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Book Review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

Image of a digital book cover. A colored pencil drawing of a Latina woman in a cowboy hat, jeans, and boots riding a light brown horse. Behind her is a white woman with blond hair in a green dress. A hawk flies above them. A Western vista is behind them.

Summary:
In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latina outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor—also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk—robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

Review:
This is a graphic novel for readers who love Westerns but are tired of them erasing BIPOC and queer people. In this read you get all the fun of a Western but it’s peopled with both BIPOC and queer people.

The book starts with a stagecoach robbery by Flor (a Latina woman) and her pet hawk. She kidnaps a white damsel (Grace) who turns out to be a young trans woman on the run both to avoid her family’s wish for her to serve in the Confederate army and to seek out performing on the stage. Grace convinces Flor to let her help in a plot to spy on some Confederate documents.

Since this is a short book, there aren’t a ton of characters. It’s mostly the other folks on the stagecoach with Grace (all deliciously hateable), the tailor who helps them get ready for the Confederate gala, and the Confederate gala attendees. This doesn’t leave a ton of room for additional BIPOC in the story, but the tailor is Luis who is Black and completely supportive of Grace.

The book does an artful job of establishing that Grace is trans without ever using the word or deadnaming her. I had been concerned that Grace’s visible depiction might fall into the cringer category of visibly “man in a dress” like in the old movies when male characters dress as women to escape something. This absolutely does not happen with Grace. She simply looks like a larger woman. (Larger than Flor, close in size to the men in the stagecoach). There are also multiple times when the existence of other trans people are established. Luis says Grace isn’t the only larger woman he’s designed for. Flor discusses other women like Grace performing on stage out west.

I enjoyed Flor but wanted a little more backstory on her. What made her start robbing stagecoaches? How did she get the pet hawk? How does she know Luis? I get it she’s a more close-lipped character, but Luis could have dropped a few tidbits about the two of them, and I get the vibe from Grace that she might be the type to be able to lure information out of people with her charm.

The spying plot worked and fit into the small amount of space allotted. I liked that it gave Grace and Flor a reason to team up and showed them as active rather than passive. I did wish for a little more detail in these scenes, though. Specifically, when someone recognizes Grace, what is their relationship to her?

I love the art and thought it worked great for a Western story. Only when I looked it up later did I discover Gillman does everything by hand with colored pencils. Truly amazing and translated into a book that was beautiful to read.

Overall, this was a fun, beautifully drawn, sapphic read with a lot of diversity that establishes trans people as existing in history. It just left me wishing for more – more background and for Flor and Grace’s adventures to continue.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 104 pages – novella

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder by Olga Trujillo, JD

November 28, 2011 11 comments

Olga at a young age.Summary:
Olga was a young, successful lawyer in DC when she suddenly started having inexplicable panic attacks and episodes of blank stares or rapidly moving eyes.  She sees a psychiatrist and is diagnosed with a moderate case on DID.  On the spectrum, she has multiple parts but not exclusive personalities and still has a central core.  These parts have kept the memories of her extraordinarily violent, abusive childhood from her consciousness thereby allowing her to function, but just barely.  In her memoir, Olga tells what she has now remembered of her childhood and how she has now discovered she managed to function and be surprisingly resilient.  She then delves into her long-term therapy and how she has come together into mostly one part and usually no longer dissociates.

Review:
I always find memoirs by those with DID or dissociation completely fascinating.  Even just the ability to write the book and explain the disorder from the insider’s perspective is a remarkable achievement.  I previously read When Rabbit Howls, which is written by a person much further along on the spectrum where completely different personalities wrote the different parts.  Since Olga has a centralized part that has integrated most of the other parts, she writes with much more clarity and awareness of when she dissociated as a child, the process through therapy, and integration and her new life now.  This ability to clearly articulate what was going on and how dissociation was a coping mechanism for her survival makes the book much more accessible for a broader audience.  I also appreciate the fact that someone with a mental illness who is Latina, first generation American, and a lesbian is speaking out.  Too often the picture of a person with a mental illness is whitewashed.

Olga offers up a very precise trigger warning of which chapters could be dangerous for fellow trauma survivors.  That said, I found her reporting of what occurred to her to be respectful of herself as a person.  She never shirks from what happened to her, but is sure to couch it in concise, clinical language.  I respect this decision on her part, and again believe it will make her book more accessible to a wider audience.  People can see the results of the trauma without finding themselves witnesses to the trauma itself.

The book right up through about halfway through her therapy is clear and detailed, but then starts to feel rushed and more vague.  Perhaps this is out of respect for the people currently in her life, but personally I wanted to know more.  For instance, how was she able to make a drastic move from DC to the middle of the country without upsetting her healing process?  How do the phone sessions with her therapist work?  I think many advocates of those with mental illness would appreciate more detail on how she is able to have a healthy, happy relationship now, especially since we witness the dissolution of her first marriage.  Similarly, I wanted to know more about her coming out process.  She states that she knew at 12 she was a lesbian, but pretty much leaves it at that.  I’m sure it was easier to embrace her sexuality the more integrated her parts became, but I am still interested in the process.  She was so brave recounting her early life that I wonder at the exclusion of these details.

Overall this is a well-written memoir of both childhood abuse, therapy for DID, and living with DID.  Olga is an inspirational person, overcoming so much to achieve both acclaim in her career and a happy home life.  I recommend it to a wide range of people from those interested in the immigrant experience to those interested in living with a mental illness.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 258 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

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