Thursday 20 June 2019

Journey of a teen's trans revelation

Fiction: My Brother's Name is Jessica

John Boyne, Penguin, €13.99

My Brother's Name is Jessica
My Brother's Name is Jessica

Justine Carbery

John Boyne's YA novel has already run into controversy because of the antipathy and hurt it has engendered within the trans-community.

Their grievances are real, as are Boyne's intentions. He wrote this in good faith, hoping to start a conversation and foster empathy around this issue.

It tells the story of the Wafer family. Thirteen-year-old Sam adores his older brother Jason, who seems to have life sorted - he's smart, kind, good-looking, has a pretty girlfriend and excels at sport - everything that Sam longs for.

Their mother is an overly ambitious British MP, 'climbing her way to the top of the greasy pole', hoping to land the top job, PM.

Their life is uneventful until one evening Jason calls the family together to reveal something he's been suppressing for years - he's a girl who feels she's been trapped inside a boy's body. Chaos ensues as the various family members try to come to terms with this startling revelation, especially Sam, who finds it difficult to accept that his brother is really his sister.

I find Sam's naive questioning realistic (though I do wonder if 13-year-olds these days would be more in touch with gender issues).

The novel charts his and his parents' credible journey through ignorance and bewilderment towards understanding and acceptance.

Understandably, some trans people feel that the title and synopsis are transphobic in their misgendering and deadnaming of Jessica, but I equally believe Boyne when he says, "My hope is that this book will not just help inform young people but will also allow them to ask questions... because this is how we learn. And how we start to understand". Read it and make up your own mind.

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