In a desperate attempt to rebel against her mom, Dara sneaks a peek at her birth certificate in order to get a passport. Only her mother’s name isn’t on the certificate. Her mother explains that she’s transgender, and that she is biologically Dara’s father. Shocked, Dara sets out on a road trip with her best friend to find her dead birth mother’s family.
Why this book?: I wanted to do a critical review. TW transphobia for the entire review.
Hell, I wanted to do a critical review, but that’s technically wrong. In this review, I’ll be completely wrecking this book, because I have never read a book so casually transphobic before in my life. And just seeing that cover above honestly disgusts me.
I’ll be honest up front too–yes, I dropped this book about half way through. I didn’t finish it. But I didn’t finish it because this book was so goddamn hateful to trans people that I it was like I was stabbing myself with a knife for every page I read. I’m completely serious. I completely understand where Verdi was going with this novel, maybe, I hope, but this book wasn’t written for the trans person. It was written for the transphobic person to read, agree with the main character, and then be called out on it. And that is probably the most horrible premise for a novel that I’ve ever thought of. It’s dangerous. It’s harmful. In this moment that I’m writing this review, I’m shaking with anger and hurt just from what I remember of that book. But, still, people don’t get why this is wrong.
[TW violence ahead]
Don’t get what I’m trying to say? Think of it this way. You’re reading a story about someone who got stabbed many times, and because that person got stabbed, they ran away to protect themselves. In a point of view similar to And She Was, it would be like reading from the point of view of the stabber, with them constantly trying to defend their decisions, explaining why it’s okay to stab people. Yes, it’s okay to stab people because I’m trying to learn that stabbing is bad. In the process of stabbing people, the stabber realizes that, oh, stabbing people is wrong because it hurts people.
Now, in that analogy, being stabbed is a trans person having to deal with something transphobic. The stabber? Our perfect protagonist, Dara Baker.
Obviously the reason why I hate this book so much is because of the casual transphobia throughout the novel. Another reason why I hated it was because everything else was just ugh. If the trans rep wasn’t so horrible, this would have gotten a 3-star at most from me. Verdi’s writing was amateur, telling rather than showing. The characters were very forgettable, and I constantly had to stop to try and remember who the hell was who.
Having decent characters might have redeemed this novel in my eyes, but I loathed every single one of them. Dara was a horrible person (or, the stabber from above), and she used her best friend like a puppet. Her best friend, Sam, was flimsier than cardboard, and he was literally only there as a pawn and love interest (and token POC rep!). Mellie, the mother, was very bland. Those were the only characters that were discussed in-depth, if you want to call it that. Every other character was fleeting, forgettable, and, honestly, not worth my time in this review.
Final Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
It’s fairly obvious how I feel about this book. I guess the real reason why, in my eyes, it’s the worst of the worst, is because it’s being promoted as something everyone needs to read to understand trans issues. And that’s so, so, wrong. This book is doing so much more harm than any actual good it could do. As I understand it, And She Was was intended to tackle transphobia by having the protagonist grow throughout the story. But it completely back-fired. This book is so harmful, it reinforces the well-known “opinions” people have about trans people. That we lie. That we’re fakes. That we have to have surgery to be trans.
And. It hurt. A lot.
Would I Recommend?
No. Not at all. This book honestly horrifies me with how casually transphobic it is.
Some people might say that my review shouldn’t be published because I never finished the book. However, while I myself read through the first half, I also discussed the second half with a friend, who also IDs as trans. They will remain unnamed, but I will say that while they are trans, they are also a parent. They have read And She Was in it’s entirety, and that, as well as the representation, is what we discussed.
Published: March 27th, 2018
Page Count: 353
Synopsis: via Goodreads
Dara’s lived a sheltered life with her single mom, Mellie. Now, at eighteen, she’s dreaming of more. When Dara digs up her never-before-seen birth certificate, her world implodes. Why are two strangers listed as her parents?
Dara confronts her mother, and is stunned by what she learns: Mellie is transgender. The unfamiliar name listed under “father”? That’s Mellie. She transitioned when Dara was a baby, shortly after Dara’s birth mother died.
But Dara still has more questions than answers. Reeling, she sets off on a road trip with her best guy friend, Sam. She’s determined to find the extended family she’s never met. What she discovers—and what her mother reveals, piece by piece over emails—will challenge and change Dara more than she can imagine.
From rising star Jessica Verdi, this is a gorgeous, timely, and essential novel about the importance of being our true selves.