I reviewed a lot of LGBTQ+ books in 2016, and I don’t intend for this year to be any different, so I’m going to start the year by reviewing a book about a trans superhero. I have to admit, I requested this from NetGalley in part just because I liked the cover, but when I learned that it had a strong queer element, of course I was going to pick it up.
I didn’t end up enjoying the book quite as much as I’d hoped, but not because it was bad — just that it wasn’t quite the story I was hoping it would be. It was one of those occasions where my expectations got in the way of my actual reaction, I think.
It was interesting to read a book with a character whose transness was such a big part of the story without it being a contemporary coming out story of the sort I usually come across. Instead it’s a superhero story, and Danny gains the body she’s always wanted along with her powers. On the one hand she’s delighted, but on the other hand it’s now pretty much impossible to stay closeted, and her parents aren’t thrilled that their “son” is now a daughter.
While I did enjoy a lot about the story, I guess I just hoped that having a trans character who theoretically got a painless transition right at the start of the book would mean it was a happy story, in that their gender would no longer be a major cause of strife. That’s not the case for Danny, who faces a pretty hefty dose of transphobia from TERF superheroes to ordinary transphobic “baselines” (people without superpowers). I guess it just caught me unawares, and it was quite a lot of negative emotion to be faced with while reading. While it’s ultimately a story of triumph, over that and other evils, it still didn’t make it an easy pill to swallow, you know?
Due to personal factors and also my expectations (which were totally my own and obviously misguided), this made it a little bit difficult for me to concentrate on the rest of the book, or to form solid impressions of other factors. I did notice that the worldbuilding was fairly solid, though in places the history of it was told all at once, which could be a little overwhelming. There was an interesting interplay between the ordinary world and the superhero world, one that Danny’s story represented well, and which could occasionally be entertaining, such as her claims that she can’t go investigating supervillains because she has homework to do.
I felt very protective of Danny, because of what I’ve outlined above, even if she is bulletproof and doesn’t need it. She could have been a less sympathetic character and I probably still would have cared, because put a character in a crappy enough situation and anyone becomes vaguely sympathetic, and she had some pretty rubbish stuff to deal with as well as being a decent person and caring about her friends. Even after her parents are unkind to her, especially her dad, she still does what she can to ensure their protection, which I thought showed a certain innate goodness in her that she clearly didn’t get from them.
But as I’ve said, I was a bit emotionally caught out by the tone of the book — I guess I was hoping for a fluffy read where trans characters get to be happy, and was hit with a little bit more than I expected. Probably my fault for misjudging the tone there. So while I will emphasise that it is a story about overcoming that kind of thing and it does get better, there might be some readers who find it triggering or just otherwise upsetting to read about the transphobia Danny has to face, especially from people she cared about.
(I want to punch her dad and her former best friend David in the face. And then the nuts. And then the face again.)
So… a rare find with its combination of genre fiction and ‘issue’ fiction (I hate that term, all books are issue fiction, but you know what I mean), and in some ways a bit of fresh air after a lot of painfully cishet books in life generally, but not entirely what I initially thought it was going to be, and as a result not quite as cheerful an experience as I’d hoped for.