Author: Torrey Peters
Pub. Date: Jan. 2021 (read May 2021)
This is going to be a hard review to write. It took me a long time to read Detransition, Baby; not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s a heavy book in scope. As a character study, this book is incredible. Peters really gets into the psyche of her main characters and I was frankly astonished at the emotional depth to which she takes Reese and Ames. These are not hastily created characters, they are well developed individuals and Peters brings to life every aspect of their character, from their most trivial thoughts, to their deepest secrets. Don’t come to this book if you are looking for a fast-paced plot, but rather if you want to get down into the nitty gritty of what it means to be trans and the exploration of both womanhood and motherhood as a trans-woman, this is the book for you.
It’s what made it so hard to read. The plot is not told linearly and the book is chaotic in its exploration of the themes and who these people are. Peters goes to some dark places and this is not a lightweight book. For those not aware of the plot, Detransition, Baby is primarily about two characters, Ames and Reese, though Katrina also plays a central role in the story. Reese and Ames were in a relationship for many years, but Ames eventually decides to detransition back to male and accidentally impregnates his boss, Katrina. The novel explores the idea of these 3 individuals raising the baby together because Ames fears that Katrina will not understand why the idea of ‘fatherhood’ is so scary to him and because Reese is a trans-woman that has always wanted a baby.
It’s a messy book and I can see it being very polarizing. But the fact that it’s been creating so much buzz and making bestseller lists from its release is in itself an achievement. The danger I think may be that this is held up as the only example of what it means to be trans, so I hope to see many more books like this get published to both broaden the narrative, and of course, for representation. Although shoutout to the YA genre which I think has been ahead of literary fiction genre on this topic.
There are so many ideas presented in this book that I did find myself finishing it and not knowing quite what to think. I’m still not sure if I loved it, but I can’t deny its power because I really can’t stop thinking about it and I appreciate Peters’ unapologetic telling of these individuals. This is ultimately a book about womanhood and motherhood and what it means to navigate those worlds as a trans-woman. Peters explores so much within a limited number of pages and I definitely commend her on her honesty.
My only complaint is that I wish this story had been told linearly. I’ve read a lot of non-linear stories lately and for the most part, it doesn’t bother me – but I’m not sure what this style achieved in this book. The chapters are very long and every time I finished one, I knew I would be jumping to an entirely different part of the story, so it made it hard to pick the book up again every time I put it down. I felt like I had to get re-invested in the story after every chapter because the storytelling itself was quite chaotic.
But one thing is for sure – whether you loved it or hated it, Torrey Peters is definitely one to watch!