I loved this book by Irish author L.J. Sedgwick about a teenager who moves to Ireland with her transgender dad, her artist stepmother, and her younger sister Laura. It’s an unusual story, but one that’s told with humor and sensitivity.
Jessie loves her family and her family clearly loves her. Yet she’s hit with a ton of things that are hard for a teenager: a new home in a new country, a stepmother who displays nude statues, and a sister who sees religious visions and keeps a piranha as a housepet. Jessie’s new life gets more difficult when she discovers that her principal, her new best friend, and the school bully live just next door. And then there’s her dad, who’s decided to transition to become a woman.
As you can see, Jessie has some really difficult issues to deal with, including the death of her mother when she was young.
I don’t know if Laura takes after Mum or not. I don’t know if the stuff she makes up about Mum wanting her to do things or not are truer than the stuff I remember because maybe I only remember stuff because Dad told me when I was small.
But I’m the big sister, see. It was my job to remember everything for Laura cos she wasn’t there and I didn’t remember enough.
Jessie tries to put a brave face on all of these changes in her life. And yet, she’s really having a difficult time accepting her father’s decision to become a woman, even though it will make him happy. Like every teenager, she worries about how it will affect her – what will the other kids think? Will she ever be able to invite friends over? How can she possibly have a boyfriend? Why can’t she live in a normal family?
A lot of YA books feel oversimplified, as if writing for teens is somehow simpler than writing for adults. Not this book. Sedgwick never talks down to her readers or gives us pat answers for Jessie’s problems. I haven’t been a teenager in a while, but Jessie felt incredibly realistic. I was in her shoes once, and feeling like your family is falling apart when you need stability the most, is no easy thing to deal with. Jessie can be selfish but conscious of her selfishness at the same time. She cares deeply, but she’s also capable of betraying the people she loves.
I loved Sedgwick’s distinctive voice and her ability to blend humor with deeply serious issues. I loved the way Jessie looks for images in clouds when she gets stressed out, and how she always keeps an eye out for her little sister. My only small criticism is that Jessie doesn’t sound like she grew up in California – an American teenager wouldn’t use terms like snogging and littlies and veg. It’s a minor distraction, but use of American slang would have made Jessie’s voice that much more authentic (although I realize this book is probably being marketed more in Ireland and the U.K.).
This is a difficult book to adequately describe, but I highly recommend it. The issues are powerful and definitely relevant (while I was reading this, Virginia elected its first transgender state legislator), and Jessie and her dad are characters you won’t soon forget.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author and publisher Janey Mac Books. The book was published February 8, 2017.