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Book Review: Love and Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

love and otherLove & Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford (ISBN-13: 9780062791207 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/09/2019)

Gr 9 Up—Sam Weyward, a gay teen in rural New York, knows that if he falls in love before his fast-approaching 17th birthday, the generations-long family curse will kill his love interest. Living with his magic-practicing grandma, great-grandma, and great-great-grandma (the Grands) and his 1980s metal–loving father, he can never forget about the curse. But he finds distraction with drag queens at the gay bar Shangri-La, the family ice cream stand, mysterious phone calls, and Tom Swift, a trans boy staying at the lake this summer. As his friendship with Tom, who is straight, grows more complicated, Sam wonders if the curse can be broken. While there is a lot to enjoy about this book, like the vivid setting and appealing premise, the unhealthy relationship between Sam and Tom, and the often-unchecked transphobia make this a troubling, offensive, and potentially harmful story. Tom is repeatedly deadnamed, misgendered, and outed (with Sam, among others, committing these offenses). The fixation on Tom’s body and transition feel voyeuristic and turn him into a one-dimensional character just used for Sam’s own development. Sam and the rest of the cast get to be vibrant and complex, with Sam supported and loved both by his biological family and his chosen family of drag queens who are helping him find his drag identity. Tom is miserable, angry, rejected, lacking support, and ultimately forced to present as female—a painful trajectory without much hope. VERDICT Though this novel is funny and highly readable, the tragic trans narrative makes it one to skip.

Monsters united can never be defeated: sentimental queer horror YA, a guest post by Hal Schrieve

The year I turned fourteen, I came out to my parents as transgender. In 2010, as a young teenager, with Gender Identity Disorder still written into the DSM as a disease, I knew that my eventual medical transition would require doctors’ notes and assessments in order to proceed. But my parents, wearing a look of inscrutable fear, initially took me to therapists with the stated hope that we as a family would work something out that didn’t involve me actually ever transitioning.

 

Eventually, all the doctors my parents took me to, even those most sympathetic to my parents, began to reach the consensus that I was in fact a transsexual. That, the doctors and therapists agreed, meant my parents had to move to the next healthy stage in raising a trans child: mourning my death.

 

This is standard advice, advice that the parents of trans children have gotten from well-meaning therapists for decades. My inexpert Cut Rite haircut, abbreviated name, the desire to to put testosterone into my body and surgically modify my chest, and, not least, my expression of my desire for romantic and sexual contact with gay men—meant that the child my parents had raised was dead. My parents had lost their shot at something. Therapists phrased it in different ways, describing the dead girl who I was not as a child of expectations, or dreams, as someone who had existed and as someone who had never existed. But again and again, the living teenager in front of my parents was ignored in favor of the theoretically dead girl I had replaced.  My parents were given permission to ignore my distress, the bullying I was facing, the discrimination I faced from my school, the lack of information I had about what my future might hold, so they could grieve and adapt slowly to life without their daughter—though I was alive, and their real daughter, my little sister, was right in front of them and living too. For a period of just over a year, and maybe long beyond that, I became undead, unknowable, invisible to the people who were supposed to protect me.

 

Caption: Intervening in each others' lives when we start believing we are dead or deserve death is more important than anything.

Intervening in each others’ lives when we start believing we are dead or deserve death is more important than anything.

 

Just as I died to my parents, my parents also disappeared to me. They were no longer role models, because they believed, at least for a while, that the me that existed should not exist. There were people who could see and understand me as alive, but they were not my parents. I still don’t know what I was to my parents during this time, exactly, but it’s safe to say I was something monstrous, a portent. For me, the result of being discussed and treated as dead was a temporary frozenness in my emotional development, a deep depression, and a lack of ability to fathom or connect to the cisgender and straight people around me. My sense of self esteem and empathy towards others ultimately grew enormously during my transition, but the things that prompted this had little to do with medical change in my own body. What replaced my family unit’s emotional ties was contact with punks and sex educators and old gay and trans people and young teens in my city and online who were like me and count see the beauty in one another. Over and over again, I watched small-town gay and trans people take care of each other, drive to one anothers’ houses late at night to intervene in suicide attempts, house each other, give one another jobs, get in professional hot water to protect each other, build up our mutual sense of safety in the face of horror. As my parents realized I was a monster, I was realizing I found their world monstrous.

