Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Birthday Blogoversary Fangirl Bash Part Three Review & Interview: Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman!

Title: Alex as Well
Author: Alyssa Brugman
Format: egalley
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.


I'm very stoked to have Alyssa Brugman on the blog today to answer some of my questions about her book (which I absolutely adored) and to help to celebrate my birthday week. Thanks again for taking the time to let me do an interview with you! First, what inspired you to write Alex as Well?

The writer Jane McCredie was on the radio talking about her book Making Boys and Girls, which is about the science and psychology of gender. She was talking about gender as a spectrum.

Young people who experiment with, who identify as neither or both gender in various ways, are not much discussed in young adult fiction, which seems very odd when gender, sexual awareness and identity make up so much of the rest of young adult fiction. It doesn’t make any sense that there aren’t there more YA books about transgendered, cross-dressing or intersex teens, so I wrote one.

At the time I was working on a PhD in literature. My area of study was unreliable narration in young adult fiction. I wanted to know how I could let the reader know what was going even though my young character shouldn’t really have the emotional maturity to understand either themselves, or the motives of others. I incorporated a number of the narrative strategies that I studied in the PhD into this manuscript.

I couldn't agree with you more, YA literature is definitely lacking in those areas, and I was fascinated by Alex's narrative. Were any of these characters based off of people that you know in real life?

No, I made it all up.

Did you have to do any research while writing this novel? If so, how did you use this research, or what are some things you learned?

As I said before, I wrote a PhD thesis on unreliable narration, and the original manuscript of Alex was submitted as the companion piece, showing examples of the narrative strategies that I talked about in the thesis. I learned a lot of technical names for things I had done before in other books, and now I can see them when I read other people’s books. It’s kind of like opening the bonnet of a novel seeing all the different parts of its engine.

What do you hope people take away from Alex as Well?

I read an article by an emerging young adult author in the Australian Society of Authors magazine who said, “I didn’t want to write one of those social realism novels whose aim seems to be to make teens feel better about being bullied for being fat or thin or gay or black or Muslim.”
I unapologetically write those novels, but not with the sort of cynicism that the above quote implies - instead with what I fancy is a genuine compassion for, and interest in, young people who might be struggling in their various ways.

People who don’t understand intersex conditions seem to think that gender dysphoria is some kind of choice.
While I believe society in general is making life easier than it used to be for people who identify as LGBT, it still appears to be too common an experience to have the family/loved ones of these people to say, “I will love you again when you decide to stop being LGBT”.
My wonderful editor for the novel, Jane Pearson and I had a long discussion about how we were going to end this novel. We wanted it to be hopeful and triumphant, at the same time reflecting the sometimes harsh reality for adolescents like Alex.
I hope that young people (or old people) who in some way identify with Alex’s plight, for whatever reason, will find some comfort in her company.

“I will love you again when you decide to stop being LGBT” is quite possibly one of the most accurate statements about being LGBT today that I have personally ever read. In a bit lighter of a question, do you listen to music when you write? If so, what songs make up the soundtrack to this book?

There are a lot of pop tunes in this book. It's interesting that my character will often choose a soundtrack for the writing of the book that is quite different from what I would choose. My latest character, who is a man, wants to listen to The Cure, David Bowie, Joy Division, Morrissey, and Peter Gabriel. That's a long way from Alex who liked Pink, Black Eyed Peas and Miley Cyrus.

I'd get along with both of those characters- I listen to both Pink and The Cure. Is there a particular place or room where you feel the most inspired to write?

I have a study in my house which is where I do the typing part, but writing mostly happens in my head. I do the composing part while I am hanging out the washing, driving, grocery shopping etc.

Which scene in Alex as Well was your favorite to write?

There is a section of the book where Alex’s mother is giving her testosterone without Alex being aware of it, and Alex’s male side reasserts himself more at that point in the novel. He flirts with a class mate. I enjoyed writing that part of the manuscript because the two sides of Alex debate what to do and discuss what is appropriate conduct. The male part of Alex contributes power and vibrancy to the character too.There is a section of the book where Alex’s mother is giving her testosterone without Alex being aware of it, and Alex’s male side reasserts himself more at that point in the novel. He flirts with a class mate. I enjoyed writing that part of the manuscript because the two sides of Alex debate what to do and discuss what is appropriate conduct. The male part of Alex contributes power and vibrancy to the character too.

Which parts of the book gave you the most trouble?

This was one of the easier manuscripts that I have written. I didn’t feel like a had to build Alex from scratch – it was as if she already existed, and I only had to put the words down. I hope that you will have the same sensation reading this book – as if Alex is there next to you whispering in your ear.
The feedback that I’m getting so far from readers is that, now that they’ve met Alex, somehow they feel that they should have read this story before. In fact, there was one reader who wrote something like, “so good to read a vegetarian character in YA”, as if that was the attribute that stood out.

From my experience, I can definitely confirm that Alex felt like someone I should already know, like she was telling me something important as opposed to just being a character in a novel. But... Can you describe the book in five words?

Hahaha! No. Maybe feisty teenage girl comes out? Something like that?

Do you have any new books or projects in the works that you can tell us about?

Yes, I just finished a new manuscript which is about a man with a broken heart. It's been a lot of fun to write. I'm also planning on self publishing a romance novel this year. It's a manuscript I've had sitting on my hard drive for a little while. I have not tried self publishing before, so it will be interesting to see how that goes compared to the books I have sold through mainstream publishers.

I look forward to reading your new work. Thank you so much for talking with me about Alex as Well. It's not a book I'm likely to forget in the near future.



Five stars


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.


  1. I already know that I need to read this book, it's an absolute must. As one who identifies as gender fluid I just know I'll identify with Alex, and am also so glad to see the trans/intersex/gender fluid spectrum of the LGBT community represented in YA. Just to have this one character to tell the world about all the struggles that we face is fantastic, and I hope to see more YA books that deal with these issues in the future. I can say that I don't feel as isolated, misunderstood, and alone with this book in existence, even though I haven't gotten to read it yet.

    1. I think you'd appreciate the characters and plot a lot more, or at least for different reasons.

  2. I love a well-written gender-identity novel, especially in YA- YAY! Considering you use the female pronoun through the whole thing, I assume Alex's gender identity settles largely or mainly (or finally?) on female. I admit that makes me a little sad, simple because I feel there's more female-identifying gender and sexuality stories out there than male-identifying gender and sexuality stories out there (are we still afraid to have a biologically male character identify as female? is being a 'tomboy' better than being a 'sissy'? or is YA just swamped with female perspective?). But in all, it sounds compelling and I'll definitely be reading it. Thanks for your well-thought-out review!

    1. She identifies as female, despite the fact that her mother/parents had opted to raise her male. They want her to be a boy but she struggles with the concept because she doesn't feel like a boy. It's really kind of hard to explain, just because the character Alex is so fluid and complex, but I cannot recommend it enough.