Cover of Sasha Masha by Agnes Borinsky. A two tone drawing of of a non bianary figure on the beach, surmounted by another non bianary figure in a hoodie

About the Book

Title: Sasha Masha
Published: 2020

Cover Story: See? Not So Hard.
Drinking Buddy: Meh
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (adult situations)
Talky Talk: I Wanted to Like You
Bonus Factor: Lesbian Best Friend
Bromance Status: Ally

Cover Story: See? Not So Hard.

The two-tone cover perfectly reflects on Alex’s dual identity and angst. No stock photos, no giant teen faces. Eye-catching and interesting. I’d recommend it to a friend.

The Deal:

Alex is just a scrawny white Jewish nerd from Baltimore. His best friend, Mabel, has moved away, and he’s resigned himself to eating alone at lunch. But some girls like the awkward nerdy type, and a cute classmate named Tracy suddenly claims Alex as her own. Not only does he have a girlfriend, he’s inherited Tracy’s group of friends and becomes kind of popular by association. Things are going great.

Except…they’re kind of not. Mabel, an out and proud lesbian, was the one person Alex could truly open up to. About how awkward and lonely he sometimes feels. About how he doesn’t really feel attracted to girls. About that night he tried on a dress with Mabel and it felt…right. How maybe he’d rather be called Sasha Masha.

This isn’t exactly something he can discuss with Tracy. Or his parents, for that matter. But one night, Alex stumbles into a support group for LGBTQ youth, and meets a boy named Alex. A blue-haired Latino kid who connects with Alex in a way Tracy doesn’t. Does our hero continue to live a comfortable lie as Alex, or do they dare introduce the world to Sasha Masha?

Drinking Buddy: Meh

Two pints of beer cheersing with a "Denied" stamp over them

I wanted to like Alex/Sasha, but it was hard. Coming out as trans has got to be one of the hardest things a person can do, especially when they know they’ll face rejection by their family and peer group. But a good chunk of this book was internal monologue about how the main character identified. It didn’t flow and got to be rather tedious after a while. And since Tracy clearly wasn’t interested in a non-cisgender boyfriend, it was hard not to sympathize with her, rather than Alex/Sasha.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (adult situations)

Alex is lonely. A beautiful girl shows up and announces they’re dating. Sasha is lonely. They immediately meet a gorgeous guy who is into them and wants to introduce them to the LGBTQ world at their own pace.

The problem a lot of these coming out novels have is that the main character meets their dream partner almost immediately. No false starts, no heartbreak, no getting used by a jerk. Andre is the perfect, understanding boy who realizes that Sasha needs to take things slowly. It made for nice, fluffy romance, but really didn’t come off as believable.

Talky Talk: I Wanted to Like You

I really did. But the book just kind of dragged, and left with no real plot resolution. When Andre takes Alex/Sasha to meet a couple of middle-aged gay friends, we’re subjected to a long history of LGBTQ pioneers, which really smacked of a lecture to the reader. I felt like I was going to be quizzed later.

A note on names: names are a highly personal thing, and choosing a new name is a hard decision for a transgender person, one that may follow them for life. And if they want to be called Sasha Masha, so be it. But when our hero attempts to come out to their parents by saying they’d like to be called Sasha Masha, the parents think they’re joking. Had they introduced themselves as simply ‘Sasha’, I think their mom and dad would had a better idea what their kid was trying to say.  ‘Sasha Masha’ just struck me as a stage name, and I had a hard time getting over the rhyme scheme.

Another note on names: never have a main couple with alliterative names (Alex/Andre). And there were a half dozen minor characters with J names; it got a little confusing.

Bonus Factor: Lesbian Bestie

Pride flag being waved in a parade

The gay best friend is an old trope. But Alex’s bestie is Mabel. She’s a lesbian, so there’s no romantic complications. They can tell her anything, including their identity as Sasha. Unfortunately, Mabel has moved to another state, so she’s not there when Alex needs a shoulder to cry on or a wardrobe to plunder.

Personally, I think more male characters need a lesbian best friend. A woman to give them life advice, without the reader waiting for them to finally kiss.

Bromance Status: Ally

I support any book with a transgender protagonist, but I don’t necessarily want to hang out with you.

Literary Matchmaking

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

For a wonderful book about a transgender person finding themselves, read Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills.

Gracefully Grayson

Or Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky.

Lily and Dunkin

Or Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or tickets to an arthouse theater.

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.