A story of resilience and loss, love and family, Mark Oshiro’s Anger is a Gift testifies to the vulnerability and strength of a community living within a system of oppression.
Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.
Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.
When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death (including but not limited to the sudden death of a character), police brutality, racism, transphobia (including misgendering)/homophobia/queerphobia, ableism, anxiety/depictions of panic attacks, and graphic violence.
I have been putting off writing this review for a really long time because I don’t know if anything I write about this book will do it justice. This is one of those books that will make your heart melt and then proceed to tear it into a million little tiny pieces. The characters in this book are a delight — one thing that really makes a book great for me is when all of the characters in the book feel like whole, well-rounded people rather than just the point-of-view character, and this book nails this. The teens in the cast are almost entirely queer people of color, and I really love this because while many people claim that having so many queer characters in one place is “unrealistic,” it’s really representative of how queer teens tend to find each other and become friends rather than having a token queer person or two within the friend group.
The romance in this book is sweet and my heart is still aching from it. Moss is a Black gay boy and Javier is a Latinx gay boy, and they are just so damn cute together. The two of them absolutely shattered me, and my heart still aches because of how much I loved them.
A lot of this book can be hard to swallow because much of it is very graphic. Episodes of graphic police brutality in the book don’t just focus on race (though they definitely still do); they also show how that racism is combined with queerphobia and ableism and how these communities are affected. The intersectionality of this book is beautifully done and it opens up a lot of discussions about how institutionalized oppression works on multiple axes. It’s good to know going into it that these scenes are brutal, though; if you’re sensitive to violence toward trans or disabled people, this is something to be aware of.
This is easily one of my favorite reads of 2018, and it’s definitely one that I will want to read again in the future. Please read this one.
A groundbreaking look at the lives of transgender children and their families
Some “boys” will only wear dresses; some “girls” refuse to wear dresses; in both cases, as Ann Travers shows in this fascinating account of the lives of transgender kids, these are often more than just wardrobe choices. Travers shows that from very early ages, some at two and three years old, these kids find themselves to be different from the sex category that was assigned to them at birth. How they make their voices heard–to their parents and friends, in schools, in public spaces, and through the courts–is the focus of this remarkable and groundbreaking book.
Based on interviews with transgender kids, ranging in age from 4 to 20, and their parents, and over five years of research in the US and Canada, The Trans Generation offers a rare look into what it is like to grow up as a trans child. From daycare to birthday parties and from the playground to the school bathroom, Travers takes the reader inside the day-to-day realities of trans kids who regularly experience crisis as a result of the restrictive ways in which sex categories regulate their lives and put pressure on them to deny their internal sense of who they are in gendered terms.
As a transgender activist and as an advocate for trans kids, Travers is able to document from first-hand experience the difficulties of growing up trans and the challenges that parents can face. The book shows the incredible time, energy, and love that these parents give to their children, even in the face of, at times, unsupportive communities, schools, courts, health systems, and government laws. Keeping in mind that all trans kids are among the most vulnerable to bullying, violent attacks, self-harm, and suicide, and that those who struggle with poverty, racism, lack of parental support, learning differences, etc, are extremely at risk, Travers offers ways to support all trans kids through policy recommendations and activist interventions. Ultimately, the book is meant to open up options for kids’ own gender self-determination, to question the need for the sex binary, and to highlight ways that cultural and material resources can be redistributed more equitably. The Trans Generation offers an essential and important new understanding of childhood.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for discussions of transphobia/queerphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, bullying, abuse, and suicide, and for a graphic description of a trans child dying by suicide.
I usually get incredibly frustrated while reading academic work on trans people because most of the time it’s littered with binarism and outdated/offensive terminology, so this book was a breath of fresh air for me because it was pretty spot-on for most of the book. Travers, who identifies as trans, did their research and their best to ensure that this book was as respectful toward trans kids as possible, and it was really effective. Overall, this book is very good and one that most trans people like myself will find reflective of their own experiences to some degree.
My favorite thing about this book is that it not only was respectful towards trans people, but it is also intersectional — Travers goes into deep discussions about how race, class, disability, and sexuality all play a part in a trans person’s experiences and acknowledges that these experiences are going to vary widely because of these factors. For instance, during one moment Travers tells a young trans person that things will get better as they grow up and go to college and move on with their life, and then later Travers realizes that the assumption they made that college is a certainty in that person’s future was incredibly classist and they felt guilty for how they had phrased that conversation. The trans kids and teens who were interviewed have a variety of gender identities and backgrounds, and the mix of different perspectives from these kids and teens were a huge boon to the book and to our understanding of trans people’s childhoods.
