Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty (Book*hug) by Hana Shafi is a collection of illustrations and short essays based on her observations, childhood stories and daily interactions—all set in and around Toronto. The relatable essays are full of humour and honesty, and often read like journal entries. For example, Shafi unabashedly writes about being “shit sisters for life” with her IBS suffering pal. In another piece, she writes about her “quintessentially Canadian” family trip to Niagara Falls, complete with a cheesy haunted house and a man dressed up like an alien. Her stories are sprinkled with references to 2s nostalgia including: Regina George, Destiny’s Child, the urban legend of “Bloody Mary” and on-the-sly viewings of Mad TV—all bits and pieces that were a part of my own childhood and adolescent experience. On a more serious note, Shafi recalls doing a public reading of her poem “Vanilla,” which explores her fascination with white Canadian men and their fear of brown girls like herself. After the reading, a middle-aged white man approached her to say “Y’know, I like all kinds of girls.” This comment made Shafi uncomfortable, but instead of voicing this discontent, she responded with a nervous laugh and even considered saying “Thank you” because doing otherwise would have resulted at best in social alienation from someone in the literary community and at worst, in violence. Though many of her stories are light-hearted, they are also contextualized through the wider lens of societal issues such as misogyny, gender equity and capitalism. Though I wish there were a bit more depth to her stories, the book reads like a millennial manifesto on how to understand, navigate and be in the world—and I felt right at home. Shafi writes: “Be kind, be empathetic, but take no shit,” and as a proud millennial myself, I say damn right.

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Sylvia Tran is the Managing Editor at Geist. Instagram and Twitter @sylctran. Find her at


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