Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Found Via: BBYA 2010 nominations

Two posts in one day! Thrilling, right? I just have SO MANY books to review, that even when I have commentary to make, I need to keep up with my reviewing!

"Almost Perfect" is certainly an apt title for the copy of the book I got out of the library - it was missing a dozen pages! It got worse in the last 50 or so pages - so bad that I read it sitting in front of my computer so I could find the missing pages via Amazon's search inside feature.

It was totally worth the extra effort.

After learning that his girlfriend of three years cheated on him, Logan feels like crap. And he seems determined to keep feeling like crap, until a new girl shows up in his biology class in the middle of November. Logan lives in a small town in central Missouri - new kids just don't show up, especially not halfway through senior year!

Sage is striking and mysterious - super tall with a sexy voice and eclectic fashion sense. She's been homeschooled for years and seems to have the world's strictest parents. Logan is immediately intrigued, and as Sage seems to share the attraction, quickly forgets about that old girlfriend.

Sage tries desperately to keep Logan at arms length, insisting they just be friends, but as that becomes harder and harder, she finally reveals the last piece of her mysterious past to Logan: she was born a boy. Now the ball is in Logan's court - how can a straight boy in central Missouri be friends with a transgendered person? Especially when that person is as sweet, friendly, and even cute as Sage?

This was an extremely compelling book for me, because we so rarely see transgender issues explored in YA lit. The closest I can think of off the top of my head is Debbie Harry Sings in French, where a boy discovers he really enjoys dressing up as a girl (specifically, Debbie Harry). He's not gay or trans, but faces a lot of homophobia. Because the topic is so rarely tackled, Almost Perfect does occasionally feel a little didactic - explaining "this is what transgendered means" and "this is how the transitioning process is accomplished" - but the rest of the story overcomes these shortcomings.

Since class is one of those themes that keeps popping back up on this blog, I wanted to point out that Logan comes from a struggling working-class family, which is handled quite well and has obviously shaped Logan as a character. His father ran out years ago and his mom works as many shifts as she can as a waitress, struggling to keep the roof of a single-wide trailer over their heads and food on the table. Logan does yard work in the warmer months and shovels snow in the winter so he can help his mom out (even though she hates taking money from her kid).

I absolutely loved how Logan's character developed throughout the book - he has a lot of ups and downs during his relationship with Sage. The ups were thrilling while the downs were devastating. I think maybe some of the other characters give him a little too much credit for trying (and usually failing) to do the right thing (I don't believe you should get a cookie just for acting like a decent human being-stopping yourself from punching someone isn't nearly as heroic as stopping someone else from taking that punch). With that in mind, Almost Perfect really is the perfect title for this book.
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