John Leonard Nominations

Leonard Prize 2020: Pass With Care: Memoirs

By Jennifer Baumgardner

NBCC members: If you’d like to contribute a review of an eligible book for the 2020 Leonard Prize, write to NBCC board member Megan Labrise at Read the rest of the reviews here.

Pass with Care: Memoirs by Cooper Lee Bombardier (Dottir Press)

Note: Jennifer Baumgardner is the publisher of Dottir Press.

Framed against an ever-shifting backdrop that takes the reader from working-class New England, to the gritty, queer punk scene of early ’90s San Francisco, to New Mexico’s deserts, and then to the vibrant, queer community of the Pacific Northwest, Pass with Care: Memoirs is as much a critical cultural artifact as it is a testament to trans resilience and queer joy over the past two decades.

Bombardier delightfully constructs his memoir-in-essays in defiance of the linear structure commonly assigned to queer and trans narratives in which the trans person comes out to themself, begins using a new name and pronouns, undergoes a medical transition, and ultimately “passes,” with little attention given to what that means. Instead, Bombardier chooses to embrace the messy but beautiful flux of gender exploration and formation, queering the very genre of memoir by shifting effortlessly between lyrical prose, narrative nonfiction, anecdotal history, and academic interviews with figures such as Susan Stryker and Jordy Jones. Lauded by Publishers Weekly, Book Riot, the Berkeley Fiction Review, the Lambda Literary Review and more, Bombardier’s necessary interrogation of masculinity, transness, queerness, and the culture and politics of all three identities sets Pass with Care: Memoirs apart as a contemporary debut unlike any other.