One in Every Crowd
By Ivan E. Coyote
Arsenal Pulp Press
Within 10 minutes of seeing Canadian, award-winning storyteller, Ivan E. Coyote perform live in 2008, tears streamed down my face with laughter. Within the first 10 pages of One in Every Crowd, I found myself crying too. The book’s introduction, an emotional letter in which 43 year-old, present-day Coyote empathizes with and advises the 15-year-old version of herself, sets a welcoming, vulnerable tone for her sixth collection of stories.
Her first book written for young people begins by providing us with a glimpse into who she was and the lessons she learned growing up the daughter of a welder in Whitehorse, Yukon. The first chapter details the occasions Coyote was mistaken for a boy. In one instance, this allows her the freedom to take six weeks of swimming lessons without wearing a bikini top: “six weeks of boyhood, six weeks of bliss. It was easier not to be afraid of things, like diving boards and cannonballs and backstrokes, when nobody expected you to be afraid.” She details her playtime as often death-defying, usually injurious.
We find out about her relatives in the second chapter. Delving into dark stories of lost love, spousal abuse, and drug addiction might seem manipulative in less-skilled hands, but Coyote’s pacing and humour make them refreshingly sincere. Her father accidentally giving her anal suppositories when she gets her first period is priceless.
The 3rd and 4th chapters most successfully address the issue at the book’s core: queer youth. The stories in “That Boy” are an engaging recounting of Coyote’s friendship with Francis, who, at seven, is already being called a faggot because he sometimes wears dresses. There is also 12 year-old Ruby, Coyote’s “biggest fan.” A tomboy character in one of Coyote’s stories reminds an isolated Ruby of herself.
“As Good as We Can Make It” acts as Coyote’s manifesto regarding her anti-bullying work. While certainly vital, ending the section with another letter to herself feels heavy-handed, given the book’s beginning.
This is one of its problems: repetition. There are a few too many stories in which Coyote being thought to be a man acts as a plot device, a few too many similar lines between chapters. (“I don’t say the word queer or gay or lesbian during the show, nor do I talk about sexuality at all. I just tell stories,” she says, reiterating, 30 pages later, “The thing is, I don’t even say the word queer while I am there. I just tell stories.”)
The book also suffers from the unfocused denouement of its final two chapters. These well-crafted stories of vindication and insight sometimes feel out of place with the rest of the book.
That said, One in Every Crowd is an important read for the members of the choir she is preaching to, and even more so to those who have yet to convert. Personal yet universal, heartbreaking yet hopeful, her tales geared toward queer youth reach out to the awkward adolescent in all of us. I wish it had been around when I was 15.