Fierce Femmes & Notorious Liars
Shortlisted | Book Awards 2020 | Writings for Young Adults
Fierce Femmes & Notorious Liars
"BECAUSE OF HER OWN TRAUMATIC PAST, THE PROTAGONIST FINDS IT DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE THROUGH CONSENT, BECOMING VIOLENT INSTEAD OF SAYING NO WHEN HER PERSONAL SPACE IS VIOLATED.”
This is the highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents' abusive home in a rainy city called Gloom. Striking off on her own, she finds her true family in a group of larger-than-life trans femmes who live in a mysterious pleasure district known only as the Street of Miracles. Under the wings of this fierce and fabulous flock, the protagonist blossoms into the woman she has always dreamed of being, with a little help from the unscrupulous Doctor Crocodile. When one of their number is brutally murdered, she joins her sisters in forming a vigilante gang to fight back against the transphobes, violent johns, and cops that stalk the Street of Miracles. But when things go terribly wrong, she must find the truth within herself in order to stop the violence and discover what it really means to grow up and find your family.
Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, lasagna lover, and wicked witch based in Toronto, unceded Indigenous territory. She is the author of several award-winning works including the poetry collection a place called No Homeland, the children’s book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, and the forthcoming essay collection I HOPE WE CHOOSE LOVE: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World. Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir is her first novel.
Reading Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom was both an experience of learning and unlearning. Narrated from a first person perspective, Fierce Femmes is a coming of age story about an Asian trans girl, who escapes from her house from a city called Gloom. What follows is a heart-warming tale of self-discovery, of what it means to identify as someone who is looked down by society.
One of the joys of Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is not knowing what might happen next, so I’m not going to give anything away. Instead I’d like to briefly grapple with the complexity of character, and motivation, which drives so many of the relationships in this book, all conveyed with almost epigrammatic precision. These characters are simultaneously simplified types and complex realities, and often the dynamics within and between them occur so swiftly that it is only later we realize just how much emotional intensity has been expressed.
– Montreal Review of Books
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Kai Cheng Thom’s first novel ‘Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars’ is a fictitious memoir of epic proportions. It’s a story full of magical reassurances, mermaids, witches, and kind-angry women. I usually give a 10 page grace to any book I start reading(to see if its worth my time) but when I began this one? The very dedication made me smile. I knew the story had its hooks in me with that one smile; and with everything going on in this world? Any thought of mermaids, witches and fierce women gives me hope.
The memoir begins with the narrator wishing for a better trans story other than just the usual “old archetype that trans girl stories get put into: this sort of plucky little orphan character who is just supposed to suffer through everything.” The narrator shares a wanting—a wanting that sets tone for the entire story. Unlike any other memoir I’ve ever read, this is laced with magic about the harshest realities of surviving as a trans woman, a community that is extremely vulnerable in society. It glows with complex questions about life, finding yourself, growing up and facing your fears. It’s a tale of warmth and discovery; of the trans community in ways that are raw, honest, magical and beautiful.
In just 200 pages, Kai Cheng Thom’s story takes root and blooms a multi-faceted view of a world that has been beaten down time and time again, as it glows back to beaming magic again in love and hope. The story creates an atmosphere of learning for the reader—about the experiences of being a trans person of colour in predominantly white society. Even though it’s the memoir of a fierce trans girl, there is something phenomenally universal about the complexities our protagonist realises and conquers. The complexities that manifest in the human experience—of fear, acceptance, kindness, love and anger and how tangled they get in real life.
The raw truths embalmed in the simple writing of this book are facets of truth that we collectively feel as human beings. It stems into unity and alliance (pillars of the human conscience) and echoes the need for belonging and ‘finding your tribe’ as essential parts of adulthood and becoming—messages that carry us through the roughest times of life. It brims with lyrical beauty and poems that reverberate feelings of alienation and belonging, which makes this story an anthem for soul-searching and discovery.
Kai Cheng Thom has successfully stitched messages of community and belonging in ‘Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars’— with an immediate need to dispel hatred and bias against the trans community. This book has stamped its importance in my bones—of the utmost importance of supporting our Indian trans women too!
A memoir like no other, it beams the simple beauty of becoming a woman and the joy of belonging to a community. It’s a story that dreams of a world that accepts and celebrates the glory Fierce Femmes bring everywhere.
(A huge thank you to Valley of Words for bringing such a beautiful book into my life with this wonderfully decorated and diverse Shortlist!)