Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
It makes me very sad to give this book a poor review, because I was really looking forward to it for several reasons: I read Chyna Doll a year or so ago (introducing the couple that are the secondary characters in this book) and thought it was amazing, and knowing that this book’s main character was a trans man, I expected to be similarly wowed. I can tell the author really wanted to portray transgender people and their struggles realistically – especially given the current administration’s apparent systematic discrimination against them – and though I believe she did a fair job of that, the story itself had no soul.
Zeb Arenada is a young Filipino man from a very traditional patriarchal family who has emigrated to the United States to attend college at Cornell University. He grew up in a life of privilege, and never had to face any significant prejudice or hardship, but he was also very sheltered. When his roommate Luca told him that he was gay, Zeb was a little non-plussed, but his natural curiosity and non-judgmental attitude ensured that they got along well together. Zeb hadn’t seriously considered his own sexuality previously, but knowing an openly gay man made him start to question who he was really attracted to. Luca took Zeb to NYC when he went to see his own boyfriend Chyna, and there Zeb met Chyna’s roommate Alex.
Alex Boulet is a biracial trans man from Louisiana who has been working as a successful model for several years. When he left the south, he expected to find love and happiness in the diversity of the big city, but so far all he has found are men who are either morbidly and intrusively curious about his genitals, or disappointed to find that they aren’t standard male issue. Those experiences, as well as some ghosts from his past, have made him very wary, very slow to trust anyone, and very protective of his heart.
With that background, I was looking forward to complex relationship growth, perhaps a slow burn, and significant character growth. But everything was just so clinical – there was way too much focus on the mechanics of sex with a trans man, and that made all of the many (too many) sex scenes completely uninspiring. The couple’s exploration of NYC was straight out of a tourist guide book, as though Alex hadn’t lived in Manhattan for years. Even the descriptions of Filipino culture were superficial and stilted. There were so many little details that just didn’t fit, like the way Alex was always cooking and eating big southern meals and desserts, and that is completely unrealistic for a model. And there’s a shocking event from Alex’s past revealed about three quarters of the way through the book that was completely superfluous because there was no real follow up about it. It was like, this terrible thing happened, oh well, no big deal, moving on….
Overall, very disappointing. To be honest, I wouldn’t have finished it if I wasn’t reading it for review. I kept hoping I would be able to find something in these men to establish some sort of emotional attachment to them, but there was nothing. Clinical is really the best way I can describe the overall feeling of the book, and it just didn’t make for enjoyable reading. But I do appreciate the way the author clearly did some research and tried to present an authentic representation of a transgender man.
Cover art by Kanaxa is pretty.
Expected publication: December 27th 2017 by Dreamspinner Press
Original TitleBeing With Him