Book Review: The Passing Playbook
The following review contains spoilers to the novel, The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons.
Originally published June 17, 2021
About the Book
The Passing Playbook follows the typical story arch of any book written in the young adult genre. A teenager learns to navigate high school and puberty while making unlikely friends, sparking a romance, and overcoming a major catastrophe or two. The only difference between this book and the many I grew up reading is that the protagonist is transgender, and the catastrophe involves human rights.
We meet Spencer on his first day of school at Oakley, a liberal private school in Ohio. Despite his diminutive size, he is able to win a spot on the boy's soccer team and becomes a valuable asset to the team. However, because of league rules, he is benched because of the gender on his birth certificate; if he plays his team must forfeit every game.
Despite being different, Spencer learns that he is loved and supported at Oakley. His family, friends, and team support him as he navigates how to face the league and its rules, while his courage inspires others to act boldly in their own battles.
My review 3/5
As an adult white male cisgender Baptist preacher, I am far from the target audience of this book! However, Isaac Fitzsimmons did a marvelous job of writing a protagonist that is relatable and easy to empathize with, despite his obvious differences from me. I was pleasantly surprised by this story. All of us struggled with high school, puberty, and relationships, and The Passing PlayBook shows us that LGBTQ+ teens are just like the rest of us... Except for their battle over basic human rights. The book did fall short in many ways:
First, almost every conflict Spencer meets is built up with loathing and anxiety, but crumbles like toast when it is confronted by the protagonist and his supporters. This repeated use of the "small acts of courage" trope meets its unrealistic climax when Spencer is benched because of the gender on his birth certificate. Spencer stands up and the status quo admits defeat with little to no fight. While this is convenient for the story and the author's message, it's just too easy and the reader is left feeling let down. The climactic struggle of ideals ends with an armistice before acts of aggression even take place. I personally found this to be disingenuous as many states are debating legislation addressing this very issue at the time of this book's publication.
Then the story came to a quick end and tied up numerous loose ends with so much ferocity I may have gotten whiplash reading the last five chapters. Sure the part after the climax is called the falling action, but it's not supposed to feel like skydiving. This book could easily have been 100 pages longer and I would have kept reading it. Finally, while the main character was dynamic, many supporting characters, but especially the Christian characters, were wooden stereotypes. Even Spencer's love interest is a stale Christian-in-the-closet character. I understand these stereotypes exist for a reason, but this approach gave the book a pigeonholed view that's not going to win support from those who share the Christian faith. In fairness, most LGBTQ+ characters in other books and media are also overused stereotypes, but painting an opposing side with the broadest strokes is not helpful to any cause.
If you would like to order this book, please do so through one of your local independent book stores or through bookshop.org, an online book retailer with a mission to financially support independent book stores.
Corey D. Evans received an advance reader copy of this book and was not financially compensated for his review.