“Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite” by Lianne Simon is a warm, engaging and very poignant novel about a teenager coming to terms with the person she really is. Set against a backdrop of the Vietnam War, it accurately reflects the tone of the times. While some kids are dying for naught in a far off place, other, more privileged ones attend college on student deferments and speak little of politics and war. Jamie, the main protagonist, is portrayed as a very believable character, a person who was born with a rather rare intersex condition known as Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis. This manifests in Jamie in a partial male chromosomal genotype, a shortness of stature, an elfin and feminine appearance and a semblance of the genitalia of both the sexes.
Jamie is a child who is loyal to a fault to her loved ones, but eventually realizes she can no longer sacrifice her life and happiness for the sake of others. She struggles mightily and unsuccessfully throughout the novel to be the son her family wants her to be. The fact that they are devoutly Christian is very much like a double edge sword for Jamie. On the one hand, they are all bound by an innocence and devotion to the faith that has gotten them through some very difficult times, including the death of a child killed in Vietnam. On the other, the parents’ literalist and fundamentalist interpretation of the Scriptures is part of what is preventing Jamie from being her true self.
My take on this book is that it fits more into a category of a “coming to terms” tale rather than it being a “coming of age” story. There is a fine distinction between the two. I say this because Jamie, who with a little help from her friends eventually summons the strength and assertiveness to fend off her well-meaning father and, like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” realizes she has always had the power to go back home and be the girl she was meant to be.
[Reviewed by Samuel]