Ellen Wittlinger–Parrotfish

The What: Grady McNair wants to hang out with his friend Sebastian, hurts at the betrayal of his ex-best friend Eve, and moons over his crush, Kita. Oh, and he really wants to convince his dad that their annual Christmas extravaganza is more than a little ready to be retired. Unfortunately for Grady, he was born female, so everyone in his world knows him as “Angela.” He decides that, like the parrotfish, he will change the sex he lives as. He finds surprising allies, fierce enemies, and more when he decides to be himself.

The Good: This book is laugh-out-loud funny. It is about Grady’s gender issues, and he does face some serious repercussions, but it’s by no means a problem novel. I appreciated that. The treatment of gender was nuanced and informed. Grady makes a statement to the effect of being comfortable as a boy, but not being sure whether he’ll want to be a “man.” He pictures himself in the middle of the gender football field, a useful mental exercise if ever there was one. The teachers and administrators at Grady’s school alternately made me cheer and groan with disappointment/recognition. (Can we categorically outlaw that old chestnut, “This is just a phase”? Seriously, folks. That puppy’s gotta go.)

The Meh: Grady’s imagined dialogues were funny, but sometimes they interrupted the plot in ways that frustrated me. Also, the story suffers from a touch of “what if?” novel-itis: the author thought, “What if I wrote a YA book about a female-born person who wasn’t gender-normative?” Then this book happened. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but the premise-to-page journey is rather transparent here.

Hand It To: Readers interested in gender-nonconformism, fans of “Luna,” readers with a sense of humor, Nancy Pearl’s story and character readers.