Friday, September 10, 2021

Guy Friday- Obie is Man Enough

Bailar, Schuyler. Obie is Man Enough
September 7th 2021 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Obie's swim coach is a horrible man who refuses to let him stay on the team unless he can finish first in all of his races, just because he is a trans boy. Obie's supportive family help him find a team that is accepting of him, because he is an excellent swimmer. He also has some good friends, like Mikey and Pooch, who frequently defends him against like Clyde, who is constantly sniping at Obie and saying terrible things to him. Most people accept Obie for who he is, including his Korean grandparents and his teachers. There is also another trans swimmer, Tommy, who is older and whom he will occasionally text with questions or concerns. He also starts to date a girl new to his school, Charlie, and when he tells her about his identity, she is unbothered by it. His former best friend, Lucy, struggles with the change, however, and is not nice to Obie. When his language arts teacher asks Obie to write an essay for a NCTE competition, he puts together a moving account of his varied cultural and personal identities. 
Strengths: While I understand why so many middle grade books about sexual identity are coming out stories, it's good to have one that is not. Obie has already made the transition, and is getting to the point where most people don't ask questions and just accept him for who he is, with those who don't understand, like Clyde and the coach, causing occasional problems. The romance with Charlie is sweet and a bit reminiscent of Stu Truly. There are plenty of swimming details for fans of Binns' Courage or Morrison's Up For Air, and it's hard to find books with swimming as a competitive sport. 
Weaknesses: This is why middle schoolers aren't usually allowed to name themselves. Obadiah seems like a very strange choice! Also, from a coaching perspective, I would have liked to know more about rules that were in place for Obie competing, but that would have slowed down the story. 
What I really think: A good title to have along with Gino's Melissa's Story (formerly George), Polonsky's Gracefully Grayson, and Bunker's Zenobia July.
Alexander, Damian. Other Boys
September 7th 2021 by First Second
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this autobiographical graphic novel, we see how difficult young Damian's life is. His mother is killed when he is a baby, so he is being raised by his grandparents, who are not well off. School is difficult, and changing schools often leads Damian to decide to not talk at all in school in the 8th grade. He is a sensitive boy, who is often told that the choices he makes are "girl" choices, and he thinks it best to fly under everyone's radar. This doesn't always work, but it does get him recommended for therapy with a school counselor, although he doesn't think he will benefit from talking to her, either. There are some students who are nice to him, like Mark, and his grandmother and brother David are supportive, although his grandfather dies of cancer. His best friend is a girl named Sylvia, and he is comfortable hanging out with her friends until they get further into middle school and decide that they can't be friends with boys. There are some better moments, like hanging out with gamers who accept him, and even meeting a nonbinary person named Taylor. At one point, he draws the line between all of the slurs of "gay" that are hurled at him, and his feelings about finding boys attractive, but he doesn't get much support in processing this. Having a pet cat helps with his anxiety somewhat. In general, though, Damian's life is filled with trauma that he finds hard to deal with, although he eventually gets some support from the school counselor.
Strengths: I can't think of another book dealing with selective mutism from the point of view of the person experiencing it, and this certainly has lots of details about how being uncomfortable with aspects of one's identity can have a devastating impact on one's life. There is a lot of discussion about gender stereotypes that have changed a bit, but exposing toxic masculinity and its effects goes a long way to preventing its survival. Readers who are having difficulty in their own lives might take comfort from this, and readers who aren't might learn some empathy. 
Weaknesses: I wish that specific dates had been mentioned. From the geometric graphics on the cover and some internal clues like Cabbage Patch dolls and an ALF stuffed animal, I'm guessing that this is set in the mid 1980s. This is important, because the experience of a student coming out in middle school might be somewhat different in the 2020s. 
What I really think: This is a somewhat less traumatic version of the family dynamics examined in Krosoczka's Hey, Kiddo with the addition of the problems embracing sexual identity, and is in line with other graphic novel style memoirs like Hale's Best Friends and Telgemeier's Smile. 

Whamond, David. Muddle School 
September 7th 2021 by Kids Can Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dave starts middle school wearing his father's vintage powder blue leisure suit and is surprised when things don't go well. Everything that can go wrong does, from bullies to embarrassing himself in front of his crush. When he and a friend work on a time machine, can he go back and replay his life in his new school, getting everything right this time?
Strengths: I am always a fan of time travel, and I would certainly like to go back to the first day of my own middle school career and live a completely different life, so young readers will appreciate that. This had a vibe similar to those old Seventeen Magazine "Was My Face Red" columns or the Mel Brooks' quote “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” 
Weaknesses: It would have helped to know during which time period this was set. I was quite thrown by the appearance of the leisure suit. 
What I really think: I didn't find this funny. It was sort of like Patterson's I, Funny, where it was actually incredibly sad, but played for laughs. 

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