Donohoe’s title character is a modern addition to tragic white butches of the past in this bleak debut set in 1980s England.
Birdy has a lot to deal with. Trouble with neighborhood kids. Casual racism amid conflict with the Irish Republican Army and in the Falklands. A crush on a teacher ending in attempted sexual assault. Her conscience haunted by her failure to prevent the brutal murder of the family’s cat. Squeamish readers who want to move past memories of the black-and-white pet cannot, with her family hoping she comes home even as her blood is literally on Birdy’s clothes. The world seems confusing and murky from Birdy’s perspective, mimicking her necessary dissociation from assorted traumas—most of which are persistent tropes in stories about gender-nonconforming youth. Readers are left wondering if Birdy finds a clearer sense of self; she enjoys being taken for a boy but resents harassment from peers about getting a “sex change.” Labels aren’t always the answer, but this ambiguity precludes a more powerful resolution. Birdy experiences gender dysphoria, but readers can only speculate if that would ease with medical transition, with community among masculine women, or some other path. While her story ends with support and hope for the future, it’s unclear what that future will be.
Reminiscent of older lesbian fiction, this novel will satisfy readers with a taste for queer angst—but they really need to want it. (Fiction. 14-adult)