I honestly don’t remember when I first discovered Maranda Elizabeth’s work, but I do remember it immediately striking at my core.
On their blog, they spoke of chronic pain, mental illness, dis-ease, and non-linear recovery (alongside many other topics) with such raw intensity. I felt seen. They tore apart words used to cage us and break us, and they fashioned linguistic weapons of reclamation to survive and thrive. I felt affirmed.
Maranda’s posts are almost always long-reads, weaving personal experiences with critiques of oppressive systems and offerings of their own revelations on life. When I ordered We are the Weirdos, I wondered how that style would translate to fiction. Conclusion? Marvelously.
Maranda’s gender bending & breaking is transposed into this genre bending & breaking novel, which they describe as “experimental fiction” meeting “magical realism”. As a Gemini rising / Libra Sun / Sagittarius Moon, Maranda’s airy analysis motivated by an underlying fiery passion emanates from this novel.
The main character is Indigo, a nonbinary 13-year-old obsessed with Marilyn Manson and living out their own authenticity, in spite of being in environments constantly telling them that their authentic self is ‘wrong’. Indigo’s best (and pretty much only) friend is transgender 13-year-old Grey, an artist never to be encountered without her sketchbook. Together, they wear out the VHS copy of the The Craft and perform spells – their way of harnessing agency over a life where they are constantly herded by cops and counselors.
As Maranda describes it, “We are the Weirdos explores trauma, gender, poverty, invalidation, and memory, as well as themes of trust, abandonment, confinement, and revenge.” The non-linear storyline drops us off with Indigo in a youth detention center affectionately named Bitchface, then zooms us backwards and forwards in time. We experience Indigo’s home life and school life, past and present. There’s so much symbolism packed in, that I don’t even know where to begin unpacking.
In one thread, Indigo becomes fixated on a Marilyn Manson Mechanical Animals t-shirt. Indigo experiences such resonance between the printed image and their lived experience that it instantly becomes a prized possession. Any queer and/or weirdo reader can relate. We each have at least one item from our childhood/teenhood that signaled or represented an element of our beings that we couldn’t quite yet put our finger on, but we KNEW was a reflection of our true nature and we HAD to have it!
Indigo deals with abuse and self-harm. One session with the school counselor ends with them thinking:
How can I tell the truth and not be locked up? How I can I tell the truth and be believed?
Now, I read this entire book out loud (as an offering to Spirit, which I do daily), and it was passages like this where I had to put the book down and calm myself into not crying.
With characters navigating the injustice system, Maranda still brings them justice. Since ‘Indigo’ is a chosen name (kinda like Tango), adults tend to still address them by their legal/birth name – which Maranda expertly writes as “[XXXXXX]” – so it’s impossible for even the reader to misaddress Indigo.
As a reader, writer and editor, I love diving into profoundly honest and nuanced conflict. I found myself empathizing with both the teen characters and the adults! Instead of feeling like I was on one particular side, I could see how the adults really felt they were helping, and I could see how the teenagers were actually just being constantly invalidated and condescended at. We are the Weirdos provides no candy-coating when it comes to tension.
While I did not grow up in the poverty that Indigo does, I did have very similar social experiences. And, I did also cut as a teenager. I still have scars on my arms and thighs a decade later. No one ever wants to talk about self-harm. It’s usually just blanket treated as ‘bad’, end of discussion. But there’s so much depth there! Cutters aren’t stupid or weak or mindless – we’re often highly aware and sensitive. And being that sensitive in such an unjust society leads us to seek relief, and often our bodies are the only things we have control over.
When Indigo cuts, they see flower petals and dazzling crystals seeping from their wounds. This is not glorification of self-harm. This is affirmation of how we seek to self-heal when no understands that we even need healing. I’m not saying folks should turn to cutting. I’m saying that if you feel the need to shame someone who does, you likely are missing important chunks of the psychology of the situation. And the way Maranda writes about self-harm in We are the Weirdos made me feel fu*king SEEN.
Upon receiving the book, I thought it would be something I might’ve wished to read as a teenager. After reading it, I realize it was exactly what I needed right now, as an adult in my mid-to-late twenties still processing everything I went through.
If you’re a weirdo who’s always felt your light shine brightest in the dark, especially as a teenager, We are the Weirdos is for you. If you’ve ever dove into magic as a means of affirmation and survival, this book will bring you catharsis.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes, spoken to Indigo in a dream by their grandmother:
You have to feel pain to feel magic. I can’t tell you how. You have to do it by yourself. This is your story now.