Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: LGBT Content
While I was in Victoria over the holidays, I made a stop in at Munro’s Books on Government Street. I discovered that the staff at this fifty-year-old Indie bookshop actually have more passion for books and are better informed than those at any chain bookstore I’ve been in. I was elated to find someone who could point out in an instant the best LGBT YA reads the store had on hand. One of the women who specialized in the store’s humongous YA section recommended a couple of Ellen Wittlinger’s books to me. As soon as she mentioned that Parrotfish was about a transgender character, I snatched it up. This was my first foray into trans-literature and I was really excited.
Angela is fourteen-years-old and she is in the midst of the long-struggle of helping her family understand her situation. She broke the news to them slowly, making the transition from tomboy to lesbian easily enough and now she is trying to introduce them to her being transgender. It’s turning out not to be as easy as she had hoped. Her family and friends are already accustomed to Angela’s dressing different and shunning anything girly, but when Angela takes the big step and asks people to begin calling her Grady and referring to him as a boy, things really hit the fan. Verbally abused by his classmates, shunned by his sister and just plain exasperating to his parents, Grady discovers support and friendship from the most unexpected people in the most unexpected places.
Something I thought was fantastic about this story was that Wittlinger touched on so many mature issues in its pages. She doesn’t just address gender identity, but touches on homosexuality, suicide and bullying as well. I think I sometimes take for granted that parents have the commonsense to bring up these topics with their kids, but we all know that isn’t true. Seeing literature that exposes kids to these things early on and treats them as potential realities rather than just things that happen to other people is encouraging.
“And then, as I hurried down the hall toward my locker, I felt a twinge of pain low down in my abdomen, because apparently a bad day can always get worse. Already kids were whispering about me as I passed them, maybe using the same words Danya had. Freak. Mutant. Pervert. And now I was a boy who had just started his period and was probably bleeding all over his jockey shorts. Yeah, that was normal.” Page 59, Parrotfish.
Parrotfish may have been intended for twelve-and-up, but Wittlinger doesn’t talk down to her readers and clearly aims for her story to strike a chord with a much wider audience. For much of the book I forgot that it was a young adult read, but I suppose that might have more to do with the subject matter than anything else. The only thing that may have diminished this book a little for me was that the ending was excruciatingly predictable. That aside, I was fascinated much of the time and learned a great deal from Grady’s story.
RATING: Not Baaaaaaahd