Cover of The Trans-Fer Student by Elise Himes. The face of a girl, seen from the side

About the Book

Title: The Trans-Fer Student
Published: 2014

Cover Story: Stock Photo #33461a
Drinking Buddy:
Just a Small Town Girl…
Testosterone Estrogen Level:
Talky Talk:
Subtlety of a Sledgehammer
Bonus Factors:
LGBTQ, Cast of Thousands
Bromance Status:
That Kid That Tries Too Hard

Cover Story: Stock Photo #33461a

Profile of young blond woman, eyes hidden by hair. Labored pun not included.

The Deal:

So Rachael, after spending fifteen hellish years trying to live like a boy, finally has the opportunity to be her true self. After surviving a beating at her Texas high school, her family moves her east where she’ll be safer. She enters school as a girl. And she lives happily ever after.

No, of course not. Because her father still insists on calling her Bryan (what a wretched name). Her brother resents having his life uprooted. She has a hard time fitting in at her fancy new school. And she lives in dark fear that she’ll soon develop a beard and other masculine features.

It’s not easy been a teen, and doubly so when you’re transgender.

Drinking Buddy: Just a Small Town Girl…

Two pints of beer cheersing

Rachael is a likeable character. She doesn’t have a true ally in the world, and I couldn’t help but want to be her friend. It’s hard not to like someone who has been forced to live a lie for most her life. It’s great to see Rachael slowly start to feel comfortable in her own skin for the first time.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: High

Rachael, unfortunately, has to deal with something a lot of LGBTQ teens have to face, and that’s the threat of physical violence. When she came out at her old school, she was physically assaulted by a friend. Then the administration blamed her, because she was a boy in a dress who was asking for it.

Even when Rachael is living as a girl, she’s walking on thin ice. She can be found out at any moment. It’s a nail biter of a life.

On the other hand, every guy in this book is so blatantly obvious in their attempts to pick up girls (and Rachael’s not exempt), I felt like I was reading about my teenage self. Less is more, dudes.

Talky Talk: Subtlety of a Sledgehammer

This book has a great message: it’s hard to be transgender. Unfortunately, I often cringed at how some of the plot points were handled. For instance, on Rachael’s first day at her new school, a school official announces to the entire student body that one of the students is ‘a boy who wants to be a girl.’ Literally the first thing he says. To everyone. For no good reason. Gee, you think maybe it’s one of the new girls?

And so the witch hunt begins. Rachael finds herself trying to shift the suspicion onto less popular girls so no one will suspect her…and ends up hating herself for doing that. Great plot idea, but poorly introduced.

Or Rachael notices that her beard is coming in and begs her mother to let her see a therapist who will prescribe female hormones. Of course the doctor has no experience with gender identity and refuses. But then Rachael sees another doctor for the flu.

“I can see by your Adam’s apple that you’re transgender, so let me just write you a ‘scrip for some estrogen. Oh, and drink plenty of fluids.”

Unfortunately, this book felt like a first draft to me. Most of the plot issues could have been solved with a rewrite. Instead, we have a good idea, a good character, but poor execution.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Pride flag being waved in a parade

Again, the T is often the forgotten letter in the LGBTQ alphabet. It’s good to see more books written about this subject.

Bonus Factor: Cast of Thousands

Large crowd of people

For a fairly short book, there were a lot of unique characters, each distinct from the others. Unfortunately, there were also a lot of

A list of car stereo brands

Stereotypes. The shallow rich girl. The too good to be true guy. The cheating boyfriend of a friend. The dad who tries too hard to be hip. The unnecessarily hostile teacher (I hated your sister, now I hate you). The uptight librarian (never a good thing to include in any book). Rachael and her brother Kevin were real and likeable, as were a couple of Rachael’s friends. Unfortunately they were surrounded by stock characters.

Bromance Status: That Kid That Tries Too Hard

I like this book, but it’s an Issues book with a capital I. Let us love your characters first, the issues will naturally follow.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or booze.

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.