Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Having Her Back
AUTHOR: Ann Gallagher
LENGTH: 250 pages
RELEASE DATE: May 19, 2017
Trevor Larson is a Navy brat. He’s used to moving every few years, and thanks to social media, he can stay in touch with the friends he leaves behind. But shortly after he leaves Okinawa, his best friend, Brad Gray, cuts off contact and disappears.
Four years and two bases later, Brad resurfaces—and announces his family is coming to Trevor’s base in Spain. But a lot’s changed in four years, and Trevor is stunned to find out Brad is now Shannon. Their reunion isn’t quite what either of them had hoped for, but they quickly find their footing, both relieved to have each other back.
Except nothing is ever all sunshine and roses. The military is a small world, and there’s no keeping Shannon’s transition a secret. Parents warn their kids away from her. She can’t attend school on-base for fear of harassment or worse. And although her parents try to hide it, being ostracized by their only social circle while they’re thousands of miles from home is taking a toll on them too.
More and more, Shannon leans on Trevor. But she’s also drawn to him, and he’s drawn right back to her, feeling things he’s never felt for anyone before.
Trevor’s scared, though. Not of dating a trans girl. Not of damaging his chaplain father’s career or reputation. After finally getting his friend back, does he dare take things further and risk losing Shannon a second time?
After not hearing from his best friend for four years, Trevor is excited to find out that Brad and his family will soon be living at the same base where Trevor’s father is stationed. But the reason for Brad’s complete and total silence the last four years, since moving away from Okinawa, becomes shockingly apparent when Brad walks into the restaurant they had agreed to meet up in. Mostly because it is not Brad who walks in, but Shannon. Unprepared and caught off-guard, Trevor reacts in a less than stellar manner.
Shannon was prepared–or she liked to think she was–for the reunion to not go well. Didn’t make Trevor storming out on her any less painful. So when he asks to meet again–after days of her pointed stonewalling–she is all set to call their friendship a wash. Losing people because they can’t handle her being trans is hardly a new thing, after all. But after she runs into Trevor’s dad, who is a chaplain on base–and they have a very awkward, if polite, conversation–she decides to at least hear Trevor out. But even if things work out between them, Shannon knows that life is hardly going to cakewalk. Life post-transition might be easier in some ways, but there will always be people who knew her as Brad, and in a place like the military that might be all that matters.
So, yeah, these two were just a barrel full of cute. Like puppies. Like puppies with crushes on other puppies…and who haven’t quite mastered the art of puppy-flirting. They were freaking adorable, is all I’m saying.
I’m not a huge reader of YA stories. Mostly because all the emo-cliches that tend to permeate the less well written of the genre get on my nerves like no ones business. But I try to review as many trans-centric stories as I can for the blog, and I am a HUGE fan of this author and her military-themed stories. So…I gave it a chance. And to no ones shock, Ann Gallagher gives good story. My biggest pet peeve with YA is that for some reason most of the time the teens in these stories don’t act like any human being I have ever met. They are usually one-toned, and carbon-copies of each other. Here, they actually feel like humans. With multiple layers–not all of them great, but at least real–and no one is ever just a cliche to be used as a placeholder in the story.
Trevor, while later fully supportive of Shannon, does not have the greatest first reaction. It may not be for the reasons that Shannon thinks, but Trevor is not automatically spouting acceptance and Kumbiyahs. I like that he messes up. And I like that later on he has doubts about things, but is always willing to figure out what is the right road to take. Shannon is also a nice mix of insecurity and strength. Honestly I have no idea how I would have handled knowing I was trans at such a young age (let alone coming out), but if it is anything like doing it a decade later, it is not always pretty. I liked that this story didn’t ignore the bad parts of being trans in this society, but also didn’t make her nothing but those bad parts. The support she has from her friends and family really helped it not feel hopeless.
This book wasn’t nearly the angst-fest I thought it was going to be, actually. Yeah there are some real jerks in this book, but it never becomes about that. At least not just that. It was much more focused on Trevor and Shannon as a couple of teens falling for each other. And their situation might be a little more tricky than your average teenagers, but a lot of it was familiar. Plus, omg, they were just so adorable when they trying to figure out how to flirt and do all the teenage-dating stuff. When they held hands for the first time I think I just about died of the cutes. They made reading this story so easy.
I also appreciated the take on Christianity in this book. It doesn’t skew one way or the other on the spectrum, but it does a pretty decent job of showing both the light and dark side of religion. And Trevor’s dad was a pretty dang awesome character. I’m usually a bit leery when reading about religion (especially one I know personally) because it tends to fall into cliche if the author is not careful, but here it came across as very real. I know people who are both as kind as Trevor’s dad, and hateful as some of the congregants. The book doesn’t leave you in doubt as to what side is in the right, but it also doesn’t deny that the other side exists as well.
This book ended up being a really great read. The story and characters were all handled really well, and I found reading about trans girl to be a nice break from my normal trend of focusing on the more trans-male characters. I also wouldn’t mind in the least if we were to get a sequel about Trevor and Shannon. I’d love to see how their relationship progresses past these first few steps. All in all, I highly recommend this. Not only for fans of YA, but for everyone who is looking for a good story about falling in love for the first time.