Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin

I'll admit, I had to try this one due to my shameless love of gender-benders. Plus, I read several recommendations....

Cycler is the story of Jill, a normal teenage girl concerned about the upcoming prom and the boy she likes. There's just one thing: when she hit puberty, instead of just getting her menstrual cycle, she also got a unique cyle of her own. For four days every month, Jill turns into Jack. After the first few occurances and numerous stumped, disbelieving doctors, Jill and her mom create a meditation plan that erases Jill's time as a boy from her Jilltime memory. This is okay for a while, but then Jack becomes his own personality and decides that he would like to have a life of his own.

I think Jill's homelife would have been bad either way, since her parents are pretty disfunctional. Her dad retreats into his own world of yoga and maleness in the basement after Jill's "change." Meanwhile, her mom is a complete man-hater, making Jill see her time as a boy as an utter abomination that must be obliterated from even her memory. I think this is part of why her dad retreats; if her mom hates Jack so much, just because he is male, how must she feel about her husband? To me, Jill's mom is the true villain of this story, in her inability to deal with the situation without stigmatizing an entire part of her own child.

Fortunately, Jill has her friend Ramie (of whom her mother doesn't approve, either). Ramie is what we sometimes call a "free spirit;" she loves fashion, but is not an empty-headed fad whore. Instead, she creates her own fashions, often making herself an outsider at school, but occasionally creating something truely fantastic. Her and Jill have been friends since the third grade, yet Ramie knows nothing about Jack. This leads to some serious issues later.

Then there is Tommy Knutson, the cute, quiet new guy that Jill has set her sights on. He is a bit of a mystery, but it becomes Jill and Ramie's mission to secure him as Jill's date for the prom. Will it work? Will Jack or Jill be present on prom night? What wrenches will Jack throw into Jill's plans?

I found McLaughlin's use of this strange, hypothetical "disease" to be an interesting way to tackle issues of gender identity that face many teens today, especially concerning the way parents deal with transgender/questioning children. It is strong and disturbing metaphor, especially the descriptions of the actual transformations. I will be very interested in hearing others' reactions, teens' in particular. Might even try this one for Book Exchange......

Other reviews:
Goddess of YA Literature

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