High school athlete Brendan wrestles with pronouns, his girlfriend Vanessa grapples to keep him from shutting her out, while Angel—a trans social worker and mentor—tackles her own demons in Kristen Elizabeth Clark’s beautifully crafted, often confessional, verse novel Freakboy. (more…)
If there were such a thing as the perfect YA novel, Alex As Well (Text Publishing) would be it.
Alex has stopped taking her medication. The other Alex–male Alex– lives in her mind, constantly jibing as fourteen-year-old Alex transitions. Born intersex and raised male, Alex changes schools without her parents’ knowledge so she can try to lead her life the way she needs to. At first she makes friends and gains admirers, even handling coming out as lesbian in the high school environment. But things get complicated when the school repeatedly asks for her birth certificate which states she’s male. Desperate not to be discovered, Alex seeks the advice of a lawyer to find out if she can legally reassign her gender on her birth certificate:
“Why does it matter whether I am a boy or a girl?”
“But it does. It really, really matters. People want to know which one you are.” (p15)
Alex tells her parents that she’s a girl and tensions at home mount as Alex’s father leaves, and her mother, Heather, despairs to her online cohort on a parental forum. Alex still has friends at school for now, though, and a crush on one particular friend – the school secretary’s daughter, Amina. With the question of the birth certificate still on her mind and the school persistently asking for it, Alex becomes increasingly worried and works for her new lawyer friend as an office painter in exchange for his help. Alex hides in the attic at home when things get too much, discovering reports from when she was in pre-school, detailing her aggressive behaviour and excessive crying:
“The medication that made me want to punch people. The medication my parents made me take to make me a boy.” (p70)
This is a revelation for Alex as she realizes exactly what has been going on all her life. Heather discovers Alex has stopped her medication and attributes this to Alex’s new identity, rather than accepting that Alex consciously wants to stop hormone therapy.
As Alex continues to hide the truth at school and negotiate her parents’ reactions, she is also asked to model, making money from shoots which allows her to plan her independence. At first this part of the story felt a little too dreamy, but then I thought, why not? A young trans person making it through their own hard work – yes, please. Despite it seeming like a typical teen novel fantasy, to be a model, Alex’s voice keeps it believable and typically hilarious and cynical. I was entirely convinced that Alex not only deserved everything good she worked for, but she was also conscious of when she was behaving like a total brat.
Just after I read Alex As Well, I found out about the recent German law to recognize babies born with ‘undetermined sex.’ Brugman highlights the issues surrounding choosing the gender of a child with undetermined sex, but also provokes thought on the matter of gender assignment in general. Alex’s parents realize the impact of choosing her gender for her: “We should have just waited and asked you.” (p134)
The only other books on the subject of intersex I can recall reading are the fantastic Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word) by Thea Hillman, an adult memoir, and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. In the YA world I haven’t read or seen anything like Alex before. The fact that it is one of only a small number of fiction books on the subject makes it a remarkable and important book, as do the writing and characterisation. What is so brilliant about this novel is not just Alex’s voice but the glimpses of parental perspective shown through Heather’s internet forum posts, with both insightful and outright crazy replies from other regular posters. Alex As Well is a treasure of a novel, with laugh out loud moments as well as unsettling scenes that will stay with you.
Alex as Well
By Alyssa Brugman
Paperback, 9781922079237, 244 pp.
In the vast sea of YA novels, there used to be a dearth of stories for the LGBTQ community. Slowly but surely, though, new young authors are penning fiction that reflects a more authentic, diverse world. Julia Watts’ Secret City is an important addition to the genre. (more…)
Z Egloff’s novel, Leap (Bywater Books), is not simply a coming of age novel. It is a novel about interpersonal relationships, the quest for the truth, the psychological turmoil brought about by lies and deception, and apprehension about the future. Leap is also about love, not just romantic love, but self-love, familial love, and platonic love. (more…)
Rafael Fannen is indeed young (14 years old), gifted (recipient of a minority scholarship to an all-male Catholic preparatory school), and black. He is also caught in a world where everything he relied upon is changing as he himself is changing. Rafe must confront the strange culture of his new school while contending with a mother who believes she is talking to angels. On the weekends, he tries to relate to his ex-con father’s latest commercial venture involving selling African related masks and spiritual items. (more…)
Every time I read a Michelle Tea book, I fall through some portal into a strange new world. No matter if it is fiction or nonfiction, Tea has a way of making whatever she writes about jump off the page with an all-encompassing verve. (more…)
In Sagebrush & Lace (Banty Hen Publishing), the writing team of Ryder and Cutler introduces us to Samantha Williams and Charlotte Hart, two women who conspire to flee their lives of comfort in Chicago during the late 1870s and escape the prospect of an arranged marriage for Samantha. That the women have no idea what they’re getting into when they strike out alone is an understatement. Their learning curve is fast and their fugitive status is established even faster. Adventure abounds as the two are tracked by Pinkerton detectives, attacked by renegades, and helped by madams, journalists and lawmen as they make their way across the plains toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the freedom of a bohemian life in San Francisco. (more…)
When you send your “love” and thoughts out to the riders of an airplane flying above your head, can the passengers feel it? Does it make a difference to them? Does unconditional love exist? Can you love a girl and not be a lesbian? If she loves you back, are you then a lesbian? So far, all seventeen-year-old Astrid Jones knows is sending her “love” to the airplanes feels like freedom. “It’s love without strings. It’s ideal.” Loving someone like Dee doesn’t feel like that.
“Keeping secrets isn’t my specialty,” declares 16-year-old Chelsea Knot. Talking about everyone and everything is her specialty—the key to her social status. After all, gossip is how she became best friends with Kristen, one of the most popular girls in school who is about to attend the best New Year’s Eve party ever. When Chelsea arrives at the party with the latest piece of gossip (complete with pictures), she suspects—if all goes according to plan—that she and Brendon, her ultimate crush, will be a couple by midnight. (more…)