Title: The Other Me
Author Name: Suzanne van Rooyen
Publication Date & Length: Dec 18, 2013 — 218 pgs
Fifteen-year-old Treasa Prescott thinks she’s an alien. She doesn’t fit in with the preppy South African private school crowd and feels claustrophobic in her own skin. Treasa is worried she might spend life as a social pariah when she meets Gabriel du Preez. Gabriel plays the piano better than Beethoven, has a black belt in karate, and would look good wearing a garbage bag. Treasa thinks he’s perfect. It might even be love, as long as Gabriel doesn’t find out she’s a freak.
As Treasa spends time with Gabriel, she realizes she might not love him as much as she wants to be him, and that the reason she feels uncomfortable in her skin might have less to do with extra-terrestrial origins and more to do with being born in the wrong body.
But Gabriel is not the perfect boy Treasa imagines. He harbors dark secrets and self-destructive tendencies. Still, Treasa might be able to accept Gabriel’s baggage if he can accept who she longs to be.
This is a fairly quick read, as it’s young adult and not long. It’s relatively fast-paced, as I expected. The YA genre and length should not be deterrents for anyone interested in the subject, however. This was hands-down one of the best works of YA queer fiction I’ve ever read.
It is the story of a South African trans teenager, though it is also in part a love story. Not merely in the romantic sense (though there’s a bit of that too) but in a general sense, including self-acceptance and love between friends or family members. Most people, not only teenagers, would be able to relate to the themes of feeling like an outsider and of being trapped in a life or body that feel wrong.
The first thing that impressed me was that it’s about a trans boy. More often than not, trans fiction focuses on people living their authentic lives as girls/women. Of the several YA tans-themed books I’ve read previously, all were about trans girls. The second thing of note is that it’s told mainly from Treasa’s perspective and with Treasa’s feelings about actually being a boy. Other books have told trans stories mainly from the perspective of lovers or family members. Finally, the last thing that stood out was that Treasa is also not straight. Again, the vast majority of my previous readings have involved trans people who are presumed gay until they transition, but Treasa maintains a preference for boys throughout.
Another aspect to Treasa’s identity as a gay boy is that often, trans stories are incredibly binary. In other words, someone “proves” to be a “real” boy because of a love for sports and typically masculine pursuits and interests. Treasa is, even as a boy, still somewhat gender-non-conforming. I appreciate that the author didn’t go overboard to assure us just how much of a boy Treasa truly is.
Those things alone make the book an absorbing read. In addition, the two main point-of-view characters, Treasa and Gabriel, are both very different from the teenagers who populate many YA novels. They both have secrets and things about which they feel hurt and shame, however, both are highly sympathetic characters. They are the sort of people who feel like friends after reading their stories. Characters are always my favorite part of any story, and I found myself drawn to both of them.
The only things about which I had any concerns are a few minor implications. First, Treasa muses that it must not be normal for a girl to want to write fan fiction about two boys. It’s hard to tell whether this is the author’s view as well or whether Treasa just feels like an “alien” already that everything is suspect.
My other concern was that Gabriel insists throughout the book that his few very minor gender-non-conforming behaviors (mainly music and nail polish) don’t make him gay. But he does it to the point that I couldn’t help wondering who he was trying to convince–himself or the reader. Again, it was hard to tell if this was the author’s insertion of her views or genuinely part of his character, an unwillingness to question his own sexuality. This becomes particularly important towards the end of the story.
These concerns are not reasons to dislike the book. On the contrary, they provide excellent talking points. Rather than making assumptions about the author’s intent or rejecting the book for perceived flaws, we should have open dialog about what those things mean.
Overall, I rank this as one of my all-time favorite YA books. Despite the fact that I’m well past the target age and rarely read the genre, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I recommend it to anyone who has adolescents, in part because the beginning of empathy is understanding. Provided the book is still in print, I fully plan to make sure my kids read it when they are older.
I give this book 4.5 stars.
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and entertains her shiba inu, Lego.
Suzanne is also the publicity manager for Entranced Publishing and is rep’d by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.
Dragon’s Teeth (Divertir)
Obscura Burning (Etopia)
The Other Me (Harmony Ink)
I Heart Robot (Month9Books)
Author’s Website: suzannevanrooyen.com