“He looks at me and sees a hot chick—a smooth Clinique girl. I look at him and see a chimpanzee tugging on his little noodle.”
And so ends the first re“He looks at me and sees a hot chick—a smooth Clinique girl. I look at him and see a chimpanzee tugging on his little noodle.”
And so ends the first revealing chapter of Alex As Well, a powerful coming of age tale that isn’t afraid to put both tears and smiles on the page, and which doesn’t pretend there’s one perfect answer to the question of gender. Alex was born intersex, but while her mother decided to raise her as a boy, complete with a lifetime of hormone treatment, she doesn’t agree, and just wants to be a girl.
What immediately distinguishes Brugman’s tale is the way in which she tells it. Alex acts as our primary narrator, relating to us not just the events of her life, but also what she’s thinking and feeling behind the scenes. At the same time, she relates to us her struggle with the other Alex, the boy who used to live on the outside. It’s a conflict that’s painful, and which has the potential to be melodramatic, but it’s handled with just the right about of humour.
Alex’s transition is not an easy one. Her classmates don’t handle it well, prompting the change in schools; her father doesn’t handle it well, prompting him to walk out of her life; and her mother doesn’t handle it well, prompting her to take out her anger and her fear on Alex. Even though it’s her father who walks out, it’s really Alex’s mother who serves as the sort-of ‘villain’ of the piece. She takes everything personally, accuses Alex of screwing up her life, and even gets physically abusive in a few instances.
Her mother does introduce an interesting angle to the story, however, with her narrative pieces involving an online forum. Here we see how Heather presents her story to the world, and what kind of comments others have for her. It really opens your eyes to the different perspectives out there, and puts the biological question of Alex into context.
“I want to have a family who can love me as a girl, and just be normal. They say I am a weirdo and a pervert. If I was normal, they would not be like this with me.”
Alex is a typical teenager, self-centred and full of drama, but there’s a genuine pain beneath all her angry bravado. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, but who does at that age? Ultimately, she just wants to be loved and accepted for who she is, rather than questioned and criticised for not being something else. The conclusion of her tale may come across as a bit harsh to some readers, but I found it a realistic approach to providing closure, leaving the door open for a more hopeful future.
From my RR comments: This was such a frustrating read. The plot was really creative, and the setting was very well laid out. I was really curious aboutFrom my RR comments: This was such a frustrating read. The plot was really creative, and the setting was very well laid out. I was really curious about the characters, but there did not seem to be any point to them representing a third gender. The writing was awful. It was a very hard book to read, and one I had to struggle to finish, but I kept hoping there would be some greater significance to the gender issues....more
From its deliberately provocative title, to its unusual narrative style, to its heavy layering of religious themes, to its reliance upon deception andFrom its deliberately provocative title, to its unusual narrative style, to its heavy layering of religious themes, to its reliance upon deception and coincidence, this was a book I was prepared not to like. The term hermaphrodite itself seemed like a slap in the face, especially since any hope of finding a mythological theme to serve as a justification for the term was erased the moment Jamie’s boyfriend invited her study the Bible with him.
The problem was, by that point I had already fallen in love with Jamie, and I wanted to see her safely through the story. I felt the need to protect her, to embrace her, and to support her through to the end. Sure, she’s a little too perfect, a little too innocent for a college student experiencing her first taste of freedom, but she absolutely compels the reader’s sympathy. And, as jarring as her narrative leaps between genders can be, they create a fairy-tale kind of magic that is undeniably attractive.
So, I persevered for Jamie’s sake, continuing to follow her on this difficult journey to womanhood. I can’t say that I ever became comfortable with the religious themes, but I did come to appreciate them in a way I had not expected. As we progress through the story, we learn that it’s the love of family that is holding Jamie back, and the love of the Church that empowers her to move forward. Without the spiritual acceptance of those around her, and her involvement with the Church orphanage, Jamie would likely never have found the courage to claim the gender that was rightfully hers all along.
What bothered me instead was how so many friends and family seemed to take it upon themselves to force their help upon Jamie, often in rather deceptive ways. It can be argued that the end justifies the means, but in a book that has such a spiritual core, those deceptions are even more pronounced. Jamie may not be manipulated in the way that we expect, or by whom we expect, but the manipulation is still there, and still makes your skin crawl when you really think about it.
On a positive note, the book does a fantastic job of detailing the variety of intersex conditions, the challenges they represent, and the different ways in which people come to deal with their situations. I was delighted by how much I learned from the story, enough that I was willing to forgive the idea that so many intersex individuals might so naturally converge on one small college town.
In the end, this is a rather nostalgic read, full of old-fashioned values and progressive ideals. The writing is strong, the characters are likeable, and you cannot escape becoming emotionally attached to Jamie. Despite the details that bothered me, I quite enjoyed the read, and was rather delighted by the way in which everything came together in the end.
Allison Moon's Lunatic Fringe is a truly wonderful read, the kind of story that manages to simultaneously by clever, sexy, frightening, and engaging.Allison Moon's Lunatic Fringe is a truly wonderful read, the kind of story that manages to simultaneously by clever, sexy, frightening, and engaging. It's one of those books where you're never quite sure what to expect, but are never disappointed by the surprises on the next page.
