Long ago I read some writing advice about putting one, and only one, strange element in a story. (I think it was in reference to Thurber’s once-ubiquitous “Unicorn in the Garden”; that it would have been ruined if there was <b>also</b> a flying saucer.)
This glorious mess of a book feels like a defiant upthrust middle finger to that advice: there <b>is</b> a flying saucer (well, donut) <b>and</b> a deal with a demon <b>and</b> a mostly-but-not-always-food-centric celebration of Asian American culture <b>and</b> complicated family dynamics <b>and</b> a universe-level existential threat <b>and</b> some really fantastic musical appreciation <b>and</b> some very raw writing about the struggle to live one’s gender if it’s not the one assigned at birth.
It sounds like it could be a zany romp, and I think the comp books I keep seeing (“Hitchhikers’,” “Good Omens,” “Small Angry Planet”) are all misleading – they may have underlying seriousness, but two of them are <b>funny</b> and they’re all (mostly) gentle. (As is James Blaylock, who the demon bargain elements decidedly reminded me of.)
But this isn’t at all a silly book. Partly that’s because the characters take everything at face-value; there are no knowing asides. But mostly that’s because Katrina’s experiences are sadly, often brutally realistic. Her reactions – the way her trauma has shaped her – are too real for me to question, and that pulled me through bits that could have had me rolling my eyes.
If anything, ironically, the hopeful tone of the novel is undermined by my awareness that the SF/Fantasy elements offer Katrina a way out that a real life runaway trans girl is never going to get.