My largest issue with the book was how Travers approached being trans as being “disabled” by society — in a sense, I get where they were coming from. They very eloquently discussed the medical vs. social models of disability and how with the social model it is society that creates barriers rather than the disability itself, and Travers expanded this to society “disabling” trans people as well. I get what they were going for here and agree that that is the essential effect that society has on trans people, however as a disabled person I felt that the terminology around trans people being “disabled” was co-opted in a way that tries to equate transness and being disabled when these are two very different things, and I don’t feel that an abled trans person should really be describing themselves as “disabled” when they mean that society is creating barriers that cause them to be discriminated against. I felt that better terminology could have been used here. I did, however, appreciate the good understanding of how ableism comes into play regarding trans disabled people, and felt that that added to the larger discussion as a whole.
Aside from that larger terminology issue, this book adds a lot of value to discourse about the lives of trans kids and was a really thoughtful and insightful read. Though I disagree with some of the definitions of terms in the glossary, this book in general is a really great overview of how intersectionality affects trans youth and how trans youth are growing up in this generation. It’s a great read, and I definitely recommend it.
Archie, a snarky genderqueer artist, is tired of people not understanding gender neutral pronouns. Tristan, a cisgender dude, is looking for an easy way to introduce gender neutral pronouns to his increasingly diverse workplace. The longtime best friends team up in this short and fun comic guide that explains what pronouns are, why they matter, and how to use them. They also include what to do if you make a mistake, and some tips-and-tricks for those who identify outside of the binary to keep themselves safe in this binary-centric world. A quick and easy resource for people who use they/them pronouns, and people who want to learn more!
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher. This book has content warnings for depictions of misgendering (not condoned).
As someone who uses they/them pronouns and has to deal with getting misgendered on a regular basis, this guide was incredibly validating and also very thorough. Not only does it give solid examples of how to use they/them pronouns in conversation, but it also addresses why people should use them when they are asked and how it feels if they don’t. Archie and Tristan present two different perspectives — one from someone who uses they/them pronouns and one from someone who doesn’t — that are intricately woven together to form the narrative, and it really works because it is hard to get people to understand this stuff. People argue that it’s “bad grammar” (it’s not) or “unnatural” (nope) or “too hard” (you probably do it every day), and it’s demeaning and exhausting. Tristan’s portion of the narrative shows exactly what being a good ally should look like, and Archie’s portion also shows a variety of methods that they/them pronoun-users can utilize to advocate for themselves.
Additionally, this book is just a delight to read. The text is fantastic, and the illustrations are wonderfully done and a joy to look at. It’s informative and funny, and the comics form does an excellent job of utilizing emotion to get the point across. This book is one of the reasons why I love comics — there are few other forms that can get emotions across like this.
I have two small criticisms. First, I do wish that more people involved with this book besides Archie used they/them pronouns, although I really appreciate how everyone credited for working on this book had their pronouns listed out to make it clear who was working from personal experience and who wasn’t. Second, I don’t actually recommend asking people to say their pronouns in public situations because that is essentially asking someone to out themself, and not everyone is comfortable with that. In many cases, it’s possible that someone will either be forced to come out or forced to misgender themself, and neither of those options are very appealing to us. Dealing with this is a tricky thing, but I think more discussion needs to take place around it.
Aside from those two small things, I adored this! I would definitely recommend it for anyone who is looking for something to hand to those people who insist on misgendering you repeatedly (or insists that “theirs” is not a real word… Yes, I actually got that once) and you want them to knock it off.
Fourteen-year-old Casey is determined to have fun this summer going to camp with his best friend, Ella. His overprotective mother frets that attending this one instead of trans camp like he’s always done will cause problems, but Casey has his heart set on going stealth anyway.
His mom just might be right.
All Ella wants is love for her best friend, and she’s determined to set him up with someone, despite Casey’s protests that he just wants to have fun, not get involved in a summer romance. But things get complicated when camp bully Ryan focuses his energies on the two friends. At least Casey’s cute bunkmate, Gavin, appears interested in getting to know him better, making Casey rethink the whole romance thing.
Until he finds out Gavin and Ryan are good friends.
Summer camp turns into so much more when Casey has to decide if Gavin is worth pursuing, friend of a bully or not.
There’s just one more problem: Ryan knows Casey is transgender.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for transphobia, homophobia, aphobia, bullying, and violence (not graphic).
This is one of those books where I really enjoyed the story itself, but a lot of the characterization fell short for me. I really enjoyed reading it overall; I loved getting a book with younger queer kids and a sweet romance and it was a fun, quick read. The writing itself is pleasant to read and kept me hooked. Additionally, the ending of the book was really satisfying and left my heart in a good place. This was a feel-good read, despite the heavier subjects it touched upon, and I really loved that.
I wasn’t fully sold on the romance itself; I honestly felt that Casey had forgiven Gavin a little too quickly because he hadn’t been that great to him for a large portion of the book, and I couldn’t help but find the romance a bit off-putting because of that. Additionally, as much as I loved Ella as a confident aroace teen who was secure in her queer identity, I felt a little iffy about how she seemed to be pushing a romance onto Casey as if she were living vicariously through him. These things didn’t ruin the book for me, but they did stick out and dropped this book down from a five star book to a four star book for me.
