Trans by Juliet Jacques | 1 Minute Reviews

If you’re looking for a great primer on what life is like as a trans woman, you can’t do wrong by choosing Trans by Juliet Jacques. However, as you’ll see, the book is more than its title’s subject matter.

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Trans is the culmination of Jacques’ series written for the Guardian, about her transition from living as a man to living her truth as a woman. Beginning with the aftermath of her sexual reassignment surgery, and swiftly jumping back to her teenage years, Jacques writes with a brutal honesty about the issues facing trans women intermixed with her own experience of understanding her gender, and who she is.

Jacques also touches on the difficulties of being openly trans – both in the media and in private, facing off against people on all ends of the political spectrum who deny her existence and restrict her safety.

Alongside this, Trans is also a great story of growing up in the UK and trying to carve out a piece of the world for yourself under austerity. She writes openly about the difficulties of working within the NHS and of being a writer, an artist, in such a difficult economic climate. Her fears and triumphs will resonate with many young people today.

Interested? Get it here.

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The Great Soul of Siberia by Sooyong Park | 1 Minute Reviews

As a child, I used to watch a lot of nature documentaries, particularly one called The Realm of the Russian Bear, which also featured beautiful Siberian tigers. I was obsessed with their grace and beauty, and their power.

The Great Soul of Siberia filled me with the glee I felt as a child, seeing those striped elegant creatures glide through the snow.

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Sooyung Park has been studying and following tigers in the Ussuri region of Russia for over 20 years. Not only is this book an ode to the great cats he built his life around, but it is a biography of the region, its people and their culture.

His prose is gentle, respectful, elegant, and had me in tears a number of times, wishing with him that these beautiful animals can survive a seemingly impending extinction. There are some real heart-in-the-mouth moments when you realise how flimsy Park’s hides are, especially when the tigers start to notice.

Honestly, this is a beautiful piece of nature writing that encompasses Russian politics and the art of film making.

Interested? Get it here.

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Thank you kindly to Harper Collins & William Collins for sharing this copy with me.

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot | 1 Minute Reviews

I am truly overwhelmed by The Outrun. I read it in hardback last year, and I still think of it. I pick the stunning book off my shelf and flick through, submerging myself in Liptrot’s prose and observations.

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Part rediscovery-of-self memoir, part salute to nature and her Orcadian upbringing, completely engrossing.

The Outrun follows Amy through London and alcoholism, chasing wild highs and life’s edges, to her return to the islands of the North, to discover new ways of life for herself. Here she re-discovers the thrills and love of nature, both on her family’s land (including the outrun which the book is named for) and the other islands around her.

Liptrot writes with raw words, often beautiful and harsh in turns.  Honestly this book is wonderful, blunt and honest, delicate and hopeful.

Last year, The Outrun scooped up the Wainwright Prize for non fiction and was shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize. It’s recognition is completely founded. If you haven’t read this book yet, make it a priority. It is unforgettable.

Interested? Get it here.

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What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons | 1 Minute Reviews

When I started reading What We Lose, I thought it was a memoir. 50 pages in I happened to turn over the proof and noticed the words “a novel”, alongside realising that the author’s name was Zinzi, not Thandi. I had become so enraptured in the writing, I hadn’t for a second thought it wasn’t memoir. Thandi is such a fully realised person that I fully believed What We Lose was the story of her life, and a life that actually lived.

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What We Lose follows Thandi through the death of her mother, told through short vignettes in a style straight out of the literary memoir genre. Thandi is both American and South African, but she feels not quite either, and the non-linearity of the novel finds her both in love and falling out of love at the same time.

Through her eyes (and Zinzi’s) the reader is told a lot about the history of South Africa, from Oskar Pistorious to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to the photography of Kevin Carter. The novel also includes photographs and short poems, creating a multimedia experience akin to Claudia Rankin’s poetry collections. Clemmon’s sparse yet impactful prose brings to mind the best works of Elizabeth Strout and Deborah Levy.

