a book review: Brian Katcher’s “Almost Perfect”

“Erica, Erica…have you read this book?”
“uh, no. been kinda busy lately actually…last four years or so, really.”
“But it’s about this trans girl in high school and this guy who falls in love with her…”
(Erica lets out a long, drawn-out sigh) “…so how bad was it?”

this review contains SPOILERS for the above book. if you want to know what happens, keep reading. if not, here’s a bunch of pictures of wombats. wombats are adorable!

okay so let me put it out there: while i did not dislike this book, it ends on a very conflicted note, and the author definitely wraps up the story arc way too fast and the end result is a little clumsy. i don’t like how the book ended because while i am not SO picky that you have to end up going into the sunset together and happy, the reality is that the book ends on an unclear note as to whether or not a person who is clearly happier and better off as a girl has purged, and that’s kind of creepypants. i know it happens but do books always have to end with “trans antagonist/protagonist gets screwed?” it’s kind of a theme in YA fiction, as a lot of early queer YA books that dealt with teenage same-gender lovers did. people remember Annie On My Mind for a reason, and believe you me as a gay teenager that book was not exactly holding up hope.

anyways, the book comes from the POV of Logan, a cis straight kid from a small town in Missouri…so small that Columbia, not far afield, is the Big City. Logan is getting over a bad breakup with Brenda, and in a small town breakups kind of are tricky…it’s had to avoid each other in a small beehive. not too far into the book, enter Sage Hendricks, a tall, large-handed, husky-voiced girl who he falls in love with. and, well, since you already know why i’m reviewing this book, you probably have figured out that there’s something about Sage: she’s trans.

Sage generally isn’t a caricature, and you can tell Katcher really tried to keep her as humanized as possible. her family is not too happy that she’s trans, and she is definitely portrayed much more sympathetically than her emotionally dead mother or abusive, engendering father. for example, Katcher gets it right that when you haven’t changed your ID, or if you can’t change your ID, getting carded really can be the end of the world, and his sensitivity to issues of documentation is pretty neat. that said, this is Logan’s book, and Logan screws up pretty bad in terms of how he takes Sage coming out, but i’ve seen/heard of guys doing stuff like that exactly and then come around, as Dylan does. this is where i point something out: i’d have an easier time reviewing this book had it come from Sage’s POV, rather than Sage being this mysterious person with the double-whammy of being mysterious as both trans AND a girl in Logan’s eyes. and you know what? i’m okay with how this book was written, but i know a lot more about being like Sage than i do about Logan. i know the reality of pass-or-die life in school, i know about how weird it feels to be  the exception, and i definitely know about doing the move far away to get rid of everyone who knew you before thing, as my family totally did that, and i know something about parental shame…most of my mother’s was over my appearance and sexuality, not my transness, but it still makes me feel so vulnerable about these things to this day.

at least one other review bitched about how Sage came out to Logan, and i really want to stick up for this because i think when i was a teenager i did exactly this a couple of times: “I…” She swallowed, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “I’m a boy.”  alright, not exactly perfect in terms of how we present ourselves as adults but this is a book about teenagers and i know damn well i told my first few girlfriends what i was pretty much like this. let’s talk about the book’s good and bad and not seize on this, mmmkay? it’s not exactly easy to explain something you barely have words for when you’re a teenager…add in being trans and there’s often not even words that the other person would explain, and you say things like that.

the bad parts: Katcher goes a little too close to stereotype and lurid detail in dealing with Sage. the latter, well, the book was told from the POV of a teenage boy. i’ve never been a teenage boy, but i’m gonna assume that they’re probably into lurid detail since after all i really remember how much i thought about sex and the bodies of other girls as a teenager and i think maybe i probably would have been as bad. i also don’t like his proclamation against self-medication…sorry, dude, most teenage trans people only have self-medication as a choice. if you don’t like it, you fight the cis medical orthodoxy that says this, Mr. Katcher, and i’ll fight the trans orthodoxies that erase and trouble from within the trans community. also, there’s violence, because, well, it’s too common, and that violence ends up being the keystone to Sage’s crisis toward the end of the book.  Sage gets a very murky ending, not a bad one, but not one that made me smile or would give anyone hope, and that’s kind of troubling for me. i know it’s only a book but at the same time…trans kids out there could use something positive that affirms their humanity in their proper gender and nothing thus far has done so. i feel like this might seem a little whiny but at the same time please understand how weird it was growing up with no books about people like me and well maybe a couple of dyke “young love” books that weren’t that great in their endings either.

Logan ends up being a pretty cool dude, actually. he starts out kind of troubled but learns to accept, and even love, Sage. he stands up to Sage’s family when they’re bad to her, and though he and Sage end up not together in the end, he understands why and moves on and he gets the happy ending.  i think Logan was definitely supposed to be the nice sympathetic dude type and that’s fine. Logan is the kind of guy i would have been friends with in high school…one of the other poor kids, not pretentious or obsessed, but worried about his image almost as much as he worries about the people he cares about. i think in spite of some words he said the boy wised up and deserved his happy ending but i am one of those saps who identifies with people in books.

so Almost Perfect isn’t almost perfect at all, corny as that sounds. it’s a powerful, flawed, and intense read. i don’t think it’s good for transish teenagers because it presents Sage in sort of a tragic light that i really don’t think is good for someone dealing with it, though admittedly in hindsight i had a lot of “oh god that was me!” moments with this book and that was kind of tricky for me because it made it a lot more intense. proceed with appropriate caution and be appropriately forewarned but i think it’s a book worth reading.

maybe next time i’ll take apart Annie On My Mind since i keep referring to it here.

