Title: Spy Stuff
Authors: Matthew J. Metzger
Publisher: JMS Books LLC
Length: 226 pages
Category: Young Adult, Transgender, Contemporary Romance
At a Glance: A stealth trans boy falls in love with a straight boy; this was a cute contemporary young adult romance, and I’d recommend it for all teens, especially those who are on the rainbow somewhere.
Reviewed By: Ben
Blurb: Anton never thought anyone would ever want to date him. Everyone knows nobody wants a transgender boyfriend, right? So he’s as shocked as anyone when seemingly-straight Jude Kalinowski asks him out, and doesn’t appear to be joking.
The only problem is … well, Jude doesn’t actually know.
Anton can see how this will play out: Jude is a nice guy, and nice guys finish last. And Anton is transgender, and transgender people don’t get happy endings. If he tells Jude, it might destroy everything.
And if Jude tells anyone else … it will.
Review: I don’t usually read young adult literature, for several reasons, but the genre has been exploding in the past few years, and I think one of the advantages to that is we are seeing more LGBTQ+ themes in young adult literature, sometimes more than we’re seeing in adult literature, and this includes stories about trans people. That aspect of this booming genre has me greatly intrigued, and also incredibly hopeful for our youth.
There isn’t a ton of trans literature out there, young adult or not, so I was excited to read this story, and I was not disappointed. Anton is a fifteen-year old trans boy, who has to attend a new school because his first one turned on him when they found out he was trans. Let’s just say it got ugly, and unfortunately, this is the reality for a lot of our trans youth. However, Anton’s new school is full of vibrant and entertaining people, and they seem to be mostly supportive of each other, but he’s stealth (not telling anyone he’s trans), and he’s nearly catatonic with anxiety about everything social. And then he falls for the jovial straight ginger boy, Jude, in the class. Yikes.
Without spoiling the details, the major conflicts in the story seem to be about Jude examining his own sexuality (because he’s attracted to a boy for the first time), Anton becoming comfortable with his identity—socially, physically, and psychologically—and the rejection of labels in society, in how they can hinder rather than help the coming out process.
The biggest win for me were the British school boys, even the mean ones—okay, especially the mean ones. They were pretty tough on each other, both physically and verbally, and that provided a source of great amusement for me. I found myself eagerly turning the next page, awaiting the next round of gritty language and antics.
Unfortunately, their behavior also had a side-effect of reinforcing gendered stereotypes. The boys’ rough “play” (which was flat out violent at times) made it seem like this was normal “boy” behavior, and the fact that none of the girls engaged in this sort of thing, and that Anton eventually joined them in their conduct, reinforced this stereotype. And I get it, stereotypes exist for a reason, but as someone who grew up with the “boys do this/not that” and “girls do this/not that” mentality, I also know how incredibly sexist and harmful those ideas can be to our youth. I was hoping the teachers would have been a bit harder on the lot, and honestly, I can’t think of a time when the guys at my school gave each other concussions from fighting, and weren’t either suspended or expelled. This wasn’t a historical, so I couldn’t attribute the behavior to the time period, but my ethnocentricity (I’m from the US) could have kept me from fully appreciating the nuance. I’ll call out my own bias on that one.
Sex between minors was all dealt with off page, because fifteen is lower than the age of consent in Britain (this was also published by a US publishing house), but the author did a fantastic job setting up each scene with Anton’s hopes and desires, and showed how it affected Anton’s ease with his body and identity, and how it furthered the relationship.
All in all, this was a cute contemporary young adult romance, and I’d recommend it for all teens, especially those who are on the rainbow somewhere.
You can buy Spy Stuff here: