Friday, June 5, 2015

The Sweet In-Between - Sheri Reynolds

The Sweet In-Between
Title: The Sweet In-Between
Author: Sheri Reynolds
Publication Date: 1/1/09
Pages: 208
How I Found It: Assigned for my Gender in Contemporary Literature course
Date Completed: 4/16/15

Summary: Kendra "Kenny" Lugo is a 17-year old girl living in a quiet, largely poor beach town. Her mother is dead, her father is in jail, and her home life can be kindly described as chaotic. In the midst of everything a normal teen goes through, she finds herself feeling like an outsider at school and questioning her identity. 

What I Thought: I can say confidently this is not a book I would have picked up unprompted. In general, I shy away from coming-of-age stories or even the more 'general' of general fiction. So how did this book end up in my hands? Grad school. It happened to be my last required reading for my MLA degree.

I read it for my Gender in Contemporary Literature course. While not everything read for the class seemed to fit with the topic, this one did its job well.

The story centers around Kendra, or "Kenny" as she prefers to be called. Kenny has had quite a childhood. Now 17, she has spent the last several years living with "Aunt Glo," the girlfriend of Kenny's incarcerated father. Kenny's mother died of breast cancer when she was a young girl. The makeshift family Kenny lives with now resides in one-half of a duplex in a small beach town. The novel opens when two vacationing girls mistakenly enter the other side of Kenny's duplex rather than their rental home and one is shot by the startled inhabitant within.

The shooting is the largest action point of the novel. The majority of the book focuses on Kenny sorting through her emotions and struggling with self-identity. Though the word transgender is never used, it seems clear to the reader that Kenny may fit the definition. She tapes down her breasts and wears multiple layers of boys' clothing. Most of those around her seem to define her as 'butch' or lesbian, even though Kenny has yet to clarify those definitions for herself.

We had a lot of discussion in class about the root of Kenny's confusion. Much of it seems to relate back to fear. Fear of the breasts that killed her mother. Fear of the interest of men (Reynolds alludes to a history of sexual abuse in Kenny's life). She seems afraid of herself and of the things her own femininity could let into her life.

This is the first book I have read about transgender issues. While homosexuality has become much more mainstream and understood in recent years, transgenderism still seems largely undiscussed, at least in the public forum. Of course, people like Laverne Cox and Bruce Caitlyn Jenner are changing that. Whatever your feelings may be on the cause or morality of transgender issues, it's hard to deny we could all be more educated.

That's the biggest service this book did for me; it helped me to see the early struggles of a sexually confused person in a new light. Hopefully, I will be better equipped to love and understand any similar people I meet in real life because of Kenny. Education and understanding are always beneficial, no matter what side of an issue you stand on.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Unlikely

A Reduced Review: Though painful to read at times, this novel offered me education and a new understanding of some sensitive topics.

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