While it took me only an evening to read this novella, the emotions linger. Clemmons explores the spectrum of grief from the sudden bereavement to forgetting their voice. Her writing is honest and ragged raw. I’m still thinking about Thandi now, and wondering how about her life after the novel.

I truly, truly think that What We Lose is going to grab the attention of several literary awards. It’s an impressive, profound novella that balances history with the complexities of romance, grief and a sense of belonging.

Interested? Get it here.

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Thank you kindly to the team at Harper Collins Insider and 4th Estate Press for sharing this copy with me.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham | 1 Minute Reviews

I wrote the bones of this review back in 2016 when I was sent a pre-publication copy by the lovely people at Ebury Press. This was, importantly, also before I received my diagnosis of autism.

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Chris Packham’s memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a brutal, beautiful book that subverts the memoir genre through inclusion of third person accounts of events involving him. The timeline flicks around, with the Summer of 1975, the Summer of his kestrel, playing a centralised role. Alongside that are his end-of-chapter discussions with his therapist in September 2003, shortly after considering suicide, where he discusses his issues with people – and why he loves animals more than other humans – and his own struggles to navigate a world not built for him.

It’s utterly stunning and I am in awe.

While many nature memoirs tiptoe into the brutalism of nature, Packham strides forward into it – nibbling tadpoles, trying to rescue a drowning fox, stripping meat from bones. It is harsh, just as nature is.

While reading I saw so much of my childhood in his own; a lonely-alone child who dives headfirst into the natural world, where he understands animals while being baffled by humans? Yep, pretty close to the bone here. Mid-reading, I discovered that Packham is autistic, receiving his diagnosis as an adult 2005 which he is only opening up about now, in part due to the release of Fingers in the Sparkle Jar.

So much of what happened to him mirrors my own life, making this a book very close to my heart. I feel that the other lonely nature loving autistic children will find much to love here, especially if, like me, they grew up watching Chris on The Really Wild Show.

Interested? Get it here.

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Thanks to Ebury Books for sending me a review copy.

Want to read more books about autistic people? Check out my recommendations on The Essential Autie Book List.

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida | 1 Minute Reviews

The Reason I Jump is an astonishing work by 9 year old Naoki Higashida, autistic and mostly non verbal. Taught to use an alphabet keyboard to communicate, Naoki has shared his stories and his thoughts on being an autistic person in this wonderful book. This is the first of a number of books that Naoki Higashida has written in Japan, but was the first to have been translated into English, thanks in part to author David Mitchell.

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Naoki’s words are incredibly important. Too often are non verbal disabled people written off without agency, spoken down to or worse, spoken about as though they are not in the room. Naoki touches upon all of these, as well as the frustration of trying to navigate a world that was not built for him. This was an important book during my diagnostic process, but is also an objectively insightful gaze for non-autistic (neurotypical) people into what it is like to be autistic, and what we really want from other people.

I read most of this on a train from work, flapping with joy at the shared experiences, and finished it in Kensington Gardens while watching birds in the trees. Suitable for children aged 9+, teenagers and adults.

Interested? Buy it here.

Want to know what else I’ve read about autism or features autistic characters? Check out The Essential Autie Book List.

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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher | 1 Minute Reviews

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The Princess Diarist is the latest, and sadly last, of Carrie Fisher’s autobiographies.

Upon finding a box of diaries written during the filming of Star Wars: A New Hope in her house, Carrie decides to share them with the world. We are treated to excerpts from these, including some brutal entries about loneliness and self-doubt, alongside love/hate poetry for her co-star Harrison Ford, whom she reveals was having an affair with.

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A handwritten excerpt from the original diaries, posted on Carrie’s Twitter ion2015

Carrie’s writing is refreshingly frank, as ever, and she remains one of the most important advocates for mental health. A must-read for Star Wars fans, for those who want to understand bipolar better, and for anyone who has ever been in love.

Carrie was a gift to the mental health advocacy community and she is much missed by those she helped.

Interested? Buy it here.

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