book battle: the greatest superhero
the greatest superpower by alex sanchez
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review! This has not affected my review in any way, all opinions are mine.
Jorge Fuerte is about to start high school when his father comes out as a trans woman, flipping Jorge’s life upside down. Now, on top of normal high school things like bullying, a crush, and friend problems, Jorge also has to deal with his parents’ divorce, accepting his dad, and the rift this has caused between him and his twin brother, Caesar.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Although Norma is a trans woman who uses she/her pronouns, she asks Jorge and Caesar to continue calling her ‘dad.’ Additionally, while I am not a trans woman, I am a nonbinary person of color. I can relate to Norma on certain levels, but want to acknowledge that I do not have her experience and ask that you read reviews by other trans women, particularly trans women of color, for more detailed opinions that trump my own.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Mentions of transphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, and racism.
I had a very hard time writing this review, because ultimately, this is a book that attempts to deal with many many MANY issues, but ends up resolving almost none of them. It left me feeling as though the story wasn’t completely finished, or the author didn’t know how to resolve the situations that had been created. Because of this, I really didn’t know what to say. Or I went back and forth between having too much to say, and risk spoiling the entire book.
Reading this was difficult. And eventually, I came to this conclusion: this book is a book about a trans woman, written by a cis people, from a cis character’s point of view, for a cis audience. It’s so binary. And there is a genderfluid character but…most of this book sticks so strictly to a gender binary. Even the comic plotline, where there’s a “trans superhero” (I am REALLY tentative about calling the character trans) is so binary.
The idea that being a woman makes you more open to emotions and willing to work out issues through talking than physical conflict… And that changing depending on what gender the superhero is? It made me personally really uncomfortable, as well kind of sexist. These traits have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with socialization and the society we live in, as well as our own personalities.
And while I believe there is a place for stories like this, about cis kids understanding their trans parents, I do not think this is this book. The amount of misgendering Norma goes through in this book made me feel physically ill at times. Even Jorge, who accepted Norma much faster than other characters, misgendered her for such a huge majority of the book. It took him so long to use the correct pronouns. And other characters went the entire book without gendering her properly.
So much of this book presents Norma’s coming out as something she “did” to her family. The characters ask how Norma could do this to them. It talks about how difficult it is for them to get through. But at the same time, it never really explores how hard this is for Norma. How being rejected by her family feels (which is in part very confusing and I won’t get into this review due to spoilers but the whole thing with Jorge’s mother is really confusing to me), the violence she faces as a trans woman of color. AND WE SEE THIS! We SEE Norma face transphobia head on!! Jorge sees it! And it’s only brought up like two times and is never really explored beyond that!
Also frustrating was the fact that there is a gay uncle who is just there randomly to be gay and have no character or arc other than ‘hey he’s gay’ and only show up/be mentioned like twice. And there’s a genderfluid kid in Jorge’s grade/class who also has no character and essentially exists to be bullied, explain what being genderfluid is, and be a very stereotypical nonbinary character. Now that isn’t to say nonbinary people like Noah don’t exist, but when you only have one nonbinary character, and they don’t have much of a character, it feels incredibly stereotypical. Neither of these two characters are CHARACTERS. They feel like they were put here so the author could be like “See! More non cishet characters!” opposed to fleshed-out people with like. Personalities.
But stepping away from the portrayal of trans and non straight people in this book. The comic plotline felt so underdeveloped. It felt like it was constantly getting lost in the shuffle. I didn’t really care for the attempt at the love triangle, but I suppose the romance was sweet. I HATED the reason the romance fell apart which I will not get into because spoilers but it annoys me. Racism (Jorge and Caesar are half Mexican), racial profiling, and transphobic violence, specifically TOWARD WOMEN OF COLOR, one of the most vulnerable portions of our population, are touched upon but never explored really in-depth. The relationship between Jorge and Caesar felt like it needed more time and the ending… I get the real world isn’t perfect but for a middle grade novel especially it felt so bleak. Realistic, maybe, but not only did it feel incomplete and unsatisfying, it made me wonder what the point of going through all this really was.
Look, at some point this book made me cry genuine tears. I think it was during a conversation Norma and Jorge had. It had a few moments I enjoyed. There was a chance this book could have been good. But it tried to tackle a million things both major and minor (like did we need a comic contest AND a talent show?), and ended up falling so flat. Parts of it felt slapped together haphazardly. If a cis author wants to write about trans people, that’s fine, but I do not think this was the way to go about it. I think more sensitivity readers were needed at least, because so much of this felt so insensitive and was so painful as a nonbinary person to read. And if this is meant to be a way to help cis kids who are around Jorge’s age understand trans people and the struggle of being trans, I absolutely do not think this is the way to go about it.
Instead of buying this book, I suggest donating the money you would’ve spent on it to support trans people of color instead. A few charities to look at include the Transgender Law Center, the Lavender Rights Project, the Trans Woman of Color Collective, INCITE!, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. (Note, I have not researched these organizations in-depth, and always recommend researching charities before donating!)