School-leaver Skye plays guitar in her all-female Chronic Cramps band. Making her name in the competitive punk/indie scene is easier than FTM (female to male) transitioning: from Skye to Finn, from girl to man. Uncovering genetic mysteries about family heritage tear the family apart. Trans gender identity is more than injections and surgery, it's about acceptance. Going public, Finn sings ftm lyrics on TV. With a little help from bemused mates and family who don't want to lose a daughter, but who love their teenager, Finn is transitioning. f2m has appeal to teen readers (both boys and girls) through its: * Compassionate, candid and funny 'coming of age' via punk music and family history genetic clues * Accessible facts in story format on a little-understood medical situation. FTM means female to male. MTF means male to female * International first; female to male gender transition YA fiction * NOT autobiographical, but co-writer Ryan has experienced the medical sequence of gender reassignment from female to male, which is less common than MTF * Insight into genetic inheritances.
About the Author
Best known for There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, Melbourne based Hazel Edwards (www.hazeledwards.com) has also written YA novels and adult non-fiction including Difficult Personalities. Family friends, they co-wrote online and via webcam. New Zealand-based Ryan Kennedy lived as a female until his transition to a male at 27. Ryan works in IT and is a passionate environmentalist and musician.
Eighteen-year-old Skye is a member of an all-girl punk rock band. Skye has never felt like a girl. Inside, (s) he is Finn, a boy. Making the decision to let Finn be outside as well as in involves a lot of work. How do you tell your family and friends and the members of your feminist rock band that you’re going to undergo female-to-male treatment and surgery? Fortunately, there’s a family precedent: great-uncle Albert … or is that great-aunt Alberta?
Skye/Finn could easily be a victim, but refuses. It isn’t going to be easy for anyone, but (s)he decides, finally, that family, friends and rock band will just have to live with it. And they do.
The book goes into enormous detail about the procedures involved in what is known as FTM. It’s a lot less common than the other way around – male to female – although it has been in the news in the last couple of years, when a man who had kept his female “equipment” had a baby because his wife couldn’t. I knew a female-to-male myself. Unlike Skye, "Jan" became “David” in her/his forties. Nobody, but nobody dared to call Jan a woman, even when she was! And David’s family and friends accepted it as Finn’s family do in the novel. At his funeral, the nephews and nieces referred to "Uncle David", even when he was no longer there to get upset.
The novel also explores the punk rock sub-culture, which is interesting in its own right.
Ford Street Publishing has become known for taking on controversial subjects. It probably needs an author as well-known and respected as Hazel Edwards to get away with this one. Ryan Kennedy, her co-author, is himself an FTM, so knows what he is talking about.
Perhaps an afterword with a URL or organization, if any, within Australia might have helped, so that those to whom the book applies don’t have to do all the web searches that Skye/Finn did in the course of the novel.
It’s well-written and answers a lot of questions. There are some likable characters in it and some nice touches of humour. There’s even the whimsical presentation of a couple who are a female-to-male and a male-to-female. Who are, incidentally, managing just fine. Finn doesn’t like the FTM, Rodney, but hey, he doesn’t have to.
It will certainly appeal to those teenagers who are asking themselves questions about their own gender identities.
Whether or not it will have appeal for ordinary teenagers I am not sure. I suspect they will be uncomfortable with it, though this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be out there. Will kids who say, “That is so gay!” about anything negative get enthused about characters who are not actually gay but have gender issues? I won’t know until I have put this in my library and seen how the students react. Watch this space.
First-time transgender novelist Ryan Kennedy collaborates with well-known children’s author Hazel Edwards to produce a unique YA book that is bound to get a lot of publicity, both positive and negative.
Skye is an 18-year-old girl. She plays in an all-girl punk band. She has a loving family. She has friends. She also has a major problem: deep down inside, she knows that she’s actually a boy. f2m: the boy within is the story of how Skye becomes Finn — of how he deals with the transition; of how he tells his family and friends. It is a coming-of-age story about identity.
In many ways this book is a bit of an “Everything you wanted to know about gender transition but were afraid to ask” manual. It includes lots of details on the process, from counselling to hormone treatment to surgery. But it is so much more than this. The book is also a damn good story, with interesting characters, a fascinating look into the punk scene and nice touches of humour. My favourite character is Skye’s grandmother, and I enjoyed reading about her relationships with family, past and present. Her character is important to the story and skilfully woven into the narrative.
This is the sort of YA novel that is likely to make some people uncomfortable because it deals with a topic that is often considered taboo. But it doesn’t sensationalise. It humanises. Understanding is the key to tolerance — and this book opens the door to understanding. It is told from Skye/Finn’s point of view, and the reader gets to experience what is going through this teenager’s mind. This really is the sort of book that should be in every high school library. A highly recommended read!
- George Ivanoff
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