SHE'S NOT THERE by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book-‘Em

She's Not There( February 27, 2004) She’s Not There, the memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan, is the story of her transgender transformation from James, a married father of two, to Jenny, now known as “Maddy” by her two sons. Boylan, a published novelist, is the co-chairperson of the English Dept. at Colby College and best friend of Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo.

This narrative flashbacks from the first realization, as early as age three, that Jim was “in the wrong body,” to life today, after gender reassignment surgery, as Jenny. It is intriguing as well as informative. There was consensus among Book-‘Em members however, that the writing was only fair, a fact that is underscored by the contrast in quality with Richard Russo’s lengthy Afterward.

Russo writes with a depth of feeling lacking in Boylan’s breezy style. There is the pervading sense that significant elements of his/her story are missing, most notably in the depiction of wife Grace’s reaction to this revelation. Jenny tells her story. But we did not necessarily feel it.

The reader will learn of The Benjamin Standards of Care (a road map of the process leading to sex change surgery) and how common the transgender condition is. Indeed, six of our members had personal stories of transgender individuals to relate to the group.

Our discussion focused on reacting to Jim, Grace, and Russo with some surprising sympathies, or lack there of, expressed. Notably, the concept of sexual identity proved difficult to address. Stereotypes? Hormones? Cultural acclimation? Eleven women unable to assert what it “feels like to be female.”

This is an easy and worthwhile read. Book groups will find myriad discussion possibilities and hopefully, enjoy a meeting as lively as our own.

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