Green glass ghosts

Rae Spoon

Book - 2021

"From non-binary writer and musician Rae Spoon: a rollicking yet introspective young adult adventure about screwing up, finding yourself, and forging a new life on your own. At age nineteen, the queer narrator of Green Glass Ghosts steps off a bus on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver, a city where the faceless condo towers of the wealthy loom over the streets of the east side where folks are just trying to get by, set against the deceptively beautiful backdrop of snow-capped mountains and sparkling ocean. Armed with only their guitar and their voice, our hopeful hero arrives on the West Coast fleeing a traumatic childhood. They're eager to build a better life among like-minded folks, and before they know it, they've got ...a job, an apartment, openly non-binary friends, and a new queer love. But their search for belonging and stability is disrupted by excessive drinking, jealousy, and painful memories of the past, distracting the protagonist from their ultimate goal of playing live music and spurring them to an emotional crisis. If they can't learn to care for themselves, how will they ever find true connection and community? The haunting black-and-white illustrations by Gem Hall conjure the moody, misty urban landscape and evoke that delicate, aching moment between youth and adulthood when we are trying, and often failing, to become the person we dream ourselves to be."--

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Location Call Number   Status
Young Adult Area YOUNG ADULT FICTION/Spoon Rae Checked In
Queer fiction
Vancouver : Arsenal Pulp Press [2021]
Main Author
Rae Spoon (author)
Other Authors
Gem Hall, 1986- (illustrator)
Physical Description
252 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

