2014 EVENTS:
Holly Bourne, Non Pratt and James Dawson - 30th October
Becca Fitzpatrick - 15th November

Sunday, 29 June 2014

REVIEW: Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman

Sunday, 29 June 2014
GENRE: YA/Contemporary/Issues
PAGES: 216
PUBLISHER: Curious Fox
FORMAT: Paperback
BUY IT: Waterstones
RATING: 5 Stars

What do you do when everybody says you’re someone you’re not?
Alex wants change. Massive change. More radical than you could imagine. 

Her mother is not happy, in fact she’s imploding. Her dad walked out. Alex has turned vegetarian, ditched one school, enrolled in another, thrown out her clothes. And created a new identity. An identity that changes her world.

And Alex—the other Alex—has a lot to say about it. 

Alex As Well is a confronting and heartfelt story of adolescent experience—of questioning identity, discovering sexuality, navigating friendships and finding a place to belong. Alex is a strong, vulnerable, confident, shy and determined character, one you will never forget.

Alex doesn't believe he is a boy. He's not always sure that he is a girl either - but for the purpose of this review I'll refer to Alex as a girl. The book opens with Alex at a make-up counter, allowing herself to get a make-over. It's so interesting how this part is written. It's not obvious at first what gender Alex is and my brain tried to pick up keys in the text to find out if Alex is actually a boy or a girl, because this is what we are programmed to do. It is this programming that the book explores and you do find yourself wondering what you would do if you were Alex or Alex's parents.

Alex As Well does exactly what a good book should do - it puts you in someone else's shoes. Live as Alex for a few days and understand exactly how precarious our ideas of gender are. I could understand her Mother's reaction. There must be a certain amount of denial and bewilderment and social pressure. I understand this, I don't condone it. For Alex, I sympathise. How many of us have wished we were someone else? Imagine if you believed you were someone else and had the guts to make that huge change to your life. The most frustrating part of the book is that Alex's parents knew that this day would come.

It made me so angry. Parts of the narrative are made up of forum posts made by Alex's mother, and replies from other mothers. The way it highlights the fixed ideas and prejudices of what a child's identity should be are so shocking. The responses to a post saying that Alex is selfish and spiteful is just appalling. I can understand that it must be difficult for a child not to grow up to a parents expectations but there is no communication. Alex's dad tries but... sometimes we need to take a leap of faith to allow people to be happy with themselves and who they want to be. What does it even mean to be a boy, or a girl? Who decided how we should be? And why does it even still apply in the modern world?

Alex begins to confide in a solicitor and through her new friends at schools she falls into modelling in a fashion show. There is a lot of deserved criticism of the modelling industry but for people like Alex, being tall and looking androgynous is the height of fashion and no one is interested in who you are inside. It's kind of perfect. Alex rocks being the best at both genders.

If a boy is not hurting anyone by wearing lipstick or a girl wants to play football then what is the harm? It seems to be more socially acceptable now for girls to be 'tomboys', which is great, but it's still really hard for boys who want to be more feminine.

All in all, I loved Alex As Well. Alex is a tough cookie and deserved to be allowed to live however she wanted to. Changing minds and opinions is difficult, but books like this are part of the solution.

- Bex

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