Book Review: Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite by Lianne Simon

Jamie was born with a testis, an ovary, and a pixie face. He can be a boy after minor surgery and a few years on testosterone. That’s what his parents always say, but he sees an elfin princess in the mirror. To become the man his parents expect, Jamie must leave behind a little girl’s dreams.

At sixteen, the four-foot-eleven soprano leaves home school for a boys’ dorm at college. The elfin princess can live in the books Jameson reads and nobody has to find out he isn’t like the other boys.

When a medical student tells Jamie he should have been raised female, he discovers the life he could have as a girl. The elfin princess can thrive, but will she risk losing her family and her education for a boyfriend who may desert her, or a toddler she may never be allowed to adopt?

Release Date: September 18, 2012
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from author

I accepted Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite for review because I was in the mood for something different.  I'm so glad that I read this book!  It is the kind of book that will stay with me for a long time.  Jamie's struggle with gender was so heart-wrenching that I will not soon be able to forget her.

Jamie has two genetic disorders, which have resulted in short stature, a heart-shaped pixie face, and a testis and an ovary.  The story takes place in the 1970's, when being understood was even more difficult for intersex persons than it is now.  I can't imagine the struggle people living with these disorders go through, and to have gone through it at a time when it was poorly understood really made me feel for Jamie.  

His parents want Jamie to live as a boy, but she does not fit in with the boys.  Jamie is not good at boys' games, like playing catch, and prefers to play dress-up and dolls with her sister and cousin.  Jamie's parents let her live as a girl until she is nine, then they force her to live as a boy.  Jamie constructs a pretend boy persona which allows her to hide her true female self.  She goes off to an all-boys college, where she is constantly teased for being so short, small, and feminine in appearance.

Jamie's roommate, Frank, protects her from the worst of the bullies, although he does not know that Jamie is intersex, he is a friend.  Frank's girlfriend, Sharon, is in medical school.  She sees Jamie when she is at the hospital having an emergency appendectomy, and discovers her secret.  Sharon accepts Jamie as she is and encourages her to live as a female.  Jamie does, at first for a few weeks, and then for longer periods of time.  This is all to the consternation of her parents, who want her to come back to Chicago and go on testosterone, and live as a boy.  Jamie struggles between pleasing her parents and living a life that is true to her innermost desires.

One of my favorite parts of this book was the faith element.  Jamie is a Christian, but struggles with feeling guilty for wanting to live as a girl, when for her entire life, she has been told she is a boy.  Her birth certificate says male, and that's what her parents keep falling back on when they reprimand her for dressing as a girl.  Jamie constantly prays for God to make her into the boy her parents want her to be, and if not, that He would allow her to be the girl she wants to be.  I loved that Jamie prayed, and loved the growth of her faith as she meets and is accepted by other Christians.

My only complaint about Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite was that sometimes the story was hard to follow.  Characters were introduced without much back story, and I had to go back to the beginning to find out exactly how Jamie knew Lisa and Sharon.  The story does jump around a little, with the flashbacks to Jamie's past, and it wasn't always clear to me whether we were in the past or present day.

Overall, that complaint was nothing in light of how good this book is.  I loved the writing, the emotions, and most of all, Jamie's growth.  I loved how she finally comes to fully accept herself as she is, and stands up for herself to her parents.  I also loved that she gets a happy ending.  I would have been too sad if things had not ended the way they did.

I would highly recommend Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite.  It's an excellent read, and I would definitely read Lianne Simon again.

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