SWIMMING UPSTREAM by Jacob  Anderson-Minshall

SWIMMING UPSTREAM

A Novel
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this novel, Anderson-Minshall (co-author: Queerly Beloved, 2014, etc.) tells the stories of a transgender man, the son he adopts, and the daughter he gave up.

Flint Douglas, an intersex teenager, counts himself blessed to have found Coyote “Ki” Douglas, who adopts him after he experiences years of abuse from foster parents. Ki’s compassionate act gets Flint off the streets and into a protective environment, where he’s allowed to grow into his body and emotions. This comfortable hideaway begins to crumble, however, when Ki is informed that his biological daughter, Brooke, has become ill while serving in Iraq and needs a kidney transplant. While reconnecting with his daughter and traveling with his adopted son, Ki’s past is revealed. Flint learns about his father’s origins, the abuse he suffered as a child, and the salvation he eventually found from “a well-dressed middle-aged gay man.” The more Ki tells Flint about his life, the more the teen relates to him. In the end, Ki passes on his wisdom and knowledge to the young man, who believes the key to keeping Ki’s lessons alive is sharing a fable of the Salmon People, which Ki used to tell to schoolchildren. Anderson-Minshall manages to juggle several major political topics, including war, green living, and even video game violence. Some of the plotline involving gender identity brings to mind Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and the Iraq-set war scenes are reminiscent of the Afghanistan-set 2007 book Lone Survivor. There’s a particularly significant anti-war theme; at one point, Flint thinks that American combat soldiers fighting had no guilt about their actions, which “made them far from innocent, and he kind of thought they deserved to get hurt or at least become shell-shocked.” Anderson-Minshall’s descriptions, however, can be overly thorough and misplaced: An early chapter is spent distinguishing Sunni from Shi‘ite Muslims and the treatment of Iraqi Muslims versus Native Americans, with Brooke as an incidental detail in the background, thinking that she’s dying. And despite all the political dialogue in this book, there’s little real conversation for the first 40 pages or so. 

An unevenly written anti-war, gender-fluid, and environmentally conscious tale.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-9982521-7-9
Page count: 382pp
Publisher: Transgress Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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