From the bestselling author of She's Not There comes another buoyant, unforgettable memoir—I'm Looking Through You is about growing up in a haunted house...and making peace with the ghosts that dwell in our hearts.
For Jennifer Boylan, creaking stairs, fleeting images in the mirror, and the remote whisper of human voices were everyday events in the Pennsylvania house in which she grew up in the 1970s. But these weren't the only specters beneath the roof of the mansion known as the "Coffin House." Jenny herself—born James—lived in a haunted body, and both her mysterious, diffident father and her wild, unpredictable sister would soon become ghosts to Jenny as well.
I'm Looking Through You is an engagingly candid investigation of what it means to be "haunted." Looking back on the spirits who invaded her family home, Boylan launches a full investigation with the help of a group of earnest, if questionable, ghostbusters. Boylan also examines the ways we find connections between the people we once were and the people we become. With wit and eloquence, Boylan shows us how love, forgiveness, and humor help us find peace—with our ghosts, with our loved ones, and with the uncanny boundaries, real and imagined, between men and women.
Jennifer Finney Boylan is a widely praised author and professor.
Edward Albee summed up her oeuvre in 1988: -- "Boylan observes carefully, and with love. [Her] levitating wit is wisely tethered to a humane concern…. I often broke into laughter, and was now and again, struck with wonder."
Jenny's memoir, She's Not There, published by Broadway Books in 2003, was one of the first bestselling works by a transgendered American; until 2001 she published under the name James Boylan. She's Not There, currently in its eighth printing, is popular both as a textbook in high schools and colleges as well as with readers's groups. The paperback edition contains a "readers guide" in addition to the main text, which consists not only of Jenny's insights on "a life in two genders" but also includes an afterword by Pultizer Prize winner Richard Russo, whose friendship with James, and later with Jennifer, provides part of the books narrative.
She's Not There won an award from the Lambda LIterary Foundation in 2004, the year after its initial publication. The book has since been published in many foreign editions, and was an alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Anna Quindlen called it “a very funny memoir of growing up confused, and a very smart consideration of what it means to be a woman.”
Her 2008 memoir, I'm Looking Through You, is about growing up in a haunted house. While trans issues form part of the exposition of the book, the primary focus of I'm Looking Through You is on what it means to be "haunted," and how we all seek to find peace with our various ghosts, both the supernatural and the all-too-human.
Jenny has been a frequent guest on a number of national television and radio programs, including three visits to the Oprah Winfrey Show. She has also appeared on the Larry King Show, The Today Show and been the subject of a documentary on CBS News’ 48 Hours. She has also appeared on a wide range of local and syndicated television shows, as well as NPR's Marketplace and the Diane Rehm show. In 2007 she played herself on two episodes of ABC's "All My Children." She has spoken widely around the country on gender and imagination, at venues including the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and the New Jersey State Theatre. She has given plenary and keynote speeches at conferences on diversity and scholarship around the country, and at colleges and universities including Amherst, Wesleyan, Dartmouth, Columbia, Vanderbilt, Duke, Bucknell, Dickinson, Bates, Ohio State, Middlebury, Gettysburg, Georgia State, the University of Puget Sound, and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. She has spoken at law firms, at corporate events, and at bookstores from Seattle to Vermont.
Her nonfiction has appeared on the op/ed pages of the New York Times, in GQ magazine, Allure, and Glamour. She is also an ongoing contributor to Conde Nast Traveler magazine; her most recent work there was on Easter Island, published in the January 2007 issue.
Boylan's first book, a collection of stories entitled Remind Me To Murder You Later, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 1988. Her first novel, The Planets, was published in 1991 by Poseidon Press. (Simon and Schuster). Loosely based upon the classical piece of music by Gustav Holst, The Planets followed the lives of several fictional characters in the real town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, which has been afflicted by an underground coal fire since the early 1960s.
Her second novel, The Constellations follows the lives of several of the characters from The Planets, some of whom flee from angry cows, discover a latex brain, and begin a life of dognapping.
Her 1997 novel, Getting In, published by Warner Books, focused on four high school students who go on quests to get into college. The novel was optioned for film by Renny Harlin and Geena Davis, and Jenny was tapped to write the initial screenplay for New Line Cinema.
