Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Published: 7th June 2016 (print)/7th June 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Crown Books/Listening Library
Pages: 272/4hrs
Narrator: Jazz Jenning
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

Separate from the picture book Jazz co-wrote, this is an autobiography and educational story about Jazz’s life growing up and her trans journey. The subject of being trans is addressed in a way that speaks to kids and adults and the story is told with a youthful tone but one which is blunt and honest.

Jazz has a good memory of her experiences, that plus the combination of stories from her parents her journey offers an informative story of her life. I was impressed about the soccer battle that had such a wide impact on the country. It goes to show how such a seemingly small issue can become huge and important so much it makes national attention.

It’s obvious some words she uses have been learnt later on but used to explain situations when she was younger, but I liked that approach because it gives clear terms for experiences that adults can understand that a child may not be able to articulate. It’s just as important for the adults to understand Jazz’s story as it is for kids and while the story is understandable for kids, it isn’t written in a childlike way full of vague metaphors or uncertain descriptions.

The fights and battles Jazz experienced, as well as her own reflections on her feelings and thoughts growing up are fantastic insights into the life of a trans kid and it’s incredible Jazz has shared her story with everyone.

Jazz narrates the audiobook herself which only enhances the autobiographical nature of her story. This is an educational book and one I think would benefit all audiences. It is a first hand experience of a trans kid and the language Jazz uses and the topics covered make it a great read for those trying to understand.

You can purchase Being Jazz via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Published: 5th September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Pages: 183
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When Liza Winthrop first lays eyes on Annie Kenyon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she knows there’s something special between them. Soon, their close friendship develops into a deep and intimate romance. Neither imagined that falling in love could be so wonderful, but as Liza and Annie’s newfound sexuality sparks conflict in both their families and at their schools, they discover it will take more than love for their relationship to succeed.

This was a beautiful story to read. I found whenever I stopped reading I longed to come back. Garden tells the story of Liza who is reminiscing about meeting and becoming friends with Annie before a mysterious incident happens that has kept Liza from contacting her.

The writing is easy to fall into and it flows beautifully as you read so you find yourself turning page after page. There was a lovely story being told and I loved the naivety, the passion, and the free spirited nature of these girls. The descriptions are beautiful and honestly it’s incredible how Garden has captured the growing relationship and the act of falling in love between these two girls.

It is of course also a heartbreaking story. For all the beauty and eloquent writing about two teens finding each other and falling in love there is the society around them intent on demonising them if they ever found out. It isn’t only Annie and Liza’s lives under scrutiny either and Garden does a fantastic job of capturing the whole story and all the players in it. Garden balances telling the story while also pointing out society’s failings remarkably well. It says so much but it works within the realm of the story world and never seems out of place or comes across as moralistic or pushy.

Garden tells the story in both past and present tense and the mixing of flashbacks and Liza’s present situation as she writes letters to Annie is incredibly well done. There are well placed clues and mystery around what separated these girls and as readers you’re caught up between watching them fall in love while also wondering what has come between them.

What I found amazing about the whole story is you never felt unsatisfied and it was sometimes surprising to be flung back into the present after having escaped so completely into the past through Liza’s words. I loved this book from early on and it stayed an amazing story throughout. From being a ground-breaking book of its time in the 1980s this story has held up and remains a fabulous and emotional story about first loves and the power and intensity they can have.

You can purchase Annie on My Mind via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Who’s Your Real Mum by Bernadette Green

Published: 31st March 2020 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scribble
Illustrator: Anna Zobel
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

‘Elvi, which one is your mum?’
‘They’re both my mums.’
‘But which one’s your real mum?’

When Nicholas wants to know which of Elvi’s two mums is her real mum, she gives him lots of clues. Her real mum is a circus performer, and a pirate, and she even teaches spiders the art of web.

But Nicholas still can’t work it out! Luckily, Elvi knows just how to explain it to her friend.

This is a great story about what it means to be a “real mum” and how having two mums doesn’t make one more real than another. I enjoyed this story because it is playful and light-hearted even though it’s about a sensitive question.

Green’s approach to this was excellent because kids have questions, adults have questions, and whether or not they are right to ask those questions it’s going to happen. Having Elvi deal with Nick’s constant questioning about her “real mum” with humour and heart is a great way to point out to Nick and the reader that there is no such thing as only one “real mum”.

I liked how Zobel’s illustrations start to capture the more outlandish answers Elvi gives. It plays into the notion that Elvi’s mums are superheros in a way being able to do all these fantastical things with a great tongue in cheek that Elvi is completely messing with Nick. The use of blues against the brown and yellows in Zobel’s pictures highlight the fanciful answers and it’s a great way to show that both mums can do these things in Elvi’s imagination. I also liked how Zobel incorporates the more creative answers in and around whatever real life activing Nick and Elvi are currently doing whether it’s playing in the park or walking down the street.

Overall, it’s a nice gentle story that points out how impolite it is to even ask such a question, but the curiosity of kids covers this and Green shows a nice friendly and humorous response to Nick’s questions.

