Soapbox Stories Presents: Second Cousin Once Removed – A Book Review

“Second Cousin Once Removed”
by Bryna Barclay
Published by Burton House Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$20.00
ISBN: 9780994866943

“Second Cousin Once Removed”, written by Byrna Barclay and published by Burton House Books is an incredibly graceful read and a testament to the pure talent of this Saskatchewan author. The novel is a sequel to “House of the White Elephant”, which in itself was a critically acclaimed novel and the winner of the Whistler/Tidewater Award for Best Fiction in 2016. My estimate is that the sequel will draw equal acclaim, as it is a masterfully written historical fiction brimming with Saskatchewan culture, driven by an intelligent plot and an engrossing narrative.

The story follows Jesse Emma Burtonwood, a woman of East Indian descent living in Prince Albert, SK, and is in the midst of mourning the loss of her husband. The story begins in 1953 and follows Jesse as she traverses life in Canada, and forms a relationship with John George Diefenbaker during this tumultuous time in both her life and in Canadian politics. Much of the story also follows Jesse’s granddaughter, Annika Robin, a woman living in Saskatoon, SK. Throughout the story, Barclay masterfully crafts both of these characters in such a way that is wonderfully unique, yet easy to follow. As Jesse and Annika face challenges such as prejudices commonly held in Canada during the time period and constrictive traditions for women living in a new era, the reader can vividly feel their frustrations, emotions, and insecurities in a tangible way. That is not to say that Barclay’s novel is doom and gloom, as the book has a rather eccentric tone, it reminded me of “Still Life with Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins in some places.  At other times, it felt as if I were reading soulful poetry or song lyrics during the course of this novel. This held especially true in my mind during the segments in which Annika and her distant lover exchange letters, not only were the letters exquisitely written, but the narratives that unfold from them tell a story within themselves.

Not only is this novel a perfect guide to how descriptive writing should be done but is also a total time capsule of the period that it is set in. If you or someone that you know is a fan of Saskatchewan history or culture, I would argue that this book is worth the read just for that aspect alone. Everything from the locations and careers of the characters to the brands and even some of the slang are used naturally in this novel. The references all feel like they belong in the plot, and not as if they are shoehorned in just for the sake of having them.

In conclusion, Bryna Barclay proves once again why she is the acclaimed Saskatchewan author that she is. Jesse Emma and Annika Robin are complete delights as characters, crafted in the rarity that is such a unique story built in a familiar setting. This novel is truly a work of art.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

“The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution” (A Book Review)

“The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution”
by Ann Travers
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$24.95 ISBN: 9780889775787

“The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution”, written by Ann Travers and published by the University of Regina Press is an honest and enlightening review of the trials and struggles of growing up transgender in North America. The experiences contained in this book were gathered by a series of interviews with transgender kids and youth (individuals from a wide variety of ages, from 4 to 18) and the parents of trans kids in Canada and the United States between the years of 2012 to 2017.

As someone who is not transgender and knows relatively little about experiences of transgender people, I found this book to be an incredibly informative experience. This was in no small part due to Travers’ insane attention to detail and the obvious meticulousness that they poured into their research. Literature that is academic in nature has a tendency to be a little dry, somewhat hard to follow and littered with jargon. However, I did not find this to be the case with Travers’ work. In fact, I found it to be passionate, moving, and an intelligent review of the human condition. It is clear that Travers does not view their work as “a deliverable” or is driven by the self-back-patting ego that plagues the academic climate. The quality and quantity of the research, the commitment to ensure that the participants’ experiences are portrayed in an accurate manner, and the conviction embedded in the writing were all indicators to me of an author taking their work seriously, and with a great amount of respect.

The interviews contained in the book are dispersed and then utilized to provide a discourse on the experiences of either growing up transgender or raising a transgender child in five basic categories, these include transgender kids, schools, spaces, parents, and supportive healthcare. Of course, the information within is dissected and categorized further, and the result is a much-needed read for anyone who would like to understand the experiences of trans youth and the impact of socially enforced gender norms. Personally, I found Travers’ research on transgender youth in sport to be the most interesting segment of the book but can say with confidence that it is far more accessible than I had thought it would be. There is something for everyone to learn from and to be enthralled by.

I can admit that I will never fully understand the experiences of transgender people, and I realize that their challenges are significantly different from my own. However, thanks to all of the participants of this book, and to Travers’ excellent work representing them, I am much more educated on the topic than I have ever been before. Where I was expecting academic gender studies buzzwords, I found a gripping and seriously clever review of gender norms, politics, mental health, and much more. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to understand gender better but does not know where to even begin.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education: A Book Review

“Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education”
by Marc Spooner and James McNinch
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$34.95 ISBN: 9780889775367

Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education, edited and introduced by Marc Spooner and James McNinch and published by University of Regina Press is a highly astute evaluation of the current academic paradigm found within modern universities and educational institutions. Spooner and McNinch, both brilliant academics in their own rights, draw from an all-star cast of academics to review the historical and socioeconomic factors that have led to the neoliberal and corporate interest serving audit culture that can be observed in our post-secondary institutions today.

In the true fashion of academic literature, the thoughts and ideas that Spooner and McNinch present are supported by a nearly maddening amount of research, scholars, and peer-reviewed literature from a wide variety of sources. These sources used to support their arguments are also drawn from a range of interdisciplinary scholars and institutions, a detail that I found impressive as it was evident that this literature was written with great care in ensuring that bias was not included. The end result of this is an objective, yet shrewd and scathing critique of the educational system. It is also worth noting that this literature dedicates an entire section to Indigenous research methodologies, community-based participatory research, Traditional Knowledge, and the shifting academic climate that is beginning to rightfully perceive these modalities as legitimate, despite the lingering worldviews left behind by the colonialist foundations of academia. Not only that, but many of the authors in this book detail the lingering effects of colonialism, racism, power dynamics, and other thought-provoking and uncomfortable topics that provide the reader with the ugly context that unfortunately came with the foundations of post-secondary institutions.

The team of interdisciplinary and prestigious scholars such as Noam Chomsky, Yvonna S. Lincoln, Christopher Meyers, Marie Battiste, and many others, contribute ideas to form an absolutely essential review for anyone seeking to gain a deeper understanding of post-secondary politics, economics, and power structures. Any student, academic, professor, or person with an interest in the academic climate needs to pick up a copy of this book to save themselves from missing out on a truly thought-provoking, precise critique of academic culture.

That being said, this literature is an advanced read. Although Spooner and McNinch do an exceptional job editing and the authors avoid pedantic jargon as much as possible, the nature of academic writing does, unfortunately, require jargon to some degree. This book is incredibly well-written, intellectual, and follows scientific procedure perfectly; however, I would more strongly recommend this book to readers who are versed in reading academic literature.

In conclusion, Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education is a much-needed and refreshing examination of our post-secondary institutions and provides the reader with valuable insight on the seemingly impossible to decipher web of bureaucracy and colonialist policy that plagues the educational climate. Spooner and McNinch truly do succeed in providing the reader a window into questioning our institutions, and evaluating our scientific community as one that should strive to pursue a deeper understanding of existence and serve humanity rather than corporate interests.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM