Alex as Well

 
 

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman

Publication date: 20 January 2015 by Henry Holt & Co.

Category: Young Adult Realistic, Contemporary

Keywords: Intersex, Sexuality, Family

Format: Hardcover, ebook

Source: ARC from publisher for review

Boy or girl. Pink or blue. Normal or...? What is it that makes gender such a divisive line? First, consider that the assignment of pink for girls and blue for boys is a social convention based on a 1980's marketing strategy brought on by the advent of pre-natal testing, that President Obama recently subverted gender stereotypes by sorting balls and tool kits into the "girls" box at Toys for Tots, that even now in our modern age there are people who believe certain jobs "belong" to one gender or the other. Then consider that whether a person is male or female is actually determined by genes and hormones at birth... except when it kind of isn't.

Alex, the title character in Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman, is intersex--a label applied to people whose anatomy doesn't assign them to one gender or the other. Think of gender as a continuum rather than a binary, either-or situation. Raised by her parents as a boy, but identifying as a girl, Alex decides to leave the all-boys school in which she's enrolled after a traumatic experience, and enrolls herself in a co-ed school, instead. Her parents are at the end of their tether--her mom blogs about the trials and tribulations of raising not just any teenager, but one who's gender-confused (and insists on referring to Alex as male); her dad just flat-out leaves when she tells them she's a girl.

Alex herself feels torn in several directions--she struggles internally with boy-Alex, who sometimes whips out their "noodle"--the euphemism their mother came up with for their ambiguous genitalia--for a quick wank. There's a cute boy at her new school who seems to have a crush on her, but Alex has got a crush on another girl instead. Meanwhile, as much as she loves her parents and yearns for their understanding, at just fourteen years old, Alex feels like she can't go on living with them anymore. To top it off, how long can she withstand the strain of keeping up appearances at school? Someone is bound to find out her secret, and what happens next could turn her world upside down.

This story is sensitive and timely, told accessibly with heart and dry humor by Australian author Alyssa Brugman. While the ending may feel too abrupt for some readers, I hope the novel arouses some needed awareness and discussion of intersex, transgender, and other gender-related issues, and shifts our world's view closer to understanding and support rather than derision and disgust. 

- Alethea -

I received an advanced reader's copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Further reading:

* I know Emily. She's magnificent and you should read her Reddit AMA. We would also both be super thrilled if you would get hooked on the YA series Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer, particularly on audiobook. Please and thank you!