A teen faces down hostility, making her own decisions about loyalty, respect, and gender.
Sixteen-year-old Pen (not Penelope) has always been butch, including her habit of wearing her brother’s clothes even though her mother says it makes her look like a “punk druggy.” Old friend Colby, who accepted her gender presentation when they were 9, now insists that everyone around him prove loyalty through service: one guy procures weed, another does Colby’s homework, and Pen’s his wingman with girls. Pen’s awkward, volatile, and abrupt—and confused about loyalty—but Colby’s a real jerk. Then a girl named Blake with “crazy blond hair…and a lot of black makeup” falls for Pen, and they have a hot romance. To Colby’s menacing fury, Pen also befriends his most recent castoff, Olivia, even accompanying Olivia to her abortion. Pen’s parents say the ongoing gender persecution she endures is her own fault, castigating her in (italicized) Portuguese and broken English, making home life unbearable—until Pen decides for herself what respeito (respect) really means. The good things in her life, she realizes, are Blake, Olivia, video games, the supportive older brother who helps her leave home—and her gender identity, which (though unlabeled) is squarely in the nonbinary range. Pen’s family is Portuguese and, like most other characters, presumably white; Olivia’s “Asian” with no further designation.
A strong genderqueer lesbian character, imperfect, independent, and deserving of every cheer. (Fiction. 14 & up)