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Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  7,835 ratings  ·  1,138 reviews
It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flâneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Women’s Studies major to trade, Paul transforms hi ...more
Paperback, 354 pages
Published November 1st 2017 by Rescue Press
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Tim Jones-Yelvington DUH.

(it said that answer was too short, so: DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. …more

(it said that answer was too short, so: DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. DUH. )(less)
Sam I know I'm late to the game in answering this question. But, in case you haven't gotten a response anywhere else, I'll say here, having just finished …moreI know I'm late to the game in answering this question. But, in case you haven't gotten a response anywhere else, I'll say here, having just finished it, that the ending is neither tragic nor a happily ever after. A faint melancholy haunts even the last pages of the book, but I think it closes with a bruised optimism that I couldn't really pinpoint in the text if asked to do so.

I will also say that, in my opinion, this is one of those books that doesn't give its reader everything they likely want in an ending, but it does give them everything they need.

I realize that is all pretty vague and potentially deeply unhelpful! I'm a person who has embargoed all devastating and/or "grimdark" media during the pandemic (decided there's enough ambient suffering in the real world) and this wasn't too sad for me. The middle of the book got close to my current threshold for depressing shit, but I slogged through and I'm glad I did. There was for me, a sweetness and a satisfaction in how the book concluded.(less)

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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  7,835 ratings  ·  1,138 reviews

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Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2019-read
This book is wild and hypnotic and unusual - it defies categorization, thus staying true to its topic: Can people overcome the compulsion to categorize others? Set in 1993, our protagonist Paul Polydoris is a 22-year-old queer shapeshifter who - sometimes as Paul, sometimes as Polly - explores the gay scene in Iowa City and from there drifts to Boystown, Provincetown and finally to San Francisco. Wrapped in this surging tale full of sex and adventure, there is also a love story: Polly enters a r ...more
Dec 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
'Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl' strives so hard to be relevant and influential for LGBT causes, that it ironically discredits the movement by laboring its messages and featuring thoughtless characters who are too preoccupied with sexual orientation. The novel collapses under its own weight for a number of reasons...

It is terribly paced. The story races from one moment to the next without any flow or development. Its vague plot line consists mostly of the protagonist's wild and unrealisti
I wrote this as an introduction to Andrea's reading for the NYC book launch at Bureau of General Services--Queer Division, November 2017:

I first met Paul – the novel’s protagonist – in Philadelphia in 2005 or 2006, in one of my first workshops in Temple’s graduate creative writing program. It was a short story at that time and though, as a young still-presumably-straight person there was much I didn’t yet understand about the live queer world it captured, I remember being struck by Paul’s alive
Larry H
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars.

Sometimes I find myself lamenting that there are very few original stories out there anymore, that too many books seem too similar to one another. And then I read a book like Andrea Lawlor's Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl , and that lamentation flies out the window.

Holy crap.

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is sexy, crazy, confusing, bizarre, funny, and one of the most utterly creative stories I've read in a really long time. I'm not sure if I unders
It's the early 90s, and Paul is a student and bartender immersed in the queer subculture of Iowa City. Paul is also a shapeshifter. He can switch genders (though he almost always thinks of himself as him); can make himself taller/shorter, more masculine/feminine, etc., at will.

Paul's story is an emotionally immersive journey. The first third of the book is relentlessly, almost exhaustingly, sexual, with Paul jumping continually between liaisons with both men and women, as both a man and a woman
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved, loved, loved this novel. A nostalgic trip back to the queer 90s wrapped up in a speculative temporal-space odyssey that inspires a meditation on gender, sex, identity, home, atmosphere, place, and love. Because what else is there?

I got to read the manuscript and can't wait to read it once it's published in November!
Jun 16, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
reallyyyy in my niche i adored it
Lark Benobi
This novel reminded me of two other contemporary novels, Black Wave by Michelle Tea (who blurbed this novel) and Heartland by Ana Simo, because all three challenged me in the same way.

All three are written in a careful-breezy style--by that I mean, the writing is quite careful, and in many instances beautiful and poetic, but the voice is crafted to give the impression of near-artlessness.

All three are also about social relationships that aren't within the heteronormative and/or cisgender exper
Rhode PVD
Holy shit. I read this in one giant gulp. Partway through a friend dropped by unexpectedly, and there I was standing in the hallway unable to speak coherently. She took one look at me and said, “whatever that book is, go back to it. It’s ok. I’ll see you later.” So I lay back down on the sofa, day turned to night and I did not do anything else until I’d finished it.

