Between Perfect and Real released in the UK last week and I’m excited to be sharing my review of this heart-felt YA contemporary.
Thank you to Abrams and Chronicle for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo.
He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?
Between Perfect and Real is a beautifully written story about a trans boy accepting and embracing his identity and deciding what being trans means for him.
Dean has known he’s trans for a while and the focus of the story is on him coming out at school and to his friends and family.
Dean friendly, kind, a great actor, and has a kind of innocent optimism that allows him hope for the best outcome and see the best in others. When he’s cast as Romeo in the school play, he’s overjoyed because he finally gets to play a male role that feels right to him.
This moment of gender euphoria is followed by others throughout the novel, when he tries on Romeo’s blue suit and finds his first binder that fits just as he wants it to.
But the book doesn’t shy away from showing the violence and transphobia that trans people go are subjected to when coming out.
Dean faces transphobic comments and hate speech from other students at his school, as well as violence and vandalism of his possessions. People misgender and deadname him both intentionally and unintentionally and the author resolutely challenges this behavior at every turn, showing how thoughtless and damaging it is for Dean.
There are some incredibly raw and sad moments in the story, when Dean feels like he’ll never be accepted by certain people in his life and when he has to make hard choices for the sake of his own happiness and mental wellbeing, and the narrative is so well written that the crushing hopelessness he feels transfers straight off the page and to us.
I’ll never experience what Dean is going through because I’m not trans, but Ray Stoeve’s prose brings Dean’s experiences and emotions into sharp focus in a way that makes his sadness and frustration feel personal.
The importance of trans people’s safety is also a big theme in the novel. There are moments when Dean feels unsafe at school due to threats and bullying from other students and there’s a particularly tense scene when he’s walking through the city with friends and a man stares at them.
Dean mentions how disgusted the man looked and his friend Jade comments that some people want to kill them just for being trans. This lays bare the fact that trans people’s very existence is a threat to transphobic people and emphasises the importance of having a close group of friends and people that can be trusted.
And Dean does find his own close group in the form of friends from the trans youth group he attends. Despite being a little shy and initially not knowing how to approach them, he finds solace in their company as a found family. I loved the scenes where they hang out together and he’s free to be completely himself without fear of bullying or prejudice.
This story beautifully illustrates the fact that there’s no one way of being trans. The possibilities are endless, as Dean realises when he’s choosing a binder, deciding on pronouns, considering the clothing he wants to wear, and deciding on how he wants to identify when he goes to college.
I started listening to this on audio and finished it in physical format and both formats were equally as good. The narrator for the audiobook really brought the characters to life, but the hardback also made the quality of the writing shine through, so I’d heartily recommend either version if you’re considering picking up Between Perfect and Real.
Content warnings for transphobia, misgendering, deadnaming and homophobia (all challenged on page), threats of violence, discussions of gender dysphoria.