6 thoughts on “a book review: Brian Katcher’s “Almost Perfect”

  1. I personally am actually writing a book myself about a trans heroine/protagonist, who both wins the day, and the girl. But I totally agree with you that we need more books about love/queer love that don’t involve sad endings as is depicted and/or thought of by cisgender people. We have enough things on our minds without finding that all the fiction about us depicts us as “unfortunate creatures” who don’t “get the girl/guy” in the end. Even if the tone of stories is a positive one, I think this reflects our culture more than the reality. We deserve just as much chance for successful relationships, careers, and to find love, partnership, and even start families. I think that there should be literature that is of that nature out there, because the things wrote in books can change the world. Words are far more powerful than anyone gives them credit.

  2. I have to admit I really loved Sage but I just couldnt deal with this book. The abuse Sage faced was just to much for me and the main character of the novel felt like a repugnant human being to me. Someone from the good reads site summed it up well I thought with this:

    For god’s sake the entire premise of the story is Logan acting like a prick. And I know this. But yet I am still surprised with how much of a prick he really was. His prickness went sort of in a cycle, like this:

    1. Logan pursues Sage.

    2. Sage tries to tell Logan that he probably doesn’t want her.

    3. Logan pursues Sage anyway…

    4. Sage gives in and Logan finds out (or remembers) that she’s really a boy and freaks out. (Logan’s thought process: “OMG IF SAGE IZ A BOY THAT MAKES ME A FAAAAGGGGG!! NOOOO!” — I told you he’s a prick.)

    5. Sage’s heart gets broken.

    6. Sage and Logan make up and decide to just be friends.

    AAAAAND REPEAT.

    And yes homophobic slurs are there. Yes it is triggering and awful The end of the book was the worst for me. Sage, someone who had been transitioning at an early age breaks down and decides to give up and detransition and make everyone happy. It was awful I cried and im older, a trans teen reading this….I cant imagine their reaction.

    I want to put a plug in for the book Luna. Also trans themed young adult novel, not all a bed of roses either but it ends hopeful, not unrealisticly so, but affirming. It is everything this book wasnt for me.

    Just my (and the helpful commentator from the web’s) opinion.

  3. Yeah, guess who else didn’t like the ending? Me, the author. I so wanted Logan and Sage to get together in the end, but Logan (not Dylan, Reviewer) was too much of an insufferable prick during the book to warrant Sage taking him back. As for Sage’s future, that was the result of a battle between myself and my editor. She wanted Sage to fully detransition, while I thought that would defeat the entire purpose of the book. If I could change one thing about ‘Almost Perfect,’ I would make it clear that no matter what the future has in store for Sage, she’ll always face it as a woman.

    I guess part of the problem is that I didn’t look at this as an LGBT story while writing it, but just a boy meets girl story. And as any teenager will tell you, sometimes things just end badly, and all you can do is hope you’ll make a better decision next time.

    • omg a famous author commenting on my blog? AWESOME. hi, Mr. Katcher, and thanks so much for your comment!

      as for the name bobble, bad Erica, no biscuit. i got it right at first and then commenced screwing it up later. i edited it to fix the heaping helping of egg on my face…it’s good for your skin, right? anyways, i know identical twins named Logan and Dylan so you can probably guess what happened.

      i idly wondered if the ending of the book was editing, as the tone totally changed and your talent for telling a story in nice bite-sized pieces became a rapid barrage of plot. i had figured maybe it was an attempt to remind us of how school can move so fast or something but this is why i blog and don’t write real books because i can get four chapters in and go into perpetual writer’s block.

      thanks for setting me straight on how you felt, Mr. Katcher…it’s always cool to know the author’s intent, and i think Logan certainly was sometimes an insufferable prick but i felt like it was more out of fear than out of malice. i know that when my brother was that age he had some issues with my being trans even though he’d known me as a girl since he was eight, and it was generally just fear. similarly i have to say that a lot of Sage’s stuff resonated with me because i remember what it was like being the new girl in school in a tiny-ass town…in Connecticut, not Missouri, but nevertheless one where suddenly i was dropped into their world (with red curly hair and odd fashion sense…) in seventh grade. that said these characters are your babies, Mr. Katcher, and i’m really happy to know you wanted it another way because that is what kept me from really liking the book. oh, editors! too bad we can’t have “author’s cuts” of books…though imagine what that would be like with an Umberto Eco novel…it’d be like a bonus 2500 pages!

    • I am really glad to hear that your original version didn’t include the detransition. That would have put a very differant spin on the book for me. Logan still seemed like a jerk to me but that is sadly reality, but Sage’s ending didnt feel real and was very very demoralizing. I want to commend you on Sage, she felt very real to me in the non edited parts, you did a really good job on her.

      I would also say that I have never forgotten this book since I read it which is a mark of very strong writing. I just now have an urge to kick your editor for turning one of my all time favorite books into a book I have issues with :)

      • Much as I’d like to blame everything on my editor (believe me), this is my book, and the problems are my fault. Right when we were doing the final edits, my editor was laid off, and we kind of had to rush through the final edit to meet the deadline. I would have liked to have shown that Sage is moving on to the life she deserves, while Logan can only watch with regret, sadder and a little wiser. I also would have liked for this book to have been made into a major Hollywood blockbuster, thus providing me with enough funds to sit in my underwear all day, swilling whiskey.

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