The one other thing that bothered me personally is how it kind of felt like the book was treating gender as a binary thing; this struck me as kind of odd, though, because the author theirself is actually nonbinary. This wasn’t a large critique and because the author is nonbinary I’m going to let this point go, but it did feel funny while I was reading it.
Overall, this is a fun little summer camp romance that has a strong sense of place and a good storyline running through it. If that’s the kind of thing you like, it may be worth picking up!
Whoever wrote the uniform policy decided (whyyy?) that girls had to wear skirts, while boys were allowed to wear pants.
Sexist. Dumb. Unfair.
“Girls must wear a black, pleated, knee-length skirt.”
I bet I read those words a hundred times during summer vacation. The problem wasn’t the last word in that sentence. Skirt wasn’t really the issue, not for me. The issue was the first word. Girls.
Here’s the thing: I may seem like a girl, but on the inside, I’m a boy.
This book has content warnings for transmisia, homomisia, sexism, and bullying.
I just loved this book! It’s a book that has a clear message that it wants you to understand, and it manages to get that message across in a way that’s straightforward without being too in-your-face about it. Liv has a very large personality that shines through on every page, and I loved seeing him be so sure of himself. With how pervasive the idea that eleven is “too young” for a kid to know their gender, it was fantastic to see this book directly addressing that.
The sexism in this book is intense — Liv isn’t out for the majority of the book, and the stereotypes that are projected onto genders is blood-boiling. It was a constant battle for Liv, and while the antagonists of the story were aggravating it was great seeing Liv get support from others as he tried to figure out how to get the policy changed. The friendship between Liv and Jacob in particular was wonderful to see.
The diversity in this book was really nice as well — in addition to a trans main character, we also have sapphic women parents and a disabled side character, both of which we don’t see enough of in children’s lit. I was really happy with the rep, personally, and would love to see more of this.
Overall, this is a wonderful book. I want to see more middle grade books like this one — it’s definitely a must-read.
I loved reading as a kid. New books were the most exciting thing in the world for me — during Scholastic Book Fair seasons, my mom would buy up all of the books that I said I wanted, and then she’d keep them hidden in a cupboard and give them to me every so often throughout the year. Barnes and Noble’s summer reading program was exciting because I could get a brand new book at the end of it, and all I had to do was read! I spent countless hours volunteering in a small library when I got a little older, and During those childhood and early teen years I couldn’t get enough of books.
Something changed during my late teens.
During my early teens I didn’t know I was going to end up being a bi, demisexual, non-binary, neurodivergent, disabled* person. That was a scary thing to start figuring out as a teen because I lived in a rural, conservative community with conservative parents and no real support in that regard. All of a sudden, I found myself wanting books that represented my newfound queerness especially, and yet I learned that getting my hands on them was exceedingly difficult. I got tired of all of the white allocishet abled characters and their white allocishet abled romances because the only thing that I had in common with them was that I was white.
I still had my books and I still collected new (mostly used) ones, but from the ages of about 17-21, I almost entirely stopped reading. I didn’t make a lot of time for it, it didn’t feel fun to me anymore, and yet I still liked the idea of it. The idea of reading good books sat so well with me that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in libraries. I felt at home surrounded by books, but I couldn’t get myself to read them.
In early 2017, I made a concentrated effort to read more diversely, and my world expanded. I found bi characters who understood me so well that I couldn’t stop grinning. Trans characters who knew how I felt so much that I cried. Characters with OCD who understood what was going on in my brain so well that I had to sit back and just let that fact sink in.
I didn’t just find characters like me; I found characters that weren’t. Even though I could no longer relate to those white allocishet abled characters from my early teens, it’s still a fact that I know far more about that culture than I do other cultures I don’t share. I read more books by Black authors. Latinx authors. Jewish authors. Muslim authors. I fell in love with these characters, and while these books didn’t make me an expert by any means, they did help me grow as a person. They got me outside of myself and into the shoes of others, and I grew more empathetic than I’ve ever been in my life.
Diverse books made me feel excited about reading again. I feel alive when holding one in my hands, and I feel so much more deeply when I read than I’ve ever felt before. Despite being a full-time graduate student with three jobs and hardly any time to breathe, I’ve managed to read 91 books so far this year, and I am well on my way to finishing 100 before December ends. Without diverse books, I don’t think I would have even managed half of that this year. Not every book I read WAS diverse (I’m still on a quest to finish every Stephen King book, I did a Harry Potter re-read, and I read quite a few Lurlene McDaniel books for the Hey Lurlene! podcast this year), almost all of my favorites were by diverse authors about diverse characters, and the excitement I felt while reading those stories kept me wanting more. I’ve pre-ordered and bought more new books this year than I ever have in my life, and all but one of those books was diverse. I found my happy place while reading again. I found that spark.
