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Monday, February 29, 2016

YA Review: A Boy Like Me

Yeah, look at me go with this reviewing thing! Oh, yeah. It's a leap day miracle!

A Boy Like Me by Jennie Wood

Published: September 4th, 2015 by 215 Ink
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 264 plus some resources which is a really nice touch, acknowledgements, and an about the author.
Part of a series? No, it's a standalone.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. And it was only, um, a year ago. Which is not horrible considering my track record.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / Author's website

Summary (from goodreads): Peyton Honeycutt meets Tara Parks in the eighth grade bathroom shortly after he gets his first period. It is the best and worst day of his life. Determined to impress Tara, Peyton sets out to win her love by mastering the drums and basketball. He takes on Tara’s small-minded mother, the bully at school, and the prejudices within his conservative hometown. In the end, Peyton must accept and stand up for who he is or lose the woman he loves.

Review: First things first, just for the record, I'm on the asexual spectrum, but I am cisgender, so I won't talk about this like I know anything about the experience of being trans, or saying that this is inauthentic or even if I believe it is authentic, since I'm not the person who gets to say that. And if at any point you think I'm totally messing up, feel free to comment (Anonymous is always on), or email me, or DM me on Twitter, or... you get the point.

For once, I think I actually know what rating I'm going to give this book before I get to the end of the review, and that pretty much is my summary here. I liked it a lot, but there were also a lot of storytelling choices that just did not work for me, and while my over-all reading experience was positive, those things were frustrating because they did throw me out of the story, and make me notice the writing more, and that lowers my over all rating. We'll get into that as we go on!

Plot Talk: The book stretches from eight grade to the end of high school, and that's actually something that threw me off. I thought it was going to be set solely in middle school, and instead, a lot of time passes very quickly. In the few two chapters, a full year passes. This causes a lot of things to be glossed over that could be really interesting. Then at the same time, Peyton would be say something, and his friends would be like, "You didn't tell us that," and meanwhile I'd be like, "You didn't tell ME that either! When did that happen?"

The plot is basically described in the summary, although it's not my favourite summary. It's basically a coming of age, discovering yourself story, which is fine. But there are times when it felt like it focused on things that were mostly set-up, and ignored things that could have been really big conflicts. How much time passes in the book also makes it feel rushed, especially at the beginning when several years pass within the first few chapters.

Characters: Peyton is kind of clueless at a times, but in a sweet way, most of the time. He's really bad with girls. Seriously, the poor guy is a mess when it comes to dating, which obviously you can't blame him for with everything he's got going on. Sometimes, though, though, his motivations and characterizations didn't seem quite as fleshed out as they could have been. I did really love the music angle. There's so much stuff about music in here, and it's great to see the moments where Peyton gets to shine. And this is a bit of a spoiler so skip it if I want, but I also really enjoyed that Peyton got a GED, because that happens very rarely in YA, in my experience. Showing alternative paths of life education-wise is a really nice touch.

I wasn't so in love with Tara. She got kind of MPDG at times. Sometimes I just didn't believe that she would be acting in ways she was acting. It seemed more fantasy-girl than real girl. And it's not like girls can't do things that are sexual, or whatever, but maybe it was because we didn't get POV from her, it just wasn't the most believable thing. A ton of the plot is just based on the romance, too, which at times can get a little frustrating.

Meanwhile, both their mothers were terrible, but Peyton had a few great members of his family, and I really liked that he had a positive therapy experience. You guys know how I feel about therapy in books. The other characters also felt very authentically small-town, bigots and all. Which sounds terrible, but I live in a small town, and that's a reality.

PG-13 stuff: There's a fair amount of language, including several slurs (although not the one you'd expect considering the subject matter), violence including Peyton being attacked for being trans, a sex scene, and a brief time when Peyton becomes somewhat suicidal, and that is talked about a fair bit. There is also an abortion that is handled incredibly well. Which is not to say these things aren't handled well, or that they're bad to have, just so you know about those things going in.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The rushing is probably the biggest thing. Especially at the beginning of the book when you're supposed to be establishing stuff still, that is just frustrating.

There are two specific instances where I know things from reading and listening to people who know much more than me. At one point, Peyton's therapist defines transgender as meaning "you feel your gender identity is the opposite of the in which you were born", and I feel like that erases people who don't fall into the gender binary. There are many more than just two genders, and opposite is very binary language.

And I will say this with confidence - Peyton binds with elastic bandages, which is apparently what the book the therapist gave him recommended.
It can seriously injure you, like deform your ribs and stuff. That is a really bad idea, and a book published in 2014 should know better. I was really disappointed to read that.

Cover comments: I like the cover. It's slightly cut-off here, but it's a good cover. I like that you never see Peyton's face, so it leaves a lot to the imagination, and I love the stars and how beautiful they are. I love galaxy stuff.*

Conclusion: Like I said, I liked this one. The story was really good, especially once it settled down and stopped skipping around. The rushing and the skipping was what I had the most problem with. I also thought the heavy pop culture mentions could get a little dated, but at the same time, many of them worked in context. (Although while mentioning Davis Bowie is actually clever, it kind of changes now that he's died.) Peyton is a very easy character to like, and he had a pretty unique story arc.

I'm going to put this out there, though - I wonder about how different this is from other books in the same vein. I think he has an interesting story just in the fact that he takes a different education/career path, and a lot of the book is about the romance. There's not really a huge moment of Peyton "coming out", more like a slow gradual process. Again, I'm not sure about this one, so I'm putting these out here as questions, not statements. These are things that I'm curious about how other people feel.

So my rating here of three roses is not based on that aspect, but on the rushing that happens at times, and somewhat on Tara's characterization. This almost feels like something that is an earlier draft of something that could have been amazing with more editing. As it is, it is good. Not amazing, but good, and I enjoyed it.

Other notes:

- Although it keeps making me think, like "universe in his head", and then I just read another book where music was a big thing, and some of that music was like church music, so my head keeps going to that "He's got the whole world in His hands", and guys, how do I know that song? I've never been to church or Sunday school or whatever in my life.

- The font in this is like identical to a book I had as a kid called Parents From Space, which I loved so much. There's probably a metaphor in there somewhere.

- I forgot to mention this, but the formatting in this had a few wonky moments, like places where the indenting would be messed up, or the last sentences in a paragraph was justified, so there'd be weird gaps in the line.

Peace and cookies,

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