Review Blog

Mar 08 2013

Alex as well by Alyssa Brugman

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Text, 2013. ISBN 9781922079237
(Ages: 12+) Recommended. Growing up. Sexuality. Now a teenager, Alex feels more female than male, and refuses to take the medication which suppresses his femininity. Born without specific gender alignment, Alex has been brought up as a boy by sometimes caring but often confused parents, but is determined to make his own decisions. He leaves school where he has been bullied, and enrolls in another school as a girl, wearing a dress and drawing her hair extensions back into a pony tail. She is amazed at how differently she is treated as a girl, and the underlying values attributed to one sex over the other. It is fascinating to see Brugman playing around with sex roles through this novel, exposing for us the different traits credited to each gender through the body of the sometimes capricious Alex.
But things do not go as she expects. Her new life is at odds with the old, she is lonely and unsure of herself. She makes friends but is attracted to one of the girls, while one of the boys is attracted to her. Going to a solicitor to gain a new birth certificate telling the world she is female, she makes her only friend, one who believes her, explores the issues for her and protects her when her parents become cloying.
It is the scenes with his parents that disturb. They come across as totally confused, their relationship in tatters because of Alex and their treatment of him, and they feel that life has treated them unfairly. At times I wanted to yell at them, they never see Alex in terms other than their failed male child, they never sit down with her to talk things through, nor allow Alex to explain how she feels, there is never a counsellor visited or doctor consulted, but the internet and the rubbish advised by 'friends' seems to take precedence, particularly where her mother is concerned.
I was enthralled with Alex's story, wanting her to make it in the end, find her feet and make a stand. This she does, but in accepting that her parents will never be wholly supportive she realises in the end that we are all flawed, especially when it comes to gender and what is expected of us.
Fran Knight

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