Monthly Archives: February 2017

Double Review: Nonfiction about Trans girls

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Becoming Nicole
by Amy Ellis Nutt
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

In a way, it seems unfair to give this book a rating. Would I be evaluating Nicole’s life? Nutt’s writing? Both? Nicole’s life has been hard; much of the story is told through her mother’s struggles for her daughter, both with the world and with her husband, which was also hard to read about; Nutt’s writing is great. Nicole, more or less fully aware of the struggles and the victories her family went through because of her, seems to have an edge to her. Her story is told from an outsider’s perspective and has a matching edge.

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Being Jazz (picture book: I Am Jazz)
by Jazz Jennings
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

In comparison, Being Jazz is written by the girl herself, and a teenager at that, so has a much different voice. Jazz was also the youngest in a big family (four children total) and somewhat unaware of the fights her parents were fighting for her. With a healthy sense that her parents have always supported her, Jazz grew up with seemingly boundless enthusiasm and positivity, which gives her memoir an even more different feel than Nicole’s. Jazz is not completely oblivious, however, and recounts a few instances where she felt taken advantage of because of her high profile status, especially when it comes to dating. She also struggled to be allowed to play on the girls’ soccer team with her friends.

Both girls’ stories are inspiring and provoked lots of reflection from my fellow book clubbers – mostly older white women who are librarians who have in Massachusetts for all or most of their lives. Though it’s a liberal area, they were raised in the 50s and 60s, mostly in traditional Catholic families, and so their upbringing was utterly unlike what Nicole and Jazz went through, in rural Maine and south Florida in the 2000s. It was very interesting to hear these ladies speak about how times have changed. One recounted that she has a (very obviously, in retrospect) gay cousin, but no one talked about it at all when they were growing up. Another said her son thought we were basically almost to full equality for LGBTQ rights; recent events have me doubting that, but marriage equality was huge. Another said she thought we’d be fully there within 20 years. We’ll see – hope springs eternal, if not for my own friends and family, then for all the other kids like Nicole and Jazz, who should grow up knowing only love and acceptance.

One striking thing was how much more attention is paid to trans girls than trans boys. Such a big deal is made of keeping penises out of girls’ bathrooms! On one hand, I totally understand wanting to protect women and girls from sexual predators. On the other, that’s not what being trans is about, and denying people the ability to perform the most basic of human functions because of some disturbed individuals really denies their own humanity.It’s incredibly heartbreaking to hear a very small child express a desire to cut off part of their anatomy, as it seems is common, because that sense of discomfort in one’s own body is tough, especially in one so young. I was curious to see what the story sounds like when the genders are swapped but found very few books in my library catalog chronicling a girl who becomes a boy. Stay tuned for a review of the one I found, Raising Ryland.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
It’s not hard to see why this one won the Newbery medal this year. It’s head and shoulders above all the books I’ve read recently. It’s hard to know where to start with this one. It’s the story of a town who every year leaves the newest born baby in the woods as a sacrifice to the witch. But we also hear the story from the witch’s point of view, which is that she has no idea why the babies are abandoned and so she brings them to other towns, to loving families who adopt the children. One year, the witch finds herself unable to let go of a baby, and raises her as her own granddaughter, but mistakenly feeds the girl moonlight which enmagicks the girl. Eventually, the witch has to subdue the wild, powerful girl, a spell that will break when she turns 13. In the meantime, the stories of the girl’s mother, a young man and another old witch from the town, and the swamp monster and dragon who are the girl’s other family members, converge in an epic showdown in the woods. The rhythm of the narrative has a classic, timeless feel that will ensure its staying power.
Young readers will likely miss the political allegory, though by the time they are rereading with adult eyes, there will surely be a new situation to apply it to. It’s ultimately the story (or several stories) of love and hope and democracy triumphing over oppression and sorrow and fear and authoritarianism. There are many, many beautiful lines, not least of which is an exchange about the library:
“‘The Tower is meant to be a center for learning, not a tool of tyranny. Today the doors are opening.’
‘Even the library?’ Wyn said hopefully.
‘Especially the library. Knowledge is powerful, but it is a terrible power when it is hoarded and hidden. Today, knowledge is for everyone.’ She hooked her arm in Wyn’s, and they hurried through the tower, unlocking doors.” (p.312).

Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb

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Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This book’s summary, for some reason, made the actual plot a surprise to me. It sounded like it was about two girls named Nella and Clem and how they were excited that there was going to be a leap second, and also something bad happened to another girl, Angela, because of her brother. Here’s a more complete synopsis that might get this book into the right hands (and possibly more hands):

Twelve-year-old Nella’s friendship with Angela is changing even before Clem moves to town. Issues of class (Angela’s family is poor; Clem’s is wealthy; Nella’s is in the middle) and race boil over when Angela’s brother shoots and kills a black man from another neighborhood, ostensibly while defending a frightened white neighbor. It’s a big year for Nella as she also learns her father has a secret, her Catholic school closes and she has to go to the public school with the black kids, students protest outside Angela’s house, and her great-grandmother has a stroke. Things come together in the end and don’t wrap up completely neatly but neatly enough. I also liked that the metaphors are subtle and meaningful enough to tug your heartstrings but not so obvious that they smack you in the face. It’s a gentle touch that can do that, and Springstubb has it. Nella struggles with her Italian/Catholic identity, issues of faith and God and heaven and fate, what it means to be a friend, how to respect her elders, and more – all of which she does gracefully and admirably, especially for a 12-year-old. And oh yeah there’s a minor plot about there being a leap second and how Clem is really excited about it and Nella is not.

Other features of interest: Nella’s baby brother, Vinny, has delayed speech and they worry about him (he ends up starting to speak just fine); the shooting incident is firmly rooted in the present day and Black Lives Matter / police brutality issues (Anthony is not a police officer but is a security guard and is a white man with a gun who doesn’t think before shooting); Angela and Anthony’s father is an army vet with PTSD; Nella convinces Angela to shoplift and only Angela gets caught; and Nella becomes interested in boys and has her first kiss (which is very tame).