Almost Perfect Review

Almost Perfect Review

Title: Almost Perfect
Author: Brian Katcher
Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2009
Awards: Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, 2011

Summary: Logan Winchester is still reeling from being cheated on and subsequently dumped by ex-girlfriend Brenda when new girl Sage Hendricks moves into town. Logan is perplexed when he learns that Sage is not allowed to date and was home-schooled from eighth grade to the present. Her mysterious circumstances are revealed when, after sharing a first kiss, Sage reveals that she is physically male. Logan is outraged at this revelation, but the last few months of their senior year will bring plenty more hurdles for both Logan and Sage as they grapple to figure out what they mean to each other and struggle to keep Sage’s “condition” a secret.

Analysis: This book started out like several others that I had began reading: love-sick teenage boy chasing after an extraverted, mysterious female. I was disappointed to know from the back cover that Sage was transgender, as the secret is not revealed to Logan until several chapters in. As a reader, I would have preferred to be surprised, but I understand where the theme needs to be advertised with the book to reach the audience that most needs this book. (I can also imagine several complaints and challenges if a reader checked out the book and was later surprised by its content.) Still, it was a little disappointing and made me think, “Just SAY IT already.”

Past this scene though, the story picks up in pace and gets to the heart of the message. Personally, I am thankful I picked up this book because I feel that I needed to make the journey with Logan from shock, disbelief, and, frankly, a bit of awkward avoidance, to one of understanding and acceptance. Gay marriage has been a huge issue in the news, and homosexuality is slowly becoming more accepted, but transgendered individuals do not always seem to find the same acceptance, even within the LGBT community. Beyond knowing that this book exists and being able to put it in the hands of those that might need it, confronting my own personal biases and misunderstandings about this group of people is important for creating a climate of tolerance within the library. Every person deserves to see him- or herself portrayed in works of literature, and I think that this one makes a great stride in that arena.

Logan is certainly not blameless in the story-he comes close to reacting violently when Sage reveals her secret, and his white-hot anger and disgust is evident. His wavering faithfulness to Sage, denial of his attraction to her, and shame at caring for someone so different is painful to read, but it feels authentic. It causes the reader to take a stance and sympathize with Logan or despise him-most likely a little of each at varying points throughout the novel. At times the novel is tense and emotionally draining, but the real-life circumstances are likely the same.

Overall, I find very little to fault with this book, although I will be the first to point out that I cannot vouch for its accuracy. I have read mixed reviews of those who consider it to be too stereotypical and tell a tragic, somewhat cliche narrative for the subject. Personally I will have to read a few others from this genre before I can criticize. I hope that this book would be helpful for those who are considering transition or in the process thereof, but I am fairly confident that it would at least be helpful to the friends and family members of transgender individuals. All I know for sure is that this is a book that will stay with me for several days.

Review of Thirteen Reasons Why

Review of Thirteen Reasons Why

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why

Author: Jay Asher

Published: 2007

Awards: California Book Award, Georgia Peach Honor Book Award, South Carolina Book Award

Summary: Hannah Baker is the new kid in high school, and since freshman year her life seems to have been one traumatic incident after another. After several cries for help that go unanswered, she ends up committing suicide, but not before recording a set of cassette tapes voicing her grievances and orchestrating a plan for them to be passed along to the thirteen people who have wronged her, the thirteen “reasons” she killed herself. Clay Jensen is one recipient of the tapes, and the reader follows his journey as he works his way through each story, finally reaching his own part in Hannah’s tale.

Analysis: I waver between how much credit I give this book. I think that Jay Asher had a noble purpose and message for the book, but that it falls short in its delivery. Hannah’s voiceover and re-telling of events does a decent job of illustrating that even minor events can have major consequences, especially as a young adult. Peers do have an influence, a rather large one in middle and high school. If it makes even one student consider the ramifications before acting, then this book is worth it.

However, I think the idea that she orchestrated the tapes and her tone in some of them feel petty, as if the gesture’s sentiment is “I’ll make you pay for hurting me,” instead of “I want you to understand how your actions affected me.” I think this is dangerous, as it plays depression and suicide into the light of just being an angry teenager, instead of a situation where teens truly feel they have no other option. Her message seems melodramatic and overly didactic, seemingly beating readers over the head with a message we’re all used to hearing- how we *should* be treating other people. This is definitely an instance of telling instead of showing, and showing would have been much more powerful. At times it came close to being cleverly crafted, but in the end I feel that it fell short. It could have had more of an impact had Clay had more of a hand in Hannah’s demise, coming to regret his own actions and change at the end. This would put a voice to the other side, possibly causing readers to feel themselves mirrored in the bullying. Instead Clay seems a bit like the archetypical choir boy, effectively distancing the bullying as something that the “villains” of the story are a part of and leaving readers guilt-free. A sad story, perhaps, but a mistake that other people make. We can pretend that we are the Clays of the world, and shake our metaphorical fingers at the Justins, Jessicas, Alexs, Tylers, Courtneys, Ryans, and other bullies of the world. Maybe I just prefer books that blur the lines of black and white a bit more than Asher does in this novel. I wanted to be touched by this book, but the portrayal of a very real and complicated scenario felt a little bit two-dimensional for my taste.

That all being said, I re-iterate that if this book reachers even a few readers then it is still worth owning. (I read just as many positive reviews on Goodreads as negative, so I suspect it does/can impact several readers.)

I would hesitate to place it in the hands of middle-schoolers or immature freshmen without heavy guidance and discussion due to the rape scene at the end, but, without knowing a better alternative, I think it could be helpful for discouraging bullying and preventing suicide.