Sunday, October 30, 2011
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
I have incredibly mixed feelings about this book. I will try to talk them out.
There aren't very many YA books with transgender characters. Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (I haven't read this one), I am J by Cris Beam, are there others? There very well might be, but I can't think of any others. I think it's admirable that Brian Katcher wanted to tell the story of someone whose story doesn't often get told. The thing about Luna and Almost Perfect is that it isn't really the transgender individuals' story. It isn't Luna's story in Luna, and it isn't Sage's story in Almost Perfect.
Sage wasn't much of a character. She was a total manic pixie dream girl. There was Logan, sad and depressed, still hung up on his ex-girlfriend who cheated him, convinced he'll never love again. In whirls Sage, and she's like no other girl he's ever known. She's totally different from anyone, ever, and she shows him how to love again. But Sage is hiding a secret (in this case it's that she was assigned the male gendered at birth, not that she has a terminal disease as so often is the case) and Logan makes a terrible mistake and ends up losing her in the end but learns a Very Valuable Lesson.
It's wasn't Sage's story at all. She was there for Logan to react to and mistreat again and again and help him grow as a person. Sage took a whole lot of shit, got very little out of it, and we hardly knew anything about her by the end of the story. What was the point? We didn't actually get Sage's story. It was all Logan. That she was transgender was a side thing. It could have been anything.
Oh Logan. Logan, Logan, Logan. You gigantic asshole. But I can't really fault Logan for how he reacted (again and again), because it was totally a realistic teen boy reaction. Even though it was reprehensible and awful and cruel and hurtful, it was sadly true. He wasn't thinking about Sage, he was thinking about himself. He was scared what other people would think and that liking Sage made him gay. He was completely obsessed with her body. After Logan broke up with her the first time and wasn't talking to Sage, he only started again because he saw her at the pool and realized she had real breasts. And that turned her into a "real" girl in his head, and he wanted to try again. Almost every thought Logan has about Sage is about her body. It goes back and forth between his disgust when he thinks of her as a boy, and his arousal when he thinks of her as a girl.
And again, I can't say this is unrealistic. But...it sure doesn't help with the stereotypes now does it? It doesn't help anyone understand transgender individuals better, or think about people in terms other than penis=boy, vagina=girl.
Does every book has to teach a lesson? No, it doesn't. But this book felt like it was trying to, but it left me feeling uncomfortable. You know what it made me think of a little? Remember when books were starting to be written with gay characters and all the characters ended up dying of AIDS or getting beat up? Almost Perfect made me think of that. Sage gets horribly beaten and is questioning whether to continuing living as a female because maybe it's too hard. And then the book ends with Logan thinking that maybe someday he and Sage can be friends again. I sure hope not Logan. I sure hope not. I can just picture that transgender kid, delighted that someone has finally written a book about him or her, and then reading about how Sage is all fucked up at the end.
I'm glad we'll be talking about this book in book club this month, because I really want to hear how other people felt about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you'd read it.
In my personal opinion, of the books I've read, I am J was far and away the best one, and definitely the one I would recommend. J is the main character and it's actually told from his perspective. It was not only a good story, but also explains what J is going through and how he feels and how he goes about transitioning.