Part of me wonders whether I would have had such a long reading slump at all if I’d had access to diverse books earlier in my life. I can’t say for sure, but the genuine happiness I feel while reading these books now is something that I probably could have used as a teen. If I were to give my teen self a gift, I’d give them a letter saying “yeah hi YOU’RE NOT CIS OR STRAIGHT FIGURE IT OUT ALREADY” and a box of my favorite diverse reads from this year. I’d like to think that I would have turned out just a little bit happier.
Books I’d include in the box to myself (in the order in which I read them this year, and linked to either my review or the book’s Goodreads page):
These books brought joy back to reading for me. I wish teen me could have had them.
*I still have trouble claiming the term “disabled” for myself, but I’m figuring that one out.
**If you’ve read my review then you’ll know that I didn’t think TATWD was THAT great for a YA novel, but the OCD rep in this book hit me so hard that I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to my past self. It would have done wonders for me.
BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part. . . because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
This is one of those books that I wish I had had growing up. That feeling of knowing what you’re interested in but not being able to share those interests because you’re afraid of what everyone else will say about them is difficult; it’s far more difficult when gender expectations are what’s keeping you from sharing them. Coming out can be absolutely terrifying, and George managed to capture that beautifully while also telling a charming tale about friendship and family.
I want to talk about my other two favorite characters in this book first, though — Kelly and Scott. At such a young age, having some sort of support system can make a HUGE difference for a trans kid, and I fell in love with these two characters because they almost immediately decided to help George be who she wants to be however they can. It can be difficult for cisgender people to understand what it is to be trans, especially if they’re young and haven’t had any exposure to openly trans people in their childhood, but once Kelly started to realize what George meant when she said she felt like a girl, she decided to do her research so that she could understand her friend better! The exchange between these two ten-year-olds when George confirmed she was trans made my heart melt. Even before that, when George said she wanted to try out for the part of Charlotte in the play instead of the part of Wilbur, Kelly hardly questioned it before deciding to help her out. I really admired Kelly’s enthusiasm within the friendship and how she encouraged George to be comfortable in who she is. The friendship dynamic between these two was just perfect, and I smiled at every George and Kelly scene there was.
I have a similar appreciation for Scott. Having supportive family members can be even more important than having supportive friends, and with her mom’s initial negative reaction to her coming out, George’s older brother, Scott, managed to make that home life just a little more bearable. Scott isn’t perfect. He doesn’t really understand what it is to be trans, and one of the first things that comes into his head is wondering if George wants to have genital reconstructive surgery, which kind of misses the point a little bit. The thing is, though, even though he doesn’t fully understand, he’s still accepting and willing to learn. Through this, Scott manages to make George’s home environment more comfortable for her to live in, and that can be crucial when other family members aren’t supportive. When you come out as trans, it can take people a little bit to get used to, and after knowing George all her life, Scott’s got a certain image in his head of what his little sibling is like. Knowing that there’s an open willingness to change that image of George in his head is wonderful, and seeing how George felt more comfortable after her brother had talked to her was really sweet.
Finally, I want to talk about George herself. I loved seeing her blossom from a questioning person to a more confident trans girl. Being yourself can be so hard when teachers and parents disapprove of your interests, and George managed to get across those feelings of inadequacy and rejection beautifully. She started out as someone who was afraid of showing who she is, and she grew into someone who is able to put herself out there without worrying too much about what other people think. Perhaps most importantly, I think George can bring young trans readers hope — she can tell them that a rejection isn’t the end of the world and that they can find their place. Life isn’t always that easy, but it’s wonderful to see trans people in literature who are genuinely happy and more fulfilled by the end of the book.
I think children, teens, and adults alike would all benefit from reading this book. It’s pretty short and quick, and it packs a lot of heart into the pages. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this.
Title: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
Author: Susan Kuklin
Category: YA Non-Fiction (LGBTQIAP+)
Date: 11 February 2014
A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens. Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.
Hi! So, I read this book for class and kind of went off on a rant about it on my class’s discussion forums. My rant looked a lot like my regular reviews, so I decided to share it here as well. Enjoy!
So, I want to talk about Beyond Magenta a little bit from the perspective of someone who identifies as trans/non-binary because there were a LOT of times where I felt like throwing the book across the room (although I didn’t because iPads are expensive and it wasn’t worth it).
While I was roughly halfway through the book I posted this status update on Goodreads to remind me later about what was bothering me. For those who don’t want to click through, it reads:
The fatmisia in this book is obnoxious and I’m getting tired of the cissplaining, the writing off abuse as normal, and the terrible partners of these trans people being treated like they’re so great when they’re invalidating their gender and cheating on them… If I weren’t reading this for class, I’d have abandoned it by now.
