by Daphne Birkmyer
Genre: Literary Fiction / LGBTQ
Print Length: 376 pages
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Reviewed by Samantha Hui
A thoughtful coming of age story in lush detail
Maiden Voyage is about transitions: the transition of the physical body, the transition from and to a physical location, and the transition in time. This book assures readers that while transition is difficult and anxiety-inducing, what’s on the other side can be full of love.
Maiden Voyage is the ambitious third installment of Daphne Birkmyer’s Comfrey, Wyomingseries. In this book, Birkmyer leans into her strength of writing colorfully diverse and complex stories that examine the inner workings of small town life and the burdens every person carries with themself.
While the first two books in the series feel as if they more closely follow the kind and nurturing restaurateur, Heidi, book three hones in on the Crow twins as they navigate their rapidly approaching adulthoods. Maiden Voyage maintains the intimate storytelling of its previous books while introducing new characters who are bound to charm readers.
“Since his sister’s full physical transition, he’d wrestled with the feeling a death had occurred. Heidi used to say they had been born so identical, no one could tell them apart, but why was he feeling now the loss of a brother who had never really existed?”
This novel spans about three to four years, following Amadeus and Marcela Crow as they complete their last years in high school and begin their journeys in college. Marcella’s story focuses on her explorations of love, intimacy, and sexuality. After Marcella’s gender affirming surgery, she finds that she must allow herself to be vulnerable in ways she has not been accustomed to. In her vulnerability, she finds love with a boy named Lucas who has been intrigued by her since childhood.
“They hadn’t changed over the years, although these days he usually called her Nara instead of Mom, almost as if they were friends. He’d taken to dropping the ‘Aunt’ from Heidi too. Another strike at independence?”
Meanwhile, Amadeus must come to terms with his relationship with his mother. The Crow twins’ mother Nara died when they were children, but Nara’s spirit seems to still have a grasp on Amadeus. In the previous novel, Nara’s spirit had pulled Amadeus to the open water, nearly drowning him. In this third book, Amadeus finds himself drawn to water once again. Feeling as if college isn’t the path for him, Amadeus decides he must travel to Alaska to work as a chef in the galley of a boat.
“He could feel his sister’s anxiety and there was no part of it he could shoulder. They had arrived from the spirit world together, they’d fought back-to-back their entire lives. They would die together; there’d be no life without her.”
Birkmyer’s novels are filled to the brim with fruitful knowledge, facts, and intricacies. The novel works in different figures such as the Maasai warriors and historical figures such as Hua Mulan and Sacagawea. The characters travel to cities such as Pinedale, San Francisco, and Alaska. The level of detail that went into describing these towns and their effects of the characters shows how deeply the author cares about creating an authentic experience for her audience. What is most impressive is her descriptions of life out at sea. The last part of the book focuses on Amadeus’s travel to Alaska and the intricacies of having to work on a boat. It clearly demonstrates the dedication to accuracy and the desire to educate readers on experiences they’ve never considered.
“He could feel Marcela inspecting him and tried not to smile. It was a victory to be seen by her.”
While the book is highly detailed and full of lush imagery, there are moments when I wanted a bit more. There seems to be a large portion of Marcella and Lucas’s budding relationship happening off the page, but I would have loved to read more about Marcella educating Lucas on what being trangender means to her and how educating him gradually led her to love him more. There is a traumatic moment toward the end of the novel for Amadeus where I would have liked to see more of his response to it.
“[S]he persisted, aware they were talking in certainties–that he would survive the treacherous sea, that he would want to come back–when the future was as fragile as a piece of unfired clay.”
Maiden Voyage is different from its previous novels in that it is a coming of age story. While the previous novels explore trauma and childhood, this novel focuses on the discomfort and necessity of the transition from childhood into adulthood. Maiden Voyage is vulnerable and real; it will leave readers nostalgic for the characters’ youths but proud of them in their adulthood.
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