Feckless Friday: Adam (A Tournament of Books selection)

Posted 16 January, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feckless Friday: Adam (A Tournament of Books selection)Adam by Ariel Schrag
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 10th 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Lesbian
Pages: 304

When Adam Freedman — a skinny, awkward, inexperienced teenager from Piedmont, California — goes to stay with his older sister Casey in New York City, he is hopeful that his life is about to change. And it sure does. It is the summer of 2006. Gay marriage and transgender rights are in the air, and Casey has thrust herself into a wild lesbian subculture. Soon Adam is tagging along to underground clubs, where there are hot older women everywhere he turns. It takes some time for him to realize that many in this new crowd assume he is trans—a boy who was born a girl. Why else would this baby-faced guy always be around? Then Adam meets Gillian, the girl of his dreams — but she couldn’t possibly be interested in him. Unless passing as a trans guy might actually work in his favor . . .

Guys, I’m not trans, but I am an ally and it’s going to be hard to hit all the reasons that this book is offensive. You know I don’t mean offensive in the sense that there’s a ton of swearing, (there is), graphic descriptions of sex (there are) – but offensive in the sense that this feels like a book written by a cis-female lesbian to shock and awe her audience into thinking that this is some sort of breakthrough in trans fiction. 

I don’t think I can write this review without spoilers. So, you’ve been warned. There are so many directions to go, I hardly know where to start. I guess we’ll just start with Adam being a bit of a creepy douchebag. Scratch that, the entire cast of characters all kind of turn out to be creepy douchebags. But we’ll start with Adam. Within the first few chapters, to impress his life-long friend he spies on his sister having sex with another woman. On purpose. Seriously? I’m really not sure what this was to add to the characterization of Adam except maybe he’s insecure and just wants to be popular. 

I actually laughed out loud at the idiotic assumption that Adam makes while looking at lesbian porn that he should know what real lesbians do, because his sister is one. What?! 

So sad and rejected from the ‘cool kids’ at school Adam decides he wants to spend the entire summer in NYC with his sister who had just finished her freshman year at Columbia. The siblings move into a flat with June, who is continually thought of as ‘butch’ and intensely ugly by Adam, and Ethan – who June and Casey have found on Craigslist.

Casey (the sister), comes across as a know-it-all on everything counter-culture sexuality. Actually, she comes across as a bitch. She also fails to do anything to offer readers any sense of empowerment with her own sexuality and really is representative of that sad girl who will do anything for attention and fails to recognize her own poor choices that put her in compromising and hurtful situations. 

If I cared enough I would go back through the book and find the number of times women are referenced as butch, ugly, or some clever insult thereof. Worst of all there is no redemption from Adam on thinking these awful things or for judging a book by its cover. Again and again women are objectified and lesbian women in this book even more so. I have to think that the shocking scene in the NYC sex club where Adam watches his sister having very public and rough sex (again), is a furtherance of that objectification. Why does this kid spend so much time watching his sister have sex?

Oh, but let’s get to where the real offense is. Adam meets the girl of his dreams (no literally, he has a vision on the plane to NYC about this girl) and *gasp* she’s a very pretty lesbian. Somehow, somehow, she mistakes Adam for a female to male transperson. …and what does Adam do? He rolls with it. So he’s totally in love with Gillian – learns everything he can about trans-culture (all the better to fool you with, my dear) and keeps up the subterfuge until blessedly the author pulls the trigger and Adam has to come clean. What happens then? Does she feel violated that she’s been having sex with someone who had committed an incredible transgression of her trust? Does she get angry and run away? 

NOT AT ALL. After Adam reveals he’s a cis-male that has been posing as trans for months, Gillian just says. “I know.” …and they stay together. WHAT?! So basically skeevy teenage boy poses as trans to get into the panties of a lovely lesbian and gets away with all the goodies. No lesson learned, nothing. I also find this offensive in reinforcing the idea that gay people can choose their orientation. All the sudden Gillian is straight and we see no struggle in her identity about that.

Are you going to say anything nice? Sure. There were tidbits of educational information about kind of maybe what it might be like to be trans. (Nothing of the terrible discrimination or the fact that the suicide rate is higher than any other population in America), but there is some education on types of surgeries a trans person may choose to go through, or why they may not choose to go through them. 

Overall though. This book is a hot mess. I read it because it’s a part of The Tournament of Books and I would love to see it destroyed. I didn’t go into it as a hate read, but somewhere along the way it ended up being one.

Edit: I thought I’d add some quotes for context.

Racism: “She had transferred … mid semester and was the only black kid in Adam’s American history class, and whenever they were talking about civil rights or racism, Kandis would get all huffy and groan really loudly any time a white kid had an opinion.” p.38

Homosexuality: “June was clearly gay. Like, no doubt about it, this was a lesbian. Casey, who had long hair and often wore skirts, wasn’t obviously gay…” p. 41 Excuse me, what does ‘clearly gay’ look like?

“It might be fun to talk with a girly lesbian, just for the night, even if it went nowhere, but none of these girls were remotely hot. Why would you want to make yourself look so unattractive?” p.56 So much for body-positivity.

Transgender: “Everyone kept talking, and all the sudden it hit Adam. He got it. The lesbians here weren’t hemaphrodites – they were girls who wanted to be guys. And somehow this was possible.” p.60

I lack questions, Reader. I guess, does this sound offensive to you from the synopsis? I had reservations going in – but it was really worse than I possibly could have imagined. 


