by Paris Lees
Particular Books (Penguin), 2021
Although the author of this memoir has transitioned gender, this book is not primarily about that aspect of her life. It is a memoir about growing up; about those difficult teenage years. It’s a window into the psyche of a teenager fighting against their background, trying to make sense of the abusive behaviour of close adults, and finding their position in the world. Our teenage years are when we start to live beyond our upbringing and express who we really are, but what does it feel like when the acceptance you are searching for is not given? The answer to that question reverberates through Lees’ memoir.
The whirlwind of a “misspent youth” and the larger-than-life characters are vividly described, and the writing feels very immediate because it is written in present tense. The use of dialect means that Lees’ voice can be very clearly heard, and the reader connects with her teenage experience as she details her teenage mental chatter. You walk this journey with Lees, remembering your own hang ups and your own struggle to forge your identity and be seen by others. Although the choices made by the author as she transitioned into adulthood may not be those we ourselves would have made, the reader feels like they understand why she chose such a difficult road. Growing up is hard, and it is doubly hard when you are experiencing abuse and facing the rejection of your identity. There is, however, no sense that the author wishes for pity or feigns a loss of agency – Lees takes responsibility for her own decisions, and most importantly, makes the necessary changes. She shows courage in actioning that decision, and bravery in describing honestly the stupidity of our teenage years.
This book made me reflect on my own teenage experiences, and Lees’ voice will resonate in my mind for a long time. Her memoir flowed quickly, without leaving the reader behind, and I am still pondering the issues it raises, both for society and within my own life. When you find yourself reading the copyright information at the end, because you can’t bear for the story to end, you know you’ve just read a great book.