I wanted to have a character like Mrs. Dunnigan, who sees and understands younger LGBT people who other adults fear.

I wanted to have a character like Mrs. Dunnigan, who sees and understands younger LGBT people who other adults fear.

 

I am white, which limits how I have been dehumanized in the settler-colonial state I was born in. My family is middle-class. My cognitive differences are such that I was never deemed disabled. I have a body which is able to navigate the ableist infrastructure of our society with relative ease. But I have always related to monsters. This is a trend, among queer people, even those of us who are lucky. We didn’t start it, though—monsters never start our own monstrosity.

 

 

I could theorize about when and how being gay or trans became a monstrous threat in European civilization, and others have certainly discussed how this belief was used as a tool of violent imperialism. But it would take a long time. Instead, here is a page from Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

I could theorize about when and how being gay or trans became a monstrous threat in European civilization, and others have certainly discussed how this belief was used as a tool of violent imperialism. But it would take a long time. Instead, here is a page from Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

 

 

I remember the first stories I ever wrote, at age four, being about Ursula from the Howard Ashman version of The Little Mermaid running away from persecutors, escaping and starting a new life at the bottom of a deep well. I didn’t know then that the original Hans Christian Andersen story, queer in its own way, regards the mermaid herself as a sort of monster, who nobly kills herself when she is wounded by her prince’s lack of ability to love her. I just knew I sympathized with something unlovable but charismatic, with tentacles, that shouldn’t have died. Further stories I wrote involved noble, ugly troll girls locked into mill-towers, werewolves on the lam, haggard witches and dwarves living under bridges and stealing scraps. I knew, reading fairy stories, that the witches, pirates, and dragons I read about rarely deserved persecution. When I read the story of St. George and the Dragon, the dragon was the only face I could compute as relatable. Nowadays, when I watch a horror movie about a traumatized ghost or psychic evil type monster wreaking havoc on a living straight white family, I only care about what happened to the vengeful spirit, and why it is so important to the filmmakers that the revenge be seen as more horrible than the original violence. I know that monsters are made, and that we usually are less scary than the people that made us. Traumatized people aren’t why the world is violent. Abusive people in power who want to stay in power and refuse to empathize or love others is why the world is violent.

 

The horror I see in the world is the systems of capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and ecological destruction designed to divide and alienate us from our friends, our lovers, our children, and break us up so we are easier to break. This horror can come even from systems that are supposedly designed to help us, like doctors. Too many of my friends have been told that their physical or mental pain is imaginary, or given up parts of their lives to afford medical care. My own life has been shaped less than others’ by psychiatrists and their edicts, but I spent all of my adolescent years concealing the distress and mental illness that i knew might stop them from writing essential letters or mean they would disclose something that would cause my parents to institutionalize me. I have been helped by psychiatry. But it’s a strained affection. The closest friends I have have been abused by family members, police, psychiatrists, teachers. My best friend when I was eighteen, a trans boy named Sebastian, was killed by a combination of all these actors. All of whom were ostensibly supposed to protect him.

 

 

My characters Aysel, Z and Tommy are the kids you don't want to talk to at school who have a hard time relating to other people but who feel things really deeply.

My characters Aysel, Z and Tommy are the kids you don’t want to talk to at school who have a hard time relating to other people but who feel things really deeply.

 

In Out of Salem, I want to talk about the way that queer people and many others are seen as monsters acting as a threat to violent systems of control; I want to express as fully as possible the hope I have that we are in fact a threat, that we can break impossibly huge violent systems through survival and solidarity and love. I wanted to talk about the numbing horror of experiencing the world as marginalized, and how that makes it harder to trust people or show love. You have to talk about that in order to speak of the ways that we can survive the horror story that is our whole world by sticking together. My characters Chad, Elaine, Mrs. Dunnigan, Mr. Weber, Z, Tommy, Azra and Aysel are all at least mostly able to see one another’s personhood and personal dignity, even if people like abusive uncles or hostile teachers are unable to. Solidarity and contact between peers kept me and my friends alive during my high school years, as well as contact with sympathetic adults who couldn’t do everything for us we needed but could act as a model of long-term endurance of a hostile world.

