“What do you do when your brother says he’s not your brother at all? That he thinks he’s actually your sister?”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

My Brother’s Name is Jessica is the latest novel from John Boyne, the author of the international bestseller, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which often appears on school syllabuses and teaches children the importance of understanding and tolerance of religions. My Brother’s Name is Jessica, which is aimed at a Young Adult audience, is another lesson in empathy, this time, Boyne explores the complex topic of gender identity and expression.

The book’s narrator is Sam Waver whose parents work in politics, his mother as a Cabinet Minister and his father as her Private Secretary. Using these characters, Boyne also explores political issues which are so prevalent in British society today and offers some insights into the effect of politics and gender not just on a single family but on a country as a whole.

As a result of his parent’s busy political lifestyle, Sam instead looks up to his older brother, Jason who is always there for him. Jason stayed by him as a baby in hospital and now he’s older, Sam’s brother helps with his reading as he struggles with dyslexia. This scenario allows Boyne to highlight another area that needs understanding, learning difficulties.

Jason is Sam’s best friend and absolute idol. That is, until Jason makes an announcement to his family. “I don’t think I’m your brother at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m your sister,” Jason tells Sam. Sadly, the family don’t take this news very well and the secret Jason has been holding onto for so long threatens to tear the family apart.

Boyne’s brilliant novel is a modern and timely exploration of the LGBT+ community and the confusing and often difficult experience of someone coming out as transgender. A story full of wit, humour and emotion that will have you on the brink of tears one moment and heart-warmed the next. My Brother’s Name is Jessica is a diverse novel which shines a much-needed spotlight on the need for empathy, compassion and the importance of being there for someone who is struggling to understand their own gender identity.

 

Reviewed by:

Catherine Muxworthy, Booksbird

Added 30th March 2019

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Catherine Muxworthy