The stories in Vivek Shraya’s collection “God Loves Hair” (Arsenal Pulp Press, 112 page, $18.95) are linked vignettes describing the childhood and adolescent experiences of a boy struggling for acceptance — from himself and others. The book’s narrator is the child of Indian immigrants living in Canada. His race, religion, and sexuality set him apart from his wider community while he also struggles to fit in within the confines of his own family.
The book, which was originally self-published in 2001, is packaged as young adult fiction, but “God Loves Hair” is wholly appropriate for adult readers, as well. This isn’t because it offers a fast-paced story with broad appeal (it doesn’t), but because it captures moments of self-doubt and self-discovery that are likely to resonate with many people. In this way, the book reminded me strongly of Kevin Brockmeier’s recent (and remarkable) memoir “A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A memoir of seventh grade.”
The most powerful story in the book is its most metaphorical. In “Suicide Jeans,” our narrator’s emotional struggles are represented by snow:
“My mom can see the snow in my room. She is the only one who can, because snow follows her too. She tries so hard to melt mine with warm plates of idli and sambar soaked in ghee, but even a full belly can’t stop the snow. She tells me to pray, so I do. I pray for sleep without a morning, dreams without mirrors, and pointing fingers.”
Illustrations by Juliana Neufeld appear at the beginning of each story in “God Loves Hair.” Neufeld captures key moments from the brief scenes, and her artwork has an energy of its own that complements the stories beautifully.