Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Book Awards

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Last month, Almost Perfect was chosen as the winner of the American Library Association’s Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. The Stonewall Book Awards are given annually to English-language works of exceptional merit for children or teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.

Almost Perfect is a story told in the voice of Logan Witherspoon, a young teenager living in a small town in Kansas who finds that he has fallen (before he knew and after he knew) for a transgendered teen, Sage Hendricks. This novel is only one of a few books ever written for young adults that have discussed the subject of transgendered youth. Transgendered youth are those young people who are born male or female, but have a sense of gender self-identification that is opposite to their biological sex. Unlike being gay or lesbian, being transgendered is about gender identity, not sexual orientation. The sense of being transgendered affects about 3% of young people, and transgendered youth, because of their anomalous and stigmatized social situation, are among the most at risk youth in our society. They are a disproportionate number of the population of homeless youth. Compared to other youth and gay and lesbian youth they suffer higher rates of substance abuse and suicide, and they are more often the victims of physical violence and sexual abuse .

Writing on this subject could have been a fictional disaster. This could have been a lurid or prurient exposition, or a heavy handed moral tale advancing a not so subtle social agenda. The audacity of writing about the subject comes, ineluctably, with the requirement that the writer walk a tightrope. Katcher seems to make all the right steps. His performance is a small miracle that has resulted in a book that is honest about the details any reader might want or expect to know (without making us feel like voyeurs) and the emotions of his characters appear plausible, plainly spoken, and real. The social problems and complications are not exaggerated or overly dramatized, but become more believable and understood, and appear more intractable perhaps as well, by virtue of his modulation and restraint. He has wisely chosen to tell us the story in the voice of the young man rather than that of the transgendered youth, and by doing so he has allowed us to identify more readily with the reactions of Logan and to share as well in his developing understanding. He has not written a book for transgendered youth, but rather a book about transgendered youth for the rest of us. We are the intended audience for this well crafted, brave and affecting narrative, one that challenges our ignorance and preconceptions and introduces us to a segment of our youth that we have insisted for too long remain invisible.

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