Look, I don't give books three stars. I'm just torn toward four and I'm torn toward two. Anyway, I just copied this from a thread I started on a messageboard, if the tone seems weird and it seems really long.
Fuckin Jenny Boylan, man. This is her new book: I'm Looking Through You. I wish I could remember more about her last one, She's Not There, because she is becoming the biggest Oprah-approved voice of trans women in the world and it'd be nice to track her progress. But I read She's Not There in a Barnes & Noble (other than the one where I was working at the time) hiding in a corner, terrified, when I was just on the brink of coming out, so I don't remember any specifics.
The specific I most wish I could remember is: did she hate herself this much the first time around?
Look, I am an English major from way back, and as my girlfriend put it, "I don't know anyone who gets as excited about changes in tone as you," but here's the main thing I notice about her new book. She's actually a really good writer when she's talking about other people- specifically when she's talking about other people who don't like her. She nails a consistently readable tone, she squeaks in little bits of wit, it's great. But when she is writing about herself and her transness? She gets all glib.
I guess she, like lots of us, used a sense of humor as a pretty strong crutch. It's understandable: indie rock kids do this too. ("I'm going to make fun of myself first so you can't score any points off me.") Which is great! That shit can save your life. It's just... when she's talking about how bizarre she is for being trans, how not normal, how- to quote- "Maybe transsexuals and time travelers are just two examples of the same basic problem," it's like, darlin, that language probably makes Oprah feel comfortable, but as a trans woman, you are othering the shit out of me.
By the second page, she's also writing about "men drink like this: beer, while women drink like this: fruity mixed drinks, because women care about calories," which is not my experience. (My experience is more like this: everybody drinks beer, including my mom.) And she manages to get her bra size into the book. And there's HELLA pathos to be had in scenes of compulsive underage clothes-stealing/borrowing! Are we really still playing that for laughs, in 2008?
Anyway, it sucks because when she gets beyond that self-defensive wackiness, like I said, she can write solid, affecting, even graceful prose. I just wish she weren't so invested in reinforcing the 'yes we're weird but please accept us anyway' model of transsexuality.
I'm not weird. I'm TOTALLY BADASS. It's a pretty important distinction.
I'm not sure how she convinced someone to buy the idea for the book. "Ok, so, since the first memoir in which I discuss being transgendered was a hit, I will tell the same story but also talk about how my house was haunted and I can see ghosts." The thing is, the ghost parts sound made up. Especially because in a book about how she's seen these spirits her whole life, she hangs out with a ghosthunter and is all eye-rolly and skeptical of the fact that there are ghosts. Wait, whaaaaat? It's like if you said "this is my book about how cupcakes are delicious" and then inspersed sections where you say cupcakes are lame.
I'd been wondering how Boylan could fit her trans-sexual background, along with the story of growing up in a haunted house, under a single premise, but it actually works well. Her being "banished" up to the haunted attic as a teen when the family moves in, rather than being encouraged to take the available bedroom on the second floor where her folks and sister slept, gave the book a rather sad start, but she got through that okay, without being traumatized.
There are many things to admire in Boylan’s latest memoir. Certainly her prose conveys consistently her quirky and entertaining personality and ironic sense of humor, while the sheer extraordinariness of her story, both with its ghosts and her life-long journey to become Jenny after living over 40 years as James, offers much to captivate a reader’s attention. However, what I found most impressive was the structure of the book. It is a brilliantly framed memoir with all of the themes central to the book embedded in the framing scene. In that scene, Boylan’s rock band plays at a skanky biker bar housed in a beaten down house, complete with its own ghost. The social awkwardness of her transgendered status, a haunting feeling of being out of place or never quite whole, the centrality of music in her life, deep meditations in solitude, sensitive and generous treatment of others, and her difficult, and continuing, journey toward peace are all played out not only in that one evening, but also throughout the book. The average reader will probably not give much thought to the structure of her story, because it works so well. As a writer, however, I was enthralled with it. One gets a sense that the structure evolved only after the material itself existed, probably written out in unconnected scenes beforehand, then masterfully woven together with special attention to use certain threads throughout the book. So interwoven are countless little details from isolated stories which keep repeating and building as the memoir progresses, I would be surprised to learn that Boylan wrote this memoir as one draft and fine-tuned it with editing. It seems too finely crafted to have emerged whole, but finely crafted it is.