The story takes quite a while to really settle into the core storyline, but Allison establishes the world so carefully, and builds up the characters so beautifully, you don't begrudge the long introduction. I tend to have a hard time with names (both in person and on the page), but these characters immediately stuck in my head. I found myself subconsciously dividing them into friends, allies, and adversaries (something I don't normally do unless I'm really engaged) and categorizing them according to likability. With a cast of characters as well-balanced as they are well-rounded, picking sides makes for a really fun read.
Before we get into the characters, though, we are exposed to a healthy dose of social politics. The early chapters have a very 'college' feel to them, with a lot of ideas tossed around, but it's done very well. Allison manages to make an otherwise polarizing subject exciting by intimately tying the issues of sexual identity and gender equality to the characters, giving the politics both a face and a personality. There is even a genderqueer member of the Pack who, as I'm sure will come as no surprise, easily crept into my heart alongside our stunning heroine, Lexie.
There's so much I want to say about this, so many key scenes and snippets of dialogue that I'm dying to share, but it really is the discoveries that make the story. Allison manages to merge the threads of social politics, lesbian romance, werewolf adventure, and college drama into a story that takes hold and never lets go. A story that's both fun and thoughtful at the same time is a rarity in and of itself, but one that's also beautifully written, with such a deft command of narrative and dialogue, is a gem that must be shared....more
**spoiler alert** I brought a copy of Ilario: The Lion's Eye with me on vacation, and my only regret is that I didn't bring the companion volume, Ilar**spoiler alert** I brought a copy of Ilario: The Lion's Eye with me on vacation, and my only regret is that I didn't bring the companion volume, Ilario: The Stone Golem, with me because I devoured The Lion's Eye on the first day.
This is a book about art, gender, family, friendship, and politics . . . and not necessarily in that order. First of all, let's talk art. The driving force behind the story is Ilario's quest to study the new art of painting the thing itself - the world as it appears to the naked eye, rather than the iconographic representation. It's odd to think of a time when realism and perspective were undiscovered concepts, and it makes for a fascinating story.
Look beneath the art, and the Lion's Eye is the story of a rather unique and unusual friendship between Ilario, the hermaphrodite artist, and Rekhmire, the eunuch book buyer (and, we suspect, Egyptian spy). Their relationship is handled so beautifully, and so naturally, almost as if they were siblings or best friends getting reacquainted after a long absence. There is a lot of good-natured ridicule of their respective gender identities, but it's just that - good-natured and friendly. By the time we're introduced to Neferet, the feminized eunuch book buyer, her gender identity is almost a non-event.
Lastly, this is a book about politics and family. Poor Ilario must contend with the mother who left her 'freak' infant to die in the cold, the adopted parents who raised him and sold him to be the King's freak, and the father who returns from the Crusades to discover he has a son-daughter. If I could have chosen my parents, I don't think I could have even asked for a father as loving, understanding, and fiercely dedicated as Honorius. Oh, and just to round out the theme of family, Ilario must also contend with the fact that he-she is pregnant!
This is not the book I expected it to be, and that is too its credit. I must say, the ending is quite a cliff-hanger, but knowing there is a second volume eases some of the worry for lovely Ilario. Here's hoping The Stone Golem is a worthy conclusion to the tale. ...more
Like Wayne himself, Kathleen Winter’s novel is beautiful, but difficult. It’s remarkably well crafted, full of lovely prose and haunting images. FromLike Wayne himself, Kathleen Winter’s novel is beautiful, but difficult. It’s remarkably well crafted, full of lovely prose and haunting images. From a pure language standpoint, it’s a delightful read, and one that reminds you what an author can do when she takes the time to choose every word carefully.
Annabel is full of beautiful (but harsh) scenery, and beautiful (but equally harsh) characters. That, I’m afraid, is where my dissatisfaction with the book originates. The story is very cold, almost clinical, and the characters are largely without emotion. There are a lot of powerful scenes in the book that elicit feelings of both hope and despair in the reader, but we’re alone in experiencing those feelings. The characters are like disinterested actors, simply walking through a rehearsal of their lines. The equally disinterested narrator tells us what happens to them, but offers no insight into what the characters are feeling. Thematically, I suspect very much that this emotional distance is intentional, but it creates a real issue with reader engagement.
As for the dilemma of Wayne/Annabel, I’m of mixed feelings there. This is absolutely a book about contradictions, and the contradiction of gender is first-and-foremost in every chapter. Annabel is not a book with a hermaphrodite character – it’s a book about a hermaphrodite character. With the exception of some medical interventions that are critical to driving the plot, however, Wayne/Annabel could just as easily have been a more traditional transgendered/transsexual character. The whole issue with the sequined bathing suit, for example, is something I particularly identified with.
However, it feels as if Kathleen Winter is using the biological construct of a hermaphrodite to justify (or even excuse) the fact that she is exploring a theme of gender identity. Undoubtedly, the physical fact of being a hermaphrodite, as opposed to the psychological theories of a transsexual, likely does as much to ease most readers through the story, as it does to ease the author through challenges I would have liked to see explored. As a transgendered reader, though, it feels like a cheat – and that annoyed me.
One thing I must say is that the author knows precisely how/where to end a story. Instead of a nice, tidy, storybook resolution for all involved, we’re left with a series of transitions. Kathleen Winter leaves us with a glimpse of characters who are changing, who are progressing from despair to hope . . . or, at least, the potential for hope. Like life, there are no guarantees of a happily ever after, but as readers we are made to feel comfortable enough to let the characters go, and trust them to take care of themselves.
Ultimately, it’s a book I can definitely say I admire but, sadly, not one that I can say I loved....more