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Other Boys

First Second. Sept. 2021. 208p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781250222824; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781250222817.
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Gr 7 Up–In this graphic memoir, Alexander examines his early adolescent struggles and offers a takedown of gender norms. Damian and his brother, who are white, grew up under the care of adoptive grandparents following their mother’s death. Now in seventh grade at a new school, following some intense bullying, Damian has taken a vow of silence to avoid becoming a target. Flashbacks progress through each grade, leading up to the present. Through the years, Damian is told by classmates, family members, and doctors that he should like “boy things” even when he clearly states a preference for princesses, dolls, and domestic play; boys and girls alike ostracize, tease, and attack him for his feminine tastes, quiet nature, and home situation. Pop culture references to music, movies, toys, and video games highlight the different forms of play and escapism available in the late 1990s to mid-2000s. Alexander’s story conveys the lasting effects of the trauma that broke up his family as well as the isolation caused by others’ superficial judgment. A few friendships and positive encounters stick, as well as a breakthrough with a school-appointed therapist and the personal revelation that Damian is, in fact, gay. Alexander’s artwork is widely accessible, depicting both the effortless joy and casual cruelty of children. Bright background colors and large faces broadcast emotional cues, including a fair amount of tears. An afterword addresses the heavier topics of the narrative and lends some context to Damian’s perspective.
VERDICT Anyone who considered middle school a social minefield, or questioned gender norms will recognize themselves in Damian’s painful journey.

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