Quick Book Review: Small Beauty

Small Beauty is a 2016 novel written by transgender writer Jia Qing Wilson-Yang. The story won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction in 2017. Small Beauty is recommended for late teen readers and adults due to its use of transphobic language, homophobia, deadnaming, racism, depiction of physical violence, along with drug and alcohol use. This non-linear story revolves around Mei, a Chinese trans woman, who is tasked with going back to the small Canadian town where her recently deceased cousin, Sandy, used to live. It is only when she returns to Herbertsville, that Mei learns about her Aunt Bernadette’s secret lesbian relationship, which allows Mei to unpack the emotional and family trauma that has been weighing her down over the course of her life. Although this book deals with many heavy topics, prospective readers can anticipate moments of levity in addition to elements of a ghost story intermingled with imagery of the natural world.  

            In particular, Small Beauty stands out since the transgender Chinese experience is not often discussed within the genre of LGBTQ+ literature. Readers are able to see the intersectionality of Mei’s identity as a Chinese transgender woman who faces multiple forms of oppression. Along these lines, Mei deals with being treated unfairly by other members of the LGBTQ+ community because she is transgender. This issue harkens back to the queer organizations of the 1970s when transgender activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera formed their own transgender rights group in response to the discrimination they were subjected to from early gay rights groups. The prejudice Mei encounters acts an imperative to make sure that all sexual and gender minorities are valued, respected, and have their voices heard in the diverse  LGBTQ+ community. While transgender individuals can relate to Mei’s struggle to pass, being misgendered, and asked invasive questions, LGBTQ+ readers from all backgrounds can relate to the fear of being rejected because of their identities and the risk of not following the gender roles imposed by society.

            If you are questioning your identity, would like to come out, or are in need of local LGBTQ+ resources, please contact the National LGBT Help Center through the support services listed below.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

LGBT National Coming Out Support Hotline: 1-888-688-5428 (1-888-OUT-LGBT)

LGBT National Youth Talkline: 1-800-246-7743 (1-800-246-PRIDE)

LGBT National Senior Hotline: 1-888-234-7243

You can also reach out online at www.LGBThotline.org/chat