Friday, November 26, 2010

Parrotfish (Novel)

Parrotfish (Novel) Release date: 2007. Author: Ellen Wittlinger. Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781416916222.

Plot summary: Angela Katz-McNair is a boy. She feels like a boy, she thinks like a boy, and has always felt like nature made a mistake putting her in a girl’s body. So she decides to change things. Angela turns into Grady. Grady has short hair and wears boys’ clothes. Grady feels much more comfortable in his skin than Angela ever did. But changing genders isn’t going to be easy. Grady’s family doesn’t seem to be taking the change well. His mother isn’t sure she can ever think of Grady as anything but Angela, and his sister is worried that having a transgendered sibling will ruin her chances of becoming popular. Things at school are worse. Grady’s lifelong friend, Eve, won’t talk to him now that he’s not a she. Grady is bullied by other students and misunderstood by administrators. Soon, however, Grady discovers that not everyone is as judgmental as he thinks. He makes friends with the school’s biggest nerd, Sebastian, and develops a crush on the cool and beautiful, Kita. Grady wonders if people can truly change, as he has, and accept him.

Critical evaluation: Parrotfish is a quick but important read tackling a confusing social issue, transgenderism. While many novels for young adults have uncovered the journeys of LGBT teens, transgendered individuals are rarely the primary characters. In Parrotfish, the reader dives headlong into Angela’s transition into Grady. Angela’s feelings that she is a boy trapped in a girl’s body are not a phase. She has felt this way her whole life and finally decides, in order to be happy, she has to transform herself into what she knows is her correct identity. Angela’s sexual attraction to other females is not the main focus of this transition as many often believe. Rather, Wittlinger emphasizes that Angela feels Grady is who she is meant to be. This is an important distinction to be made to both teens and adults: transgendered individuals don’t necessarily change their genders because they are homosexual, rather they know that nature made a mistake. In the novel, Grady identifies himself as a heterosexual male, not a lesbian who wants to become a boy. Wittlinger does a superb job of emphasizing this point by including it seamlessly in the plot. The other characters in the novel besides Grady are also interesting. Sebastian, Grady’s friend who immediately accepts his transformation, is a scene-stealer. He is endearing, quirky, intelligent and a perfect friend for Grady. The relationship between Grady and his former friend Eve will also resonate with readers. Most teens can identify with losing a friend for one reason or another, and will understand the loneliness and anger that Grady feels over his friend choosing the popular crowd over him. Overall, Parrotfish tackles a controversial topic in a very readable way that will appeal to teens.

Reader's annotation: Angela Katz-McNair knows that nature made a mistake when it put her in the body of a female. She knows she is a boy, she has felt this way her whole life, and decides that she must live life the way she was meant to: she cuts her hair, dons boy’s clothing and announces to the world that she is now Grady, a boy.   
About the author: Ellen Wittlinger was born in Belleville, Illinois in 1948. She spent her youth as an only child, helping her parents run the small grocery store attached to their house. After attending college at Millikin University, Wittlinger moved to Ashland, Oregon. Soon, Wittlinger attended the University of Iowa where she received her MFA. Wittlinger then moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts where she worked at the Fine Arts Work Center and began her writing career. In 1979 she published her first book of poetry called Breakers. Wittlinger also wrote many plays, some of which were staged in Massachusetts. After becoming a children’s librarian, Wittlinger decided to try writing young adult novels. In 1993, her first novel Lombardo’s Law was published. Since then, Wittlinger has written many more award-winning novels for the young adult audience, including Hard Love (1999), What’s in a Name (2000), Razzle (2001), Sandpiper (2005), Parrotfish (2007) and This Means War (2010). Wittlinger lives in Massachutsetts with her husband.

Genre: Fiction

Curriculum ties:

Booktalking ideas:
LGBT issues and high school
Coming out to a friend or family
Gender roles

Reading level/Interest Age:
Grade 9 and up.

Challenge issues:
Mild sexuality
Controversial subject matter

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for grades 9 and up.
Recommend parent read book before child.
Recommend parent discuss transgenderism with child.

Reasons for inclusion:
Positive reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, The Horn Book Magazine, VOYA, Publishers Weekly.

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