One in Every Crowd by Ivan E. Coyote

This collection is from Arsenal Pulp Press and is the sixth story collection from Ivan E. Coyote and her first written specifically for queer youth. For those readers not familiar with Ivan E. Coyote, I quote from the back cover of this book: “…is one of North America’s best-loved storytellers; her honest, wry, plain-spoken tales about gender, identity, and family have attracted readers and live audiences around the world. For many years, Ivan has performed in high schools, where her talks have inspired and galvanized many young people to embrace their own sense of self and to be proud of who they are.”

One in Every Crowd“Included are stories about Ivan’s own tomboy past in Canada’s north, where playing hockey and wearing pants were the norm; and about her life in the big city, where she encounters both cruelty and kindness in unexpected places. Then there are the heartfelt tales of young people like Francis, the curly-haired little boy who likes to wear dresses, and Ruby, a teenager who tells Ivan, “You remind me of me. And nobody ever reminds me of me.”

Here is Ivan’s dedication: “This book is dedicated to Francis, Frances, Felice, and Zrena, for making me make myself into a better human, and a better writer, and for making my world a more honest and beautiful place to live in. You are my teachers, my friends, my family, and my future, and this makes me feel lucky and blessed.”

By way of an introduction, Ivan writes a letter to herself and addresses it “Dear Kid I Was”. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“Hey there. It’s me. I mean you. It is you/me, writing to me/you, from the future. We are almost forty-three, and I sure do wish there was a way for me to get this message from future me to past you, but so far, humankind hasn’t invented anything like that yet, not that I know of anyway, so all I can do is write this letter and put it in the front of this book, and just maybe it might help out some other poor kid who feels all alone, just like you and I did, way back when.”

“I want to tell you a couple of really important things. First, school is more important than youOne in Every Crowd even thought it was. And I don’t mean this in a boring i know it all and I am here to tell you kind of adult way, I am talking in the just between you and me as equals kind of way. Educating yourself right now is your ticket to options, my friend. And I know you. You like options. …I am here to tell you that every single thing you will ever manage to learn, every skill, every course, every bit of school or college or university you attend is going to help you on your way to becoming exactly who we always dreamed of being.”

“One sure fire way to figure out who you are is to never listen to anyone else tell you who or what you can be. Never let someone else decide for you what you are capable of being….I only wish that we hadn’t listened to the guy who told us when we were thirteen that girls couldn’t play drums, because then I would have started playing them thirty years ago.”

“Remember when everyone in school called boys who liked drama class or played the flute or who wanted to be cheerleaders fags? You know that guy Corey from home economics class, and Michael, and that blonde kid, his name started with a D, I forget his name? Remember how that blonde kid did that dance number for a talent show that one time in grade nine, and he could really dance, remember him, his name started with a D, and you don;t know this yet because it hasn’t happened, and you might wanna sit down because I know you, you are sensitive and this next little bit of news I am bringing you from the future is going to tear your tender heart right out, but I need you to know that he will go on to shoot himself in his father’s basement with a rifle one winter a couple of years after we graduate. And Corey, he will asphyxiate himself in Yellowknife in a car inside a garage in the dark of a long northern winter and see, I don’t think either of these boys had to die, and that is why I am going to ask you a favour. Oh, Michael will make it by the way. In fact, Michael will turn out to be a real nice guy who works with your sister and grows orchids in his spare time. But those other two guys, well, it didn’t have to go down the way it did with them.”

This is a powerful collection and it is to be hoped it reaches as many adults and young people as it possibly can. It needs to be read and read again.