A review by domreadsall
Between Perfect and Real, by Ray Stoeve

challenging hopeful reflective fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.5

When I heard that Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve was a YA contemporary novel revolving around a trans guy coming out with the help of Romeo and Juliet, I was immediately sold. Overall, I think the novel delivers on its premise and will be so, so important for younger trans guys who are grappling with their identity. 

Dean’s journey of grappling with his identity, his process of coming out, the struggles he faces in his relationships as he comes out, and the bullying he experiences are (in some cases unfortunately) real in a way that resonates. There is a lot of homophobia, transphobia, and bullying in this story that can be difficult to read at times, particularly as a queer trans person, but it’s an illuminating light on the types of challenges young trans kids can face. As a side note, while there is a focus on medical/physical transition in this novel and I’m a firm believer that medical transition isn’t necessary to define or validate your transness if you don’t want it for yourself, I think it’s incredibly important for those discussions to be had openly and frankly as they are in this novel. The more that gender affirming medical care is normalized, the more I hope that trans youth will be able to access it without the prejudice and obstacles they currently face.

One of my other favourite parts of this novel was the use of fiction (in this case, theater) as a vehicle for identity and gender exploration. Dean’s journey of claiming Romeo as his own with the support of some of his close friend was really heartwarming to read. Predictably, I loved the found family Dean ends up making for himself in the course of the novel, as it serves as a reminder that no matter who you are, you are valid and worthy of love and support. Characters are also allowed to make mistakes as they learn how to navigate coming out, both their own and that of someone they know, and I really appreciate that space being given.

I did have a few critiques. The ending of the novel felt incredibly rushed and unresolved, though I do tend to feel that way about a lot of YA endings so take it with a grain of salt. The romantic subplot felt underdeveloped to me, especially since I got the impression it was supposed to be a bigger source of conflict. I also wish the play itself had been more of a focus given the pitch. And, outside of Dean, many of the side characters felt a bit underdeveloped as well and I would have liked to see more of them.

In the end, Between Perfect and Real centered a believable and necessary journey of coming out as trans that reinforces the idea your personal identity can change and it’s no less valid if and when it does. Despite a few stumbling blocks in this debut, this will be such an important novel for many and I’m so glad it exists in the world.

Thank you to Amulet Books and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.