 

Stonewall Youth, an LGBT youth organization in Olympia WA, helped me survive high school. Here is me (burgundy blazer) at age 15 in 2012 on their Pride float.

Stonewall Youth, an LGBT youth organization in Olympia WA, helped me survive high school. Here is me (burgundy blazer) at age 15 in 2012 on their Pride float.

 

When you are gay and trans and young, or marginalized in other ways, sometimes seeing the survival of your elders—your real elders, who are monstrous like you— is powerful. Touching someone like you is healing. Holding onto each other is hard but it is the only thing I know is good to do, which can help us survive.

 

 

Meet Hal Shrieve

Image credit: Micah Brown

Image credit: Micah Brown

Hal Schrieve grew up in Olympia, Washington, and is competent at making risotto and setting up a tent. Xie has worked as an after-school group leader, a summer camp counselor, a flower seller, a tutor, a grocer, and a babysitter. Hir current ambition is to become a librarian, and xie works as a trainee children’s librarian at New York Public Library. Xie has a BA in history with a minor in English from University of Washington and studies library science at Queens College, New York. Xie lives in Brooklyn, New York, and hir poetry has appeared in Vetch magazine.

Out of Salem is hir first novel.

Social Media links:
@howlremus on Instagram
https://soundcloud.com/haltalksmonsters (podcast about monster movies)

 

 

 

About Out of Salem

out of salem2The best Teen Zombie Werewolf Witchy Faerie fantasy murder mystery you’ve ever read—by debut author, Hal Schrieve.

Genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth has to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie after waking from death from a car crash that killed their parents and sisters. Always a talented witch, Z now can barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with their mother’s friend, Mrs. Dunnigan, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered by what seems to be werewolves, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to “monsters,” and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.
Rarely has a first-time author created characters of such immediacy and power as Z, Aysel, Tommy (suspected fey) and Elaine (also a werewolf), or a world that parallels our own so clearly and disturbingly.

ISBN-13: 9781609809010
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Publication date: 03/26/2019

Book Review: Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a starred review, which originally appeared in the June 2018  School Library Journal.

 

super late★Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye (ISBN-13: 9781449489625 Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing Publication date: 05/01/2018)
Gr 8 Up—Cartoonist Kaye, who is transgender, reveals the many ups and downs of starting hormone replacement in this collection of strips from her webcomic Up and Out. In a “Before” section, she writes about her life before fully understanding her identity and transitioning, which helps ground the short, disconnected comics. The strips begin four months into Kaye’s decision to take hormones, and express her joy and excitement along with her impatience, frustration, dysphoria, and internalized transphobia. She describes moving home, changing her name, and coming out and explores self-image, reactions from others, misgendering, and more. Kaye shares many affirming experiences such as her parents using the right pronouns, her forays into trying out different clothes and makeup, and her reminders that she is valid no matter how she looks or is perceived, but never shies away from moments of frustration or self-loathing. The strips are like reading a diary—raw, honest, emotional, and not always uplifting. While Kaye’s feelings are complicated, she is ultimately hopeful. The simple line drawings add warmth and whimsy to the small snippets of text. Though Kaye focuses on her experiences as an adult, teens will relate to her reflections on identity and acceptance. VERDICT An important and accessible work, especially given that relatively few books tackle the process of transitioning.

Book Review: The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the April 2018  School Library Journal.

 

 

gender identityThe Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni (ISBN-13: 9781684030309 Publisher: New Harbinger Publications Publication date: 04/01/2018)
K-Gr 4—Written by a clinical social worker specializing in gender nonconforming youth, this comprehensive guide helps children and families explore, understand, and affirm gender identities. This workbook is designed to allow kids to read, write, and draw about themselves, either with a parent or on their own. The thorough text defines terms in context and in a glossary, discusses gender diversity internationally and through history, and includes brief biographies of children who identify in a variety of ways. Through activities, readers can write about their pronouns, pick out clothes and hairstyles that best fit them, explore their feelings about their bodies, draw self-portraits, fill out a birth certificate, and list what changes they may like to make in their lives. Information is also presented on adult helpers (therapists, parents, and school staff), being safe and comfortable at school, and how to handle questions with example answers. This valuable resource clearly explains concepts and is full of activities that are fun and illuminating. Storck constantly reinforces the ideas that gender is expansive and identities are limitless, that any identity on the gender spectrum is valid and should be affirmed, and that children should feel loved, supported, and safe as they explore their identities. Working through this book with an adult would be useful, as the reading level may be much higher than that of the readers, though the text is aimed at young children. VERDICT A sensitive and empowering exploration of identity and expression that both educates and celebrates. Collections will strongly want to consider. —Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN

 

#ProtectTransKids: A Reading List

ifiwasyourgirlIf I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different—and a love story that everyone will root for.

