By Ellen Wittlinger
We meet Angela Katz-McNair moments before she tells her family her new name, Grady, and begins her coming-out process.
You see, Angela, now Grady, is a boy. Biologically, Grady may be female, but “inside the body of this strange, never-quite-right girl hid the soul of a typical, average, ordinary boy.”
Grady’s family seems surprisingly accepting of his change. There are the expected ripples and strains within the family, especially with Grady’s mother and sister, but for the most part, they seem to be taking it well.
Now comes the hard part. Grady must face high school. That dreaded place where if you are just one toe over the “acceptably abnormal” line, life is hell. Grady is met with the things you would expect him to have to deal with during such a transition — fear, anger,and denial — but, thankfully, he also finds kindness. Grady’s new friends Sebastian, Russ and Kita and the girls gym teacher provide an oasis for him as he deals with the fear of coming out and the, he thinks, inevitable rejection. They also provide the story with many moments of comic relief. Some will make readers laugh out loud.
Grady’s story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Wittlinger does an excellent job of making Grady a real person going through this difficult but, for him, necessary transition. Wittlinger treats Grady’s story frankly and doesn’t make the real drama of coming out as transgendered into the melodrama of an after-school special. Bad things happen to Grady because of his transition, but good things happen to him, too.
Wittlinger ends the book on a good note, but she avoids wrapping everything up so neatly that it seems unrealistic. Wittlinger has included resources in the back that include Web sites and organizations to contact for further information. All-in-all, it’s a must-read for everyone, but especially for those in situations similar to Grady’s.
“Parrotfish” is appropriate for teens and adults.
Cari Boatright is the teen librarian at Joplin Public Library.