Cover Image: Crosshairs

Crosshairs

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Member Reviews

This is probably the most challenging review I’ve written. I’ve started, deleted, and stared again many times. What can I say to pursued you of the importance of Crosshairs? What words can I weave together to convince you to read this haunting and eloquent portrayal of a future where communities of color, the disabled, and the LGBTQ+ are rounded up and sent to labor camps?

Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you’re sick of politics and revolutions and protests. Maybe you’ve closed yourself off to the debate about privilege because you donate to BlackLivesMatter and put a black square on your Instagram page, and now you just want life to return to normal.

If so, this book is for you.

Maybe you’re defeated. Maybe you’ve watched the police brutality and cried into the palms of your hands and prayed for a better world and begged, begged, begged God to keep you safe and your brother safe and your father safe when you’re driving in your car or going for a jog or sleeping in your house.

If so, this book is for you.

Maybe you’re on fire. Maybe your shoes are worn from marching and your voice is sore from shouting and your eyes are burning from tear gas and your wrists are sore from the zip ties. And you are done. So very done with the way things are.

If so, this book is for you.

Here is the opening:

To the people of privilege,

You will survive your discomfort while reading this book.

But many like me, who sit dangerously at

various intersections of identity

Will not survive long enough for you

Complete the last page

What will you do?

Catherine Hernandez has woven a world where the most vulnerable in society are captured, sent to labor camps and killed. Our hero is Kay, a drag queen who goes into hiding as a near-future Canada crumbles. It happens slowly and then snowballs into every trigger warning you can imagine. Hernandez doesn’t hold back. Her style is startling and lyrical, filled with rage, passion, and a tiny sliver of hope that keeps the characters pushing forward. She forces you to stew in your privilege and reflect on your role in an oppressive government. There is a montra throughout the book, spoken by the allies to remember their role in the resistance:

When I do not act, I am complicit!

When I know wrong is happening, I act!

When the oppressed tell me I am wrong, I open my hear and change!

When change is led by the oppressed, I move aside and uplift!

This should be required reading.*

Read this book. Absorb this book. Let yourself feel the discomfort.

 *Please note, I read this book on my Kindle App so there are no page numbers. This passage is prevalent through the second half of the book.
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This book about a dystopian Canada feels worryingly close to our reality. The systematic racism is very disheartening but eerily similar to the issues that the world has been facing and is now highlighting due to the George Floyd protests. The treatment of other minority groups such as indigenous people and the LGBTQ+ really give the reader something to think about as well.
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Crosshairs follows the story of Kay, a black drag queen, and his allies in their journey to fight back against an oppressive regime who has been capturing and rounding up "Others" (pretty much anyone who isn't white, cis, and straight-passing) into concentration camps. 

I honestly could not have started reading this book in a more opportune time. In the midst of a global pandemic and race rebellion, many of the ideas presented in the book are incredibly relevant. While technically Crosshairs is a "dystopian novel", the current situation in the U.S. made it way too believable. From the physical and systemic exclusion of Others, to the response by the government during an environmental disaster (which disproportionately affects black and brown people), Crosshairs was a chilling and topical read throughout. I will say that had it not been for the current political/social climate in the U.S., I might have struggled to really "believe" the plot -- but, it's a dystopian novel! so it's not meant to be entirely "believable".

The cast was relatively small, and each character was well-thought out and nuanced in their thoughts and actions. Hernandez excellently portrayed the diversity of the cast, using careful, intentional language that was accessible and educational. Hernandez explained topics of privilege, systemic racism, and queerness, in a way that was easy to read and perfectly fit within the context of a dystopian novel. 

I cannot say enough good things about this book!  Would highly recommend this to anyone who loves drag queens, dystopian novels, and taking down fascist regimes! Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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On the surface, this book hit all my marks: stunning cover, striking premise, and scarily-prescient themes. I was thrilled to be approved for this title. 

Following massive Canadian floods, a government-sanctioned regime called The Boots sparks "The Renovation," a horrifying time where The Others (LGBTQ+, disabled, and communities of color) are rounded up and forced into labor camps. Kay, a former drag queen, joins the resistance, and in a gripping narrative, writes a letter to her lost love as he trains for revolution. 

I don't even know where to begin with this book; there are so many things I want to say. 

First, Hernandez's writing style is beautiful. Her prose is lyrical and flows and often reads like spoken word poetry without even trying. Her structure of dual timelines, both past (told through flashbacks) and present, juxtaposed against each other drew out the symbolism of each moment, creating raw, powerful emotion that poured from every word. This is my first Hernandez read, but I was smitten with the writing and finished this in two sittings. 

