It's hard enough being one half of the world's least identical twins, without both of you falling for the same guy. Jolene's turned flirting into a fine art, but Jody? Not so much. And as if a twinny love triangle wasn't messy enough... there's something nobody knows about Jody Barton. Something BIG.
Told with the trademark warmth and laugh-out-loud humour of the much-loved LOTTIE BIGGS books, this is a book that will make you think, with a gobsmacking twist you won't believe. From Amazon UK
Before I start this review, I must tell you that there is a HUGE twist in this book that I will spoil. There is no way I can review this book in the way I want without spoiling it. I have permission from Macmillan Children's Books to do so as the book has been released for over a year. Do not read any further if you don't wish this book to be spoilt for you.
I've had this book sitting on my TBR pile for a while, but never got round to reading it. The press release and all the emails I received about it mentioned this big twist, but because of this big twist, they couldn't really tell me much about the book. Because I didn't know much about it, I found it difficult to have much interest. Then, when searching for books for the Month, this book was mentioned. As I had it, I added it to the pile. And I was completely knocked for six when I read it.
Jody and Jolene are twins. When they're not at school or doing their own thing, they're working in their Dad's cafe - in which they meet Liam Mackie, and both fall head over heels for. Jody does the painful yet kind thing, and takes a step back so Jolene can have her chance. But there is a big secret that Jody has that no-one knows. A secret that will blow your mind.
That secret? Jody is in fact a boy and not a girl. Yes. Yes. But we don't find this out until half way through the book. For the first 107 pages, there is no mention of the fact that Jody is a boy, so it comes as a complete surprise when we find out that he is, and so is, obviously, gay. Everything I read up to that point finally made sense! I didn't understand at first why Jody wasn't even trying with Liam, that she gave up before even starting. But of course she is in fact a he. And at no point does it say Jody is a girl or implies that he is, we just assume because of his name and the cover.
Although it's not what the book is about make makes no mention of it, it made me think quite a lot about stereotypes and assumptions. All it took was a name used more often for girls, a nickname (which there are even clues hinting at why he has it) and a pink cover, and I automatically assumed Jody was a girl - and so did quite a lot of other people if the reviews I've read are anything to go by. But there was nothing that distinctly said Jody was female! I knew I was reading an LGBTQ YA novel as soon as I picked it up, yet I still assumed Jody was female because of his name and because he fancied singer Jim Morrison and actor River Phoenix. But why do we necessarily have to think in terms of male or female, straight or gay? It reminds me of when in Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan Paul talks about labels. Why should a pink cover automatically make me think "book about a girl"? Sure, pink covers for boys might not be done often, but so what? Why can't people just be thoughts of as they are, rather than pigeon-holed? Did I think any differently about Jody once I had found out he's male and not female? That he's gay instead of straight? No. Then why can't he just be seen as Jody? It's a clever twist Long has thrown at us, but why are we so surprised? What does it matter?
The Booktrust interviewed Hayley Long about What's Up With Jody Barton?, and I want to share this quote (emphasism my own):
"Making Jody’s gender a surprise that the reader wouldn’t discover until halfway through the book was a deliberate strategy. Hayley explains: ‘I thought about it, and I didn’t want teenagers to come to the book either with their own ideas of “I’m not reading that”, or deliberately picking it up because of the subject matter. I wanted them to read about the character, and hopefully get to like the character, and then have to deal with the twist.’"
Less about the things the book made me think about, and back to the book itself. Something this book is brilliant at is showing how normal homosexuality is. No-one would bat an eyelid at the first half of the book, while they think Jody is a girl. Anyone who would have a problem is shown that there is no problem. Jody is a teenager like any other who has fallen for someone, and experience that is completely universal, completely normal. Take sexuality and gender out of it, and it's another story of unrequited love with a love triangle. Normal.
Overall, What's Up With Jody Barton? is a lovely story of self-identity and figuring out exactly who you are, the type of person you want to be. Once you're past the big twist, you do kind of expect the story to continue with the wow-factor, but it carries on as a sweet and funny coming-of-age story that will keep you entertained, one that didn't surprise or wow me any further. But still a really good story, and one I would highly recommend.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the review copy.
Published: 24th May 2012
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Buy on Amazon US
Hayley Long's Website