 

 

graysonGracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

What if who you are on the outside doesn’t match who you are on the inside?

Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel about identity, self-esteem, and friendship shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.

 

 

george1George by Alex Gino

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

 

 

when the moonWhen the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Atmospheric, dynamic, and packed with gorgeous prose, When the Moon was Ours is another winner from this talented author.

 

 

what we leftWhat We Left Behind by Robin Talley

From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love may not be enough to conquer all

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, theirs is bound to stay rock-solid.

The reality of being apart, though, is very different than they expected. Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, meets a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, but Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen won’t understand Toni’s new world, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in this puzzle. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begin to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

 

 

lizardLizard Radio by Pat Schmatz

In a futuristic society run by an all-powerful Gov, a bender teen on the cusp of adulthood has choices to make that will change her life—and maybe the world.

Fifteen-year-old bender Kivali has had a rough time in a gender-rigid culture. Abandoned as a baby and raised by Sheila, an ardent nonconformist, Kivali has always been surrounded by uncertainty. Where did she come from? Is it true what Sheila says, that she was deposited on Earth by the mysterious saurians? What are you? people ask, and Kivali isn’t sure. Boy/girl? Human/lizard? Both/neither? Now she’s in CropCamp, with all of its schedules and regs, and the first real friends she’s ever had. Strange occurrences and complicated relationships raise questions Kivali has never before had to consider. But she has a gift—the power to enter a trancelike state to harness the “knowings” inside her. She has Lizard Radio. Will it be enough to save her? A coming-of-age story rich in friendships and the shattering emotions of first love, this deeply felt novel will resonate with teens just emerging as adults in a sometimes hostile world.

 

 

some assemblySome Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

Seventeen-year-old Arin Andrews shares all the hilarious, painful, and poignant details of undergoing gender reassignment as a high school student in this winning first-of-its-kind memoir. Now with a reading group guide and an all-new afterword from the author!

In this revolutionary first-of-its-kind memoir, Arin Andrews details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. In his captivatingly witty, honest voice, Arin reveals the challenges he faced as a boy in a girl’s body, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes—both mental and physical—he experienced once his transition began.

Some Assembly Required is a true coming-of-age story about knocking down obstacles and embracing family, friendship, and first love. But more than that, it is a reminder that self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.Now with a reading group guide and an all-new afterword from the author!

In this revolutionary first-of-its-kind memoir, Arin Andrews details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. In his captivatingly witty, honest voice, Arin reveals the challenges he faced as a boy in a girl’s body, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes—both mental and physical—he experienced once his transition began.

Some Assembly Required is a true coming-of-age story about knocking down obstacles and embracing family, friendship, and first love. But more than that, it is a reminder that self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.

 

 

rethinkingRethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill

In her unique, generous, and affecting voice, nineteen-year-old Katie Rain Hill shares her personal journey of undergoing gender reassignment. Now with a reading group guide!

Katie Rain Hill realized very young that a serious mistake had been made; she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy. Suffocating under her peers’ bullying and the mounting pressure to be “normal,” Katie tried to take her life at the age of eight years old. After several other failed attempts, she finally understood that “Katie”—the girl trapped within her—was determined to live.

In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world—and experience heartbreak for the first time—in a body that matched her gender identity.

Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.

 

 

being jazzBeing Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Teen activist and trailblazer Jazz Jennings—named one of “The 25 Most Influential Teens” of the year by Time—shares her very public transgender journey, as she inspires people to accept the differences in others while they embrace their own truths.

Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series—I Am Jazz—making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.

In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. But it hasn’t all been easy. Jazz has faced many challenges, bullying, discrimination, and rejection, yet she perseveres as she educates others about her life as a transgender teen. Through it all, her family has been beside her on this journey, standing together against those who don’t understand the true meaning of tolerance and unconditional love. Now Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence—particularly high school—complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy—especially when you began your life in a boy’s body.

