Book Review: Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

The nature of “inappropriate” books (as well as attempts to ban them) have been hot topics in the news lately. We at Charles City Public Library have often seen an uptick in circulation for books that get publicly and loudly debated, which makes sense – people want to see what all the fuss is about and judge the material for themselves. One such book is Gender Queer, Maia Kobabe’s memoir on eir experience as an individual who doesn’t fit into societal expectations of gender and sexuality.image001 (1).jpg

We’ll start at the end, sort of the way the book does: Kobabe is happier now with eir identity than ever before, using e/em/eir pronouns and not adhering to a strictly masculine or feminine style of presentation. Gender Queer is the story of how Kobabe got there and the confusion and nervousness that came along with that territory. Throughout childhood and college, there were always questions on eir mind that ranged from “Why can’t I go to the beach shirtless?” to “Am I a lesbian?” to “Am I transgender?”, as well as (most prevailing) a sense of “Why don’t my identity and body feel right?” The different incidents that bring up these questions and how Kobabe adapts to the circumstances are the crux of the storyline, told more or less in chronological order.

We can see, from an end perspective, that eventually all was set right as e explored different parts of eir identity. Sometimes we learn that the little things made all the difference, like getting a good haircut, reading a piece of fanfiction that resonated with em, or joining LGBTQ clubs and events. Other things still pose problems for Kobabe today: gynecology visits are a major physical example, and it can still be difficult for em to know where to draw the line and correct strangers about eir pronouns or identity. In a largely positive way, the graphic novel ends on a note implying Kobabe is still working on improving at asserting emself and becoming a more open role-model.

This review, up to this point, has been factual about the contents of the book rather than opinion-based… but I’m sure someone is asking, “What about the stuff that got it banned?

Opinion: I would be surprised if kids who picked up this book hadn’t already seen far worse on the internet, and I’d be even more surprised if the media attention around this book didn’t get kids googling for images with queries like, “page that got Gender Queer banned”. There’s no denying that there are some intense scenes in Kobabe’s life presented here, but the moments people argue are “inappropriate” are surrounded by an astoundingly good memoir – one that deserves recognition for its whole rather than the sum of its parts. While I don’t identify as gender queer and have never had identity crises as intense as Kobabe’s were growing up, the themes of this book resonated deeply with me as someone who’s simply been young before and not known exactly who they were. This graphic novel gives readers the sense that Kobabe is simultaneously satisfied and open to more exploration if that’s what e needs, and the message at its heart is how (more than anything!) it’s okay to be unsure and to explore until you feel satisfied.

Gender Queer is shelved in Charles City Public Library’s young adult graphic novel section. Check out our copy and see what all the controversy is about by stopping in or calling 641-257-6319.