Title: Alex As Well
Author: Alyssa Brugman
Publisher: Text Publishing, Australia
Publication Date: January 30th 2013
Pages: 224 pages
Copy: Paperback, courtesy of Text Publishing Australia
My Rating: 5/5
“There are moments in life where something happens and it changes everything forever. You make one decision, and after that you can’t go back. It doesn’t even have to be a big thing.
Five days ago I stopped taking my medication. I think it might be one of those decisions. How do you know? Maybe if I just start taking them again everything will go back to the way it was? I don’t think so.”
Alex has two people living inside her head.
One is Alex, the boy she was raised as.
The other is also called Alex. But this Alex is a girl. This Alex is the girl she wants to be; the girl she always was; the girl who she can be, now she's stopped taking her medication.
Alex is going to change her life. She is going to stop going to her all-boy's school and enrol in a co-educational one instead. She will wear the girl's uniform. She will make friends with other girls.
She will convince her mother and father to stop calling her “Mister”.
But Alex's new life doesn't come as easily as she'd hoped.
For one thing, she needs a birth certificate to enrol in her new school. And her birth certificate says she's a boy.
For another, Alex's parents don't cope well when she announces she is no longer their “little boy”. Her mother loses her marbles.
Her father just leaves.
But Alex is determined to continue on this new path – the path she was always meant to travel on. And things seem to be looking up. She has made some new friends at her new school, including the beautiful Amina, who Alex can't get out of her head.
She has also been discovered by a modelling agent, who loves her androgynous look and is willing to pay her big money to have her photograph taken.
And she has a new job, working for a lawyer who thinks he might be able to get her a new birth certificate – one with her real identity on it.
But will Alex's new friends still like her if they know the truth?
And will her mum and dad ever come to accept her, just as she is.
This is a deeply affecting book. No matter what your thoughts are on gender, sexuality and whether or not these are inherent or “chosen”, I doubt any reader would fail to be moved by the character of Alex. Her determination to become the person she has always felt she truly was – a person her parents decided she couldn't be – is inspiring.
I was totally won over by her, and absorbed in her story, from the very first page. Alex is a character you want to win. But she is by no means flawless. She experiences all the angst that comes with being a teenager and has a tendency to be bratty and self-absorbed. She can be mean at, at times, displays little empathy for other characters.
But she is also brave and determined and intelligent and vulnerable and I defy any reader not to fall in love with her.
The other characters in this book are equally as fleshed-out. From the weary, downtrodden lawyer who takes on Alex's case, to her genuinely selfish, self-obsessed and fairly unhinged mother, to the enigmatic and courageous Amina, Brugman doesn't let any of her characters become one-dimensional stereotypes.
The most compelling, for me, of the minor characters is Alex's dad, a man who seems hateful at first, for abandoning his daughter in her time of need,. As the book goes on, however, he becomes a sympathetic character – just an ordinary man struggling with a seemingly impossible situation. A man who makes mistakes but whose heart is in the right place.
There is a lot of heart in this book.
Although it is, undeniably, a book that examines a complex issue, the “issue” by no means overshadows the story. Alex is not a “deformity” or an “condition”.
She is just Alex, and it is her journey we are compelled by, not any sense of voyeurism about the way she looks or the psychological implications of the body she was born with.
This is not only a book about exploring sexuality. It is a book that feels universal – a book that examines the rites of passage every teenager goes through in discovering their identity, navigating friendship and love, and finding a place to belong.
Brugman has created a character in Alex who, while “different” from the experience that most of us have, is utterly relateable. Everybody, at some stage in their life, feels “different” or “outside” the norm. This is especially so in our teenage years.
Whether it is because of our sexuality or physical appearance or race or religion, so many things can make us an outsider. It's how we choose to deal with our difference – to hide from it or to embrace it – that defines us as people.
Alex faces her uniqueness head-on, and it was all I could do not to applaud as I read. This book is heartfelt, it is tender, it is masterfully written and completely joyous. I wanted it to be double the length, and there aren't many books I would say that about.
Alex is a character who will live inside my head for a very long time.