Beyond Magenta : Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Beyond Magenta

Candlewick, 2014.

For the majority of us pronouns are simple. He or she, these words are assigned at birth and mean something about who we are, who we will be, who we’d like to become. Of course as feminists and many others will tell you, it’s not nearly that simple or that well defined. For transgender and gender neutral individuals the choice of pronoun is infinitely more complicated. Choosing “they, “he,” or” “ze” says something important about identity and aspirations. For friends and family, learning and using the preferred pronoun is a big step in affirming transgender teens or adults.

Beyond Magenta explores the journey of six transgender teens as they discover their own gender identity, reveal it to others, and decide, with their parents or without, who they are and who they will become. Kuklin’s photographic portraits accompany all but one of her interviews, including shots chronicling transformations through hormones.

The stories are touching, heartbreaking, and thought provoking. These are not well reasoned adult narratives, but the teens are surprisingly articulate because they have been exploring their gender identity through therapy for some time. I found the book a quick read because I was so engaged with each and every one of the stories. The pictures gave me a sense of each teen’s journey and ideal self and allowed me to slow down and reflect on the words I had read as I looked at the pictures.

In interviewing six teens and not more Kuklin has presented a small portion of the types of stories and gender identities out there, but is a great starting point for reading about transgender individuals and issues. Beyond Magenta struck me as a great resource for teens who are questioning, transgender teens who need to read the stories of others, and both teens and adults with little experience with transgender issues. Teens and adults alike should be able to access this book in libraries, classrooms, and liberal houses of worship.

Six teens and Kuklin have made the struggles, wishes, and joys of transgender teens clear to cisgender (someone who’s self-identity matches their biological gender) folks. They’ve also bravely stepped out to provide a resource for other transgender or questioning individuals, whether teen or adult, helping them understand some of what it means to be transgender.

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling

Harcourt, 2008

Anyone knows that if you have eyes of different colors you are graced, possessed of some superhuman skill. Katsa hates that she’s marked, but she hates more that her grace is a killing grace, one she’s been forced to use in the service of the king. She’s trained hard since her grace was revealed, so she needs fear no one save herself. Unfortunately, her reputation is known throughout the seven kingdoms, so that there is nowhere she can go where her differently colored eyes do not evoke fear in those around her. But when she encounters a graceling prince, one who regards her eyes with his own mismatched eyes and does not fear, Katsa’s outlook on life begins to change.

This is a fantasy and a romance and a feminist tale. I loved the story and the way the characters debated expectations and choice. The feminist slant was welcome and well done, I think. Katsa’s a terribly strong character, though not one who didn’t show any weakness. The main characters behaved with integrity in a feudal system that did not value it. The fantasy setting, romance, and action are sure to draw readers in. I passed the book straight to my teenaged daughter and will eagerly seek out the sequels.

Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne

Since You've Been Gone

Dundurn, January 24, 2015.

In the last five years nothing about Edie’s life has been stable: not her school, not where she lives, not her friends. Everything is about running and about hiding and everything is uncertain, except for her mom. Edie’s mom has always been there for her, to comfort her and make sure that she is safe. But this last move is the most jarring yet, and suddenly Edie has lost not only her friends, school, and apartment, now–with one flight overseas–she’s lost her country, too. And when even Edie’s mom doesn’t return home from work, Edie’s got to figure out how to survive in this new place and who might help her find her mother.

Since You’ve Been Gone reads easily and quickly. Though some of the details of the story are glossed over, Edie’s plight feels real and desperate, and it certainly drew me in. The difficulties of Edie’s life, an abusive father, being bullied at school, are no light matter, and I felt rather breathless as I read how she dealt with each new blow.

Payne has a habit of beginning paragraphs with a very obvious and simple sentence before going on to more descriptive writing. At first, I had a tough time sticking with the story because of this, but the premise and plot were strong enough to pull me through. As the story went on I noticed it less. Perhaps reluctant readers would profit by these simple statements at the start of paragraphs to help guide them through unfamiliar words or structures later on. They’ll certainly be likely to keep reading to find out what happens to Edie!

I read this electronic ARC courtesy of NetGalley. Since You’ve Been Gone releases January 24, 2015.

Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe

Sparkers

Viking Penguin, 2014.

When Marah first went to the market alone, it was because her family needed food. She was scared to go among the magic users who could be dangerous to halani like Marah. Her father had just died and  though she was only eight, Marah needed to go because mother was needed at home to care for her brother. At the book stall that day Marah and began a friendship with Tsipporah, the bookseller that would change her life and that of her country forever.

The world building in Sparkers is absolutely beautiful. It is clear from reading the book that Glewwe is a student of linguistics. Character names clearly indicate whether characters are halani, non magical folk, or kasiri, upper class magic users, and make it easy for the reader to be drawn right into the world and the story. The story is compelling and the characters engaging.

This story felt so relevant to today with its themes of inborn privilege and oppression. Other themes of loyalty, love, and sacrifice make the story inspiring and uplifting. I’d recommend this middle grade book to many individual readers and also for classroom and school libraries, but I especially hope that this book is read by groups of kids, whether organized or not. The social justice thread of the story just screams to be explored within the context of the story and in relation to our own world.