Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
One of my favorite things about reading – as opposed to watching TV or movies – is that although an author can give me details about a character’s physical appearance, I can take those details and create a person in my mind who looks, sounds, and moves in the way that seems right to me to fit in the story. It’s usually a shock to see that same character portrayed by a specific actor/actress, because they are never what I imagined myself.
And that’s what I was thinking about as I read this story about Julian, a trans boy who has just started high school. His image of himself is never what he sees in the mirror, or in pictures, or in how other people look at him. If the disconnect is so surprising to me when comparing an imaginary character with an actor portraying that same imaginary character, what must it be like to feel that about yourself? Every day? What must it be like to have people call you by a name that is not yours?
Julian Gibson is 14, and just entering high school in Toronto, Canada. He has felt like a boy since he was old enough to know the difference between boys and girls, but he has only found the words for it in the past few years. He hasn’t told anyone that he is a boy, and of course is afraid of how they will react. As he and all the kids around him are entering or moving through puberty, he feels that disconnect between who he is and who he looks like much more acutely, and every day it causes him more distress. He’s always been the quiet, bookish type, very intelligent, but living more inside his head than anywhere else, and high school is the time when he truly realizes that he will need to learn how to interact with the outside world. If he doesn’t define himself, others will do it for him, and they will never know who he really is. He decides that if he can just tell 3 people, that it will become real – yes, he is aware that he’s a little like Pinocchio wanting to be “a real boy” – and now he just needs to find a way to do that.
Those were all the things I loved about the story. The premise is interesting, the description of Julian’s inner world and the discordance with what happens on the outside is exceptionally well done. But the plot, well, it’s kind of meh. I was so frustrated that the conflict is all within Julian’s mind. When he does start to slowly come out, there was no negativity from others at all. None, zip, nada. Everyone not only is supportive, but they also know exactly how to be supportive. No issues with forgetting to use the correct pronouns, no awkward interactions while reconciling Julian with Julia, and not even any questions like “how does that feel?” Julian’s girlfriend, who mostly identifies as lesbian, basically just says OK when Julian explains how important it is that she thinks of them as a straight couple, and immediately he is her boyfriend, and that’s that.
The only external conflict had to do with gender specific bathrooms. Really? I know that North Carolina made a big deal about that, and the far right continues to make a big deal about it, but I personally think there are many more important discrimination issues facing transgender people. I say this as a heterosexual, cis-woman, so of course I could be wrong, but I thought the focus on the bathroom issue was disingenuous at best, and a cop-out at worst.
Overall, the book fell short of what I hoped it would be, but it at least made me think more about the internal conflict that any transgender person must feel as they grow up and come to terms with their identity. And I would definitely want to read a story with transgender teens again in the future.
Cover art, by Alexandria Corza, is also pretty meh.
ebook, 254 pages
Expected publication: December 1st 2016 by Harmony Ink Press
ISBN 1634774272 (ISBN13: 9781634774277)