Boston Comic Con has long been one of my favorite places to find new stuff. Though sometimes that stuff is just new to me. A Boy Like Me was published September 2014 from 215ink to much critical success, a 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Finalist and one of Foreword Reviews’ 10 best indie YA novels of 2014, it takes on the daunting reality of gender identity in teens, and does it in an engaging thoughtful and sweet way.
I wanted to give the short synopsis that the publisher shared on the back of the book but I feel it gives away a little too much and may prejudice the reader. I’ll try to give you my own instead. This is the story of Peyton Honeycutt’s journey from eighth grade to, well to adulthood really. We watch (and experience) Peyton growing from a scared uncertain kid who has no idea where to fit, into someone we would all love to know. This is a story about love, about fear, about hope. This is a book about a conflicted transgendered teen who finds a way not only to cope but to cope with others as well. This is a great novel.
Growing up I read so many great novels. Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, David Copperfield, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Outsiders, Catcher in The Rye. All wonderful books, books about young people going through awkward phases and situations. But looking back very few felt like they got “it”. Maybe there was a culture shock scenario at work. Though the stories are timeless their settings and atmosphere and even the mindsets of the characters are very locked in the era they belong to. From Mark Twain to Stevenson to Harper Lee they paint the most beautiful pictures of the lives of their characters but none that mirrored my own. They all feel stuck in bygone eras when people spoke, acted, and even thought differently. At times it was hard to feel connected to their protagonists.
Now I’m sure every book will seem dated after a certain amount of time but as I read A Boy Like Me I realized, save for a few references, it could have been written anytime in the last 30 or even 40 years. That’s a compliment to Jennie’s writing for sure, but it’s also something to think about. Surely people in Peyton’s situation have existed all throughout history? Unfortunately how society treats people like Peyton seems to have changed little. Peyton is ridiculed, ignored, pigeon-holed, discouraged, even attacked. It’s not all bad of course she has allies, people who love her, but even those who want to help have trouble making an impact. Jennie’s depiction of Peyton is so real, her personality so complete, that every question, every problem, every heartbreak, every triumph is real.
A Boy Like Me felt like it could have been written about me, or any of my friends. That’s a pretty bold statement considering how and where I grew up. A white, middle class, Catholic, boy in a predominantly white middle class Catholic neighborhood in New York sounds fairly idyllic I know. As a teen I was small, I read too much, I didn’t like sports, but more than that I was unbearably socially awkward. From kindergarten through high school I had four or five people I counted as close friends. And girls? Every early experience was embarrassing, awkward, and discouraging. I never felt like I knew what I was supposed to be doing or feeling, never knew if I was “normal.” As time went on I found people who got me, I got me, I found my place in the world. These days that’s a pretty common experience to have had, as the world gets smaller we see more and more people seem to feel alone, disconnected from “normal.” That’s one of the things that I found so wonderful about this book. Even without experiencing the same conflict as Peyton I was not only completely vested in this teen’s struggle I felt like I could identify perfectly. Jennie’s book takes us into the mind of a teen who hasn’t seen or been told it’s okay to be confused, how important it is that we all find our own normal. A kid at an age where those feelings, those insecurities, feel like everything. And the reader feels every moment of it.
If you’ve never felt like an outsider, never felt like you didn’t fit the expected norm, then you need to read this book. It will give you insight into the mind of someone whose experiences will break your heart, and give you hope. If you’re one of the many who struggled who felt “wrong” as you growing up, then you need to read this book and experience a kindred spirit.
A Boy Like Me deserves far more than the 5 out of a possible 5 I can give.
A Boy Like Me
Writer: Jennie Wood
Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: 215 Ink; 1st edition (July 30, 2014)