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

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

I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

Published: 4th September 4th 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Dial Books
Illustrator: Shelagh McNicholas
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 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.

This is a wonderful and easy to understand story about Jazz and her journey as a transgender kid. Jazz introduces herself to readers and tells them the story of her life being a girl but looking like a boy to everyone else.

I liked that Jazz first introduces herself to us through her favourite colours, what she likes to do and who her friends are. Only then do we learn about her being transgender. This is an important move because there are so many other things that make Jazz Jazz and when asked to tell us about herself favourite colours is the best place to start.

As Jazz tells more of her story she mentions she rarely played with trucks, tools, or superheroes and instead liked princesses and mermaid costumes. While it isn’t the best distinction to class these are “girl things” versus “boy things”, I understand for kids it might be an easier thing to understand, even if it isn’t the best phrasing.

The book offers an informative but simple story of her life and how she experienced life at school and home and how once her parents understood they started to support her. Jazz talks about the term transgender and her visit to a doctor, and also how she felt being told she was a boy or had to do boy things she didn’t want to do and how it took time for everyone to understand.

The illustrations are coloured pencil sketches and support the words on the page. There is a mix of full page illustrations and numerous smaller scenes surrounded by white page. I like McNicholas’ style, especially in this book, because it offers simple pictures for enhancement to the story and flesh out the scenes being told but don’t need to overshadow or take over the page.

This is an educational book and one I think would benefit all audiences. The range of picture books about characters/experiences being trans are useful tools as well, there is a lot of power in first hand accounts which I Am Jazz can provide.

You can purchase I am Jazz via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman

Published: 3rd May 2018 (print)/3rd May 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harper Collins/Harper Collins Audio
Pages: 395/9 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Aysha Kala and Huw Parmenter
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

Angel is living her best life as an Ark fan and when she gets a chance to meet the band she gets more than she bargained for. I was waiting for Angel to step over her boundaries as a fan but Oseman balances the line quite well. It was interesting seeing Angel’s mindset switch from thinking she knows everything about the band and its members to suddenly realising they are messy and complicated humans just like she is. I love how this is so intimate and yet not at the same time. It’s a snapshot in time where two paths crossed and they changed each other’s lives. I love that it is that simple.

At the same time though, the story is so much more than it first appears. The exploration about identity and expectation, as well trying to find your place in the world is incredibly well done. I loved the complex nature of the characters and how it never felt cliché or stereotypical, the pressures and realities were there and seeing such depth in the characters and their emotions is something Oseman is so good at. You get to be inside the head of these characters and they become real. The two points of view offer great contrast between the experiences of both Angel and Jimmy. Even overlapping the same events it was interesting to see the different perspectives and inner monologues and reactions. Oseman shows us the darker side of fame through The Ark’s experience and how each member copes with the stress and struggle and we see Angel’s life as a fan and her obsession with the band and the affect it has on her life. Each character stands on their own and even through Angel and Jimmy’s eyes we see their lives and struggles too.

Aysha Kala and Huw Parmenter do a wonderful job as narrators; having such an intimate book is helped along by having the voices in your ear like these characters are telling you the story themselves. It also helps bring out the emotion because this story is filled with emotions and with two first person narratives and heightened emotional subject matter there’s going to be a lot of them.

I was curious how the story would end but I think Oseman has perfectly wrapped it up. I was unsure if there would be a sudden shift but I found myself surprisingly satisfied with how the book ended and I’m still a little surprised at the impact it had one me. Oseman has written some beautiful stories and this is another one to add to the list. The complication of emotions, fame, friendships and life all come together all at once and the seeing it play out and aftermath of it all is a beautiful journey to go on.

You can purchase I Was Born for This via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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