A transgender teen, born as Mark but determined to live as Samantha, struggles for acceptance from her peers and family in this novella.
This drama opens with a haunting scene of a young woman en route to the emergency room at Boston Medical Center, the apparent victim of a suicide attempt. As medical staff perform CPR on the adolescent, Briones (Jane Doe: Gutted, 2015, etc.) takes readers back in time, introducing them to Samantha and her girlfriend, Victoria. Both girls have experienced adversity in their short lives. Victoria weathered her parents’ ugly divorce, battled depression, and struggled with self-harm. Samantha’s issues, meanwhile, are closely tied to her gender; for as long as she can remember, the anatomically male teenager has “loved dresses, makeup and always identified with the heroine in any story.” However, her decision to start living as a girl is met with hostility and violence. Samantha starts the transition slowly by shaving all her body hair, but when she goes to school with “makeup, earrings and an ever-so-slight new do,” a group of boys attack her and strip her of most of her clothing—a terrifying assault that throws the lives of both Samantha and Victoria into disarray. Transgender issues have been a particularly hot topic in recent months, particularly since former Olympian Bruce Jenner asked America to call him Caitlyn; indeed, Briones references that specific cultural touchstone in this final installment of her Jane Doe series. Overall, the novella is fast-paced, and it includes a few clever turns of phrase (“It was not that Mark and Victoria were students in trouble, but rather troubled students”). However, copy editing issues abound (“Victoria’s nuclear family was compact and mother, brother and herself”), and, at times, little attention is paid to character development; for example, both Samantha’s dad and a doctor’s father have the same background as Zamboni drivers for the University of Massachusetts hockey team. Characters also often sound as if they’re reading from the script of an after-school special; at one point, for instance, a suicide note improbably includes statistics about kids who take their own lives.
A slapdash attempt to address the very serious issues of gender identity and teen suicide.