Friday, December 13, 2019

Birthday, by Meredith Russo

Eric and Morgan are best friends and share the same birthday.  With the exception of the year they got sick, the two of them have always spent their birthdays together.  Back when they were little and didn’t know better, they would tell each other that they loved each other.  They swore they would be best friends for life.

But things change as the boys get older:  Morgan’s mother dies of cancer, Eric’s parents are getting divorced, and the idea of love between the boys has evolved.  Eric knows he isn’t gay, but he’s always felt that Morgan was more girl-like, in a way that he found attractive.  Sure, Morgan is a guy (they play football together!) but somehow Morgan has always seemed pretty.  And Morgan who actually does find boys attractive, doesn't feel particularly gay either.  Instead, the body parts just feel wrong.  Morgan feels like a girl – a girl very much in love with her best friend.

Told over a period of six birthdays, the novel explores the development of Morgan’s gender identity and the love story between her and Eric.  Tracing key events and tracking all the emotional stages from exploration to self-loathing and depression to eventual acceptance, we get both Morgan's search to find peace as a trans girl and Eric's understanding of his romantic feelings for Morgan (i.e., being straight and romantically attracted).

It's a moving and informative work about a life journey for both Morgan and Eric that will be meaningful for trans teens and those who love them.  In many ways this is a similar story to Russo's debut novel, If I Was Your Girl.  But while the dead mother angle is tired cliche and exploitative, I find this sophomore effort more effective than her first book.  For one thing, being seemingly autobiographical, its more personal.  It's certainly better written and reads quickly.

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