Author: Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Publication Date: 10/8/12
Blurb(GR): The lives and loves of a teenage transboy music geek.
Gabe has always identified as a boy, but he was born with a girl's body. With his new public access radio show gaining in popularity, Gabe struggles with romance, friendships, and parents--all while trying to come out as transgendered. An audition for a station in Minneapolis looks like his ticket to a better life in the big city. But his entire future is threatened when several violent guys find out Gabe the popular DJ is also Elizabeth from school.
“I also know that people think I’m an ISSUE, and that gets really old. Any time THOSE SCARY TRANNIES come up, everybody flips out.”
Well, I for one was very interested in reading a book from the point of view of a transitioning person. What must it be like to feel that you were born in the wrong body? What must it be like to be forced to constantly pretend you belong in one category when nothing about it feels right? Is anyone really one hundred percent “male” or “female” anyway? My personal opinion is that much of the idea of gender is a made-up social construct and if we just let people act however they wanted to, we’d all be a lot happier. So as you can see, this issue does hold a lot of interest for me.
However, that’s not the main reason I read this book. I picked this up, first and foremost, because I wanted to read a great story about a real person. I wanted to fall into someone else’s head for a while and experience new trials, triumphs, and feelings. That’s one of the main reasons I read any book. And unfortunately, I don’t feel like this book ever quite delivered that. Gabe and the rest of the characters never quite felt like real people to me. This story never transcended its “ISSUE” book status to become real in my mind. It’s enjoyable and compelling enough, but the writing has a lot of rough edges. And each time I stumbled over one, it only served to remind me over and over that I was reading a book – something manufactured and separate from myself – and not experiencing something real.
The first thing I stumbled over was Gabe’s narration. The story is written in first person, but it doesn’t have that intimate feeling I really enjoy in a first person narration. It feels almost like an epistolary novel – like Gabe is telling his story to someone else. He relates information about his family and friends and his life as if to a complete stranger. I just kept thinking…"Who are you talking to?” Honestly I’m no expert in these things, so it’s entirely possible that this type of narration has a name. It’s entirely possible that it has a fancy name. Still, I think Gabe’s story would have felt so much more personal and immersive if the details about his life were revealed organically, in the course of the story, and not recited to us by Gabe. Gabe shouldn’t have to tell us that Paige is the only person he talks to, or that his neighbor is his mentor, or that he was born biologically female but knows he’s a guy. We should be able to figure all of that out from reading the action and dialogue alone.
The storyline also sometimes jumps erratically through time in a way that’s pretty jarring to the reader. Gabe occasionally moves through the events of a few days or even a week in the span of a page. The characters too sometimes make dramatic leaps that feel completely out of character. There’s also one single flashback in the book that comes out of nowhere. There are no clues to the reader that it’s even happening – no change in tense, no change in font. I hope that’s something that will be fixed for the final copy. Give a sister italics at least, please!
However, despite all of those rough edges, I did mostly like this book. The biggest thing that held my interest was the relationship between Gabe and Paige – a very vivid bright spot in this novel. I felt that Cronn-Mills did an excellent job of portraying all the complexities of their relationship – how confusing it was for both of them to have everything change after Gabe came out. Paige is a truly supportive friend who doesn’t quite know what to do with the new Gabe. And Gabe has feelings for Paige, but isn’t quite ready to share them. He’s also just adorably patient with her – even when she’s pushing him away or having the occasional freak-out, he stands by with the patience of someone who knows that she’ll come around. Even with this new development, they have such patience and trust for each other. Romantic or not, their relationship feels like one that will last a lifetime.
Also, this may be an “ISSUE” book in the end, but at least Cronn-Mills never shies away from the more “uncomfortable” aspects of this issue. Gabe is threatened and bullied. He worries about how his transition might change his personality. He disappoints potential love interests – badly. His parents are both dealing with confusion and guilt (although I thought the ultimate resolution there was a bit unrealistic). And I’m pretty sure the Mango never appeared in an after school special. For an issue book, this is a pretty good one and I’m glad it’s out there.
Perfect Musical Pairing
The Lonely Forest - Two Notes and a Beat
"All I really need are two notes and a beat
to sing you my heart it’s a great place to start"