And honestly, I keep feeling worse about it the longer I think about it. I ended up giving it 2 stars; the two things that kept it from being 1 star for me were 1.) feeling able to identify with Cameron rather well, and 2.) respecting that, for the most part, these were the stories of these teens (who for the most part weren’t actually teens anymore and were adults of pretty close to my age who were merely reflecting on being a teen, but I’m setting that aside).
What bothered me about the rest of it were primarily the inaccuracies that were never addressed by the author, and the lack of addressing any of the issues of fat-shaming, slut-shaming, mental illness stigmatization, gender stereotyping (for certain stories, particularly the binary trans stories), abuse, and toxic relationships that were present here. I get that these were the perspectives of these people whose stories they were, but the thing is that this is setting a pretty bad example for trans kids and it’s misleading cis people (who, let’s face it, are the actual target audience for this book). For instance, one teen, who is intersex, doesn’t know how to explain what PCOS is and ends up describing it as essentially being an intersex condition when it’s not. Despite jumping in wherever else she feels like she should in the rest of the text, she leaves this inaccuracy as-is and does not attempt anywhere to correct this. This is not the fault of the teen (who explicitly says they don’t think they’re explaining it right), but it is the responsibility of the author to not mislead readers, and she didn’t make any attempt to do so.
Additionally (particularly with Jessy and Christina in the first two stories), some of these young adults were in relationships that are actually pretty toxic and they were passed off as just normal relationships that trans teens have. Jessy’s girlfriend was intentionally misgendering him and invalidating his gender, and the way in which it was explained away was pretty terrible. She didn’t want him on hormones and she basically saw him as a lesbian, and even said that he was “almost like a gay man” at one point. Despite the author explaining that she “accepted Jessy’s transition,” it’s pretty clear to me that she hasn’t. Christina was in an equally bad position; she phrased it as putting up “with [her boyfriend’s] bullshit a lot” and implied that she couldn’t leave him because she wouldn’t have a lot of other options as a trans woman in terms of boyfriends and that he’s “accepted” her despite the fact that he’s actually cheated on her (which she justified with “Girls get cheated on all the time”) and that she suspects that he really wants to be with another girl. (quotes and paraphrasing from roughly 14% and 37% into this book; my borrowed Kindle copy lacks pagination.)
These two people have the right to have whatever kinds of consentual relationships they want; if this is how they want their relationships to be, then okay. What’s not okay is the author passing off relationships like this as typical relationships for trans people to have and that this is about as good as it’s going to get. Trans people have every bit as much right as cis people to be in happy, fulfilling, non-toxic relationships where they are fully respected and supported by their partners; this isn’t the kind of picture this book paints. This book paints “close enough” as “sure, they may intentionally misgender you or cheat on you, but that’s just what you’re going to get.” That skewed depiction is entirely on the author, whose job it is to ensure that we aren’t being misrepresented in the text.
Frankly, I think the author completely dropped the ball on this book. As some of my classmates have noted, she inserts her voice into random places that seem to be better left narrated by the actual people whose stories these are, and it’s really out of place. In contrast, in places where she SHOULD be stepping in (where a character misspeaks, gets terminology wrong, is actively shaming fat people or mentally disabled people, etc.), she doesn’t say a word. And I think that speaks volumes.
This is not the kind of book that I’d recommend to people, be it questioning trans teens or cis adults. While I admire the people whose stories these are for speaking out, there’s just so much harmful material that isn’t addressed at all for me to want to pass this into the hands of others. I don’t want trans teens to get the impression that these romantic relationships are actually what they should strive for. I don’t want cis adults reaching incorrect conclusions about how gender and sex and sexuality relate to each other. I don’t want either of these groups misunderstanding terminology or medical terms that are actually pretty important to have accurate understandings of while transitioning. The negatives outweigh the positives with this one for me. I wish I liked it more than I did.
Logan Witherspoon recently discovered that his girlfriend of three years cheated on him. But things start to look up when a new student breezes through the halls of his small-town high school. Sage Hendricks befriends Logan at a time when he no longer trusts or believes in people. Sage has been homeschooled for a number of years and her parents have forbidden her to date anyone, but she won’t tell Logan why. One day, Logan acts on his growing feelings for Sage. Moments later, he wishes he never had. Sage finally discloses her big secret: she’s actually a boy. Enraged, frightened, and feeling betrayed, Logan lashes out at Sage and disowns her. But once Logan comes to terms with what happened, he reaches out to Sage in an attempt to understand her situation. But Logan has no idea how rocky the road back to friendship will be.
Hello, dear reader! We need to talk about this book. More specifically, I need to talk about this book, and why I believe that both cis and trans readers should avoid it at all costs.
Here is a fair warning that I’m likely going to be heavy on spoilers. I don’t particularly care because 1.) the spoilers I will be including will be heavily problematic, and 2.) hopefully if I spoil the book for you and you haven’t read it yet, you’ll decide to spend your hard-earned money on some other book (how about If I Was Your Girl instead?).
