Jess hasn’t spoken with her father for years, ever since he refused to support her in getting the hormones she needed to start to transition from the male body she was born in. Now her father is getting married to her mother’s ex-best friend halfway across the country in Chicago and Jess decides to attend the wedding and confront her father. It’s going to be a surprise for her father, since she had already responded rather negatively to the RSVP in the invitation. Happily, Jess’ best friend Chunk has both a car and time, so the two of them make the road trip together. As the trip unwinds, they visit roadside attractions, pick up a passenger, and discover things about themselves, their friendship and one another.
This book joins many others this year in providing strong transgender characters in teen novels. Clark does a great job of showing how safety is a huge concern for people who are transgender, particularly in more conservative parts of the country. She also shows what a long-standing friendship looks like as it leaves high school and heads into the future. There is little angst about the future here in terms of college or school, and more of a focus on the approaching wedding and Jess’ feelings.
Happily, Jess as a character is far from perfect. She is often self-absorbed and lacks interest in others, particularly her best friend. Readers will be shocked at times by how internally focused she is and will cheer when her best friend finally stands up to her. Jess also ignores how she makes other people feel, like the nickname bullies gave Chunk that she continues to use.
However, even as I understand that the nickname and Jess’ behavior is both condemned and indicative of a complicated look at a character, I do have issues with how larger people are viewed in the book and how much emphasis is placed on how people look. There is a focus on hair and clothes that is near obsessive. But it’s the fat shaming that is problematic, particularly when it’s in the title itself. The fat shaming happens both for Chuck, the best friend, and for others throughout the book. People are referred to by their size, their looks and then their personality comes later.
A complex look at friendship, being transgender, self esteem and acceptance, this book tackles a lot of issues and fails to handle a major one with enough grace and attention. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.