Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Pub. Date: 7 March 2017
Genre: Realistic Fiction, MG
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
I received this Advanced Reader Copy from a friend. I am aware that the hardcover came out in March, but I forgot it was on my shelf until a couple of weeks ago.
Liv Spark is transgender and is entering sixth grade at a private school. This would be fine, except that this school is the only middle school that requires uniforms and girls can only wear skirts. Worse for Liv is that he hasn’t shared with anyone why exactly this rule bothers him. Liv sets out on a mission to change the dress code and his life. Cat Clarke’s The Pants Project focuses on a middle-school age student who struggles with bullying and trust and fights for a cause that means something to him.
I have read several books this year that feature LGBTQ characters, so this book caught my eye. As a cisgender person, I can’t speak to the authenticity of Liv’s experience. The synopsis made me cringe because I recently heard about someone using “transformer” as an insult toward a transgender person, but Liv uses it to explain being transgender only once. The novel turned out to be sappy at a few points, and I like the messages of acceptance and standing up for oneself, though some of it beat me over the head.
Liv realizes that he is a boy around the time he starts middle school, but he isn’t ready to tell anyone. The hair salon scene reminded me of Wandering Son, Vol. 1, by Shimura Takako, although the stylists in that book weren’t upset by the idea of giving society-defined gender haircuts to someone of the opposite gender. For there being bullying at school, I liked when Liv said when someone’s attempt to help hadn’t stopped the damage. Liv’s voice as a narrator is intended to be funny, which might work for the middle grade audience, but it doesn’t work for the adult reader.
The friendship between Liv and Jacob is cute, and I love that they get along so quickly. They have a lot in common, and Liv found an ally in him. About halfway through the book, it was clear that Jacob was a keeper.
I like that Clarke focused on Liv’s family because I think many novels suffer from keeping parents out of the story. Though Liv’s mothers and little brother should provide a good support at home, it was interesting to me to see how their issues and the general bigotry of one of the bullies played into the plot. I like that Mom and Mamma asked about her day and tried to keep up with what was going on in their children’s lives. The moms also had their own issues that Liv was relatively aware of happening but sometimes knew none of the details.
Details brings me to the minimal use of them to describe characters and setting. Most of the characters were given one positive and defining character trait, but they otherwise had little description of appearance and negative traits. Clarke found a way to illustrate the personality of Enzo, the little brother, by talking about his choice of dress (Superman socks with capes on them) while also making it a learning experience for Liv. I wanted to see more of that in other characters, but it wasn’t there. As far as settings go, Clarke mostly said they were at a school, a store, a restaurant, and at home. The rest is up to your imagination. Every place is unique. Let’s stick with the school. Yes, a school has hallways, a cafeteria and classrooms with desks. But there can be more to it, like school colors, architecture, and ridiculous rules besides dress code. I think describing the settings more would have enriched the story.
Overall this middle grade novel covers acceptance and strength while talking about the life of a transgender student. I think it was good to read once through, and it had some sweet character interactions. The Pants Project is good for its themes, but it lacks some detail.