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Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,110 ratings  ·  337 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 ...more
Paperback, 354 pages
Published November 1st 2017 by Rescue Press
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  2,110 ratings  ·  337 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 ...more
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
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 understand
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
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!
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
Lark Benobi
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
fucking great.
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, ...more
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: 90's queers, gender euphoric people
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 ...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
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 ...more
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
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,
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 ...more
Jun 02, 2018 rated it liked it
An odd, original tale of a shallow young gay man in the mid 90's who can also turn himself into a woman when he wants to. Tries to say a lot about gay culture at the time from the perspective of both sexes and doesn't quite succeed but it's never less than interesting and at times very humorous and smart.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Adored this! Such a fun, tender, funny, and adventurous read, all the everyday wonders of queerness and some magic too.
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
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer
Usually books that meander and don't have a strong plot drive me crazy, but in this book it completely worked. It was super atmospheric, slice of life, and weird - kind of like a book version of a Sophia Coppola movie. I loved Paul as a character, loved the window the book gives into 90's queer culture, loved the way it makes you think about gender & sexuality & relationships. It took me a lot longer to get through than a book of this length typically does, but that's because I read it ...more
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
this is by the friend of a friend. very interesting novel. I love the title. the narrator is a young gay man who can change his body - from male to female, as well as changing his appearance in various other ways. that actually is incidental to the plot, mostly, in a way that makes it seem almost allegorical.

you basically spend a lot of time with paul (sometimes polly) in the early 90s. it's not a coming of age novel, in that he already has a past in new york, but it is a growing up novel. he's
Actual rating: 3.5

Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this ebook, in exchange for an honest review.

This is a tough one to rate. It is without a doubt a very interesting story, and one that is so wholly undefinable.

First and foremost: I believe that this book toes the lines of being ‘exceptionally problematic’, and simply ‘uncensored queer freedom’. Paul is a shapeshifter (expressed in the first few pages), and can stay a man, or become a woman. The fact that
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
🅁🄴🅅🄸🄴🅆 • Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor

Paul is a twenty something gay bartender in a small Iowa town in the early 90s with a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. At will he can transform his body with only his mind, swapping sexes, enhancing body parts, growing hair. This novel follows Paul on his quest to find himself. On the way he discovers love, disappointment, loss, ennui while criss-crossing the country and meeting many characters.

I didn’t know what to expect from this
Imogen Donato
Oct 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbt-etc

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I devoured it in a few days and couldn’t really put it down, on the other, I was wanting so much more from the characters and the writing. I admire how much Andrea put into cultural touchstones that gave you a great sense of place, but then at the same time some excessive descriptions took me out of the narrative.
I also wish there was more depth to the characters and more growth from Paul, I wanted him to learn something big and deep
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paul, our protagonist, shifts continuously between genders depending on which he finds most exciting or necessary for situations. Set in 90's San Francisco, Paul works at the only gay club at a University. He studies queer theory and has a lesbian best friend. Paul forms lesbian and gay relationships and is found by some lovers when he assumes the opposite gender. In addition to being a mind-fuck it challenges gender norms of attraction in the relationships that Paul assumes. As a reader, it's ...more
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A spectacularly subversive concept brilliantly executed. I'm obsessed. brb making a playlist from the amazing music choices contained within.
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you’ve been after a smutty, queer, shape-shifting book with good taste in music to read by the pool this summer, I have some fantastic news for you.
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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?” 4 likes
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