Author(s): John Boyne
Sam Waver's life has always been pretty quiet. A bit of a loner, he struggles to make friends, and his busy parents often make him feel invisible. Luckily for Sam, his older brother, Jason, has always been there for him. Sam idolises Jason, who seems to have life sorted - he's kind, popular, amazing at football, and girls are falling over themselves to date him.
But then one evening Jason calls his family together to tell them that he's been struggling with a secret for a long time. A secret which quickly threatens to tear them all apart. His parents don't want to know and Sam simply doesn't understand.
Because what do you do when your brother says he's not your brother at all? That he thinks he's actually . . . your sister?
There is currently quite a bit of controversy about John Boyne's new book about the family of a trans teen. Much of the criticism is valid - the story does centre the experiences of Sam, the cisgendered younger brother of Jessica, and her parents rather than the experiences of Jessica herself however it does not validate their pain; instead these characters realise their difficulties are really irrelevant and that it is Jessica's experience that matters. It is up to you whether you wish to read it or to avoid it; we think there is little on this topic for this age group and that this book will kickstart some important discussions and hopefully get some young people (and adults) to rethink their own behaviours.
Thirteen-year-old Sam has always been close with his older sibling - but when he learns that the person he's always known as his brother, Jason, is actually his sister and that her name is Jessica, he completely refuses to accept it. Sam and Jessica's parents would also rather pretend it is not happening - Mum is a Cabinet minister, Dad is her private secretary, and they're both climbing the greasy pole of British party politics - and a transgender child is rather inconvenient to say the least. What is the Daily Mail going to say?
The family's refusal to accept Jessica for who she is leads to greater complications for all of them - Sam focuses on the difficulties Jessica has caused him and tries to force her to be his brother - but through it all, we (and Sam if he were honest) can see that it is Jessica who is really having the most difficult time. So how long can they keep pretending? And how long can they ignore her pain?
Surprisingly, this is a very funny book. Boyne's depiction of the politician parents is incisive and hilarious - they are so laughably awful that it is a joy to hate them. They say all the terrible things and so does Sam - as a naive protagonist, he can ask all the stupid questions - and they are questions which young readers are quite likely to have.
We're recommending this for 11/12+ but it can definitely be read by younger readers who are curious about the topic and are okay with discussions of pornography - although many of the political jokes will go over their heads.
A stunning and timely new novel from the multi-million bestselling and award-winning author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
John Boyne is the author of eleven novels for adults, five for young readers and a collection of short stories. Perhaps best known for his bestselling book The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, John's other novels, notably The Heart's Invisible Furies, and A Ladder to the Sky, have been widely praised and are international bestsellers. He lives in Dublin.