Friday, 13 June 2014

Review: Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman

Publisher: Curious Fox
Format: Paperback
Released: May 8th, 2014
Rating: 6.5/10

Amazon summary:

Why does it matter whether I am a boy or a girl? But it does. It really, really matters. When Alex was born, the doctors described him as sexually ambiguous , with both male and female reproductive organs. For the last fourteen years his parents have raised Alex as a boy. They dressed him in boys clothes, sent him to a boys school and gave him medication to help regulate his hormones. But last night at dinner, Alex made an announcement, three words that would change everything: 'I'm a girl.' And when Alex sets about changing her life her wardrobe, her school, her entire identity no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. 


Alex As Well is one of those books that seems to have divided readers. People either love or are indifferent, and I think I fall somewhere inbetween. The subject matter is an important one, of course, and I loved that side of it, but I'm not overly keen on Alex himself. I know she's going through an awful lot of horrible, life-changing stuff, but she never just sits down and rationally tries to sort it out with her parents. Obviously they don't fully understand her and this huge decision she's made, but Alex never once exhibits nice behaviour to either her mum or dad. Though saying that, Alex's mum is a horrible character and one that I sincerely hope doesn't actually exist anywhere in the world. I couldn't stand her and how she behaved, what she wrote or how she spoke to Alex. But, at the end of the day, without communication, what do we ever have left?

This is the first book I've read about a transgendered teen and I hope it isn't the last. Writing books about topics like this is so, so important in today's society; they have the power to help people in a similar situation and can also teach others how to be tolerant of people a bit different to them. Nothing like this was about when I was younger - Junk by Melvin Burgess was either banned or on the top shelf of the school library requiring a parent's permission slip - but I wonder how different things would be today if there had been a book like this that was easily accessible and about something real? Maybe there would be more understanding and less hate crime, or maybe everything would be exactly the same. Whatever the hypothetical outcome, it doesn't detract from the fact that books like Alex As Well need to exist, and they need to be thrust into the hands of high school students as much as humanly possible.

I'm not going to pretend for one second that I know what Alex is going through, because I don't. I have no knowledge of being a sexually ambiguous fifteen-year-old, but yet author Alyssa Brugman made me think I did. Her writing is immersive and honest, giving a voice to thousands of human beings currently struggling with the same problems as Alex. Although I'm not in Alex's fan club, I'm sure her behaviour is true to life in one way or another, so who am I to say that her actions aren't completely justified? I have no idea how people would act in this situation, but I'm guessing it's like grief and how that affects different people in different ways.

Alex As Well is a book I urge everyone to read and subsequently form your own opinions of. It's a brave novel that brings a taboo subject to light, and I hope that one day transgenderism won't be taboo or unnatural or any of the other labels unfairly thrown at it. We live in a world where there are transgendered teens and adults, and they deserve to have a voice both literally and fictionally. Alex As Well is a literary step in the right direction, even if Alex didn't turn out to be my cup of tea. I admired her determination to stand up for who and what she is, to live how she wants to live, and that's a lesson we can all do with learning.

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