Title: Obie is Man Enough
Author: Schuyler Bailar
Genre: Realistic Middle Grade Fiction
Number of Pages: 352
It took me a couple tries to get into this book, but I ended up really liking it! I’m glad I stuck with it.
Obie is a transgender pre-teen boy who is passionate about swimming competitively, but his transphobic coach belittles him and tells him ‘He’ll never be a real man’ when he comes out. He joins a boys’ team with a different coach, but during competitions against other teams he keeps running into the bigoted coach and his son, who used to be one of Obie’s best friends but is now a bullying and abusive turd.
Luckily for Obie, he has the support of his parents, his older brother, and his extended family. Through his own inner strength and the love of his family, Obie is able to break through and become the person he was meant to be. He also becomes fixated on beating his ex-friend Clyde to prove himself, but he starts to realize that ‘proving’ his own merit to people who are cruel to him and try to make him feel small might not be as important as he thought it was.
I really liked the strength of the family relationships in this one. The people who support Obie aren’t always the ones you’d expect but even though he faces terrible bullying, he is surrounded by people who love him and affirm his identity. I also appreciated that the teachers came through for Obie and tried to protect him from bullying.
It wasn’t the kind of story where no one cares about the trans kid being bullied or everyone is oblivious, and there was an ongoing fight to keep Obie safe from Clyde even though Obie didn’t want to report him. I thought some of the more political stuff was pretty forced (like the inclusion of the novel All American Boys, which was frequently alluded to but felt out-of-place) and some of the plot points seemed a little bit contrived. Obie starts dating this girl and *MINOR SPOILER* when she finds out he’s transgender she’s like ‘I like you just the way you are. You’re just you.’
Maybe younger millennials are just a lot more open-minded than people who were born in the early 90’s like me (OLD!) but I had a hard time believing that finding out Obie was biologically female didn’t give her a little bit of pause. She gave him the ideal reaction for a trans person who’s been going stealth, and the instant acceptance strained credulity a little bit.
Most of the people in Obie’s life are either ‘all-in and supportive’ or ‘absolute assholes,’ with the possible exception of his friend Lucy (who meant well but was a very weak person) there was no in-between. I didn’t think this was actually a big deal- it mostly worked, and the author did a great job of making Coach Bolton and Clyde hateable and making you like and root for Obie and his family and teammates.
NOTE: This book has a lot of bad language for middle grade, including (I think) repeated use of the ‘F’ bomb. Despite how young Obie is, this might be a better choice for the ‘YA’ crowd.