By Torrey Peters
My rating: 5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.05
Genre: LGBTQ+ Fiction
Format Read: Libby EBook
Goodreads summary: A whipsmart debut about three women—transgender and cisgender—whose lives collide after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to confront their deepest desires around gender, motherhood, and sex.
Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn’t hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.
Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese—and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby—and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it—Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family—and raise the baby together?
This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can’t reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.
When I first started this book, I was unsure of what to expect. As a cisgender woman, I doubted that I would be able to relate to the characters, and a part of me worried that the high praise heaped on the book would not be a sentiment I shared. I could not have been more wrong. Peters’ is such an incredibly adept writer that I sunk right into the story and could hardly put it down.
The story centers around three characters. Reese is a single, trans woman living her life in New York City. Ames/Amy (her pronouns alternate between she/her and he/him at various points throughout the novel. I will be using she/her in this review for reasons that will be clear if you read the book) dated Reese when she was living as an out trans woman, but has since detransitioned. Now, she is dating Katrina, a straight cis woman (and Amy’s boss) who knows nothing of Amy’s history and assumes that she is a cis man, as that is the way she presents herself.
The first third of the novel is mostly a build-up to the conflict to come. Peters spends an extraordinarily long time setting the scene and building up his characters. We learn about Reese’s often troubled relationship with sex, Amy’s life story, and the interwoven network of transgender women in NYC through what amounts to a series of anecdotes, some flashbacks and some happening in the moment. I personally love character development and world building, and so would have enjoyed this anyways, but I believe Peters’ writing style is so elegant and captivating that even if you don’t like long beginnings, you’ll enjoy this one.
It is only after this is fully set up that we learn about the conflict of the novel. Amy accidentally got Katrina pregnant, and now she doesn’t know whether she wants to be a father. Katrina gives Amy/Ames an ultimatum: either she is the father to her child, or she will get an abortion. Amy is understandably panicked about living her entire life as a cis man, and decides that the only way she can have the child is if Reese (who he no longer speaks to since their breakup) is also an equal mother to the child. Reese is the only one who will truly always see Amy as a woman, and so Amy needs to have her involved.
The conflict and emotional tension between each of these characters and with themselves is masterful. I can relate to each of them on such a strong level, and crave knowing what comes next for them. It is no small feat to write a believable character, especially when that character manages to be an AMAB, Out Transgender Woman, living as a man. I think Peters nailed this. We felt the complexity of Amy’s gender presentation from her point of view, the lack of complexity of Amy’s true gender from Reese’s point of view, and the true lack of understanding from Katrina’s. Each felt real for each of these characters, and it resulted in Amy being a complete human being to empathize with.
The ending left off on a bit of a cliffhanger, intentionally leaving the story open ended for reader’s to fill in the blanks with the story that best fits them. This is NOT my favorite tool of writing, and was the weakest bit of the story for me. I much prefer when author’s commit to an ending, regardless of what that ending might be. However, from a brief glance at other reviews on Goodreads, it seems like most people enjoyed the ending (and it was literally only 1 sentence) so I wouldn’t let that dissuade you from reading.
I would HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who enjoys character driven stories. It was one of my favorite books of 2021 by far.