Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Book Info
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
©2007 Simon and Schuster, New York, NY
ISBN 978-1416916222

Plot Summary
Angela has never felt comfortable in her skin. Biologically, she was born female but has always known deep inside that she is really a boy. Finally coming to terms with herself, she decides to make the transition from the female Angela she was born to the male, Grady, inside. Coming out as transgendered is the most important and liberating decision in Grady’s life, and he knew acceptance likely wouldn’t just be handed to him. His mother can’t handle losing her daughter, his sister is worried about how Grady’s transformation will affect her own reputation and social status, and his former best friend Eve turns her back on him completely. While Grady is finally free to feel like himself, he is left abandoned and miserable at a time when support is needed most. Luckily, he finds that he is not alone and discovers a web of support in somewhat unlikely places such as the school gym teacher, his father, and one of the school’s other social outcasts who explains to Grady that the eccentric are often the most interesting. Follow Grady along his path of transformation and acceptance.

Reader’s Annotation
In nature, parrotfish possess the ability to change gender when needed and the newly male fish become the alphas. Angela knows on the inside that she is really Grady – a boy – but unlike the parrotfish who is instantly accepted and revered upon transition, her path to acceptance has many bumps along the way.

Critical Evaluation
Wittlinger tackles the tough and controversial issue of sexual identity in the teen world. She does a fantastic job of illustrating Grady’s struggle, allowing the reader to achieve great insight on things such as the big issues of family and peer acceptance, to the small things like figuring out which restroom or school locker room he should use. I personally was impressed by the fact that though Grady’s family didn’t always understand, they tried to be supportive and understanding. Many transgendered people in real life are not so lucky and find themselves abandoned by those they love. Many might find this topic to be controversial or even claim it might serve as an influence on teens, but there are teens out there who struggle with sexual identity and gender identity. In the end this book would be an ideal read for any teen or adult who is curious about what it is to be transgender where they are going through it themselves or to help their friends and family understand them better.

Information about the Author
Ellen Wittlinger is the critically acclaimed author of the teen novels Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story, Parrotfish, Blind Faith, Sandpiper, Heart on My Sleeve, Zigzag, and Hard Love (an American Library Association Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a Lambda Literary Award winner), and the middle-grade novel Gracie’s Girl.

She has a bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. A former children’s librarian, she lives with her husband in Haydenville, Massachusetts.

Visit the author’s website.

Genre
Realistic Fiction, LGBT

Curriculum Ties
Sociology, Gender issues

Booktalking Ideas
Discuss other types of identity changes (such as a major change in hairstyle/color or wardrobe) that people might make and how they are accepted. Would and should Grady’s identity change be accepted at your school?

In Grady’s situation, he struggles with things that are second nature to most, such as knowing whether to use the men’s room or ladies’. What are some other things Grady might have to be more cautious about that were surprising to you?

Reading Level/ Interest Age
15+

Challenge Issues

  • LGBT themes
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexuality

Defense options

  • Be aware of your library’s collection development policy.
  • Be familiar with the material in question, and the context of the questionable content.
  • Assert the principles of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and standards of intellectual freedom.
  • Consult online book reviews, and others who have read the book.
    • Defend by explaining that whether it is agreed with, homosexuality and transgendered persons exist and should have resources available in the library for them and those who support them.

Why Included?
Since I was a teenager, young adult literature has evolved incredibly and takes on increasingly complex subjects, especially those involving sexuality and homosexuality. I was eager to read some of these more complex and risqué novels and this book came highly recommended by a colleague.

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