Issues-driven, character-driven, and plot-driven, Kay is a magnificent narrator with insightful command of memories and his journey to self-discovery. Liv, Bahadur, Beck, and Firuzeh are also wonderful, and I appreciated Hernandez giving space for each character to tell his/her/their own story. It's not a coincidence that there is room for every voice; even with a revolution, even with the horrors, everyone deserves to be heard, and Hernandez weaves these voices with bold honesty and stark truths.  

This book is more than just beautifully-written words, though. So much more. Crosshairs could've been ripped from the headlines (apparently I keep picking books that reflect the current society instead of escapist lit). From labeling and discrimination to the terrifying realization that the events Kay describes seem not only real but possible, I wanted to scream by the end. Its warning is grim, dire, and enlightening. There will be disturbing imagery, anecdotes that are hard to read yet impossible to ignore. From the notes in the beginning, Hernandez says for some, this book will be uncomfortable, and I had that in mind as I reflected on the characters' interactions in relation to current events. Performative justice is a topic that stands out, especially given the prevalence of social media. How people who are not The Others can pick and choose when and what trivial act to post, receive praise for their good deeds, but when push comes to shove and their comforts are threatened, they turn their backs. If anything, this book will make you acutely aware of shortcomings and biases and that is such an important freaking awareness to have right now. We want to be allies, to have allies, but we also need to teach people how to be allies, and that's more than just a motivational quote during Black History Month or a black square Instagram day of silence. 

Overall, Crosshairs is a lyrical, urgent, beautiful story of pain, injustice, and hope. This is the type of text everyone should read. 

Big thanks to Atria and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.
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A note: this book contains many potentially triggering words and themes, including racial and queer slurs, genocide, oppression, hate crimes, graphic violence and significant trauma. It's a heavy hitting book, but it feels right for these times; like the author has pulled off the kid gloves and is ready to let you see the true reality of what it could be like to be inside an intersectional and oppressed existence. I, as some other readers have reflected, would like to see some #ownvoices reviews about this book; I believe the author does an excellent job displaying not only intersectionality but also successful allyship, but as a non-Black person of color, I am curious as to Hernandez's choice to make Kay a Jamaican Filipino character.

Crosshairs is a "dystopian" book - I put dystopian in quotations because, truly, it's not SO far removed from our reality. Crosshairs is set in Toronto, and centers around a Black drag queen named Kay, and Kay's attempts to escape from and live under a deeply fascist government. There is strong character work throughout the story, and the relationships provide a dose of levity and heart amidst the darkness; Hernandez is artful at portraying how conversations between friends can feel so normal even during chaos. 

I would recommend this book, with the caveat that I think it's best to know what you are getting into; not your average escapist sci-fi or fantasy read.
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Crosshairs is a startling, breathtaking dystopian novel that exposes just how close our world aligns with the story's terrifying fascist Canada. The story follows Kay, a queer Black performer, and his allies Bahadur and Firuzeh, as they fight against an oppressive regime that is actively imprisoning marginalized communities in concentration camps and explicitly enacting a fascist, white supremacist program under the guise of "renovation." 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found the story riveting, heart-pounding, and compelling throughout. Hernandez seamlessly transitions between present and past, telling the stories of multiple characters in the form of a Whisper Letter written to Kay's love, Evan. Some elements of the narrative felt heavy-handed and made some of the dialogue between characters seem stop-and-start. However, these parts of the book were extremely informative and I learned from them. I also found the ending to be a bit abrupt, but still inspiring. Overall this is a thrilling dystopian novel that carries an important message that must be heard. 

CW for: transphobia, racial and lgbtq+ slurs, systemic violence and oppression, hate crimes, genocide, deadnaming, sterilization, pedophilia, torture, loss of loved ones, and depictions of grief. Crosshairs is a very worthwhile read, but tread carefully if you have experiences similar to the characters because Hernandez does not hold back.
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CW: transphobia, homophobia, assault. 

CROSSHAIRS floored me. Catherine Hernandez is a brilliant and powerful writer who brings this dystopian society to life. It follows Kay, a Black drag queen who’s on the run after the extremist faction of government in the lands currently known as Toronto and Canada have put their racist, discriminatory, fascist beliefs into law. Kay has been on the run for months, hiding out with his friend, Liv, who’s part of the Resistance. Kay eventually has to run again, after Liv informs him that Toronto isn’t safe, and he gets picked up by a white Resistance member named Beck. Along the way, we also meet Bahadur and countless other Brown, Black, and queer folks who have been on the run and are fighting back against this oppressive regime taking over taking over the world. 

There are some hefty trigger warnings for this, but Hernandez is an important voice and tells these stories respectfully and with the fire that they deserve. She addresses labor issues, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, the hatred of “Others” that we are all too familiar with in 2020. She brings up Indigenous identity alongside Black and queer characters, and the true intersectionality of this book is a work of art in and of itself. I suppose sometimes it’s a bit obvious that she’s trying to be intentionally inclusive and diverse, but to be honest I think that’s what it takes in literature. We need to be blatant and intentional with who’s getting portrayed in texts so we normalize inclusivity and intersectionality, so I not only understand why Hernandez does this, I think it works and illustrates her message perfectly. 

