God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya, illustrated by Juliana Neufeld
Here’s a book you just have to hold and feel and breathe in. Although the snapshot of the cover offers a hint of its unique size, not until you’re gently flipping through the pages can you appreciate that you’re clasping Toronto-based music/performance/literature/film artist Vivek Shraya’s precious little gem. Poignantly dedicated to “the boy who was almost lost,” the 21 spare, elliptical stories connect seamlessly – splendidly enhanced by mixed media artist Juliana Neufeld’s layered, expressive illustrations – to create an indelible portrait of a searching little boy in motion toward adolescence and adulthood.
The titular “God Loves Hair” opens from before his birth when his parents met and married in just 10 days, to his mother’s subsequent bargain with God: “If you grant me two healthy sons, I vow to give them their first haircuts at the Temple of Seven Hills in Tirupathi, India,” she promises, even though the family lives in Canada. As his locks grow, he is easily mistaken for a “cute baby girl,” setting in motion his unconventional, questioning, coming-of-age.
He is spanked in “Lipstick” for greedily making “lipstick casualties” of his mother’s and his aunt’s supplies. He loves nothing more than being “the prettiest little girl in the world,” in “Dress Up” – glamorous in his mother’s velvet dress and Estée Lauder scent at home, then sheathed in a “bold magenta and black” sari by his admiring aunts in India. His favorite Bollywood film, Nagina (starring his favorite Sridevi), gets him labelled “a perv” by his visiting older (and lighter – “[t]he more a brown person looks like a white person, the more attention they seem to get”) cousins.
He makes his parents proud ranting about “Es Ee Ex” on his way home from daycare. He’s warned that “Girls Are Dangerous” on his first day of Junior High, where he’s regularly bullied in “Gaylord.” At 15, his body in “Mustache” is getting “lost somewhere under multiplying hair.” He travels to India because “God Lives in India,” and returns home with a broken heart, but discovers inspiring wholeness in “God is Half Man Half Woman.”
Originally self-published in 2010, God Loves Hair is Shraya’s first book; he’s added two more to shelves since. A 2011 finalist for the Lamda Literary Award, Hair was re-released this spring by rebel indie Arsenal Pulp Press; it’s been “approved by the New York City Council and NYC Department of Education as part of an initiative to bring LGBT-themed books into classrooms and libraries.” Diversity, yes! From exploration to experimentation, from recognition to acceptance, Shraya’s young protagonist confronts sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, on his journey toward self-empowerment. Labels can’t constrict him for long …
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2010, 2014 (United States)