My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A man who reads effeminate may well be consistently heterosexual, and another one might be gay. We can’t read sexuality off of gender. —Judith Butler
Have you ever been subjected to gender stereotypes? That’s probably a rhetorical question. Hahaha. I myself have experienced being criticized for not conforming to traditional or hegemonic masculinity. Even though there are many kinds of masculinity, most people prefer only one: the kind that includes athleticism, big muscles, and other “macho” qualities. The same can be said of traditional femininity, which is typically tantamount to outward beauty, gentleness, and silence. In college, I learned about a feminist named Judith Butler. According to her, gender is a social construct or performance. In other words, your gender (behavior) isn’t determined by your sex (genitals); males aren’t necessarily “masculine,” and females aren’t necessarily “feminine.” Following this logic, I can’t help but think that gender stereotypes are stupid.
The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy is a novel that powerfully illustrates the latter truth. It’s the story of two teenagers who are bombarded by gender stereotypes. Because of their divergent looks and behavior, Zee’s and Art’s sexuality is always put into question. It eventually comes to a point where they themselves aren’t sure of their orientation. However, as Zee and Art become closer, they realize that gender is not as solid as people want it to be.
It was my first time to read a book by B.T. Gottfred, so I was pleasantly surprised by his humor and candor. He didn’t sugarcoat anything in this supposedly YA book. The emotions and conversations of the characters were raw, and the love scenes were pretty graphic. Hence, although this book features YA characters, its content is for a more mature audience. I personally did not enjoy the explicit scenes, but I commended the author for deviating from the norm, just like his characters. I plan to read more of his novels, so I guess I should prepare myself. xD
Zee and Art were unquestionably quirky and fascinating. I had never encountered such a weird yet perfect couple. Zee was turned on by Art’s effeminate looks and behavior, and vice versa. There were times when I was so confused because I didn’t know if they were straight, gay, or bisexual. Seriously, there were so many mixed signals, and it was impossible to label them using gender stereotypes. In the end, it occurred to me that that was probably the author’s intention. Zee and Art were in love with each other, so what was the point of labels?
In addition to gender discourse, this book had lots of family drama. Zee suddenly met her biological father after losing her mother to cancer, and Art’s parents separated after one of them became unemployed. I found their problems to be of equal magnitude, but I was particularly invested in Zee’s dilemma. She had a lot of hang-ups to address before she could start a relationship with her dad. That being said, I loved Art because he was selfless enough to set aside his issues and help Zee attain reconciliation.
Overall, I gave The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy 4.5 stars because it was very funny and insightful. Readers who are familiar with Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity will definitely enjoy it. Art and Zee powerfully illustrate the fluidity of masculinity and femininity, so this book is perfect for anyone who hates gender stereotypes.