Book review: Brian Katcher’s “Almost Perfect”

Growing up gay, I found very few books about the gay experience. I think it was late into my senior year in high school when I finally got around to grudgingly reading some Danton Remoto, and it was only four years ago that I finally got to read gay classics like James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” or E.M. Forster’s “Maurice“.

While I didn’t exactly have a difficult gay childhood, I sometimes wish that I had these books around when I was grappling with my sexuality. I feel like it would have made things so much easier for me and probably shortened my time in the closet considerably.

But if I had any trouble, I’d think it wold be so much more difficult for transgendered teens. I don’t think the transgendered experience has been written about a whole lot, and I am struggling to think of a book in the Western canon that does so.

Which is why it’s a good thing that there are now books coming out that tackle this particular experience. In 2004, we had Julie Ann Peters’ “Luna“. And just recently, Brian Kathcer’s “Almost Perfect” won the Stonewall’s Children and Young Adult Literature Award, given out at this year’s Newberry Awards. Of course I had to get a copy.

Award-winning!

Logan is just your typical 18-year-old boy reeling from a break-up with his longtime girlfriend, Brenda. They’ve been together for three years, so he is understandably wallowing in the exquisite pain of it all. His family and friends have practically given up on him ever getting over Brenda, until Sage comes along.

Sage is different from anything Logan has ever seen. She’s taller than most girls, her voice is huskier, and she’s unconventionally pretty. Pretty soon, Logan is smitten with her, and throughout the course of several chapters awkwardly tries to become Sage’s boyfriend. He is constantly rebuffed, and when he finally manages to kiss Sage, he finds out exactly why she was so apprehensive of things escalating between the two of them.

Sage, it turns out, is biologically a boy, and the revelation causes Logan to lash out at Sage, almost to the point of hitting her. But after avoiding her like the plague, Logan finds out that he just can’t stop thinking about her, penis be damned, and tries to restart the friendship. Impressed by Logan’s attempts at understanding her situation, Sage gives him another chance.

However, rekindling this friendship is more complicated than either of them expect. Will their friendship manage to remain intact even with Sage’s less-than-accepting parents and Logan’s own unexpressed apprehensions about their relationship bearing down on them like storm clouds about to burst?

The first thing that struck me when I sat down to read “Almost Perfect” last night was the grittiness of Logan’s hometown. Maybe it’s because of the fact that I’ve been reading goddess knows how many YA romances, but I really found it refreshing that Logan’s description of his town consists of pointing out that most everyone he knows lives in a trailer park, and that meth dealers are part of the landscape.

I also appreciated the fact that when Sage is finally introduced about three chapters in, she doesn’t end up being an ethereally beautiful girl that everyone and their lesbian sister ends up falling in love with (I’m looking at you, dozens of YA supernatural romances). She’s got braces, she’s a little bit too freckly, and uncomfortably tall for a woman. Despite the intensity of Logan’s affections, very little of the student body actually finds Sage all that interesting.

The flirting that happens between the two early on in the is also refreshingly crude and awkward. There are no smooth lines and extravagant declarations, because when you really think about it, no teenager is that smooth. Unless they are actually a centuries-old vampire, a secret werewolf, or an angel fallen from on high.

My face during the last nine chapters

This insistence on realism painted such a clear picture of the characters in my head that it was easy to get carried away at the novel’s turning points. I was a nervous wreck when Sage finally revealed her secret to Logan, and by the time the novel was winding down for its big finish I was sobbing like  nobody’s business.

While I wasn’t happy with the ending, they don’t end up together I did understand why it had to end the way it did. As much as you want their relationship to work, it just wouldn’t ring true to the world that Katcher has already built in the previous chapters.

Poignant, heartfelt, and thankfully not a “message” book, “Almost Perfect” is a great read, especially for people who have a transgender person in the family. It’s clear why this book won, and I certainly hope to read more of Katcher’s work in the future.

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