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Weaving identity, diversity, and magic: unveiling sydney khoo’s ‘The Spider and Her Demons’.

Written by Guest Contributor Emma Pei Yin

In the realm of young adult literature, a fresh voice has emerged to champion diversity, representation, and a touch of enchantment. sydney khoo, a non-binary author from the Asian diaspora in Australia, has gifted readers with their debut novel, The Spider and Her Demons. This captivating tale spins together themes of identity, friendship, and self-acceptance, while immersing readers in a world where the supernatural lurks in the shadows. At its core, The Spider and Her Demons is a story of self-discovery and resilience, a reflection of khoo’s journey navigating their identity’s complexities. Drawing upon their personal experiences as a non-binary individual, khoo crafts a narrative that resonates with authenticity and nuance.

Embarking on an Intersectional Journey

Within the pages of The Spider and Her Demons, readers encounter a diverse cast of characters that extend beyond the realm of gender identity. khoo emphasises the importance of intersectional representation, exploring the challenges faced by individuals who grapple with multiple marginalised identities. Through the character of Zhi Leong Yao, the protagonist, khoo explores the profound question: how does one find a sense of belonging when they live at the intersection of various identities?

“I am often the only queer person in Asian spaces and the only person of colour in nonbinary spaces,” khoo shares. “Writing this story was my attempt to explore the question: how are those of us at the intersection supposed to find a safe space when we’re still the other, no matter where we go?”

sydney khoo – image provided

Building a World of Magic and Mystery

A distinctive aspect of The Spider and Her Demons is the infusion of magical elements into a contemporary setting. khoo expertly navigates the realm of urban fantasy, creating a world that feels familiar yet subtly otherworldly. The protagonist, Zhi, is ‘cursed’ from birth, bearing the burden of being a half-spider demon. This unique concept emerged from khoo’s initial inspiration—a Spider-Man fanfiction that evolved into something entirely original and deeply personal.

Incorporating supernatural beings and their mysterious powers adds tension and intrigue to the narrative. As Zhi grapples with her identity, she also discovers the existence of even greater threats, amplifying her sense of vulnerability and heightening the stakes of her journey.

A Powerful Voice of Representation

khoo’s novel comes at a crucial time in the literary landscape. Their presence as a non-binary author from the Asian diaspora fills a void in YA literature, which has often been limited in its representation of non-binary characters, particularly those of colour. Speaking about their experiences, khoo emphasises,

“When marginalised identities have no representation in traditional publishing, writers assume publishers don’t want our stories, because publishers have no reference point to know if readers want these stories, because readers, of course, cannot buy or read books that do not exist.”

Through the publication of The Spider and Her Demons, khoo not only shares their own story but also paves the way for future non-binary authors from diverse backgrounds to find their voices and tell their tales.

A Journey to Self-Acceptance

The heart of The Spider and Her Demons lies in the themes of identity, friendship, and self-acceptance. Zhi’s character embarks on a compelling quest to come to terms with her identity as a half-spider demon, all while navigating family expectations and concealing her true self from those around her. The accidental exposure of her secret to Dior Panne-Nix, the most popular girl at school, is a turning point in the narrative, forcing Zhi to confront her fears and insecurities head-on.

Throughout the novel, khoo deftly balances the challenges of identity with the complexities of friendship and the quest for belonging. The cultural elements sprinkled throughout the story add depth and authenticity, reflecting khoo’s own experiences as a Malaysian Chinese individual.

A Debut Years in the Making

The Spider and Her Demons is not just a book; it’s a labour of love and perseverance. khoo poured their heart and soul into the six-year journey of creating this novel. They faced moments of doubt, missed deadlines, and even let their fellowship lapse. Yet, through it all, khoo’s dedication to their story and the desire to give voice to underrepresented experiences kept them going.

“As an author, I had to detach myself from the notion of anyone else reading it and write it as if it would never see the light of day,” khoo shares.

This unwavering commitment to authenticity shines through in the final product, offering readers a compelling and genuine narrative.

A Glimpse into the Future

The Spider and Her Demons is just the beginning of khoo’s literary journey. Originally planned as the first book in a trilogy, the story has the potential to delve even deeper into a world of witches and magic. Readers can anticipate further exploration of Zhi’s character and her connection to the supernatural realm.

khoo’s unique voice and enchanting storytelling promise a bright future in the literary world. As readers embark on the journey with Zhi Leong Yao, they will find a tale that speaks to their own struggles with identity, acceptance, and the search for belonging. Khoo’s debut is more than just a novel—it is a testament to the power of diverse voices and the magic they bring to the literary landscape.

To connect with sydney, check out their website:

Image provided

Details for The Spider and her Demons

Published: 15 August 2023 ISBN: 9781761047572 Imprint: Penguin Format: Paperback Pages: 368 RRP: $19.99

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