Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. Delacorte, 2009. Currently available.
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Face Value: If it weren’t for the positive reviews of this book, I would never have picked it up. The cover has the whole floating head thing going on. It’s sexualized, which isn’t all bad because the story does explore aspects of teen sexuality. But truly, this book is about identity. The romance is just a small part of the book. I would like to see a cover that somehow addressed that theme.
Does it break the slate? Although Logan, the narrator, is not a Slatebreaker, he’s certainly a great example of someone who evolves and rejects past prejudices. Sage is a Slatebreaker, for sure. She’s risking everything to be herself. The novel itself is challenging norms of YA literature, too. Katcher tells the story of two teens navigating a romance that’s unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. They struggle, and it can be painful to read, but that’s because these characters live in a world where they don’t have any examples of relationships beyond the heterosexual male-female pairing. Almost Perfect is a needed story in the YA canon because it shows another kind of relationship.
Who would we give it to? I’d give it to any reader who enjoys a love story. It’s not the typical sweet summer romance that we know and love. In fact, it’s quite a bit darker than that – but it would push readers to see love and friendship in a new light.
Review: Logan Witherspoon is not the kind of protagonist we usually talk about here at Slatebreakers. He’s a jock who is obsessed with his ex girlfriend, and his idea of a great night out is going to the movies. Logan is not the most open minded of characters. He’s also not great at respecting a girl’s desires. When Sage, a new student, captures his attention, he pursues her ardently. Even when she says that she’s not interested in anything beyond friendship, Logan continues to try for more.
When Sage finally gives in and their relationship becomes more than friendship, Sage reveals some personal information to Logan: she’s a transsexual woman. Logan freaks out and treats Sage horribly. His rejection of her is violent and painful to read. He is simultaneously angry and humiliated. It’s so strange to read Logan’s reaction to Sage’s news, because he goes through all of the homophobic stereotypes you can imagine. It’s shocking and awful – but certainly realistic.
After Logan cools down a bit, he realizes that he doesn’t actually have a problem with Sage as a person or as a potential friend. He has a problem with Sage as a romantic partner. Although he has deeply hurt Sage, they manage to repair their friendship and move forward. Logan and Sage develop a close relationship that allows Logan to become a better friend. He struggles to express his emotions because he’s so bound by expectations of masculinity. With Sage, Logan learns to open up a bit.
Of course, there are still feelings of attraction there. Sage is interested in Logan, and although Logan knows that Sage is mtf transsexual, he cannot help but be interested in her. Logan’s internal monologue throughout this portion of the book is especially compelling to read. He still rejects the idea of a sexual relationship with a woman born into a male body, but he can’t help adoring Sage because she’s a great person and a beautiful girl. Katcher has captured the cognitive dissonance that happens when someone’s brain begins to challenge the stereotypes they have grown up with. Logan’s confusion and uncertainty is frustrating – I just wanted him to accept Sage and get on with it! However, I appreciated the way that Logan developed as a character. It showed that someone could grow into an accepting individual, no matter where they started. Just because you live in a bigoted small town doesn’t mean that you have to be closed-minded.
It ends badly for Logan and Sage. Logan can’t accept Sage when she needs his support the most, and he completely fails her as a friend and romantic partner. I admit that the ending to the story is pretty depressing. Yet again, Katcher isn’t glossing over reality. He based this book on the stories he had heard from transgender teens, and our culture is not welcoming for trans youth. What’s valuable here is not only the compelling story of romance and friendship, but also the way that Katcher has written two fully dimensional characters struggling with love and identity in a community that’s not open to anything outside of the norm.
Reviewed from library audiobook.