The funny thing is, it was one of those books where you’re unwillingly seduced. You’re thinking, huh, it’s good but maybe too dense
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book is such a perfect capture of various lgbtq+ communities in the United States in the 80s & 90s that I'd recommend it for that aspect alone. But the main character, who has the ability to shapeshift gender to move more easily within these spaces, really makes for a unique read. It's so hard to believe this is a debut novel because it feels so elegantly written (often about not so elegant topics!) I laughed a lot especially at the beginning.

This book came out 23 April 2019, but I did rec
I. Merey
I don't know how to rate this book, some things were above five stars for me (the writing); some things, were ehhhhhhhh.... and I hate not being able to be excited about a book featuring a genderfluid (arguably) bisexual antihero.

warning: delirious and hysterical review ahead.

'Paul' gives me awful cognitive dissonance: i want to love it, because it's queer and (allegorically at least) trans, and it celebrates so many things I personally celebrate: sexual freedom, gender expression, gleeful cel
Morgan M. Page
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is described a lot as a sort of Gen X take on Virginia Woolf's Orlando, which is not entirely untrue, but I think it's more than that. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl captures the feeling of an era obsessed with shifting, ambiguous sexual and gender politics. A hit of nostalgia for those who lived it and a necessary bit of insight for those too young to remember. The book is a mix-tape - quite literally laying out what all the good music was for those who weren't there - gifted fr ...more
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
fucking great.
Inderjit Sanghera
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
The androgynous lead character of the story is able to surreptitiously shape-shift and change their gender. In many ways the story is about an alternative version of Americana; one far removed from the zeitgeist of rosy-cheeked young girls and apple pies, but which is instead focused on outcasts and drudgery, on conversations about heteronormativity, Fassbender and Genet, one which has an almost Proustian prevalence of homosexual or bisexual characters, a novel steeped in sex and lumbered with l ...more
Nov 01, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: lgbtq
Okay first things first, I had to read “cum” in a book published in 2017 that wasn’t bad erotica????? Do we have to bring back cum vs come discourse?????

I wanted to like this book and veryyyyyy much did not. Paul was shallow, self-absorbed, and very judgmental but never in a fun way. In a very boring way. If he were shallow and judgmental but fun and interesting? I would have been more into that! He was not. His perspective was so full of stereotypes and shallow judgments on the people around h
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
I hated the first two thirds of this book but somehow felt compelled to keep reading and I'm genuinely glad I did; the last third of the novel was actually enjoyable!

PTTFOAMG frustrated me in a lot of ways. It was all tell, no show. Like Paul, this book was way too often annoyingly pleased with its cleverness when I didn't think it'd earned it. Much of the Paul/Polly stuff in the first two sections reinforced reductive gender stereotypes in really boring ways...which is even more irritating bec
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this is now the third transgender novel I have read in 2019, which is a great sign that gay fiction is developing beyond the traditional coming-out, HIV-Aids, or romance tropes. Not that these aren’t important, but the quotation that “there are more things in heaven and Earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy” does spring to mind.

Also, gay and gender politics are a veritable minefield today. So, if one wants to know what a ‘lived’ experience is for a transgender person, for example
Eric Anderson
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The year 1993 was incredibly important for me personally as I was just becoming a teenager at that point and awkwardly figuring out my own identity. This is the year in which Andrea Lawlor’s wickedly funny and absorbing novel is set. Its story bears all the marks of that era with references to zines, mix tapes and an increasingly assertive queer population that enthusiastically formed tight-knit communities outside of mainstream heterosexual culture. So I felt a strong affinity toward Paul, the ...more
Mar 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think this might be the QUEEREST book I have ever read!! At some point in the first chapter I thought to myself "A straight person could never have written this," and I was delighted. Set in 1993, it starts in Iowa City where Paul is half-heartedly working on a film degree. Most though he is bartending, dressing up, flirting, and constantly on the prowl for potential conquests. One day he decides he want to try lesbian sex and so grows breasts, transforms his dick into a vagina, and goes to se ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Every page of this PTTFOAMG sparkles with sly, clever wit and sharp insights, both sociological and psychological. The novel is delightfully free of the tediously tidy character arcs or contrived plot complications so common to middlebrow fiction these days; instead, readers are treated to an amusingly rakish protagonist's meandering adventures. In other words, it's a true picaresque. And speaking of the protag, Paul, the promo for the novel highlights his shape & gender shifting, but that's his ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: booktopia-2019
I'm going to be totally honest with you. I started this book and stopped. I'm not sure this book is for me. A bit steamy. But I kept going and I am so, so glad I did. This is a story about Paul working at a gay bar in Iowa City finishing up grad school and trying to find his way in the queer scene. He struggles with his identity and a secret - he is a shape shifter. He can change his body back and forth from male to female. He finds love, he finds friendships, he experiences loss and confusion. ...more
What a book! Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a powerful, explicit, surprisingly moving exploration of lust and love, sex and gender, as well as a nostalgic – but not rose-colored – look back at the queer scene(s) of the ‘90s.