Let’s start with all of the transphobia in the book. Logan, our narrator, makes a pretty big deal out of the fact that he doesn’t see Sage as a girl, and even when he does recognize her as a girl, he does it in a way in which he makes it clear that she is a “different” kind of girl or “not fully” a girl. This is never resolved. Logan never gets over this. The only redeeming thing Logan has going for him when it comes to Sage’s gender is that he almost never uses incorrect pronouns for her… EXCEPT for that one time out of spite where he uses “she/he/it” to refer to her. He makes it clear that he says this because he’s angry, but he never apologizes for this, and this is a problem because it’s really not okay to misgender someone just because you’re angry with them. Sage is never recognized as the full woman that she is throughout the entire book, and it’s rather sickening.
Additionally, there is a massive amount of focus on Sage’s appearance throughout the book. Logan sees her as this tall, strange-looking girl with a deep voice when they first meet, and even though at this point she is passing without a hitch and Logan doesn’t know that she’s trans, he still can’t help but point out how different she is and how some of her behaviors are things that other girls would never do. A lot of these behaviors are coded as being “guy behaviors” and try to connect the idea that Sage isn’t really a girl back to the way she behaves. On top of that, after Sage comes out to him Logan will not stop scrutinizing Sage’s body in an attempt to find the “masculine” parts of her. This includes obsessively staring at her crotch in order to try to locate her penis as well as spending multiple pages talking about how shocked he is to find out that OH MY GOD THIS TRANS GIRL HAS REALLY BIG BOOBS AND THEY’RE REAL HOW IS THIS A THING WHY DO I LIKE THESE BOOBS (side note: you know that a book is written by someone who has never in their life worn a bra if they make a huge deal out of 36B being a gigantic size when, relatively speaking, it’s really not because that size is for roughly a 36-inch underbust and a 38-inch overbust, which is only a 2-inch difference. In fact, most of the people who wear that size are most likely wearing the wrong size bra. Check out r/ABraThatFits for more information on proper bra sizing.) While he hadn’t viewed her as such before she came out, Logan also refers to Sage as “burly” and discusses features that now look masculine to him that he didn’t see that way previously. Overall, this kind of scrutinization of Sage’s body comes off as obsessive and creepy, and it’s so not okay. Once again, this is something that Logan does not get over at all.
The discussion at the end of the book about whether Sage should “go back to being a boy” was also incredibly offensive. Sage is a girl. Being a girl wasn’t her choice; presenting as one was. Sage’s sister Tammi, whom I liked up until this point, decides that because of how Sage is treated for being trans, she shouldn’t have been supportive and it’s her fault that Sage is getting beat up by random strangers because Tammi wanted to have a sister, wanted her parents to let her do things and scrutinize Sage instead, and decided she really shouldn’t have encouraged Sage the way she had.
No. No no no no no.
The only supportive person Sage had in her life was Tammi. Tammi was the only person who saw Sage as her sister and not as “something” else. What is the author thinking by taking that last little shred of support away from Sage? Why would you do this? This is beyond disgusting and an excellent example of what not to do, be it with a character you are writing or an actual human being.
The set-up for Logan to “convince” Sage that she shouldn’t de-transition was eye-rolling. Logan has not been supportive and he still hasn’t learned a damn thing about trans people. Why is he the character doing this, exactly? Oh, yeah. Because he wants to redeem himself. The execution here fell incredibly flat — trans people do not need cisgender, transphobic white dudes telling them who they should be. They just don’t. Logan is out of his depth and out of his lane.
Much of the language used to describe trans people in this book is also offensive. “Transgendered” is a verb. Trans people are not verbs. Do not use this word. “Really a boy” is bullshit. Sage is not a boy. Sage is a girl. Additionally, using that phrase to come out is incredibly unrealistic — no passing trans person is going to look at another person and say “I’m x-gender-that-I-was-assigned-at-birth.” It’s just not going to happen because the person doesn’t actually believe that they are that gender they were assigned.
Logan is extremely homophobic and also pretty damn violent when it comes to learning that Sage is trans. First off, the very first thing he says about “what’s the worst that could happen?” when pursuing Sage, before her big “trans reveal” is that he found out what the worst could possibly be. He actually said, as a narrator speaking in the past tense, that what had happened — Sage being trans — was the worst possible thing that could happen. He was so focused on her genitals that even though he had real feelings for her, he could not view her as a whole person on her own and that her being who she is was actually terrible for him. Oh, poor Logan.
The literal first thing he does when he learns that Sage is trans after he kisses her is to run off and vomit. Real nice, Logan. He then spends several pages (and many other points throughout the book) ruminating over the fact that kissing a trans person might make him gay, going so far as to using the f-slur and thinking about putting her in the hospital and calling her a “sicko.” Then when some guy actually does that to Sage later, he can’t possibly imagine why someone would want to do that to her. Really now? because 200 pages ago, Logan, you were literally contemplating the exact same thing.
