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Adam by Ariel Schrag: How did I end up liking the straight white boy the most?

A few months back, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt asked if I wanted to review Ariel Schrag's Adam, which I'm assuming I was asked about because lesbians. Tumblr had worried me about this novel because someone there said (NB: I do not think they read the novel) "this is essentially a book about straight white privileged entitled people who want what they want, and appropriate the shit out of queer culture to get it."

After reading it, I have decided:

This book is the Rule of Three for me that made me realize insecure teenage boys are my literary jam. Catcher in the Rye; Will Grayson, Will Grayson; and Adam. I will have almost no sympathy for you as a character if you're a 40-year-old white male having a midlife crisis (that totally hasn't been covered enough, white male authors; I think you need to write another one of those), but if you're a 16-year-old boy who just doesn't know what you're doing in life, awwww.

Adam is the main character of Adam. Off to a fantastic start. He's awkwardly hanging onto the fringes of the popular group at school, he's never had a girlfriend, and to avoid summer awkwardness (which really does sound like the worst), he goes to stay with his lesbian sister who's studying at Columbia in NYC ("Apparently Columbia had given her 'a change of consciousness about race'--but as far as Adam could tell, that just meant talking about being white all the time.") until school starts again. And he hangs out with his sister and her friends until one day they're at a party WHERE HE IS MISTAKEN FOR A TRANSGENDER MAN. And kind of rolls with it because the girl who thinks he's trans is SO GREAT and there is never a good time for him to correct her. This is a girl he'd first seen at an LGBT march and who he'd basically fantasy-envisioned at the beginning of the summer:

And then he saw her. The redhead. His redhead. No fucking joke, all those other times he thought he saw her, he was on crack--this was her. She did exist. She was marching with a group and was wearing jean cutoffs and a gray tank top and had this unbelievably cute round face framed by red hair with bangs and the hugest smile. And if anyone ever did anything to make her stop smiling, Adam would ram his fist in their face.

That is Gillian. And I love both of them, and Ariel Schrag HOW did you make me like them despite having so much instinctive pushback about men not taking lesbians seriously and agghh. I don't know how, but it works. Some of it involves the fact she thinks she's dating a trans man, and since they're supposed to be men anyway, is it a problem if he's a cis man? Oh, how does he work around the fact he is a cisgender male, you ask? I'm not going to tell you. You should read the book.


It's really weird rooting for Adam in a book that is otherwise almost completely populated by LGBT characters, but you do. The way Ariel Schrag describes her book's set-up in an Advocate piece is:

"I was interested in what happens when the most privileged person intersects with a group of marginalized people," Schrag explains, referring to Adam as "this privileged, white, straight, cisgender boy." "There are so many stories where you see a misfit trying to prevail in the mainstream, so I was curious: What if the mainstream needed to prevail in the marginalized space?" 

Adam is the average person through whom Schrag shows you a transgender person's experience. Which is particularly timely since now that marriage equality seems all but done for the United States, people are starting to focus on social justice issues like transgender rights, but most of us don't really know anything about it. People like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are wonderful spokespeople, and shows like Transparent and Orange Is the New Black are starting to explore the subject, but Schrag is filling a gap in YA lit (not sure how Adam is technically categorized, but it seems YA-like). 

People want to see their lives reflected in what they read and to have a way of explaining to others what they are feeling. Literature/film/television/theatre/music help us so much with that, but there's currently a dearth of transgender-centered novels. I went into Adam with a lot of hesitation, and it took me a couple chapters to really get invested, but I ended up loving it.

Also there's an Alison Bechdel quote on the cover. I mean, c'mon.


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