 

 

Note: A previous version of this list included Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin. It’s come to our attention that it may not be the best book to recommend, for various reasons, so we chose to remove it. 

 

Dr. Bully, a guest post by M.G. Hennessey

sjyalitToday we are happy to share this post from author M.G. Hennessey as part of our Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Other Boy, came out in 2016 and is about 12-year-old Shane, who is transgender. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

 

 

Kyler Prescott’s mother Katharine did everything right. When her thirteen-year-old child came out to her, announcing that he was a boy, not a girl, she said, “You know what? I love you no matter what. Whatever we need to do, I will always support you.” She took him for a haircut, bought him boys’ clothes, and helped legally change his name and gender marker on his birth certificate.

 

A little more than a year later, her son was dead. Despite her support, Kyler suffered from body dysphoria, a common condition in transgender children, where a person feels a mismatch between the body they were born with and their personal identity. Medical intervention can help, in the form of hormone blockers and injections; Kyler was on blockers for a few months, but had yet to start his testosterone injections.

 

After some painful experiences, her son was in crisis, so Katharine checked him into the psychiatry unit at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego on a 72-hour hold.

 

Unfortunately, at the hospital, Kyler was traumatized rather than helped. Despite the gender markers on his medical records, and Katharine’s insistence that he be referred to with male pronouns, nurses and other hospital employees persistently misgendered Kyler during his stay. One employee even said, “Honey, I would call you a ‘he,’ but you’re such a pretty girl.” Katharine became so alarmed that after only twenty-four hours she asked the hospital to release Kyler.

 

Sadly, stories like these are all too common for the parents of transgender children. Karena * in Missouri was shocked when their pediatrician, who had been treating her eight-year-old affirmed boy since he was a toddler, announced during a check-up, “You’re going to grow girl parts because that’s what God wants, and there’s nothing you can do.” This is patently untrue: with hormone blockers and hormone therapy, a transgender child can safely undergo the puberty of their affirmed gender; all that doctor had to do was turn on the television to see trans teen Jazz Jennings doing just that. And yet instead she attempted to shame an eight-year-old into thinking there was something wrong with his sense of self.

 

We’ve been taught to put our faith in medical professionals: after all, they’ve spent years studying and training for their job. We tell our children to trust them. But what happens when that trust is misplaced, especially when the consequences can be fatal? A study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute found that 41 percent of transgender people try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared to 4.6 percent of the population as a whole. Imagine facing that statistic as a parent: nearly a fifty-fifty chance that your child might attempt suicide. Now imagine doing everything right, and still losing your child because people in respected positions, people your child was supposed to be able to trust, undermined your efforts.

 

The Hippocratic Oath states, “First, do no harm.” But the doctor who shamed Karen’s son, and the nurse who intentionally used the wrong pronouns with Kyler, were clearly not following that oath.

 

Even less glaring cases are potentially damaging. “When I told our pediatrician that our daughter was actually our son,” said Sarah*, “Her face lit up and she said, ‘You’re my first!’ ‘First what?’ my seven-year-old asked, puzzled. ‘First…y’know,’ she said, looking flustered. Then she basically fumbled through the rest of the exam, and asked if we were doing a surgery anytime soon. My son left the office terrified. I was shocked that she had so little information. And apparently her staff hadn’t told her that he was transgender, even though I’d called in advance.”

 

Statistics on how many transgender and gender variant children currently live in the United States remain elusive, but the best estimate is that around one percent of adolescents don’t fully identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. While that sounds like a small percentage of the population, it’s almost the same as the number of redheads in the United States. Or, to frame it medically, about one in a hundred kids has celiac disease; in the last few decades, though, most doctors have learned to discuss and treat gluten allergies without belittling, embarrassing or stigmatizing their patients. The transgender/gender variant population is particularly vulnerable, though, with a heightened risk of self-harm. So it’s critical that the medical professionals who treat these children be aware of the unique issues confronting them. Bridging that gap is literally a matter of life and death.

 

There are an increasing number of clinics that specialize in treating transgender and gender variant children: Childrens’ Hospital of Los Angeles has one of the most prominent ones, led by Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy. But for every one of those, there are hundreds of doctors with little or no experience with treating transgender children, and a dearth of resources for parents who are trying to get the best care for their children. A knowledgeable, informed doctor is a critical part of the equation.

