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At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  197 ratings  ·  48 reviews
In this collaborative memoir a mother and trans son reflect on the emotionally complex journey they shared as Donald transitioned from female to male.
In At the Broken Places, a parent and transgender son recount wrestling with their differences as Donald Collins undertook medical treatment options to better align his body with his gender identity. As a parent, Mary Collin
Paperback, 192 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Beacon Press
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Ai Miller
I need to establish some things off the bat in reviewing this book: 1) I received it through the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing, and am grateful to Beacon Press for the free copy of the book; 2) I'm a cafab non-binary person who, like Donald, came out while at boarding school in 2011, which means I am going to go into this book with certain feelings.

All of this being said: this book was a difficult read for me, especially the essays written by Mary, and much of my difficulty is informe
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I received a copy of this book from a Goodreads Giveaway. I feel very conflicted about this book. I am a transgender ally and as such I am 100% in support of Donald and the choices he made to transition. So I was very frustrated that his mother, an educated and seemingly progressive woman, had such resistance to using correct pronouns, was so opposed to the physical aspects of his transition, and was so angry that medical professionals and counselors wouldn't take her opinions into consideration ...more
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
I really didn't care for this book and would not recommend it. Mainly it was the mother's chapters I didn't like - the narrative voice was so whiny and self-absorbed. Clearly she did not get the support that she needed during her son's gender transition, and clearly it was hard for her to watch her young adult son making choices she didn't agree with, and that's totally valid. But she goes into ridiculous territory with hyperbolic claims that her human rights were violated because she didn't get ...more
This book was interesting, though I do feel a little conflicted about it. I liked how the story was told from both the point of view of the mother and the son. Having the mother's thoughts and feelings was interesting, especially since that's not something you typically get from a trans memoir. However, though I think she's now supportive of her son and has always been a loving parent, I do not agree with her constant insistence that entities that supported and assisted her son during his transi ...more
Heidi Gardner
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
I was so disappointed by this book. The parts written by Donald were insightful and interesting, and I wanted more of that. The parts written by his Mother were self-indulgent, tedious and unnecessary. Even in the interviews at the end of the book, it felt like Mary Collins was working to find people that agreed with her rather than people that challenged her. I’m a straight white cis female and the way she dealt with her son’s transition was shocking to me - at no point did I understand where s ...more
Dec 28, 2018 rated it liked it
As someone who works in education and support for families with trans youth, I really appreciate the soul-bearing honestly both Donald and Mary Collins present in this book. Their commitment to communication and to each other is a powerful thing to witness. As a transgender person myself, I resonated with much of what Donald shares in his chapters, but I was hoping that I would get a chance to better understand the grief a parent often feels when their child comes out by reading Mary's account o ...more
Jul 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I found this to be very informative and it gave me more perspective on trans lives and issues than I had to start - a definite plus. Mary’s (the mom’s) chapters were less engaging, but I understood her grief and loss to an extent, as I am a mother who has always wanted a “daughter.” I find it interesting that Mary and Donald say this project helped them come to a better understanding of each other and helped their relationship because I didn’t see that much connection. I recognize mostly acknowl ...more
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was difficult for me to read, mostly because of the sections from the mother's perspective. I do agree with some of the points she made, such as that there should be more/better resources that aim to increase empathy between trans kids and their parents. However, I picked this book up in the hope that it would show the journey of an initially unaccepting parent coming to wholeheartedly accept their child. As Mary spent chapter upon chapter referring to her son with the wrong pronouns, ...more
Apr 19, 2017 added it
I'm going to need time to process this book. I think it's a good resource for parents & guardians of trans kids struggling to understand gender identity, transition, etc. I'm not a parent, so I can't speak to the depths of grief Mary Collins felt, but there are some statements she made that I felt were hyperbolic and misinformed, that I definitely disagreed with. I'd even go as far to say that there were, for me, a non-binary adult, a few triggering moments, a word I don't use lightly. (Like, pl ...more
Odile Maite
Aug 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
As a fellow young trans person, I had quite a hard work time finishing this book. Which is why after a while trying, I didn’t.
Dave Kirschner
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book because I was impressed with Mary Collins other book, and this was a topic that I admit I had not made great strides in searching out in the past.

I would first and foremost like to point out that Mary Collins has a way of writing that makes some if her prose give information quickly, and with a professional candor, and other times can put forward a phrase that hits me like a ton of bricks.

I found the willingness of both parties to come out honestly with their struggles and
This is a curious book, attempting to bridge a gap that opened up between this mother and her daughter when he decided that actually, they were her son. Its getting that extra star for the courage this family has shown in publishing their side by side accounts, and their determination to salvage the love that wasnt always evident.

For all that its not a warm fuzzy book, it is a new kind of example of reconciliation.
Sophie Graham
Jan 28, 2021 rated it liked it
The parts of this book written by Donald were incredibly valuable, but for the most part I couldn’t stand the parts written by the mother. She seems to value Donald primarily as an extension of her own identity and THATS how she justifies being against his transition which seems super narcissistic to me? She says her goal is to provide a resource for struggling parents, but unfortunately she pads anything worthwhile in this book with transphobic, self-centred rhetoric. Wouldn’t recommend.
Katie J Schwartz
At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces is a back-and-forth essay project between a mother and her transgender son--an attempt at understanding each other's points of view. The book also includes some short interviews with other transgender people and parents of transgender children, in an effort to broaden the conversation past one relationship.

