Tag Archives: transgender

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

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by Dashka Slater
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In October of 2013, an agender teen named Sasha fell asleep on their bus ride home. When they woke up, they were on fire. Dashka Slater tells the story of how this happened, who Sasha was, who Richard, the teen who set Sasha on fire was, and what happened after. It’s told in a narrative nonfiction style that worked extremely well and there were only two things that bothered me.

One was that each chapter was very short, ranging from a half page to maybe 5 pages at the longest. While this worked very well for keeping suspense (and keeping me turning pages quickly), it also had the effect of creating a somewhat disjointed narrative, and making me think that Slater couldn’t write a longer chapter on any given topic. The book’s five sections did help me see the overarching themes, and it was roughly chronological, but it felt made for someone with the attention span of a flea. Having recently read similar adult narrative nonfiction such as The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, I felt that the short chapter style shortchanged both the readers and Sasha and Richard.

The other thing that bothered me was that Slater went into some detail about restorative justice and in the end it seems that nothing really happened with that. I felt a bit betrayed by that, since I was getting pretty invested in having that tie everything up with a nice, neat bow. But as it is, the story is one of forgiveness and learning more about people who are different. There is a lot about the gender spectrum and pronouns and romantic orientation (which is different from sexual orientation) and overall I think an important and well-told tale.

And She Was by Jessica Verdi

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by Jessica Verdi
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Dara has just graduated high school and dreams of playing tennis professionally. She’s good enough, she just needs the money. But she’s always lived a life of limited resources with her mom. When she asks her mom for her birth certificate so she can get a passport to play a tournament in Canada, her mom gets weird. Then when she finds the birth certificate on her own, things get even weirder. Her mom’s name, Mellie Baker, is nowhere on the document; instead her parents are listed as Marcus Hogan and Celeste Pembroke.

Dara’s search for what’s going on leads to a bombshell revelation by Mellie: she used to be Marcus and is Dara’s biological father. When Celeste died, she took the final steps to live as a woman and had to go underground and assume a whole new identity. To protect her daughter, she did the same for her. Now 18, Dara’s journey continues – she grabs her best friend, Sam, and hits the road to find the other half of her family.

Throughout Dara’s road trip, she receives emails containing more of Mellie’s story. By the time she tracks down the Pembrokes, she is furious with Mellie for the ways in which her decisions impacted Dara. But she comes around to understanding why Mellie did what she did, and even leaves the lap of luxury at her grandparents’ home, and the promise of a life as a pro tennis player, to stand by her mother (and – spoiler alert – face her fears about dating Sam). I thought I knew how this story was going to unfold, and there were a few surprises, which was great. I also appreciated the author’s note at the end, where she recognized that she is not trans herself, but tried to do the story justice. She also talked about the need to have Mellie’s story in an adult voice in there, which is unusual for YA.

Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

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by Molly Knox Ostertag
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Aster lives with his large extended family in a big old house at the edge of the woods. He and his cousins are all homeschooled, mostly in the ways of witchcraft (for the girls) and shapeshifting (for the boys). These roles are strictly adhered to with recent evidence of disastrous outcomes if the lines are blurred. The problem is, Aster wants to study witchcraft instead of shapeshifting, which his cousins all tease him for and his parents, aunts, uncles, and grandmother strictly forbid. He runs away and finds a new, non-magical friend, a girl named Charlie. When his male cousins start disappearing, Aster uses his ability to shapeshift and do witchcraft, combined with Charlie’s physical femaleness, to save the day.

My book club read this one along with Drum Dream Girl and Boy and the Bindi. (While none of the characters in these books are transgender specifically, I used that tag because it’s about gender roles.) The overwhelming feeling was that Boy and the Bindi could have used more explanation about what a bindi is (and why it’s used, officially); I mostly stayed out of that but feel guilty at not raising the idea of the explanatory comma, which I first learned about through NPR’s Code Switch podcast. But I’ll give my two cents here: I think if you know what a bindi is, this book is for you. If don’t know what a bindi is, go learn, and then this book can be for you too. And also, it’s okay if not everything is for you. I think it’s important for kids with minority identities have things that are just for them and don’t get into too much explanation for delicate white palates.

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.

Lily and Dunkin

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by Donna Gephart
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Lily only fits in with her best friend, Dare, and her mom and sister. Her dad doesn’t understand her need to wear dresses and nail polish and go by a girl’s name, he insists on calling her Timothy, the name he gave Lily when she was born. He thinks the best way to protect her is to make her go through life as a boy, even though it feels so wrong. When Lily meets Dunkin, she immediately understands his need for a new name. He wants to shed “Norbert Dorfman”for obvious reasons but also unobvious ones: he and his mother moved to Florida to escape their past and start over. What exactly that past entails is best revealed through the book, but Dunkin takes medication to handle his bipolar disorder, which his father also had. Trying to fit in, Dunkin joins the basketball team even though he’s terrible, just because the bullies play and Dunkin is very tall so they assume he’s great. His grandmother, Bubbie Bernice, whips him into shape so he’s not a total disaster, but when he stops taking his medication so that he’ll have more energy, he spirals out of control. Added on top of this is the story of a tree near the library so special to Lily that she names it Bob (after her supportive grandfather) and spends the night in it to prevent it from being cut down.

I’m pushing this book on friends because I have a lot of questions, especially about Lily and Dunkin’s relationship, so I won’t overanalyze just yet. But on the whole I liked it a lot, and I’m glad to see more and more books about transgender kids, especially that don’t focus on their sexuality. Lily is desperate to start hormone treatments to prevent her from growing facial hair and to grow breasts at this pivotal point in her life. Her bravery in wearing a dress to the dance and going as a mermaid for Halloween, not to mention sitting in the tree all night, are impressive.

George

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by Alex Gino
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

George has all the trappings of an Issue Book, but manages to have a plot on top of it. It’s what I loved about The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, too – that book wasn’t just about a family with two dads, it was a story of four brothers who were each going through their own stuff and how they learned and grew, and, oh yeah, they happened to have two dads. Similarly, George has her own stuff going on, part of which is her struggle to explain to her mom, her best friend, and others that she wants to be a girl. That is a big plotline and can take over a story, but Gino works in a related plotline of George aspiring to play Charlotte in the class play of Charlotte’s Web.

How this is pulled off is the magic of this story, and with transgender issues a hot topic right now, it can’t have come out (pun intended) at a better time. George is also in fourth grade; because she’s so young, it is made very clear that her gender identity is not connected to her sexual preferences, which ideally will help to clarify the issue for some readers. George’s family are also interesting in how they react to her identity, in ways I didn’t expect. I was prepared for them to be one-dimensional, that they would be either entirely opposed or entirely supportive, and that wasn’t the case. Her mother and brother are eventually won over, and explaining things to her best friend is pretty much a non-issue, which is thankfully realistic for some kids. Overall completely satisfying and a hugely important book.

Article on Transgender Children’s Books

Maybe because I live in the Boston Bubble of LGBTQ heaven, but I was surprised by my aunt’s declaration that there wasn’t a big need for books about transgender kids because there just aren’t that many (in response to this article in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review). I would love to hear from readers in other places (especially if you are in the business of finding books for a large cross-section of kids!) if you think this is a good thing or overkill. Especially on the heels of Fun Home winning Best Musical at the Tonys last night and other books such as Tomboy by Liz Prince becoming their own genre (gender identity graphic novel memoirs), I think this marks a turning point in children’s literature and society in general.