Author: Laurie Frankel
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: I loved almost all of this book, but one section was iffy both in terms of representation and plot progression.
“This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them. This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated. This is how children change…and then change the world. This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess. When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl. [Parents] Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.” (source)
I picked this book up imagining that we would get the perspective of the entire family, but the book primarily focused on Rosie and Penn. As a result, while I certainly learned something about what it might be like to be or to have a trans child, I mostly learned about the experience of parenting in general. As someone without children, I really admired Rosie and Penn’s laser focus on what would make their children happy in the short and long term. It was interesting to read about the ways that even this clear focus on their children’s happiness didn’t always make it obvious what the right decision was.
Part of the reason I took so long to review this book, though, is that I have some mixed feelings about it. In particular, there’s a trip to Thailand towards the end of the book that I didn’t think added much to the plot and that was handled rather poorly. As soon the family arrives, the local women are described as uniformly, exotically feminine. It flattened out the real differences that you’d see among women of any culture. The rest of the trip seems to exist solely to give our characters a chance to work out their feelings. Poverty, limited medical care, and the resulting suffering were nothing but a backdrop against which our characters could do some soul searching. One Thai character, who would probably identify as a trans woman if she lived in the US, felt like a prop to allow Rosie to explore her own mixed feelings. And Rosie is portrayed as a bit of a savior of the local medical staff, despite their greater experience working with limited resources.
Honestly, I don’t feel totally confident in my assessment of the prior section. Some parts of the Thai trip felt innocuous, others seemed borderline, and parts struck me as clearly poor portrayals of another culture. I’d love to hear some other perspectives if any of you have read this book! Most of the other reviews I found that complained about this section seemed to hate this book, which I definitely didn’t. I loved the writing, which was certainly trying to be clever, because for me, it succeed at that. I thought it was funny and heartwarming and charming. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I just would have preferred a quicker resolution, dropping the Thai trip both for the sake of a snappier plot and to avoid using an entire culture as nothing but backdrop.