Little Blue Encyclopedia (For Vivian) is a poignant expression of love from a queer trans woman to her straight trans friend Vivian, who has recently died. Hazel Jane Plante’s lush debut novel also plays with invented pop culture and art in a way that feels both fresh and totally authentic.
Little Blue Encyclopedia is woven from the threads of fandom and pop culture obsessions. The most significant of these is Vivian’s fascination with the TV show Little Blue – but even that is itself a product of her obsession with the band Suede, whose song ‘Sleeping Pills’ appears in the fifth episode. The chain reaction, of fandom breeding fandom, feels totally natural. After all, this is a novel about connections. Between people, of course – the narrator and Vivian, and Vivian’s sister and friends and all the other people whose lives she touched – but also between stories, and memories, and objects.
While we’re on the subject of relativity and connection, let’s talk about transness. It’s tempting, sometimes, to frame transness or queerness in novels as being beside the point. As LGBTQ readers and writers, we have historically had to frame our stories as being ‘just like yours’ or ‘not too queer’, as being about universal themes and common experiences that just happen to occur to LGBTQ characters. In a sense, of course, this is true. Little Blue Encyclopedia is about universal themes; unrequited love, friendship, loss, pop culture fandom. It would be easy to suggest that the characters in Little Blue Encyclopedia being trans is incidental.
It’s not incidental.
The relationship between Vivian and the narrator is tinged with transness at every turn. The narrator admires Vivian’s confidence in herself, and her refusal to see either her identity or her desires as anything other than something to be celebrated. At the same time, the book doesn’t turn away from the difficult parts of being trans, acknowledging rejection from family, the sometimes difficult process of finding a respectful partner, being misgendered, and the discomfort of moving through the world with extra eyes on you at all times. Bringing things in a neat loop, the book’s transness is also indelibly connected to its pop culture fandom. Vivian’s appreciation of bands like Pulp and Suede is directly linked to her trans identity – she relates to their representations of outsider lives, and finds their androgynous aesthetics appealing.
Little Blue Encyclopedia (For Vivian) is a fun experimentation in form, a touching story about love and friendship, and a deft tapestry of pop culture both real and imagined. In her debut novel, Hazel Jane Plante has knocked it out of the park.
Little Blue Encyclopedia (For Vivian) is available now from Metonymy Press.
(9780994047199, p/b, £12.99)
Plus, listen to the author’s playlist here: