The FOLD #DiverseBooks Reading Challenge 2017, Part II

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If you follow the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) on Twitter, you’ll see that things are beginning to ramp up for the festival in May. They’ve been posting daily reveals of festival authors, and so far, it’s a pretty exciting lineup. I’m personally really excited to see Jen Sookfong Lee, because I’ve been meaning to read her book The Conjoined for months.

And while we wait for the festival, there’s always The FOLD Reading Challenge to keep us busy. I’ve previously written about category #s 2 and 17, and have a few more books to add to the list.

#16. The One Book One Brampton Title

Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor

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This is a well-deserved honour, and anyone joining in the One Book One Brampton fun will have an absolute treat on their hands. I’ve long been a fan of Farzana Doctor’s work, and Six Metres of Pavement was the reason I fell in love with her writing in the first place. The title refers to the distance between Ismail and his neighbour Celia with whom he is falling in love. Both are middle aged and dealing with personal tragedies (Ismail guilty over his daughter’s death years ago, Celia learning to live alone after the loss of her husband), and their romance is slow to simmer. A third character, Fatima, a queer activist the same age as Ismail’s daughter would have been had she lived, is a fantastic foil to the more cautious Ismail and provides the beautiful possibility for a family.

It’s been almost four years since I’ve read this novel and I still remember how much I loved reading it. Check out my original blog post about this book, and take 2013 me’s advice to listen to the author read from the book in person.

If you’ve read Six Metres and are looking for more Farzana Doctor — All Inclusive is a powerful story of family, love and finding oneself, from the experiences of a young woman working at an all-inclusive resort; and Stealing Nasreen is about a husband and wife who both develop a fascination for the same woman.

#11. Book featuring a character of any faith

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi, with graphics by Craig Phillips

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What an amazing sucker punch of a book! In this intense, gripping, metaphorical immersion into the nature of grief, a teenage girl’s desire to save her twin brother from crossing completely over into the afterlife weaves comic book characters and Hindu myth into a fevered dream state that spills over into her real life, with only the twins’ best friend to stem the flow.

When a man with a gun kills her twin brother Corey and puts her in a coma, Holly dreams she is in the Shadow Lands trying to save Corey from a half-man half-snake named Kortha. When she awakes, she imagines herself as her favourite superhero the Leopardess, out to bring Corey’s killer to justice. She also can’t stop thinking of Corey in the Shadow Lands and begins to convince herself that her and Corey’s best friend Savitri has powers similar to her mythological namesake, and can become the key to saving Corey. I love how real it feels that in her absolute grief, Holly takes elements of a superhero she admires and Hindu myths she’s learned from Savitri, and comes up with her own version of reality to help her deal when actual reality becomes too much to handle.

In the meantime, Savitri sees how her best friend is losing her grip on reality, and is torn between the desire to be a good friend and the need to protect herself and the future she’s worked for. I also love how real this dilemma feels. We know how much Savitri was looking forward to studying at an Ivy League school, so we know how big a sacrifice it is for her to even consider giving that up so she can stay with Holly, who needs her. We also see how Holly’s psychological state has the potential to lead both girls into a dangerous situation, and realize how high the stakes can become.

The story is told with a combination of text and graphic novel panels, and it’s a stunning work of art. It’s such a powerful, moving glimpse into a depth of grief I don’t even want to imagine, and so masterfully told.

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