Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir

Zoë Bossiere

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Book cover for Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir
Book cover for Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir

Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir

Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir

Zoë Bossiere

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A striking literary memoir of genderfluidity, class, masculinity, and the American Southwest that captures the author's experience coming of age in a Tucson, Arizona, trailer park.

Newly arrived in the Sonoran Desert, eleven-year-old Zoë's world is one of giant beetles, thundering javelinas, and gnarled paloverde trees. With the family's move to Cactus Country RV Park, Zoë has been given a fresh start and a new, shorter haircut. Although Zoë doesn't have the words to express it, he experiences life as a trans boy--and in Cactus Country, others begin to see him as a boy, too. Here, Zoë spends hot days chasing shade and freight trains with an ever-rotating pack of sunburned desert kids, and nights fending off his own questions about the body underneath his baggy clothes.

As Zoë enters adolescence, he must reckon with the sexism, racism, substance abuse, and violence endemic to the working class Cactus Country men he's grown close to, whose hard masculinity seems as embedded in the desert landscape as the cacti sprouting from parched earth. In response, Zoë adopts an androgynous style and new pronouns, but still cannot escape what it means to live in a gendered body, particularly when a fraught first love destabilizes their sense of self. But beauty flowers in this desert, too. Zoë persists in searching for answers that can't be found in Cactus Country, dreaming of a day they might leave the park behind to embrace whatever awaits beyond.

Equal parts harsh and tender, Cactus Country is an invitation for readers to consider how we find our place in a world that insists on stark binaries, and a precisely rendered journey of self-determination that will resonate with anyone who's ever had to fight to be themself.

About the Author

Zoë Bossiere (they/she) is a writer, editor, and teacher from Tucson, Arizona. They are the managing editor of Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction and co-editor of the anthologies The Best of Brevity and The Lyric Essay as Resistance: Truth from the Margins. Bossiere currently lives in Oregon with her partner and child. Read more at

Critical Reviews

"Cactus Country is an enthralling, deeply moving, and beautifully written memoir of escaping a dead-end desert trailer park and finding acceptance, love, and redemption. Bossiere brings a fearless, clear-eyed, and visceral intelligence to bear on questions of gender, identity, queerness, class, belonging, and the power of writing. If you've ever felt trapped--in a place, in your body, or by the weight of others' expectations--you should read this book."-- "Justin St. Germain, author of Son of a Gun"

"Zoë Bossiere's gripping debut memoir is part coming-of-age tale and part unraveling of gender--set against the backdrop of the Arizona dessert trailer park where Bossiere grew up. In Cactus Country drugs, violence, and suicide were regular features of Bossiere's childhood, but so were love, friendship, and acceptance. With tender precision, Bossiere paints a riveting portrait of an artist as a young man who's shaped but not defined by their gender or their past as they come into their own--a hopeful young adult in search of a meaningful life, a teacher, a writer, a survivor. I'll be thinking about this story for a long time."-- "Jennifer Savran Kelly, author of Endpapers"

"Cactus Country shimmers with the complexity of becoming. Zoë Bossiere writes their way into a truer story of selfhood, resisting the simpler narratives the world demanded. The result is lush, beautiful, and deeply liberating."-- "Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body"

"A captivating tale of trans-kidhood that manages to be both precise and wild, so much like the landscape it describes."
-- "Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood"

"Zoë Bossiere has written an essential addition to the trans memoir canon--the story of an often-joyous boyhood spent "where lost javelina with quivering snouts searched for their families by moonlight, and ragtag bands of children found signposts under the railroad tracks written just for them." Bossiere's voice shines with curiosity and empathy towards the wild, sunburned desert child they were and the incisive adult they grew into." -- "Krys Malcolm Belc, author of The Natural Mother of the Child"

"I felt Zoë Bossiere's Cactus Country in my whole body: the sun on my skin, the slap of bare feet on hard earth, the desire to climb paloverde trees and chase beetles and hide from javelinas and hop trains, but also the rage and violence of childhood--the liberation and the limits of youth. This is a book about queerness and class, masculinity and femininity and the fluid spaces between, and how the places that raise us leave an indelible mark on us, how we carry those places inside us no matter how far we run. I loved this book, and needed this book, and saw myself in it, and can't wait to press it into the hands of those who I know will love it, who need it, who will see themselves in it too."-- "Melissa Faliveno, author of Tomboyland"

"Cactus Country is a thrilling and utterly unexpected memoir that I hope to be our generation's This Boy's Life--an indelible portrait of American boyhood that is at once typical and extraordinary. Zoë Bossiere breaks open both our understanding of gender and the artistic possibilities of nonfiction, and I have no doubt that Cactus Country will be read for decades to come."-- "Meredith Talusan, author of Fairest"

Publishing Information

Publisher: Abrams Press
Pub date: 2024-05-21
Length: 272 pages
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