A BOY LIKE ME by Jennie Wood

boylikeme

AMBER LOVE 27-SEPT-2014 It is a rare occurrence for me to pick up a book and not want to put it down. I was never that way with any of the Harry Potters or even my favorite mysteries. I tend to find a comfort zone of reading 20-35 pages in a sitting and don’t read every day. But those precious times when a book flows so incredibly well from chapter to chapter, I’ve managed to read a whole novel in only a couple of days. This was the experience I had reading my friend Jennie Wood’s first YA novel, A BOY LIKE ME.

Jennie has been on my podcast, Vodka O’Clock, to talk about what it was like for her to create the book. We explored as much as possible from the cover design to how delicately she handled the story of a transgender protagonist when she herself isn’t. I urge you to go back and listen to those episodes because there’s information about Grub Street, the workshop group where writers have can get all the guidance needed in their program to write a novel.

A BOY LIKE ME comes in around 300 pages and covers the teen years of Katherine “Peyton” Honeycutt. Throughout most of the novel, Peyton is unaware of his gender identity and struggles every day feeling like there’s something wrong with his female body. The book boldly starts off with an 8th grade girl getting her first period at school while wearing a dress and fancy shoes her mother insisted on. She meets a new girl at school, Tara Parks, who convinces her to swap outfits for the day. Tara’s body confidence and go-getter personality were as foreign to Katherine as her own female body felt. This is where the young romance story begins. It’s Tara who gives Katherine the new name Peyton and I actually don’t think there’s ever an instance where Tara needs to choose either “he” or “she”; I’m pretty sure I only remember Tara saying “Peyton,” “you,” “we” or “us.”

The reason Peyton’s life is relatable as a character even for a reader who is cisgender, is that so many people of any gender go through times hating their bodies and feeling that deep desire to be someone else. There’s a seed in our guts that gets planted somewhere along the way as we grow up that germinates into a hologram making us believe we would only be happy if… if we could have that other person’s life. It’s not a trans-exclusive struggle but their inability to disguise their misidentified bodies is uniquely theirs and something cis- people should learn about to gain a bit of understanding.

Jennie puts Peyton through a series of obstacles as the character moves through high school. He’s athletic but gets placed on the girls’ teams. He changes for gym class in a stall instead of the locker area where all the girls are comfortable in front of each other. He moves through this life with a religiously misguided and oppressive mother who lays all excuses for her failures on Peyton’s father leaving them. Luckily, readers get the reprieve on their hearts every time Peyton’s fantastic Uncle RB is around; he is the best father figure possible and completely supportive without prying about what Peyton is going through. It’s sort of a situation where certain people know Peyton is a male identity long before he does. The emotional roller coaster had me crying plenty of times. The love from Uncle RB was one thing but Peyton’s relationship with Tara was constantly a battle until Peyton found his real self. The very real misconception many of the characters have towards Peyton is that “she’s” a lesbian even though the word makes no sense to him since he feels like a boy in love with a girl. Even though Uncle RB is awesome about the whole thing, there are townsfolk and classmates who make it their mission to torment Tara and Peyton for being freaks and dykes.

What I liked about the writing style is that this is a story about regular people in a small town and Jennie Wood makes everyday moments into full chapters. It’s a way of writing I’m not used to anymore. I think it’s because so much of my reading material is unrealistic: funny murder mysteries, gruesome action-packed adventures, or characters with special powers. Sure, you can take super-powered characters and craft a very human story (as is prominently done in things like X-MEN) but it’s never one hundred percent relatable. Spider-Man’s Peter Parker might be considered one of the most “everyday” characters in comics, yet, he’s a science genius in one of the largest cities in America. I can’t relate to Peter Parker all that much. A scene of Spider-Man is not going to be like a scene from my life but a scene in A BOY LIKE ME easily can be. We have dive bars where bands play and that’s pretty much the only thing to do if you aren’t at a high school sports event. I haven’t wanted to watch that since I was in the high school marching band so, no thanks, I’ll stay home on Friday night. Otherwise, it’s boring small town life with a movie theatre several miles away and shopping malls.

If you are willing to take on the emotions, I can’t recommend A BOY LIKE ME highly enough. I read it in 2 days. I found myself wanting to finish whatever I was working on so I could get back to it as quickly as possible. Hopefully, anyone who reads my reviews understands that the Young Adult label is not a restriction on who would enjoy the book. It’s more like a guide letting you know the main characters are young and that it’s likely not appropriate for a 10 year old or younger. You should like what you like and don’t let any loud mouth columnists make you feel bad for enjoying a YA book.

COMING UP

queercopia

Jennie and I will be part of an incredible ensemble at the BGSQD center during New York Comic Con. We’ll be gathered on October 10 at 7pm to do some LGBTQ-friendly readings. Readers also include Maria Burnham, Dylan Edwards, and Jeff Krell. A reception begins immediately following the convention at 7pm with the readings at 7:30pm.

TWITTER

@jenniewoodndid, @elizabethamber, @DylanNDREdwards, @jeffkrelljayson & @JLLTMaria