Sticker by Henry Hoke

Sticker is a a memoir told in 20 stickers, as Henry Hoke explores growing up in and being from Charlottesville, having a disabled parent, and sexuality all through the lens of particular stickers. From stickers never had to those more ubiquitous, each chapter using the sticker as a starting point, as Hoke explores childhood, violence, and legacy.

This is the first book from the Object Lessons series that I’ve read, and it was not what I might’ve expected, not a history or philosophical look at an object, but using the object in question to explore personal history and emotion. In particular, the book explores being from a place known for white supremacist violence, whose name became a byword for a fascist terrorist attack. Seeing as stickers are often used by neo-fascists to spread hate, this adds a layer of complexity to the idea of the object covered in the book: stickers are not just a site of childhood joy and sometimes pain, but also part of something larger. This is also true of other elements of the book, like not being able to have a sticker for giving blood if you’re a man who has sex with men, and it’s clever how Hoke manages to explore so many emotions and experiences organised around stickers.

The book’s cover, with the unicorn and rainbow stickers, might not make it clear how much this book engages with what I don’t want to call ‘the darker side of stickers’, but the elements of stickers that go beyond something cute to adorn notebooks with or give to a child. The concept of the book makes me wonder what objects you could view your life through and where objects have a lot more complexity than you might first think (so maybe I need to read more of the series). If you like reading short memoirs with overarching themes or structural conceits, Sticker is a book to give a go, particularly if you’re interested in reading about experiences of being a white queer person in Charlottesville and consider how people are privileged or see things in certain ways.