Review of The Beautiful Something Else

The Beautiful Something Else The Beautiful Something Else
by Ash Van Otterloo
Middle School    Scholastic    288 pp.
5/23    9781338843224    $17.99

Twelve-year-old Sparrow’s life revolves around keeping their mother happy; a difficult task given her struggles with mental health and addiction. Sparrow believes that by being the perfect child they can keep Mom’s “shadows” at bay and deflect any attention from well-meaning outsiders. This includes hiding their shifting gender identity and sexuality. When Mom is unexpectedly put in rehab, Sparrow is sent to live with family members they’ve never met in the childhood home Mom has only ever discussed disparagingly. Sparrow is surprised to find not only that Aunt Mags is a source of comfort and support but also she’s trans herself and the renamed “Rainbow House” is now a community of loving families and gender-diverse individuals. Sparrow is caught in a tug-of-war between trying to be the daughter Mom wants them to be and the person they truly are. Sparrow’s own magical shadow, a trickster-like creature, provides guidance and pushes them toward realizing their identity. This fantastical touch, as well as the friendships Sparrow forges with new classmates Sully and Wynn, add some lightness to the protagonist’s difficult circumstances. Van Otterloo’s authentic and inspiring transgender adult characters serve as mentors to Sparrow on their journey of self-discovery, but perhaps more importantly as essential representations of trans adulthood for young readers.

From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Hill Saxton

Hill Saxton is a youth services librarian at the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.