April @ The Steadfast Reader


  • Holy crap YES this sounds offensive. It sounds like it’s using the trans experience as entertainment fodder. “Kinda maybe what it might be like” isn’t good enough. Especially if there are no repercussions at the end. How does he learn about trans culture — does he meet anyone who is actually trans? If so, does the book explore how *they* feel when he comes clean?

    • Okay. Spoiler because you’re not reading this tripe anyway. First, he meets a lot of trans people who are morbid stereotypes at best (see comment above), and the big reveal at the end is that Ethan, the Craigslist roommate who Adam has come to admire and like and think of as awesome and manly is a FtM trans person. But does Ethan get pissed as shit at Adam’s little hijinks when he finds out about them? NO. I think that in the epilogue they may actually become roommates – it makes absolutely zero sense. Also, at the end of the book Gillian dumps Adam (because long distance with a high school student just didn’t work out, go figure) and ends up dating a cis-male. Again, WHAT?!

  • I just thought of something else: Gillian *thinks* Adam is FtM. So she’s okay with having a relationship with him? If so, that means she is negating his (pretend) gender identity. Even while believing he was FtM, she saw a female?! “I can date him, because realllllly, he’s a female.” NO. Just no.

    • OMG. You’re so right here and that’s something I never even thought of – there’s a point at the beginning of the relationship where Gillian says something like, “I could never be with a bio-guy.” …but apparently FtM is different? Ohhh. It’s so bad. AND Casey the sister ALSO has an obsession with dating trans people. She starts by dating a FtM who is referred to as ‘Boy Casey’ (I shit you not.), then she falls for a MtF individual who’s evilness and twisted sadistic ways seems to know no bounds AND is constantly called unattractive by Adam.

  • kayleigh M

    Completely agree with Monika re: Gillian dating Adam assuming he’s FtM. If I hadn’t looked up the author after finishing this review I would have assumed it was written by someone much older that had no understanding of the culture she’s writing about. Sorry you had to take the bullet and read this one April, but at least you’ve saved me the headache!

    • Glad to be of service… 🙂 You and Monika just blew my mind because I never even thought of that angle but it makes perfect (non)sense.

  • Kinda sounds like bad porn – lots of voyeurism, no character development, questionable motivations, and negative stereotypes galore. I never have time to read all the ToB books, and now I can strike this one off the list.

    • YES! You are frickin’ brilliant Tanya, that is EXACTLY what this book is like. Definitely skip this one and read a different ToB book instead.

  • I honestly had no idea what this book was about, but I remember seeing a bunch of Twitter praise for it when it first came out, which is kind of baffling now. I also had the impression it was YA?? I’m with @tanyaboughtflower:disqus in thanking you for allowing me to strike this off the ToB list, but I’m really curious which judge will end up with this and how they’ll approach it.

    • It reads kind of like YA, but there is a ton of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll in it. It’s one of those that’s difficult to place because the sex is so over the top. (and you know I’m all about everyone pushing comfort boundaries and free range reading for kids but this one…. it had more sex than How to Build A Girl – with none of the message.)

  • I can come up with nothing other than ARTCVBMRRGHEIRJGIANAJRIJDAAGHHHH!


  • Alison Law

    Strange that Bechdel would have blurbed this book.

    • I’m mystified by that as well…

    • Melanie Page

      You ever wonder if those who blurb actually read the whole book? I frequently do. I know people who are so ungodly busy and blurb every little book that comes out. Red flags!

  • I feel a little bit gross just reading this; it sounds super offensive. I wonder how it will be handled in the Tournament?

    • I am sitting on pins and needles waiting to see how it will be handled in the Tournament. I was telling someone else, looking on Goodreads this book is maintaining a 3.5 star rating and for the most part it seems like the trans community hates it, the gay community is split, and the straight people (not me, obviously) think it’s hysterical. So it should be verrrrrryyy interesting. (Also part of me thinks it was put in the Tournament to stir up shit.)

  • What in the real hell. I am raging right now. If just a few quotes are massively offensive, then surely the entire book is. I think we should seriously oppose this book. I read Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill, a boy to girl trans individual, and it was honest and heartfelt and emotional. She went through all kinds of stages. I liked reading about it. But this book sounds like one I would throw against the wall. I can’t even…

    • Yeah. I must have stopped highlighting after page 60 because it was all just so massively weirdishly bad. Like @alisonlaw:disqus said, I’m TOTALLY mystified why Bechdel would have blurbed this book – it’s empowering to NO ONE.

  • Omg, what is this book?! I’m offended by it and I’ve only read your review. I have a bit of a 50 shades feeling about this: people who are not in the community writing about the community, obviously without doing any research? That’s one of the main turnoffs in books that one can encounter. Like, seriously? Does the writer think these things really happen?!

  • Wow. There is nothing substantive I can add to this discussion but have thrown my ARC in the recycling bin. I’m so sorry you had to pay for this book. Why not use it as a chance to share your insightful response- and return it?!

  • I have no words. Well, that’s a lie. I have one and it’s NO.

  • Based on your comments and the quotes you posted, why is this a Tournament of Books selection? It makes me question the selection committee and the other books on the list.

    • Honestly. I feel like it might have been to stir the pot a little. Controversy is always good for promoting things.

  • Melanie Page

    I just read another review of this book, and the reviewer basically said the same thing. This book sounds like it encourages people who think being gay is something you can fix (you know, with just the right penis, she won’t be a lesbian anymore).

  • Katie McDermott

    I was planning on reading this for ToB, buuuttt maybe I should make it low priority? Certainly won’t be purchasing, which was my original plan… https://bookishtendencieskatie.wordpress.com/

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