I picked up Jumpstart the World, by Catherine Ryan Hyde, after seeing it listed as a Lambda Award Finalist, and promptly sped through it in two days. It begins with Elle, who is a few days shy of turning 16, and whose mother has just dropped her off in her new apartment in New York City. Thus, we get to know Elle and Mother pretty quickly. Upon moving in, Elle is introduced to Frank, her new next door neighbor.
If you’ve considered reading this book it’s probably because you already know Frank is transgender, so no spoilers there. And you also know that Elle has a crush on Frank, along with no inkling about his being an FTM. Compound this with the idea that Elle is 16 and Frank is over 30, and the book, to my pleasant surprise, did not take the dicy turns I thought it would. Elle’s crush is never anything more than that, just a crush. In fact, Frank has a girlfriend, Molly, and nothing drastic happens that makes her go away.
The main story develops as Elle struggles to live the life of a teenager by her lonesome, parentless and friendless, while leaning on her new neighbors for the support she needs. Actually, I could continue to summarize the entire story and there wouldn’t be any real spoilers, as the pivots in the book are character-based. The plot’s excitement ebbs and flows, but indeed it’s not the plot that draws you in; it’s the characters, and primarily the characters’ growth throughout. Most of the characters, including the prinicipal one, Elle, as well as some of the side characters such as Mother, or even Molly, make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes – tripping, introspecting, and evolving, much like real people.
It introduces the subject of being transgender in an indirect way, and remains a main subject while not taking over the entire book. It’s not preachy, it’s not pedantic, and there’s plenty of awkward teenage moments to go around.
My overall opinion on this book would have to be lukewarm. However, I think this highly depends on what you bring into it; in this case, the less you bring in, the more you get out. Which is a good thing. If, in my case, you’ve been drowning in transgender related topics for quite some time, then there’s nothing new to find, no big revelations or thought-provoking scenes. On the other hand, the book succesfully navigates the reader across certain difficult themes, primarily that of being an FTM, given that the reader has almost no prior knowledge on them. This is a book that you, the transgender person, would give to your next door neighbor, who has never heard of the word transgender, and just wants to learn a little bit more about who you really are.
Bonus! Participating in the “Gender Identity & Expression Challenge 2011”
Visit the Bibrary site for more info – it sounds like fun if you’re already reading some queer literature (and if you aren’t, you should)!