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Book Review: Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

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Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clarke

Source: Goodreads

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon):  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?

In Freakboy‘s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

My Review: One of the best aspects of this book is the characters. Brendan’s struggle to understand his sexual identity is realistic and raw. Also, the fact that he is also a great big brother to his little sister, put down by his wrestling coach, and doesn’t get along with his stepfather makes him even more sympathetic.

Meanwhile, Angel’s character shows what its like for transgender people who love and accept themselves, but still struggle with their past and everyday prejudice.  Like Brendan, her point of view is raw and she has qualities that make her sympathetic. She is caring and motherly to her loved ones.

Finally, Vanessa is a character that urges the reader to discuss gender norms and how they relate to gender identity. Even though she is straight, she is still called a “dyke” because she is the only girl on the wrestling team. Anyone who doesn’t fit the standard for what it means to be male or female can relate to her.

Besides the characters, the author does a great job writing three points-of-view in verse. She uses different poetry styles and creates powerful metaphors in order to convey thoughts and emotions. In addition, the way certain words and poems are structured is very creative.

The only criticism I have of the book is its ending, particularly with Brendan’s point-of-view. The end of Brendan’s story felt too ambiguous. While it is understandable that his story doesn’t have an easy outcome, the author could have shown that it is possible for Brendan to have a good future.

Overall, this book was a poignant glimpse into the lives of gender queer and transgender people and how gender norms affect everyone. I recommend it to everyone who doesn’t fit gender norms. I also recommend it to anyone who works with transgender and gender queer youth and anyone who has enjoyed the work of YA author Ellen Hopkins.

Written by Serena Zola

September 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Book Review: I Am J by Cris Beam

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Plot Summary: J had always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was: a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a “real boy” and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible — from his parents, from his friends, from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he’s done hiding — it’s time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.

My Review:  One of the great things about this book is its main character J. He is fleshed-out well enough that he is just a person rather than a transgender person. He is a photographer, a comic book geek, and his ethnicity is Puerto-Rican and Jewish. J’s ethnicity and interest in photography adds depth to J as well as the plot.

In addition to the main character, the supporting characters were fleshed out well too. They are diverse enough that they provide a different view of Jay’s world. A few characters represent the uninformed and narrow-minded view of  transexuality and homosexuality. Contrastly, some represent the tolerant or supportive side. Also, the inclusion of gays and bisexuals is an honest and fair aspect.

Besides the characters, the plot is emotionally charged. J’s journey to become the person he wants to be is internal and external. By following the story from J’s point of view, you can see and feel what it is like to go from hating yourself to embracing yourself. Through the supporting characters, you can see what it is like to feel like misunderstood, excluded, and accepted by others.

Finally, the author’s writing style is amazing. Using photography, he cleverly displayed J’s self-worth. It literally progresses from a shadow of his true self to his true potential being realized. Furthermore, he uses a photography term called “parallax” as a metaphor for how people view each other.

Overall, this was a poignant and authentic read that was well researched. I recommend this to anyone who wants a better understanding of transgender community or any transgender youth.

Written by Serena Zola

June 13, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Op-Ed: 11 Year Old Transgender Girl’s Letter to President Obama

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I was making my usual rounds through the Huffington Post this morning when this article caught my eye. The words “eleven year old transgender” interested me because this was a person that was a part of an identity that I and most of the United States are struggling to understand. I have known about the transgender community for a few years now and have come to tolerate it through research, particularly through personal testimonies about what it is like to be a young transgender person.

To have someone as young as Sadie write such a heartfelt letter is amazing. The last personal testimony I read was in a book entitled The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Other Identities. I read this book  a few years ago, not recently. It wasn’t until I tried looking for more writing like this that I realized how rare it was. Besides Sadie’s letter, the only other recent personal testimony I’ve read by a young person from the GLBTQ community was the one by Richard Blanco, the 2013  Presidental Inaugration poet.

Besides the personal testimonies, I’ve also tried to understand the transgender identity through young adult fiction. Since I still don’t know the subject matter too well, I’ve been unsure of what to read because I’m not sure if what I’m reading accurately represents the transgender identity. However, a book I’ve recently reviewed entitled Beauty Queens has a transgender character that is very realistic because she expresses feelings similar to Sadie’s. 

Even though I still don’t understand the transgender identity as well as I would like, I know that it is important for letters like Sadie’s to be read and understood. For those like Sadie, it sends a message that they are not alone. For the rest of us, it sends a message that shows Sadie’s humanity, which still exists in all of us no matter how we identify ourselves.

It is clear to me  is that if Obama didn’t address the transgender community, he needs to read Sadie’s letter and act on it as soon as possible. While the GLBTQ community may have different identities, they both share the same enemies: prejudice and discrimination. Most people should know by now that these things have tragic consequences, including suicide and homicide. When I saw Sadie’s letter, I thought of another transgender person named Brandon Teena. I wish Sadie the best of luck and hope that she will continue to live life to the fullest and not have it cut short like Brandon’s was.

Written by Serena Zola

January 24, 2013 at 11:24 AM

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