A fascinating story woven with the backdrop of a trans gender young man haunted both by his physical identity and the physical haunting of a house in main line Philadelphia. It is a very poignant, at times sad and then humorous book. I deeply admire the struggle of the author and the way in which she wrote this moving story. The call to be real and to "find ourselves" is one in which we all struggle to achieve on varying levels.
“Back then, I knew very little for certain about whatever it was that afflicted me, but I did know this much: that in order to survive I’d have to become something like a ghost myself, and keep the nature of my true self hidden. And so I haunted that young body of mine just as the spirits haunted the Coffin House, as a hopeful, wraithlike presence otherwise invisible to the naked eye-like helium, or J.D. Salinger, or the G-spot.” Pg. 25, I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted; a Memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan
I was prepared to not like this as much as I did and the reason for that is that I absolutely loved Jennifer Finney Boylan’s first memoir, “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders”. It’s rare that my high hopes are met yet again but they were. ( I should not have doubted Jenny!) As an aside, when I read her first memoir nearly 10 years ago, I was so moved that I emailed her. And get this—she emailed me back! It was my first ever author exchange and for me it was mind boggling that she took that time to write back a fan. Her story hit home, not that I am transgendered, but that I have felt on the outskirts of life myself as I’ve learned how to live with chronic depression and social anxiety. I’d always felt like an interloper that just didn’t fit in. Jenny nailed that feeling so well in her description of what it’s like to be transgender. I’ve always gravitated towards memoirs and stories about those on the fringes of society for this reason. In any event, I was really touched by her personal response to me. She’s an inspiration to me.
Also, it’s just happenstance that I finally decided to read this just as Bruce Jenner is finally removing his own gender mask and being himself but I'm glad it worked out like that. I look forward to his transformation and am very happy for him. I hope that he reads Jenny’s books. “I’m Looking Through You” focuses on her youth and coming of age and the torture of pretending to be someone she wasn’t. An interesting metaphor for her own struggle is how the house she lived in while she grew up was itself haunted. Not everyone believes in the idea of spirits but for Jenny they were very much in her face. I’m also a believer given some of my own weird experiences so it wasn’t a stretch for me at all. Jenny’s writing makes the reader feel like they’re reading a letter from a good friend. Her writing style is personal, witty, poignant, and down to earth. I finished this in 2 days and once again, feel like I’ve grown myself through its pages.
This is just my sort of thing, a memoir from a great mind, a book packed full of ideas and inspiration. At least it is until the end, when it borrows an ending from a novel.
Here Boylan shares the story of her family home as a sort of metaphor for her own development over the years. Boylan is a fantastic writer and has a terrific way with humor. Also I really enjoyed the journey as the author shares why certain concepts and passions fascinated her from early years on through professional life. I could have done without the scene contrived to serve as the conclusion of the current-day framing story, along with the revelation of the ghost's identity. These additions don't just seem superfluous, they undermine the sincerity the book depends on. But not enough to make me dislike it!
The audio book is required for this one so you can enjoy the author's reading - frequently breaking into song or uproarious impressions of her grandmother.
I'm not ordinarily a memoir-reader (had to add a new bookshelf category in order to review this book), so the fact that I read this entire memoir cover-to-cover says a lot about its appeal. The author was born a biological male but always felt like he was living a lie, one that haunted him well into his marriage and young fatherhood. He was also haunted by actual ghosts in the old house where he spent his childhood, and so this book is really about putting all his ghosts to rest. Eventually, he confided his secret - that he was really a woman - to his wife, who eventually decided that living with her spouse, whether male or female, was infinitely preferable to losing him (or now her). Jenny's voice, as Jimmy or as Jenny, is wry and self-deprecating, whether she is telling Sedaris-esque anecdotes of her crazy home life or pondering her inscrutable relationship with her only sister. Apparently the author is quite famous as a transgendered person - she's been on Oprah and so on - but I had (typically) never heard of her and am glad I got to know her through this unusual and entertaining book.