Let’s take a second to discuss the choice of setting. I grew up in a town that was half the size the one Logan lived in, so I can say with quite a bit of confidence that the transphobia and the homophobia present in the book’s setting was realistic. Having said that, if Sage’s parents really wanted to make sure that no one they knew would find out Sage was trans, then why the fuck did they pick a small town to move to?! Sure, they knew no one there when they moved, but they’d meet people eventually, and if someone did out Sage to others, it would spread through that small town like wildfire and then everyone would know. If they really wanted to keep it quiet, they should have picked a large city where they know nobody because gossip does not spread in a large city like it does in a small town. In a large city, a few people will know, but hardly any of them are going to say anything about it, and it’s nearly impossible for everyone to find out about something. In a small town, though? Every single person is going to find out about the latest gossip in the span of a week. And then what do you do? Do you just keep hopping from small town to small town for the rest of your life? This decision boggles my mind. To be fair, based on Sage’s lack of knowledge about small town life, it’s possible that her parents didn’t know what a small town would be like, either. This decision just feels so, so unrealistic to me though. You don’t move a child that sticks out like a sore thumb to a homogeneous, transphobic, homophobic, microscopic town in hopes that they’ll blend in and stay out of trouble. You just don’t. I feel like the setting was placed as it was just so that transphobia and homophobia (and conservativism in general) would be more rampant so that the author could try to hit his point home harder.
Logan is the world’s worst friend, and not only toward Sage. His “best friend” Tim, who is that one stereotypical “Asian” kid in the tiny high school, is mistreated by Logan at every turn. (Side note: I really want to know how the author, who is not Japanese, pronounces “Tokugowa,” Tim’s last name. “Tokugawa” was the surname of the military government during the Edo/Tokugawa period, and considering how large that name was I kind of wonder if he was going for “Tokugawa” instead. They are not pronounced the same.) While racism towards Tim is a problem, what’s a larger problem is how frequently Logan fat-shames Tim. Logan cannot see Tim once without commenting on his weight. Tim is fat, and while we don’t see enough of him to know for sure, it doesn’t look like it bothers him all that much. It does, however, seem to bother Logan to no end. He endlessly comments on how much and how often Tim is eating, and how fast Tim eats his food, and he seems genuinely disgusted by his friend. He also states at one point that Tim “obviously” isn’t seeing anyone without giving any further explanation, and the implication here is that Tim can’t find a date because he is fat. Spoiler alert: Tim has a happy relationship and him being fat doesn’t seem to affect it at all. After finding this out, Logan doesn’t show any sort of guilt for his negativity towards Tim’s dating life, and it’s pretty disgusting how little support he gives his friend because he is fat. Additionally, Logan makes comments about some girls being “too skinny.” These things combined with all of the focus on Sage’s body show that Logan seems to have a real problem with people not looking the way he thinks they should look, and this is pretty controlling and creepy.
Sage says that Logan is her best friend, and I find this incredibly sad because she could do so much better than him. Why couldn’t she ditch him and go find other friends? Other people at their school exist. She plopped down in front of him in class and apparently made a pretty terrible choice in friend. We don’t see how her other classmates (other than Logan’s other friends and ex-girlfriend) see her at all — who’s to say that none of them would be willing to be her friend? Logan invalidates her gender, has violent thoughts toward her, considers her gender to be the worst possible thing that could happen to him, and yet he still thinks that he is worthy of being her friend even though he never actually progresses on any of these issues except for the violence. He still doesn’t see her as a girl — he sees her as something like a girl, but not as an actual girl. Logan is selfish and doesn’t actually care about Sage — he just cares about how he looks when he interacts with her. She deserves better.
I vehemently disagree with anyone who says this book is important. I am a nonbinary trans person, and the last thing I needed was a cisgender guy “oh, maybe trans people aren’t so bad after all” story. This book invalidates the gender of trans individuals, and it serves as an incredibly poor example for cis readers as well. It teaches them that trans people are people, yeah, but it perpetuates the idea that trans women aren’t really women and that being trans is a choice, and it never fully addresses that. It never fully addresses that a straight guy being attracted to a trans girl is not gay (though Sage says this is not true, Logan’s constant ruminating over this serves to invalidate her statement). And it makes the story about the hardships of being a trans teenager all about the poor, sad, so terribly distressed cis straight white male teenager who happens to be attracted to her.
I’m embarrassed that this book won a Stonewall Award. Trans teens, your gender is valid and real, and you deserve so much better than this book. Cis teens (and all other cis people), do not take your cues on how to interact with trans people from this book. Again, have you tried If I Was Your Girl yet? That book handles all of this so much better, and it deserves to be read.
After getting beat up at her old school for being transgender, Amanda Hardy makes the decision to move in with her father and start over again at a new school. Just wanting to make it through high school without any further incidents, Amanda decides she wants to pass as cisgender rather than tell people that she is trans (because who else really needs to know, anyway?). When the charming Grant falls into her life, she feels like she wants to tell him everything about herself — but what would be the repercussions of doing so?