The year is 2000, one that symbolically promises a time for new beginnings. Appropriately, it's when Spoon's 19-year-old unnamed protagonist-narrator arrives in Vancouver, hoping to find a new life as a musician, far away from their Calgary home and deeply dysfunctional, sometimes abusive family. Their friend Sam greets them and gives them a place to stay until they meet Riki and fall in love. The two get an apartment together, but problems soon arise: the narrator abuses alcohol, suffers from wild mood swings, and, when Riki becomes involved with someone else, becomes suicidal. Spoon's deeply felt story is semi-autobiographical, and the reader gradually comes to understand that the narrator, like the author, is queer, trans, and nonbinary. Their affecting story is no stranger to anomie, and the illustrations by artist Hall capture the mood exactly, bringing a haunting quality to a narrative told in spare, unadorned prose that holds readers' attention to a cautiously optimistic conclusion.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A tale of young queer survival. Before the days of smartphones and social media, the narrator hops on a plane from Calgary to Vancouver to escape a dysfunctional home life. But once there, they find that trauma--both individual and communitywide--is as prevalent in large, urban queer communities as it is in the repressive rural life they left behind. Rae (named by the illustrator in their note though never in the text) falls into a toxic relationship with the grifting Riki, performs music at queer open mics, and finds and loses work. Rae's unhealthy relationship with alcohol bubbles unexamined beneath the surface, and their decision in the epilogue to find sobriety comes abruptly. Everyone--including fathers, grandmothers, and Jimi Hendrix--is referred to with they/them pronouns, with occasional slips, and all characters are referred to as "people" or "person" rather than specific gender identifiers. If any racialized identities are present, those are similarly elided in the text (and while both the author's note and illustrator's note address at length the Indigenous inhabitants of Canada, no First Nations people are named in the story). Unfortunately, there is a certain flatness and similarity to the characters; nevertheless, this is a deeply satisfying and compelling look at one queer life that takes place in a different time and yet feels immediately resonant and recognizable. Occasional pen-and-ink illustrations support the text. A quiet yet powerful fictionalized memoir. (Fiction. 14-18) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter 1 Granville Street I was on the bus, peering at the words scrawled on a napkin I pulled out of my pocket. I scanned the letters written on the paper closely, and then the main street signs as they whipped by at the intersections. They were the same. I felt brief relief, until it eroded beneath the terror of never having gone anywhere by myself before. Every few minutes, I' second-guessed myself, pulled out the napkin, and did it all over again. A week ago I was with Sam near Banff Trail Station in Calgary, at the Denny's where they had been letting me drink coffee and smoke since I was fourteen. I met Sam through a mutual ex they had come to visit for a couple of weeks. The ex was the type of person who was filled with love for everyone and really very kind, but a quarter of the time you had to tiptoe around them or they would explode on you. Earlier that day we had escaped on a city bus with all of Sam's bags after the ex had tried to push Sam down the stairs of their parents' house. All Sam did was tell them they had to fly home to Vancouver that night. We leaned over our steaming coffee mugs and chatted conspiratorially, our mood bolstered by the narrow escape. We were trading stories about other things the ex had done. "Did you know," I said, "that they once threw me out of their house in the middle of the night for saying that Jewel's poetry sucks?" Sam howled. "Yesterday, when I tried to bring up leaving the first time, they dropped my house keys into a full cup of coffee." We laughed until there was a friendly pause. Then Sam said, "You should come visit me in Vancouver. It would be so fun. You can fly youth standby. A hundred bucks and an hour later you'll be in Vancouver. You can stay with me at my parent's' house." I was silent for a while as I considered it. I'd just turned nineteen. It felt like time was running out for me. The café I was working at kept giving me fewer hours. I always showed for my morning shifts at six a.m., even if I was still a bit drunk. And I paid for all of the beer I drank when I fell asleep on the couch that one time. I did get in trouble with the manager for yelling outside the café when it was closed the other week. I guess they heard me from their apartment right above. Ugh, and then there was dating. 'I was kind of seeing someone who bullied me in junior high. It turned out they were also queer. Things would often get really bad when we'd been out drinking. I hadn't seen them since they threw a cordless phone in my direction and screamed at me that I was fucked and should get help. I couldn't remember what I'd said to them, so told them to get out of my house and locked them out. After I passed out, the sounds of my window sliding open woke me up. They were sniffling, saying they loved me, as they climbed in and fell to the floor. I pretended to be asleep in the morning when they left for work. Anyway, not really a reason to stay. "How will I find you in Vancouver?" I asked Sam. "Take this bus. It's the same name as the street it goes down," they said, scrawling with a pencil on their napkin. "Granville?" I asked. "Yeah, take it to Granville and Davie. If you don't make your flight, you can call my parents' house collect at this number." They scrawled that on the other side of the napkin. "Otherwise, I'll be standing there, waiting for you to get off the bus." I strained to look out of the window around my guitar, which I had placed between my legs with the head stock sticking up in front of my face. It was late March and Calgary was still all brown grass covered in patches of snow with dirt blowing around when I left. Here the grass was electric and there were green plants and flowers growing everywhere. The huge hedges in front of giant houses were shorn to be all the same height. These houses were not like the overnight McMansions in Calgary. They were made of brick and wood, and it looked like each sloped roof and turret had been placed with consideration.After the repetitive jolting stops at intersections, a bridge came out of nowhere. We were high above the water, with a view was on both sides. On the left there was another bridge full of cars, and then the open Pacific Ocean full of tankers. On the right there was the sparkling globe of the science centre that was built for Expo 86. I felt a pang remembering how we had made the pilgrimage to Vancouver when I was a child to got to Expo, but my father had decided at the last minute that it was part of an elaborate global plot against him. We stayed inside and waited for the long drive home. Now I felt like I could reach out and touch the glittering sphere. I turned to the boats bobbing in the gaping blue on my left side and smiled as the bus sped towards the city of green glass condo towers ahead of me. Halfway over the bridge the bus speaker crackled, announcing Davie Street. I scrambled to get my backpack on and guitar out in front of me. It was always a trick to make it out the doors in time with such awkward luggage. I never thought people show up where they said they would, but I saw Sam before the doors opened. They were standing on the corner with another person. "You made it!" they said, clapping me on the back. "This is Riki." Riki was wearing big shorts and skate shoes, and made a sort of debonair motion with an imaginary hat. They had shaggy hair that almost covered their eyes. Let's go to the beach!" Sam said. We started to walk down Davie Street. "How was your flight?'" Sam asked. It was only the third airplane I'd ever been on in my life and a lot bigger than the one I took to Kelowna. The best part was that it flew right over Kelowna. "It was great." I said. Then the rainbow flags started. I had seen a small rainbow sticker