Now, plot wise, I wouldn’t say there’s anything completely unexpected. The dystopian world Hernandez creates has workhouses (read: concentration camps), a segment of extremists who are limiting the rights and ending lives of “Others,” another segment of the population - comprised of Others and allies - who’s revolting against the oppression. It doesn’t necessarily have any characteristics we haven’t seen before in other dystopian novels, with the glaring and fundamental exception of the truly inclusive nature of this story and its characters. But the fact that this world doesn’t feel surprising is actually one of the most remarkable things about Hernandez’ skill as a writer: she has successfully extrapolated our current situations - human rights abuses, political power and greed of the wealthy and corporations, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic policies and people - to dystopian Toronto, and it feels eerily close to what we could all imagine happening if we don’t do something. 

CROSSHAIRS compels us to sit in whatever privilege we might have, listen to other voices, reflect on our role in perpetuating oppressive systems and what people not from our own communities are saying and experiencing, and then act. Avoiding the realities portrayed in CROSSHAIRS will take an act of revolution, and Hernandez doesn’t just bring that revolution to life for us - it feels like she’s making a prediction for us.
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Crosshairs is set in dystopian Toronto, Canada. The LGBTQ2S and Black community are experiencing racial injustices that are too heartbreaking to be true.  Hernandez’s novel is classified as a dystopian and much of the racial violence, protests, and police are far from “imagined” and eerily mirrors our present day political climate.

The read was beautiful, comforting, and unique. I enjoyed Bahadur, Firuzeh, Liv, and Kay. Hernandez did a fabulous job creating characters that will stick with me forever. 

Although the ending was short, I didn’t feel rushed through it at all and I closed feeling powerful and inspired.
Things I Loved:
•	Kay’s coming out journey and how that relates to his racial identity as a half black, half Filipino man.
•	The struggles, strength, and resilience behind how Kay navigated the harsh Toronto streets with no help from family.
•	The power behind the “Others” coming together to protect their own human rights. 
•	The progression of the story and how Hernandez vividly flashes back to experiences prior to the success of “The Renovation” 

I'm literally scrambling to read her previous work and I'm excited for anything else she will release in the future. So talented!
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Firstly let me start by saying that Catherine Hernandez's debut novel Scarborough was outstanding, and at the time reviewed it as "Catherine Hernandez takes a somewhat ugly backdrop and paints it to life using beautiful writing" so I was understandably looking forward to her releasing get 2nd novel.

Crosshairs drops you in Toronto and weaves you through an unapologetic dystopian account that introduces you the reader to larger than life characters, who leap off of the page and settle comfortably in your heart.
While the characters deliver their lines perfectly, the descriptiveness of action and setting was sometimes lacking. For example, while the intro to this book delivers a warning to people of privilege, my squirming was reserved for the final chapters where things became somewhat cringeworthy rather than hard hitting. There was so much drive towards the final act of this story, that it just felt a little abrupt that things were rounded off so briefly in just a few pages.

I'm continuing to enjoy this author, and I look forward to more of her writing being published, however for me this novel fell short of the high bar that was set by her debut novel.
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Set in dystopian Canada, we follow a queer femme drag performer who is Jamaican Filipino. Massive floods brought upon by environmental degradation left the majority of the population homeless, jobless, and starving. And some powerful white man seizes the opportunity to herald an oppressive regime where "Others" (i.e. marginalized groups) are sent to labor camps in the service of "True Canadians."

While this book dauntlessly takes on the oppression faced by many marginalized groups (e.g. POC and Indigenous, Muslims, queers, people with disabilities), there is definitely a heavy concentration on race, and specifically, Blackness. And I'll admit that I felt uncomfortable about the intense exploration of Blackness when the author is a non-Black person of color. I truly, wholeheartedly believe that this is outside of her lane and that the author should have written a main character who is more reflective of her identity.

At the same time, however, I don't want to completely dismiss the merits of this book. I *do* think that Crosshairs is a good book and that the story it tells is timely, important, and above all, frightening because of the many parallels between this dystopian society and the world we currently live in. Considering the state of politics in my own country and in many countries around the world, it isn't too hard to imagine a world where labor camps are reintroduced, people below the poverty line are killed without much thought, and people of color suffer the brunt of the discrimination.

Here are the things that I liked about this book:

📌 The exploration of culture and dynamics within Filipino communities is limited, but I did really appreciate the acknowledgment of anti-Blackness within our culture and among our people. There is a lot of anti-Black sentiments within many Asian cultures, and Filipinos are not an exception to this wrongness.

