By: Hannah Rapp, Teen Librarian
I’ve been trying this year to read more non-fiction. Given that I normally read very little, I feel like I’m doing really well with a grand total of seven so far (but hopefully one or two more before the year is out!) The latest non-fiction to make it into my hands is part of a pair of memoirs by two teens, Katie Rain Hill and Arin Andrews, documenting their experiences as transgender kids and teens as well as their relationship with each other.
What I Just Read: Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill
What’s It About (Jacket Description): In her unique, generous, and affecting voice, nineteen-year-old Katie Hill shares her personal journey of undergoing gender reassignment.
Have you ever worried that you’d never be able to live up to your parents’ expectations? Have you ever imagined that life would be better if you were just invisible? Have you ever thought you would do anything – anything – to make the teasing stop? Katie Hill had and it nearly tore her apart.
Katie never felt comfortable in her own skin. She realized very young that a serious mistake had been made; she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy. Suffocating under her peers’ bullying and the mounting pressure to be “normal,” Katie tried to take her life at the age of eight years old. After several other failed attempts, she finally understood that “Katie”–the girl trapped within her–was determined to live.
In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world and experience heartbreak for the first time in a body that matched her gender identity. Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.
Do I Like It: So much that now I want to read Arin’s memoir as well!
Thoughts: I’ve rarely read anything by someone as young as Katie Rain Hill, and even less non-fiction, and her youth really struck me in reading this. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but to me, it was one of the defining characteristics of the book. All of the experiences Katie talks about are not only relatively recent (yes, even the ones when she was a kid!) but she is still experiencing them as a teenager, without the removed perspective of an adult. I think in the case of Rethinking Normal that’s a plus – though I would also love to read more from Katie in five, ten, or even twenty years.
While many of the issues Katie discusses in Rethinking Normal are extremely serious and painful to read about, including suicide attempts, alienation from family and friends, bullying, and more, she also devotes plenty of page space to her friendships, crushes, romantic relationships, and freshman year college experiences. I liked that the memoir addressed both the pain and difficult experiences of gender dysphoria as well as the other important parts of being a teenager – specifically, relationships with peers and romantic interests. I often find adults, especially those with enduring friendships and long-term relationships as fixed part of their lives, forget just how important our relationships with other people are, and how exciting, or difficult, or engrossing they can be as they begin, progress, and end. Katie giving them a decent amount of page space next to her emotional, mental, and medical experiences, really made me remember what it was like to be a teenager. And since much of this discussion of relationships focuses on Katie’s ex-boyfriend and fellow transgender teen, Arin, I’m finding myself eager to hear things from his perspective in his memoir Some Assembly Required.
But aside from Katie herself, and the joy of reading something really written by and about a teenager, it was also immensely powerful to read about Katie’s experiences. She has been through some difficult, even traumatizing things, and I teared up a few times reading the book. But ultimately, I found Rethinking Normal to be a feel-good experience, an example of how people can change and support us even after they’ve let us down, a testament to the joy of feeling comfortable with yourself and at home in your body, and a statement about the bravery it sometimes takes to go after who we are and what we want. I think Rethinking Normal is a great read for anyone who is curious about transgender issues, inspired or uplifted by stories of resilience and triumph, or just ready to get inside the mind of a teen girl. And as an added bonus, if you’re looking to up your non-fiction reading, Rethinking Normal is an easy way to do that, since it’s readable, accessible, and true!