Almost Perfect

by Brian Katcher

Logan is still smarting from his break-up with Brenda, his chaste girlfriend of three years who cheated on him in the backseat of a car with some random dude. His friends try to convince him to ask out someone new, but he isn’t interested–until Sage Hendricks transfers to his school. She’s cute, she’s weird, and she seems really interested, but some secret from her past is keeping her from being anything more than friends with Logan. Everyone thinks they’re together, and Logan wishes they were… until he kisses Sage and she tells him her secret: she was assigned male at birth. Logan freaks out about what this means for him, but as Sage remains part of his life, he starts to think about what it means for her and what it doesn’t have to mean for them.

I’m really happy a book like this exists (even though I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, which I’ll get into later). It’s not a great book for a trans person to read, because it is so much about the ungenerous things ignorant people think when they first encounter a trans woman, but it’s a great premise for a reader who still has a lot to ponder about trans issues. Logan is a hick, and his response to Sage’s revelation is horrible, but pretty realistic. He worries that it means he’s gay, he worries that others will think it means he’s gay, he thinks Sage tricked him, he grapples with the image he has of Sage’s body. He treats her like dirt, and I wanted something better for Sage, but I appreciated the realism. Logan evolves realistically over the course of the novel, but he’s still not perfect by the end, which I liked even though I still didn’t like him. I loved Sage and I thought she was a really well-rounded character, especially for a trans character in an issues book, since they usually treat “problem characters” like Sage as props for the “normal” main character’s emotional journey.

What I absolutely hated about the book was all the racism. Some of it was unnecessary characterization of Logan’s friends: Sam is a fat Japanese-American who is compared to Buddha more than once; Jack is a white kid whose favourite joke is an “Engrish” pun. But the worst instance of racism in the book was Logan’s description of going to a frat party:

Approaching Greek Town was like riding up to an encampment of angry Indians. I could hear their war cries long before I saw them.

None of these descriptions or characterizations are valuable in any way, and it frustrates me that they were not edited out of this otherwise valuable book. Yes, a lot of LGBT-themed YA books are about middle- or lower-class white teenagers, and as problematic as I find that I will still recommend those books to teens. I’m so desperate for good trans YA fiction that I probably would have still recommended this to teens with the racist characterizations of Sam and Jack. But the “encampment of angry Indians” bit is inexcusable.

With great regret, I have to say that I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.

edit: Definitely did not think this review would ever find its way to Brian Katcher. He seems like a decent fellow and he took my criticism seriously, so I’d definitely give his next book a chance. I’ve removed a line I wrote about the award this book received, because while I still have problems with race issues being overlooked in LGBT book awards, it was a pretty mean thing to write.

Categories: teens | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Almost Perfect

  1. Mark Fischer

    Wow, did you actually read this book or just the dust jacket? Compared to what is heard daily in ANY american high school the issues of “racism” in Mr. Katcher’s book are, in my opinion, not an issue. This book should be praised for what it is saying about Transgender issues, not some petty argument about how racist the book is. I would, and have, suggest this book to anyone, from my 87 year old grandmother(who loved it) to anyone who just loves a good story.

    • Like I said, I would love to recommend this book to people because of the way the trans stuff was handled, but it is irresponsible to recommend a book that might make the world better for one oppressed group while simultaneously making it worse for another oppressed group. If Mr Katcher were simply tasked with reflecting high school attitudes, this book would not be as amazing as it is in terms of trans issues. His analogy to “angry Indians” is inexcusable and completely unnecessary. It’s not too much to ask that authors refrain from including overtly racist depictions of minorities in their books. For me, this book crosses a line. I understand it’s not a line everyone has a problem with, but morally I can’t bring myself to recommend it to anyone.

  2. Mary

    While I do appreciate the fact that you are attempting to stick up for Native Americans like myself, I feel compelled to say that I didn’t find the book at all racist. I LOVED this book and have recommended it over and over again to friends and family. Frankly, the “angry Indians” analogy didn’t even cross my radar while reading the book (more than once), but now looking back at it, I wonder if Mr. Katcher has been privy to my loud, obnoxious family while having “spirited discussions” over politics or pop culture. : ) Too bad your morals won’t allow you to recommend this book to others….I’m just happy that mine will.

    • I’m glad you got something positive out of this book and didn’t take the racist passage personally, but I did take it personally. I don’t want these types of damaging, stereotypical images in my brain, and I wish they weren’t in other people’s brains too! I’m living in a shockingly racist country right now, so I’ve taken it on as a bit of a challenge while I’m here to try not to add to it.

  3. Historically speaking, an Indian Camp ready for war would be a frightening scene. The Indians had plenty to be angry about, and there were a lot of wars! I do not believe that Katcher was referring to modern Indian people in that manner.

    Read about Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet. They advocated for the complete annihilation of the White Race in the New World. I am not saying that is a good or bad thing, but there were lots of war parties worked to a frenzy to attack, and it would be unnerving to approach one. I think the analogy to an outsider approaching a Greek Frat Party is pretty good.

    • This image of angry “Indians” shouting war cries is a stereotypical historical image, and it capitalizes on an assumed fear of the Other–placing the reader as non-Indigenous and Indigenous people as Other. If war time is just scary and this metaphor isn’t about race, why is the metaphor for Greek Town not about an “Indian” approaching an encampment of disease-riddled, obnoxious Europeans? Why is it the same tired old metaphor? Katcher depends on the reader’s view of “Indians” as a fiction-like bogeyman of America’s savage past, denying the reader any chance of imagining Indigenous people in a modern context.

  4. Pingback: ‘Almost Perfect’…racist? « Brian Katcher - Author

  5. Renee

    Even if it those comments were racist, so fucking what? So you think characters in books aren’t allowed to be racist? These are thoughts made by the characters, who believe it or not, can have separate opinions than the author. Logan said some pretty cruel things to Sage but you’re not accusing this book of being trans-phobic. You can appreciate books with offensive opinions. Oscar Wilde’s books are riddled with sexism, but there are plenty of women who read them without getting offended. This book is far from being racist, but racism happen everyday in the real world, so why should books pretend it doesn’t?

    “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.”


    • Logan overcomes his transphobia over the course of the novel. His prejudice is something the readers are supposed to be able to identify and challenge. Not all of a character’s prejudices have to be overcome by the end of a novel, but Logan’s racist descriptions are not actually relevant to the story so they will go unidentified and unchallenged by many readers. In such a case, a novel can actually transmit racist ideology, even if the author only intended to reflect our flawed reality. That’s the “so fucking what” for me.

      • Renee

        Well, first of all let me thank you for addressing only one of my points and just ignoring the rest. Second, you seem to think that most people of other races have incredibly thin skin and can’t handle the smallest jokes or comments. If you’re so against racism why don’t you address real racism instead of this.

  6. Perfect Liar

    I find this post ironic, considering you reduced Logan to nothing more than “a hick.”

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