Obie Is Man Enough

Crown. Sept. 2021. 352p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593379462.
Gr 6 Up–Seventh-grader Obie Chang just wants to swim competitively and get through middle school unbothered. This becomes increasingly difficult when his coach kicks him off the team for being trans, and when Coach Bolton’s son Clyde (Obie’s former teammate and childhood best friend) verbally and physically assaults him for trying to use the boys’ bathroom. Obie tries to build the life he wants after the attack: he joins a new swim team with a supportive coach and teammates, all with their eyes on the upcoming Junior Olympics; his teacher Mrs. Salmani encourages him to enter an essay about his multifaceted identity into a national contest; and he’s dating Charlie, the cute girl who works at his favorite sandwich shop. But the pain of broken friendship lingers, both with Clyde and with former bestie Lucy, who avoids Obie now and hangs with the mean popular girls. Fortunately, he has amazing people in his corner, and while the outcome of the JO competition isn’t first place, Obie finds victory in becoming the young man he wants to be. Penned by trans athlete Bailar, this novel is a powerful, often difficult read. Depictions of transphobic bullying do not hold back in their severity—an opening note cautions readers, especially those who are trans. Inclusion of homophobic and transphobic slurs sting in their authenticity, as do references to past suicidal ideation. The dialogue is stilted at times—characters occasionally feel like didactic mouthpieces for broader cultural statements. There are expressions of maturity and introspection that seem optimistic for many 11-14 year olds, and for a bigoted coach—but these moments help shape a hopeful narrative for an empathetic and endearing character. Obie’s parents are Korean and white, and Obie’s mixed heritage is embraced throughout the text; secondary characters come from a range of ethnic backgrounds. Also included are closing messages to cis and trans readers, mental health resources, a glossary, and further reading.
VERDICT A heartfelt coming-of-age tale about a young trans athlete; readers will be rooting for every one of Obie’s wins, in and out of the pool.

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