Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 10th 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Lesbian
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.