Hyde, Catherine Ryan. 2010. Jumpstart the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Elle has a crummy home life. Her mother is involved in a whirlwind romance that leaves no room for Elle. She has been emotionally neglected her whole life, and now she’s been forced to move into an apartment at the age of 15 so as not to interfere with her mother’s love life. Perhaps as a result of non-attached parenting, Elle has huge boundaries enforced around her. She has trouble making and keeping friends because she doesn’t trust people.
So when her new neighbor, Frank, listens to her without judgment and feeds her homemade chicken soup, she swoons. Frank is like nobody she’s ever met: he’s a vet tech who helps her figure out her complicated shelter cat; he’s quiet and kind; he has a photographer girlfriend who teaches Elle how to capture slices of pathos in a camera.
Of course she develops a crush on Frank; he’s the only person who’s ever really taken the time to get to know her as her authentic self. She has space to mess up and learn and feel safe. Through this friendship, Elle slowly reaches out and forms new friendships at school. Her new friends are underdogs too: queer, gender nonconforming, artists, and survivors.
The queer part is difficult for her to come to terms with. She doesn’t dislike gay people, she’s just afraid that people might think she’s gay, and she’s not. When she learns that her crush and best friend Frank is transgender, she is shocked and confused about her attraction to him. She shuts him out and acts very badly toward him and her other friends.
By the end of the book, Elle accepts Frank and has learned to be a better and more supportive friend. But there is a significant portion of the book in which she is cruel and nasty. For this reason, I think the primary audience for this book is cisgender people who are in the process of discovering that transgender people are actual people. I’m not sure if I’d recommend this to a trans youth, for whom this treatment is not new or interesting. But for a teen who is struggling to understand transgender identities, Jumpstart the World might be very useful indeed.