Somebody Told Me

Carolrhoda. Apr. 2020. 272p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781541578197.
Gr 9 Up–When they start to feel unsafe after an assault, bigender teen Alexis/Aleks makes the difficult decision to go stay with their uncle, a Catholic priest, for the summer. Once there, Alexis/Aleks plans to cut off all ties to their former cosplay communities and to be as invisible as possible. The rectory’s spare room shares a vent with the church confessional, and Alexis/Aleks keeps overhearing confessions. After listening to a particularly heartbreaking one, they decide to use their newfound invisibility to secretly help parishioners, growing in confidence along the way. But after hearing their uncle absolve another priest for a heinous criminal act, Alexis/Aleks cannot stay invisible any longer. Siegert’s book maintains interest throughout with a fast-paced mystery, a relatable main character, and compassionate explorations of several tough topics. The deep, thorny issues of religion, sexual assault, and guilt are covered unflinchingly and with compassion. Relatably imperfect Alexis/Aleks must overcome their own assumptions and anxiety in order to help an innocent victim, and makes mistakes with tragic consequences along the way. Readers are also forced to face their own assumptions throughout the unexpected narrative. It seems especially unlikely at first that a queer teen would choose to stay with conservative family members, especially clergy, but Siegert writes Alexis/Aleks so well that their decision makes complete sense. A diverse and nuanced cast of secondary characters proves that friends and enemies can be found anywhere, and that those who help or hurt us are not always the ones we expect.
VERDICT Highly recommended, especially where #OwnVoices books are in demand.

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