While the book is easy to read, and rather entertaining at times, it starts off grabbing your attention but ends up "Omg is this over yet". Its not about actual ghosts or haunted houses, but about herself being haunted. You start to get the point about 2/3 through the book, the rest is just pounding it in.
the combination memoir and horror/gothic genre was a really interesting choice with this book. Boylan had written another memoir previously that most people compare this book to, but i think they’re meant to stand on their own for different audiences. the ‘haunting’ metaphor to represent the body Boylan no longer felt was hers was really really brilliant. loved!
This still suffers from THERE IS ONLY ONE TRANS WOMAN IN THE WHOLE WORLD-itis, and the trick of activating SEEMINGLY INNOCUOUS SYMBOLS that is the main prose thing I remember from She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders ("the life at sea") is really on overdrive here--I mean Dean Martin's peanut song gets activated as a symbol even! But I am a sucker for complex descriptions of houses and environments, and this gives good spooky room.
My favorite part by far is the whole middle section while she's at college and basically a horrible cluster of tics and falsities--the awful repetition of "well de well de well," almost like magic spell against Being Perceived; the whole section at the bank with the mounting, increasingly hysterical Veneer of Normality and the misplaced $10,000. This is a thing I really, specifically like in Trans Things I've Read, it was what was so exciting about #eggmode to me, and it's hard sometimes even to conceive of it, get the texture of it. Stuff like being forced to turn the bank security guards on the troubled woman who comes in with checks written on notebook paper, when Being Kind To Her is like YOUR ONLY WAY OF INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE IN AN HONEST FASHION, when intimacy is dangerous so you find these weird surrogates for it. And the part where she goes up on the roof and performs some kind of magic curse on her sister for getting married: this feels good and messy. It's a space that I really wish more people wrote about--the big example of it I can think of offhand is the last story in A Safe Girl To Love, which is a lot more kind.
I wanted this book to go a lot further, and I wanted it to be less cute (like I could really have done without NOT ONE BUT TWO conversations with Her Former Self, as soon as the ghost showed up I guessed that it was gonna turn out to be Jenny In The Present (oh no whoops spoiler)), and the literal curtain call of ghosts was kinda, idk. And I wanted it to feel a lot more like one piece--the book is kind of a mix of "early trans feelings," Boylan's father, and Boylan's sister, and the house/haunting symbol allllmost ties it together. There are good laughs and I connect with a lot of the middle parts, but on the whole I just wish it went farther: that it wasn't an exegesis of Trans Ppl, a connecting-the-dots of youthful experience, so much as like a thing rooted in this specific person. What is it that actually connects Jenny and her sister, other than Being Sisters, than occupying the same physical space, than youthful envy on the one hand and something We The Reader don't totally have access to on the other? Exactly what are the systems that operate on both of them? I feel like all of the elements are there, floating inert and suspended, and instead of activating them, the book activates stuff like the peanut vendor song in a way that is fun but that misses something.
It is one of those books that I am not that into because I want the author to write another book that pushes further, that tries, as all Next Books try, to retroactively revise. I feel like this does that with She's Not There and does it pretty okay: it revises a story of a journey into a story about continuity. (I haven't read SNT in forev but I feel like I remember things it said that this book specifically contradicts, makes ethically messier in a way that is The Point of Writing.) But it's still not enough: I want the next revision & complication.
Boylan's memoir is framed by an evening when her band is playing at a run-down, supposedly haunted hotel on the Kennebec River. Within that frame, the author plays fast and loose with time, memory, and identity. Musing on the hotel's ghost, Boylan wonders why some people seem to get stuck at some prior moment in life, so defined by who they used to be, that they end up “haunting their own lives like ghosts.”
This leads naturally to memories of Jenny's boyhood as James, when the family moved into the supposedly haunted Coffin House. If the phrase “Jenny's boyhood” caused you to pause, she says, “One of the awkward hallmarks of my life is the way relatively simple questions command complex answers, the kind that require a PowerPoint presentation and several Oprah shows to do them justice.”
Growing up outwardly a boy while feeling like a girl on the inside could be a tale of misery if it were not for Boylan's wry humor, storytelling skill, family full of characters, and the resilient adolescent she remembers being. At every social occasion, the family's Irish grandmother insists on retelling the story of how their father was conceived. The dog Sausage is conscripted as James' nagging conscience. Even the Coffin House is a character from its initial attempt to electrocute James to its complicity in keeping Jenny's secrets.
