book has also been taught in university classrooms. Two doctoral students have featured his book in their doctoral thesis, and Colgate University — Miranda-Rodriguez’s alma mater — taught an entire comic book course.

“I often talk to my wife [Kyung Jeon-Miranda] about a lot of ideas, and run it by her to make sure they’re not corny,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “She said, 'What if you put a hurricane into the story?' and taking her idea, I fleshed it into the storyline; initially it wasn’t going to be in the story.”

Miranda wrote and released book one of La Borinqueña in 2016; during that year, 1.5 million residents of Puerto Rico experienced a complete blackout for three to five days. Even before Hurricane Maria, Miranda-Rodriguez was well aware of the fragility of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.

As long as Miranda-Rodriguez has been touring this book, he has been saying, “What’s happening in Puerto Rico is a humanitarian crisis.” For him to hear those words from journalists now, he says, leaves him a little bobo: “I literally feel like Chicken Little." 

Since the hurricane, the book has become relevant, not only in informing people of the issues in Puerto Rico, but also teaching the general public about Puerto Rican culture and history. It informs audiences of the feminism that has been alive within the Puerto Rican community, both on the island and in the diaspora.

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Front and center vocalizing these important issues is the comic book's protagonist, Marisol. When I asked Miranda about why he made the central character a female superhero, he said he unfortunately gets asked that question more than he would like.

“Were she a man nobody would ask me, 'Why didn’t you make him a woman?' Unfortunately, we’re used to absorbing and consuming popular culture that’s fed to us on a patriarchal menu,” Miranda-Rodriguez said.

“I’m speaking as a man, obviously, but as a man that was mentored by very strong women like Iris Morales, one of the original members of the Young Lords party; Dr. Marta Moreno-Vega, who founded El Museo del Barrio; Francis Lucerna, who was one of the co-founders of El Puente,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “These are the women that mentored me, these are the women that shaped me to become the man that I am today, the father that I am, the husband that I am to my wife. And for me there was never a debate, man or woman. Nunca.”

Miranda-Rodriguez explained that for him, Puerto Rico has always been a maternal entity. “The name La Borinqueña came instantly because it resonated perfectly; it literally means the Puerto Rican woman. To me, it’s the most powerful name a character can have that really exudes unapologetic patriotism,” Miranda-Rodriguez said.

La Borinqueña is unapologetically patriotic. This is showcased in her costume, her language, in how she looks and how she obtains her powers. She is the first superhero that is distinctively linked to Taino mythology, the indigenous population on the island of Puerto Rico before Spanish conquest. She receives her power from the Taino gods, and in her free time dances bomba, the Afro-Puerto Rican cultural dance from the island. “She completely embraces the true powerful mix that is puertorriqueño,” Miranda-Rodriguez said, “and she is an Afro-boricua because that is one of the strongest presences on our island."

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Miranda-Rodriguez celebrates la herencia puertorriqueña, as well as what it means to be a Puerto Rican. A part of that celebration is celebrating her strength, and not her “exoticness,” nor does he over-sexualize her.

“I make sure the artists do not draw her standing in a provocative pose, or even conveniently her cape lifts up at this exact moment, or her leg is this way at this exact moment,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. "Everything is deliberate in comics, just like in film. So I choose to position her in a way that you never see anything that could be perceived as provocative, or erotic, or sexualized. I look at her when she’s drawn as how Superman would be drawn, literally.”

This autonomy over the drawing of women in comics is refreshing. “You never see a male character tilting the torso just to the right so that the hips pops out, a dude never does that. That’s not the way I want my character portrayed. Also just because she’s a hero, she is not 6’7" with a negative 12 waist, she is about 5’6" with maybe a size 6 or 8 waist. It’s about healthy body image; you don’t have to be super skinny to be healthy. She could have the body that she has and still be healthy.”

Marisol is not only La Borinqueña with amazing superpowers, she is also a scientist. This detail was very important to the author. Miranda-Rodriguez says he wanted to make sure she would grow as a character, and was careful not to superimpose his own thoughts on the politics of the environment or Puerto Rico.

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“What I wanted to do with her story was present the objective truth,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. Most readers don’t know all the history of Puerto Rico, and neither does the book's protagonist. Through images and language,  Miranda-Rodriguez presents what is happening objectively.

“We don’t sit in front of each other eating sancoho and waxing poetic, we just don’t,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “So I didn’t want her story to be that as well. For her, her narrative it is important. As her story grows into future books there’s a lot of space for me to explore.”

The first book covered many of the problems the island is currently facing, and Miranda-Rodriguez says the second book will focus more on the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, and what those challenges mean to Marisol's identity, echoing how those of us in the diaspora feel.

Since the time we were given American citizenship, we’ve always been received as second class citizens, says Miranda-Rodriguez. “Because of the platform this book is giving me to talk, I am very mindful of what I do and what I think."

