Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir

Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir tells of living as a boy in the desert, struggling with gender, class, and a shortage of options for self-expression, and eventually taking a great leap in leaving for a wider world.

At age 11, Zoë Bossiere moved with their parents to a trailer park on the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz. In Cactus Country, they were on the whole able to make a fresh start, inhabiting a long-held dream of boyhood. The version of masculinity they found in the desert is characterized by stoicism, camaraderie, and violence. Especially as their body entered puberty, Bossiere struggled with gender expression in a world where they had never encountered the concept of transgender. After a troubled childhood and young adulthood, it was by studying creative writing that they eventually saw a way out of the Tucson area and into new spaces, geographic and otherwise, including the concept of genderfluidity.

Cactus Country is a wise and wonderfully crafted memoir, treating its characters and subjects with compassion in the face of assaults, addictions, dysfunction, and violence. The desert and Bossiere's experiences there are stark and severe but also include earnest attempts at connection. They must leave Cactus Country to grow and to find their truest self, but it's only by returning in memory that their journey begins to feel whole. After a childhood as harsh as the desert sun, they write tenderly about place and a past "where a Cactus Country boy would always be a Cactus Country boy."

Gorgeously written, thoughtful, and tough, this memoir of gender and a hardscrabble coming-of-age in the American Southwest excels at nuance. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

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