Book: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, written and photographed by Susan Kuklin
Published February 2014 by Candlewick Press|182 pages
Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library
A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens.
Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.
Beyond Magenta is a really interesting book but it’s also a hard book to talk about.
I like that she talks a diverse group of teens, but most of them (5 out of the 6 interviewed) are from New York, and all 6 teens (particularly the 5 from NY) seem to have access to a lot of services and support. The 5 from New York are in a section called Spectrum, while the last story is in a section Lifeline. And even the teen featured in that narrative seemed to have a good support system and quite a few resources available to him.
Kuklin does mention at the end of the book that she was in touch with a medical center in New York City, which does explain why it’s heavily focused on NY teens. She also talks about wanting the book to spread its wings and have another part of the country represented. Unfortunately, it makes the one non-NY story feel like an afterthought that’s there just for representation of a different part of the country.
While there are a wide range of experiences, I felt like it lacked stories from teens who don’t have the access to services/resources these kids do. The teens we see in Beyond Magenta do have varying degrees of familial support, and I felt for all of the teens, especially the teens who have parents who don’t seem to bother trying to understand their children, and denied/dismissed their experience and what they were saying.
Each teen has a very unique story, and it was heartbreaking at times to see what they were going through. There are times where you see gender stereotypes, particularly in the first couple of stories, which I think is something that will frustrate a lot of people (especially if reviews are any indication) but I just took it as their experience and I really felt like Kuklin really tried to keep their story as they told it to her. I will say that it felt very much like they were telling me a story, and that aspect of the writing would make this a particularly good book for an audio format.
Overall, though, there was something about the organization and format that seemed a little weird. I respect that Kuklin interviewed and photographed the teens, and worked with them to tell their story, but 5 NY stories in one section (Spectrum) and the lone non-NY story in a section called Lifeline made no sense to me. I don’t understand why you’d need two different sections, and it just really made the one story in Lifeline feel like an afterthought.
There isn’t any particular order to the stories- not that they need to be in any particular order, but something about the book felt a little disorganized. And while it is a quick read, I’m not completely happy with the format. It felt like a random assortment of stories with nothing to connect them together- other than all 6 stories being about a transgender teen.
There were random comments from Kuklin, which felt out of place and disrupted the flow of the story. They should have been left in some cases, and in other places, an introduction to the story would have been helpful, and a place where some of her comments could have been better served.
There is an author’s note at the end of the book, which I think would have been more insightful/better placed at the beginning of the book so that you had a much better idea of how the project changed for Kuklin. There are also resources at the end of the book, and Kuklin also included a list of books (non-fiction and fiction) and movies. I was disappointed that there only a couple of books in the fiction list, both of which were published over 10 years ago, just because something a little more recent (and more than 2 books) would have been nice.
I’m not sure what to rate Beyond Magenta. I think the organization of the book could have been better, and while there is a wide range of experiences in the book, I also think the representation of other parts of the country could have been better, and less like an afterthought. I still like reading about their experiences, and it would be a great book to have in any classroom or library.
As for an actual rating, I’m going to give Beyond Magenta 3 stars.