In brief: Reese used to have almost everything a trans woman could want. But now her ex has detransitioned and gotten a woman pregnant – could Reese get a chance to be a mum?
The good: The characters are wonderfully flawed and honest with the reader.
The not-so-good: There isn’t a great deal of plot movement, but the backstories are so deep that they make up for it.
Why I chose it: Heard many good things about this book.
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail (Allen & Unwin)
Setting: New York City
Rating: 8 out of 10
Detransition, Baby was a very, very difficult book to get your hands on earlier this year and for good reason. This novel is unlike anything I’ve read before in its presentation of blunt, honest messiness of the characters who are primarily trans. It’s a deep look into a world most cisgendered people know very little about.
Reese used to almost have it all as a transgender woman. She was in a great relationship with Amy and had a cool sounding job where she occasionally met celebrities. But then it all got messy when she hooked up with her ex and Amy found out. Now Reese is alone, having a fling with a rich cowboy and sharing a small apartment with a friend. Amy appears initially to have landed on her feet. She detransitioned to become Ames, has a great job and something a bit more with Katrina (who happens to be Ames’ boss). But then Katrina tells Ames she’s pregnant and Ames freezes. Deep down, Ames still sees herself as a transgender woman, even though she doesn’t present that way. Ames doesn’t think she could be a dad, or a mum. But Reese would make a great mum and it’s something she has always wished for. The road to telling Katrina this plan is rocky, but eventually Reese and Katrina seem to get along. But will it last?
The primary plot of alternative ways of raising Katrina and Ames’ child with Reese in the mix is somewhat in the background, with a lot of backstory of Amy and Reese’s relationship and even before that. These backstories are wonderfully intricate, giving a lot of insight into why Reese and Amy act the way they do. Ames’ transition to Amy and detransition to Ames were insightful and both joyous and painful. It’s easier to see why Ames acts the way she does than with Reese. Reese is much more complex, holding things back from even the reader and at times purposefully mucking things up. Why? Not even Reese is sure – is it just her lot to be unhappy? Katrina remains an enigma, only seen through the eyes of Ames and Reese. This leads to the conclusion being rather ambiguous because the reader has no idea what Katrina will do. It could be something completely unexpected (like when she outed Ames to some clients) or incredibly tender (like introducing Reese to her mum).
The writing is brilliant and the depth of feeling unparalleled. Reese and Ames are wonderfully messy and realistic – no tidy endings for them or this novel. It’s also blunt in its honesty ranging from sex to friendship to gender, from the big questions to the smaller ones. It’s emotional, messy and shows that Peters is a writer with many talents.