This book is important because it serves as a wonderful window into the life of a trans person. It can be very difficult for cisgender people to conceptualize what it means to be trans and how microaggressions in everyday speech and behavior can be hurtful, in addition to how being bullied for being trans can affect a person. Amanda’s bullying was brutal, and yet her story was easily digestible for someone who would struggle to actually relate to her situation. In the author’s note, Russo (who is trans herself) stated that she wrote Amanda like this intentionally; she wanted her to clearly be trans, but she also wanted to make her someone who cis readers could relate to, and as a nonbinary trans person I sincerely appreciate that because I know far too many cis people who would struggle to understand a character who was written to be a more “realistic” trans teen, and they really need to read a book like this so they can better understand why their behavior is hurtful, even if they don’t even mean to be hurtful.
Unfortunately, this strength is also one of the book’s biggest weak spots. While being relatable to cis readers, Amanda is a very idealized trans teen. She is incredibly lucky because she has no issues passing as cis whatsoever, and she even managed to have bottom surgery before she was even out of high school. The latter point, especially, is a rarity for trans teens because surgery is expensive, many places have an infinite number of hoops that need to be jumped through before it can take place, and age restrictions generally prevent teens from getting it (though Amanda avoided that last point by taking a gap year in the middle of high school, so she was legally old enough to have surgery before she graduated). These points help her become more relatable to cis readers, but at the same time these things distance her from trans readers who want a trans character to identify with. Transgender characters are still pretty underrepresented (though this has been improving), leaving a pretty limited number of trans characters for trans readers to identify with. Many trans readers, teenagers especially, would consider Amanda to be incredibly lucky and might even wish to be in her position, and that can cause distance to form between the character and the reader. Though trans readers can very well still enjoy this book (as I did), it was still written with cis readers as more of its intended audience. There’s nothing wrong with having a book like this, of course, but it did leave me wishing for a book about a trans character geared toward a trans audience to read next.
A minor nitpick (with very minor spoilers): In the scene where the girls take Amanda to go get her ears pierced, the second the piercer opened her mouth I wanted to tell Amanda to leave the shop and never look back. No piercer who knows what they’re doing would ever ask someone if they want “gauges” put in their ears (for those who don’t know, “gauges” are a unit of measurement and not a type of jewelry; most standard earrings are 18g or 20g, for instance, so if you have any piercings you’re technically wearing these “gauges” the piercer is referring to yourself, regardless of whether you’ve stretched any piercings), and a good piercer would pierce with sterilized jewelry (NOT jewelry brought from outside the shop), and you generally wouldn’t be able to change the jewelry in your lobes for about two months while waiting for the piercings to heal. The only thing in this scene that the piercer actually did right is use a needle and not a gun to pierce Amanda’s ears. If you’re planning to get piercings at any point in the future and the person whom you are considering to have poke holes in you and then fill those holes with metal acts anything like this piercer does, please turn around and walk back out the door and go find another piercer. You’ll thank yourself later.
On a much better note, this book did an excellent job of normalizing things such as taking medication regularly and getting help for mental health-related issues. Oftentimes these things aren’t handled very well in books, and I think it’s fantastic when a book shows its readers that things like this are healthy and normal, and we need more representation of mental and physical health issues like this in books. Additionally, including information about the necessity of dilation after bottom surgery was appreciated because many people don’t realize that this is a necessary aftercare step. Though it didn’t centrally focus on it, this book didn’t ignore the medical side of this character, and that’s something that I would really like to see more of in fiction in general.
I also really appreciated the role that religion played in the book. Though Amanda wasn’t herself, many characters in the book identified as moderately to very religious, and in general I thought that the conflict between religion and transgender people was handled pretty well. It may have been handled a bit too positively for my taste, but I think that might just go back to the cis vs. trans intended audience thing mentioned earlier.
One thing that I liked that brought a bit more realism back to the story was Amanda’s trans role model, as well as the other people from her support group. These characters weren’t present for most of the book (and while this was a bummer, it does make sense because these characters live closer to Amanda’s mom than to Amanda’s dad and so Amanda is geographically distant from them for most of the book), but these characters (some of whom are just mentioned in passing) are the types of trans characters whom trans readers would find most relatable because they don’t all pass flawlessly and they haven’t all had bottom and/or top surgery and they don’t all have their mental health situation under control. Though I understand why they weren’t, I wish we could have seen more of these characters and heard more of their stories.
Overall, If I Was Your Girl was a solid debut from Russo. If she has plans for a second novel, I hope that she’ll write a book with a trans character that’s more geared toward trans readers. After reading this, I think she would be rather good at it. Though it wasn’t perfect, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to others. I think this is a book that everyone (especially cis people) should read.