'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 1 February 2013

Review: Alex as Well

When 14-year-old Alex decides he is a girl, no-one knows how to react including Alex, who struggles to understand why this decision feels so right.

Alex’s parents respond with anger and denial, turning on each other and Alex as they struggle with the consequences of their decisions when Alex was a baby and during her childhood. Struggling to establish her new identity, Alex enrols herself in a new school and tries to make new friends. Unfortunately, her past can’t be set aside so easily and establishing herself as female Alex isn’t as easy as throwing away her old clothes and buying some make-up.

Confronting, thought-provoking and often surprisingly amusing, Alex as Well is an amazingly powerful story of a young woman in conflict as she struggles to establish her identity within her family, friendships, community and, most importantly, within herself.

Alex as Well explores the topic of gender identity amidst the turbulence of teenage emotions, hormones and peer pressure.  Alex was born sexually ambiguous but raised as a boy by her parents from the age of six-months-old. Her story is a typical teen story of struggling with increased awareness of a developing sexual and social identity, with the added heart-breaking challenge of trying to establish this identity without any clear physical starting point and with parents unable to see beyond their own confusion and insecurities to offer the love and support needed in such a difficult situation.

The story is narrated primarily by Alex, with occasional entries by her mother who shares her largely self-focused concerns in an online parenting forum. It is a point that will probably be overlooked by teen readers, but I thought that Alex’s mother’s posts online and the subsequent comments from other forum members who did not know her or Alex were an interesting portrayal of the role of social networking in modern parenting.

I found this story confronting and emotionally challenging, however I also found it hard to put down and was compelled to continue following Alex’s journey, reading the book in one sitting. Australian author Alyssa Brugman handles this controversial topic with sensitivity, portraying Alex’s internal conflict well and even offering brief moments of sympathy for Alex’s parents, despite their largely insensitive reaction to their daughter’s struggles.

I felt incredibly sad for Alex as she tried to find a balance between the two parts of her identity with so little support from people who should have been there for her. Despite the rarity of Alex’s gender ambiguity, I think that many teens will feel a connection with Alex’s struggles and identify with her need to belong and to feel comfortable in her own skin.

Brugman's writing offers a very intense but authentic portrayal of teenage thoughts and emotions. Written for a teen audience, I think parents and teachers would also benefit from this story as a reminder that teenage life can be confusing and turbulent and that many teens face their issues without adequate emotional support.

Title:  Alex as Well
Author: Alyssa Brugman
Publisher: Text Publishing, $19.99 RRP
Publication Date:  30 January 2013
Format:  Paperback
ISBN: 9781922079237
For ages:  13+
Type: Young adult fiction