Dandelion Daughter by Gabrielle Boulianne-Tremblay

Childhood and adolescence are periods fraught with the challenges and awkwardness of social and physical development, even when you are given the surety and security of a language to help you define your identity. But, if you are outside of the normative culture, these growing pains and efforts to stabilize a sense of being are profoundly impacted by a lack of vernacular. Language, so important to development, is missing for so many people who don’t sense any authenticity to their presence in the public sphere or in the faces of family and friends. 

Gabrielle Boulianne-Tremblay’s roman-à-clef Dandelion Daughter is a portrayal of the trajectory from a world defined by instinct to one of knowing and being for one character, assigned male at birth, who experienced gender dysphoria acutely throughout her childhood with neither language nor space to understand let alone honour who she was. Compounding the dearth of language to situate herself was an abundance of gender-normative expectations from her family, subtly suggesting that anything she might be feeling or doing as distinctly female, was abnormal and insupportable.

The additional void of understanding and knowledge that can result from the lack of a peer group or an understanding mentor can leave a person confused and frustrated. In Dandelion Daughter this is very much the case, and the main character must navigate from childhood to adulthood without ever being fully comfortable with herself. Experimentation in her adult years will see her being able to name not only her feelings but also her experiences. Ultimately, this will lead to a better understanding of herself as a transgendered woman and to her finally openly assuming the identity with which she is most comfortable. 

Beyond giving a very tangible first-person experience of what it means to grow up trans-gendered, this novel does something else that is remarkable in illuminating the very realistic and often frightening realities of the lives of children. Boulianne-Tremblay doesn’t shy away from the sometimes violent thoughts and actions of children, who acting on impulses, retaliate against others who have hurt or shamed them. She creates a palpable narrative for her main character who is often lashing out against being dismissed and misunderstood, and who has to mask her true desires around people, even at a very young age, showing a keen understanding of the fundamental need for acceptance and belonging, even as it is being denied to her. 

The writing style is well-chosen: short, deliberate sentences place Boulianne-Tremblay’s protagonist in a maelstrom of immediate reactions in this uptempo first-person narrative which is yet touched by recollection of the comforts found in youth that resonated with an as-yet unresolved being: a gift from her grandmother, her cousin’s clothing, her aunt’s jewellery, all serving as touchstones in her bid to solidify her existence and to find direction and solace.

Dandelion Daughter is a memorable novel about the importance of identity and being and the nature of personal connections in the face of change.

Gabrielle Boulianne-Tremblay is a writer, actor, model, and trans activist. The first trans woman to be nominated as an actress at the Canadian Screen Awards, her other publications include two poetry books Le Ventre des volcans and Les secrets de l’origami.

Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch is the author of knot body, shortlisted for a QWF award, and The Good Arabs, which won the 2022 Grand prix du livre de Montreal.

  • Vehicule Press, 2023
  • Paperback
  • 280 pp
  • ISBN13: 9781550656183

Christina Barber is a writer and educator who lives in Vancouver. An avid reader, she shares her passion for Canadian history and literature through her reviews on Instagram @cb_reads_reviews. She has most recently been committed to writing and staging formally innovative single and multi-act plays.