Title: Alex as Well
Author: Alyssa Brugman
Pub. Date: January 20th 2015
Source: Netgalley & Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
About the Book:
Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong.
It's time to get a little bit personal here on my blog. Regular readers of my reviews know that I am happily taken by a girl named Emily, who sometimes graces this blog with her own book reviews. What most of you don't know, is that Emily has struggled with gender identity issues for a long, long time. It is because of her and the charming cover, I admit, that I picked up Alex as Well. Though of course I acknowledge that this book is one of fiction, I do believe it has helped me process some things about the way Emily thinks and feels, and for that reason among others I am so, so happy that I requested this title.
Alex, the 15 year old protagonist of this story, explains in the book that she has "two selves". This can be a kind of hard concept to wrap around, but because she has torn feelings about who she really is as a person, she finds that it is easier to associate "girl Alex" and "boy Alex" as two different people in her head. As voices, if you will. Alex was born "intersex", and these gender ideas clash and fight often with one another.
Though Emily is biologically female through and through, she also uses this way of speaking about her inner conflicts. She has a girl voice, Emily, and a boy voice, Devin. I was very confused and conflicted at first, when Emily spoke of these "voices" so to speak, because I had never heard of something like that before. I was nervous and scared for both her and myself and what it meant for us as a couple.
Because I was used to this way of thinking, it was easier for me to follow Alex's internal conversations and honestly, it made me feel.... Like Emily and I aren't alone. I connected with this form of narration from the very get-go, and it is definitely unique. This is the first book that I have personally ever encountered that uses two voices from the same person beyond just the idea of a conscience. Another unique concept of this book is that the chapters are sprinkled with blog posts from her mother on what it is like to raise someone who is intersex.
Speaking of her mother, let's talk about characters for a bit. I hated and loved them. I mean this in the best way. The author wanted me to hate and love them, and she got her wish. Each of the characters was unique and had depth, and unfortunately they were all believable. Her mother, for example. I was left with SO MANY FEELINGS. I will refrain from spoilers, but Alex's views made me hate her. Then her blog posts helped me to understand her a bit more, but still with hatred. And then at the end I felt kind of sorry for her but also still angry and heartbroken. I didn't know how to feel. Alex is an amazing character. She's complex and unapologetically true to herself, despite the shitstorm by which she's surrounded. She's fierce and often snarky and hilarious, but sometimes she broke my heart. I was cheering her on from the beginning to the end, and she isn't a character that I will soon forget, nor do I want to forget her. I also really liked how she connected her life to the music she was listening to at the time, I thought it to be a nice touch.
The synopsis (at least on Goodreads) describes this book as "heartbreaking and droll in equal measures" and I feel like this perfectly describes it. I was left emotionally exhausted from this book, and though I finished it ages ago, I am still thinking about it. It's a roller coaster that's gritty, real, and well executed. This is the first book that I have read from Alyssa Brugman and I sincerely hope it is not the last. You will feel lows when you see the bullying, the drama, and the awful people that Alex must encounter. You will feel highs when Alex comes into herself, when she feels beautiful, and when her life seems to be looking up for the better. And, if you are like me, you will make an inhuman noise when you find yourself out of pages when you are still having these intense feelings. (It's not a cliffhanger ending. It's not quite so dramatic. More like a hillhanger. That's a word now. Tell your friends.)
And, if by some chance the author is reading this, I would love to read more about Alex. Just sayin'. And while I have your attention, I would personally like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating a story that touched me on such a personal level, and that helped to open a better dialog between my girlfriend and I. Who would have thought that one little young adult novel could do so much?
I recommend this book to anyone who loves LGBT themed young adult, contemporary YA, or books dealing with disorders, mental issues, or identity issues. Thank you so much to Netgalley and Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) for a copy in exchange for my honest review.