📌 The way unlearning and true allyship are portrayed in this book is at times heavy-handed, but ultimately, brutally frank and realistic. I particularly appreciated the emphasis of needing to unlearn every single day.

📌 The drag scenes! And the friendships between and among the drag performers.

📌 I liked that this was not set in the United States because that seems to be the go-to setting of most dystopian civilizations (although the United States is also involved in introducing and maintaining this fascist regime).

📌 In line with this, this book challenges the popular notion of Canada being a paradise that's free of discrimination and prejudice. I particularly liked how it brought attention to the issues faced by Indigenous peoples.

📌 The use of sensitivity readers.* According to the author's acknowledgments, she "assembled a team of artist colleagues who represent various community including Disabled, Black, Brown, Indigenous, Muslim, Queer, Trans, and Deaf-identified folks."

* While this does not necessarily guarantee authentic representation, it does alleviate some of my discomforts. However, it is not my place to discern whether these measures are enough or whether the final outcome is respectful to other marginalized groups, especially to the Black community. Although the main character is part-Filipino, I do not consider myself an #ownvoices reviewer for Crosshairs because Kay makes it clear that she considers herself to be more Black than Filipino. I will, in turn, contact the publisher and request that they give advanced reading copies into the hands of #ownvoices Black reviewers. (I'll definitely link #ownvoices reviews here once I find any.)

If you do consider giving this novel a try, I highly encourage you to check out the content and trigger warnings (see below) and to ensure that you're in the right headspace before diving in.

Content warnings: prejudice, violence, systemic oppression, and microaggressions targeted towards all marginalized groups; labor camps; deadnaming; use of racial and lgbtq+ slurs (including references to the N word without spelling it out); forced sterilization (off-page); pedophilia and sexual exploitation of a child; loss of loved ones; torture; depictions of grief
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I loved Scarborough, it was one my favourite books of 2019. It sits on my favourite section of my bookshelf, right next to Vivek Shraya, Joshua Whitehead and Cherie Dimaline. So when Atria Books approached me with an ARC of her newest work, I accepted without question. 

In her signature style, Hernandez delivers, with a cacophony of voices, a story so layered, so thick with meaning it’s sometimes hard to tell the narrative from the truth. Set in a particular neighbourhood of Toronto, in the near future, Crosshairs tells the story of marginalised individuals who are segregated into labour camps by the Canadian government. 

One of Hernandez’s first pages of the book tells people of privilege that they will feel discomfort while reading the book, but to continue reading, because people like her will not live long enough to read the last page. I read one chapter a day to allow myself to process her words, and I was glad I did.  

Once again, like in Scarborough, the neighbourhood came to life. Glad Day bookshop, a particular bar, an apartment, the weather, so much of her art comes from lived experience and I appreciated that so much. But then there’d be scenes where Kay (the main protagonist, a black femme queer man) and other drag queens are talking about a particular person, and the other drag queens would say, “Oh, you’ve never met Person A? But Person A is the hottest queer to ever walk the streets of Toronto! And, in heels!” and I laughed, because it was funny, also because it was TRUE, that really is how queer people talk to each other (and we do often know each other), but it felt more like telling rather than showing. 

Where was the nuance, her deft hand, her certainty of her characters? Scarborough nearly left me breathless with its skill, but Crosshairs was so forceful and shocking it felt like there was no room for the characters to breathe. I felt hopeless while I read. The graphic depictions of violence against marginalised individuals, racialised people, queer people, trans people, refugees, Indigenous people, was very intense. This book is raw, unrelenting, often blunt, and forceful. 

Alongside her warning that people of privilege will experience discomfort, Hernandez warns readers that “There are words used by the fascist regime in this book, which are meant to illustrate the oppressive power of words”, as well as a note about they/them pronouns. However, I really wish she had included some type of trigger warnings for the book overall because it’s just … so merciless. Trigger warnings for this book are: genocide, racial slurs, queer slurs, hate crimes, dead naming, ableism, loss, grief, death, sterilisation of an indigenous person, prejudice, systemic oppression — I’m trying to remember if I forgot anything, but please, tread carefully. This book will leave you tender-hearted and may even reactivate some trauma (as it did for me, briefly) if you’ve had experiences that are similar to those of the characters in the book.

This is a totally different Hernandez from the one I know, and I may still need time to process that. This book is all love, rage, anger. It was readable, if a little heavy-handed, but I needed hope. This book was good, but it exhausted me, body and soul, and I would struggle to recommend it to many of my queer friends. 

I am impressed that the author was able to write something so fierce, something so unsparing, for only reading this left me tired, I can’t imagine how she must’ve felt writing it. At around page 167, I finally started seeing the writing, the level of craft, I’d been looking for in the entire book. I loved the characters so much, but the little victories felt empty, pyrrhic, almost. 

A stirring story of survival, of queer resilience, I wish I’d loved this more, and I wish I could recommend it to more people.
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