Book review: Alex as Well, by Alyssa Brugman

Brugman Alex as WellBrugman, Alyssa. Alex as Well. Henry Holt. 2015. $16.99. 214p. HC. 9781627790147.

Fourteen year old Alex is confused. Alex, who is intersex, has been raised as a boy on the advice of doctors, but has always felt there is something wrong about themselves.
For most of Alex’s life they have felt as if there are two people inhabiting one body: a boy Alex, and a girl Alex. They refer to themselves as “we,” and the story is peppered with often sarcastic and witty interior dialog between the two Alexes. Five days after stopping the meds they’ve taken for as long as they can remember, Alex has decided that it’s time for boy-Alex to step back and allow girl-Alex to live as a girl. Changing schools allows Alex to see what living as a girl is like. It’s challenging, since boy-Alex is still present, making inappropriate comments and trying to sabotage their efforts at friendship, and there is always the problem of what happens if Alex’s new classmates discover the truth about Alex, and the terrible thing that happened at Alex’s old school.

There are a few problematic aspects to this novel. The use of oral testosterone therapy is unusual in the U.S., since it is less effective than injections and comes with substantially more risks. Also, Alex’s mother’s message board posts on a parenting website are not strictly necessary, and reveal information to the reader that Alex is not aware of; the revelation that Alex’s unstable and controlling mother has begun adding testosterone pills to Alex’s food is both horrifying and infuriating. In spite of its flaws, most of the characters are realistic, if rather unlikeable. Alex’s struggles with peer bullying and navigating friendships are heartbreaking, and relatable. Alex’s parents’ struggle to accept their child are also realistic, not just for LGBTQI teens, but all teens who have ever experienced that disconnect between their feelings, and their parents understanding.

Recommended for ages 14 and up, especially teens who may identify as LGBTQI or have questions about sexuality and gender, those who may be experiencing bullying, and those who enjoy realistic fiction and “problem” novels. For collections in need of additional diverse titles.

Amy Kirchofer, Teen Services
St. Mary’s County Library

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