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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

Book Review: Spirit Level by Sarah N. Harvey

Publisher’s description

spiritHarriet (known as Harry) is a donor-conceived child who has never wanted to reach out to her half-siblings or donor—until now. Feeling adrift after a breakup with her long-time boyfriend, Harry tracks down her half-siblings, two of whom are in Seattle, where Harriet lives. The first girl she meets is fifteen–year-old Lucy, an effervescent half-Japanese dancer. Then she meets Meredith, a troubled girl who is always accompanied by her best friend, Alex. Harry and Alex are attracted to each other, much to Meredith’s chagrin, and when it becomes clear that Meredith is an accomplished liar, Harry makes it her business to figure out what Meredith is up to. In the course of her investigation, she discovers a lot about Meredith, but the biggest shock is not about Meredith—it’s about Alex, who was born female. So now Harry must deal with not only her growing attraction to Alex, but also Meredith’s hostility. As decisions are made around whether to contact their donor, the three donor sisters negotiate their relationship and Harry tries to figure out what she really wants.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

17-year-old Harry leads an interesting life. She works every Sunday at her “grandma” Verna’s hair salon giving free hair washes and haircuts to the “Sunday ladies,” a rotating cast of homeless women. Verna is not Harry’s grandma by blood relation; Verna took Harry’s mother in when she was young and homeless. Harry’s mother now has a PhD and is a sociology professor whose main area of research is the lives of homeless and runaway young girls. These girls and their stories (as well as some of those of the older “Sunday ladies”) show up a lot in this novel, as Harry spends time transcribing her mother’s interviews with the homeless girls.

 

After reading a magazine article about donor siblings, Harry decides she’s finally ready to begin searching for her siblings. Harry’s mom, a Single Mother by Choice, had long ago set Harry up with a way to access the donor sibling registry. Harry decides she wants this to just be her thing for now and doesn’t tell her mom that she’s starting her search. She quickly finds three donor brothers and two donor sisters, both of whom are currently in Seattle, where Harry lives. As she learns more about all of them, she finds they all have very different family makeups and reasons why their mothers used a sperm donor. After getting over the initial shock of how enthusiastic and gregarious her sister Lucy is, she begins to grow close to her. The introduction of another sister, Meredith, interrupts that growing bond. Meredith is secretive and hard to read. Harry just doesn’t click with her. She does, however, click with Alex, Meredith’s best friend who is also living in Seattle. When Harriet embraces the MO of one of her namesakes, Harriet the Spy, and digs into Meredith and Alex’s pasts, she uncovers something she didn’t expect: Alex used to be Danielle. Harry is thrown for a loop, but not horrified or upset or anything negative. She has some questions, but now knowing Alex is transgender doesn’t change anything. She’s still interested in pursuing a relationship with him, but Meredith has other ideas.

 

I really liked this book. I’ll admit that the title didn’t draw me in. Did I know that a spirit level is something carpenters use for checking if things are level? Of course not. Did I read the title as something either supernatural or New Agey? Yep. Good thing I looked beyond that and read the description. Harry and her mom are wonderful characters. They are very close and supportive of each other. Harry’s mom has worked hard to teach Harry to be compassionate and open-minded. With the exception of Alex’s garbage heap of a mom, who we only briefly meet, all of the characters in this book are so supportive and caring. I love that we see stories here from donor-conceived teens, from homeless girls and women, and from families made up in a variety of ways. I also love Alex and Harry’s growing relationship. I don’t want to be like, oh, Harry is so great to not be bothered by learning that Alex is transgender, because that should never bother anyone and you shouldn’t get heaped with praise for simply not being a close-minded idiot. BUT—I really did love that Harry was like, okay, this is a thing we need to talk about, and I have some questions, but she wasn’t otherwise concerned. Overall this was a good read focusing on voices we don’t hear a lot of in YA. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781459808164

Publisher: Orca Book Publishers

Publication date: 02/02/2016

Sex and Romance in Trans YA, a guest post by Vee Signorelli

by Vee S. (@rausicabklvr)

The first time I read a sex scene with a transgender character, I cried.

I was just figuring out that I was trans, and trying to piece together what that meant for me. I thought that no one would ever be able to love me. I thought that maybe it’d be better to kill myself than to live in this way for the rest of my life.

That sex scene changed so much for me.

 

Trans YA can have a strong impact on what trans youth understand about themselves. I’ve learned about identity politics through tumblr and non-fiction works, but reading trans YA helped me figure out how I could exist happily in the world. Seeing someone like you go through the things you’re going through, and things you never thought you’d experience can change a lot. Reading about trans characters in romantic relationships helped me see a future for myself and expel most of the seemingly infinite amount of shame I had around being trans.

