Recently, I was in a reading slump of epic proportions. I didn’t want anything heavy; I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t want anything light, either – I’d just been through something that made anything too frivolous seem almost an insult. But, I needed a book; otherwise I’d be insufferable waiting in line anywhere. Literally anyone could be my victim, stuck chatting about anything. Bemoaning this very specific librarian problem to a colleague, she made a brilliant recommendation: Ivan Coyote’s 2016 memoir, Tomboy Survival Guide.
The content is indeed weighty. The memoir follows Coyote’s life growing up in Yukon and BC. Structured almost as short stories, different chapters offer meditations on bullying, sexual assault and harassment, the fate of women in the trades, the death of a grandmother. Shot through them all is a common thread of Coyote coming to understand - and find joy in – their identity as a transgender person.
And finding joy is key for Coyote. While that list of topics sounds a touch grim for summer reading, Coyote is master of the light touch (as anyone who attended Coyote’s talk at the Stratford Writers’ Festival last year already knows). When Coyote is angry, it’s the kind of anger that makes you snort-laugh. When sad, it’s the kind of blue lit from inside with hope. Mostly, though, Coyote is just really, really funny in a wry, warmhearted way that’s lovely to spend time with.
Coyote’s voice is naturally lyrical and personal, and so wise you can sort of see the path to being a better person when you’re done reading. The structure makes it easy to dip in and out of anywhere you might be this summer, and it’s small enough to tuck into your bag and take with you. Tomboy Survival Guide is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys memoir and nonfiction.