Monday, January 24, 2011

REVIEW: Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Almost Perfect, winner of the 2011 ALA Stonewall Award for young adult GLBT literature, is a beautiful, powerful, emotional read. It grabs you by the heart and gets into your head like few books I have ever read. It’s the first book in a very long time where I not only had no idea how it was going to end, but was sincerely concerned with how the situation would resolve itself.

I could write an essay about this book, what it meant to me, and how I feel about it. I loved it and I hated it. I was afraid to read another chapter, and I never wanted it to end. My head wants me to wrap Brian Katcher in my arms and thank him for such an amazing story, even as my heart wants me to pound on his chest and demand that he rewrite the ending.

I fell in love with these characters – Logan as much as Sage, to my surprise – and didn’t want to let them go . . . especially not like that.

Instead of an essay, though, I’d just like to touch on the things that Brian did so well:
  1. He perfectly captures the awkwardness, the joy, and the sorrows of growing up.  I didn’t go to high school with the characters, but a part of me wishes I did. It’s a small cast of characters we’re presented with, and there’s no space wasted on clich├ęd high school conflicts that don’t contribute to the story.
  2. He has written a carefully-plotted story that is driven by a romance, not a romance that comprises a story in itself. There’s a significant difference there, in both style and approach, and it’s what makes this such a compelling read.
  3. He presents us with a story that’s real, complete with all the flaws and all the unanswered questions of life. As much as my heart craves a tidy, happy ending, he really couldn’t (and shouldn’t) have ended it any other way. Having said that, I would not be at all disagreeable to reading a sequel that catches up with Sage somewhere down the road.
  4. He sprinkles in just enough humour to relieve the tension, but never at the expense of the characters or the situation. The moments of humour are completely appropriate and very much appreciated.
  5. He offers us an honest exploration of gender identity and expression, filtered through the eyes of an outsider. As fascinating and heart-breaking as Sage’s story is, it’s only by putting us inside Logan’s head that we’re able to truly appreciate her struggles. It’s what makes the story so widely accessible, while also helping to preserve the emotional and physical mystery.
Ultimately, this could just as easily been a story about racial, religious, or cultural identity. The elements of the story could have worked with any other struggle at the heart, but I dare say the book would not have been as powerful (or nearly so interesting). Through the question of Sage’s gender identity we also get to explore questions of sexual identity/orientation, particularly with Logan, who struggles with what it means to love a girl who used to be (and, from a purely biological standpoint, still is) a boy.

Brian Katcher’s novel is as brave as it is bold, and he’s to be applauded as much for his choice of subject, as for his talents as a story teller. On a personal note, this was a book that hit very close to home for me, and I am grateful to him for making Sage to be a woman worthy of our respect. Thank you, Brian.

In the end, I must also say that I absolutely did not expect to become so invested in a young adult novel. This is a genre I haven't traditionally explored, but I made exploring it a part of my Gender Identity & Expression and GLBT reading challenges. This read was a pleasant surprise, and has opened my eyes to a whole new world of literature. The genre has come a long way since the days when I was a young adult, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I suspect I may need to clear some space on my bookshelf.

6 comments:

  1. Wow! What a wonderful review!

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  2. I just finished reading Almost Perfect. It's an outstanding book. Like you, I wished that things could have been different for Sage and Logan but I admire so much the author's decision to be true to his characters and to the reality they have to live with. I'll remember Sage and Logan for a long time.

    As Karen said, you've written a wonderful review. Thanks.

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  3. This has been on my radar for a long time now. I haven't been reading as much YA lately but when I get back to it, this is definitely on my list!

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  4. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog, saying hello and becoming a follower.

    I was affected so much by Almost Perfect that I've been reading other reviews. Here's a thought provoking post from Megan Honig. I don't agree with her conclusions but her post is very well done and worth reading.

    http://www.meganhonig.com/libraries/2011/01/acceptance-is-the-wrong-goal-brian-katchers-almost-perfect-and-the-stonewall-book-award/

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    All the best.

    Linda

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  5. Thanks for sharing that link, Linda. I disagree with her views on Logan (I think his attitude was realistic, and a reflection of how many would feel in that situation), but I agree with her conclusions . . . to a point. Yes, it’s not enough to just try to accept trans people, but the sad reality is that trying is more than many people every accomplish. Logan's not perfect, and he's not supposed to be, but the fact that he tries (and feels guilty for his failings) DOES mean something - it's a start, and acceptance has to start with a first step.

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  6. Ive been meaning to read this and just never acquired a chance. Its an issue that Im really interested in, I just started reading and Im glad I did. Youre a fantastic blogger, one of the ideal that Ive seen. This blog absolutely has some information on topic that I just wasnt aware of. Thanks for bringing this stuff to light.

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