Tag Archives: transgender

If I Was Your Girl

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18-year-old Amanda Hardy is the new senior at Lambertville High School in Tennessee. She just moved down there to live with her dad, after her time at her previous school ended in a suicide attempt and left her scarred and too terrified to return. High school should not be dangerous, but for Amanda, it is. Because she was born Andrew.

But Lambertville is a new chance, a new opportunity to fit in and make friends and have a life beyond Saturday evening take-out with her mom. As the new girl, she is automatically intriguing to both boys and girls alike. And not only does she make a circle of friends in the close-knit conservative town, she also meets the boy of her dreams. But how close friends can they be, when she can’t be honest with them?

This is the story of a girl who wants to fit in, have a “normal” high school experience, and not have to look over her shoulder. It is the story of family. And it is a fun boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love story. It is the story of a girl who hasn’t received a lot of love and respect in her life, and is now surrounded by friends and family who give it to her. And what is awesome is she realizes she deserves it.

Despite a suicide attempt and some quite graphic violence, the novel isn’t that dark.  It has moments of light and joy and humour, and real-life high-school experiences that took me back to those years, hanging out with friends, shopping for prom dresses with giggling girls, first kisses.

There are tons of characters that surround Amanda in the novel – her mom and dad, the girls who make up her circle, Bee, Grant, Parker, and so many more. The friends run the gamut from religious to fashionista to closeted lesbian to bi. Some are judgey, some accepting. Grant is sweet and protective. Her parents are present throughout, and although her mom struggles at first to understand, in the end just wants her child alive and happy. Dad takes longer to accept her and vacillates between feeling self-righteously unsupportive one moment, and in the next, trying to find a way to accept and protect his child.

The big reveal was well done and not in the way I expected. And as much as I always want closure, the open ending is perfect for this story.

This is a story about a trans girl written by a trans woman, with a cover that features a beautiful trans model. Read the author’s notes at the end. She writes separate messages to both the trans and the non-trans community and explains her motivations for writing the novel the way she did. Incredible.

Is the portrayal of Amanda’s life as a trans woman realistic?  Not totally, according to author Meredith Russo, but life can be difficult enough for trans teens, and perhaps reading something that is not 100% true to most experiences can give hope, and offer the belief that life can get better and there can be acceptance.

If I Was Your Girl was published May 3rd, 2016 by Flatiron Books.

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Freakboy

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Possibly one of the most powerful books that I have read in a very long time. That it is written in verse just adds to its impact. Lyrical, beautiful, heartbreaking, poetic. Have a box of tissues handy.

Brendan Chase has it all: he is doing well in his senior year of school, hopes to go to the University of Chicago in the fall, is a star on the school wrestling team, has a good circle of friends and an athletic and beautiful girlfriend. But it feels wrong. Sometimes he feels like he fits in perfectly, sometimes he feels that he would be much happier if he had long smooth hair, soft skin and breasts.

Multiple POVs can be difficult to pull off successfully, but author Kristin Elizabeth Clark does it. She deftly gets into each of the teens’ heads and projects their voices wonderfully, often examining the same situation from the three very different viewpoints, while providing them each with a perfectly developed voice and unique storyline.

While Brendan is the main character, both Vanessa and Angel are given enough voice that they balance him out perfectly. Brendan is struggling to understand his sexual identity, Angel fights her inner demons, and Vanessa, who at first glance seems to be the most settled of the three, questions her own identity and what her relationship with Brendan ultimately means. 

Brendan is a fantastic character, authentic, intense, questioning, and understandably extremely self-absorbed.  His discovery of his transgender identity is realistic, and one I have not yet seen in LGBT YA literature. He loves his girlfriend, loves the feeling sex with her gives him, yet sometimes feels best when sitting alone in his room, dressed in woman’s clothing. I love that Clark doesn’t pin a stereotype on Brendan, but shows that the trans experience is as varied and dynamic as the straight.

Brendan doesn’t get the chance to figure it all out and accept himself before his best friend discovers his secret and outs him to the school. The consequences are horrible, with bullying and lost friends and a split with Vanessa and suicidal thoughts the result. Heartbreaking.

Vanessa questions her own identity throughout the novel. She is tall and athletic and wrestles on the team with Brendan, as the only girl. She is harassed and called a dyke and after she finds out about Brendan, she questions what it means for her own identity, that she could love a boy who sometimes believes he is supposed to be a girl.

Angel is a bit older than the two teens, and confident in her identity.  That doesn’t mean she doesn’t struggle; her father beat her and sent her away, no son of his would dress that way. It took her a number of years to find a place where she could be accepted and acknowledged for herself, and to find a group of friends with whom she was completely comfortable being herself. Her influence on Brendan is steady and supportive, even as she questions her own motives.

And the COVER. The cover is spectacular. It perfectly mirrors the turmoil and inner demons that all three characters face.

