31 October 2012

Review: Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite by Lianne Simon

That wasn't the title you were expecting on a Christian book review site, was it? 

Jamie is born with a rare genetic disorder that means she has one ovary, one testis, short stature and a pixie face that defies gender. Despite being raised as a boy, Jamie wants to be a mother, a princess. What follows is Jamie’s journey, set in Florida in 1970, with the backdrop of the Vietnam War. 

The story is told in the first person. Jamie's voice is honest and engaging, but gets more distant at times as she sometimes speaks of herself in the third person. It is as though there are two personalities: Jameson, the son her parents want her to be, and Jamie, the girl hidden underneath the self-made 'rules' that define Jameson and 'his' behaviour.

When the author emailed me asking if I would like to review this book, I was intrigued. This is a real medical issue that challenges our understanding of a perfect creator God, yet it is written by a Christian who has worked extensively with intersex people and their families, and has a strong Christian message. Jamie’s central dilemma is whether she should honour her earthly father by becoming the son he wants, or whether she should honour her heavenly father by becoming the person she was created to be. That’s not a choice any Christian child should have to make.

The novel isn't perfect. It takes a while to work out who is who, and to understand Jamie/Jameson's first person/third person references. There are some inconsistencies in the characters (e.g. the two-year-old Alicia was very articulate for her age, and cousin Kaylah had a lot of responsibility, considering she was only a few years older than Jamie) and a few places where, in hindsight, plot points could have been better explained. But we are in the mind of a seventeen-year-old girl with serious gender issues that most of us will never comprehend, not a recipe for continuous coherent thinking, so in a strange way, some of the inconsistencies added character and believability to the story.  

As I was reflecting on Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite, I was thinking that those readers of the prevalent Amish fiction might not like this book, because it uses medical terms and discusses some issues that might well be outside the comfort zone of the average reader of Amish or bonnet Christian fiction. But then it occurred to me that much of the Amish fiction is centred around a girl in her late teens who is having to make a decision about her identity that will affect her for the rest of her life (will she accept the faith of her upbringing and be baptised Amish?), which is not dissimilar from Confessions.

The writing is excellent, the dialogue realistic and the character of Jamie immediately likeable, even when we don't understand him/her. As well as the gender issues, the story touches on the historic double-standard of permissible sexual behaviour in young men and women. Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphroditeis one of those books that stays in the mind long after reading the final page, because the plot is so original and the character so memorable. Recommended for those who are prepared to be stretched in their thinking.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Lianne Simon at her website.


  1. Hmmm. That does sound intriguing. I might have to read this one. :)

  2. It's not a black and white issue. Sounds like one to read. It might stretch the mind and heart.

    1. You're right, Elaine. This novel shows how grey the area can be. I think you'd get a lot out of it.