Saturday, June 24, 2017

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Jess realized she was female several years ago but her father refused to give permission for his son Jeremy to begin hormone treatments because he was hoping it was just a phase or a mistake.  But now that Jess is 18, she can begin her physical transformation.  Besides his inability to accept who Jess really is, her father has further alienated her by dating her mother's former best friend.  Now they are planning to marry and Jess decides to take a cross country road trip with her best friend Chunk to surprise her father with her new look at his wedding.  Jess and Chunk are looking forward to talking and stopping at many cheesy roadside attractions on the long trip, but their trip ends up being much more than they anticipated.

I finished this book more than a week ago and I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about it.  I have a general sense of dislike but other than the VERY pat ending, I'm not sure why.  But I'm going to try to work it out as I type. 

Jess is largely unlikable in many ways.  She is pretty much only focused on herself and her problems.  Now, given that she is just now beginning her physical transition and that is going to actually bring about a lot of problems in addition to just being a human in general, it is understandable that she'd be in a pretty selfish state of mind right now.  But that didn't make her any more pleasant to hear from to me as a reader.  Chunk calls her on it here and there but she's still basically all about Jess.  A large part of why that bugged me is because Chunk has been unbelievably supportive of her for years and she seems totally unaware of the fact that this is unusual and has probably been difficult for him.  In fact, she is totally unaware that it would be difficult for anyone around her to just immediately come to grips with who she is, especially her father. Which leads me to my next gripe...

I believe that we are supposed to be mad at Jess' father because he is not totally, completely on board with his son now being his daughter.  Jess herself is mad at a few things he says to her and uses them to illustrate how "unaccepting" he is.  I didn't have that issue with him.  In fact, I thought his reaction was realistic and fine.  He did not tell her to get out of his life or disown his child.  He was struggling to understand but still wanted a relationship with her  Jess was the one to cut off all contact.  Just like she is the one who is furious at Chunk because he has told his mother about her.  Jess doesn't realize that most people aren't immediately completely fine and dandy with someone they care about coming out to them.  (Except her mother was which is another complaint I have because I don't believe she would be totally on board from the get go.)  I say all this as 1.  Someone who is not straight who had to come out to many family members and friends.  I only completely lost one friend who couldn't come to any acceptance, but several other people had to process things including my mom who immediately said "You are my daughter and I love you no matter what" but still made unthinking comments for years.  2.  Someone who has a close family member who is a trans man.  All of the family is loving and accepting and there was never a question of cutting this person out, but that didn't mean that there wasn't some adjusting.  We've all been socialized with expectations and dreams for people based on their sex, even if you don't know it.  And now that this person is the opposite sex, you have to readjust your thinking.  It does not happen in the blink of an eye.  Jess' father is struggling, but he is trying and she doesn't give him room to work on it.

Whew!  I think I might've gotten to the meat of the problem there.  But other than Jess being an issue, here are some other things I disliked:

  • We don't get to know much about Chuck/Chunk at all.  Much has been written about Jess' fat-shaming of Chuck but there really isn't even a description of him.  He is a bland, too good to be true, friend.
  • The aforementioned  ending.  UGH, make this better!!!  Not only is it way too convenient, it just ends without any further development or comment.  
  • The road trip formula although I know this is entirely my issue.  I am very much a schedule girl and pretty much any road trip story has to have deviations from the schedule and that makes me antsy.  They left late!  They stayed too long at the cabin to help the neighbor! They didn't get to their first planned destination!  And they had to get to Chicago by a specific day and time so how was that going to happen with all these delays?!!  I understand this is my particular sickness and that I'm reading a piece of fiction, not embarking on my own road trip, but it all made me uneasy.

Okay, so obviously I didn't like this book.  My only question to maybe temper my bad review is this:  Is it valuable to have a book that presents a trans character in a non-sensational way even if that book is not very good overall? 

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