An achingly honest and frequently hilarious coming-of-age novel about an Arab American trans swimmer fighting to keep their head above water in a landlocked Midwestern town.
River McIntyre has grown up down the street from Sea Planet, an infamous marine life theme park slowly going out of business in small-town Ohio. When a chance encounter with a happy, healthy queer person on the annual field trip lands River literally in the shark tank, they must admit the truth: they don’t know who they are–only what they’ve been told to be. This sets off a wrenching journey of self-discovery, from internalized homophobia and gender dysphoria, through layers of coming out, affirmation surgery, and true freakin’ love.
CWs: Acephobia, Transphobia, Alcohol, Homophobia, Biphobia, bullying, mental illness, outing
This is not an exhaustive list of content warnings, only the ones in which I was able to pick up on. Please see other reviews for more content warnings.
Thoughts and Themes: When I saw this book I was so excited to get a chance to read it since there is a Trans MC. I decided to listen to this one and follow along with the e-book which was a great choice. I really enjoyed the narrator in this story and felt that this was something I could listen to more than once.
As I listened to this book there were many times in which I had to pause the book so I could go to the e-book and highlight the portions that really spoke to me. There also were defintely moments in which I has to pause the book to highlight portions that made me angry because of the amount of Acephobia, Transphobia, and Homophobia are included.
I really enjoyed how we get to see River before they figure out who they are and how a lot of their thoughts and beliefs are in place due to the person that they are dating. I really enjoyed the role that Indy plays in this whole story as they introduce River to the concept of gender as a spectrum and help River learn about themselves.
I like how River’s journey to discovering themselves isn’t neat nor is it linear. I felt that their journey to find themselves was quite relatable and it reminded me of myself as a teenager figuring out gender and sexuality. I liked the way that emotions are portrayed in this book and how you get a range of emotions from each of the characters.
Characters: In this book you get to meet several characters through their interactions with our main character, River. You get to meet their girlfriend/ex-girlfriend, their brother, their mom, Indy who is a new friend, and more.
I really enjoyed all of the characters that you get to meet throughout this story and each of their relationships with River. I really liked the relationship that River has with their brother and how you get to see more of this when their mom responds negatively to their brother coming out as Ace.
I also liked getting to see River’s relationship with their mother and how that impacts a lot of their journey. I also liked how we get to see Rivers mom’s relationship with being an Arab American and how she tries to get as close to whiteness as she can. I thought it was a good thing to point out when River talks about being in that in-between space when it comes to a lot of their identities.
I liked getting a chance to see River and Indy’s relationship change over the course of the book. I thought it was great to see how their first interaction years ago really informed their second meeting. I also liked how we get a chance to see how many of the things that River did and said in the past were all due to the people around them and how they had influenced River.
Writing Style: This story is written in first person through the perspective of River. I liked that everything was told in River’s perspective because we don’t get an image of how others feel about certain things. I also liked that we get to see River struggle through figuring things out for themselves since we are in their head throughout the whole story.
CORY (previously Cori)
…earned degrees in poetry and screenwriting before falling in love with writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. They have authored four acclaimed YA novels, with a middle grade series, young adult contemporary, and nonfiction picture book forthcoming. Cory coauthored the bestselling ONCE & FUTURE, a finalist for the New England Book Award, with their spouse A.R. Capetta. They live in the mountains of Vermont where they champion queer teens and raise a young maverick.