Book review: Double Exposure, by Bridget Birdsall

Birdsall Double ExposureBirdsall, Bridget. Double Exposure. Sky Pony, 2014. $16.95. 256p. HC. 978-1-62914-606-5.

Fifteen-year-old Alyx was born intersex and raised as a boy. Her father’s death frees Alyx to admit to being brutally bullied for being insufficiently masculine and to persuade her mother to let her live as a girl. They move to Milwaukee to live with her mother’s family – Uncle Joey nicknamed Grizzly, and Grandpa.

There Alyx meets Patti “Pepper” Pitmani, who shares her love of basketball, and Pepper’s brother, Peter. Grizzly cautions her about the Pitmani family. Still, Alyx joins the high school girls’ basketball team and finds friends, though Pepper shifts unpredictably between friendly and mean. Peter, who is attracted to Alyx, says that sometimes Pepper avoids taking her meds.

In many ways, this is a conventional teen sports novel with a jealous rival, a shot at the state championship, and a budding romance. Alyx also struggles with a fear of having her past and medical condition exposed and with flashbacks of being assaulted. A secondary thread is the dysfunctional Pitmani family’s effect on Alyx and the team. None of the characters appear to be gay but the high school students exchange homophobic slurs and accusations constantly. And while being intersex is not the same as being transgender, her particular upbringing may qualify Alyx as both.

Alyx’s voice as narrator feels authentic and, while the climax is telegraphed by the jacket blurb, the plotting is tight and realistic. The story is as valuable for its portrayal of the effects of bullying as for its insights into the experience of being intersex. It belongs in any collection that serves teen readers.

Carolyn Caywood, retired from Virginia Beach Public Library

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