 

In a conversation with Caitlyn Jenner on her show, “I Am Cait,” Katharine Prescott said that many people assume Kyler was bullied by other children. But that wasn’t really the case. “Really, where he had the most problems was with adults not understanding.” We ask our children not to bully and victimize their peers; should we ask any less of the caregivers who treat them?

 

*Name changed per the request of the interviewee

 

Meet M.G. Hennessey

M.G. Hennessey is the author of The Other Boy, an upper middle grade debut about a 12 yo transgender boy who is living stealth after his transition. Described by Transparent creator Jill Soloway as, “A terrific read for all ages,” The Other Boy won a spot on the Rainbow List as one of the best LGBTQ-themed novels of 2017. M.G. is an ally and supporter of the Transgender Law Center, Gender Spectrum, and the Human Rights Campaign; she also volunteers at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She lives in Los Angeles. (She/Her)

Book Review: When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Publisher’s description

when the moonTo everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Atmospheric, dynamic, and packed with gorgeous prose, When the Moon was Ours is another winner from this talented author.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I don’t care if I somehow managed to read like 200 more YA books before the year is out. There is nothing that could possibly bump this book from my top ten. It is gorgeous. Stunning. Phenomenal. I’m a fast reader, as I’m sure many of you are. I know a book really has a hold on me if I force myself to slow down. If I stop reading down the middle of the page and scan every line to make sure I’m catching every beautiful word. If I make myself not bolt it down all in one sitting, but walk away to help drag out the experience, to give myself time to absorb the writing and the story, focusing on more than just burning through the book and getting it out of my TBR pile.

 

There’s actually almost nothing I want to tell you about this book other than the fact that it’s beautiful and powerful and unique. I want you to go discover every lovely detail for yourself. At the same time, I want to tell you EVERYTHING about this book because it’s just so great.

 

I’ll shoot for somewhere in the middle of that.

 

Pakistani Sam (or Samir) and Latinx Miel have been inseparable since Miel came pouring out of the collapsed water tower. Miel is taken in by Aracely, Sam’s neighbor. Now teenagers, Sam and Miel realize how they really feel about each other and what follows are many absolutely breathtakingly beautiful scenes of them kissing, and touching, and discovering each other. Discovery comes into play, too, with the four beguiling redheaded Bonner sisters, known locally as brujas and boyfriend-stealers. They’re convinced that getting some of the roses that grown from Miel’s wrist will help them regain their power over love. They threaten Miel, telling her if she doesn’t comply, they will spill the secrets about her mother. But it’s a second threat that holds even more power over Miel: if she doesn’t comply, they will show everyone Sam’s birth certificate, which shows that he was assigned the label of “girl” at birth. Miel would do anything to protect Sam, especially because she knows he needs the time right now to really be figuring out some big things. You see, Sam has always used the idea of bacha posh to explain himself. We learn that this practice exists in Pakistan and is something Sam learned about from his grandma when he was young. Bacha posh is a practice where girls dress as boys and live that way, to help out their family, be the man of the house, live with more freedoms, etc, eventually going back to dressing and living as girls when they get older. Sam grapples with this, wondering if that’s the most accurate way to think of himself—is there any possible world where he could imagine wanting to go back to who he was mistaken for in his youth? Other characters seem to know where Sam will eventually land on this, but he has to get there on his own.

 

This story is so much about secrets, untold truths, love, identity, family, culture, and the power of our bodies. This is also another title where I get excited because we are seeing something so new here. This story hasn’t been told. These characters are unique. The plot took completely unexpected twists. Give to this fans of magical realism, those who liked Sarah McCarry’s Metamorphoses Trilogy or Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, and anyone who appreciates staggeringly beautiful writing. Go read. Then find me on Twitter (@CiteSomething) and we can talk about the many wonderful details that you need to go experience for yourself.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250058669

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publication date: 10/04/2016

Book Review: Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of School Library Journal.

