They say that whoever you are it’s okay, you were born that way. Those words don’t comfort Emily, because she was born Christopher and her insides know that her outsides are all wrong.
They say that it gets better, be who are you and it’ll be fine. For Emily, telling her parents who she really is means a therapist who insists Christopher is normal and Emily is sick. Telling her girlfriend means lectures about how God doesn’t make that kind of mistake.
Emily desperately wants high school in her small Minnesota town to get better. She wants to be the woman she knows is inside, but it’s not until a substitute therapist and a girl named Natalie come into her life that she believes she has a chance of actually Being Emily.
A story for anyone who has ever felt that the inside and outside don’t match and no one else will understand…
The first chapter of Being Emily is hard to get through. I picked it up several times through the months and just couldn’t get into it. It seems like you’re going to be in for an angst ridden ride through the idea of what a cis person thinks a trans person’s life is like.
But I stuck with it, and by the time Emily and Claire have their first meaningful interaction, I was already falling in love with both of them. The story moved past its original lull, and I buzzed through the rest of it in a matter of hours. I couldn’t put it down.
It’s not a sad or angst-ridden story at all. Instead it feels incredibly honest, and there are moments of joy, anger, and sorrow, laced together in a way that will make you cry and laugh along with the characters. It doesn’t shy away from the hardship but it also doesn’t make the claim that this hard stuff is all a trans person’s life is ever.
Being Emily switches between the characters and POV, Emily’s chapters in first and Claire’s in third. This is possibly one of my favorite things about Rachel’s writing: I love switching POVs, the amount of agency that this gives Emily I love even more. Though the narrative delves into Claire’s feelings and doubts on the matter of her supposed boyfriend actually being a girl, it jumps over the pitfall that Luna by Julie Anne Peters fell down, and makes it clear that Emily’s viewpoint is the most important. Claire gets to tell her experience, but Emily has the authority to tell her own. Some people would probably prefer to have it just from Emily’s perspective, but I think there’s room for having the cis voice as an addition to the trans one. It actually helped me understand their thought process.
What really cemented my love for this story was *SPOILERS*
when Emily comes out to her therapist. *END SPOILERS* I was just about to do the same and it helped me so. Much. After that, I was invested 100%. It helped that at the time I was emailing with the author on a guest post for our site, and told her my experience. We talked a little, back and forth and although I’d told others before, it was the first time I was ever really allowed to talk candidly about it.
My one critique of this book is the slight biphobia, especially present in the beginning: “Claire breezily described herself as bisexual, and she was the weirdest person other than me that I knew, but at times I thought the bi thing was her attempt to be unique. She’d never had a relationship with a girl…” p. 6
I do think it gets better as the book goes, because Claire has to start questioning and exploring her feelings, but I would have preferred to just not have that in there at all.
All in all, I think this is an excellent book that captures an honest, painful, but ultimately hopeful and joyful story of a young trans teen. I highly recommend it to everyone— especially those looking for good trans lit. Frequently, when people are looking for trans girl lit, Being Emily falls by the wayside, and people default to Luna by Julie Anne Peters— and it’s honestly like getting stuck in a pot of boiling water every time I see that. Not only is Luna extremely problematic and damaging, but there’s way better stuff out there— like Being Emily by Rachel Gold.
Review written by Vee