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God Loves Hair

by Vivek Shraya; Juliana Neufeld (illus.)

Toronto artist Vivek Shraya’s debut (originally self-published in 2011) is a rich and powerful exploration of gender, sexuality, religion, race, and the desire to fit in.

Told in 21 short entries punctuated by Juliana Neufeld’s colourful and dramatic illustrations, God Loves Hair paints a vivid picture of a boy’s tumultuous path to self-discovery and awareness, from infancy through the teenage years. It begins with a mother’s promise to God that any son she bears will have his first haircut at a temple in India. In a few short lines about being mistaken for a girl, Shraya alludes to the boy’s strong connection to the feminine, which will be revealed in the pages that follow.

Each vignette is a fascinating tale fraught with contrasts and conflicting emotions, and Shraya masterfully juxtaposes internal thoughts with external pressures. In “Lipstick,” the boy, now five years old, paints his face with lipstick and is punished for mangling the makeup, while in “Dress Up” he takes great pleasure when female relatives clothe him in a sari. In “The Colour Purple,” the adolescent boy buys an L.A. Lakers hat for its purple and yellow colours, not because of any affinity for the team. And in “Sundays,” he revels in praying and singing at the Hindu centre each week, because it’s a place where he feels accepted and admired. Each story is layered with meaning, yet Shraya keeps it all from growing cumbersome by writing only what is necessary to move along the overarching narrative.

Teens will relate to this honest and creative chronicle of one young man’s journey toward self-acceptance, and the book will undoubtedly help those struggling with similar issues. Readers will come back to it again and again, finding new meaning and drawing new connections each time.