 

A lot of trans YA has romance subplots, but they’re usually not exactly romantic or sexy, and oftentimes the cis love interest is weirded out because the character is trans. I want to share the books that I have read that are different. The books in which trans characters have sex, get swept off their feet by a dashing love interest, explain to their date that they’re trans and have them respond affirmatively. I want to share the books that opened new doors for me, the books that made me look forward to the rest of my life, in the hope that they might do the same for someone else.

 

Trans Characters as Romantic Interests

Though cis people often have an odd, voyeuristic fascination with trans bodies, trans people are not depicted as desirable by our culture: trans bodies are things to be reviled and ogled simultaneously. Our culture says that trans people are too freakish—mentally, physically—to ever be found desirable.

 

This is why it is important to have trans characters depicted as romantic interests. The following six books do just that. These are not the books in which the cis character is disgusted that the person they’re attracted to is trans, but the books in which the cis character barely blinks when they find out the person they like is trans. These books can make you squeal and giggle and curl up in a little ball and fill your stomach with butterflies.

 

LOVE IN THE TIMELove in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

“I’m not what I once was.”

“I don’t give a fuck what you are or were. I just don’t want you to go away. Ever.” -131

 

Description: Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead.

 

Why I’m recommending it: Although it’s told from a cis girl’s POV, this book takes the archetypical sci-fi/fantasy romance, and puts a trans guy as the love interest. Showing a trans character in such a typical romantic storyline normalizes and validates trans people as romantic interests.

 

The Micah Grey series by Laura Lam PANTOMIME

“You’re not odd. This, what you can do… it’s beautiful.” He came close, and wrapped me in his arms. “You’re beautiful.”

 

Description: R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

 

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

 

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

 

Why I’m recommending it: Spoiler/not spoiler: Gene and Micah are the same person, and Micah is intersex and nonbinary. The romance in the first book, Pantomime, ends badly, but Shadowplay gives Micah an excellent romantic storyline. Also, in Pantomime, it seems like Micah is being portrayed as a “non-human” because he is intersex—something that’s really not OK. But in Shadowplay, it’s made clear that that his abilities have nothing to do with him being intersex.

 

TWOBOYSTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan

“I like whatever it is that makes you the person you are.” Pg 80

Description: Told from the perspective of two gay men who died of AIDs, Two Boys Kissing follows the stories of several different boys. One of those boys is trans, and just getting into a relationship.

Why I’m recommending it: Avery, the trans boy, is gay. It’s really cool and very validating to see his experience as a gay trans guy included in a book that’s about the varied experiences of gay men. It also lays out one potential roadmap for dating as a trans person in the real world, an important balance to the trans romance in fantasy books.

 

Freakboy by Kirstin Elizabeth Clark FREAKBOY

“My junk doesn’t dictate who I am.”

 

Description: From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak? Along with the alternating POVs of Brendan and Vanessa, is Angel, a young black trans woman, navigating her way through her life and a new relationship.

 

Why I’m recommending it: Angel is a young black trans woman, and the depiction of her new relationship is wonderful. Freakboy also delves into her difficult past, and represents the myriad experiences of trans women of color through a supporting cast of several TWOC. The storyline of the main character and their girlfriend may be hard to read for some people, however, as Vanessa, Brendan’s girlfriend, is very weirded out about Brendan being trans.

 

BRAYBeauty Queens by Libba Bray

“I think you’re beautiful. And brave. And really fucking cool. And you can make Charles Dickens puns.” Pg. 247

 

Description: When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition. This is a fun, satirical, feminist romp, following the storylines of multiple girls. One of the girls, Petra, is trans.

 

Why I’m recommending it: This is a goofy, delightful read, and in it, Petra has a goofy, delightful romance. It’s important to have a trans girl represented that way. The two best-known books featuring trans girls, Luna by Julie Anne Peters and Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, have some pretty problematic content (the titles are linked to posts detailing the problematic nature of these books). Having Petra’s storyline and romance in this satirical/semi-fantasy book is important to begin to counteract those narratives.

 

Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff BROOKLYN

“We’re in love. You can’t hurt us.”

 

Description: When you’re sixteen and no one understands who you are, sometimes the only choice left is to run. If you’re lucky, you find a place that accepts you, no questions asked. And if you’re really lucky, that place has a drum set, a place to practice, and a place to sleep. For Kid, the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are that place. Over the course of two scorching summers, Kid falls hopelessly in love and then loses nearly everything and everyone worth caring about. But as summer draws to a close, Kid finally finds someone who can last beyond the sunset.

 

Why I’m recommending it: The protagonist and the love interest in Brooklyn, Burning are never gendered, and both the characters can be easily easily read as trans, of any identity. (When I read it, I read both characters as nonbinary.) That establishes a safe space within the book for trans readers.

 

Detailed Sex Scenes

There is very little information out there for trans teenagers about having sex. It’s hard to even imagine what sex could be like! How do you have sex when you’re uncomfortable with some parts of your body? What safety precautions are important/necessary for sex after you have surgery? How does taking hormones affect sex? What words do you want to use for your genitals? How do you communicate all of that to your partner?