or two pressed surreptitiously inside of a bookstore or café door in Calgary, but this street was lined on both sides by big rainbow flags. I felt myself walking taller. We passed cafés with tables mostly full of men of all ages chatting to each other. Some held dogs on leashes, and others were holding hands right out in the open. I had done that sort of thing in high school, but I'd never seen adults do it. I tried not to gape. At the bottom of Davie Street, we hit the beach. It was around five o'clock, and the golden light was hitting us straight across the water as the sun headed out on its long journey to the other side of the sky. It wasn't like the light in Calgary, which felt like being inside a microwave. I had never understood why anyone would like being in the sun until it hit my skin in Vancouver like liquid gold. "This is Sunset Beach," Sam said, squinting out at the water. Riki kept walking and headed towards the water. Sam turned and pointed behind us at a building just across the road from the beach. "That skyscraper was made by a famous architect. Vancouver city hall hired him to design a building that represented the city to him. A lot of people were angry when they found out what he wanted to build." I looked up and down the long circular column with the upside down cone where the building hit the ground. There was one single tree growing out of the top of it. "What is it?" "It's a needle," Sam said. "You know, because of all of the drugs here." "Uh huh," I said, perceiving the needle injecting itself into the ground with a tree for a plunger. I didn't totally know what they meant but smelled a waft of weed, or maybe several wafts, coming from all over the beach. I looked out at the tankers in the ocean. They were as big as some of the buildings on the shore if they had fallen sideways. How were they were being held up by the water? I started to feel weightless and heavy at the same time, like I was standing on nothing. The sun was even lower now, and I felt like I could see the shadows moving. It's okay, I told myself. Over the last year I had learned how to not slip into a panic attack. A hacky sack crossed my path and I looked up to see a circle of people with a barefoot, shirtless person wearing pants made out of patches of different fabric running towards me. I picked up the worn bean bag and tossed it to them. I had the urge to join them, but sat down on a log nearby instead. I spotted Riki. They seemed to know everyone on the beach, making her rounds chatting, slapping people's hands, and laughing explosively. Sam sat down beside me. "How are you doing?" "It felt good to leave Calgary," I said. "Like I was finally escaping it all." "That's so good. It's going to be way better here for you. I mean, the music scene is better and there's way more people who are queer. I think you did the right thing." "Yeah. There was nothing much for me there," I whispered, pushing away any thoughts of something or someone that I could miss. The sun sank below the water as we walked away from the beach, past the early-evening throng on Davie Street and through the emptiness of blocks and blocks of old apartment buildings. Everything went from gold to grey. After a while the buildings turned into concrete and glass and stretched higher. The condos stood guard in lines. "I hope my BMX is still here," Sam said. "Pete said he'd keep an eye on it." I nodded solemnly, wondering who Pete was. Now we were walking past buildings that all looked the same. Sam made a sharp turn towards one of them. "Oh good," they said, pointing to a small chrome bike covered in stickers that was locked to the otherwise empty rack out front. They pulled out a small piece of plastic and put it up against the door. A little green light came on, and the door beeped and unlocked. I tried not to ask what it was as we all walked in. "Hey Pete!" Sam called out to a person in a uniform sitting at a desk with a bunch of TV screens behind it. "Thanks for watching my bike!" "No problem," Pete said smiling. We piled onto the elevator and Sam pressed six. After the door closed they said, "So before we get up there I'll warn you, my house is kind of big. My dad bought half a floor of this condo building. They like to show off that they're a hot shot lawyer, but it's good 'cause this way I don't see them often on my side. Now that my sister moved out, I fight with them a lot. That's why my mom lets me have friends stay in the extra rooms. My dad behaves better when there are guests around." I nodded my head, bracing myself to not react to the apartment. When we walked in it was harder than I thought. The ceiling was higher than I'd ever seen. I was pretty sure the TV in the living room was the largest one on Earth. There was an all-marble kitchen. "That's my father's office," Sam whispered, pointing into a room filled with books, a huge desk, a leather easy chair, and a giant TV. "When they're home they mostly hang out in there. They won't give you trouble, but it's good to not bother them. Just try to walk past without looking in." Sam grabbed my arm. "Come on. I'll show you your room." We walked to the end of a long hallway. "This is my room, and this will be yours right next to it. You have your own bathroom in there, too. Go settle in, and Riki and I will come grab you in a bit." I pushed the door almost closed behind me, unsure if I was allowed to close it fully. I flopped on the bed backwards with my shoes still on. I pictured my thin mattress that I'd pulled into the alley behind my basement apartment with my old roommate in the predawn darkness. I wondered if anyone had found it before it got too dirty to use. I wasn't really talking to my mother much anymore since I came out to her on the phone, so I couldn't give the mattress back. I started to feel like I was spinning backwards. After a full revolution, I kicked my shoes off and got up to shake off my thoughts. I went into the bathroom and inspected the jacuzzi jets in the tub and the strange wide shower head with lots of holes that was unlike any I'd ever seen before. I sat on the toilet longer than I needed to and came back to my body when I noticed my feet were really warm. I reached down and felt the floor. The tiles were warm. I pulled my pants up, flushed the toilet, and then lay down on the incandescent bathroom floor. The heat moved through my back and into my chest. I felt my heartbeat slow down for the first time since I'd given my key to my roommate in Calgary that morning. I heard a knock on the bedroom door and called out, "Come in!" "Are you in the bathroom?" Sam asked. "Yeah, but I'm decent," I said. They cracked open the bathroom door and stuck their head in. "Oh, I see you've found the heated floor. I do that all the time, too. It can be pretty nice when it's raining outside and you need to warm up when you come in ... Riki and I are going to smoke on the big balcony since my mom's not home from squash at the club until nine. You want to join us?" I hadn't really thought a lot about smoking that day, which was unlike me. I usually smoked a pack of twenty-five a day. The urge hit me hard like a bad smell. "Yeah." I fumbled around in my sweatshirt for a pack of cigarettes as I stood up. We made the trek down the impossibly long hallway. We passed the study again and I practised not looking in. I could see out of the corner of my eye that it was still dark and felt a wave of relief. We kept walking until we hit the kitchen and living room again. At the very end of the apartment there was a sliding glass door. Sam opened it, and Riki and I slipped out after them. The balcony was bigger than my whole apartment in Calgary. The smell of seaweed hit me. We leaned our elbows on the railing and lit our cigarettes. I slowly exhaled and took in street that ended at the harbour. Behind the dark blue water loomed the fuzzy shadows of tree-covered mountains with a little white snow on top. "Riki's friends are having a party tonight. Do you want to go?" Sam asked. "We could walk there in about twenty minutes, and they should be selling beer there." "Sure, I could use a beer," I replied. I'd been tempted to buy one on the plane, but it was too early in the morning for them to be selling it. Excerpted from Green Glass Ghosts by Rae Spoon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.