And, while growing up transgender is not all that common, many moments in Boylan's adolescence are universal. As James and his sister talk about dating, he sighs, “I don't know. Sometimes I feel like I'm all wrong, like she'd have to be crazy to want to hang out with me.” “Don't worry, little brother, said Lydia. Everybody feels like that.” Sadly, when that sister later learned that her little brother was going to become a women, she cut off all contact. Thus the book's dedication makes it clear that one purpose of this memoir is to reach out to that estranged sister.
The paranormal is woven throughout Boylan's memories, in part as a metaphor for her situation. She tells us that as a teen, “I saw there was someone behind me in the mirror, an older woman with long blond hair...she seemed surprised to see me, and raised one hand to her mouth, as if I were the ghost, as if I were the one floating translucently in the mirror.” Visiting the house decades later, Jenny recognizes that image as the person she has become. “From the very beginning, had I only been haunting myself?”
But whether the hauntings are more than embellished memory is never certain. At a class reunion, Boylan reminds a friend of a story and he asserts it never happened. Boylan replies, “Just because it never happened, doesn't mean I can't remember it.” Another story, about a baby who tore a page in the family Bible proves to be greatly exaggerated. “I wondered how many other memories I had of things that had never happened, how many tears I'd cried over stories I had all wrong.”
I'm Looking Through You looks back through the distorting mirror of memory to make sense of a childhood that doesn't match Boylan's present identity and yet is integral to it. And, to some degree, that is true for all of us. Fortunately, Boylan has the narrative gifts to make her reflections a delight to read.
I liked this a lot better than _She's Not There_, which is funny, since I got into reading JFB because of her story of growing up trans, that takes center stage in _She's Not There_. _I'm Looking Through You_ was just far more engaging-- palpable. It was more satisfying rather than less, for me, because it tells her life story from a fantasy point of departure, the concept of a haunting. This book develops that concept by capturing it from a dozen different angles, in seemingly unrelated life experiences. While I'm not sure the author would approve of the comparison, at its best it reminded me of Jacques Derrida's _Specters of Marx_ with his similar notion of "hauntology" (pun on "ontology"). Derrida talks about "spectral logic," not the mathematical term, but the funny, paradoxical nature of this notion of haunting. A haunting is the partial presence of something that never fully becomes present. But this formulation raises a much deeper question than whether the specter will present itself-- whether it ever was present to begin with! I see this sort of logic in JFB's book. E.g.: if you feel a deep conflict in your own identity, and then seek to resolve that conflict by changing your appearance, are you recovering something that you should have always had, or creating a specter (a kindly one, no doubt) that sort of presides over your future (never will completely reach 'the ideal' of your ~true self~) and your past (never really was the self the world saw)? Maybe it doesn't matter all that much how you interpret the process of transition, in the end. But JFB sheds a lot of light on the similarity of transition to so many other important human experiences and rites of passage. She begins to "transvaluate" our cultures value's concerning transsexualism/transgenderism, as Nietzsche put it, by suggesting that a lot of 'normal' life experience is haunted, spectral, and just plain weird or unfinished.
I read Jennifer's first memoir She's Not There which is amazing and everyone should read it. I was excited to find out she had written another memoir. Jennifer is haunted not only by the ghosts in her house, but by her body. It was hilarious, heartbreaking, and beautiful. I loved it.
"In the meantime, I am sustained by a saying of my mother's: "It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know" (25).
"How is it, I wondered, that some people manage to integrate their lives, and live in the moment, while others become stuck, become Exs, haunting their own lives like ghosts? How do we learn to Be Here Now ...How do we let go of the past, when its joys and injustices are such a large part of making us who we've become" (12)?
"Because if you live your life at the extremes, you go nuts. If you want to make any sense out of the world, you have to live in the gray" (124).
"I loved having the baby in my arms, although partly it made me sad, too. I would never be anyone's mom" (72).
"I get tired sometimes of being different" (256).
"I wondered if she had any idea, back then, how much her own happiness would depend on finding peace in the gray areas between men and women" (258).
