Sasha Masha

Farrar. Nov. 2020. 240p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374310806.
Gr 9 Up–Just as Alex Shapelsky, a white Jewish boy from Baltimore, finally starts to feel “Real”—dating a girl, finding friends at school—a memory resurfaces that shatters his sense of self. He recalls trying on a vintage green velvet dress and calling himself a new name: Sasha Masha. Borinsky captures Alex’s disjointed journey to understanding what that name means for his identity, as he learns about queer and transgender history and develops an enormous crush on his new friend Andre, a Latino boy with a shock of blue hair, who introduces Alex (as Sasha Masha) to Baltimore’s queer youth culture. The novel’s biggest strength is Sasha Masha’s uniquely precise and cerebral voice, which captures his state of mental turmoil through his neurotic, repetitive meditations on himself, the world, and what makes people “Real.” Ultimately, Sasha Masha decides he doesn’t have to figure out all the details of his identity at once. While Sasha Masha’s character and voice take center stage, the novel’s meandering plot and rushed conclusion undercut the effectiveness of the story. In addition, the minor characters of Coco and Green, a 50-something drag queen and his partner, who teach Sasha Masha about queer ancestors, represent a particular version of queerness, verging on caricature, that will resonate with some readers but may alienate many others.
VERDICT This novel depicts one queer teen’s journey to self-knowledge, but its uneven quality makes it an additional purchase for larger library collections, where titles by Meredith Russo and David Levithan are popular.

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