Pseudonymous Singapore-based author Tor (High Noon, 2015, etc.) charts the coming-of-age of a resilient teenager confronting issues of gender.
John Bird is an effeminate North Carolina high schooler who’s bullied by fellow students who call him “Ladybird.” However, he’s swiftly befriended by a striking, indigo-eyed transfer student named Aureus Conner. John isn’t drawn to her with romantic intentions but with emulative ones; his own secret pleasure lies hidden in his bedroom in a box containing girl’s blouses and jewelry. His older brother Devon tries to help him clarify his sexual proclivities by supplying him with various types of pornography, but it only fuels his confusion and shame. As his friendship with the spirited Aureus deepens into their college years, John’s comfort with his sexual identity grows despite sporadic confrontations with former high school bully J.P., who winds up at the same university. His admiration of titillating artwork featuring women, combined with his continued admiration for Aureus’ physical beauty, furthers his burgeoning desire to explore his feminine side despite a few unexpected setbacks. A Halloween party where he and Aureus both cross-dress and a stroll around campus in women’s clothing solidifies his suspicion that being a woman makes him the happiest and the truest to himself even if it briefly challenges Aureus’ previously hidden religious beliefs. This last theme may be the only part of this thoughtful narrative that Tor fails to deeply explore. This affecting, meandering novel is flush with dialogue, but its true engine is its characterizations. Both of the quirky, endearing, relatable outcasts will grab readers’ attention from the first page due to their unique struggles to establish their own identities within a critical, conformist society. The power of their unconditional, complex relationship and the authenticity and seriousness of John’s gender-transformative journey are inspiring and thought-provoking. Tor’s book is sure to ignite galvanizing conversation as it adds to the growing library of transgender-themed YA titles.
An inspiring, empowering chronicle of self-discovery
and fearless pride sure to entertain and inform both cisgender and transgender