The ending is open and without a clear conclusion, something I am discovering in quite a few of the novels that I have read on the trans experience. And each time I find them to be perfect. Yes, I would love these teens to find their happily-ever-after, and hope they do in the future. But life rarely wraps up so neatly and quickly when you don’t have hurdles to jump, and I appreciate that the authors are making these stories so true to life.

If you want to read another (really good and much more coherent) review of this book, pop on over and visit Beth at betwixt-the-pages. Not only does she write fabulous reviews, she is also the princess of all thing penguin.

Again, another wonderfully unique story about the trans experience that is appropriate for the entire YA age range, and should be read by anyone who needs to learn more. I couldn’t put it down.

Freakboy was published October 22nd, 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).

 

If You Could Be Mine

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Homosexuality and transgender. In Iran, one of these is illegal and punishable by beating, imprisonment, even death. The other is considered a medical condition, and can be corrected, legally and openly.

17-year-old Sahar dreams of being a doctor, and her best friend Nasrin dreams of marriage and wealth. One day, Nasrin’s parents announce that they have arranged her marriage to a kind and decent young doctor and Sahar’s heart stops.

When she was 6 years old, Sahar told her mother that she wanted to marry her best friend. Her mother told her to never speak of it again. The two girls have been in love for 11 long years of sharing stolen moments and secret touches and shy glances. But their relationship is illegal. And now their love may have to end, and Sahar can’t live with that.

Nasrin tries to believe that they can still carry on, but Sahar doesn’t want to share her with anyone. She wants to stop the marriage, end the secrecy. And she could. But only if she were a man.

So much happening in this novel. I had NO idea.

Sexual reassignment surgery is considered acceptable and also partially paid for by the Iranian government because there is nothing in the Koran that says it is sinful. A man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa) is to be pitied and helped, not scorned. Which is, obviously, for transgendered people, good. But that’s not to say it is an easy life for any of them; many are still abandoned and rejected by family and friends. And what it can lend itself to, on top of that, is some homosexuals having the surgery in order to avoid persecution. Which has to be as bad as the alternative.

This is the basis upon which this story is built.

Sahar sees only the possibility of a life with Nasrin but does not understand the cost. This naiveté is realistic, she does not live in a society where these important issues are discussed openly, especially with women, from what I understand. The fact that she first of all sees this as an alternative to her current predicament, believes that sex reassignment can happen quickly enough to stop the wedding, and never even discusses her idea with Nasrin serves to highlight not only her ignorance about what it means to be transgendered but also illustrates the oppressive life she already leads.

Both Nasrin and Sahar are difficult characters for me to like, even as I sympathize with their predicament. It is not a healthy relationship they share; hidden homosexuality aside, the balance of power is all with Nasrin and her beauty and charm, while Sahar is a shadow. Nasrin thinks of herself, how Sahar can make her happy, and Sahar thinks the same. Nasrin’s feelings are important, Sahar’s can be pushed aside. Her desire for Nasrin, the very depth of her love, never feels completely expressed or shared.

Ali is a fantastic example of a gay man living on the edge in Iran. He has a certain forced joie de vivre but recognizes the danger he lives in every step of the way. Author Sara Farizan has written a man that is in complete control, as much as he can be, who shows his personal side to very few, while living on the edge of terror.

Other family members such as Sahar’s father and Nasrin’s parents perfectly move the story along and offer insight into the conflict the girls and their families face.

Farizan offered a peek into the discussion of the trans experience in Iran, but I think missed the opportunity to go deeper. The support group had everyone from a family sanctioned post-op woman to a bitter, suicidal one who had the operation in order to fit in, but the conversation only ever touched the surface. But what a surface it disturbed.

While the pacing of the story was good overall, the ending felt a bit rushed with a convenient if not a happy conclusion to all of Sahar’s problems. While I wish it had been more complete, I’m not sure how else the story could end, unless tragically.

Finally, I couldn’t put this novel down. My heart broke for the two girls and the lie they were forced to live. It is a fascinating look into a hidden world that I had never even thought about. It is appropriate for everyone.

If You Could Be Mine was published August 20th, 2013 by Algonquin Young Readers.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

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17-year-old Gabe is passionate about music and wants nothing more than to host a radio show and talk about music and play his tunes and share his obsession with everyone. He hosts an hour-long midnight show on the local radio station once a week and finds obscure themes for his offerings. He soon has a small but loyal following.

His story is, for all intents and purposes, a typical YA coming-of-age novel: finding his way, wondering about girls, figuring out what comes next after high school. Except Gabe was born Elizabeth.

This is a tough one to review. I have been struggling to put my thoughts into words for a few days; while the execution comes up a bit short, the story is captivating.

Gabe is a great character, comfortable in his knowledge that he is male, but conversely, he expects everyone else to have trouble with it. He feels almost as if he has failed, and doesn’t deserve to be happy or protected, or accepted for who he is. He hides his true self from all but a chosen few, and can’t wait to leave his town so he stops worrying about being outed.

