Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews

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[Edit: Originally published April 1, 2017]

Some Assembly Required is a Trans Narrative. It encompasses all the aspects someone might expect if they are familiar with other trans books or if they have a passing awareness of trans people. These books have value, and I am hesitant to be critical of any trans books in the state of things—however, they may not have as much to offer if one has already read another Trans Narrative book. 

An issue with the Trans Narrative story always being spotlighted is that it does little to question gender; it simply implies that biology made a mistake that we should fix medically and move on with our lives. It does not dissect gender roles; it just asks politely for a little room for those having trouble fitting into them until they can perfect the art. This book does improve upon some tropes by featuring multiple and non-straight trans characters. However, Arin assumes the gender of everyone he meets by their appearance. As someone who would be misgendered by this author despite his intended message, this is saddening.

The language is simple and voice relatable, making it appropriate for high school or middle school students. I would ask that educators diversify their material, and include other trans experiences and gender theory as well, including those that are non-binary, non-white, etc. (For a college class, check out Gender Outlaw by Kate Bernstein!) I think this book could be so much more useful with good discussion questions. Question perceptions, not just if the book has been read!

Seeing your usual narrative—“wrong body” “wrong parts” and so much labeling of ‘boy’ activities and clothes exhausts. I want more than this. I want to talk about why clothes are gendered and how arbitrary that is, about why people force these roles. But many do feel this way, and it’s authentic for Arin. The window into discovering one’s transness as an American kid rings impressively true to mine. It’s just a small window, where I’d like a glass house.

Some details: There are several passages where he berates girls and femininity, which is normal for a child forced into those roles, but there’s no indication that he’s grown from this later. There is also a line drag performers that come across as derogatory in a similar way, and some mentions of Native people that needed a bit more care.

 For someone not exposed to many resources, this could be lifesaving and educational.  At the same time, I think we should be mindful to center other lenses along with this one and question the binary that tramples trans people in the first place.

You can find this book on Amazon here.

This is a guest review by @Bovastic, who is available as an accuracy consultant/sensitivity reader at bovastic.mail@gmail.com or on Twitter. Areas of expertise are listed on Twitter. For characters with other mental conditions or certain life experiences, please contact and ask.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

[Edit: Originally published on March 24, 2016]

Another book where nobody dies. Admittedly there is a car crash and someone gets beat up, but both Ari and Dante live and get a happy ending. 

It’s a story about coming to terms with love, and in that process you get the most extraordinary friendship between these two boys. And while we see their relationship blossoming we also get to see their families. Both boys are very different, and their families are different, but that’s not a factor that keeps them from being friends. Of course that isn’t to say that those differences don’t play a part in their relationship as well. 

The book felt real. I realize that’s a hard way to sell a book but I don’t know how else to say it. I’ll try to describe it this way. I am not from the area that this book is set in. The setting is El Paso, Texas. I’m from Ohio. However, I was still able to vividly picture the settings. And the characters, they felt like people I could know. I saw bits of myself in Ari, and I saw other bits of myself in Dante. Like Dante, my father is a professor at a university. Like Ari at times I deal with serious self-doubt.

This is a book that you can find yourself in. And a book that can do that is always special.

Book can be found here.