Cover of Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman. A billboard of the giant face of a blonde, teenage girl

About the Book

Title: Alex as Well
Published: 2013

Cover Story: All Heil Alex!
Drinking Buddy/BBF Charm:
Straight Up Whisky…With a Little Umbrella in It
Testosterone Level/Swoonworthy Scale:
Stop Yelling at the Book, Honey
Talky Talk:
Bonus Factors:
Bromance/Relationship Status:
That Cool Lesbian Chick Who Knows I’m Crushing On Her and Doesn’t Mind

Cover Story: All Heil Alex!

Talk about giant teen faces! The billboard is a reference to when Alex gets a modeling job, but still, there’s a whole Big Brother thing going on here.

The book I have (I guess this is the American release) has this Victor/Victoria motif:

Cover of the American edition of Alex as Well. Lipsticked lips with a mustache above them

The Deal:

When Alex was born fourteen years ago, the doctors didn’t know what to say. Alex had a penis, but no testicles. Further examination revealed that Alex also had ovaries. Alex was born intersex: with both male and female characteristics.

Alex’s parents decide to raise their child male. They give him testosterone medication and never refer to his condition. But as Alex grows up, he decides he does not fit the male role. Alex stops taking the hormones, gets a makeover, and enrolls in a new school as a girl (I’d call foul over how easily Alex is able to attend classes there, but this is Australia, so who knows?). Now all they need is a copy of her birth certificate…

The thing is, Alex’s parents aren’t thrilled about the idea of suddenly having a teenage daughter. Especially when Alex is determined to flaunt her girlishness in their faces. She wears makeup! She hangs out with girls! She joins a school fashion show! Somebody stop her! Him! Alex!

Drinking Buddy/BBF Charm: Straight Up Whisky…With a Little Umbrella in It

Two pints of beer cheersing
Yay BFF Charm

The interesting thing about this book is that male Alex is still around in female Alex’s head. It’s like having an annoying yet comforting twin brother. On the one hand, he’s kind of a grounding force, trying to prevent Alex from doing anything too rash, and encouraging her to think her decisions through.

On the other hand, he’s a fourteen-year-old boy, living in the mind of a fourteen-year-old girl. Hey, Alex, you’re growing boobies! Well, let me see! Oh, yeah…that’s hot.

And when female Alex starts experimenting with lesbianism…well, male Alex is right there, shouting terrible advice out of female Alex’s mouth.

Female Alex is a character I liked, but liked due to her impossible situation, rather than her personality. Her parents don’t understand, but having read many books about trans people, I know things could be a whole lot worse. Alex’s father tells her a story about some crazy yet very successful guy from his work, saying lots of weirdos turn out just fine. He’s trying to be comforting, but all Alex hears is ‘weirdo’, and runs off to initiate emancipation proceedings with a lawyer she knows.

Baby steps, Alex.

Testosterone Level/Swoonworthy Scale: Stop Yelling at the Book, Honey

Not a lot of sex or violence in this one, yet I found I had to stop reading and calm down more than once.

You see, Alex’s mother runs an anonymous blog about raising an intersex teenager. We read her various posts throughout the book. How she just wants what’s best for HIM. How HE’S trying her patience. How HE’S flaunting his lifestyle.

And when she realizes Alex has stopped taking his testosterone, she comes up with a solution: she’ll just hide it in his food.


Okay. I’m okay now.

Incidentally, either Australian blog commenters are much more intelligent than their American counterparts, or we’re reading some serious fiction here.

Talky Talk: LGBTQI

Ah, the forgotten I. When a person is transgender, at least they know what they’re up against and have a more or less clear-cut course of action (though not an easy one). An intersex person, however, may be at a loss. Well-meaning doctors and parents often assign them a gender at birth, and many of them grow up not realizing there was another option. And when someone like Alex decides to change their assigned gender…well, are they really changing anything? She has ovaries, after all. How can she be a woman if she has a penis? How can she be a boy if she’s genetically female?

This is the first YA book I’ve read on this fascinating subject, and I’m glad it’s available as a resource.

Bonus Factor: Australia

Sydney Opera House at sunset

Things that were not in this book: kangaroos, the Outback, boomerangs, didgeridoos, or Foster’s. Aside from the occasional ‘mate’ or oddball spelling, this could have taken place anywhere.

This book is being rereleased in America, and I’m glad that US teens will be able to see that our Australian cousins have shopping malls and indoor toilets.

Bromance/Relationship Status: That Cool Lesbian Chick Who Knows I’m Crushing On Her and Doesn’t Mind

While I never really connected with this book, I think the problem was on my end. It certainly made me think, and the good times were worth the frustration.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Henry Holt and Company. No dollars (US or Aussie) exchanged hands.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.