He has used this platform not only to bring light to issues happening in Puerto Rico, but also to work with organizations in order to raise money for Corporacion Piñones Integra (COPI) and Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, both groups helping hurricane victims. In addition, Miranda-Rodriguez has also launched a t-shirt featuring La Borinqueña, and 100% of the t-shirt sales go to hurricane relief. Before Maria hit, Miranda-Rodriguez was working with these groups in order to raise money for homes that were destroyed by Irma, now it will also help victims affected by Maria.

“I continue to advocate that this rebuilding process is not something that is going to be done in the next few weeks,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “This is going to take months, years to rebuild. Literally, it will take as much time for those leaves to grow back on the palm trees, the flowers to blossom once again on the flamboyan, and the amapolas to shine their crimson petals under the beautiful sun.”

LaBorinquena GustavoVazquezChrisSotomayor 52d19Art by Gustavo Vazquez and Chris Sotomayor
He is right; there is no band-aid solution. It will take time. Miranda-Rodriguez is not only working on La Borinqueña, he also designed the artwork for “Almost Like Praying,” the hurricane relief song composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (no relation). In addition at this year’s New York Comic Con, Miranda-Rodriguez unveiled book one of comedy legend John Leguizamo's first comic book, Freak, which Miranda-Rodriguez art directed (with artwork by Chris Batista, Chris Sotomayor, Sabrina Cintron and Adrian Martínez). Although he is doing all of these amazing collaborations, the most important project to him is La Borinqueña.

almostlikepraying 4589c"Almost Like Praying" cover art

“Working on La Boriqueña speaks specifically to who I am, and it speaks to fundamentally the humanity of who I am, the passion I have for being a puertorriqueño, the constant reminder that I come from a legacy of resilient people, that we will overcome this hurricane, just as we overcame the Ponce massacre, just as we overcame Vieques. La Borinqueña, she is an ambassador for real people.”

Top image by Sabrina Cintron

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idieppa0830@gmail.com (Isabel S. Dieppa) Books Tue, 17 Oct 2017 11:57:59 -0400
You Have To Read This Powerful Letter To Trans Women, From The Creator Of The Transgender Pride Flag http://bust.com/books/193636-to-my-trans-sisters-monica-helms.html http://bust.com/books/193636-to-my-trans-sisters-monica-helms.html transpride ac386

We're excited to share this letter from Monica Helms, an excerpt from the book To My Trans Sisters. Edited by trans activist Charlie Craggs, To My Trans Sisters gathers letters from 100 trailblazing trans women, inluding Laura Jane Grace and Isis King.


Monica Helms is the creator of the transgender pride flag. She donated the flag, which she created in 1999, to the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum and research complex. Monica served in the US Navy for eight years and is the founder and former President of the Transgender American Veterans Association. She was notably the first trans person elected to a Democratic National Convention from Georgia and the South, and is an author, having written over 20 short stories.

Craggs To My Trans Sis 978 1 78592 343 2 colourjpg print c14ac

To my trans sisters,

I’ve been asked to write you an inspirational letter because, for some reason, I am a trans woman of some notoriety. If this is true, I sure as hell didn’t start off hoping I would become well known by other trans people. The journey that I started in 1997 was one that scared the shit out of me. "Why me?" I asked myself. "Why do I have to make this change in my life?" Now, 20 years later, I look back and say, "I should have started sooner."

At this very moment, I am looking at 66 years on this planet, and there was no way I could have started any sooner than when I did. At the age of five, I prayed to God to turn me into a girl. I was raised Catholic and in 1956 I thought of God in the same way as we see Amazon today. Put in your order and God will send it to you. Apparently, I wasn’t one of God’s Prime members, so it took him 41 years to fulfill my order. I guess for God, that’s one-day delivery.

The life ahead of you is filled with many dangers. I won’t sugar-coat it for you. Depending on where you live in this world, you could be well protected by your government or hunted like a wild animal. Don’t isolate yourself. Make as many face-to-face friends as you can. We are stronger in numbers. Learn ways to protect yourself and your friends. Laugh as much as you can. Cry when you need to. And remember, a smile can be very disarming.

I was lucky in where I was, what job I had and what friends were with me when I started my transition. I only wish my sisters the same luck. But not all will find that when they start. The rest of us have to be there for them. Don’t let the good luck you have in your life make you turn a blind eye to those less fortunate. Use your new-found voice to speak up for your trans brothers and sisters. I know this book is geared toward the trans sisterhood, but you can’t turn away from our brothers. Their strength adds a lot to our survival. Embrace them as you do your sisters.

Fight for our rights. Fight for our lives. Fight for our right to exist. "Fighting" can take many forms, and violence doesn’t have to be part of that. I have been on the front lines for many years, and I have lost some battles and won many others. Keep this in mind. You are not fighting for yourself but for the lives of those trans people who haven’t been born yet. It makes me smile to think that some of you who are reading this weren’t born when I started my journey 20 years ago. I fought for you, so you now fight for others.

I guess that is all I can say for now. I have a great love for all of you out there. You have to remember, you have been selected to be a trans woman for a reason. I think I found my reason. I hope you find yours.


Monica Helms

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socialmedia@bust.com (BUST Magazine) Books Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:57:03 -0400