"part of the reason people get haunted is because they can't make sense of their pasts... she just can't make the bridge between the person she grew up with, and the person you are now...what you do in therapy is try to get them to tell their stories, to weave the narrative of their lives backward and forward, with one thread that puts your experience into a context that includes a past, and a present and a future" (259).
I really recommend this book to everyone if only to understand more about trans* people. Although, it should go without saying that this is her own personal perspective and story. Boylan ties in her experience living in a haunted house with her adolescence. I met Jenny Boylan when she spoke at Grinnell and she really is as humorous in writing as she is in real life. This is really the first book I've read where I've actually met the author, so that was a weird experience. I found myself reading the whole thing in her actual voice and I felt her tone a lot easier. I also feel more connected to Jenny like we're besties or something and I can use her first name. But beyond my namedropping, it really is an interesting exploration of what living in the grey means. I'm honestly a sucker for any book that even teensily provides an alternate perspective or narrative of the world and surprisingly, this book does. Boylan looks at what it means to be haunted and the nature of the supernatural and how much of it is real or just real in our hearts. "Far more hearts are haunted than houses" Some of the events are hardly believable,which was off-putting, but there are many different truths in this world. This book also deals with her relationships with her family, before and after coming out. The most heartbreaking relationships are those of her father and sister. Her telling of her and her sister, Lydia, is sweet, understanding, and complex, but most of all heartbreaking. "To my sister, with love" Anyway, I would really urge anyone to read this and it's built on such an original but weird premise, but it really does work and ties together beautifully.
This book was not what I expected. The sub-title lead me to believe it was about a child haunted by spirits while growing up. There was a little of that, but so little as to be virtually irrelevant to the story. More, it was the author's own, internal haunting with the whole transgender/was-James-now-Jenny life. Plus, his childhood was bizarre to say the least. Anybody would have been haunted, never mind a young boy confused about his gender. There was a grandmother who conducted seances with an overturned fishbowl as her crystal ball, an uncle who spent his life riding railroad boxcars. The author's own schoolteacher routinely told his students to "shaddap" and threw them out of class. The author has conversations with his dog - OK, people talk to their dogs all the time - but this one answered back in complete sentences and the entire conversations were included. And there were so many more characters or incidents just as bizarre. C'mon, really?!? And then, on page 140, there is is...I quote from Page 140 "I wondered, sometimes, whether my memories of my own life could be trusted." AHA! I knew it! This stuff didn't happen! Now I've lost all confidence/trust/whatever...this is supposed to be non-fiction, a life's memoir. If it's just a story, tell me so up front. I would have quit right there & put the book down, but I was over half-way through, and sometimes the writing was entertaining. But I was disenchanted, and couldn't wait to be finished.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I really loved this book, largely in part because Jenny reminds me a lot of my MtF partner in personality, but it's also a great story about the fear of imposing on those you love with who you really are, and some of the costs and delights of finally asking to be seen. I love the supernatural as a metaphor.
The familiar narrative of suffering by denying the queer self, and then using that suffering as the basis of legitimacy for finally existing as queer, is an important but hopefully soon to be dated story. I hope that all transpeople can grow up today confident that they are lovable, no apologies.
There's also some interesting parallels between "I'm Looking Through You" and Allison Bechdel's "Fun Home", also a memoir (though in graphic novel format), which is about a young, androgynous queer girl coming of age and trying to make peace with her family, particularly her dead father. It's set in the same time period, also in an upper middle class white family who move into an old Victorian home which is the father's pet project. Both are respectively fantastic for what makes them different, but if you liked "I'm Looking Through You", I'd highly recommend "Fun Home", too.
I had no idea who Jennifer Boylan was when I picked this up, and I assumed from the title it was merely about growing up in a haunted house. Boy, was I ever mistaken! This wonderfully humorous, serious and melancholy memoir talks of Jennifer's haunted childhood. She was haunted by spectres and strange circumstances in her home, aptly named Coffin House (for the man who built it was named Coffin). But these spectres were merely reflections of her own personal haunting - the feeling of being born in the wrong body. Jennifer was born as Jim and spent most of her life painfully concealing her true identity from her family and friends. This liberating memoir explores the internal struggle of transsexuals and gave me a new perspective on the transsexual struggle. I highly recommend this novel to anybody interested in gender studies and the transition of past to present, and what that means for ones future.
