John Boyne, My Brother's Name is Jessica

Puffin, 2019, ISBN 978-0-241-37613-3

Sam is thirteen, the son of an important politician with aspirations to be prime minister and her husband and private secretary, who supports her all the way. Nothing must be allowed to block her path up the greasy pole. The image they present to the public is crucial. Government business and ambition mean that time and patience are in short supply. But luckily Sam's brother Jason has always been there for him. Sam is severely dyslexic. He lacks confidence and friends, whereas Jason is the popular football star of their school. Jason is Sam's hero, but he has started spending more and more time by himself. Then one evening he tells the family that he does not feel himself to be a boy, but a girl. Sam is confused. Their parents are horrified. They tell Jason he is deluded and needs treatment. They demand that no one breathes a word to anyone about what he has said.

This is an ambitious, thought-provoking and sometimes funny novel that explores not just transgender issues, but also prejudice and intolerance more widely, as well as politics and the importance of family communication. A few cavils: the device of the naïve young narrator means there is some lack of nuance; several of the protagonists are rather one-dimensional; the happy tying up of all the knots at the end, not least the parents' remarkably rapid transition from bigotry to acceptance, stretches plausibility. But the book is a valuable plea for empathy and inclusion, qualities highlighted by the boys' aunt and several minor characters, including an unexpectedly broadminded football coach.

How important it is that children and young people who are questioning their own gender identity, or have friends or family members who are doing so, have books which reflect their situation and offer hope. Vital too that those with no personal experience have opportunities to gain insight and understanding.