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Cybils review: Parrotfish

Parrotfish
by Ellen Wittlinger

Angela Katz-McNair has always known that inside, she’s really a boy. As Parrotfish opens, she’s taken her first plunge into being herself: she’s cut her hair short, mail-ordered a chest binder, and announced to her family and to everyone at high school that her name is now Grady.

This announcement sends Grady down an inevitably bumpy path, but he’s up to the challenge. He endures cruelty, but he also finds unexpected allies. (All in all, Grady is lucky. I kept thinking that things wouldn’t have gone so well for him if he’d gone to my high school.)

Despite its protagonist’s unusual situation, Parrotfish is at heart a coming-of-age story, dealing with family dynamics, the high school social hierarchy, and every teenager’s struggle to figure out who he/she is. There’s an engaging and quirky cast of characters, and a family Christmas play that’s a funny counterpoint to Grady’s heavy burden.

And the closer you look, the more you see characters who are in some stage of discovering, struggling with, or satisfied with their identities: Grady’s childhood best friend, Eve, who’s pandering to the popular kids; Grady’s Jewish mother, who puts up with her husband’s yearly Christmas extravaganza; Aunt Gail, who chooses the life of a single mother; and lovely Kita, half-African-American, half-Japanese and perfectly comfortable in her own skin.

In the end, it’s Grady’s own unwavering conviction that eventually convinces others (not least, his worried parents) to accept his decision. They may not understand what he’s going through, but they come to respect him. And Grady knows it won’t be an easy road, and that there are some big decisions he’ll still have to make. But Grady is realistic, and Grady is brave, and Grady knows his best chance for happiness is to be true to himself.

Every teenager should be so lucky.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
jeannineatkins
Oct. 15th, 2007 01:42 pm (UTC)
Stacy, what an elegantly written review! It brought tears to my eyes. Thanks!
stacy_dekeyser
Oct. 15th, 2007 02:17 pm (UTC)
You're so sweet, Jeannine! Just what I needed today.

And if you liked the review, wait til you read the book!
jeannineatkins
Oct. 15th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
Actually I have read, and loved, the novel, which makes my love of your review even more pertinent -- it brought me back. To tell you the truth, sometimes reviews bring me to a book, but sometimes I'll skip them if I know I'll read the book (I'm avoiding reviews of Jo Knowle's novel, which I'm buying this week). But they are fun to read afterward -- kind of continuing the discussion. Thanks again!
stacy_dekeyser
Oct. 15th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. It's fun to "compare notes" and see how much you agree or disagree with a reviewer, or what you might have missed!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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Jump the Cracks
stacy_dekeyser
Stacy DeKeyser ~~ Author of books for teens
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