I enjoyed this book almost as much as the previous She's Not There; both are strong, well written memoirs full of the laughter and heartbreak that run through many family stories. But there is nothing trite about this family tale, for while the presence of ghosts is nothing new, the author's struggle with gender identity and then acceptance of transexuality is not a familiar challenge for most readers. Jennifer Finney Boylan shares her story with honesty and humor and I was glad to follow her journey.
I did wonder how my experience of this book would have been different if I had not read She's Not There First - I don't know when the penny would have dropped if I had not already known that the author is a transexual. I would recommend reading these two books in the order they were written.
This is an odd listening experience ( I'm experiencing as an audio-book) because the author is also reading the memoir and singing various lyrical snippets since the main character is a performing musician. Also, the character is both Jenny in present-day and Jimmy in the 1970s. I didn't know it was about a transgendered person, but I am interested to see how this persons life story goes...
The start may not have been the most smooth entrance to her life's narrative, but the rest of it is written well and witty. I now feel like I understand what it might like to be born into a gender I wasn't comfortable in. I like the way she uses haunted experiences in a glib, matter of fact happenstance that parallels the translucence from her secret-self to what the world wants to see Jimmy as. " Hello, Is anyone there?....."
When I added this book to my must-read list, I thought it seemed pretty straightforward-- a girl who grew up in a haunted house talks about how it affected her. And yeah, I guess that's what the book is about, except that the girl was a guy when she was growing up. We went out to dinner with friends while I was immersed in Growing Up Haunted and they asked what I was reading. When I told them it was about a transsexual who grew up in a haunted house they actually laughed at me. And then I realized how preposterous it sounded and started to laugh along. But the story, and the extended metaphor, both work-- growing up, Finney Boylan was haunted not only by the specters in the dilapidated mansion, but also by her confusion over who she was and who she wanted to be.
I picked this up at a sale having flipped through it but not really knowing anything about the author. Once I started reading, I had vague recollections of seeing her on Oprah, but I didn't let that deter me. I found the book to be surprisingly funny. I love the tone and the fact that Boylan does not take herself too seriously, but she doesn't take that to an affected, snarky extreme the way so many writers seem to. I enjoyed the fact that it was a fairly light read that was still very well written and engaging. It was pleasurable in the way of sitting on a porch with friends, listening to their stories of growing up in a place and family much more interesting than your own.
What haunted this author? What continues to haunt her? Apparently she grew up in a haunted house, but as a boy. Now, after being transgendered, she has written a wonderful reminiscence of her experiences in this ghostly home, as well as her own self haunting. Was she haunted by what she was not? Is she haunted by what she used to be? Is there longing for what might have been, or is there not? She certainly seems to experience some eerie visions in old buildings. I loved Boylan's writing style, and her humor, and this story.
I'm almost done with this ( thanks to a snow day). It was very well written, and also hilarious for sure. "The anemone of my anemone is my friend.". And that's just one example.
I don't pretend to understand what people who are transgendered feel. At all. But I do wonder what all the big surgery, and all that is involved, is good for, in the end. Just to look different? Again, I admit I don't completely understand.
That being said, I can relate to a lot of her references to books, music, etc, which I enjoyed.
Boylan certainly knows how to tell stories. I love the way she weaves together her past and present. As Boylan puts it, she is searching for a way to resolve her male history with her female present, to feel like one person instead of two, and in the final dream scene, she asks her former self (an awkward young boy) if he's really not angry that she's done away with him. It's a poignant moment and a moving memoir, and I recommend it. (It was especially fun to read having just finished reading Giving Up the Ghost, another story of growing up haunted.)
Disclaimer: Jenny is my friend. Her writing has progressed through the last twenty years to become more nuanced, more authentic, less wacky/far-fetched, e.g. cement mixers and melting dogs, and funnier.
I'm torn on this one. I must admit I skipped through a lot of it as I could care less about the gender issues. I read the book because I wanted to read about the ghosts. I did enjoy the few and far between parts about the haunted house. I just wish there was more ghosties and less of the rest!
Very good book but for me it left big holes in the stories. The jumps in history were so big I felt a bit left out and lost. I do however recommend this book to anyone open minded. If you are looking for just a ghost story then this is not your book, it is much more than a haunted house.