 

jess-chunkJess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (ISBN-13: 9780374380069 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 11/08/2016)

Gr 9 Up—Immediately after graduation, Jess and her best friend, Chunk, embark on a road trip from San Jose, CA, to Chicago. Trans teen Jess has tried to fly under the radar, but now she’s ready to show her true self. Where better to make her debut than a surprise appearance at her transphobic dad’s wedding to her mom’s former best friend? The road trip uncovers many worries, tensions, and truths. Jess is concerned for her safety and nervous about passing. Her friendship with Chunk—who really hates the taunting and judgmental nickname and would prefer to be called Chuck—is on the rocks, too. He’s spending the trip texting another girl while growing increasingly irritated at Jess’s utter self-absorption. For someone so aware of names, image, and identity, Jess is extremely insensitive, especially when it comes to weight. It takes seeing (and overhearing) Chuck interact with new people for Jess to understand her feelings and begin to see beyond herself. Though it relies on an engaging premise, the novel is a mixed bag. Some things are true simply because readers are told they are (such as a significant revelation about Chuck that’s barely addressed). Chuck and Jess avoid some really big conversations that would reveal more about themselves and their relationship. Much like their friendship, the ending feels superficial. VERDICT Despite its flaws, this is still a useful addition to collections because of its rare multifaceted picture of a trans girl with a story that is about more than just coming out.

Book Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Publisher’s description

ifi wasA new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different—and a love story that everyone will root for.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

YA novel about a trans main character, written by a trans writer, featuring a trans cover model? YES!

 

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so I’ll keep this review short. This book was fantastic. THE END.

 

Just kidding. Here’s a little more: This book is about changes in Amanda’s life, and not just the changes that come from transitioning. She’s in a new town, at a new school, living with a father she hasn’t seen in six years, and making new friends (for the first time in forever). She gets her first kiss and starts her first relationship. We see enough snippets of her past to know some of the things she’s been through, from suicide attempts to brutal assaults. She’s had varying levels of support, from a dad who still hasn’t “come to terms” with everything to a mom who quickly realizes that she’d rather her kid be trans than be dead. We learn a little about Amanda’s journey—understanding from little on that she was a girl, therapy, hormones, surgery, etc.

 

Amanda’s new friends and new start at a new school give her the chance to just live her life, for once, without being in constant fear. It takes her a little while to feel at ease, and there is a degree of worry underlying all the time, but she finally gets a chance to do things lots of teens typically do—go to football games and dances, be in a relationship, share secrets, and be supported and included. There is still fear and some ugly incidents, but for the most part this is a very positive, hopeful look at the life of a trans teen (something Russo addresses in the author’s note). At the beginning of Amanda’s story she tells us her goals for living in her new town: “I would keep my head down and keep quiet. I would graduate. I would go to college as far from the South as I could. I would live.” She soon realizes she has more options than that, than just simply trying to survive. She gets a chance to really start to live her life—the life she’s wanted to live for so long. A VERY welcome addition to the growing selection of books about trans teens—not to be missed. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250078407

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Publication date: 05/03/2016

Book Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of School Library Journal.

 

art ofGr 9 Up–-Only David Piper’s two best friends know a big secret, and as puberty brings rapid changes to the teen’s body, the clock is ticking for the chance to tell the Pipers that David is really a girl. David shares narrating duties with Leo, a tough transfer student  uninterested in friendships. After Leo stands up for the frequently bullied David, the two slowly become friends, though neither could have guessed how much they actually have in common: Leo, who used to be called Megan, is transgender, too. When word gets out about Leo, he flees, remembering what happened at his old school, and goes in search of his birth father. David accompanies him, returning home having had an opportunity to live a few days as Kate, David’s true self, and ready to tell her parents who she really is. Leo’s and David’s stories are painful and complicated. The novel is filled with transphobic slurs, bullying, physical violence, and nasty reactions from other characters. In most cases, someone points out how cruel, unfair, or incorrect these offensive assertions are. Both Leo and Kate have supportive, loving families (even if Leo’s mother is otherwise a nightmare) and increasingly supportive friends. The book ends on a positive note, especially for Kate, who has longed to be visible. Pacing issues and the curious choice to misgender Kate throughout most of the book despite her announcement on page one that she’s a girl mar this otherwise well-written book. VERDICT: An important addition to collections for its first-person perspectives on the experiences and inner lives of transgender teenagers. –Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

 

ISBN-13: 9780374302375

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication date: 05/31/2016