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Review of Parrotfish

wittlinger_parrotfish updateParrotfish
by Ellen Wittlinger
High School     Simon      294 pp.
7/07     978-1-4169-1622-2     $16.99     g

“What I am is a person who’s capable of loving other people. That’s all that matters.” This is the unwavering thrust of Wittlinger’s groundbreaking latest, narrated by Grady (born Angela), a transgendered teenage boy who is determined to show his true self to the world. Unexpected allies include nerdy Sebastian, gorgeous Kita, and Grady’s upset but protective mother, whose ability to be loving and supportive despite her confusion and unhappiness makes her the most complex member of the ensemble. The matter-of-fact plot, tinged with a teenager’s sense of irony, enumerates the day-to-day challenges of being transgendered (which bathroom does one use when neither is safe?) but occasionally loses focus amid the large cast. Still, the tangential subplots (such as an elaborate Christmas ritual telling of parental dynamics) enrich a thought-provoking discussion of gender roles, gender identity, and the influence of nature, nurture, and social construction on both. Like Julie Ann Peters’s Luna (rev. 7/04), Parrotfish can serve as an introduction to transgender issues for curious readers, but it also has enough empathy to satisfy those looking for themselves in the pages. Despite Grady’s unusually strong sense of self and capacity for forgiveness, he retains some complexity and is ultimately both recognizable and likable — an awkward, slightly insecure, occasionally eloquent kid devoted to family and friends, just trying to figure out where he fits in the world.

From the July/August 2007 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Claire Gross About Claire Gross

Claire Gross is the youth librarian at the Egleston branch of the Boston Public Library and a former associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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