This is a joyful book about grief. I didn’t think such a book existed, but here it is.
Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) is a bizarre, whimsical, and beautiful testimony to friendship, love and grief. Written by Canadian queer trans librarian Hazel Jane Plante, this fantastic, experimental novel is somehow her first novel.
It is in fact an encyclopedia, with beautiful illustrations by Onjana Yawnghwe that accompany us as we alphabetically make our way through the novel. Ostensibly about Little Blue, a bizarre fictional television series, Little Blue Encyclopedia (For Vivian) is actually about the friendship between our unnamed narrator and her beloved friend, Vivian Cloze.
Vivian loved Little Blue, and when she dies, her friend falls apart in grief, as many of us have or will. Through writing down memories of her friend, and re-watching the series, our narrator, a journalism student, decides to write an encyclopedia of the show steeped in her memories of her friend. Plante has written an #ownvoices story about a queer trans woman’s intimate love for her straight trans woman friend. Though the book can be viewed as a devotional to a dead friend, it is also life-affirming, hopeful and a delight to read. Vivian was an inherently charming woman, and her many charms come through in the stories Vivian’s sister and friends tell about her.
Plante has created something magical in writing the preposterous world of Little Blue. A fictional niche 10 episode series with a cult following, the show feels like a mix of Canada’s The Beachcombers, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, with a director with the on-set commitment of Francis Ford Coppola on Apocalypse Now. As our unnamed narrator tell us, “this book is the closest you’ll get to knowing my favourite person, and it’s the closest you’ll get to watching Little Blue with her, which was a delightful experience.”
It’s a delightfully absurd show that had me laughing out loud-especially the parts of the show that Vivian loved the most or that our narrator found the most confounding. Here’s a taste; there’s a character that speaks only Danish, except for a few stock phrases such as, “More Soda!” This is never addressed by the other characters on the show, who inexplicably understand him and continue to speak to him in English.
The show is delightfully dense, with the director working with actors to develop back stories for each character, trapping the cast on an island off the West Coast of Canada and improvising the scenes and story lines. My favourite character, Carter Exby, is seemingly a quiet, boring, working class man. However, he prints his own newsletter, the Carter Exby Bulletin, on a mimeograph machine. The viewer sees the newsletter on screen for just a moment, however, true fans pause the screen to read the newsletter and learn that Carter is not what he seems-he instead is a knitter, jazz trumpeter and is rehearsing for a local musical.
Reading through the encyclopedia, you learn about the truly ludicrous world of Little Blue, while learning more and more about Vivian. Through the little moments she shared with her friends, how she lived her life, the songs she loved to dance to, but also the things she left behind. Music plays a large part in their friendship, with Vivian making her friend a playlist titled, “My Life in 16 songs.” You learn to love Vivian through the things she loved. This book thrives in some sort of half-fictional world, Vivian is fictional, Little Blue is fictional, fictional books are mentioned, but so are real ones. There are real-life pop culture references, and enough of the songs are real that you can listen to a Spotify playlist here.
Plante has written an inviting novel that blurs the lines between the reader and the characters, as viewers, listeners, writers and readers, while conveying the intricacies of a unique and beautiful friendship between two women.
“As I was writing the book, I increasingly found myself really
caring for Vivian, even though she isn’t based on a specific
person in my life. I never had anyone who was that kind of a
mentor, or someone who took me by the hand and led me
through things and gave me that support and love. I didn’t
really have that exact thing in my life. So I was trying, in
some ways, to write the book that I wish had existed when I
was grappling with being trans. It’s just a really weird book
and I’ve never seen anything like it.”Hazel Jane Plante
As a cisgender reader, I’ll leave it to trans reviewers to speak to the novel’s representation of the community. Often trans stories in fiction are told as tragic stories. Though Vivian has died, Little Blue Encyclopedia (For Vivian) celebrates her life and avoids falling into tropes such as depicting trans people as lonely, solitary, traumatized people struggling to transition into their gender. For me, this novel, simply and accurately, portrays the beauty and strength of the female friendships that help you survive life as a woman.
I recommend this book for anyone who has lost someone they loved.
This is one of the few books I’ve read that accurately conveys friendship and the painful remnants left behind when that person is no longer a part of your life. After someone passes, you’re often left with memories, stories, their favourite meals. I don’t know if grief really ever goes away, or if you just learn to incorporate into yourself. Often, it’s through the things that are left behind. Books, movies, a copy of their favourite childhood book. Every time our narrator watches Little Blue, or wears Vivian’s leather jacket, she remembers Vivian and their friendship and folds that love into her grief until it’s a part of her and she’s ready to face the world again. Though it’s an ode to friendship, it’s also an ode to queer love, and a subtle how-to-guide on how to move through grief.
Buy the book. Read the book. And when you’re done. Listen to the playlist and dance around, just like Vivian would want you to.
Check out more titles by Metonymy Press.
Title: Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)
Author: Hazel Jane Plante, Illustrations by Onjana Yawnghwe
Publisher: Metonymy Press
Trim size: 5.25′ x 8′
Season: Fall 2019
Pub date: October 7, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9940471-9-9 (paperback)
Target Audience: LGBTQ readers, lovers of experimental fiction, pop culture enthusiasts
A Few Reviews:
- Winner of the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction
- Winner of the Expozine Award for English Literature
- Finalist for the 2020 Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-variant Literature
- Finalist for the 2019-20 Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes (BC Book Prizes)
Read more about:
Guest Editor of #GlobalPRIDELitMonth and Writer: Anita Fata (she, her, hers) is currently pursuing a Master in Libraries and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia’s iSchool. A daughter of European immigrants, she is a first generation Canadian settler, living and working on the ancestral, traditional and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations in what is now called Vancouver, BC, Canada. Fascinated by the pitfalls of cataloguing, she also spends too much time thinking about translated literature and LGBT2QIA+ authors while volunteering at Out on the Shelves Library. Find her on Twitter @anita_if