Saturday, November 10, 2012

Happy Families by Tanita Davis

In alternating chapters, fifteen-year-old twins Ysabel and Justin Nicholas tell how they are affected when they learn that their father is transgender in Happy Families by Tanita Davis.

"That thing Tolstoy says about happy families got to me. Happy families are all alike -- all of them are safe and confident that nothing on this earth can take that away from them. Just like we were, before Dad's little secret hit us like a wrecking ball."

Ysabel is an artist who handcrafts glass beads. Justin is an academic high-achiever. They are enrolled in a Christian academy and attend weekly church services. Their parents are good people who love each other. The fact that they also happen to be African American wasn't confirmed for me until page 181. I had wondered if they might be, but only because I know that the author, Tanita Davis, is African American. The late reveal emphasizes how little it matters to the story, and probably serves to increase close identification with the protagonists by readers of any ethnic background.

The conflict centers on the emotional struggles of the twins as they adjust to their new information about their father's transitioning and what it means for them and their family. An online Kids of Trans chat line helps, as do therapy sessions, and outings with other families with transgender parents.

Readers will come away informed about transgender issues, reinforced by transgender-specific terminology reference at the end of the book, along with advice on names and pronoun usage. Happy Families nicely adds to the growing diversity of queer content in YA literature.

Other teen literature featuring transgender protagonists include: One in Every Crowd (Ivan Coyote); Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy (Bil Wright); I Am J (Cris Beam); Almost Perfect (Brian Katcher); Wandering Son (Takako Shimura); Brooklyn Burning (Steven Brezenoff); Parrotfish (Ellen Wittlinger); Luna (Julie Anne Peters); Jumpstart the World (Catherine Ryan Hyde); and The Boy in the Dress (David Walliams).

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