There are books that need to happen to pave the way for something, and you have to accept them even if they’re kind of shitty, so long as they’re not harmful. When it comes to being a trans person and having your life and identity more widely represented in YA or children’s literature, that means Luna by Julie Anne Peters, which is a literarily terrible book with piles of strawmen getting knocked over on every page. But it was what there was, and now, thankfully, there are other books coming out starring trans teens, like I am J or Freakboy. But when it comes to middle grade, there is basically nothing there, even though kids know early – very early – what gender they feel they are. That doesn’t mean they know their sexuality at three years old (though I would suggest that our idea that you don’t figure out your sexuality until about age 16 is like four to six years off), but to say that children don’t know who they are at their core is an incredibly insulting, and you know how I feel about adults who think children are stupid. Inexperience ≠ innocence ≠ ignorance (the first is what children have, the second is a fallacy, and the third can only be determined on a case by case basis and is not a given with all children about all things). Anyway. What I think is happening is that since everyone likes to conflate sex with gender with sexuality (maybe I should pull out more of those “does not equal” signs), nobody wants to put out a middle grade novel with a trans protagonist because they think that that will mean sexualizing children (oooh, another non-equation: sexualizing children ≠ children having sexuality – one is not okay, the other is true whether you like it or not), and GAWD FORBID we do that. So I was really pleased when I heard about this book that was forthcoming from Disney Hyperion, and I was so happy that they gave me access to it on Netgalley. I read it all in one day (yesterday), and I mostly really loved it.
Not everything is perfect about this book, and I feel a little ill at ease writing this review, because I can’t really gauge authenticity about an issue I can claim ZERO personal experience with and only a couple of friends/acquaintances whose experiences I have watched from a fairly far distance. And all those acquaintances happened to be FTM trans, and most books, I’ve noticed, focused on MTF, maybe because we like to conflate female-to-male trans-ness with tomboyishness and think that they’re the same? Or because we have more unease about men exhibiting feminine characteristics and therefore MTF narratives seem more subversive or scandalous? Or something else? No idea. Something to unpack at a later time, because I am digressing a lot. Continue reading