I tried to hold things together, but I could feel pieces of myself crumbling, turning to dust.
“It’s not fair. I’m a girl.” My voice came out in a whisper.
2015 so far seems to be an excellent year for YA contemporary. I’m always the kind of person who finds myself attracted to books that promise breathtaking fantasy, magic, prophecies and fast-paced action, and yet so many of those books feel like carbon copies of older works lately. Contemporary has been kicking fantasy’s ass with powerful and important tales that need to be told. All the Rage and Little Peach are two others that come to mind.
Do you remember the controversy over Caster Semenya at the World Championships in 2009? Gender testing had found she had four times the normal amount of testosterone for a woman and “might be part-man”. There were those who demanded that it was unfair to allow a woman with male parts to compete in female races. And there were those who were outraged at the way Caster was humiliated and paraded before the press when she was, in fact, a woman but has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).
Well, this book is about a teenage girl called Kristin who has a full college scholarship, two best friends and a boyfriend who loves her. Until one night she tries to have sex with her boyfriend and something seems to be not quite right. A visit to the doctor reveals that she has AIS, will never get her period or have children, and has testicles inside her body. Having to come to terms with this would be hard enough, but when her secret is leaked to the whole school, she has to deal with all the bullying that follows.
Will her friends still support her? Can her boyfriend still love someone who has male parts? It’s hard not to become so caught up in this story and feel sorry for Kristin at every turn. Kids are so ignorant and quick to judge, and Kristin is finding that out at the hardest time of her life.
The author doesn’t miss this interesting opportunity to have a discussion about gender, identity and what it truly means to be either male or female. Is there any difference between men and women, beyond the way we treat them? It’s an incredibly important book. Both informative and emotional, balanced between educating its readers and drawing them into the personal turmoil of Kristin’s life.
There have been a couple of contemporary YA books lately that have made me emotional, but I’ve managed to hold off on any actual crying right until the end… and then I read the author’s note about their reasons for writing this particular story and the tears just start to come. Fantasy might be full of fast-paced nastiness that has your eyes glued to the page but, believe me, real life does too.