Stories can’t take the place of real, comprehensive sex-ed. So, before I get into those, I want to recommend Girl Sex 101. Though the title may be off-putting for some transgender folks, it is incredibly inclusive and respectful. I would highly recommend it for trans-feminine and trans-masculine folk alike.

Stories do provide something that sex-ed can’t, however: real-world contexts, and characters you love. In the following three books, you will find those.

 

LOVE IN THE TIMELove in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Quote: I curl [my fingers] into a soft fist and stroke him the way I used to touch myself before the Earth Shaker, when touch wasn’t something you thought you’d have to do without and when love wasn’t the difference between life and death.

Description: [see above]

Why I’m recommending it: The sex scenes in this book have a strong focus on the romance and sexiness. The scenes are rather dubiously consensual, unfortunately, but this is an important contribution nonetheless.

 

Just Girls by Rachel Gold just girls

Her fingers started touching me so gently I almost couldn’t feel them at first. “You have to tell me if I do something you don’t like,” she said. “Or something you really do. Okay?” pg. 151

 

Description: Jess Tucker sticks her neck out for a stranger—the buzz is someone in the dorm is a trans girl. So Tucker says it’s her, even though it’s not, to stop the finger pointing. Ella Ramsey is making new friends at Freytag University, playing with on-campus gamers and enjoying her first year, but she’s rocked by the sight of a slur painted on someone else’s door. A slur clearly meant for her, if they’d only known.

 

New rules, old prejudices, personal courage, private fear. In this stunning follow-up to the groundbreaking Being Emily, Rachel Gold explores the brave, changing landscape where young women try to be Just Girls.

 

Why I’m recommending it: The sex scene in this book is very detailed. The characters discuss what they are and are not comfortable with, and consent is prioritized. Through Ella’s thoughts we hear all the fears she has about having sex. It’s incredibly sweet and sexy. And it’s also between two girls!

 

KHAOS KOMIXKhaos Komix by Tab

Description: Khaos is a webcomic about eight teenagers navigating gender and sexuality. There’s one cishet character out of the cast of eight. There’s a Charlie, a trans girl and Tom, a trans boy, who both have lovely romantic storylines. I wanted to talk about them here, though, because there’s some NSFW side-stories that are just gold.

 

Why I’m recommending it: The sex scenes in the NSFW side-stories really explore some of the different ways trans people can have sex. The characters have conversations about what they’re comfortable with, and in one case they stop sexytimes to make a list of things they do and don’t want to do. Also, the trans boy is gay and Latino!

 

None of these books are perfect. If you follow me on Twitter or Tumblr, you probably know I’m very critical of trans representation. I have issues with how transness is portrayed in almost every single one of these books. But sometimes representation doesn’t need to be perfect for it to be enough to make a difference for transgender teens.

 

I hope that in coming years there will be so much trans YA that includes romance and sex that this post will no longer be needed. These things should be so common that they don’t need to be hunted down. But until then…

 

Because of the way these books depict trans people romantically and sexually, I would recommend them for: trans teens looking for representation, cis readers who want to broaden their reading horizons, librarians who want to put together trans-inclusive reading lists and collections, and anyone else who is interested in spreading the word about positive transgender representation.

 

On one last note, I wanted to talk about sexual violence (since this is the SVYALit Project, after all!)

 

Sexual violence is a very real thing for trans people. Multiple studies have shown that 50% of transgender people (or one in two) experience some form of sexual violence at some point in their lives.

 

I haven’t read a single trans YA book that reflects this reality. I’m hoping that as more and more trans YA books come out, particularly ones by authors who are themselves trans, more of this will be represented. Sexual violence is a terrible, confusing thing and YA has a unique opportunity to offer guidance to teens dealing with it. (Which the SVYALit Project has done an incredible job of pointing out and utilizing.)

 

In lieu of those books existing, I compiled this short list of resources in case anyone needs them.

Forge

FORGE was founded in 1994 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to provide peer support for those in the transgender community who are survivors of sexual violence. They also provide a lot of resources on how to keep yourself safe going forward.

 

Pandora’s Project

Pandora’s Project’s mission is to provide information, facilitate peer support and offer assistance to male and female survivors of sexual violence and their friends and family. To meet its mission, Pandora’s Project sponsors the internet’s largest support community for those who have been the victim of sexual violence.

Though Pandora’s Project is a resource for all survivors of sexual violence, they are very inclusive, and they have a separate forum for LGBTQ members and a separate forum for teens.

 

Meet Vee Signorelli 

jjuhXav2Vee S. spends their time writing, reading, hunting through queer book tags on tumblr, and keeping up with school. They’re a passionate feminist, a huge fan of actual representation in media, and a lover of theatre, mythology, and biology. Vee is the admin and co-founder of GayYA.org. Find them on Twitter, Goodreads, or Tumblr.