Parrotfish

Wittlinger, Ellen. (2007). Parrotfish. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Parrotfish is a fictional coming-of-age story about Grady, a transgender boy in high school.  The narrative is refreshing; Grady experiences unsurprising pushback from his friends and family, but the overused trans panic trope is not used.  Much of the discomfort and angst Grady suffers is from typical high school predicaments that any nerd goes through- bullying, frenemies, having to awkwardly turn down unreturned crushes.  This is not to say that he doesn’t also have some trans*-specific difficulties to deal with.  The book talks honestly about such issues as dysphoria, coming out, and misgendering, all through the lens of a bright and likeable teenage protagonist. 

Like many adolescent coming-of-age narratives, Parrotfish relies heavily on the romance theme; Grady becomes enamored with the prettiest and coolest girl in school.  Remarkably, she does notice him, and even likes him and understands him!  I’m not going to give away the ending, but Grady’s story arc ends positively, and after reading so many novels and news articles about tragic endings for trans* kids, this book felt like a gift.

Parrotfish was a Lambda Literary Awards finalist, an ALA Stonewall Awards nominee, made the ALA Rainbow List, and was an Advocate Top Pick for Trans YA Fiction.  Although author Ellen Wittlinger does not claim to be a gender or sexual minority, she has clearly done her research for Parrotfish; Grady’s voice is realistic, his experiences will ring true for other trans* and gender nonconforming youth, and the terminology used is mostly accurate and respectful (with one notable exception: the word “transgendered” is repeatedly used instead of “transgender”).

I would recommend this book to young adults who identify as trans*, gender nonconforming, questioning, and allies, but I think there’s a lot of value for cis folks who have never thought about trans* issues, too.  In many ways, Grady is just a regular guy, and his gender transition is treated as part of him—a significant part, to be sure—but not the entirety of his personality.  This would be a particularly good book for a high school English class, and Ellen Wittlinger has even provided an excellent discussion guide on her website: http://www.ellenwittlinger.com/parrotfish-discussion.html

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About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, Librarian, Legend Tripper, and Queer Activist
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