“Bad Boy” by Elliot Wake

I’ve reached the point where my reading is only barely keeping pace with my reviewing schedule, so I might have to cut down to fewer than three posts per week, as I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to sustain it. But who knows! Maybe I’ll be able to keep going…

bady boy

Okay, so this book basically destroyed me. I know I should try and write a proper review, because that’s not a useful thing to say, but I don’t even know where to start.

Wait, I do know. I start with the part where this sat on my Amazon wishlist for literally MONTHS because the Kindle edition was £9.99 and frankly that’s too much for a Kindle edition (publishers, take note), so I was hoping it would eventually be reduced. I happened to check yesterday and it had been dropped to 99p, which was even more of a bargain than I’d ever hoped for, so of course I bought it, even though it’s now been so long that I can’t remember who recommended it to me or in what context.

(For the record, it was definitely worth more than 99p, but I still maintain that £9.99 is too much for a Kindle edition. Tbh, it’s pricey for a paperback.)

I vaguely knew the book was about a trans character, but I hadn’t bothered to reread the blurb, so I went in without much in the way of knowledge or expectations. What I got was a book that felt like a kick in the ribs, emotionally speaking. Like, in a good way, but also I cried and it was messy and now I feel vaguely fragile.

This is not a happy book — major TW for transphobia and sexual assault, as well as suicidal ideation / references to past suicide attempts — but that’s not why it made me cry. It made me cry because I finally got to experience what happens when a trans guy author writes a trans guy character. I’ve read books by authors who, academically speaking, understood what it’s like to be trans. But this was one of the first ones where I FELT it. It just felt so painfully honest and real.

I think it’s also one of the first books I’ve read aimed that deals with the stuff after coming out, and with medical transition and stuff. I’ve read a handful of YA books with trans characters, but they rarely went into the details the way this one did.

There were a few things that just felt too real and too personal. The way transphobia doesn’t always look like hate and slurs, but sometimes it looks like someone you care about telling you that they think you’re damaging a body they love. The way it feels to wonder if your body will ever be yours. The way sometimes you’re not 100% sure if something’s right but what you’ve got right now is WRONG so anything else will be better. The whole “is this just internalised misogyny or am I not a woman” internal conflict, which is… a conversation I had a LOT with one of my trans friends at uni, neither of us ever knowing how to find answers.

Did I want to transition to escape being a girl, or did I need to do it because I was a boy? And why did it have to be one or the other? Was it so horrible if part of my identity was a revolt against the way I was treated for having tits and a vag? I never wanted them. Maybe I could have tolerated them, in a better world. But in this world I experienced my physical womanhood as a stigma.

There were also a bunch of quotes that could’ve applied to chronic pain just as much as to gender feels, so as someone who has both, it was doubly relatable:

I gripped my spine through my skin, as if I could tear it out, show him. “There’s something wrong inside me. Fundamentally wrong. It’s a design flaw and I can build a grand illusion on top of it, but the core is still broken.”

It’s not an easy book. It’s about rape culture and misogyny and emotional abuse and the malignant idea that girls can’t be predators, and that’s never going to be an easy topic to handle. I definitely wouldn’t call it a comfortable read.

But it felt TRUE. It felt so painfully real. And the author’s note at the end had me crying worse than the book itself. The author wrote a letter to his former self, and I can’t explain why it got me so hard, so I’ll just let the words speak for themselves:

But a voice inside you kept telling you to hold on. That was me.
At the end, you were so tired. So fucking sad, worn down, empty. You almost didn’t make it. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to write this, to open my eyes and wake up as Elliot. But you carried us both here. You spent your whole life shouldering both of our burdens. I’ve got this now, Leah. You can rest. Thank you for holding on until I was ready.

Anyway. I’ve read books about trans people by cis writers who did a ton of research and talked to their friends. They were ‘accurate’. Some of them felt true. But I don’t think any of them could come close to the painfully honesty of something that clear drew so much on the author’s own feelings and experiences, and it’s going to be a while before I get over this one.

You’ll notice I’ve only really talked about this one aspect of the book. Some of the secondary characters confused me somewhat, and I didn’t entirely understand all of the context backstory, but it turns out this is loosely part of a series and it can help to have read some of Wake’s other novels. That explains a lot. Frankly, though, I was invested enough as it was, and I’m not sure I’d have been able to cope (emotionally) if I was just as invested in the plot as in the writing.

Anyway, highly recommended if you’re looking for an own voices trans story that will punch you in the feels, but with a content warning caveat, because this isn’t the easiest read.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Bad Boy on Amazon (UK)
(at the time of writing this review [21.09.18] it’s still 99p)


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