Book Review: Kings, Queens and In-Betweens

Nima Kumara-Clark is a queer, bi-racial teenager struggling to figure out her place in life. Lacking in self-confidence and learning how to move forward after a complicated familial loss, Nima makes questionable decisions along her road to self-discovery. She eventually finds herself immersed in the world of drag kings, queens and in-betweens, leading her to discover love not just for others, but for herself as well. 

This debut novel by Tanya Boteju was an absolute joy to read! It was refreshing to find myself immersed in a story teeming with diverse characters, and although there were some loose ends by the end of it, I felt that it only added to the realistic nature of their lives. This book was meant to portray very real, raw and flawed lives much like our own, and I believe that it accomplished just that. The dialogue was spot on and Boteju’s character descriptions brought each one to life in full, vibrant colour. It isn’t often that a book will have me expressing myself out loud, but there was a particular moment that literally had me gasping and covering my mouth in horror. I knew at that point that this was a book worth reading. I often found myself chuckling along with Nima’s inner voice and her creative expletives, while the character of Deirdre was so well written that I couldn’t help but wish we all had a Dee Dee in our lives. 

Through these characters, Boteju breaks down perceived norms and stereotypes while intentionally withholding certain labels. Given that the title of the book is all-encompassing, I found the lack of using certain labels such as “trans/transgender” to speak to that very intent. The story is interspersed with numerous teachable moments that enlighten and offer a different perspective, such as when Nima discovers that drag queens can date girls, or when she informs Gordon that his statement about two girls together being hot, while two guys is sick, places him in the same category as people who would judge him for his own complicated identity. 

Within the first two chapters, there were several occasions where the language between past and present didn’t quite flow and I found myself a bit confused as to where Nima was narrating from; however, this was an issue that seemed to improve as the book moved along. As mentioned, there were a number of unresolved plot lines that might leave a reader frustrated, but it is my hope that Boteju intends to produce a follow-up book or two that will explore the lives of some of the secondary characters, such as Gordon and Deirdre. 

All in all, I really enjoyed reading this novel, and I look forward to future publications by this up and coming author. Thank you Tanya Boteju for your talent, and thank you to Net Galley and Simon & Schuster Canada for the opportunity to review this advance reader copy.