Hi everybody! I hope you’re well! I’m posting this review a tad bit later than I hoped I would, for no other reason than I’ve been procrastinating like nobody’s business, but I’m finally posting my review of the much anticipated Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve, a fun, poignant trans coming out book!
Title: Between Perfect and Real
Author: Ray Stoeve
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Synopsis: Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?
So, recently I’ve found that I really enjoy listening to audiobooks while crocheting! I’m not sure what it is about either of these things, but for me they go well together and, strangely, I make fewer mistakes in my crochet when I listen to a book at the same time! While crocheting my latest little animal friend (an octopus with bobbles for suckers!), I was really excited to see that Ray Stoeve’s debut novel was up on Scribd, so of course I had to give it a listen! Between Perfect and Real opens with our main character, Dean, realising that he is trans. He also knows that he loves theatre and when he auditions for the role of Lady Capulet in his school’s production of Romeo and Juliet, he is surprised to learn that he’s been cast in the lead role of Romeo. Through support from a new group of trans and nonbinary friends, and expressing himself in his role as Romeo, Dean truly starts to grow into the person he was meant to be, but coming out as trans in high school isn’t always sunshine and roses.
I really enjoy the plethora of queer books that are being released right now with school plays and theatre at the forefront, and this was no exception! It really gave me The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre vibes and really just gave me a great sense of nostalgia for when I was in a youth theatre group (though, admittedly, I didn’t last long!). Though I am twenty-three and have graduated from uni, I actually really enjoyed this school setting, too, although I’ve noticed recently that they can be rather hit or miss for me, but I think it was written really well and not ‘cliche’ here.
Dean as a main character was so wonderful to follow along with. His self confidence and passion were so evident and he was so caring towards his friends! There were parts of his coming out journey that I really resonated with and I think that this is going to be such a wonderful book for trans and questioning teens nowadays! In fact, Dean attends a trans support group in the book, and seeing such a wide variety of trans and nonbinary people, and learning about their different experiences, is really going to make these teens feel so seen, and I’m so, so happy for them! There is some discussion in the book about allyship, too, not only from those outwith the queer community, but from those in the community, too – particularly surrounding outing people, pronouns, educating others and just simply standing up for trans people. Dean has a really wonderful, supportive queer friend group at his school and I really appreciated that they did make mistakes but they apologised and learnt from them. I would like to mention, though, while I’m on this point that this is definitely not the lightest of reads. Dean faces transphobic bullying and harassment, both overt and covert, by his peers, as well as his parents struggling to accept him – so please bear this, as well as the other trigger warnings, in mind before picking this book up!
Although overall I really really enjoyed this book (and flew through it in a day!) I do have a couple of issues with it. The first is perhaps just because I listened to the book as an audiobook, but I found there to be far too many characters and I continually got all their names muddled up in my head. I think I may have had an easier time with this if I’d read a physical copy, so I’m almost sure that this is a me problem, rather than a problem with the book! The other issue I had is related to Dean’s girlfriend, Zoe. Dean has known Zoe for a long time before the book begins and they are in a committed and loving relationship. When Dean comes out to Zoe, I will admit, she does do some shitty things, such as telling a couple of their mutual friends that he’s trans, and she does say some mildly transphobic things, though she does apologise for them later. But the pair try their best to make the relationship work after Dean comes out, because they truly do love each other, however, Zoe is a lesbian. This fact is mentioned explicitly on page and, because Dean is a trans guy, Zoe isn’t sure that she can stay in a relationship with him after he fully transitions. This is understandable (though she doesn’t express it in the best way) as lesbians aren’t attracted to men. But she is made out to be the bad guy in the situation because of her lack of attraction to men. I really do get that it’s important to highlight that dating can be difficult as a trans person, particularly when you come out while in a committed relationship, but I just don’t think that this was the best way to deal with it and it came off as being kinda lesbophobic in the way that far too many people love to conflate lesbianism with being a TERF, which is both so untrue and also extremely harmful. I really wish this scene was handled better because otherwise this is a fantastic book, but I have seen this happening quite a few times in YA books recently and it really disappoints me.
Despite those little issues I had, this is such an impactful and important read that is so necessary in YA today and I highly, highly recommend giving this one a go!