Author: Matthew J. Metzger
Publisher: JMS Books
Cover Artist: Written Ink Designs
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 04/30/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Gay Romance, Trans*, Young Adult
Anton never thought anyone would ever want to date him. Everyone knows nobody wants a transgender boyfriend, right? So he’s as shocked as anyone when seemingly-straight Jude Kalinowski asks him out, and doesn’t appear to be joking.
The only problem is … well, Jude doesn’t actually know.
Anton can see how this will play out: Jude is a nice guy, and nice guys finish last. And Anton is transgender, and transgender people don’t get happy endings. If he tells Jude, it might destroy everything.
And if Jude tells anyone else … it will.
This is a book that helped me so much, I can’t begin to explain it. If you had told me it was entirely about a fifteen-year-old trans boy, I might not have picked it up. I requested it to review because I loved Matthew J. Metzger’s other book, “The Suicidal Peanut.” Both of these are five-star books.
“Spy Stuff” is, from one point of view, a primer on what it is to be a trans teenager. It answers every question and doesn’t flinch from the difficult stuff. But, given Metzger’s gift as a writer and storyteller, this book is so much richer and emotionally satisfying than some clinical study of a transgendered boy. It is an intensely realistic memoir of Anton Williams, a teenager who just wants to be part of a school and a community without being singled out as “other.”
From the very beginning of my gay life I’ve known of trans folk. The first time I met a trans woman was 40 years ago, when I was in college. My children both had trans friends in high school (and, yes, there has been tragedy involved). Longtime friends of ours have two children who are genderqueer, and the older has recently fully transitioned and is now their son (and, by the way, married to a straight man).
So, none of this is particularly new to me; except that I’ve never really had to sit down and think about what it is to be transgender, especially as a teenager, when life is complicated enough. I remember being fifteen and realizing that I was gay. That wasn’t especially fun. And in “Spy Stuff” Metzger takes you so deeply into Anton Williams’ heart and soul that you can’t read this book and not leave transformed. If you, like many folk (including gay folk) don’t fully “get” what it is to be transgender, this book will change that.
The biggest bit of magic in Metzger’s novel is the other main protagonist, Jude Kalinowski. Jude is a good-hearted, jocky, red-headed (sigh) straight boy, who befriends Anton instantly, much to both of their surprises. Jude, you see, has a sort of gay-for-you moment with Anton, and at fifteen is puzzled by his attraction to this pretty new boy in his class. This is exactly the kind of thing that would have made me anxious and unhappy in the hands of a less thoughtful author. Because of Jude, “Spy Stuff” isn’t just the story of a trans boy; it’s also the story of a straight boy coming to grips with the fact that “straight” doesn’t always mean “Kinsey 0.”
Metzger has taken pains to set the story in a London school where Anton’s classmates are more inclined than most teenagers to be cool with diversity. But he hasn’t dodged inconvenient truths, such as the fact that homophobia and transphobia are not the same thing, just as being transgender is not equivalent to being gay. For all its fairly simple story arc, “Spy Stuff” is subtle and sensitive in the best possible way.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
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