ADAM by Ariel Schrag

One of the candidates in this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books, Adam by Ariel Schrag has a grabby hook: Awkward teen boy passes as a female-to-male transsexual in order to bed the girl of his dreams. It’s a promising book that got swamped by its problems well before I even got to the end.

Adam, our titular main character, is far too much of an ass, or a seventeen year old boy, take your pick, to be rightly called a hero or protagonist. He strikes out with the girls at home, his so-called friends ignore him, and he decides to spend this summer with his sister a lesbian who isn’t out to their parents. Once in NYC, he lets himself be sucked into the orbit of his sister’s LBGT community and gets a crash course in how complicated biology, desire, sexual and gender identity are. While the book often feels info-dump-y, there aren’t many books out there featuring the trans members of the LBGT community, so I was hopeful for this one to explore rarely ventured-into territory.

Please forgive me if I get a little crude in language–the book is graphic, so talking about it kind of needs to be too. For a book about the rainbow of sexuality, everyone in it is hyper obsessed with dicks; this book is weirdly phallo-centric. For all its appearance of pushing boundaries, it seems to reinforce them, instead.

A willingness to tell a story about a marginalized and misunderstood group goes wrong when the main character, a cis-gendered white male, lies in order to get a lesbian girl, especially a girl who is so thinly characterized as to be little more than a sex object for him. And he gets away with the lie again and again! Then, to add insult to injury, the story goes to a really disturbing place: the white-male hope that all a lesbian needs is a hot throbbing dick in order to come around to the “right” team.

I feel like this is an important book to add to our awareness of the myriad ways people are different from one another. Yet the book seems to double back on its promise and become a white male’s fantasy. The world doesn’t need more of those.

Edited to add: I did some further reading and thinking on Adam, and came to some different conclusions, which I wrote about here, so don’t just read THIS post, but both.

2 Responses to “ADAM by Ariel Schrag”

  1. Janet Says:

    Hmmm…I am torn about reading this book. One of my best, dearest friends is trans and I am very sensitive to portrayals of trans people. People are different but one way they are all the same is the need to be respected and it sounds like this book is using trans people as a gimmick. Why is that necessary in life?

  2. girldetective Says:

    Janet, after writing this entry I’ve been looking at other reviews, and specifically at interviews with the author. She asserts that part of her intent was to ask and answer the question of what would happen if a privileged person wanted into a marginalized group, and that she is showing the LBGT community, warts and all. Some readers, like me, find that shocking because it’s not PC. She has gay characters who are bossy and know it all, spouting opinions of others. There are self-involved trans-characters, there are ugly and unpleasant lesbians.

    I am probably going to edit this review when I’ve read another interview or two, but my unease about how the white guy gets to live the dream while the lesbian girl learns to play for both teams continues to rankle. As does a particularly brutal portrayal of one character. Warts and all is fine in theory, but eating boogers? That is a bridge too far.

    This book is worth reading because there are a range of characters in it, many of them trans, and yay, trans people in a book! Also, the best, most well rounded character in the book is trans. Everyone else is a grade of asshole.