While the transsexual storyline is at the heart of the book, it is the relationships that stand out and really make the story. And while sexuality does have an impact on each one, it is interesting to see how in the end, it is not the most important factor.

John and Gabe have a wonderful relationship. Gabe is John’s musical protege, while John serves as confidant, with unconditional support and love for the boy. While I thought at first it was a bit of a grandfatherly relationship, as the story continues, you see a true friendship between the two. Having lived all his life surrounded by artists and music, John has seen it all. His only worry is that he slips up and calls Gabe Liz sometimes. His acceptance is in stark contrast to Gabe’s family and their reactions.

The relationship between Gabe and BFF Paige is as authentic and very intense. The two of them have complete trust and love for each other, even as they try to define what Gabe’s transition will mean for them. Paige loves and supports him, even as she struggles with her feelings of how to deal with the new iteration of the same person she has loved for so long. And Gabe’s feelings for Paige, and how he deals with them, are mature and tug at your heartstrings.

After Gabe is outed to them, the Ugly Children Brigade accepts Gabe and his A Side/B Side because they recognize it in themselves. And that is a great storyline. Sometimes you have to hold your breath and leap and hope for the best.

It is not all rainbows and unicorns, however. There are extreme transphobia and hate and violence, which sadly, rang all the truer after the horrific events in Orlando over the weekend.

I liked that at the end of the book, Gabe is still figuring things out. There is not a cliffhanger as such, but his life is not fully resolved. Art imitating life.

Even though the story is written in the first person, it is a bit harder to connect with him than I expected. Usually, with first-person narration, the reader feels like s/he is getting a glimpse into the narrator, hearing their thoughts, feeling their feelings. With Gabe, it is a bit like listening in on a conversation he is having with someone else.

As well, the relationship with Gabe and his family didn’t completely work. Obviously, I have no experience with this, but it seemed to go from complete denial to complete acceptance very quickly; where I picture a gradual coming-to-terms with a change of such magnitude after the initial refusal to acknowledge it, everyone seemed to abruptly turn a corner, even as they said they needed time.

But, despite the issues I had with the execution, this is a good novel. It is appropriate for the entire YA age range, and anyone who wants to know more about the trans experience.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children was published October 8th, 2012 by Flux.

I am J

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I am a woman. I was born female, and even at my most tomboy stages, I have always known that I am a girl. In fact, I never even really thought about it, I just am. And it is beyond my imagination to understand how it must feel to not have that synchronicity.

J was born Jenifer Silver. But he prayed that God would realize He had made a mistake, and one day he would wake up as a boy. It didn’t happen. In fact, as he got older it got worse: puberty hit and he began to look like a girl. No matter how he dressed or cut his hair or walked or talked, people thought he was a she. And worse, they thought he was a lesbian.

But J does not want to be called a lesbian. He isn’t. He is a boy.

After a disastrous episode with his best and only friend, he decided to stop waiting for God to help him, and help himself. Senior year at school goes on the back burner while he researches ways to change himself.

This book is diverse, in more ways than one. Not only is J a transgender boy, he is also half Puerto Rican Catholic and half Jewish. So J is not only dealing with his changes, he is also dealing with the cultural repercussions of them.

It took me a few chapters to really get absorbed into the story, and then I couldn’t put it down. When I had to stop reading (damn dinner can’t cook itself), I spent the time away from the book wondering what will happen next, what is happening in J’s life, what am I missing?

I didn’t always like J. He was an unsympathetic character for a good chunk of the story, self-centred, and to be frank, a total a**hole. While it may be understandable, and we have probably all acted out for various reasons, being in pain is not an excuse for being a jerk. And he can really be a jerk. His dismissal of the girl at the party, his treatment of Blue, all because of how he felt he should behave, how he thought a guy would act, was crap. And all because he could only think of himself and what everything meant to his life.

But I still connected with him. His struggles, his pain, his need to express himself, his need to identify himself, are feelings that are recognizable and universal, even if they are directed differently for each person.

Melissa and Chanelle and Zak are wonderful secondary characters. They each support and guide J in their own unique way. Melissa is self-centred and unable to see beyond her own conflicts, in the beginning. But her love for J is stronger than her pain, and they help each other through their very different transitions. Zak and Chanelle, as members of the trans community, offer guidance and common sense advice. And friendship.

And support for J’s change comes from some of the most unexpected places, with unexpected lessons about love and acceptance, while those you hope will support him turn their backs. It will make you cry.

Author Cris Beam does a fabulous job educating the reader on the issues and challenges faced by trans people every day, without coming across as preachy or political. She is sympathetic without ramming judgement down readers’ throats.

The Author’s Note at the end of the novel is a must-read for everyone. Although not of trans experience herself, Beam is surrounded by those who live it daily, and I think she does an incredible job of translating their experiences to the page for those of us who need more understanding.

The novel is appropriate for the mature YA reader, as it deals with themes such as self-harm.

I am J was published March 1st, 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.