First, let me preface this review by saying that I am not transgender, nor am I a parent of a transgender person. So, take my op
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: stopped-reading
My mom gives me stuff like this sometimes because I'm trans myself (although non-binary, not a trans man like in this book), and occasionally I can bring myself to read some of it. I was immediately wary on seeing the blurb on the back cover, and it turned out to be everything I was afraid of. The parts written by the son are decent and are the only reason I gave this more than one star. The mother's chapters, on the other hand, are chock full of the kind of bullshit trans people have to deal wi ...more
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I will be honest and admit that I had very low expectations for this book. Yet I was pleasantly surprised and would have been no matter what I was possibly expecting.

I want to first and foremost praise this book for being modern and knowledgeable, acknowledging (whether or not directly) that intersex and nonbinary trans people have a very real existence. This acknowledgment is despite the fact that the transgender person in question here, Donald, is a 'perisex' binary transman.

But perhaps more
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, dnf
If you're a trans person reading this hoping to get some insight into your parents' (mother's) thought process during your coming out / transitioning, skip Mary's essays entirely unless you just want to deal with endless self-victimization, a complete lack of empathy or self-awareness, and start to worry maybe your parents feel like that too and you're committing huge, unforgivable transgressions by expecting to be treated fairly and with respect, putting your safety over their fragile little fe ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
At the Broken Places is a memoir of a trans son and his mother and their journey through his transition.
What I most appreciated about this book was the honesty in it. Mary (the mother) is incredibly honest about her struggles in accepting Donald's transition and how left out she felt as a struggling parent of a trans teen. Donald was very open about his struggles with having little parental support and his own complex feelings towards his mother. I feel like reading this book gave me a more nuan
Jennifer Lavoie
I taught this in a class on transgender literature. The book was good, but I won’t lie, it was difficult to read Mary’s perspective. Donald has a very good voice and it felt like talking to a friend, but when reading what Mary had written, I often felt angry. My students also struggled with that part of the book, but when evaluating the text as a whole we discussed the importance of hearing both sides of the story. The book was especially tough for my trans students or their partners.
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really applaud Mary and Donald's openness about such a difficult and complex topic. Even though Mary was not being supportive in most of Donald's transition, she can see that and is truthful about her struggles so that hopefully this book can help someone like her in the future, and I think that's something good. ...more
O.D.S. O.D.S.
Apr 06, 2020 rated it did not like it
i feel as if this is a little outdated for my preferences. the essays written my donald’s mother upset me to the point where i felt i shouldn’t read on. i feel that as a tool for education, it may pose to be more damaging than useful
Aug 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbtq, nonfiction

My thoughts on this book are the same as many other reviewers, in that while it's 100% valid to struggle and mourn with a family member transitioning, the majority of Mary's essays are all very woe-is-me, I'm the only victim, I'm so disrespected, etc. to the point of it being borderline insufferable.

I feel that Mary really needs to move on. It has been 6-7 years since her son, who cowrote the book, has transitioned. He did everything in a reasonable time frame and was very considerate of her fee

Jun 23, 2021 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. Donald's chapters are well written and insightful, however, Mary's chapters are very difficult to read as they are quite transphobic, even if she would likely think they are not.

While making some interesting points, I don't think this book should be used as a resource for parents who are navigating their child coming out as trans, and may have some transphobia to unlearn and work through; the reason being that Mary doesn't seem to think she did anything wro
Greg Chandler
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very worthwhile read for any parent of a trans kid or anyone who works with these youths.
For those of us who accept trans-people for who they are - who they know themselves to be, it may seem lack and white: what they say goes. Parents who do not respect the transitions these youths go through tend to be seen as unsupportive, maybe even homophobic (trans-phobic).

By sharing a dialogue between parent and child, the Coillinses have provided insight into both sides of the story, and there are two s
McKenzie Richardson

I received a copy of this book through Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.Overall, I liked the book. It is composed of essays from Mary Collins and Donald Collins and interviews with other people who are trans and families of people who are trans.The book details what Mary and Donald both went through in various stages of Donald's transition (Donald coming out as trans, starting hormones, perusing various surgeries). They discuss how their relationship changed and places they did and d
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I impulse picked this book at our local library because it reminded me of a TED talk between a colleague and her trans child where they shared letters they had written each other in the years over which the child came out and made changes in their life. The themes in this book strongly parallel those in that talk - there was no point at which parent and child did not love each other, but that doesn't mean that there weren't times when each was frustrated by the other. Children - especially teens ...more
Pierre H
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
For me, this book did not achieve what it set out to do: no pieces were being picked up, instead it felt like everything was in pieces all of the time.

Mary Collins doesn‘t seem to reflect on her initial negative feelings when her son first came out to her and states things like feeling discriminated against when her son‘s school (rightfully so) allowed him to use his chosen name and pronouns without „consulting“ her when she was not yet ready to accept his wish to transition. She repeatedly stat
Stephanie Rosso
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It’s hard for me to express how excited I am that this book exists, and how much I enjoyed reading it. I’m grateful for the receipt of an Early Reviewer copy via LibraryThing. Not only is the premise unique in that it’s a joint memoir in essays, but it eloquently describes the two experiences as mother and trans son journey through their respective challenges with Donald’s decisions and transition. As with most things in life, the trans experience for both the trans individual and surrounding lo ...more
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure what I can say about this book beyond the fact that it is essential reading. I cried many times reading this. It opened my mind. It opened my heart. It reminded me of things I didn't want to remember while pushing me to consider futures I never would have dreamed of. Powerful, beautiful work. ...more
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a must-read for anyone who has ever loved someone who is trans. The prose in this book is honest and heartbreaking, uplifting and eye-opening. I was drawn to the dialogue these essays create between mother and son.
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