cover image Both Can Be True

Both Can Be True

Jules Machias. Quill Tree, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-0630-5389-2

Musician Ash, a 13-year-old synesthete, is trying to choose a single gender after starting at a new Ohio school. It’s what their transphobic father wants, and Ash hopes that identifying consistently as either a boy or a girl will keep them from being bullied, as they were at their previous school. Meanwhile, animal enthusiast Daniel, Ash’s classmate, wishes he could live up to his mother and twin brother’s pressure to be less emotionally sensitive. When the two join forces to keep an elderly Pomeranian named Chewbarka from being euthanized, a tentative romance develops, and both begin coming to terms with who they are. Alternating between the two white protagonists’ first-person perspectives and accompanied by illustrations of Ash’s synesthesia, Machias’s debut handles both realistic emotional journeys with compassion, while offering a nuanced portrayal of the benefits and limitations of labels. While the two voices are overly similar, and a threatened public outing of Ash’s gender identity is perhaps not treated with the seriousness it deserves, Ash’s and Daniel’s different but intertwined experiences with gender identity and stereotypes lead to a celebration of allyship and fluidity that’s a joy to read. Ages 8–12. [em]Agent: John Cusick, Folio Jr./Folio Literary Management. (June) [/em]