YA Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

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TitleThe Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: Prince Sebastian of Belgium has a secret that nobody besides his seamstress Frances knows: at night, he transforms into the Parisian fashion icon Lady Crystallia. Set in turn-of-the-century Europe, this unconventional love story explores what it takes to become who you are inside and stay true to your passion.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Prince and the Dressmaker features a young prince who describes himself as sometimes feeling like a boy and sometimes a girl. When he feels like a boy, he’s comfortable in his male clothes but other times, his discomfort leads him to dressing in makeup and beautiful dresses.

While it’s implied that Sebastian may be genderfluid or non-binary, he seems to use male pronouns–possibly because it takes place before trans and non-binary identity were discussed in European culture.

What I loved: First of all, the art style was just breathtaking. It kind of felt like a cross between a fashion designer’s notebook and a Disney movie. It’s just so vibrant and really captures the feeling of being young, falling in love and discovering who you are for the first time. Generally I’m not much of an aesthetics person but thought that the dresses Lady Crystallia wore were genuinely beautiful.

But the most beautiful thing about The Prince and the Dressmaker was the love story. In the back of the book, Jen Wang notes that she’d originally written Frances and Sebastian as in their twenties. But as she wrote, she felt that writing them as teenagers brought out feelings of self-discovery and first love a lot more strongly. That, I very much agree with. In general, too, the characters were very complex and well-written–I can’t think of one who was necessarily a “villain” or didn’t change or grow over time.

The way that this book explored femininity in men and possibly gender fluidity was also pretty innovative. I think that when people think of AMAB trans or non-binary people, they usually assume that they’re straight (attracted to men) and pretty fixed in their identity. While there are many trans people who fit that description and their stories deserve to be told, I also think it’s important to portray diversity in the trans community like this graphic novel did.

Recommended: Honestly, I can’t think of someone I wouldn’t recommend this to. For LGBT readers, I think this story would feel familiar and uplifting and for non-LGBT ones, I think it could be enlightening. Overall, it reminds me of The Danish Girl if it had been written with a happier ending and for younger audiences (and focused more on gender expression than necessarily gender identity).

LGBTQ YA Review: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

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Title: As the Crow Flies

Author: Melanie Gillman

Rating: 4/5

Two sentence summary: Queer, black, and questioning her faith, Charlie can’t help but feel isolated at her predominantly-white Christian summer camp. When she befriends Sydney, another camper whose differences set her apart, the two are determined to change their camp leaders’ mindsets even if they have to cause a commotion.


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(source)


What I loved: This book is a careful critique on white feminism and how much of the female experience it excludes. Although Charlie’s leaders talk about the camp’s history as an “matriarchal” outpost for nineteenth-century women, they use racially-exclusive language and gloss uncomfortably over how those women were primarily served by former slaves. Several closeted queer campers and campers of color keep silent in fear of becoming outcasts, particularly a camper who knows that if the leaders found out that she was trans, they wouldn’t have let her come. The disconnect between the leaders’ brand of feminism and the campers’ marked discomfort builds with every campfire sermon. It complicates Charlie’s search for God, who she can’t seem to find in the way that her leaders hope.

The art style in itself is breathtaking, with beautiful landscapes rendered in colored pencils in a way that, to me, captured the divine better than any of the camp leader’s sermons on God. I think that’s a little of what As the Crow Flies expresses—that the way to find God is to search for Him (or Them) yourself. Charlie associates bird’s feathers with God because she found one while in prayer and, during her spiritual search, she  finds bird’s feathers as she continues to look for and define God for herself. The connection between nature, which is accessible to every person, and God is gracefully expressed through the artistic medium.

My one complaint is that the ending felt unfinished but, after doing a little research, I found out that this is just volume one in a series about Charlie’s experience at summer camp. That could have been made a little more apparent but hey, maybe it was. It’s finals week here, and the unique fatigue that finals week brings does things to your mind. But either way, I am both surprised and delighted to hear that Charlie’s story will continue in subsequent volumes!

Recommended: This was a thoughtful read on who, exactly, feminism stands for and how “white, cis feminism” marginalizes more women than it uplifts. As a queer Christian, I also found Charlie’s struggle to connect with a God she doesn’t fully comprehend powerful. I’d probably recommend this one for younger teens just based on Charlie and the campers’ ages influencing their concerns, but older teens and adults may find the questions raised on inter-sectional feminism and mainstream Christianity poignant.

Next: Ship It by Britta Lundlin

YA Review: Tomboy by Liz Prince

Title: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir 

Author: Liz Prince

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Adventure Time artist and webcomic writer Liz Prince explores what being a girl meant for her growing up as a staunch tomboy, which she saw as someplace in between masculine and feminine. As Prince navigates her adolescence as a middle and high schooler, she pushes gender expectations aside and finds meaning in her tomboy identity.

What I loved: As a trans guy, this novel was fascinating for me to read. So many of Prince’s growing up experiences matched my own—like me, she also would consider it a compliment when strangers saw her as male, she felt most comfortable while wearing men’s clothes, and as a child, she hoped that she would eventually become a man. Yet she does not seem to identify as transgender but instead as a woman who defies gender expectations. I thought about this, wondering if I could have found solace as a “tomboy” in the same way, but I don’t think I could have.

But you know, that’s okay. I think both of our perspectives are valid. It goes to show how diverse and personal gender identity can be and how important it is to define that for yourself. Gender can be as complex or as simple as you make it to be, and there’s enough room in this world for cis men and women, tomboys, trans folk, and everyone else on that spectrum to find self-actualization. If you want to think a little more about your own relationship with gender, you might find this book a good starting point.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of Liz Prince’s books. She’s got a perspective that I can relate to but how she processes it is different enough that I’m able to learn from her. Her take on gender goes beyond both traditionalist and more liberal perspectives, and she defines her gender identity in an individualistic way that everyone could learn from.

Quote: In lieu of a quote, I thought a little snippet from the graphic novel would be more appropriate:

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Recommended: If you like graphic memoirs, which I am personally a big fan of, you might find this one both humorous and heartfelt. I haven’t read Prince’s book on her long-term relationship, Will You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed?, but sure want to now. And, y’know, if you were a tomboy growing up (or still are) … this one might be a little cathartic for ya. All in all, highly recommended!

Next: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera