A review by quillcg
Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters

challenging dark emotional reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

 
 
 
 
 
Plot:
Peters slowly, subtly turns the lives of Reese, Ames, and Katrina into an intricately and mind-blowing plot. It is never predictable, but it feels congruent with the characters. 
 
Characters:
By putting the readers into the heads of Reese and Ames alternatively, Peters manages to build a full portrait of each character. How the character thinks about themselves and how others view the character mesh into a cohesive whole. Peters dives deep in the psychology of her characters in beautiful and explicit language, but she shows as much as she tells. Even before she describes Reese’s toxic behavior and Ames’ journey to detransition, Reese’s manipulativeness and Ames’s self-hatred come through in her writing. Although we never get Katrina’s point of view (thankfully—the last thing I wanted to read was a cis person’s perspective), Katrina’s strengths and flaws come through clearly through Peter’s subtle writing. As damaged as all three characters are, they are easy to understand and with understanding comes sympathy. 
 
Setting:
Most of the book takes place in New York City, although flashbacks take us to places such as Middleton, WI. I don’t know if Peters has ever been to any of these places, but it feels as though she has lived in them for her entire life. The small details add up to form complete pictures of her settings, something many authors try to do but fail. She brilliantly captures the essence of these places in a few lines. 
 
Themes:
Wow. This book has themes. It somehow manages to capture all of the absolute mind-boggling contradictions, pain, and ridiculousness that come with a transgender identity. She takes those and melds them with parenthood, motherhood, and even race. She gets it. 
 
Writing Style:
The informal shifting of perspectives and time jumps can get confusing, but otherwise Detransition, Baby is clearly written. Peters takes time to flesh out all of her characters, settings, and plot points in a way that feels real. It should be noted that she does not take times to explain terminology or concepts to cisgender people—she throws them right in with all of the insider jargon of the transgender and queer communities. However, if the reader is patient and joins along for the ride, they will eventually grasp the meanings behind the language (or they could just look it up).
 
Conclusion:
What a refreshing piece of literature from the trans perspective that doesn’t feel as though it was written for a cisgender audience! Peters doesn’t obsess over justifying her character’s messy queerness to her readers, she accepts it and treats them as whole people. Yes, every aspect of these characters lives are defined by their gender—such as it is for many transgender people, whether they want to admit it or not—but their individual personalities shine through nonetheless. However, this book was also an excellent piece of work regardless of its perspective. The writing, characters, plot, and setting are magnificently crafted.
 
Other Points
·      This book is not an “easy” read intellectually or emotionally. A lot of the concepts are hard to grasp, and Peter’s isn’t afraid to use big words. It requires your full attention at all times.
·      Everyone who reads this book in good faith will find themselves self-reflecting. Just because this book was written by transgender person with transgender characters, doesn’t mean that trans readers are off the hook—Peters exposes all of their ridiculous, self-injurious coping mechanisms and defense mechanisms (as well as white queer people’s sense of self-importance). However, she does it in a way that is not unkind or angry, and she does the same thing for her characters who are cisgender, higher class, and/or mixed-race. 
·      This book contains countless triggering things, it’s probably best to avoid it if you think something might set you off. I feel as this would especially apply for trans women, because it’s so full of uncomfortable, raw truths about gender dysphoria and coping mechanisms. I would try to list them, but there’s just… so…many. 

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