* SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT*
Thank you Bargain Books SA for sponsoring a copy of the book for review purposes!
I’ve honestly wanted to read this book when I first saw mention of it because a) the cover has a pretty rainbow, and b) the title drew me – this was before I knew that Irish author John Boyne, this is the first book of his I’ve read so far, also wrote The Boy In The Striped Pajamas and before I knew this was a children’s book.
Transgender (adjective): denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.
If you’ve been around social media the last few months, especially the book community, you couldn’t have helped but notice the controversy that has arisen around this book – now that I, too, have read this book I will attempt to shed some light on the subject…
If you’d like to first familiarize yourself with what people are saying, take a look at some of the reviews on GoodReads.
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So, the story follows Sam, who is a thirteen-year-old with dyslexia, idolizes his older brother Jason; he’s popular at school, a star football player, has the prettiest girlfriend., and is the only person on the planet that makes his letters stop dancing on the page. Sam, whose mother is is a high profile politician with her eye on the Prime Minister’s position and whose father is her personal attaché / campaign manager / secretary.
Everything was perfect in Sam’s young life until his brother sat them all down and told them that he is really a girl on the inside and he cannot live a lie any longer. Of course, there wouldn’t be a story if the family was all understanding and accepting, now would there?
Sam’s parents yell and spit; “It’s just a phase,” they say. “maybe cutting your hair will make feel like a boy again”, “just stop being ridiculous!” Sam sits on the couch quite unable to understand what his brother is saying, “but you have a willy.” Mrs. Waver even goes so far as to accuse Jason of being spiteful, of maliciously trying to harm her chances of being PM. The parentals then firmly insist that no one ever speaks about it again.
Anyway, over the next few years, the secret found its way out, Sam get bullied mercilessly because of his brother and just gets angrier and angrier about his brother being weird; his parents are too concerned about their careers than anything else, but do find the time to send Jason to a psychologist in order to be “fixed”. Eventually, Jason decides that he will be visiting their estranged Aunt for a while as he feels unwelcome in his home.
While staying there, Jason feels safe enough to transition from Jason to Jessica; until his mother is put under media scrutiny and her position is in peril.
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At the end of the book, Jessica dresses back up as a boy to support his mother and the family have a spontaneous epiphany and Jessica is again welcome and loved and accepted.
I have so many problems with this book, it’s not even funny.
Cisgender (adjective): denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.
Okay, so let’s first have a look at the cover and title; which the trans community is up in arms about due to the title being ignorant and insensitive; it also deadnames the character.
Let it be known, at this point, in case I was not clear about it, that I do not know very much about the trans community nor do I know any transgender people nor have I had much chance to speak with one, so my knowledge on this subject is minimal – and I learned that doing this article.
For me, the cover is quite informative; the rainbow colours denote something queer, the use of the male and female symbols, and their position, tells me that it is a male to female transition and the title itself tells me what to expect.
If “My Brother’s Name Is Jessica” is insensitive, then “My Sister’s Name Is Jason”would be, too, and “My Sister’s Name Is Jessica” is just redundant; “My Sister’s, Who Used To Be My Brother, Name Is Jessica” will open even more cans of worms… so what, then, should the title have been?
Then people go on to say that writers should write what they know – if you’re not a transgender person, don’t write about transgendered people; I say authors should use their imaginations and that if they only wrote about the things they know, what kind of books would we have?
I say that writers should challenge themselves and write about all kinds of things in order to grow their craft and keep us readers happy, but I also say that research is key! John Boyne should have spoken to at least one transgendered person to try and get an insight into their mindset and their emotions, find out their trials and tribulations in order to properly represent it in a book.
Also, there is so little Jason/Jessica in this book even… this is Sam’s story, after all.
After all that has been said, I didn’t hate the story, I just feel that so much more could have been done with it. I think that this book is worth the read, even if you just want to see what all the fuss is about, but I wouldn’t recommend giving this book to your children, and certainly not as an educational read.
I also have a YouTube video review up on this book.
- My Brother’s Name is Jessica: Author John Boyne criticised for trans novel
- #346: Book Review — My Brother’s Name is Jessica — John Boyne
- MY BROTHER’S NAME IS JESSICA – DOES IT DESERVE THE CRITICISM?
Two lucky readers can each win their own copy of My Brother’s Name Is Jessica by John Boyne sponsored by Bargain Books SA – see my Instagram page for more.