Review: Adam by Ariel Schrag

July 6, 2014 Reviews 3 ★★★★

Adam by Ariel Schrag
Published by Mariner Books on June 10, 2014
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 302
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
When Adam Freedman -- a skinny, awkward, inexperienced teenager from Piedmont, California -- goes to stay with his older sister Casey in New York City, he is hopeful that his life is about to change. And it sure does. 

It is the Summer of 2006. Gay marriage and transgender rights are in the air, and Casey has thrust herself into a wild lesbian
subculture. Soon Adam is tagging along to underground clubs, where there are hot older women everywhere he turns. It takes some time for him to realize that many in this new crowd assume he is trans -- a boy who was born a girl. Why else would this baby-faced guy always be around? 

Then Adam meets Gillian, the girl of his dreams -- but she couldn't possibly be interested in him. Unless passing as a trans guy might actually work in his favor...

Ariel Schrag's scathingly funny and poignant debut novel puts a fresh spin on questions of love, attraction, self-definition, and what it takes to be at home in your own skin.

Reviewing Adam is quite the conundrum for me.  After I finished this book, and while I was in the process of writing this review, I read some reviews on Goodreads.  I don’t typically do that, but there were some themes in this book that were highly…questionable.  (I’ll get into them below.)  Despite that, I liked Adam very much – the book, and not so much the character.  I know very, very little about the transgender community, and I do not know any transgender people, but I had the strong sense that this book would be divisive.  And sure enough, the reviews are more weighted towards strong raves, but the critical ones are DAMN critical.  The negative reviews skewer the character of Adam, and I’m on board, mostly, with that.  But I also had the impression that liking this book is the equivalent of reading Mein Kampf, and thinking, “What a great dude!  Very ahead of his times!  He sure had some fine ideas.”  OK, that might have been a BIT of an exaggeration, but some of the folks on GR seem to have the idea that unless you’re transgender or, at a minimum, completely educated on the topic and a strong ally to the community, you have no business discussing this book.  And only backwards, stupid, bigoted people could possibly enjoy this book.

If I had to read books only about people I know inside and out, all of my reading would feature white, straight, middle-class women who sit at a desk all day, working in Excel.  Sorry, but I already understand that life, so I prefer to read about characters and lives different than my own.

OK, I’m getting off my soapbox now so that I can tell you about Adam.  Adam is a normal enough guy; he’s trying to figure out his place in life, he’s hanging onto the fringes of the popular crowd, and he desperately wants to get laid.  His plan?  He will leave the safety of his home in California and stay with his older sister in NYC for the summer.  He wants to get a hot girlfriend so that he can impress his friends back home.  Unfortunately, his plans have a major flaw.  His sister is gay, her circle consists of lesbians and transgender women, and her social life is focused on lesbian clubs and parties.  His chances of meeting a straight girl are not that great.

And here is where it starts to get crazy.  At one of these parties, Adam meets a beautiful lesbian named Gillian.  She assumes he’s a transgender guy, he goes along with it, and they start dating.  This is not even the tiniest bit acceptable or excusable, but Schrag’s writing makes it work.  I don’t believe she is approving of Adam’s behavior, but she tells the story in such a way that you HAVE to figure out what happens to Adam and Gillian, even if you find his actions abhorrent.  Will she discover his lies?  Will he confess?  It seems a certainty that she will find out SOME way, how will she react?

Because Adam was an asshole for nearly all of the story, I wanted him to have a major comeuppance in the end.  I wanted his lies to blow up in his face.  View Spoiler »  Despite that, and despite my general dislike of Adam, this book challenged me, it made me laugh, and it shocked me, sometimes all at once.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


3 Responses to “Review: Adam by Ariel Schrag”

  1. Kel

    This probably isn’t a book I would pick up, but it sounds like it poses some really interesting questions about sexuality, love, attraction, choices and the impact of labels/context/culture/environment. Thanks for the great review!
    Kel recently posted…Top 10 Blogging ConfessionsMy Profile

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