Cover Image: Cactus Country

Cactus Country

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Member Reviews

Bossiere's boyhood was both banal and singular: a childhood move to an RV park in Arizona meant running free with the other park kids, some of whom were there year-round and some of whom dropped in and out. Desert life meant javelinas and paloverde beetles, chasing freight trains and washing windows and enduring the question "are you a boy or a girl?" over and over again. No space for anything in between, but equally no space for the simpler answers that Bossiere wished to give.

"The boy I was does not know there are other children like him. He only knows his own body, his own desert. How to keep pace with the boys in the pack and how to blend into the brush under gnarled ironwood trees. The boy only knows how to survive." (loc. 3727*)

This is my favorite book of 2024 to date. Just the setting would intrigue me—I've never been to the American Southwest, and there's a dusty sort of pull to the idea of growing up in an area so remote yet seasonally touristy. But add to that Bossiere's wrestling with gender, and the way it's not so much a personal understanding of gender that is the problem but the assumptions and demands the rest of the world makes and runs with—and then add to *that* race and class and economics and education and gendered violence and the park residents who helped shape Bossiere's understanding of what it meant to be a girl and what it meant to be a boy—and the layers get ever thicker. It helps that Bossiere brings an intensity to the craft of writing that was honed in the scorched days of Arizona summers—feels like something where that intensity came first but translates extremely well to writing.

If this story sings in your bones the way it does in mine, I recommend picking up Carrot Quinn's "The Sunset Route" for some of the same themes and maybe for roads not taken in "Cactus Country".

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing a review copy through NetGalley.

*Quotes are from an ARC and may not be final.

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This is a well written and solid memoir. This is a very sad and intense read. It might not be for everyone, but I appreciate the author's honesty and vulnerability. Bossiere went through a lot of turmoil as a child. Overcoming obstacles makes for a great memoir. Great read.

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Content Warnings: Transphobia, Suicide, Animal Cruelty, Intimate partner violence / abuse

Cactus Country is a rich, powerful memoir that I could not stop reading. Bossiere's work is moving not just due to their impeccable writing skills, but also due to their sincerity and empathy. They does not sugarcoat their darker experiences, but they evoke compassion for their earlier selves and the companions at different stages of life. The moment that I remember most was the descriptions of boys killing beetles (and how it was one of the only 'allowed' outlets for their anger, frustration, and powerlessness). The action is not presented as good or justified, but merely as a fact of life; the why behind it matters more than the actions alone. Triumphs, like their learning to love writing, are cathartic, but likewise tempered with reflection.

I particularly admired Bossiere's ability to share with others what it was like as a trans, nonbinary person at various stages of their life and their gender fluidity. They carefully lay out how actions, words, and appearance -- even the same ones -- are "different" to people depending on how they view your gender identity/expression. In showing not just how they moved between the worlds of masculine, androgynous, and feminine, but why they did so, I think they offer powerful insights and a means of understanding their lived experiences.

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A memoir that centers on the author's gender identity but does an amazing job of both portraying the dark and light sides of life. There is a hopefulness and tenderness that permeates this memoir.

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