You can purchase Who’s Your Real Mum via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

Amazon Aust

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Published: 3rd May 2016 (print)/4 August 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Flatiron Books /Macmillan Audio
Pages: 280/6 hrs and 59 mins
Narrator: Samia Mounts
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for.

I read this after Russo’s other book Birthday but while I liked this I think Birthday was a more powerful story. Even though some tough issues are raised here like transphobia, bullying, abuse and violence towards trans people, it was still a relatively minor part of the story. The main plot points are about Amanda at her new school, making new friends, falling in love and trying to reconnect with her estranged father.

There are stereotypes and easy roads taken to make Amanda’s story work which Russo admits to, but that is ok because this isn’t a story about Amanda’s transition (though we do get her full backstory through well placed flashbacks), this is about her life now and how she is navigating a new school, new relationships and her first love.

Russo’s author note at the end talks to her readers, trans and otherwise about how to approach Amanda’s story. She admits she took liberties and made the process seamless for Amanda where it otherwise shouldn’t have been to make the reader accept Amanda more easily, but she acknowledges that many other people don’t have such luxuries in real life. I liked this addition because it would be so easy to dismiss Amanda’s experiences because she had it easy and things were perfectly aligned for her, not to mention for people to assume this experience was universal when it isn’t. In doing so Russo makes the story afterwards the focus and Amanda’s life now rather than before where the main story lies.

Having said that, it isn’t a perfect road for Amanda – I hated that for the entire time I was waiting for the reveal about her past and for the town and/or her friends to turn on her. There are so many trans stories and they shouldn’t all end in revelations resulting in abuse and rejection but while some of Amanda’s story had rule bending, I appreciated Russo not sugar coating the entire experience.

Despite being #OwnVoices it still falls into YA tropes and stereotypes; it is cheesy and sappy at times, but if you’re after a sweet romance with the small town aesthetic that so many US YA books have then this is right up your alley.

You can purchase If I Was Your Girl via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Birthday by Meredith Russo

Published: 31st May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Usborne Publishing Ltd
Pages: 300
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Meet Eric and Morgan.

Born on the same day, at the same time, in the same place. They’ve always shared this one day together, but as they grow up they begin to grow apart.

Everyone expects Eric to get a football scholarship, but no one knows he’s having second thoughts.
Former quarterback Morgan feels utterly alone, as she wrestles with the difficult choice to live as her true self.

Both of them are struggling to be the person they know they are. Who better to help than your best friend?

Told on one day every year, over six years, this is a story about how change pulls people apart… and how love brings them back together.

This book. Oh my gosh, this book. Birthday is an absolutely beautiful story that in part broke my heart and moved my soul.

I am not going to lie, it was heart wrenching and painful to read at times but Russo does a superb job getting you inside the minds of Eric and Morgan, especially Morgan. We feel their pain and anguish and the discovery of self when not a lot was being said and anything LGBTQIA was a punchline or a flippant insult. The same is said for the sexism because there is plenty of that as well. It’s full of the harm of toxic masculinity and the pressure and heartbreak boys are put through in order to live up to what they are “supposed to be”. It was incredibly sad, even in fiction, to read about how these characters were told off for saying they loved each other and weren’t allowed to cry.

Russo captures the derision of a town obsessed with football coupled with the reality that it is the only way out of a place that is dying. The dead end existence of their small town is well explained and the catch-22 of hating football but knowing it’s the only opportunity you’ll have to get into a good university and escape was a refreshing approach to other US novels where football is simply the town obsession for no reason (I mean it is a bit of that too). At least Russo makes it evident there is no real escape otherwise and the way this plays into both character’s choices and mentality is amazing.

Structurally I love how this story is laid out. With one day each year we see the lives of Morgan and Eric, their alternate views on same experiences and different lives as they start to grow up. Every year that passed for Morgan made me hurt, but every year that passed I saw how much Eric was still a loyal friend. Even with this one day we still discover how the rest of the year has been, it never felt like we were missing information of chunks of time. It was incredible how through one day over many years we get to see the whole lives of these characters and see their lives unfold.

I cannot praise this story enough. It is full of pain and sorrow, the confusion of being a teenager and the failure of the adults, but it is also about the power of friendship – especially friendship struggling under the damaging rules of society, bigotry, and ‘being normal’. There are many content warnings obviously such as parental death, self harm, homophobia, depression and bullying, but there are also moments of pure joy and the love, exploration and value of true friendship.

It’s a brilliant book because being inside Morgan and Eric’s head makes you angry and sad, and this isn’t even the distant past – there’s no exact year stated but with references to VHS video cameras, YouTube, and getting Netflix in the mail it’s not that long ago. It’s relatively recent in the scheme of everything and the story does an amazing job in showing how damaging this whole mentality can be while also showing there is always hope and there will always be people who love you and surprise you. I loved this book even though it made me hurt and I think even though it covers some tough subjects it’s an important story to tell and being an #OwnVoices story I think there is even more power and importance in these words.

You can purchase Birthday via the following

QBD | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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