Prior to reading Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher, I really didn’t know what to expect, having heard really mixed reviews—anything from “this is the best representation of a teen trans girl in literature ever!” to “this book actually made my life worse.” Granted, the people who I am actually friends with IRL who gave me any feedback about it tended toward the latter sentiment, so I knew to brace myself for disaster, but the positive feedback I’d read came from sources I kind of trust too (including the ALA’s Stonewall Children’s & YA Lit Award committee, who gave it a frickin award) and was all very convincing. After having read the book (actually, I listened to the audiobook on this one—more about that later), I will say that I am probably right to trust my friends’ literary criticism on this one.
The story is actually well written and very gripping—I definitely stayed up way too late trying to find out what happened next several nights, although this was mostly because I was on the edge of my seat waiting for something good to happen.
Almost Perfect is a story about a straight cisgender dude in high school named Logan who falls for this new girl in school named Sage who turns out to be trans. She tells him this right after she finally lets him kiss her for the first time. Logan freaks out and gets kinds scary the story is basically his back and forth process of coming to terms with Sage and the fact that he really likes her.
You could say that Katcher creates a realistic portrayal of the process that Logan goes through as he learns to go from being scary and horrible in regards to having a trans love interest to being loving and accepting and all that. You could say that when Logan says horrible, dehumanizing stuff about Sage, Katcher is just portraying the character realistically. You could say that it’s really realistic the way Logan twists things around so that Sage is the bad guy and the liar and the creep and Logan is the bigger person because he doesn’t actually hit her when he wants to and deigns to be friends with her sometimes and champions over all of his transphobia in the end. Although readers are supposed to realize that Logan is actually the unreasonable party in most instances, Katcher gets away with saying some really horrible shit about a teenage trans girl in the name of realism.
Good for Logan, that probably really is his authentic, true story. The thing is, though, he’s a douche and I don’t really need to hear every douche’s story or sympathize with every douche. I’m glad that he overcomes his hostility towards Sage and learns to be a bigger person, and maybe he sets a good example for other douches in the end, but I still think that could have been accomplished in a way that wasn’t so shitty.
If Sage, the teenage trans character, had been the narrator, I actually think this could have been a great book. She is a strong young woman and actually a pretty awesome character who goes through some intense and totally real stuff over the course of the story. I would have loved to have read her story. Unfortunately, I did not read her story, I read Logan, the douchey, narrow minded straight dude’s story.
As a trans person, Logan’s story made me feel horrible about myself and I can only imagine that the self-loathing feeling this book brought up in me would be ten times greater for a trans woman reading his story. When Logan spouted out his anger about Sage supposedly “tricking” him, it was all I could do not to cry—by which I mean cry like a terrified baby, not the somber kind of touching crying that sometimes happens in good books. Added to that was the fact that in the audiobook, the narrator, Kirby Heyborne’s voice gets this crazed and passionate anger in it sometimes that actually made me instinctively close my eyes and cover my ears because it actually felt like his rage was directed at me.
Mixed in with this rage was all this stuff about Sage being a freak, a pervert, undatable, unlovable, not-human, repulsive and all the other stuff that a lot of trans folks already feel insecure about in terms of how the world sees us–don’t worry, if you miss all the awful stuff he says about her because you are instinctively covering your ears and closing your eyes like I was, you will get to hear him say the same kind of stuff when he is feeling all protective (in a creepy paternalistic way) and worrying about what the rest of the world must think of Sage. He actually says this stuff enough that, even though I know it’s complete bullshit, it totally played mind games with me and I started to believe that the way Logan sees Sage must be the way the world sees me. It actually brought up some trangsty, self-loathing internalized transphobia in me that I have not felt in years and still haven’t been able to totally shake a week after finishing the book. It is pretty rare that a book leaves such a lasting impression on me, but in this case, the impression was most definitely not a positive one.
It makes me sad that this is the second book with a teen trans girl as the main character I have read, that neither gave the trans character the agency of her own narrative voice and that this book actually makes Luna seem like an amazing girl-power champion of trans awesomeness, even considering the less-than-positive review I gave that too. I don’t think I am being overly sensitive in saying that this book was actively bad and I would emphatically not recommend it to any trans person who even sort of values their self esteem.
Next week, I will pull myself out of this Almost Perfect-induced state of wallowing and write about a book. In the meantime, go to your public library and ask the hottest librarian to help you find a good book (maybe not this one).