Jumpstart the World

Catherine Ryan Hyde, October 2010. Hurrah for the recent spate of high-quality books about trans kids!  I really liked Almost Perfect and I Am J, but both fell apart at the end; the former got too melodramatic and the latter too clichéd. Still very strong books, but nothing on my new favorite: Jumpstart the World.  The plot: Elle is a fifteen-year-old girl whose mom kicks her out because her new boyfriend doesn’t like teenagers, so Mom rents Elle her own apartment, across town.  If you can suspend your disbelief for a moment to accept this unlikely happenstance, you won’t be able to put the book down (indeed, I read it all last night in bed).  Elle befriends the thirtysomething couple across the hall, develops a big crush on Frank, and is stunned to learn his body is female – sort of a gender-reversed Almost Perfect.  Like Katcher’s Logan, Elle freaks out, but unlike Logan, she deals with her feelings. Worried that she might be gay, she asks her best friend Wilbur, “What do you think [my crush on a trans man] says about me?” He answers, “Maybe it says you’re looking for a man who’s gentle. You know, more than most men are….I’m looking for a man who’s kinder than most men I meet. Maybe you are, too.” Nice.

There are numerous supporting characters running the gamut of sexuality; for example, there’s a lovely explanation of how Wilbur isn’t trans even though he wears eyeliner. Hyde manages to work in this rainbow of genderqueers without lecturing or breaking out of the story. Another special bonus is the chapter titles, which include the following:

  • Isn’t Annie Lennox Straight?
  • I Don’t Even Know What Top Surgery Is
  • Mascara and Other Things that Run
Highly recommended for all public and many school libraries. There’s no onscreen sex (and very little offscreen), but there is underage drinking and similar shenanigans.  Hell, buy it anyway, as a finale to Banned Books Week.
This entry was posted in 2010, Catherine Ryan Hyde, drag, gay male, gay-bashing, high school, lesbian, problem novel, queer adult, realistic, secondary queer character, surprise queer character, trans. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Jumpstart the World

  1. Lee Wind says:

    I knew you’d have a great review of this! Will be sending folk…
    thanks for all you do,

  2. Megan Honig says:

    You know… I’d love to see high-quality books about trans kids, but I don’t think Jumpstart the World or Almost Perfect qualifies. (I’ve heard better things about I Am J, but I haven’t yet read it myself.) Both of these books focus heavily on a cisgender (non-trans) character’s anxieties and fears about a trans character, then grudgingly conclude that the trans character is ok.

    I’d hate to give trans or questioning teens the impression that all they can expect is to be scrutinized, pushed away, and then grudgingly tolerated. Can’t we aim higher? I’d suggest instead a couple of collections: How Beautiful the Ordinary, which has a few short stories about trans characters (at least one of which is written by a trans author) or The Full Spectrum, which has a variety of personal narratives from a diverse array of LGBTQ teens.

    (Your blog is pretty swell though–thanks for such a great resource!)

  3. Daisy says:

    Thanks to both of you! Megan, you make a really good point, especially relating to Almost Perfect, in which Sage (the trans character) seems really affected by everything the cisgender protag thinks about her. Jumpstart the World is different in that what Elle thinks doesn’t affect Frank’s gender presentation or identity – which makes sense because Frank is an adult and Sage is a teen.

    I also think it’s worth pointing out that what bothers Elle and Logan about Frank and Sage isn’t just the existence of a trans person, but their own sexuality as it relates to these trans characters. That makes a big difference (to me).

    I liked (but did not love) How Beautiful the Ordinary (see review here: http://daisyporter.org/queerya/?p=268), and I did lovelovelove the Jennifer Boylan story – I think that’s the trans author you mean.

    I hope you like I Am J as much as I did!

  4. In reply to Megan Honig, I don’t disagree with you. I’d like to break out of the pattern of rejection-then-finally-acceptance, too. But consider two things. One, I purposely wrote this book for straight, cisgender teens because they are the ones I want to talk to about trans acceptance. I don’t want to just preach to the choir. To get their attention and possibly open their minds I have to give a strong nod to the fact that acceptance is a process for them.

    Second point. She doesn’t just decide that Frank is “okay” or grudgingly tolerate him. She adores him, both before and after discovering he is a trans man. She is in love with him, and he is the most positive figure she has ever had in her life.

    Have you read it? I hope you will.

    I hope it’s okay to respond to a post about my own book. I’m not trying to “argue back” with those who disagree with me. I just wanted to elaborate a little bit on why I did things the way I did.

  5. Daisy says:

    Thanks for replying, Catherine – it’s definitely fine to chime in!

  6. gina says:

    Hi QueerYA, love the blog. I have a media blog about trans portrayals and have reviewed several YA titles including Jumpstart the World and Almost Perfect. Looking forward to reviewing Cris Beam’s new YAF book.

    I am trans (as is the majority of my blog’s readership) and review the books (and other media) with a mind to how they explain (or don’t) trans experiences… moreover how non-trans assumptions about trans people color those portrayals. Stop by and take a look!


    As to Megan’s point, I think trans teens need many differing aspects of their lives portrayed in YAF. Rejection, like it or not, is a profound reality for virtually everyone who transitions. To leave it out (as, IMO, a book like Parrotfish did) makes a book disingenuous and I believe teens see through that. While there are more YAF titles coming out about trans teens or more often, cis teens encountering trans people, most continue to be about white-only trans people usually in very sanitized environments.

    Sadly, I thought Jumpstart the World had a similarly sanitized version of trans/queer experience. Frank is mostly praised for his niceness, and nurturing/forgiving nature. He’s a sweetheart eunuch instead of a man. As with the character in Parrotfish, there is little complexity, no sexuality (even YAF-acceptable sexuality) and the author seems afraid to deal with the hard aspects of transition much less its emotional rollercoaster. It’s all very chaste. Personally, while “Almost Perfect” isn’t *ahem* perfect (and I’m glad he didn’t have the trans character detransition at the end), I thought Brian Katcher captured a lot of the contradictions and messiness of what it means to be a trans girl in a society which doesn’t respect your very womanhood. Heck yeah, that makes for some very insecure young people.

    Yes, young trans kids need positive stories about trans lives… depictions of well-adjusted people, showing them studying/working and being loved, but not at the expense of flesh and blood portrayals of what it means to be trans. Without the complexity, trans characters quickly descend into the “minority of the month” club or Afterschool Specials about people with handicaps. It becomes objectification, and a reaffirmation of the reader’s comfort zone instead of shining a light on a community with some of the most interestingly flawed, strong, challenging and witty members.

  7. Charles says:

    I’m incredibly late to the party, and I haven’t read this book, but as a trans man, seeing trans men generalized as universally softer and more feminine than cis men … kind of disgusts me. It’s incredibly othering and it denies the diversity of trans people, who are – shockingly – just as varied and complex as cis people.

  8. Daisy says:

    I agree with this – I learned a lot from your comment, Charles. And I wonder if I misrepresented the author when I included that quote. I indicated that the protag was asking about her crush on a trans man in the generic sense, but she may have been actually referring to her crush on Frank specifically, who is “softer” than many men.

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