Last year I read my first book with an intersex character. It was so incredibly captivating and moving that I desperately went on a search for something similar – and pretty much found the literary world lacking. But one book that I did find whilst looking for Australian YA books six months later was Alex As Well – which had to be mine immediately.
Alex (just Alex), has been raised as a boy, but has two distinct personalities – male Alex and female Alex. This also gives a really unique voice to the story, as Alex converses with both personalities internally – at first I found it a little jarring, but by the end of the second chapter I was completely and totally hooked. There is also the alternate perspective of Alex’s mother, in the form of blog posts, complete with helpful and ignorant comments from readers, again adding to the uniqueness of the storytelling format.
I also particularly liked the family dynamic that Alyssa Brugman has created – Alex’s parents aren’t the flawless, understanding and caring parents that they could easily have been – they are also conflicted, argumentative and distant, alternating between depression and indifference. And it isn’t that they are distinctly unlikeable characters either – it’s all just very human, even if it does make it difficult to sympathise with them. They are flawed and struggling themselves to understand the choices that Alex makes which makes them feel very realistic.
The tipping point of their story is Alex deciding to stop taking hormones and dress as a female – and Alex takes complete charge of her life, changing her school, her clothes and exploring what it means to be a girl after living her whole life as a boy. There are conflicts at school, and home, and in Alex’s own mind that she needs to tackle, and has an unusual ally to back her up.
Perhaps the only thing that disappointed me slightly was the ending, but in retrospect it was actually quite fitting to both the plot and Alex’s personality, although it took me a little by surprise.
Emotional, funny, moving and ultimately inspiring, Alex As Well is an excellent YA book about fitting in, adapting and working out who you really are.