29. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books · Tags: ,

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark, 448 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/10/2014

This novel-in-verse rotates through three different perspectives. First, there are the high school kids, Brendan and Vanessa. Brendan and Vanessa have been a couple for a long time. They’re both fairly popular and are athletes. Vanessa is a fairly normal girl, with the exception being that her sport of choice is wrestling. Brendan is the star of the wrestling team, so the two spend a lot of time together. On the surface, their relationship is perfect, but under the surface, they’ve got some serious issues that neither one wants to talk about. Vanessa has thrown everything she is into this relationship, to the point where she is in danger of losing the few female friends she has left. Brendan is secretly questioning his gender identity. He can’t understand why he sometimes feels as though he would rather be his girlfriend than be with her. When he learns the word “transgender”, it sends shock-waves through the core of his being. Deep down, he realizes this is a word that might apply to him. In a fit of confused angst, he throws a rock through the window of a local GLBTQ teen center where our third narrator, Angel, works. Angel is a male-to-female transgendered person who has seen some incredibly difficult times. As a result, Angel has found a calling in helping young people come to terms with their sexual orientation and identities. Can Angel help Brendan, even if Brendan isn’t really sure who he is?
Freakboy takes on a whole host of issues, though the transgender one obviously takes front and center. Brendan and Vanessa’s relationship issues are painfully realistic. Vanessa has clear self-esteem issues and frequently misinterprets Brendan’s actions. She defines herself through having a boyfriend and, while she’s obsessed with her relationship, she remains surprisingly self-absorbed. Brendan is by far the most well-developed character in the book; he’s not the type of person who definitively knew his identity from a young age and he doesn’t always hate being a boy. Angel, on the other hand, seems like she’s there to provide the reader with a more traditional transformation story or to show how an adult might handle being trans rather than contributing to the overall plot. Angel is a great character, but her integration into the narrative feels rough and somewhat forced.
Overall, a decent, if heavy-handed, tale of teenagers dealing with a tough and under-addressed issue.

27. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Teen Books · Tags:

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako, 208 pages, read by Courtney, on 02/17/2013

Wandering Son follows two fifth-graders as they navigate the beginnings of adolescence. One is Shuichi Nitori, a boy who would rather be a girl. The other is his good friend, Yoshino Takatsuki, a girl would would prefer to be a boy. Both are from good, loving homes and are both well-liked by their classmates. Often mistaken as members of the opposite gender, both children feel more at home in their bodies when they dress and act as such.
This is an unusual and somewhat provocative topic for manga, but the intertwining stories of these two kids’ stories does not focus on sexuality. It does, however, focus intently on personal identity. Yoshino and Shuichi are both sweet and endearing. Readers will hopefully empathize with their struggles and, ideally, learn to accept that gender is not always as black-and-white as it may seem.
The artwork here is nice enough, though I was expecting more from a hardcover manga. I often had difficulty telling characters apart since the sparse drawing style made many of the characters look similar. Overall, Wandering Son is sweet and earnest in its storytelling, making it appropriate even for younger readers who may wish to better understand themselves or their peers.