Paul is a person who can change his body to take the form of a man or a woman – with some further alterations in physical composition within those two types – and who uses this to pursue a rich variety of sexual pleasures. He likes to think of himself as a predator,
Tim Jones-Yelvington
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
w/ its body shifting protagonist, most folks will likely interpret this through the lens of the malleability of gender, sex and identity. But I found myself thinking just as much if not moreso about queer lives/chronologies/trajectories/biographies as circuitous/interrupted/episodic, about the picaresque—with its rejection of heteronormative hero recognition, maturation and epiphany—as a queer form, and about my own affinity for Paul's compulsion to remain in a perpetual state of becoming, trans ...more
Jul 20, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I think it’s telling that I finished this novel over a month ago and I’m still haunted by how much I didn’t like it.
Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm)
"Men and women alike confounded Paul; they were so rule-bound. Straight people seemed confused by each other, so anxious to find camaraderie within their gender, so startled by differences between their bodies, always pinning explanations for the inevitable gulf between humans on chromosomes."

Reading this novel was like a breath of fresh air as it constantly constructs breathing space out of the environs of cisheteropatriarchy. This is a place where gender fluidity has been materially actualized
Nadine in California
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love a good picaresque, and this one rang all my literary bells, including some bells I didn't know I had. In lesser hands, the shapeshifting premise of the book could have been just a gimmick and milked to death like a sitcom, but Lawlor does so much with it by downplaying its novelty and using it to look at gender in gay life from all kinds of angles. There are no overt philosophical, political or social explorations here - Paul/Polly is studiously shallow although minutely analytical about ...more
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
wow i really loved this! i like how i've read not one but TWO books this month that encapsulated the weird magical way i spent my queer youth, a way of life that seems so completely gone forever, but still exists in new forms. i felt like my friends and i had really created something unique--and maybe we did--but it's comforting to know that it was large enough that a fictional book written about someone a decade older than me rang so many bells. i'm glad that enough time has passed since that e ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paul is mutable — not only, as he says, because he’s a Sagittarius, but because he is often switching jobs, interests, states and sex.

This is a hilarious read as it follows the happy-go-lucky, fun-seeking Paul through his jobs in gay bars and thrift stores, to his life as a woman in an all lesbian, vegetarian household, and on to the life he lives as a gay man working in an LGBT bookstore. Lawlor writes with such wit; they are an expert at storytelling.

But this book is also deeply moving; it l
Krystelle Fitzpatrick
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
I understand what this book was trying to do. Really, I do. Laden with queer culture references and an exploration of self through sexual and personal experimentation, I was really hopeful I’d get to enjoy it as a queer coming of age. However, I was let down. I wanted to feel more connected to the characters, but the lack of plot and characterisation didn’t do that for me. More positive and realistic queer representation is so, so necessary, so I praise the book on that count- self discovery is ...more
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“When women cover songs by men, they don’t swap the pronouns. Is this a.) a lack of anxiety about convention, b.) a biologically essential fluidity native to humans with vaginas and/or two X chromosomes, c.) rampant queerness among women singers, or d.) the universal male default?” 11 likes
“Paul liked to pick out the secretly cool people, people too cool to flash their coolness. The cool people were not always or even usually the same as the shiny people. Often someone shiny was too conventionally good-looking to be cool but they were still compelling, in terms of sheer wattage. Paul knew he wasn't good-looking enough to be shiny, but he could be cool in certain contexts. Cool was relational and conceptual; cool took work, cool was a meritocracy which, with all its flaws, he still preferred to the aristocracy of genetics.” 11 likes
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