(EDIT: I tend not to read other reviews before I write my own, and it’s come to my attention that there are a lot of trans readers and writers that have very pointed #ownnormal critiques of this book. In the interest of practicing what I preach, before you read this review, I’ll direct you here and here to two reviews by readers that made me consider my perspective a little more closely.)
I’m not sure I know what I think about this book.
On the one hand, it’s a gender parable wrapped in dystopian horror. In the near future, a plague turns anyone with high testosterone into a literal violent, dangerous, disgusting beast. The only people left are women and a few trans men who weren’t on T when the pestilence hit. Instead of banding together to protect themselves from the monster-men, an alarming number of the cis women are TERFs and make it their mission to hunt down and eradicate the remaining trans people out of pure spite. War ensues, with two very different trans women–Beth and Fran–taking center stage despite their difficult personal relationship.
It’s very well-written. Good plotting, vivid images, and characters that fascinate even when you can’t stand them.
But on the other hand, c’mon now. All the cis people are rabid bigots or literal monsters and trans people are caught in the crossfire, constantly defending themselves?
There’s a certain genius to just how monstrous this world is, and it made me genuinely uncomfortable at times. We’re living in a time of increasingly toxic gender discourse and bigotry and this expressed the fear and alienation that a lot of trans people must be feeling now very effectively. (It also reinforced a lot of very binary, hyper-patriarchal, white Western thinking about gender that I didn’t really get down with, but in its own cultural bubble, I guess it works.) It ratchets the experience of bigotry and the fear of gendered violence up to eleven, and makes some scary points that lead to introspection and conversation. It’s challenging. It’s gross and very physically visceral. I felt very much like an outsider reading this, but in a good way, mostly.
But on the other other hand–like a lot of books written by white women, this misses the mark pretty often when it comes to descriptions of race and culture outside of the white Bostonians who make up the central cast. The lone non-monster man is Indigenous, and the descriptions and dialogue about him are really strange. There’s also weird comments on Blackness, and while a prominent Indian character is very well-written, there’s a Central American character who seems to only exist to give fierce anti-white feminist speeches in broken English. sigh
Also, did I mention this book is gross? It’s pretty gory and there’s a lot of sexual and sexualized violence that is not easy to read and doesn’t always feel like a part of the story.
This is a good read, but a little too on the nose at times and not as intersectional as it tries to be.
A bunker of shelf-stable hormones and support for trans rights to Manhunt.
(Beautiful people! This book goes on my shelf of good reads I’ll never revisit right next to Tender Is The Flesh, although it’s not nearly as gory. If you’re interested in more books by transgender writers, check out this booklist. If you want more books from diverse writers meant for diverse readers, check out the rest of the Equal Opportunity Bookshop too. Don’t forget that if you buy anything from a link you click on this site, we earn a commission that goes towards our own book-buying fund. And as always–go read something good! Peace!)